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Shortly after November’s tumultuous election, I wrote an article for JStor Daily, “Four Hard Truths About Fake News.” It began with a preamble that actually had three more truths embedded and then quickly followed with four more: “the real internet is a fake, the fake news is very real, and thus Trump is indeed our rightful internet president.”

  1. Today’s internet is built on, with, and through an unruly sea of lies, deceptions, and distortions, as well as a few certainties, cables, and algorithms.
  2. This week’s viral-wonder—the crisis of “fake news” in the wake of the 2016 presidential election—is a logical and necessary outgrowth of the web’s sordid infrastructure, prurient daily pleasures, and neoliberal political economy.
  3. Today’s saccharine hand-wringing and the too-late fixes erupting from the mouthpieces for the corporate, media, and political interests responsible for this mess are as bogus as Lonelygirl15.
  4. Today’s media consumer cannot trust the internet, its news, or networks—fake or otherwise. Given the wretched state of today’s internet, skeptical, self-aware interaction with digital data is the critical foundation upon which democracy may be maintained.

Only 93 more to go to meet my vow …

I hereby pledge:

  • To disrupt the new President’s First 100 days by posting #100hardtruths-#fakenews with linked actions, analyses and organizations committed to digital media literacy.
  • In so doing, I will produce a 100 point digital primer to counter the purposeful confusion, lack of trust, and disorientation of the current administration’s relation to media, offering instead a steady, reasoned set of resources seeking clarity and justice.

Let me begin by here offering #100truths-fakenews #8: FAKE! by DOVEMAN + TOM KALIN + CRAIG PAULL, January 22, 2017, one of several video projects these activist-artists are making to counter the administration’s wile media moves.

Yes, producing 100 points by Day 100, April 29, 2017, seems a little daunting, but I will be counting on my reasoned, practiced, committed, talented colleagues, across the media spectrum, to ease the burden (just see above!). While this administration may seek to addle us with media misinformation, disruption, and lunacy, I put full trust in our clear-headed community of conscience. Please do share possible contributions—in the form of writings, links, images, or actions—to the #100truths-fakenews primer via email, comments on this blog, or on my twitter feed, where I’ll be building a paired-down version of the project @mediapraxisme. The full-version will build here over the next 70 days.

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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.

 

Swoon at 20

February 4, 2012

I had the pleasure of attending the first in a series of screenings at the UCLA film archive that will be revisiting the original films of “the new queer cinema” as so heralded by B. Ruby Rich in 1992. We saw my dear friend Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), and Sadie Benning’s Jollies (1990), with Tom, lead actor Craig Chester, and B. Ruby Rich in scintillating attendance.

I suppose that a happy but emotionally nuanced privilege of living into one’s middle age is to see the work of one’s friends and generation revisited, commemorated, celebrated, and memorialized (just last week I spoke at a similar event for The Watermelon Woman, 1996: a comer those few years later into this history, as Rich noted even then, because it took [black] lesbians just a little longer to move from video to film). For, it turns out that this year is not only the 20th anniversary of the (beginning of the male) NQC but also a sort of cultural watershed in relation to filmic revisits to AIDS activism of the same period (United in Anger, Sex in an Epidemic, We Were Here, How to Survive a Plague, Vito). Maybe distance makes us/AIDS activism/then seem safer, softened as it all seems by a rosy wash of loss, nostalgia, and the inevitable mellowing of age. I’ve certainly found it interesting, when on the road myself with such revisits, to find that contemporary audiences are not as open to returns that stay as defiant, angry, political, and anti-sentimental as our work was then. This may explain why United in Anger, a film that attempts to represent this period from the voice, analysis, and method of the time–from the point of of view of AIDS activists–is seeming the hardest to sell of the commemerative bunch, given directors Hubbard and Schulman’s commitment to not soft-peddling for the present (the film opens MOMA’s documentary fortnight in February, but has not had as easy a run of it in the A-level festival circuit).

Watching Kalin’s film these many years later (and Benning’s too) it is remarkable to see how dark, critical, theoretical, political and formally inventive is the work, ways of filmmaking that seem to have been largely absented from independent cinema in the past twenty years, arguably because of the evacuation of public funding from this sector. From where we sit today it seemed more incredible to see the funders of this film during its credits–the NEA (who also funded WMW in its last year of film funding), NYSCA–then what at the time seemed like the big conquest, its ultimate industrial home with Fine Line Features. On the long drive cross town to the screening, I was explaining to my friend that what made NQC queer to me was its home in a cultural millieu and friendship network that was inhabited by men and women (take the critical role of Christine Vachon in both Kalin and Haynes’ careers, for instance) who were equally inspired by a recent art school/liberal arts education in “critical theory” by way of a critique of gender and sexuality through feminism, and who happened to have to live our requisite moment of youthful exuberant artmaking during a plague that felled our remarkable friends and altered our lives. Ruby and Tom reiterated this vision of an uncompromising, challenging, art-like NQC from the stage. Films that were queer, as Ruby said last night, not so much because they were gay or lesbian but because they were inspired by AIDS, cheap rent, camcorders, and Reagan.