March 9, 2013
In his blog here, “Generations,” for SCMS, Chuck Kleinhans said that at his first SCS meeting in the mid-70s “the meeting had two concurrent sessions: the Film Historians on one floor and everything else below.” History still has a big place at SCMS, albeit more dispersed, but I, too, heard and thought about it a great deal since my arrival on Wednesday. At the panel “Queer Asian Affairs,” Bliss Cua Lim used images of Filipino ghostly Aswangs to focus our attention on the cohabiting queer modernities of the past and present, while Fiona Lee attended to spectral communists made visible in the present nation/time of Malaysia: “The nation is a mistranslation of time as space.” In the panel “The Remediation of Race,” Patty Ahn, too, felt the tug of ghosts, albeit it in the more ephemeral way that YouTube must repurpose the Kim Sisters, and everything else, without any content other than the “community” that posts and watches.
Meanwhile, Alexander Cho tried to catch a glimmer of the past in Tumblr’s waterfall of gifs of mixed-raced individuals by thinking through loops and refrains.: “the currency is image and time and repetition.” During the Q and A, I asked us to think about loops and shifts as well: a repeat and a slight change or maybe a Glitch (and here a shout out to the great Glitch panel and Laura Mark’s illuminating use of the rug to help us see, in the “Arab Glitch,” the mess and beauty of slight variation and change).
The “community” that can be found, or made (but not usually mobilized), by attending to images of and from our past was a concern at the thoughtful and loving panel, “Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied at 25.” Racquel Gates and Rhea Combs helped us see some possible hauntings of Riggs’ influence in the contemporary media forms of artists as diverse as Byron Hurt, Rodney Evans, or Frank Ocean. E. Patrick Johnson spoke about making past films present to our students; andCornelius Moore and Vivian Kleiman reminded us of the contexts in which Riggs’ powerful films were made. Kleiman explained that Riggs had made Tongues Untied to show “in three bars”: places where black gay men met at the time, one in San Francisco, one in Oakland, and one in DC. Meanwhile, Moore, who is Riggs’ distributor at Third World Newsreel, told us that a complete edition of Riggs’ works was newly available online. During, and after the panel, he a I considered what gets done when people watch activist films alone on their computers, and not in the bars and rooms and other co-inhabited places where they were intended to be seen and used (as Combs informed us was Riggs’ primary motivation for his videomaking: to be used by organizations, businessmen, students, teachers).
The gif(t) of past images on the internet is a loop and a shift that may lead to a flicker of remembrance, or a charge or recognition, but as I’ve often worried, it’s hard to make a hard stop: to listen, to talk, to love, and act if things are lost in Tumblrs’ endless present.
In the torrent, we look to the past because it feels like it might better stick. This certainly seems to be the thrust of the “New Video Studies” that was the subject of the panel, “Video Studies.” Most of the young scholars on the panel, and in the room, are studying the material and other traces of a tawdry object lost to their childhood—the tacky VHS tape, and its many cultural manifestations—that Charles Acland so generously shook and rattled for us.
And yet it was just this nostalgic, affective, and inspiring freeing of the past that was what David Oscar Harvey so boldly tried to unmake in our Unauthorized Conversation about HIV/AIDS held yesterday on a platform near the Registration area. Attending to the past of AIDS leaves us with hard-won words and images that are not quite descriptive of our experience today. This is never to say that we can’t and don’t learn from the past—this is our job as scholars and teachers (please see all the work I’ve cited above)—but Harvey insists (at least for us activist academics) that there is another, harder job still: to also keep us attentive to the present, ever more lost as it seems to be in a wash of glitchy gifs of the just-not-now and just-not-exactly-again-or-then. Marty Fink reminded us that academic conferences are one of the few places where the then and now (the older and younger; past and present ideas and images) can cohabit lived space, explaining her particular sadness at an opportunity lost (and then more powerful regained, in part) when our inter-generational workshop on the Silence of AIDS was not selected by the programming committee and therefore she (and we) were not gifted the opportunity, this time, to have dialogue with Tom Waugh, Gregg Bordowitz and Bishnu Gosh.
March 7, 2013
I’ve been asked to blog during the SCMS conference on their website. I think it may be closed to non-members, so here’s what I wrote there.
The memorial event last night for Alex Doty was unlike anything I’ve ever attended at SCMS (or any other conference for that matter). Lovingly arranged and choreographed by this year’s Queer Caucus officers (Jen Malkowski, Patty Ahn and Julia Himberg) and as equally lovingly attended by a great many friends, colleagues, and fans of Doty, the affair was at once a vibrant, communal celebration of a particular man and scholar as well as serving as a reminder of the role of intellectual community, in this case the SCMS Queer Caucus (of which Doty was a founding member). Let me start with the man, and end with the caucus, a provocation (or two), and an invitation.
There were six beautiful, careful presentations from the stage and a cocktail party after. In the first version of this post that just got eaten by my computer, I carefully detailed each one’s loving remarks and how they built the presence of a respected, treasured, seminal member of the SCMS community. From SCMS President, Chris Holmlund’s detailed tracing of the history of the Queer Caucus itself, exactingly drawn through a treasure trove of documents from the Society’s past (located by Michael Metzger), to Corey Creekmur’s evocation of Doty as “not a person but an event,” to Kara Keeling’s anecdote about reading Making Things Perfectly Queer as a grad student and learning there the “things I already knew but did not know why I knew these things,” or Taylor Cole Miller explaining how his teaching always accounts for a queering of popular culture, for all students and across creative exercises because of an approach he learned from Doty’s writing, or Sarah Sinwell’s reminder that so many in the room had used Doty’s quote about a “queer reading” not being “alternative, or wishful thinking, or reading into things too much.” The take away was both a brave, fun, dedicated intellectual, teacher and friend who had the courage to work with others to found a sub-field based upon how he lived in the world, and in the world of media, and also a tender community of people who know each other in a variety of ways: from conferences, caucuses, and lectures, to the many words we write and share over a career.
And listening to the care by which these colleagues drew this man and his work, and seeing the care by which the organizers had produced the event, I saw that part of what the Queer Caucus (and Alex Doty, and so many more of us) have produced is the place for love, or respect, and the personal, within professional contexts: and this has always been at the heart of our theoretical and political project as feminists (and I’d warrant many of the other Caucuses share this project). The Alexander Doty Queer Mentoring Program of the Caucus is one example of this practice, as is Doty’s writing and teaching. And yet, as scholars, we so rarely publicly express the fondness, and other feelings, we have for our colleagues: how their work moves us. I thought to myself, I bet Alex didn’t know this—that we all knew him in one way or another, and respected him, and understood (or wanted to understand) his part in our own history as intellectuals and activists—because we so rarely tell each other: I used you in a paper, or I taught you in a class, or your words saved me.
And then, I wondered, too, about those who didn’t know Alex, who weren’t at the memorial, and weren’t members of our Caucus, and didn’t read his books or attend his lectures … even once. Man did you miss something and someone! Sean Griffin said of Alex how he always managed to fashion both camaraderie and a diva moment, producing an “I’m fabulous and you are all going to come with me” sort of presence wherever he was at work. But if you didn’t track through SCMS seeing the faces I have come to know, again and again, given, as you might not be—queer—maybe you didn’t know this … So, I thought of the others Caucuses, and wondered if love and anger and pride was in their hearts and history, and if they might have an event like this someday, as sad as that may be.
And that leads me to my provocation, and my title, which points to the centers of centers and the margins of margins in the making of fields and communities, and sub-fields and their communities. Are we queers central to this field? Do you know us and our work? Do I know your work and caucus? Let’s try to go to another sub-field’s meeting or panel at this conference, and meet the Alex Doty we wouldn’t necessarily circulate around by way of affinity. And what’s more, let’s tell a colleague or friend that their ideas move us, so that we can mark our love for what Griffin called “the concept” (our work) as well as the person, and so that the person can know we cherish their concepts while we are together still.
And finally, an invitation in kind: tomorrow, Friday, March 8, I will be participating in an “Unauthorized Conversation” about HIV/AIDS and Media Studies, in the Book Exhibit from 11-1. With my friends, colleagues, and AIDS comrades in arms, Marty Fink and David Oscar Harvey, we will engage in a conversation about many queer things, including some of the questions I asked above: about the history and politics of sub-field production and maintenance given the growth of the larger field. You don’t have to be queer to know about AIDS, or to care about its place in Media Studies. We’d love to have you as part of the conversation.
February 14, 2013
I’ve returned from SCMS and Louisiana (having seen two alligators in the wild on a hike and eaten crawfish and shrimp in innumerable yummy formats) and would like to briefly mention a few of my more memorable media encounters: like the alligator, anxiety-defined all.
Tara McPherson organized New Media Futures: The Digital + the Academy, the workshop where she and I spoke with Nick Mirzoeff, Joan Saab, and Wendy Chun about how digital technologies are altering our new media labor (research and teaching), writing, and publishing practices. While the fact that the projector did not work, definitively disenabling our techie show ‘n tell (has this even not happened at a conference where I am speaking about the Internet?), and thereby providing some felt anxiety for each of the able speakers who could not readily rely on machines to illustrate our points as planned, I’m more interested in highlighting some of Wendy’s brilliant observations about anxiety and new media (studies). She suggested that fears about the future of new media (and its theories and applications) are definitive of the findings and methods of the field, as well as anticipating and self-defining the very forms that new media will take, leading to more uneasiness, more anxious findings, and more twittery tools needed to soothe our ever more shattered nerves and brains. For instance, an anxiety about loss leads to tools that save and thereby produce easily erased, unfindable, updated, quickly unusable, outmoded, unstable records that so engulf us that we become too overwhelmed to remember or (re)visit our saved stuff, thus already producing the loss we anxiously anticipated and the need to build even newer tools and theories to remedy all the more future loss we do and must anticipate.
Now, one might imagine that old-school (dying?) feminist (academic) blogging (and “self-promotion”), the topic of another workshop I attended (highlighting the powerful blogging and other online experiences of Miranda Banks, Ryan Bowles, Alisa Perren, Anne Petersen, Julie Russo, Patty Ahn, and Inna Arzumanova), might be a remedy to our nervous media condition in that blogs (like this one) might allow the lady-theorist (like this one) to calmly, and perhaps communally (or at least in-community) name her own terms, moods, tools, and forms; boy did Wendy Chun get this one right! These amazing, ambitious, bright, primarily young academic women (most were in grad school or ABD, one had just gotten tenure), as well as the mostly young feminists in the room, discussed their blogging, tweeting, and online personae (and thereby use of new media tools and the futures anticipated, hoped for, and associated) as organized by what … Anxiety of course (about being hired, promoted, and otherwise evaluated) and even fear (of hostile readers and punitive potential committees).
Their anxiety made me feel, well, anxious (to feel so differently from everyone else in the room, my comrades, and then try to articulate it cogently) but mostly sad. Then mad, and now compelled to speak and explain. My feminist (academic) blogging might be understood or termed as “self-promotion,” or even “self-branding” (a term tossed about, uneasily, at the session), just look below: I pitch my films and books. Yet I truly think of this very same practice (without fear) as a public engagement in thinking out loud, honing a voice, self-naming, community-building, and stake-holding.
This media platform, like all others, is pretty neutral (yes I know, ownership, design, protocols have meaning, but this is not my point here). Rather, we assign to platforms like blogging (or are assigned) feelings and anticipated futures, but we feminists need not accept the anxiety that holds us in check, that makes us self-doubt, that assures us that speaking about our own good work or new ideas is somehow too prideful rather than merely productive. Feminism gives us all the tools we need to understand that economic conditions like a depression and an academy that sells advanced degrees to pay for itself, social conditions like patriarchy and racism and homophobia, and psychological conditions like anxiety, should not be suffered as a personal, debilitating and self-censoring problem, but should be understood and fought as political issues best addressed by being named, refused, refined, and remade within the power of movements and with the tools of technology. Sure, all these amazing young women should be anxious about getting a job, but they shouldn’t be anxious about blogging that fact, or blaming whoever they want to blame, or naming the forces in their way, and then doing, showing, and sharing their great work, from which we can all learn and build. I choose anger over anxiety any day (including in your comments, or as I like to think of them my no-mments. We fruitfully discussed in the workshop the value of the under-sung, underdone labor of commenting to better build dialogue, community, and confidence in the anxious world of feminist academic blogging).
Also, a shout out to a great panel I went to on Interactivity. Marina Hassapopoulou spoke about the legacy of expanded cinema and video installation to help us historicize new media, Aubrey Anable about the lie that interactivity is a forum for democratic participation in the new urban planning of New Orleans, and Vinicius Navarro about the new media index as an emptiness that points to a referent in-between.