YouTube is a new kind of nation-state rooted in, and ruled by, self-aware performances about the rules and truths of its own conditions and practices. Like the internet it is built in and builds, it is a self-aware production about the conditions and experiences of social media labor, affect, ownership, and politics that also teeters on, and sits uncomfortably within, the true/fake divide.

Note to readers: With a heavy heart I link to this video. You need not watch it to understand its astounding connections to and revelations of the internet’s self-aware exposés of labor, politics, economics, the nation-state, and the truth/fiction divide. Its status as real and fake news is definitive of the medium, the message, and the man.

Further Reading on Performance and #100hardtruths-#fakenews:

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#100truths-fakenews #9 is taken from John Herman’s “YouTube Monster: PewDiePie and His Populist Revolt,” NYTimes, February 16, 2017:

For now, most of the biggest internet platforms are understood as venues for communication, expression and consumption. YouTube has given us a glimpse at what happens when users start associating social platforms with something more: livelihoods … With more than a billion users, YouTube has become not merely a platform but almost a kind of internet nation-state: the host of a gigantic economy and a set of cultures governed by a new and novel sort of corporation, sometimes at arm’s length and other times up close.

Herman goes on to explain how YouTube’s recent firing of PewDiePie, one of its biggest and top-earning celebrities, for his either real or fake alt-right leanings (does it matter? can we ever know?) exposes a cluster of truths about this platform, truths that I have been documenting since the site’s inception, and which both he and I understand as bellwethers for other “developing” social networks and the internet that has been built by and on them. Namely, that YouTube is a “performatively self-aware” political-economy (Truth #10); that is, a new kind of nation-state rooted in, and ruled by, self-aware performances about the rules and truths of its own conditions and practices; that is, self-aware productions about the conditions and experiences of social media labor, affect, ownership, and politics that also teeter on, or sit uncomfortably in, the true/fake divide.

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Over its hundred-plus year history, cinema (and its offshoots television and video) has offered up uncountable contributions to civilization that are unimaginably beautiful, powerful, and profound and that are delivered in endless varieties.

And yet, adherents of medium specificity, like myself, suggest that these endlessly variable works of film, video and television have been built from only a small set of fundamental components. Moving image recording technologies package and deliver nothing more than light, sound, space and time. What artists do with these elements is the magic of these media. And sure, technology helps. Over the course of its short history, there have been abundant changes, improvements, and shifts within the tools that focus, record and deliver artists’ renderings of media’s core elements. Within the last ten or so years, developments within digital media technologies have allowed for substantial breaks from the possibilities previously available within media history, including but not limited to the expanded access to and ease of use of nearly professional grade tools for the recording, editing, saving and distribution of moving images. For little cost and effort, nearly everyone can now shoot, edit, save and share images that look and sound great. These new producers using newly available tools introduce, mix, and remediate new (and old) media content and forms, only the most recent of which is socially mediated livefeed video. This new format has caught and demands our attention given that its viral uses have been closely connected to current conversations about and witnessing of violence, justice, and race in America and around the world.

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In recent writing, I tried to understand some of the implications of seeing and sharing livefeed video of black death. This proved to be a rumination about the ethics and responsibilities—associated with media records of cruelty and punishment—as video and its viewers encounter refigured relations to recorded time. But the capacity to record, save, see and share (real) time must, by definition, be met with alterations in configurations and understandings of space. To continue to better see and understand how technological developments in temporal and spatial recording are met with social, artistic and political ones, I will briefly consider—alongside livefeed viral video—a related technological adaptation and the associated practices of looking encountered therein: how we now seem to be looking at both ever more-tiny and over-sized screens.

Looking more closely, I can’t help but notice what seems to be an uncanny correlative between the growing number of capable producers and the shrinking size of the screens that carry their videos. Moving viral images seen on tiny screens like phones, watches, or even windows within a larger screen, certainly suffer in regards to viewers’ focus, clarity, and attention—even as they enjoy access to larger audiences. Cinephiles (and others) then suffer the quickly compounding loss of norms and systems for viewing cinema as it is “supposed” to be done: in large formats projected into dark rooms with quality sound systems peopled by others and enjoyed from beginning to end without interruption. Today, most people watch moving images attending to none of these norms: on increasingly pint-sized screens, alone in any possible place, at their own speed, direction and duration, surrounded by other images and distractions and sounds. Of course, we can and do turn to the linked and increasing possibilities for nostalgic viewing—like Tarantino‘s commitment to 70mm or the growing subculture of pop-up, outdoor, or micro-cinemas—or to technologies, practices, and institutions that are dedicated to a kind of reverse-viewing, one that delivers larger and larger images in more specialized and costly formats and venues to smaller and more refined audiences.

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To better see the connections between increasingly small and large screens, I will look briefly at one iteration of such blending practices: namely the projection of artist-produced, museum-located, large, multi-screen videos made entirely from once tiny-screen offerings. At the International Center of Photography‘s inaugural Public, Private, Secret show, four artists’ videos (by Natalie Bookchin, Jon Rafman, Martine Syms, Doug Rickard), made entirely from everyday users’ YouTube videos, are the highlight of (or at least entry to) the museum’s first show in its new location. While all of these featured artists’ efforts participate in making (more) public everyday video that itself made public the private experiences of everyday people, what seems as noteworthy to me is the effects and implications of making and showing large images from videos that had been made to be seen small.

A movement from piddling to grand helps to bring into focus what any serious student of media history understands already, and what the four featured artists are often highlighting in their similar but diverse offerings: viewing practices are never merely technological; rather they are historically, institutionally and culturally determined. By making small videos big, we can see more clearly what goes undetected in the common sense viewing practices of viral video. Another way to put this is: what don’t or can’t we see in our current viewing practices of the ever-present videos and views of social media?

First off, given that these four works were created by artists’ selection (in both senses of the word: all of the featured video artists chose their constituative materials entirely from the YouTube videos of unnamed others, and they, in turn, were selected for this show by its curators, Charlotte Cotton, Marina Chao, and Pauline Vermare), the museum’s and art world’s institutional privilege and sanction brings with it multiple and improved technologies different from those typically associated with viral video. We find that the largeness of the screen is linked to any number of related escalations: of stature (for the presenting artists), of viewing platform and spaces (from YouTube-at-home to the spare but sacious screening rooms of the museum), of machines necessary for display, projection and sound (from consumer to professional grade). But perhaps most critically, these augmentations carry with them social and sociological advancement as well.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/100324610″>Mainsqueeze, 2014</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/jonrafman”>jonrafman</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Artist-made video of YouTube video can’t help but show the everyday scenes, things, and preoccupations of regular people (as was also true of the amazing trove of Americana, the home movie). Given the demographics of our culture, the vast majority of what we see on YouTube (outside of the corporate video that makes up something like 50% of what we see there, give or take) is made by and shows the worlds of poor, working- and middle-class people. Americans’ class is registered on their YouTube videos in any number of ways, including but not limited to what is made visible of their living spaces, social spaces, and associated possessions, their use of spoken and written English, how they carry, use, and inhabit their bodies, and the cultural, political, and social issues that their videomaking considers. Given the demographics of America, the viewers of said videos are also most likely to come from the 99%’s poor, working-class and middle-classes and homes (albeit with all the variations of region, race, gender, sexuality, and ideology that is writ large across our class spectrum.)

However, at the big screens of America’s museums, art galleries, art fairs, and auction houses that increasingly show video in jumps that seem to match its broader social appeal, one finds oneself in the discomfiting position of watching people made video but not doing so with the peeps (who are undeniably watching loads of video on small screens at home, on the bus, at the library, in their bedrooms, in parking lots; actually, in all the places one sees in these videos). Letting my viewing of the ICP YouTube art videos serve as a barometer, the large videos of small videos were seen by attentive, serious, white-haired white-women (myself included), as well as one Jewish young man (who left quickly, I read his Yarmulke as a register of his religious affiliation), and one brown skinned and also middle-aged woman. This small and attentive audience (who each paid $14 for admission, $12 for seniors; you can not get in for free) all, surprisingly, sat through the four approximately ten-minute videos, interacted socially with each other throughout, and in general viewed these images through the norms associated with (high) art. Videos that would have otherwise be seen (or not, see my work on NicheTube) as expendable, forgettable, interchangeable, if also funny, excessive, spectacular or demonstrative—that is small—enjoyed big viewing privilege: that is to say they were afforded the advantage of duration, attention to form and content, and some significant possibility for context, although of course, this had been largely provided by the secondary (or primary?) artists through their skilled overlay of music, through their selection and then editing of videos, through their connection to the other artists’ works on display in the carefully curated space of an art show.

Now some would argue that with viral video many of these covet-worthy assets of the big are afforded not by their size of screens but by the number of viewers and viewings they spawn. There is certainly something to this argument, although I have been quick to note that with scale and spreadability comes a necessary simplification of argument and a loosening of context and value. But here I am working hard to keep attentive to how the size of images (i.e. one of the technology’s current preoccupation in regards to newly possible renderings of space) is related to viewing practices that are themselves always imbricated in culture, history, and therefore, power. For as I’ve been arguing throughout, big videos demand not just space but also time. Shockingly for me, sitting through the many clips from YouTube videos that made up the artists’ videos, itself seemed sort of nostalgic in this moment, defined as it is by Vine videos, tweets (with videos) and Snap chats: each of these current social media forms, and formats demanding an ever greater waning of video’s hold on time. And just look! Livefeed video seems to extend that out into duration and the spatial and temporal context associated with the entitlements of the long durée.

FirefoxScreenSnapz001https://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?411624-1/democratic-sitin-continues-despite-house-adjournment-july-5

Speedy internet criticism (including my own) is rife with writing that celebrates the slow and bemoans the loss of persistence. While this blog post certainly does that too, I am more interested in trying to see and name the uses and stakes for new technologies for looking, like livefeed video, as they are being introduced, and perhaps before their norms of use are calcified (and commodified). Given that goal, I would suggest that a powerful way to view viral livefeed video of black death, and other images of violence, might be not on our small private screens but as if each viral video was art, as if it mattered that much, as if it deserved that level of privilege: to be viewed in groups, on large screens, from beginning, middle to end, and with context. That is to be seen within the rich world it records, and with the background, discussion, and analysis that artists and viewers can and do use media to initiate.

 

 

While it might seem a bit of a press to discuss Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and @ajkeen’s Digital Vertigo in one breath, or really, blog-post, I will do so because they both tackle one issue that is critical to me, albeit from different places: the changing nature of sociality in lieu of the digital.

Fisher writes as a professor, trying to do his job in a time when his students suffer from “depressive hedonia” and “reflexive impotence” both symptoms of capitalist realism: “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (please see my similar experience when teaching feminist labor films from the 1970s in class last week). Meanwhile, Andrew Keen is also clocking discomfort in his workaday world, although in his case, as one suffering author in persistent and grueling competition amongst the “hyper-visible digital elite,” all of them, himself included, locked into a different totalizing system: hyper-connectivity and sociality.

Given that I am not in the digital elite (where my counts would keep growing and my opinions would thereby effect both the billionaires who rule the web, and the billions who track me), nor do I hope to be, Keen’s read on hyper-connectivity seems a bit overblown as a theory for either the masses or for me. While his book-length rant for the right to and dignity of privacy seems spot-on, his paranoid delusion that we all live our entire lives in the digital spotlight (or would want to) generalizes Internet culture from his own position, and life choices. Again, his fear that the digital elite are scheming for everything to become social, while justified, seems to miss that many humans still do many things offline (while he may not), and that we also lie, evade, and mis- and multiply-represent when we are there (even as they try their best to lock us into “frictionless sharing.”) Furthermore, his deep suspicion of the social seems again to be theorized by someone who is (perhaps rightfully) afraid of people, crowds, and groups because, I suppose, he is a member of the “digital elite,” and therefore a specially visible sort of somebody, and so can not be aware of the marvelous, sustaining, deeply human things people do in groups, big and small (like organizing, being friends, making art, teaching and learning). His suspicion of the social tracks back to those pesky hippies who tried to write their values into the web’s beginnings; a form that “mirrors the bohemian values of its pioneers.”

But all sociality is not about buying, bullying or selling, and all masses are not about conformity. We can be deeply human and in crowds, and some of our most satisfying and liberating experiences occur in collaboration. “The practice of happiness becomes subversive when it becomes collective,” writes Bifo.

Again, here’s where I think teaching comes in—as a social, moral and political act—and where Mark Fisher’s writing, although equally cynical and afraid (and rightly so), hits closer to the mark. I agree with Fisher that the role of teaching in these capitalist realist times becomes more complex (and even counter-intuitive), as other public institutions that might have served young people are erased by neoliberlism’s attention to cost-cutting (and fear of the social): “teachers are caught between being facilitator-entertainers and disciplinarian-authoritatirans.” Man: just see my Learning from YouTube to watch that unruly entertainment/discipline project unroll! But from there—that distinctly and entirely and definitively social experience that moved us on and off the Internet, talking and learning together—I can attest that my truly depressive-hedonist students, while truly luving Google, and their many devices of solitary-sharing, are also hungry, no rabid and open, to talking together about what this depression (and its associated diseases of ADD, anxiety, and loneliness) means and what they might make, given their place within it.

Learning from Fred

July 29, 2008

In my ongoing life as minor YouTube pundit, I’ve been asked to reflect on the phenomena that is Fred for Teacher’s College Record. Given that I had not seen the lad before the request, although I had skimmed Strangelove‘s post on the ADD of the matter, I’m using this entry to commence reflections towards the final piece. The final version is published at TCR.

As you can see Fred’s hyperdrive parodies the hyperactivity borne of a life within media (or so says LA Time’s Web Scout), one proscribed to children of this generation, one already younger than the much-touted “digital native,” who can not ever ever ever think or watch outside the logic of new media. “Cruikshank’s generation is the first one never to have known a world without the Internet. These kids speak the language of computers and technology as well as they speak English — if not better.”

Although the videos are almost unwatchable (for those of the calmer generations, we geriatrics still capable of sentences in real time…almost)—largely because, beyond their egregious squeak, the “humor” is so stunningly juvenile—I must suggest that their popularity among the under 15-set has to do, counter-intuitively, with their artful if banal sophistication (note oxymoronic structure ). I would begin to mark the nature of this timely form of media savvy within three more realms of opposition where I think Fred enacts the live tensions which are defining our media moment:

Boredom/distraction: Fred (like his teen-viewers) makes these trifles because he is stuck at home with nothing to do. He’s BORED. And yet, Fred (like his adoring fans) is jumping from YouTube to IM-ing to friend’s house, too distracted, speedy, and hyperactive to have time to get really bored (like we used to in the oh-so media-pure past of hay rides and beer bashes).

Real/Parody: FRED is watchable, and lovable, as is true for all vloggers, because he is visibly himself. A regular, rural kid from Nebraska in a tract-like house with carpet made apparent through a consumer camcorder. And yet, this likably real Fred is notably and obviously playing the character of Fred: a guy with a prostitute/alchoholic/absent/mannish mother and a jailed/murderer father. Fred artfully mixes several familiar media languages of the moment: skewing only slightly younger while amping the juvenile pre-occupations (poop, pee) of the much-loved man-boy genre (inventing the boy-boy version, I suppose); and mixing this with the mundane boring nature of the vlog. Now, I’ve written on the radical potential of the known parody in the fake documentary, and it seems that once its gotten to FRED and his banal, if savvy minions, the cutting depth of this style of critique must have worked thin. Although he reminds me eerily of Jonathan Caouette playing the black crack whore welfare Mom in his bedroom a generation earlier, Fred’s parody has been drained of what makes Caouette’s work HURT.

Isolation/Community: Of course, Fred is alone in Nebraska, which contributes to the boredom which drives him to the web, and there he meets endless, interchangable youth, also so driven to the internet, and there they parody him, in less-worthy homages, and so meet, sort of, still of course, stuck in their bedrooms, but endlessly reflecting each other’s loneliness and boredom, ever the state of youth, or ever more so the state of today’s digital youth who don’t ever go out to play, perhaps because they’ve been somehow convinced that this “community” of dopplegangers has a value, allowing them to make another video…

Now what this means for educators, people interested in media literacy, and youth media, is what I must get to next. But for now, I must get my daughter (and myself) of the net, and go to lunch.

My previous two posts point towards a new phase in my blogging, my digital life, where I’m beginning to find my niche, locate my cohort, engage in “conversations,” make new friends…

Some more of that today.

First: “Over the weekend I went to the Getty Museum to see the show on “California Video,” where many of the genres now being produced by vernacular content-creators for YouTube could be seen in the avant-garde practices of video artists of the sixties and seventies: parody, pastiche, remixes of news and political speeches, confessional, and many experiments with the affordances of the technology were well-represented in the exhibition.” Liz Losh, VirtualPolitik

Liz’s observations, ones I did not make myself when I saw the show because the viewing context was so MUSEUMY (dim lighting, round plastic stools, multiple stimuli, random viewers), are interestingly linked to a thread of conversation begun by Chuck Tyron about another video artists’ exhibit in New York, explicitly inspired by YouTube, and then Chris Cagle’s response: “Does You Tube employ a different type of montage?” Category D

We see evidenced here media scholars modeling what we are trained to do: ferreting out what might be specific to this medium, on the one hand, and establishing how it continues tactics and forms from previous media traditions, on the other. While I agree with Chris and Liz that there would be no reason for a YouTube video to use montage, or video form, any differently from how artists have developed traditions over the history of their medium, this question of viewing context and platform seems critical. Videos (YouTube or otherwise) function differently on a box, in a room, on a screen, and this is a type of montage, albeit not within the text itself. YouTube artists have a new sort of palette for cutting (either from one YouTube video to another, as I have attempted to experiment with in my Vertov project described recently on this blog), or across the digital field using and including comments, descriptions, and advertisements as part of the image (as Eisenstein suggests montage within the frame). Chuck’s observations seem useful here: “Her [NYTimes reviewers, Heffernan] comments here vaguely remind me of Benjamin’s approach to the Paris arcades, in which Benjamin sought to make sense of commodity culture through montage, through the connections between things.”

“For better or worse, we can expect YouTube and online amateur video to become a common tool for the 25% of American women who have been sexually assaulted.” Dr. Strangelove, Rape Victim Seeks Justice Via YouTube

“Considering that a free cinema and television don’t exist in the current state;
Considering that a tiny minority of authors and technicians have access to the means of production and expression;

Considering that the cinema today has a capitol mission to fulfill and is gagged at all levels in the current system: The directors, technicians, actors, producers, film and television critics determined to put an end to the present state of affairs, have decided to convoke the Estates General of Cinema. We invite all of you to participate in these Estates general, whose date will be specified later. – The Revolutionary Committee of Cinema-Television, published in Cahiers du Cinéma, August 1968. Chained to the Cinemateque

“The last post was sooo teel dear. Well, for the uninitiated
teel dear (tl;dr) = Too long; didn’t read.
In this twitter age, I know I have sinned with my preposterously long posts earlier in the blog. But let me assure you, I am trying to be rid of the disease, and I am a advocate for brevity.” Digital Nativity