In the same Learning from YouTube class where two students presented their fake documentary about convergence culture and The Hills (see video, True Life: I’m addicited to ‘The Hills’ on-line forums, embedded on the previous post below, Pushing Around Henry Jenkins), two other groups presented on political convergence culture. They made videos about their research on regular people using YouTube to enhance their participation in our current election.

I lead with the circle for two reasons: first, while the Hills project ridicules girls for wasting time engaged in close-readings of bad television, the politics projects celebrate YouTubers for doing the same. Can you have it both ways and no way at once (going round and round and round in the circle game…)?

The second round reference is to the breasts that feature prominently (if unintentionally) and centrally within all the videos featured in this intelligent, if un-critical compendium of the formats used for YouTube political convergence culture:

As we build collective intelligence about this election (and otherwise), should we be satisfied with the sexism and satire that undergirds much YouTube discourse? Is a reliance upon, and use of (even if sarcastically) often stupid popular culture even understandable as intelligence? My students suggest that moving (circling) bytes of media from one platform to another (convergence), raising its exposure and hits, is a, no the form of contemporary political participation. Given, they say, that politics is merely cynical spin, and thus there is no distinction between media about the world and the world itself, then watching and passing on videos, and sometimes commenting on them, is activism.

No more circling, I will be direct in my criticism: while any participation, and passion, and action is better than none, we must be bold enough to name ideals for the best of people’s culture (not just getting stuck in the fact of it), and retro enough to state that there remains a world outside the media hall-of-mirrors. Which is to say that participatory culture can benefit from both teachers and theorists (who pass along ideas and structures to allow for deeper engagements with culture) and reality (where the criticisms of real people leave the looking glass and alter  lived experience). As I lectured my students yesterday: there is a war, and a depression. Some bodies don’t get health care. Bodies must vote to be counted in this election. Sure, they may only know these things through parodic YouTube videos, but some bodies actually do feel these effects, and actual places and experiences are altered due to media relays. Politics is not just spin, nor is participation. Paul Willis put it this way: “the point is to increase the range, complexity, elegance, self-consciousness and purposefulness of this involvement.” (Common Culture, p. 131)

Agree? disagree? Join the YouTube dialogue, here or there.

So, I’ve been teaching the second Learning from YouTube class this fall. The more normal one. The one with books. And lately, we’ve been reading Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, after learning from Paul Willis’ related and anticipatory Common Culture. (A quick aside about the use of books in this course: while it allows for a more focused discussion–the professor makes sure the students get the ideas in the readings–it has clearly limited their YouTube creativity–their analysis is inserted into the ready-made framework of an expert).

That said, we had a really interesting class yesterday, and I wanted to share some of our work with Jenkins. When I say we were pushing him around, I use this both as a catchy title, but also to note something more meaningful, something about the linked tone, content and process of our YouTube studies. Which is to say that with Jenkins’ ideas, like seemingly everything else they think about, the approach and take home conclusions are a kind of cynical circling:  the students hover near his ideas, prodding at them gently, perhaps sarcastically, while offering their own criticisms ambiguously, circuitously. Analysis as ironic presentation. Criticism as parodic re-play. I keep asking them to STATE their opinion, and this is their opinion: unsaid, smug, vague, readable both ways. Like the YouTube videos they learn from, their point of view is expressed through self-reflexive and soft satire (note: the videos I linked to here, under soft satire, are from others students’ Jenkins research, you can see more of these projects on our class page:

Agree? disagree? Join the YouTube dialogue, here or there.