#75, no time for fools

April 1, 2017

I write and post this #100hardtruths on April Fool’s Day, 2017. Given this effort’s focus on deception, fakery, falsity, the untrue, the almost true, trickery, slander, and shams of all sorts, it would seem a near imperative for me to today engage in some mild mockery or corny contrivance. However, one of the things that I’ve noted about my own daily practice—particularly at today’s other milestone as I round the final bend into my fourth quartile—is that across this effort I haven’t had much time or heart for fools (except for, perhaps, myself).

The images in this post were shared with me by the critical internet scholar, Geert Lovink. “I started to collect images. I could not resist. There are so many!”

It’s not that the internet hasn’t had the time. Nor that I don’t find some pleasure or knowledge in such ironic efforts. As I have written in earlier work on fake documentary, it is true that satire and irony, tricks and ploys, can sometimes serve as distancing devices that produce telling affect, knowledge, and/or self-awareness about the sacred cows they try to topple, or at least attempt to allow us to see with more clarity or truth.

Lovink continues: “Maybe we can turn it into a collective collaborative project, just for the fun.”

But my own daily practice—#75 objects and 41 days in—is another thing. Occurring in real time, and therefore necessarily intuitive, responsive, reactive, and under-pressure, I find that I have been decidedly serious, pronouncedly productive, sometimes even embarrassingly sincere. First of all, I have been trying (self-awaredly stuck as I am in the very digital form and space that I critique) to focus my efforts on the links between #fakenews and #realviolence, between #socialmedia and #therealworld. The stakes seem very high.

More Lovink: “Do you want to contribute and just pass it onto others? It is ideal for parties, to project on large walls, etc.”

But as critically, I find that my daily practice has produced, for me, in the experiencing of it, yet another set of linked #100hardtruths that make foolery less attractive for me as a personal mode for this online engagement (and to be clear, I am well aware of the verbal and visual puns that litter this effort), and instead lock me into a self-prescribed digital practice of ever darker self-criticism:

  • Trump’s lies do not need to be exposed. He does most of this for us; the internet does the rest and more.
  • #fakenews does not need me to expose it. A person could devote the rest of her life reading, watching, using, learning from its oceans of astute analysis and ready-to-use tools (only a sliver of which I’ve linked to here).
  • through our linked, commodified, surveilled, digital activities of watching, reading, sharing, writing, and learning about #fakenews; through our communal digital practice of hiding-while-exposing, built daily by people, corporations, the media, our government, and others; through our every digital engagement; we read, write, like, share and become the #fakenews.

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In 5 #hardtruths and 2 new pledges @#50 I wrote:

“Producing internet content, rather than simply consuming or sharing it, feels productive; in this time of desolation and destruction, good feelings and actions have real use and value.”

As much as I believe this—I said it—I’d like to use this format, another blog post, to develop some of the contradictions that underwrite my cliché, starting with some of the founding illogics of writing and reading in various internet formats. This is to say, one of the deepest paradoxes for me in this, and every online effort, is how the tight grip of digital architectures, capitalism, and other infrastructural truths that seed these platforms also produce norms for digital cultural production and consumption that both enliven and deaden all that we do here, and all that it might mean or matter:

  • Twitter holds platitudes and their illustrative pix. Facebook is for emotion and its depletion. Instagram centers images and flattens their affect. And blogs are dead because the devil’s in the details (see the following two bullet points)
  • Every morning I wake up and work on this project. There’s a lot of steps: I read the news and my various other feeds, choose a subject, write a post, find images and links, then move it to Facebook, Twitter, its website. This all takes real time and effort. I have to think hard. I know some people will read it, that it will last, and perhaps might even be returned to in the future at the end of its 100-day cycle of high-speed production. By the end of the process I feel invigorated. It has given my 100 first days under Trump some shape and purpose. I honor this feeling. It is mine.
  • As the day continues, however, the underlying morass of truths regarding internet habits, uses, and infrastructures—and their linked contradictory feelings—begins to build. I am pretty sure only a small number of people engaging with this project actually read this far into the post (there’s too much other content competing for their precious time and energy, and it might not even be that interesting or useful to others. So be it. Plus, they’re finding it on platforms that dissuade their deep reading, but I was the one who put it there in the first place!). This makes me feel dejected and duped, like, why did I waste the time and energy? Then I think: do I write for others, anyway? what is it that I want or need from you? how much of this need and pressure and desire is baked into false promises of the internet, like I have or even need an “audience”? And why and how are those who are reading actually engaging with this, or any other internet project, anyway? I am pretty sure people only hit “like,” or maybe “share,” if I write a pithy title or share a meaning-rich photo, and also to signal to me that they are there (with me), which feels great for a second, with an intense buzzy warmness attached as good as caffeine, and then something sort of lousy, too, comes to bear, with a more lasting interior dig like a sucker-punch. I’d prefer for you to engage with me through my words, which we most likely will never do here (because of how the title or the picture that drew us together in the first place is such a small place from which to interact). So, I feel swindled, and worse still, that I am the biggest swindler of myself.
  • Having this place for expression, “audience,” friends, interaction, validation, non-validation, the production and consumption of knowledge and culture, feels like something. It’s not a nothing. Here I am doing it. Yet, I know it is a sorry substitute for the building, engaged, place-based, interactions that sustain me and other people and movements. I have often called it (the production, movement, and connecting to and through well-made digital words and images) proto-political, a step toward well-being and world-changing but not those things themselves. But here I’ll go farther, and name it is a kind of proto-being, a half-life pointing to great possibility.
  • Thus, the real use and value of producing internet content is the potentiality written into words and images and their reception: mine, yours, and ours. Online, alone together, we acknowledge to ourselves that we are here, and momentarily heard and seen, if not really in the ways that feel most human, or that might be most productive for change.

Now look at that! Without planing to, it appears I have just authored my own version of my 2nd #100hardtruths at halftime: Choose to know, name, and share your own internet truths. I feel good about that circularity for now.

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Geert Lovink shared this hardtruth with me from his yet to be published paper, “Overcoming the Disillusioned Internet—Discussing Principles of Meme Design.”

“There is a crisis of ‘participatory culture.’ Let’s look at the example of danah boyd [I, too, refer to boyd’s self-criticism of media literacy in #100hardtruths #18] and how she’s deconstructing the ‘media literacy’ discourse about which so many of us had high hopes. A cynical reading of the news has overshadowed critical capacities. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, she asked if media literacy has backfired. Have trolling, clickbait, and fake news undermined the classic belief in the democratization of news production? Whereas, for the pre-internet babyboom generation, literacy was synonymous with the ability to question sources, deconstruct opinions, and read ideology into quasi-neutral messages, the meaning of literacy has shifted to the ability to produce one’s own content in the form of responses, contributions, blog postings, social media updates and images uploaded to video channels and photo-sharing sites. The shift from critical consumer to critical producer came with a price: information inflation (the well-meant prosumer synthesis never materialized). According to boyd, media literacy has come to resemble a distrust of media sources, and no longer fact-based critique. Instead of considering the evidence of experts, it has become sufficient to bring up one’s own experience, thus leading to a doubt-centric culture that can only be outraged and incapable of reasonable debate, a polarized culture that favors tribalism and self-segregation.”

image by Montclair State University

“The current situation demands a rethinking of the usual demands of activists and civil society players with regard to ‘media literary.’ How can the general audience be better informed? Is this an acurate diagnosis of the current problem in the first place? How can holes be made in the filter bubbles? How can Do-It-Yourself be a viable alternative when social media are already experienced in such terms? And can we still rely on the emancipatory potential of ‘talking back to the media’ via the familiar social networking apps? How does manipulation function today? Is it still productive to deconstruct The New York Times (and its equivalents)? How might we explain the workings of the Facebook newsfeed to its user base? If we want to blame algorithms, how can we translate their hidden complexity to large audiences? A case in point might be Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, in which she describes how ‘ill-conceived mathematical models micromanage the economy, from advertising to prisons.’ Her question is how to tame and, yes, disarm dangerous algorithms.

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I started blogging here on August 21, 2007. At first, it was exhilarating and challenging. Blogging helped introduce me to a robust and complex life online. On May 29, 2012, now an old-hat, I blogged exhuberantly about the many affordances of that practice: Why Do I Blog? On (almost) 5 Years.

Today, nearly 9 years later, I blog again on a related  theme—why I don’t blog anymore. My last blog was almost a year ago! on the film Jason and Shirley, a serious piece of writing with a purpose and audience in mind. It went on to be re-blogged on Indiewire and then shared (on Facebook and Twitter) by its intended readership (fans [and critics] of Jason Holliday, Stephen Winter, Shirley Clarke, and queer black cinema). Like so many others in this moment of the Internet, I used this minor platform (WordPress) to efficiently move off it and onto other ones.

In the past few years many people—basically everybody—have noticed that the internet feels awkward, too. It is obviously completely surveilled, monopolized, and sanitized by common sense, copyright, control, and conformism. It feels as vibrant as a newly multiplexed cinema in the nineties showing endless reruns of Star Wars Episode 1. Was the internet shot by a sniper in Syria, a drone in Pakistan, or a tear gas grenade in Turkey? Is it in a hospital in Port Said with a bullet in its head? Did it commit suicide by jumping out the window of an Information Dominance Center? But there are no windows in this kind of structure. And there are no walls. The internet is not dead. It is undead and it’s everywhere. Hito Steryl

Thus, with deserved hesitancy, some humor, and I hope a little humbleness, I will attempt to briefly outline why I have absolutely no reason to blog this here in the world of myself and you, the undead (except that I will capture my thoughts, I suppose, perhaps for my own use later), and about how strange and silly, really, it feels to today be in this form and format that is everywhere and nowhere. These conditions, or lack-of-affordances, tell me a great deal about my own current (critical) Internet-practices (hello to self!):

  • This format is too long: in length/time to read, in length/time to write. In the past few years, the time-span and page-space of Internet activity has radically constricted.
  • I don’t have an audience (if I ever did). When I was an active blogger, as is true for all social media, a significant amount of my labor was not actually spent on writing but on reading and linking: building and nurturing my audience and connections. I never had a large readership, or a particularly active one, nor did I seek one. I was thoroughly pleased and fed by the loyal interlocutors who grew with me.
  • I don’t read blogs. There is too much writing on the Internet and I am overwhelmed. Where I used to cherish going to my blog-reader, almost daily, to get access to smart thinking by people I respect who were writing about things I cared about, I would rather die than read my blogroll. That (now unlooked at) list fills me with dread and sadness and shame. This is a matter of volume. I can’t comprehend all that is there that I might need to know. And I do read! I even read in long-form; but I need someone, anyone, to manage it for me, and yet here I am, alone (with you?)
  • I read and read and read and then, I don’t write. Given the deluge of writing on today’s Internet, my time and labor is devoted to volume management of others’ writing. I use Facebook for this (hypocritical, I know: but oddly, even as my “friends” grow, this corporate holding-bin feels just small-enough to breath). Many of my colleagues and peers use Twitter for this, which is probably just-right, but is simply too fast and constricted for me. I have drawn that personal limit, simply as a matter of tempo of compression. I can’t engage in that space without my blood-pressure rising unnaturally and in ways that feel unhealthy.
  • I don’t write because I don’t have time, what with so much to read, but also because I am humbled and overwhelmed by the cascade of well-thought, beautifully-penned, biting, scathing, intelligent, sensitive, personal, political, erudite, simple, short and long prose that envelopes me. Where I once felt authorized to contribute (by way of my training, my commitments, my engagements in my sub-fields of choice: activist media on the Internet, video, and film, especially around AIDS, queer and feminist issues, black queer expression, YouTube, anti-war and anti-Zionist activism), like my voice might be needed, I am now awash in a sea of as-prepared and as-able and ever-more-ready voices. Whatever more needs to be said?
  • There’s too much here, so I want to get off the Internet. I didn’t then. I do now. I’d rather talk about it. With a friend. In a room. With my students. At dinner. Hey, that doesn’t mean I actually do get off the Internet, or that I don’t know the affordances of my time and labor spent here, but I will prioritize not doing things here whenever possible even as this gets harder and harder to do.
  • Because here I’m nothing more than a consumer and a commodity, even when I write, and always when I read, click and share. I do not want to self-brand and never did. I do not want to make more connections; I feel too connected. I do not want to hear more of myself. I have become too present too myself online.
  • Instead, lately I’ve found myself working to make more monumental, more collaborative, more impossible mixed-reality things and better yet experiences where I can reside, feel, and enjoy locally and communally, online and off, even as, and in response to, the exhaustion that so many link to our current “digital tailspin.” I hope to make breakable, temporary, incomprehensible, untweetable, nonsearchable, daily and local and shared initiatives. Good luck with that. And anyways, this is a very weird desire. “Welcome to digital realism. the 99% have all become survival artists in our austerity networks … the content potlatch is over. You share — but who cares?” (Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz)
  • Yes, in our world where everyone is making, I reiterate, we all lack audiences. With so much cultural production, abundance and exhaustion produce our current climate where any invitation to engage with another’s work, online or off, leads to a quick set of ready, friendly, loving responses … articulating regrets: I’d love to but am just too busy (or exhausted) to attend.
  • This isolating digital busy-work and exhaustion, leads us into the strangest and most cynical and sorry spirals yet, where we crave easier interactions, faster connections, effortless interfaces. Quick hot links, breezy hashtags, dashing fleeting likes, these feel right and yet also utterly wrong. Obviously, reading, sharing, tweeting, and chatting (within corporate Firewalls) are forms of activity. And sure, I do them all the time. I blogged earlier: “Activism that happens only on the Internet–like posting, reading, liking, and linking on Facebook–is not without use or value (for movements or individuals) but is proto-political, and needs to be followed up (for things of real consequence, like a war) with engagements in the world (of media): like protests, conversations, and even media secession.” (To and From Facebook: Being Together in our World of War).
  • I don’t blog, she blogs, because I’m exhausted by what I would have to say in the face of what I have already said. I could endlessly link to myself and my friends but I’d rather making something new with you.


I’m in Boulder Colorado, teaching a summer course on Feminist and Queer Documentary in their film program. My class on Tuesday—on Talking Heads Feminist Labor films—was nothing if not queer: but not in that gay way. Rather, it was stunning for me to re-teach films that are seminal in this history, films I’ve taught many times over the years, and to feel like the words, images, and very ideas being projected are suddenly so strange as to be utterly unfamiliar and therefore outside of comprehension.

In Barbara’ Kopple’s 1976 Academy Award winning, Harlan County USA, the working-class (poor) American laborers interviewed frequently call the corporations they work for “the capitalists,” but stranger yet “the enemy.”

In Julia Reichert (and James Klein and Miles Mogulescu’s) 1976 Academy Award nominated, Union Maids, the women laborers are not just eccentrically and unrecognizably in unions, they are union organizers, and weirder still, call themselves “socialists” and even “radicals.”

Now, as I’ve said, I’ve taught these films a million times, and in previous years the talk was all about documentary form: the pros and cons of talking heads. While these seventies staples still perform this role in film history and on my syllabus, I couldn’t but also queer the docs’ content: the wacky idea that laborers deserve decent working conditions and benefits, that all American citizens deserve education and health care, and that collective organizing is our only tactic to gain and insure these rights, given the structure of capitalism. The illuminating lesson of reteaching this class in 2012 (I first offered it as the very first class I taught in 1990) turns out to be that identity politics really have proven successful in our many visibility projects that have made the representation of women, and queers and people of color relatively innocuous to contemporary audienecs; yet, it seems, we left not just class, but an overt class critique, outside of these so-readily available pictures that I now teach as historical oddities in class.

Now, in Boulder (unlike at Pitzer), I am teaching in a State school to young people who are working—at movie theaters, bakeries, behind counters, and in stock rooms—while attending college. Certainly, all my students at Pitzer are not wealthy (many of them are the first in their families to attend college), but the culture of private liberal arts education insures that they don’t work while they are at school (they take loans, and sometimes, grants, and work in the summer).

So perhaps the film felt so queer because I was watching it with students who labor. But no: even these working students could not see themselves, could not identify, could not apply the strange terms and ideas of these not-so-distant sorta-even mainstream labor films to their own experience: organized, angry, articulate labor is really too queer for our times. And frankly, given the recent rush of this blog post, On Leaving Academia (for Google) by Associate Professor of Computer Science, Terran Lane amongst my hoity-toity professor friends (via Facebook), it seems that none of us can really see the corporation as the enemy anymore. While Professor Lane carefully, eloquently, and cogently spells out (in leftist terms) how the neoliberalization of academia has made the University of New Mexico an inhospitable place for him to work, he turns none of this critical gaze on the corporation to whither he flees.

Here, I find guidance from Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s brilliant writing in The Soul at Work. Berardi explains (among so many other things) how our work as intellectuals in this time of “Semiocapitalism” (where the mind, language and creativity become the primary tools for the production of value) has transformed away from an Enlightenment project that was necessarily ethical and political. Today, our work as members of the “cognitariat” “becomes a part of the autonomous process of capital” because it is now located on the Net and occurs every time we type.

Given this transformation, how do we insure that our work remains ethical and political? Is it really okay to “luv” or “friend” or labor for Google as all of my students so unselfconsciously, unapologetically, and even joyously seem to do? Aren’t corporations still the enemy? Is there a difference between knowledge work (“brain work”) and our “fragmented cognitive labor” (“chain work”)? Bifo and I insist: yes!

We can imagine and enact applications of our cognitive labor within environments and experiences that fall outside the corporate Internet (and here, on this web-page, I see that I must fail; but in the class, where I queer labor, ah, there, a moment where my soul is at work for and within the community of learners who puzzle over seeing labor together). Can Dr. Lane have similar experiences with his colleagues at Google? These answers do not seem easy, given the pull of the Internet and the pleasure we take in our work here. And, I don’t want to romanticize the University nor the “real” classroom. However, I will suggest that our most important work today, as the cognitatariat, is to find spaces outside of capital, as Occupy so daringly enacts, and to continue to name the enemy.

“Neoliberal policies are cutting back education and the public health system and is cancelling the right to a salary and a pension. The outcome will be impoverishment of large parts the population, a growing precarity of labor conditions (freelance, short-term contracts, periods of unemployment) and daily humiliation of workers….What is thrilling right now is the multiplicity of new connections and commitment. But what is even more exciting is finding ways that can set in motion the collective ‘exodus’ from the capitalist agony.” On #Occupy: Franco “Bifo” Berardi and Geert Lovink

“An object whose form installs delays in sampling and syndication and whose content demands postponed gratification, the book mobilizes the gap of mediacy so as to stimulate thought. E-books and articles as well as blog posts on theoretical topics are conscientious ways to store and share ideas. But these benefits come at a cost: we pay with attention.” (Jodi Dean, Blog Theory)

Jodi Dean’s compelling read theorizes how “communicative capitalism,” built upon contemporary new media practices, refashions the productive possibilities of reflexivity, the gaze, participation, and communication to produce a sort of “whatever” democracy that profits capitalists over their willing user/citizens. Her writing on the blog’s (and new media’s) emphasis on the fact, volume, and reiteration of expression over its content or author seems right on to me in regards to the majority of user-generated content on today’s web. And yet, that’s not what I’m doing here, on this blog, part of that web, which leads me to challenge less Dean’s findings (her content) and instead, her form, thereby asking her to account for the place of blogs in relation to books and also new media “theory.”

Of course, I’m not telling her anything she doesn’t already know. She begins: “a book that makes critical-theoretical claims about blogging thus encounters a double problem of its object and its form of presentation.” But as she so strongly attests, reflexivity about communicativity is no longer any sort of critical out. Which is to say, just ’cause she names her formal quandary up front doesn’t mean she’s solved it. ” My wager is that critical media theory is possible in a book form,” she decides.

Sure. By why not a blog, or many blog posts, instead of a book? Dean says that it is a matter of attention, and I’d agree. When I lecture on my video-book, my much-repeated aphorism is to challenge its readers to “devote to it the undivided attention they’d be willing to give to a movie”: 90-minutes of focused attention. I do so because Google Analytics tells me that the average time on the “video-book” is around three minutes, and I know that whatever its or my limitations, there is more than three minutes of argument and theory to be had there. But more so, I have structured much of the argument into the very form of the “book” (something much harder to do on paper in codex, at least if your subject is new media), and if you don’t experience it, ride it, play with it, much of its “theory” about experience, duration, interactivity, montage, and learning online goes unlearned.

If theory is something akin to a structured set of principles that explain and clarify other systems, there is nothing inherent to “theory” taking the form of either words or books. And as Dean attests, there is something quite expressively and intellectually useful when theory’s form is aligned with its object. However, if “theory” is something academics do to legitimize and authorize the seriousness of our labors, or the qualifications needed for our practices, or the nature of our interlocutors or judges, then it makes much more sense to do this in a book given both our needs as workers to be recognized, evaluated, and promoted, and in regards to our skill-set as workers trained to write with words for readers trained to read them. However, Dean wants to say that the issue is the book’s special quality of “postponed gratification,” seemingly in relation to the Internet’s over-abundant, over-indulgent, loose, fleeting and light little pleasures. “The forms of theory’s presentation likewise highlights how communicative capitalism fragments thoughts into ever smaller bits.”

We’re back to Lanier‘s dreaded bits and Lovink’s beloved books. Hey, I like books as much as the next professor! I often also say that Learning from YouTube is a plea for the long-form written in the short-form: how good (or real) a professor can you actually be if you’re writing your complicated thoughts in sentences? But there are other long forms, and serious ways of expression outside the book, and as we all know, the Internet is a prime container and transmitter of these lengthy objects, too.

While the majority of users may have been easily convinced to use the Internet towards fleeting, addictive, anxious, reiterative expression there is ample room for other uses and users, and theory that does not attend to this misses the whole, but more critically, theory that doesn’t speak here gives up on the Internet while we still may just have time to lay claim to other practices in this ever-narrowing place.

“Forget the browser: real-time is the new crack.” (this and all following quotes by Geert Lovink)

Next up on my private pursuit of the longue durree, the slow form of books, the forgoing of the browser for a summer of deep catch-up: Networks without a Cause. Geert Lovink writes in a tempo well-matched to the Internet culture he theorizes (“why store a flow?”) in a sometimes overwhelming rush of hard-cutting spot-on aphorisms, often strung one after the other after the other, leaving this reader breathless and often distraught (given the clarity, wisdom, and dour take of the criticism): like a cutting intellectual thrill ride with a mission. “The Internet can be ‘secondary’ and dominant at the same time: whirlpool dialectics.”

“Let’s praise blogs.” Thanks! Lovink thinks a lot about blogs, as well as Internet theory (critical Web 2.0 studies is the book’s [and above video’s] subject and tactic), although not so much blogs as theory (a blindspot, clearly: Theory comes in Books by Big Boys; theory is content). Rather, he looks at blogs and other new media practices as places from whence to understand web 2.0 and then “theorize.” Admittedly, after reading him on blogs in his Book, I feel even more self-aware (and female) about my form and practice than usual. “Blogs create a unique mix of the private (online diary) and the public (PR-management of the self.”)

While I will agree that this unsettling mix of private and public is definitive(ly female), Lovink’s prescient thinking about the insidious role of corporate positivity, anonymity, individuality, and community online would be deepened by the addition of feminist theory (and practice). This is to say, that if one theorizes (and practices) the me and the we of the Internet from an orientation where X-reality social justice is still unrealized, and therefore is one’s cause, then a situated and safe self, and her community, might demand friendliness, care, and embodiment in ways that are neither corporate, private, nor anonymous. “Meanwhile, welcome to the social.”

“Google is built upon positive affirmation.” He’s right, I do find it hard to be critical here, in this format and forum (although I am doing my best in this post.) In a “real” scholarly essay that ends up on paper—a long time away and in a place far far from me—I’m almost paid to do be critical; and I’ve done really well if I am distanced, analytical, even hostile. Here, I write differently: in real-time to a few people who, according to Lovink (and with this I concur), will read but don’t comment-back (I can almost feel you reading; and I can see the count on my Dashboard). That is, if I keep it short. So Lovink is right again: when I blog, I take into account “the pressure to remain light and positive.” But, come to think of it, as a feminist scholar I have sometimes used just this tone and method in my offline academic work (even Books!) … for reasons theoretical and political.

Given that I have chosen to write and make my scholarly work about communities of which I am a political and social member (AIDS activists, feminist and queer media, Internet feminists), this has necessitated, at times, and towards particular ends, an almost Internet-like friendliness—even in my Books. And this friendliness—inspired by shared values and goals, and an understanding that one might be working with a particular person or people in X-reality settings for many years—is not the same thing as a like button, or even a friend on Facebook because it is deep, principled, studied, long-lasting, and committed (like a book!).

“Within Facebook there are no hippie dropouts, just a pathological dimension of commitment to the Real Self going hand in hand with a comfort of being alone among friends in a safe, controlled environment.” However, given the ongoing and deep effects of racism, sexism, xeno- and homo-phobia and the like, online and off, some selves want to be seen and heard and self-constituting within settings where they also feel safe. X-reality is not egalitarian in regards to vulnerability. But this is not the safety of numbness, dumbness, the hegemonic, or over-consumption, as Lovink might have it by looking to Facebook and other generic and corporate practices of social media but rather the conscious and careful building of a political community and self so as to produce the possibility for critical dialogue because one hopes and moves for empowerment and action (better to look to political or professional blogs; the Internet with a cause).

Some Internet selves wish to be seen by those who share their values and goals. “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” (this quote is Virgina Woolf in Lovink but he doesn’t seem to get it, even as he uses her: anonymity has hidden women away as much as its allowed us to speak.) “The burka proves to be the ultimate provocation to Western transparency.” But many women strive to be heard and seen and respected.

“When we blog we become an individual (again).” Yep, I blog to be one possible me (although certainly not anymore Real than anywhere else), one crafted version of this person with her history and beliefs, and from there, that me, uses this technology to engage and learn with others to build and maintain community, and to hold a space for alternative, activist, radical culture that tends to be under-served and under-seen or -heard in this swirl of the popular.

I first blogged about five years ago (on August 21, 2007) following the always astute advise of Yvonne Welbon who was, at that time, producing a feature documentary I was making with and about my sister Antonia. Always a student of industry, Yvonne was convinced that producing a vibrant web-presence for myself would also enable grand possibilities for SCALE. In this she proved both dead-on and also off-target. Over three-hundred posts later, and a much more dispersed and vast Internet life than I could have ever imagined in 2007—one that includes this blog and another, three YouTube channels, a born-digital video-book, several websites, a global initiative to teach feminism and technology online, and uncountable web articles, interviews, reviews, guest-posts—I would like to pause and think about what and why I do here; who I am when on this blog; and why none of that mattered much for my documentary but did end up affecting my work and myself in other ways:

I am also speaking (metaphorically) to Geert Lovink, who I have been reading lately (about blogs: see his Networks without a Cause and Zero Comments), and to graduate students and their mentors who just might be reading, some of whom I’ve (literally) been talking with a lot about the role of blogs and other forms of Internet presence within our profession. I think, with all the best intentions, like my producer Yvonne before us, we’re getting some of this quite wrong (that is to say in what ways it actually helps us; and how we might best use it) as well as other parts right. Most specifically, the Internet’s unassailable logic of numbers, popularity, or virality is actually not well-suited to the kind of work that most of us do which is deep, focused and small by design; and the neo-liberal production of glossy or cool, sellable, spreadable things and surfaces (selves, websites, blogs) does not map neatly to careers based first upon content. By looking to mainstream Internet practices (as was true for Hollywood film before us) we fail to understand the norms and needs of marginal, radical, or alternative users or uses of a medium. So:

  • I see this blog as a tool and extension of my professional life as media scholar, maker, and activist. I think of it as an “academic blog” or “professional blog” with little in common with blogs that re-post things by other people, mark the mundane and private, or sell things.
  • I write quickly (usually in an hour or less) about the work I am currently seeing, making or reading, what I am thinking or teaching about (including other blogs), and cultural concerns that connect to topics of interest to my work and so now also to this blog (AIDS, fake and real documentary, YouTube and Internet culture, queer and feminist art and media).
  • I write short because: that is part of the style I have honed for this place (I also try to include at least one video); I imagine that that is what readers expect online; this allows me to write quick, so I can do so often and even when I have other responsibilities.
  • I try to write in a voice that is neither overly academic nor excessively personal, even as
  • I write in the I voice.
  • I am not anonymous even as I rarely discuss my private life.
  • When I reveal personal things about my non-professional life this is because theyare part of my professional life, in that my work is most often about the personal and political. Even so, I do so with care (marking and monitoring my own limits for revelation) and because my feminist methods, topics, and politics so demand.
  • I write to a small but steady group of readers who rarely comment. I know who a few of you are, I guess about some of the others, and a significant chunk I have no idea about, although I know you wouldn’t read me if you didn’t share some of my professional concerns. I am small and specific enough not to draw haters (although I get a lot of spam).
  • I have no interest in growing my readership although I do cross-blog, on occasion, because I think communities outside my niche might be interested.
  • I have met people through my blog and have gone on to work on projects with them.
  • I have met readers of my blog, and learned that sometimes I speak to them.
  • I have used writing from the blog towards other, larger projects. The quick words often become more thoughtful talks, larger articles, or merely the records of thoughts I had that help me to develop new thinking and remember old.
  • I do not think about this as a “publication” (for my cv), but I do include it as an entry under the category: “on the Internet.”
  • I do not think of this writing as self-branding, although I suppose it could be construed as such. Rather, I imagine myself talking first to myself, and then anyone else who might want to listen because we share interests and might want to learn more from each other.
  • I do not think of this writing as self-promotion, although I suppose it could be construed that way. Rather, I imagine it at work within a network of the like-minded who are seeking evidence of, and new insights upon, our shared interests in our rather hostile, inane, or rushed culture.
  • I do not think of this writing as a diary: it is neither personal nor hidden.
  • I do think of this writing as critical Internet and cultural studies, about and in its vernacular, place, and spirit while also exhibiting and enacting the feminist qualities I wish for this and other places: visibility, context, criticality, safety, community.
  • I think of this Internet practice as Internet theory.
  • I write first to craft and share this Internet self to myself, then to place my marginal cultural interests and insights into the record, and finally, to anyone else who will have me.

Video Dada

February 1, 2010

I drove out to UC Irvine with the kids to catch the Video Dada show (“dealing with intersections of video, art, and the internet.”) Martha Gever, the show’s curator, was kind enough to also drive out and chat with me after. The show puts into action and on to the wall many of the concerns I’ve been expressing here about video art on YouTube by transforming curating into the “real” (video) art practice and allowing YouTube work to become art by surrounding its 300 unruly videos with to-be-expected large-screen, flat, chic monitors. Importantly, Gever also provides thrift store couches and also on to the wall, big, scrawled messy handwritten quotations from media/cultural theorists as varied as Marcel Proust, Geert Lovink, and Virginia Heffernan. Without their raucous, ugly YouTube pages to frame them (ads, other videos, comments, tags) the projected videos looked pretty, like nothing other than honest to goodness video art in all its varied polyphony: cut-up, hand-painted, home-video-like, music-video-inflected, found-ads, and so on. It was that frame that did it, making art out of madness: slick screen, black box, curator’s stamp of approval. The wall demands respect, as does the hushed room with guard. And, unlike YouTube, the quotes create context.

Gever formally enacts many of the contradictions of video art on YouTube through the fitting design of her show. The Dada reference marks the play between art production and popular/capitalist consumption as definitive of YouTube video as it was of some urinals. Furthermore, Dada suitably organizes the cacophony and distraction of undifferentiated material–“all the objects in the [YouTube] archive have equal weight…They are de-contextualized and flattened” proclaims Robert Gehl, written on the wall–that defines both YouTube and the show (there are 300 videos playing, almost randomly, on something like ten monitors with nothing but typed lists of titles and authors to anchor them: you never really know or care what you are seeing). Gever was quick to note that while the order of the videos was not important, she had carefully and rigorously selected all of them (as “artful: carefully constructed, inventive, mindful of technique, and infused by sophisticated cultural intelligence”) through a painstaking, multi-year process of looking for video art in the sea of crap that included the additional looking-labor of several TAs, as well as Gever putting the names of hundreds of contemporary artists into YouTube to see if anything might come up (it did…) Refreshingly and tellingly, I recognized only a few names from the video art pantheon. However, when I went to find things to review on YouTube, I couldn’t (like LaToya Ruby Frazier’s “A Mother to Hold,” which I watched all the way through it’s grueling home movie like interaction with the artist’s crack-whore mother, or Guthrie Lonergan’s “Office Party” or “Kids.” While I couldn’t re-find them on YouTube, Gever had located both of these YouTubers through searching from the New Museum’s  Younger Than Jesus show.)

It was important for me when I noted that I didn’t really want to watch most of the videos. Unlike on YouTube, I couldn’t fast-forward them, cut them off when bored, or jump to something else vaguely related. The myth of audience participation was completely denied here, and the work suffered from it, proving an affront to another definitive quality of YouTube video, but not in the best Dada sort of way. Gever writes: “the non-hierarchical, uncurated organization of YouTube provides a fitting venue for videos that are fleeting, provisional, rowdy, rude, epigrammatic, overtly political, or otherwise unruly in the themes that govern more disciplined precincts of art.” With this I agree which lets me see how YouTube can’t be as radical as Dada hoped to be. On leaving, my 12-year old daughter remarked that the show wasn’t really Dada enough in that it didn’t feel like much of an affront, nor did it inspire strong feelings since a lot of the video was simply fun or funny, and more so, in the end, the sheer undifferentiated totality of it quieted one, as YouTube always seems wont to do.