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I generally approve of and enjoy these kinds of guerilla efforts (I’m partner in a guerilla marketing firm as well as a media scholar) and the MPAA is certainly an easy target. Their paranoia and prosecutorial overkill has left them with few friends and little credibility outside of monopoly media.

But, by ripping this to commercial videos, and distributing the kit, guerillas risk reinforcing the MPAA stance in the very act of undercutting it. After all, if it’s this easy, and there are groups out there getting publicity for the attack, how long can any copyright survive? As for the “commons,” I’m not sure what’s being referred to here. The copyright commons? The cultural commons? Are these inextricable?

Will I show it? Yes. Would I encourage students to use it? That’s a tougher call.

Radhika Gajjala

I agree with much of what you say.

You write:

does on-line Dalit presence equal a “global voice” if the vast majority of people — who are not already aware of their situation — will likely never come across these websites amidst everything else already out there? ”

this is exactly what I am asking too.

What does it mean to have “voice” online? What is driving the need to be “recognized” in these spaces?

I still want to continue conversation on what’s at stake in accessing this particular kind of globality?

How might we subvert the hegemony of a particular kind of globalization and multiculturalism online?

And does it matter - if so why does it matter?

r

Avi Santo

Thanks Radhika. I will check out the issue of New Media and Society you mention. My own research examines how Inuit identity is constructed/represented by Inuit for global audiences through on-line promotional and educational sites built around Inuit media productions, and inevitably, there is always an ambivalence surrounding the marketing of “authenticity” and “global humanism” in relation to the achievement of local cultural, economic, and political concerns.

I do think, however, that your point about the Dalit already having a global voice on-line has to be situated within a kind of paradox of abundance that Siva Vaidhyanathan addresses. In other words, does on-line Dalit presence equal a “global voice” if the vast majority of people — who are not already aware of their situation — will likely never come across these websites amidst everything else already out there? Contrastingly, might sites like Youtube — in spite of its often frustrating framing mechanisms — actually provide a greater opportunity to get “noticed” even as this requires a certain loss of control over self-representation?

Speaking only for myself, and knowing very little about the Dalit situation, I am far more likely to encounter — indeed stumble upon — probably through the very “related videos” mechanism I previously bemoaned — the Bant Singh video on YouTube, than elsewhere on-line (unless, of course, I visit MediaCommons ;-) ). Will this effect my interpretation of the video? Will this likely be a simplified understanding of the Dalit cause? Of course. But participation in global discourse has always been structured by power imbalances and strategic choices over how to represent and for what purposes.

Radhika Gajjala

The Dalit already have a Global Voice - weather that Dalit Global voice is of any use to the actual struggle - I am not qualified to say since I have not researched this enough.

Radhika Gajjala

Avi,

Dalits have a presence online - and Rohit Chopra (see http://nms.sagepub.com/content/vol8/issue2/ - the special issue of New Media and Society - on South Asian Digital Diasporas) and some others have done close readings of how the Dalit presence now negotiates Globalization discourses online… The nature of the struggle takes on a different tone when this “subaltern” speaks online…

Once again - I am not saying he should or should not “Speak” online - but I am saying that our readings will be too simplistic if we do not pay attention to much larger issues.

I myself do not understand Punjabi - but I recognize affectively his music and intonation - which evokes various multiple layers of history and struggle - and perhaps parody even. But the nuances in language, context and intonation will not be read by all audiences online - perhaps this is not the goal really.

Some of what I myself place online (although not as sophisticated as Bant’s expression) is meant to connect to very specific audience and to quote a participant in one of my email lists long long ago in internet time (she is quoted in my pubd work too):

who’s to say whether western or indian i refuse to be either i dont dare laugh i might lose my balance …but once in a while behind hands that strive to hide the nervousness i giggle a little giggle.. not at you or me but at the process of being scrutinised…observed…’understood’ as we perform like monkeys producing hamlets…. or chicken littles muzzling wolves….”

[quoted from the archives of sa-cyborgs list]

Radhika Gajjala

Jyotsna,

I understand what you are optimistic for - I am there sometimes myself. My attempt is to provide a problematization of the reading that suggests that this image and song (which when played by those that do not get the context even partially -as I am guessing you and I might - a bit.. - contributes to other sorts of discursive formations). Now is the solution NOT to have this go around - Perhaps not. I like that you brought it out for discussion.

For in the academic framework of who speaks for who - it *looks* as if he is speaking for himself and his community.

Not everyone will catch the nuances of his performative. Because I, for one, am sure he is much more savvy in his interaction with his audience than his audience might give him credit for. We need to problematize it in our discussions - and invite as many diverse viewpoints as possible.

And yet again - on the Internet - what diversity of viewpoints exists? And will it reach this site, if it exists - perhaps the form and diction of those that are online and might provide multiply located reading will not lead them here - or to You tube?

I look forward to discussion:)

Avi Santo

I guess my question is can Bant Singh’s video letter — available free of charge through Youtube — provide the Dalit with a global voice, or will its meanings become lost amidst the sheer abundance of materials available for viewing on Youtube and constrained by Youtube’s viewing and networking design structures?

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.

[…] http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/videos/2007/02/02/bant-singh-can-still-sing/ […]