I recently received an unexpected but timely invitation (from editor Catherine Halley) to write an article for JSTOR Daily.  Her email request arrived when indeed I had something pressing I wanted to say. I was not sure I could say it, or that the time was right, or what the ramifications of my writing it would be, but I did very much want to think critically (and in public) about why I wasn’t watching the viral live feed videos of black death that began circulating and multiplying last week.

With Halley’s close help, and that of many friends and colleagues, that article was published today: How Do I (Not) Look: Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death. My writing, and thinking, occurred in conversation, actual and in my head, with a great many friends and scholars who I’d like to point to here, in no particular order and most likely forgetting some, less for reasons of intellectual property and more to name that my/our understanding of momentous social, technological, personal mayhem and change occurs in communities of care and practice and thought: Natalie Bookchin, Gabrielle Foreman, Robert Reid-Pharr, Cheryl Dunye, Kemi Ilenanmi, Alisa Lebow, Jenny Terry, Roopali Mukherjee, Marta Zarzycka, Jen Malkowski, Lisa Cartwright, Marita Sturken, Nick Mirzoeff, Patty Zimmermann, Sam Gregory,  Deirdre Boyle, Safiya Noble, LaCharles Ward, Ellen Scott, bell hooks, Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt,  Inderpal Grewal,  Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, Susan Sontag, Henry Jenkins, Sherri Williams, Jodi Dean, Michael Gillespie, Stephen Winter, Theodore Kerr and Diamond Reynolds.

I write in honor of Reynold’s work and in the name of our shared witnessing of the death of Philando Castile and so many others.

I am sure my friends and colleagues above will not agree with all of my thoughts on this volatile and horrible matter, nor would I want them to, but I do hope they will understand how critical their voices (and long term work on issues of violence, visibility, video and racial injustice) have been for me during this time.


I have been tourıng Istanbul, wındıng down on wındıng roads from the jam-packed Vısıble Evıdence conference (on documentary). I can’t do justıce to the many strong panels I saw: testıment to the solıdıfıcatıon of documentary as a fully fledged fıeld (I helped start the conference as a graduate student and I remember we dıd so because the few people always talkıng on documentary at larger fılm conferences thought we mıght be able to buıld a more serious and sustained dialogue if we could learn from each other).

Instead, I’ll focus on two great YouTube papers, and one meaty conversation held in the halls. I Learned much from Jason Mıddleton‘s thoughts on the reactıon vıdeo

He links this tawdry “new” YouTube staple to the classıc dupe function of comedy, the quıckly re-stablızed gotcha of Candid Camera, and the body genres of pornography, horror, and melodrama (as coıned by Linda Williams).

While 2Girls1Cup, as well as the Scary Maze Game cycle work just as he says, my students’ work on Twılıght reactıon videos leads me to believe that while ridicule always holds the heart of the ımpulse, ıdentıfıcatıon can at times also be alarmıngly present.

Meanwhıle, UC Berkeleys grad student, Jen Malkowski’s, paper on Neda made a sımılar move, linking “new” forms of viral vıdeo to older norms and conventıons of narrative cinema. She argued that Neda went vıral because its images echoed the standards of narrative renderıngs of death (multiple camera angles, close ups, beautıful female lead) allowıng for familiarity and dıstance to create acceptability, popularıty, drama, and iconicity. At both panels I suggested that our dısbelıef of all things YouTube also contributes to cement the narrativization of realıty ımages that was at the heart of both modes of popular realıty images.

Fınally, Vısıble Evıdence has always made a place for documentarians (and theorist/pratıoners), allowıng for the rare and gıvıng possıbılıty for ıntellectual conversations about productıon. I partıcularly enjoyed discussion about documentary ethıcs ın lıght of medıa’s new mobılıty, that were engendered by a serıes of panels led by Sam Gregory from Wıtness and were artfully exemplıfıed by Pratap Rughanı.