In “10 WAYS TO BE A FEMINIST MEDIA ACTIVISTFeminist Frequency recommends: “While it can be some of the most challenging work, interrupting the status quo and talking to friends and family members about sexist attitudes can have a big impact. Use media that you all engage with together as a starting point.”
Feminist Frequency’s Downloadable Guide’s #9 reads: “SUPPORT FEMINIST MEDIA. Bust the myth that feminist media is “un-sellable” or unwanted. Find great, positive examples of feminist media and spread the word. Take part in campaigns and back exciting projects. Refuse to accept that media doing feminism can’t be funded.” Please enjoy (and support!) Jen Richard’s Emmy nominated Her Story.
#2 suggests: “EDUCATE YOURSELF. The feminist conversation isn’t new; it’s ongoing, building on important work that great feminist thinkers and writers have done over the past few decades. Be sure to read feminist theory that focuses on intersectional perspectives.” Rhys Ernst‘s We’ve Been Around series is a great media resource to learn the links between feminism, civil rights and trans activism (and see more below).
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At the end of our lively and sometimes charged conversations following the MOCA Grand Avenue screening of seven recent videos about HIV/AIDS, an audience member asked “What are the ‘Alternate Endings’?” Until this moment, the large, diverse, and inter-generational audience had primarily been embroiled in a complex dialogue about the role and forms of activism found or missing in both contemporary art and HIV/AIDS, as well as within the seven videos we had just viewed that were commissioned by Visual AIDS to mark the 25th anniversary of Day With(out) Art by Rhys Ernst, Glen Fogel, Lyle Ashton Harris, Hi Tiger, Tom Kalin, My Barbarian, and Julie Tolentino/Abigail Severance.

I suggested that the alternate ending was that people lived.

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And perhaps that was one reason why, while the seven diverse videos did focus (in unequal measure to be sure) on generation, nostalgia, mourning, queer people of color and disidentification, videotape, time, and popular culture, they seemed to be almost entirely devoid of video images of activism (at least of the now iconic images of graphic art and protest from the first years of the AIDS crisis that have been the primary focus of much recent work that revisits this time). The seven videos seemed to conjure a visual register where it’s harder or not necessary to imagine, image, and engage with “activist” images given that the anger and mourning which fueled the first decades of the AIDS crisis no longer draws the scene.

Audience, MOCA Grand Avenue, December 4, 2014

Audience, MOCA Grand Avenue, December 4, 2014

Other reasons for the missing activism that were suggested from the floor, as well as by my esteemed panelists Lucas Hildebrand and Jih-Fei Cheng, included: understandings of “activist” images that took quieter or more personal forms (like the queer performances of Hi Tiger/Derek Jackson, My Barbarian or Julie Tolentino, or the private conversations and the many other forms of gay sexual intimacy seen in Glen Fogel, Lyle Ashton Harris, Rhys Ernst or Tom Kalin’s work, or the archival impulse and research found in the My Barbarian, Harris and Ernst pieces); contemporary understandings of activism and art have been commodified either by corporations hungry for rainbow dollars or by individuals who themselves now understood the commodification of themselves to be the urgent activist/art act; a dispersal of connection, attention, urgency, and community produced by the internet and the glut of images dissipates the magnetic pull that produced movements of activist/art and the necessity that artists and art institutions take the lead on this sort if image making; or perhaps a surprising and recent mark to an end of what Ted Kerr calls “AIDS Crisis Revisitation” (in an earlier conversation with me), in that we have processed, worked through, and learned from those images of “activism” and need a new, or at least another, visual vocabulary better suited for today.

It was an inspiring conversation for the many ideas generated and circulating above (which I can only point to here in these brief remarks), and also because it felt to me at least that new generation(s) took the lead, even as many generations were present. Which is to say, that these last few years have seen a great number of conversations generated by my generation’s filmmaking about our histories, losses, and activism; and World AIDS day has often focused upon our rightful grief. But at this year’s event here in LA, thirty-something voices dominated and were heard, even as others of us spoke, and this too is an alternate ending of great power and yet to be reckoned scope, as it is an opening up and out into the many co-exisiting times of AIDS, just as were the seven commissioned videos that prompted our conversations.

 

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.