Recent Comments

Avi Santo

I think that this is a very powerful use of digital technology and non-traditional distribution methods to make the local global and potentially build transnational alliances, but I also agree with both Jyotsna and Radhika’s concerns over de-contextualized reception simply reproducing a fetishized “otherness”. Jyotsna’s comment on the MediaCommons site, for instance, situates Bant Singh’s poem far more within discourses of social justice and colonial and post-colonial oppression than does the Youtube poster, who simply describes the video as:

Bant Singh is a revolutionary singer in Punjab, India, whose 2 years old daughter was raped by upper caste men. When he sought justice, they cut of his limbs. But he can still sing, and in this video letter he expresses no self-pity.”

Despite the mention of his revolutionary status, the Youtube description seems to largely reframe the video for Western palettes, simultaneously reifying the power of individualism and calling attention to the lurid crimes committed to Bant Singh and his daughter. The Related videos field places Bant Singh’s powerful, articulate, culturally and trans-historically astute message amongst a hodgepodge of “Indianness” including Bollywood film clips and Bhangra music, but also other videos addressing the Dalit situation that generally frame their experiences through more stereotypical “wretched of the earth” type imagery.

Jyotsna Kapur

Hi, Thanks for your note. Your apprehensions about the image are entirely right if focussed only on the image and on the possibilities of re-editing it towards a reactionary politics. However, Bant Singh’s words, the way the video is narrated, my caption on the side do make it difficult. I also tried in the note to build connections to other websites—e.g., on Bhagat Singh, on a meeting of solidarity for Bant Singh. In the end, the power of this image lies with the strength of the social movement on the ground. Of course, the image can be appropriated by a national geograhic kind of exoticized Other if there is no alternative challenge. Such a political challenge is the best protection for this image not privatized copyright. The free circulation of this image is part of building that alternative challenge.

[…] […]

Radhika Gajjala

And why is his speech and mediated presence NOT protected by copyright or other systems developed to monitor representational practices and circulation of voice and image…

Is the so-called free circulation of this any different from the ways in which National Geographic captures and circulates “natives”?

I look fwd to discussion.


Radhika Gajjala

But does placing it on the Internet lead to this “reverse globalization” or place his voice as one of several de-contextualized (and thus further isolated) exotic Other?

Under what conditions would the sharing of such a digitally mediated presence be productive to the cause/struggle he is engaged in?

Jeffrey P. Jones

Why should Barbies have all the fun? :-)

Alan McKee

My own politics aren’t Marxist. I don’t want a socialist state - can you imagine anything worse than a world where experts and academics got to decide what was good for ‘the people’? (there’d certainly be no playful queer sex - see Simon Edge, “With Friends Like These, Marxism and Gay Politics”). I’m more interested in democracy (which is the opposite of socialism, although it’s surprising how often people conflate them).

Jacqueline Kjono

I am a vidder - not an academic and I honestly couldn’t sit through more than 10 minutes of Bleak House but, I really think this vid works well. My sense of the book/show is that it is primarily about complex legal wranglings over money after the death of a family member. I find this sort of topic about as tedious in fiction as I do in real life.

The vidder has taken this story and pulled out of it a theme I find more interesting. She is exploring what it means to be beautiful in the context of this society. The woman who is the main character of the vid has a beautiful soul but, has been disfigured by smallpox. There is a moment that is quite moving when her hand brushes over a picture of an angel. It is quite clear that the picture was drawn for her and it is equally clear that the person who drew it has not seen her since the disfigurement and that when he does, he will think less of her. We also see Gillian Anderson’s character who is clearly very beautiful but seems to be harboring secrets. I am hampered here by not being familiar with the source but she seems to have dark side. The social status of women in this world is based primarily on their appearance and the content of their character is completely irrelevant. That theme goes right to the heart of the psychological, social, and philosophical issues of self worth, jealousy and identity that I have to deal with every day. It seems far more relavent than class struggle or arguments about inheritance.

The fact that the vidder chose to focus on that theme rather than the more directly economic one that is central to the story is, in a way, quite political. The fact that she was able to do this tells me that she does have pretty good critical skills. It is unlikely that she has academic litcrit credentials, though not impossible. I do know two English professors who vid and one art philosophy instructor who is an incredibly influential beta (Someone who offers constructive criticism to works in progress.) On the internet, people are judged by the effectiveness of their work - not their credentials or their faces. It makes a nice change.

I think you may have a point about “equating liberatory play with liberation.” Fan fiction and fan vids have a very long history. Historically, they have been made by women for other women about stuff women tend to like and men often scoff at. They have usually been exchanged furtively. I know a few writers/vidders whose boyfriends/husbands still don’t know they do this. I can see how someone might view the historical norm as “liberatory play” but, putting the vid out on YouTube for the whole world to see and comment on looks more like liberation. (At least to me. This vidder may not have come out the older tradition and may not be aware that showing them to the world is a radically new and frightening concept for the rest of us. Is it still liberation if you never realized there was something to be liberated from?

Avi Santo

I find the show’s assertion in an era of continued boundary blurring that some folks are just genetically predisposed to greatness a bit troubling. As opposed to the X-Men, whose mutant abilities have often been allegorically established as both gifts and curses for those who possess them, the heroes we are asked to identify with on the series are those that enjoy their specialness. I have nothing against discourses of pleasure or critical celebration of difference, but the genetic link is the troublespot for me. Though admittedly an oversimplification, for the most part, heroism is not defined as an act of courage or valor on the show, but as a genetic sequence and a choice of whether to use it or not.

Avi Santo

Alan, I totally agree with your assessment that meaning does not (and in most instances, should not and cannot) rest with producers and I’ll comp to my snobbery here (though, oddly, I’m used to being the populist in the bunch, but JH just brings out the dormant Marxist in me, I suppose), but my concern is really the ways in which we celebrate these interventions without critically assessing the ways in which they either challenge or reinscribe dominant discourses. The Bleak House mash-up demonstrates to me how “playing” with the text does not guarantee a critical perspective of the structural limitations of the playground on the part of the players. Yes, you are right, this was not their intention and it is snobbish of me to impose my taste sensibilities onto theirs, but at what point in time do we stop equating liberatory play with liberation?