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Protecting the Commons in 2017

TAKEACTION3

Responding to Hate, Disenfranchisement, and the Loss of the Civil Sphere

By Carol Vernallis.

Many of us are terrified by the rise in Islamophobia and other racisms, misogyny and homophobia, threats to the environment and increased possibilities for nuclear war, the rise of surveillance and the limits on freedom of speech and movement, demagoguery and the production of ignorance, increasing income disparity, to name but a few. What can we do? What might be most effective? How can we remain engaged in the face of a possible new normal?  Should we march? Litigate and impeach? Unleash a “beautiful Twitter storm” of #swampyTrump? Visit Appalachia, the Rust Belt, D.C. and Silicon Valley (like in the Civil Rights Movement, sharing experiences face to face)? Connect through Facebook (with its false facts and siloed communities), prank, make art, forge connections with corporations and celebrities for new kinds of transparency, ads and media campaigns, enlist the wealthy and the powerful, or the religious or the poor? Concede on cherished issues? Hire lobbyists? Give money to causes and groups, like the ACLU, Green Peace, the Sierra Club (though might donating money to separate groups risk splintering us)? Collectivize to launch a responsive, fleet, academic, interdisciplinary online journal? Does this moment call for new forms of identity and collectivity?

Please post about your projects in the comment section below (35-800 words). We hope you’ll be able to attend our Society for Cinema and Media Studies panel on Wednesday night, March 23, at 9pm in Chicago – Collective Action in 2017: Responding to Hate, Disenfranchisement, and the Loss of the Commons. We’re gathering two-slide presentations from scholars who are engaged with projects to protect the commons; we hope to present them as time permits (perhaps as a quick slideshow and/or handouts).

If you’re interested in participating (time permitted), please also include a link to your two-slide presentations with an email contact. After the session the Re.framing Activism website (see @re_activism) would like to publish PDF versions of the slides – we’ll let you know how to submit these for publication at the session.

7 Comments for “Protecting the Commons in 2017”

  1. Carol Vernallis

    My areas of specialization include music video, YouTube, and recent film; my research deals more broadly with questions of sound and image in moving media. (My books include Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context [CUP], and Unruly Media: Youtube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema [OUP].)

    Trax on the Trail asked me to write about audiovisual materials and this presidential election, and this has helped me to keep connected to political events for the last year. (Supervisor James Deaville asked me to contribute to the blog, partly because of my piece, “Audiovisual Change: Viral Media in the Obama Campaign.”) I thought, “Oh great, I’ll just keep one eye on unfolding events and write on a moment that tugs at me.” But then not surprisingly I fell into the maelstrom. I became a track-the-clickbait nail-biter, hoping that with each increasingly outrageous Trump tweet we would have a reset of the election campaign, and I made my way through vast amounts of corporate-tinged, television-oriented Clinton advertising from the persuasive to the embarrassing; Trump advertising too, of course.

    I wanted to produce materials that might contribute to the conversation quickly–that are both available to the public and findable in the academic databases, and that might even lead to academic credit. It was in this pressured moment that I was hit by an obvious limitation we academics have. We have skills at providing historical and cultural context, we can make persuasive arguments, but most of us don’t write quickly enough, nor with the kinds of pithy voice valued by popular media like Huffington Post, Slate, the New York Times or the Atlantic. Nevertheless, with a little bit more time, we can make contributions.

    So this is what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve been exploring possibilities for a fleet online journal that might be responsive to unfolding events, and that might be included in the academic databases. Materials might be generated at the local level: scholars on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs might forward their posts to FB pages based on topic. When work starts to emerge (four or five pieces), they might be gathered together to be published online, either through this journal (Our Commons), or other venues.

    Thinking it might be helpful to provide election-related materials for classrooms in large state schools, both in red and blue states, I’ve also explored other approaches and venues. I quickly organized a roundtable entitled “Beyoncé’s Lemonade: She Dreams in Both Worlds” for Film International and then a followup review of Beyoncé’s Lemonade for Film Criticism; this made the work quickly available to the public and soon accessible through the academic databases. Lemonade beautifully touches on issues of place, class, gender, race, and history in a way that can engender conversation rather than forcing issues. I held a competition, 250 Words in 2.5 Days, for writing about election audiovisual materials and also produced study questions useful for the classroom before election day. A piece I started for Trax morphed into a longer article that Flow Journal published quickly. I organized the special emergency panel for Collective Action in 2017: Responding to Hate, Disenfranchisement, and the Loss of the Commons, and then encouraged colleagues to write alongside me on the presidential inauguration, Peace Ball, and protests. I assembled a consortium to help me and others publish quickly on political topics.

    I just participated in the podcast “I Don’t Think I Have the Option to Remain Silent” with Aca-Media. I was nervous before the interview, but I’m glad I did it!

    This blog is a way to share what we’re working on and our thoughts and feelings about this work. I’m hoping it’ll be a way to encourage participation, share materials, and forge alliances. Since I do close analyses, I’ve been doing research with film trailers and what are clearly the more risky, more dystopian technologies that track and follow us, like facial recognition, machine learning and big data, and music algorithmic software. I believe technologies need to be understood as fully as possible and I’ve been surprised to find that there are a few unexpected upsides to these technologies, though frankly right now, I’m more worried than hopeful. This has been a challenge for me, but I’ve been told any illusion of privacy will not last long, and we need to be able to talk about this knowledgeably in the public sphere; I believe it’s important that this kind of research take place not only in corporate, governmental and military contexts, but also in the universities. Others who are doing this kind of work and would like to share ideas, please contact me. And I’m excited to hear what all of us are working on! As my advisor George Lipsitz always says, “Peace in the struggle.”

  2. I’m working on a plan for a tv/web series consisting of conversations between people who disagree politically, primarily among those who disagree with one another in terms of their support for Trump. As a scholar in communication and a media producer, I am troubled by the recent-but-ongoing shifts in political discourse that have normalized the perpetuation of untruth, legitimated bigotry, and widened the divide between left and right so significantly that it can no longer be assumed that we’re even engaged in the same conversation on matters of political importance.

    My series will involve friendly conversations among people who differ in terms of their ideal visions for America and the world, but who remain invested in multi-partisan discourse and cooperation. The series will model ways of engaging multiple perspectives on contentious issues, but where the factual basis of those issues is established and agreed upon by participants.

    My hope is to encourage, both among the show’s participants and among its viewers, real, meaningful, fact-based, civil, and critical dialogue in ways that does justice to the real disagreements that exist over policy and governing strategy, but seeks through the hyper-partisan noise that tends to drown out nuanced discussion of politics, particularly when those politics directly interface with matters of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, national origin, and other axes of identity.

  3. After my teaching resource called “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources” went viral last fall, I got sucked into the fake news frenzy. This experience inspired my project, OpenSources, which is a publicly available resource that analyzes and categorizes various types of “news” content (whether fake, conspiracy, propaganda, or just clickbait) we all come across on social media. While I don’t think a list/resource is the best tool for working against mis/disinformation, this resource already supports different online tools that do, including the browser plug-in B.S. Detector and Hoaxy app. Hopefully, the resource can at least help us better understand not only the content on a variety of “news” websites, but also how and why websites these circulate mis/disinformation.

    However, due to my resource going viral and my work on OpenSources, I’ve become the target of trolls and the recipient of a good amount of hate mail. I started gathering all of the messages and emails on Tumblr here: http://womenwithopinions.tumblr.com/post/158366578351

    I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with the Tumblr, but I think it’s important for all of us to consider the pushback we’ll receive as we work to protect the commons.

  4. I grew up in a small Texas border where I routinely visited family in Mexico. This was normal to me. So, too, was being raised by two moms. Yet, my experiences of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and my family were unlike those of my friends. Even when I moved to Houston, I encountered much of the same. My introduction to service-learning education as a graduate student at Indiana University changed my pedagogical approach. I understood I could put theory into practice, that I could share some of my childhood experiences with my students. My Public Speaking course with a service-learning component was ambitious and demanding. Very. I had plenty of mishaps but partnering students and myself with LGBTQ and Latinx organizations in the IU and Bloomington community was extremely rewarding.

    I am proposing we consider increasing the integration of direct and in-direct service into the classroom. I understand the demands of service-learning are great and run against research-first mentalities. Action is never easy and sustaining a collective response is even more difficult. Yet, I firmly believe promoting multi-faceted service-learning environments is a valuable option. I am attaching a brief PowerPoint PDF to demonstrate how service-learning can be integrated in motion picture production and media studies courses. I welcome all suggestions and critiques. I end with quotes from Spock and Captain Kirk: “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” “Or the one.”

  5. My areas of specialization include music video, YouTube, and recent film; my research deals more broadly with questions of sound and image in moving media. (My books include Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context (https://tinyurl.com/zlxbxvu – CUP), and Unruly Media: Youtube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema [https://tinyurl.com/hbjemm6 – OUP].)

    Trax on the Trail (https://tinyurl.com/z5pthzv) asked me to write about audiovisual materials and this presidential election, and this has helped me to keep connected to political events for the last year. (Supervisor James Deaville asked me to contribute to the blog, partly because of my piece, “Audiovisual Change: Viral Media in the Obama Campaign.”) I thought, “Oh great, I’ll just keep one eye on unfolding events and write on a moment that tugs at me.” But then not surprisingly I fell into the maelstrom. I became a track-the-clickbait nail-biter, hoping that with each increasingly outrageous Trump tweet we would have a reset of the election campaign, and I made my way through vast amounts of corporate-tinged, television-oriented Clinton advertising from the persuasive to the embarrassing; Trump advertising too, of course.

    I wanted to produce materials that might contribute to the conversation quickly–that are both available to the public and findable in the academic databases, and that might even lead to academic credit. It was in this pressured moment that I was hit by an obvious limitation we academics have. We have skills at providing historical and cultural context, we can make persuasive arguments, but most of us don’t write quickly enough, nor with the kinds of pithy voice valued by popular media like Huffington Post, Slate, the New York Times or the Atlantic. Nevertheless, with a little bit more time, we can make contributions.

    So this is what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve been exploring possibilities for a fleet online journal that might be responsive to unfolding events, and that might be included in the academic databases. Materials might be generated at the local level: scholars on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs might forward their posts to FB pages based on topic. When work starts to emerge (four or five pieces), they might be gathered together to be published online, either through this journal (Our Commons), or other venues.

    Thinking it might be helpful to provide election-related materials for classrooms in large state schools, both in red and blue states, I’ve also explored other approaches and venues. I quickly organized a roundtable entitled “Beyoncé’s Lemonade: She Dreams in Both Worlds” (http://filmint.nu/?p=18413) for Film International and then a followup review of Beyoncé’s Lemonade for Film Criticism (https://tinyurl.com/zn2lyex); this made the work quickly available to the public and soon accessible through the academic databases. Lemonade beautifully touches on issues of place, class, gender, race, and history in a way that can engender conversation rather than forcing issues. I held a competition, 250 Words in 2.5 Days (https://tinyurl.com/hv38vsy), for writing about election audiovisual materials and also produced study questions useful for the classroom before election day. A piece I started for Trax morphed into a longer article (https://tinyurl.com/zehj6qb) that Flow Journal published quickly. I organized the special emergency panel for Collective Action in 2017: Responding to Hate, Disenfranchisement, and the Loss of the Commons (https://tinyurl.com/jr9phb3), and then encouraged colleagues to write alongside me on the presidential inauguration, Peace Ball, and protests (https://tinyurl.com/h9x9faj). I assembled a consortium to help me and others publish quickly on political topics.

    I just participated in the podcast “I Don’t Think I Have the Option to Remain Silent” with Aca-Media (http://www.aca-media.org/). I was nervous before the interview, but I’m glad I did it!

    This blog is a way to share what we’re working on and our thoughts and feelings about this work. I’m hoping it’ll be a way to encourage participation, share materials, and forge alliances. Since I do close analyses, I’ve been doing research with film trailers and what are clearly the more risky, more dystopian technologies that track and follow us, like facial recognition, machine learning and big data, and music algorithmic software. I believe technologies need to be understood as fully as possible and I’ve been surprised to find that there are a few unexpected upsides to these technologies, though frankly right now, I’m more worried than hopeful. This has been a challenge for me, but I’ve been told any illusion of privacy will not last long, and we need to be able to talk about this knowledgeably in the public sphere; I believe it’s important that this kind of research take place not only in corporate, governmental and military contexts, but also in the universities. Others who are doing this kind of work and would like to share ideas, please contact me. And I’m excited to hear what all of us are working on! As my advisor George Lipsitz always says, “Peace in the struggle.”

  6. Like Carol, Melissa and Aaron, I’ve felt compelled to respond quickly to the events unfolding at the moment and have been trying to think reparatively about ways to encourage dialogue across a widening political divide. Unfortunately, I’m not well-equipped to do so in such admirably concrete ways and have resorted to that rather hackneyed device, the academic essay.

    I’ve just published a short article called “The Uses of Hate” in M/C journal that critiques the rhetorical labor of hate-attribution in which many liberal commentators, both in media studies and in the media proper, have become caught up. It’s available here:

    http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/1194

    In that same vein, I have a short article entitled “’I Drink Liberal Tears: Genre, Desire and the Leaky Liberal Body” forthcoming with Feminist Media Studies (vol. 17, no 3). It examines a pro-Trump YouTube genre that flourished in the days immediately following the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and that centers around collations of footage of a figure—the “crying liberal”—whose putative emotional incontinence is cast in the scornful rubric, alternately, of hapless “meltdown,” of “butthurt” sulkiness, or of special-“snowflake” self-pity. The essay contends that by refocusing attention from the videos’ political “message” to their status as genre we can track in them an inchoate alt-right desire for the “leaky” liberal body that could provide a template for thinking past ideological gridlock.

  7. On February 18 on my blog I pledged:
    -To disrupt the new President’s First 100 days by posting #100truths-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.

    One month later, I have written the first 50 posts … phew … it hasn’t been easy! Over those many posts, while keeping my eye on the daily, shifting fake fixations that are definitive of this disruptive, dangerous, confusing time, I also tried to express a set of interlocked truths that might help clarify some of the relations between digital expression, media infrastructures, contemporary art and politics, and opportunities for resistance. The first #50hardtruths found me thinking about, while also trying to enact, effective modes for truth-sharing, trust-building, complexity-enhancing and resistance-producing that would begin about and within digital culture and then potentially move beyond it.

    But, during the first phase of the project, I only shared these #50hardtruths on my blog, and then via Facebook and Twitter. As hard as it was to write so many truths in such a short time, those platforms made them easy enough to share, at least a little. But, in many of these truths, I observed and wrote about the limits of these very platforms for honest or at least meaningful or useful communication. By this I mean, specifically, meaningful for our psyches as human beings and useful for social change or activism; and by this I am referring, particularly, to the use of Facebook, Twitter, and their kin, what with their structuring logics of neoliberal production, consumption and corporate ownership; their valuation of the quick, the superficial, and the viral; and their pretense of community, engagement, and participation camoflauging experiences of isolation, distraction, and commodification. Given the goals and values that were emerging from the project and its focus on effective digital media literacy, it became increasingly clear to me that I was enacting a highly self-reflexive process that engaged in and suffered from the very constraints it hoped to critique. Now, limits are often useful for learning (see my “video-book” Learning from YouTube, where a similar set of corporate constraints taught my students and I a good deal about teaching, learning, writing, reading, classrooms and more).

    As one response to the learned limits of this project, I decided to seek the assistance of the technologist Craig Dietrich to build it a better digital home, one that might more honestly or effectively hold its #100hardtruths-#fakenews.

    I will present from the website at our panel at SCMS: http://scalar.usc.edu/nehvectors/100hardtruths-fakenews/index

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