Over the past few days I’ve been teaching my recent writing about fake docs on YouTube to my Media Studies seniors, while thinking a lot about THE OWLS (and reading Trans Theory, more on this below) and chatting with my friend and colleague, Jennifer Friedlander, on her recent writing on art-world scams and reality-TV shams, as inflected by Lacan and Zizek. It’s enough to make a girl’s head swim with delight, below some avenues of flight (please, please, please respond, these ideas are new, and dangerous, and open to change):

While we were making THE OWLS, Campbell X, our “sound-man” (she’s a talented British director in her own right) noted in one of our talking-head interviews (the crew and cast were interviewed across the production about the themes and meta-themes of the film: queer cinema and identity, lesbian culture, aging, and the like) that as an English-woman of Caribbean descent she found it important that the two black characters in the film (played by Cheryl Dunye and Skyler Cooper) respectively, were not NAMED as black in the screenplay. The B-team (shooting the “documentary” component of the film), myself, Mariah Garnett and Rhys Ernst discussed (on camera) with Campbell the productive potential for unknowing in such post-identity moves.

Skyler and Lisa, Sky and Lily, THE OWLS

Skyler and Lisa, Sky and Lily, THE OWLS

How could we guess the complex intellectual, artistic, and political ripples that would surface just the next day upon the visit to our set of theorist and activist Jack Halberstam to engage the cast in discussions of trans vs. butch identity and politics. For it came to our attention that the film’s six characters were also unnamed in relation to their gender/sexuality identification, although, given Cheryl’s interests, the assumption was that all the characters were probably women, who were lesbians, and mostly butch. Just so, it turned out that Skyler chose to play her character Skye, as an androgynous looking but female identified woman, just as she chooses to enact herself.

Some of the B-team, Rhys and Mariah, THE OWLS

Some of the B-team, Rhys and Mariah, THE OWLS

And here the so-called “generational divide” presented itself, on one “side,” the nostalgic celebration of the lesbian or female or feminist, on the other the seeking for gender and sexual unmooring. During Jack’s talking head interview, he identified as “transgenderd butch” and then suggested that trans-people still need to be named (or counter-intuitively moored) because unknowing leaves them unseen, as fresh and fragile and mostly invisible is this position, even as post-trans theory hopes for the differences between performativity and materiality, the image and the body to remain unfastened and unfixed.

Carol, Cheryl, THE OWLS (all photos by Love)

Carol, Cheryl, THE OWLS (all photos by Love)

Which brings the theoretical and political concerns that I’ve been toying with her, most recently, to a certain sort of front and center. Unknowing and unnaming, like any tactics or forms, are only relevant in relation to goals, communities, bodies, and practices. They too must at times float and at others be fixed. While the unknowing of race is liberating for Cheryl, Skyler and Campbell, the unnaming of trans silences for Jack, Mariah, Rhys and Deak Evgenikos. The ironic free-fall I’ve been thinking about lately, the place where the difference between the “real” and the “fake,” the known and the unknowable, the fixed and the uncertain are indeterminate is an unproductive place of muddle (if perhaps fleeting fun) until it is attached to something that matters: a stake in the future. A stake, which signifies the hard, mean and cutting over the soft, drab, and unmoving (of say the anchor).

As we discussed in class yesterday, while it once seemed enough to work towards a future where people learned that there was a critical distance between themselves and the “objective” or “ideological” productions of dominant culture, this knowledge, so obviously secured in what Friedlander identifies as the contemporary audience’s “knowing very well but even so” is not enough if it occurs in isolation, as an end in itself, unlinked to a body, a movement, or best of all, a project of becoming.

Lisa and Campbell, THE OWLS (photo by Love)

Lisa and Campbell, THE OWLS (photo by Love)

Whereas in my recent writing I had been wanting an anchor (to the “Real,” or what Zizek calls “the shock of the truth”), I now reconsider this to be an attachment and a commitment to a dream of a better reality.

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Dear Ickaprick

September 2, 2009

So the internet/web 2.0 allows you and I to meet, talk, and learn together, creating new communions and opportunities for weirdness (YouTube shares but does not OWN this). Hi and thanks. It’s really great to meet you. Your response is really provocative and I am loathe to try to sum up my thoughts quickly, but here goes:

Undoubtedly and wonderfully, YouTube allows participants (viewers and makers) hitherto unimagined opportunities to see themselves and the world. But as rpdc80 comments on your blog, that does not mean they are doing so critically. This is not to say everyone needs a Ph.D., but rather, if we don’t also grow other opportunities for radical expression/inquiry (education, literacy, theories of media and politics, queer theory, etc.) along with access to mediamaking tools what is mostly produced occurs without the power of histories and theories of art, politics, the body, sexuality, etc. and it tends then, to primarily refer to what people already know, dominant media, which is most often paltry, mediocre, and ungiving.

I love your idea that the muddle can produce clarity and introspection. That does make sense to me. When I watched Footballbob’s video for my class, and he told me on later discussion that it was actually REAL, that rocked my world. Again, given that we now watch so quickly, and with such callous disregard, I would ask what else is needed within (or around) a video to push the viewer to this moment of introspection. Is it the dialogue you have with your friend Ryan, for example. I find that sort of communion impossible on YouTube (but possible on blogs and in real life), I have written in other places about why conversation is so purile on YouTube, and here I blame the corporation that denies us community on the site to keep us searching, moving eyeballs to advertisements…

Doom-and-gloom? I suppose. I’m sorry. I do love Miranda, and the pregnant girls too, but in another article about queer rep on YouTube I suggest that movements (and people) need more than isolated blips of feeling. We need things to be connected through shared ideas and goals. It is hard for me to understand either of these stand alone videos in that light. Now, on your blog, that’s another matter. They are linked, re-purposed, focused, and used towards your (personal and political) ends.

Alex

No More Potlucks

July 2, 2009

nomorepotlucks.org
presents: no. 4 Juillet-August
theme: “copie”

mjparpd

The Increasingly Unproductive Fake
Alexandra Juhasz

Dump Gay Marriage Now
Yasmin Nair

Getting Messy and Complicated with Dana Inkster
Dayna McLeod

(Colonial) Archives and (Copyright) Law
Jane Anderson

Reproductive Technologies: Flesh, Paint, Text
Laura J. Murray

Sex Worker Rehabilitated in Outdoor Cage. Later Died Alone.
Nicholas Little

Pierre Dalpé’s Duplicitous Heart
NMP

Lesbian Concentrate
Bernie Bankrupt

Butch 47
Elisha Lim

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nomorepotlucks.org
purchase your hard copy now: http://stores.lulu.com/nomorepotlucks
subscribe online: http://nomorepotlucks.org/user
contact us: info@nomorepotlucks.org

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I put out a call for the community to help me find videos for my research for writing some upcoming talks about what I call “productive” fake documentary on YouTube. Although my numbers feel rather dinky considering the vast network of media-studies-type enthusiasts on the internet, I did acquire a pretty cool list of twenty YouTube videos, and associated ruminations, through my process. I’ve spent the past week trying to whip this up into shape, and happily can report that my thesis is now presentable to the public, and also, so timely, given the inauguration of the first YouTube president, that I decided not to wait until its official presentation in February at CAA and March, in Iowa, at their Avant-Doc conference.

“The week after the election, in a talk at the New York Public Library, Joan Didion lamented that the United States in the era of Barack Obama had become an “irony-free zone,” a vast Kool-Aid tank where “naïvete, translated into ‘hope,’ was now in” and where “innocence, even when it looked like ignorance was now prized.” Andy Newman, Sunday Styles Section, New York Times, November 23, 2008

Joan, seriously (umm…ironically?), have you spent much time on YouTube? You of all people must be aware that Barack Obama, heralded by The Washington Post, no less, as our first “YouTube President,”  also announced after his election the commencement of weekly broadcasts of his presidency’s “fire-side chats” on-line and on YouTube. While the tone, form, and message of these networked national addresses are decidedly serious, presidential even, Joan, you’re savvy enough to get the joke, to intuit the wink, the implied aside to a history of worn out presidents, tired fires, and cornball communications. His move, like most on YouTube, is irony-full: a regal black American taking up the hot-spot, filling the usually-segregated head-shot, a new kind of president-talk produced through documentary’s oldest, most eloquent sobriety, fireside-hot, only to be elegantly plopped into his society’s silliest platform. Incongruity-free? Naïve? I’d say not.

Furthermore, Joan, with all due respect to your many past cultural insights, you’re using, like so many from the pre-networked generations, terms that seem downright outdated for getting at the heart of today’s innovative on-line ways. Garden-style YouTube irony is not oppositional to innocence, as you mistakenly suggest, but rather a bedfellow to playful performances of naivete and even ignorance. Think dead-pan rendering of a gravitas never to be taken at face value. Think millions of regular people’s video attempts at the facial under-performances modeled by the professional cast of The Office. Obama simply, perhaps masterfully, twists this riff. His YouTube jam goes like this: the serious usually marks the funny, but in his version, hah! Get this…the serious is the serious. Really. YouTube is all irony, all the time, and our YouTube President wittily plays it against itself. Sincerely folks, on YouTube, who came first, Tina Fey or Sarah Palin? I think you know the answer. On YouTube, what gets watched more: Obama’s fire-side chats, Obama Girl, Obama on Ellen, or Obama via Will.i.am? Yes we can. Irony-free? No you can’t.
Interestingly, I’ve been engaged in a similar irony-joust with fellow YouTube scholar, Michael Wesch, who also, but not due to age or non-native-status, views YouTube as a happy community-building Kool-aid dispenser. I’ve suggested in a variety of fora on-line and off—sarcastically, sorta—that his cheery findings must have to do with where he lives (Kansas), or perhaps his field of training (Anthropology: they do love a happy native). But in this talk, I will choose to move this question from the jokey realm of the blog to the more academic framework of the fake-talk: how and why do some see sincerity where us black-clad, red-state, Obama-loving bitter, city-dwellers see hypocrisy, or is that hope, or perhaps hope hiding hypocricy?

Which leads me to “The History of LOLcats” (this video was suggested to me by Julie, via HASTAC.) Like Barack Obama, LOLcats are a significant irony dividing line. Do you, Kool-aid drinker, think people actually find them cute—ooooh how delightful, so sweet—or, like me, would you posit that they enable a sarcastic viewing position: a calculated posture of slightly mean-spirited looking down upon that other person who thinks they’re unimaginably adorable. This critical distance, not cuteness, is actually the deep pleasure to be found in this ironic YouTube staple.


It wil be this talk’s contention (coming soon in March!) that YouTube has escalated our culture’s intense irony indulgence to heights so unparalleled that it has actually become impossible, if not downright unpopular, to see the difference between sincerity and satire. We can’t. And fan that I am of Obama, yes we can, and hater (or secret lover) that I may be of LOLcats, in my talk I will suggest that there are great dangers to a visual culture (and the real it is or will be) where irony becomes so dominant as to be invisible, the very plight, I suggest, that befell none other than the esteemed, and erudite Joan Didion and Michael Wesch. It’s easy to miss.