Your Project IDEAS

 

Hi everyone,

Please use the comment section of this blog post to add two project ideas for a semester long media project of a social issue that affects campus before class on monday. This way we can all see what everyone’s interests are to work towards creating groups around topics.   Also add one idea for connecting a media project to the larger college community.

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Military contractor recruiting and Debord’s spectacle

I really enjoyed Phil Patiris’s The Iraq Campaign and somber yet humorous approach towards addressing the problems behind the pro-war mainstream media coverage of the Gulf War. This reminded me of several experiences I’ve had with how military contractors recruit students as engineers, from students at my high school to my engineering major peers at my current school.

I first saw the connection when the part of the film with GE’s advertisement of their engines created for military aircrafts came on. The representation of fighter jets as “cool” (or the recession of these aircrafts into part of Debord’s spectacle and a symbol of American exceptionalism) was exactly how I’ve seen military contractors sell their company to prospective job applicants. In high school, Northrop Grumman visited our campus to recruit for their internship program specifically for high school students, which would entail learning how to code from full-time engineers. The recruiter showed slide after slide of what Northrop Grumman makes: aircrafts, missiles, autonomous systems, navigation systems, and so on, emphasizing how “cool” the technology was and how prestigious Northrop Grumman was as an engineering company. Many of the other students were convinced: this was the extracurricular that would get them into the top engineering program at their dream university. However, I felt worse the longer I listened to the recruiter talk, because all I could do was imagine who was on the other end of those missiles. How else should I have felt? “Gee whiz, can’t wait to work on code that kills people”? The idea that having a prestigious internship eclipsed the understanding one’s moral responsibility is just one example of Debord’s ideas about how appearance degrades humanity in the concept of the spectacle.

[Image description: The banner of the Northrop Grumman web page for recruiting. A text box says, “reach new career heights,” over a large aircraft in flight, surrounded by various navigation system interfaces.]

I see this method more often since I’ve come to an engineering school, where military contractor recruiting is more aggressive than ever. My college gets lots of money from military contractors to network with engineering students, so they are especially incentivized to support recruiting efforts. The irony in this is that our school’s mission statement, created in 1955 after the technology of WWII set the world on fire, is to “educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians … so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society,” with the implication that the college founders wanted engineers that would know not to be the designer of such weapons. Since this part of our mission statement is pushed to the wayside, many students go to work for these companies without acknowledging what kind of impact their work may have. Without having faculty addressing moral questions like this in their courses, and instead just passively accepting the constant commodification of military weapons in engineering circles, we are unable to achieve what Debord describes in The Society of the Spectacle as “the workers’ direct possession of every aspect of their activity.”

From Week 4: DADA and SITUATIONIST THEORY

Bridging the Gap on Identities

In the book Roots of Alternative and Activist Media, Lievrouw discuss the shifts in principles between the New Social Movement (NSM) and mobilization theories of old. He argues that NSM is describes how we as social movements actors have shifted from topics dealing with class/economic inequalities to more symbolic topics dealing with gender, age, sexual orientation,…etc. Recently, these social uprisings and organizations that closely align with the NSM theory have increased in frequency. One of the reasons why we’ve seen this recent uptick can be attribute to social media as a recruiting platform.

Through forums and other platforms such as reddit and tumblr, people with niche interests no longer find themselves on the fringes of society. By congregating these individual expressions and opinions onto these media platforms, we begin to see emerging properties such as organization and mobilization. And I think its on these forums, and social media outlets where we can see NSM theory really shine. By sharing common interests, values, and experiences among these niche groups, they become legitimized and the sense of a collective is formed. Once this collective is formed, these groups then can move onto more mainstream media platforms to counteract and opposed the predominant ideologies and beliefs held by the mainstream media. Thus, I think that internet has given us a perfect incubator for these groups to arise and collect en mass to push for change.

Leah Lievrouw, New Media

In her first chapter of Alternative and Activist New Media, Leah Lievrouw highlights the revolutionary potentials of new media networks, pointing out their hybridity, ubiquity, and recombinant nature. This reading felt very important to me, as I had never before read an author that theorized and gave terminology to the structure of new media in terms of its activist potential. While I tend to have an optimistic view regarding the possibilities for oppositional and radical movements within new media platforms, this reading lead me to think more about the limits of new media. In thinking about participatory journalism, for example, I keep coming back to the algorithms used by websites such as Facebook and Google that tailor our searches and news feeds in such a way that creates a political echo chamber of sorts (https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles). In this chapter, Lievrouw refers to this as the “Daily Me” – news feeds that “fits one’s personal interests and preferences”. Knowing this, I wonder if there is any kind of action that can be taken on new media platforms to attempt to break through these echo chambers? Or are the revolutionary potentials of new media stunted by the algorithms implemented within platforms themselves? These are not questions with clear or simple answers, but ones I was left pondering after this reading.

The informational age

Alternative and Activist New Media by Leah A. Lieverouw, discusses the transformation of media towards an informational era. Today society is consumed with digital products and the addiction of constant information coming from our smart devices. Lieverouw discusses different modes of mediation, reconfiguration and remediation, that effect the “production-consumption dynamics and linear ‘effects’ or feedback models associated with mass media”, the way we receive information and the way we communicate information are blending together. Since todays era is focused on digital communications it alters our behavior and how we communicate with each other, for example you rarely see people sitting reading a news paper or carrying it around to show someone this incredible article they just read, today you see people glued to there phones texting or on social media platforms learning about news and spreading news. The digital era of information still fits into Lieverouw definitions of reconfiguration, “users modify and adapt media technologies and systems as needed to suit their various purposes or interests”, and remediation, “of content, forms, and structures of communication relationships, where users borrow, adapts, or remix existing materials, expression, ad interactions to create a continually expanding universe of innovate new work and ideas”, these two models of communication work together to allow for new genres of new media to be created: culture jamming, participatory journalism, alternative computing, mediated mobilization and common knowledge.

Week 2 Response

In Dziga Vertov’s “Kino-Eye” texts, the filmmaker’s conception of the video camera as a revolutionary communicative tool closely echoes Marxist-Leninist theories of emerging class consciousness, suggesting that Vertov’s visions were deeply informed by the ideological climate of 1920’s Russia. In particular, this similarity becomes most salient during his discussion of the fact that cinema had already transcended debates surrounding its own artistic merit. Here, he states plainly that “revolutionary cinema’s path of development has been found,” and that the proletariat of the world would inevitably realise its aims (32). Although he does not expand upon it outright, such a claim alludes to the intrinsic, world-historical role of the working class to be in direct antagonism with bourgeois society, a central theme of Marx’ Capital.

To this end, Marx argues that “…it is not a matter of what this or that proletarian….pictures as its goal,” but rather “….a matter of what the proletariat is in actuality…and what it will historically be compelled to do” (Capital 134). Just as Vertov would propose over six decades later, Marx envisioned toiling masses across the globe as being natural revolutionaries not merely by way of an extensive education in socialist principles, but by the simple fact of their own ingrained class experiences. In Man With a Movie Camera, such working class life experiences deeply inform a majority of the film’s shots, as the camera operator-protagonist is repeatedly shown engaging in mundane technical activities. This ultimately positions him as a diligent worker who contributes to the greater good of society in the same measure as the train conductors he films.

Birth of a Nation Today

“Birth of a Nation” is easily one of the most problematic films in history. It promoted many negative stereotypes of African Americans and has numerous incredibly racist scenes. That being said, due to its revolutionary cinematic techniques, this is also one of the most influential movies ever. It was the first film to be shown in the white house and gave rise to the second coming of the KKK.

Of course, this movie was not only popular because of its cinematic wonder. No, it was also popular due to the fact that it signified to white America that racism was still ok and that they still had the power. Weather people thought this consciously or not, this is what the movie signified to those who enjoyed it. And the same thing is happing now in America with Donald Trump. He ran on a platform of ” make America great again”. And the people who buy into that platform and to his agenda, consciously or otherwise, want America to return to a “greater” time where white (men) people had the power. I’m not saying that Donald Trump will give rise to the 4th coming of the KKK but he is certainly emboldening the group and many other more casual racists in a way that is as widely accepted as “Birth of a Nation” was in 1915.

Contemporary Ubiquity

In Dziga Vertov’s manifesto, he lays out the concept of ubiquity and the kino-eye as important, and necessary for a revolutionary movement of the people. This reminded me of the social movements that have started and have flourished in social media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and much more give everyday people to interact with each other and to speak each other’s truths. Twitter aided the revolution against Mubarak, the former President of Egypt. Facebook live has given people the power to capture the horrors of a militarized police. Most everyone in America has access to these mediums and use them. Nowadays, iPhone footage captured by everyday people is used in the newsreels. I don’t think Dziga Vertov would have ever expected that cameras would be so powerful and ubiquitous in our society today, but his belief that it would dispose and threaten bourgeois leadership has come to fruition.

Deconstructing Birth of a Nation

With no argument in this matter, one can definitely agree to the extremely racist and hatful content that this film comprises of. It tries to depict despicable notions about African Americans, and tries to emphasize heavily on the sexual intentions that black men carry towards white women. It presented the misery of whites when black people were allowed to vote, without realizing the irony of how these same whites enacted in such repressing ways for centuries towards people of color. It’s fascinating to witness Griffith’s blind ignorance throughout the movie, since he depicts white struggles when blacks get the rights in the South and becomes oblivious to how white peoples actions affect African Americans on a much larger scale than just rights to voting. This film argues for white empathy and discourages rights for African Americans because it believes in it’s ideology of blacks as subhuman and sexually predatory.

Much of the film’s appeal. at least to white audiences, was the idolization of the Old South, the world of tea, buggy whips, summer dances, and Spanish moss. It was a vision created for those who felt threatened by immigration and economic globalization, which was usually blue color white workers. Griffith’s romanticization of the Klan and the Old South through cinema was a precursor to the work of others who used the medium of film for propaganda means. He made this film as a work of propaganda much the same, to reassure white Americans of their racial supremacy, make reconstruction out to be a social devastation, and instill hatred against black folk for more than 50 years after the Cvil war, and even today, we witness those roused prejudices in police shooting of black men.

Griffith just produced a product that America already believed in. Thus, in my opinion, this film should be watched and rewatched to remember the inequality and injustice that people of color, and especially black people, felt and are still feeling in what we call the ‘land of immigrants’. It should be watched because it reminds us to not be complacent in such ignorance and to improve not the standard of life for people of color, but the ideologies and prejudices of white people instead. Even though many viewers labeled this film as racist garbage, what they did not take in point was how truly it represented one group’s view of society at the time, and gave us a great way to understand some of the driving factors behind the race relations in America. Although this one perception of the society, which is of white supremacy, would be ridiculed in this day and age, it still resonated with millions in America at that time who felt the same, as it would have now had it been released in this era. And what’s even more interesting is that the group we not speak of in such evil tones are represented in the movie as the defenders of all that is good and holy. This film teaches it’s viewers the essence of having a dominant viewpoint and how that perspective could literally dictate your whole life.

Effects of New Media

In Lievrouw’s first chapter in Alternative and Activist New Media, she defines new media and also elaborates on how it has changed the way in which humans communicate and go about daily life.  The part I found the most interesting was when she discusses the benefits of new media as “inexpensive, powerful tools for challenging the givens of mainstream or popular culture” (2).  When I think of such challenges like those as large as social justice movements or as small as a personal blog, I think of new media.  But at the same time she mentions that this environment of ubiquitous new media also creates problems of social equity, privacy, etc. She doesn’t go more into this downsides and issues created by new media-she’d probably have to write a whole other book-but it reminded me of how much industrialized and technological communities take new media for granted.  The invention of it has created a greater Digital Divide, which I don’t see talked about a lot. I’d love to learn more about this and if there are any ethical ways in which to go about closing that gap.

Racism within ‘Birth of a Nation’

D.W. Griffith’s film, Birth of a Nation has been described as the ‘worst piece of film ever produced….. if you believe in the equality of all people’ and a celebration of white supremacy within the United States. After learning that it was the first film to be screened in the Whitehouse, I was curious to watch it and see if it lived up to its reputation of being incredibly racist. From the exerts that we watched in class and upon watching the rest of the movie at home, it was quite shocking to see the film confirm its reputation as one of the most racist blockbusters ever made.

One of the most appalling aspects of the film for me personally was that it managed to portray the Klu Klux Klan, one of the most horrifyingly racist organisations of people on the planet, as heroes to the audience. Nowadays with the knowledge of how evil the Klansmen are, people like myself can look back and see how racist the whole basis of the film is, however in 1915 when the film was released it is likely that many members of the audience would have been manipulated into believing that the KKK are ‘heroes’, which in itself is disgusting. The constant use of ‘blackface’ to represent black characters of any significant note also demonstrates the racist attitudes prevalent throughout American society during the time that the film was made.

One scene I found to be especially disturbing during ‘Birth of a Nation’ was the scene where a black man chases a white girl off of a cliff to her death. This seems like another direct effort from the producers of the film to exaggerate the threat of violence from black men towards white females. This scene seems somewhat ridiculous however, it is clear to see how important it is in regards to forming the racist agenda that the film is pushing onto the audience. Overall I found ‘Birth of a Nation’ rather difficult to watch due to its extremely racist themes and believe that the fact this film was chosen to be the first of its kind screened in the White House demonstrates how prevalent racism was in all aspects of American culture during the early 1900’s.