Editing SCALE 2

September 17, 2007

July 16, 2007. It has been a really great first week. I have been editing with concentration and fervor helped and abetted by the Wexner’s master editor, Paul Hill. We’ve made huge headway, primarily humanizing the piece by adding more of me. And letting me take some of the emotional slack. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to put in more of Antonia’s amazing optimism and energy, as the story had become more and more about how she was captured by the intrigue of the limelight, and less and less about how she continued to do the hard work of being smart and on and present and committed even for that short while when she also though the book might become a bestseller.

While I am certain I will finish the film, and assured that it will be better then when I came, and close to all I want to say, my real fear at this stage is that I am not a powerful enough artist to kick it up to that final stage that this work deserves. And, of course, this is linked to SCALE because while I have always chosen for my work to remain small, primarily out of theoretical and political and artistic commitments to what happens when real people make small work about and within communities they belong, I have also not expanded my scale because I gave up on the endless exhaustion and humiliation of fund-raising, pitching, and altering my work and self to fill other’s agendas. And then, frankly, as much as I have resisted this waste of time, pulling me from the issue at hand and the pleasure of working, I’ve never been that good or capable at the pitch, the schmoozing. I get self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d rather be aloof, outside this humiliating economy. Finally, there’s always the strong possibility that I can’t get funding—slogging away at grant apps, floundering at meetings with commissioning officers—because I’m just not really good enough.

While my world view—that everyone can and should be able to express their ideas about themselves and their world—supports that everyone, including me, deserves the grace of self-expression, I do also believe in innate talent. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Self-trained in video; never a “real” artist; I hit against a wall that is my innate creativity (or lack thereof), often. Also, of course, I’m too intellectual to be a good artist. And probably too dogmatic, and out of touch with regular Americans, not to mention disdainful of the media traditions that make most people comfortable. I’ve sat here in the small mostly because it’s where I should be: reaching the audience to whom I can speak, a limited crowd interested in the ideas and values that concern me which include

-the relevance of small, personal work and activism and the real voices of real people not pundits

-the fact that getting bigger corrupts, exhausts, and punishes and that staying small allows for an attention to inter-personal ethics

-and the fact that these ideas seem hopelessly out-dated, some kind of nostalgic homage to a ’60s that was never this good anyways, and are downright ineffective against the new kinds of fast, huge, networks of corporate power that rule us.

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Slogan Six

September 15, 2007

“The real crime of representation is representation itself.”
David MacDougall, ethnographic filmmaker

Media presentation on YouTube must be attentive to the ethics and power inherent in all acts of representation. Given the bounded terms of YouTube’s corporate ownership, and highly structured platform, communal authoring is possible but rarely taken advantage of while communal consumption is almost absent, by definition. Without community, there is no need or possibility for ethics, which are central to media praxis.

On SCALE

September 14, 2007

“SCALE: Ending the BUSH AGENDA in the Media Age”
A documentary video by Alexandra Juhasz featuring Antonia Juhasz; 60 mins, 2007

In a time of illicit war, unchecked corporate greed, and a presidential regime that supports such indecencies, two sisters take the media into their own hands seeking change. Antonia writes a potential anti-Bush bestseller for a mainstream publisher and goes on a corporate book tour. Alex documents her sister’s “scale-shift,” following Antonia’s ups and downs on the road. Divisions and connections between the sisters mirror those within the left itself, as the sisters experience the power of individual action, media attention, and grassroots movements for social justice.

What is SCALE?

The SCALE distinctions of our time are not merely an effect of ready access to capital, but of the linked availability of celebrity, media, mobility of information, immensity of attention, capacity to network, and access to others with similar power.

SCALE is about the rampant and seemingly uncheckable expansion of dimension for those who have power—be they corporations, this nation, the corporate media, or the elites who run and profit from them—and whether there is an associated diminishment of scale for the rest of us.

What is the worth of local action in this system that values global attention?
What is the meaning of small-scale decency in the face of international greed?
How do we map and calculate the might, reach and effect of collective work for change? How must the nature of social action and political organizing transform to meet the awesome enormity of global corporate media might?

Can we end the BUSH AGENDA?

THE BUSH AGENDA, by Antonia Juhasz for ReganBooks, HarperCollins Publishers, exposes the Bush Administration’s use of corporate globalization policy as a weapon of war in Iraq, the Middle East—through the U.S. Middle East Free Trade Area and the Iraq Oil Law—and across the world as it builds a Pax Americana. Tracing 25 years of corporate globalization policy, it reveals the history and key role of U.S. corporations in the creation of the Bush Agenda, focusing on Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, and Halliburton. It concludes with specific achievable alternatives for a more peaceful and sustainable course.More info on antonia’s site: http://www.thebushagenda.net and mine: http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/~ajuhasz/

On editing SCALE 1

September 13, 2007

July 8, 2007.

Arrived this afternoon, a Sunday, to my new residential digs: a sweet, slightly dilapidated two-bedroom apartment in an aging brick complex in a slightly funky but very livable part of Columbus Ohio, two miles from the University, or so I’ve been told.

I’ve not been alone in this way, as a grown up woman, as an artist, as a single person, since 1997, when my ex and I spent our summer apart—she in London, me in NY—deciding if we should be a couple; if we should have a baby. Our first child was born 7 months later, another following 16 months after that. As I said, I’ve been in a couple, or a Mom—in a group, servicing others—ever since. I do my art on the side. In the crevices. I know myself and my thoughts through other’s needs and schedules. No complaints. This makes life more complex, and really, takes one off the hook.

But here I am, eating alone: so hard to choose what to eat if one’s tastes and not one’s seven year old’s organize the meal… SO much time, too: to read, write, run, swim, write this first blog, concentrate on the work.

And that this is: a blog on the completion of “SCALE: Ending the BUSH AGENDA in the Media Age,” a documentary I‘ve been working on for two years, and intend to complete during my month here, by hell or high water.

And while the preamble about my children may seem off base from the political documentary I’m hoping to finish, it is in fact, a huge part of the story (of the making of the doc, and of the doc itself), because it at once highlights the real conditions of my attempts at self- and political expression, the daily and mundane constraints on real women like me, as it also marks one of the profound links and breaking points (one of many) between myself and my sister Antonia: and these are what the documentary is about. Antonia has no children (although she wants them and is amazing with them) and hence she can be a full-time activist, making too-little money, working and living too-hard, putting herself on the line. I am more bourgois, even as our political leanings are pretty close: found on America’s far-far left. Because I have a kid to raise, a mortgage to pay, my actions in the world and in my art are limited; my desires are organized for me. I am much more like regular Americans, I think, in my self-satisfied relations to home, stuff, kids and family, then Antonia could ever be. Of course, this lady-leftist sometimes-lesbian, decidedly feminist, probably socialist professor and artist that I am established me as pretty little like most Americans, but I’m closer to the heart beat than my sister.

Which explains some of my pain and uncertainty at this late and final stage of my documentary. My reticence. My certainty that the old ways have failed us as the new world order quiets and contains us, with all its yummy and easy to acquire stuff, the pay off for the bad things that produce it and the bad people who get rich from it. So that we find ourself in a bargain of their construction and our acquiescence: protest don’t seem to end things, real people don’t seem to make significant change, the forces we fight are bigger and meaner then ever. And still I march.

But Antonia. Well. She has the room and the time and the heart to believe. And given that her attention is in the right place—not stuck on all those creature comforts, TVs and SUVs—her biggest indulgence is endless lattes and too much beer. She thinks people can still do it: stop wars, speak to and be heard by global corporations, change things to become like we want and know them to be. She’s living a romantic off-beat life; and maybe she’s right.

My documentary is about this battle between us (among other things). And over the next month I will try to see if I can express the ways we both know this war is wrong, but are less sure about what to do with that knowledge. All the while, saying what I feel without alienating her, or exposing too much about her, and with the sensitivity that close relations demand.

My greatest fear and concern is that she will not like, or even worse, sign off on the documentary. I have a month to make it speak my story about activism in the media age, without betraying her trust, and being true to what she also believes and experiences.

Slogan Four

September 5, 2007

“Q: How do you explain the camera as a gun? A: Well, ideas are guns. A lot of people are dying from ideas and dying for ideas. A gun is a practical idea.
An idea is a theoretical gun.” Jean Luc Godard

The construction and dissemination of ideas, even “theory,” are critical to a project of cultural transformation. Non-specialists must contribute theory for transformation to be tenable. The comments application on YouTube radically opens access for the sharing of words but currently limits theorizing’s gun-potential through downsizing and dumbing-down, i.e. “hahahahaha.” An idea is a ludicrous pun.

On Slogans

August 31, 2007

1. “It will be the art of the direct cinema of a slogan. Of communication that is just as unobstructed and immediate as the communication of an idea through a qualified word.”
(Sergei Eisenstein, “Our October, Beyond the Played and the Non-Played”)

This “slogan” written by eminent revolutionary filmmaker/theorist, Sergei Eisenstein in 1928, is the first of eleven I will offer over the next two weeks by way of incendiary introduction to my current thinking about Media Praxis.

Using said slogans—pithy quotes taken from longer works of media theory—I will mark eleven radical possibilities and responsibilities presented by the contemporary phenomena of documentary on YouTube, but as heralded by political media producers writing in the past about the radical possibilities for the various technologies of their distinct times and places. Over the next two weeks, we’ll enjoy on the pretty pages of this blog the rousing watchwords of eleven wonderful writers engaged in political movements before our time. Sadly, it seems that at many, but not all of the media duties our authors lay down, YouTube is failing even as it is built upon technical opportunities desired but unattainable for our sloganeers of the past.

2. “The epoch of the direct materialization of a slogan takes over from the epoch of a slogan about material.” Eisenstein

I am convinced that certain critical components of the hundred-year project of MEDIA PRAXIS are lost in YouTube’s stellar realization of “the art of the direct cinema of the slogan.” What couldn’t Eisenstein foresee? For it seems both prescient, and also naïve of this distinguished communist to harken the slogan for his developing medium, cinema. The slogan is a form that seems so much more apt for our 80-year later use of contemporary technological developments, particularly as displayed on YouTube: cinema-via-the-internet. The slogan, in its several denotations, conceptually links activism and commerce—the simplistic selling of ideas to move people to fight or buy, no matter—in a manner perfected by and definitive of our era, and its definitive medium, the internet. The slogan—a pithy, precise, rousing call to action or consumption, or action as consumption—seems a remarkably astute descriptor of at very least the form of YouTube media, especially in the slogan’s dependence upon brevity and clarity.

Over the next two weeks, I will briefly establish, through slogans, how Eisenstein’s hopes for the slogan are structurally impossible given the architecture, ownership, and advertisements on YouTube. On YouTube, our epoch of the slogan forecloses conversation, community, and complexity. I ask you to think of the following slogans, penned by committed artists from long past revolutions, times, and places, and then followed by my own slogan-responses, as a call to arms for how we might better muster today’s technology to contribute to an ongoing project of improving the possibilities for presentation, interpretation, and abstract social evaluation, human interaction, perception, and epistemology, through media praxis.

(After “WE: Variant of a Manifesto,” Dziga Vertov, 1922)

I call myself MP:me (Media Praxis : Alexandra Juhasz)—as opposed to “cinematographer,” one of a herd of machomen doing rather well peddling slick clean wares.
I see no connection between true femi-digi-praxis (the integration of media theory, digital practice, and feminist politics in an historical context) and the cunning and calculation of the profiteers.
I consider expensive corporate reality television—weighed down with music and narrative and childhood games—an absurdity.
To the American victim documentary with its shown dynamism and power disparities and to YouTube’s direct-to-camera dramatizations of so many individuals’ personal pain or pleasure this femi-digi-practioner says thanks for the return to real people, the hand-held look, and the close-ups. Good…but disorderly, not based on a precise study of Media Praxis (the hundred year history of theoretical writing and related political media production). A cut above the psychological drama, but still lacking in foundation. A Cliché. A copy of a copy.
I proclaim the stuff of YouTube, all based on the slogan (pithy, precise, rousing calls to action or consumption, or action as consumption), to be leprous.
–Keep your mouse from them!
–Keep your eyes off those bite-sized wonders!
–They’re morally dangerous!
–Contagious!
I affirm the future of digital art by denying its present and learning from its past.

I am MP:me. I build connections to history and theory and inter-relations between individuals and committed communities. With my small cheap camcorder, my laptop, and internet connection, I make messy, irregular feminist video committed to depth and complexity.
“Cinematography, ” the earliest male tradition of sizeable machines, stylish form, and solo cine-adventures must die so that the communal art of femi-digi-praxis may live. I call for its death to be hastened.
I protest against the smooth operator and call for a rough synthesis of history, politics, theory, real people and their chaotic, mundane desires and knowledge.
I invite you:
—to flee—
the sweet embrace of America’s Next Top Model,
the poison of the commercial send-up,
the clutches of technophilia, the allure of boy-toys,
to turn your back on music, effects, gizmos,
—to flee—
out into the open with camcorder in hand, into four dimensions (history, politics, theory + practice), in search of our own material, from our experiences, relationships and commitments to social justice.
Mp:me is made visible through a camcorder femi-digi-praxis: a small, hand-held, retro video aesthetic connected to a lengthy history of communal, low-budget, political and theoretical media production, Media Praxis, begun by truly great cinematographers, men with movie cameras, politics and big ideas. Mp:me simply (post)-modernizes and feminizes We’s foundational praxis.