Learning from YouTube

September 7, 2007

I am teaching an experimental class on/about YouTube this semester.

After two class sessions I realize this course is going to be really fun and super hard, challenging me as a professor in new ways that I am unaccustomed to. Let’s start with the press, the numbers, and the public nature of the course (all related). After the first course, I was interviewed for an article about the course for “Issues in Higher Education” which came out before the second class, where there were two journalists and a photographer attending. This, added to the fact that we tape and put on YouTube each class, and that I had learned that people actually were watching these classes, led me to be self-conscious to a degree I am usually not when I teach. Typically, over an hour of teaching you hit some high notes, make a few blunders, and otherwise get through. You’re human, and undergraduates are your witness. During our second class, the issues got serious and complex quickly, primarily concerning the ubiquitous representations of race and racism on YouTube and in our class (and this is good) but I was self-conscious about how my colleagues would view the way I didn’t hit gold in the live processing of these complex ideas. The self-consciousness slowed down my thinking and so on and so forth. Now the class is about, among other things, issues of privacy and access in higher education. And while I’m committed to what it means to open access to my class, it now seems clear to me that it limits my teaching (and perhaps my students’ learning, in that they are equally self-conscious).

Numbers (hits to the page keep doubling) also add a weird and unwieldy stress to my teaching, and the course. Yes, they are informative about the logic of YouTube, but ultimately invasive. As is simply managing the outside communication this brings (emails, letters, requests) that expand the demands on me from my 30 enrolled students to anyone interested.

I am also concerned that the experimental nature of the class (largely student led and limited to YouTube for all coursework–assignments and research) is going to make our work much harder, and my chances of failing much larger. It was exciting to see that in the second class, and with only the most superficial of assignments, the students were already touching on many of the BIG IDEAS about YouTube and digital culture: its postmodern reliance on humor, celebrity, and referentiality to mainstream culture; its democratic function as soap box for the talent/opinions/expression of regular people; its mind-numbing, time-wasting superficiality; the raucous and unruly nature of conversation it produces. My challenge will be to work with the class to hone, focus, and systematize such conversations given that we can not refer to other scholarly works, and given that I have ceded a certain amount of real control to them. How will I guide the conversation ways scholarly and rigorous given that our frame and guide is not?

Frankly, I’m not certain, now that we’re doing it, that there’s enough to do or know about YouTube (given Youtube as the tight structure for gaining such knowledge) to sustain a course. While I’ve succeeded in developing a structure that models the content I seek, I am not certain we need 15 weeks to figure this out.

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Slogan three

September 3, 2007

“I will give you my definition of art: art is ‘making.'”
Jean Renoir

YouTube creates a platform for non-professional, democratic media production. Open the floodgates, and it’s true, everyone is an artist, people make in numbers unprecedented in cinema’s history.

(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.

10 Terms. 3 calls.

August 23, 2007

These are the central terms of Media Praxis and 3 related calls to action.

1) Marx. Those who make and control ideas make and control history. Cultural revolution is integral for social, political and material transformation.
2) Access. A greater number of individuals from more diverse cross-sections of society need to make, see, and understand radical or expressive media.
3) Process. How you make and receive media is as important as the object itself.
4) Praxis: Thinking is less effective when it occurs in isolation from doing and without a stake in the world.

5) Technology. The machines we use affect what we can produce. But machines are never enough, as You-Tube alone efficiently demonstrates. We also need:
6) Pedagogy. Also understood as a matter of access, it is always necessary to consider who is taught to be a mediamaker and with what orientation, skills, and values; and who is taught to be critical of the media, as well.
7) Producer: We need to expand the role of the artist/intellectual in society: who makes, when, what and with which supports. This begs us to consider the difference between a politics of self-expression and that of cultural revolution.

8)Participant: What is the role and who gets to be a viewer/critic, a participant, in media culture? Then, what is the role of emotion and identification?
9) Ethics: The lived power relations between humans that are mobilized by media production and reception are integral to its process and understanding.
10) Form. We are always debating: Do you need radical form to convey revolutionary messages?

1) Media Praxis must integrate theory and practice with the local and global. Femi-digi-practioners should lead and learn from conversations in real communities about the impact, meanings, and power of the media. This should be done through site specific and problem based projects where we create solutions communally.

2) Working collaboratively and stressing and benefiting from the diversity of our approaches, training, experience, and positions leads to the best Media Praxis. We need to be brave enough to teach each other, work past specialization, and in the variety of languages in which we are comfortable and trained.

3) We must model what we want to create: a Media Praxis supporting engaged citizens who participate in power sharing, or “creative democracy,” radical pedagogy, ethical process, accountability and social justice enacted through and about the media.

The Resolution of MP:me

August 21, 2007

(After “The Resolution of Three,” by Dziga Vertov with Mikhail Kaufman and Elizaveta Svilova, April 10, 1923)

The situation on the digital front, namely YouTube, must be considered inauspicious.

As was to be expected, the first videos shown recall the old “industrial” models (slogan-like media; pithy, precise, rousing calls to action or consumption, or action as consumption; bite-sized, word-sized, postage-sized cinema; strong, intense, interchangeable, and forgettable films; the stuff of YouTube).

Therefore the Council of MP:me without waiting for my students to be assigned works and ignoring the latter’s desire to realize their own projects, is temporarily disregarding authorship rights and resolves to immediately publish for general use the common principles and slogans of the future revolution-through-YouTube; for which purpose, first and foremost, femi-digi-practioner (feminist digital practioner) Alexandra Juhasz (MP:me) is directed, in accordance with the discipline of Media Praxis (an enduring, mutual, and building tradition that theorizes and creates the necessary conditions for media to play an integral role in cultural and individual transformation, see my proposal for an on-line”book” on this topic at http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/), to publish certain excerpts from her chapter “Documentary on YouTube: The Failure of the Direct Cinema of the Slogan,” (to be published “ in Re-Thinking Documentary, ed. Thomas Austin [NY: McGraw Hill, 2008]) which shall sufficiently clarify the nature of that failure.

The Resolution of MP:me
In fulfillment of the resolution of the Council of MP:me on August 21 of this year, I am publishing the following excerpts here and now on this blog, “Media Praxis”:

The death sentence passed in 2007 by the femi-digi-practioner MP:me on YouTube, with no exceptions, holds true for the present as well. The most scrupulous examination reveals that what YouTube gains in access it lacks in knowledge; what YouTube achieves through open admission it loses in focused vision. While many single videos, and single artistic media experiments, might in themselves be properly directed to the emancipation of the digital (which for the most part is reduced to a state of pitiable slavery, of subordination to the imperfections and the shortsightedness of the slogan of dominant corporate media: the simplistic selling of ideas so as to move people to fight or buy, no matter), YouTube’s decided disinclination towards ongoing bonds is made manifest through a corporate, postmodern architecture founded on the transitory and evocative link. Meanwhile, the tradition of MEDIA PRAXIS demands not merely numbers, access, and reciprocity but also, at the same time, a connected and lasting base of knowledge, an associated community, and a will to action.

I do not object to YouTube’s undermining of television and the multiplex; I wholly approve of the use of the digital in every branch of knowledge, but I define these functions as accessory, as secondary offshoots of the digital.

The main and essential thing is:

Connections: linking past theories of radical media with contemporary political practices, and interrelating living communities of committed mediamakers with histories from which they can learn.Without theory, history, community, and politics, the expanded access enabled by (post) capitalism on YouTube is not yet all we might demand for the future of the digital.

I therefore take as the point of departure the use of YouTube as a communal, historical and contextual femi-digi-praxis, more perfect than any one human’s discrete knowledge, for the exploration of the chaos of media phenomena that fills space.
Femi-digi-praxis pays attention; it grounds and slows circulation through commitment, connection and complexity.

Femi-digi-praxis: I connect!
Femi-digi-praxis: I attend!
Femi-digi-praxis: I contextualize!

There you have it, citizens, for the first time: instead of music, painting, theater, cinematography, and other castrated outpourings.

Within the chaos of media, running past, away, running into and colliding; fragmented, cluttered, commericial–femi-digi-praxis looking backwards as well as to the future, I connect, attend, unite, and contextualize to theories, politics, history and community.