To echo others, great end to a great week of posts. I like the type of allegory going on in your discussion of the Black Barbies and Tubman’s “motivational rifle.” It seems like a satirical video like this that challenges notions of a fixed ‘Black experience’ acts in many ways like that “motivational rifle.” In other words it acts as a powerful paradox that on the one side threatens stability and on the other promises a way out. The problem comes when mosquitoes such as this are deployed on behalf of the Machine, and when they are in fact used as distractions for US - as scholars, media-makers, fans - to swat at, keeping our attention off the road and elsewhere. I think there is a place in that instance for a motivational rifle, and as Suzanne puts it in her eloquent comment, it is up to us as a collective community to work with and think about form and platform as much as we do content (i.e. find the “rifle” for our “motivation”).
Thanks, Mark, this is an excellent wrap up to the week’s conversation, as it brings us back around to the potentials of “writing” in a variety of forms that resonate with (and reverberate within, as Michael notes above with his discussion of comments) the language of vernacular video online. I especially love this description of creating something “that is ‘so tiny, so viral’ that it has the capacity to undermine the Machine,” and the revaluation of virality that accompanies this idea. It’s something I think we all strive to do in our classes and in our work, but reconsidering our strategies of how to most effectively accomplish that is essential, and may require a more robust attention to both form and platform.
Thanks to all for the wonderful points and feedback. To address a couple of specific comments:
Heber and Vicky: I think you’re both spot on about viewing this not just as an “unintended consequence,” but an opportunity to coalition build and intervene (or simply contribute to) broader cultural debates around these issues. This post was fairly gloom and doom, I realize, in order to raise awareness about the “dark side,” but I’m in full agreement that we should see this as a moment to seize rather than shy away from it.
Bo: To clarify, obviously both have always been in conversation, but I think for a long stretch of time we’ve been (justifiably) focused on what could be gained for us, as academics, entering and engaging the digital public sphere, in large part to justify that digital work and the issues around it, such as open access, which are often devalued within the academy. So, you’re totally right that it doesn’t matter who engages who first, it’s how we engage that’s the question, and my point was mostly that we’re just now having a conversation about how the digital public sphere might engage with us and our work. As a junior faculty member, or if I was in an even more precarious position as a grad student or adjunct, I know that if my work (or my personal identity as a scholar) was coming under collective attack, I wouldn’t find that trivial, and I don’t think being concerned about that is a mark over oversensitivity as much as it is a “teachable moment” for all of us in this exchange, members of the academy and the digital public sphere. The point being that the “academic purpose” of something will inevitably change when we brand it as “open” in digital spaces, and I think that’s the bigger picture of this whole theme week.
Mark - great finale for the week. That interview with the Bennus raises a ton of interesting points. Pierre’s comment about fine art living on the internet certainly applies to scholarship (like your interview with him) as well - that putting it on the internet allows accessibility that this sort of content has never had - but it’s next to a video of a girl falling down the stairs. That certainly has its obvious benefits and limitations. I think one of the key elements of both fine art and scholarship is the dialogue that it calls up. However, the nature and culture of internet comment threads potentially makes that dialogue difficult (in that it makes it so easy). As this week has shown, it’s increasingly easy for artists and scholars to reach some form of audience. How that audience reacts is a different story. How are we to respond?
The Black Barbie series and the interview with the Bennus are fascinating. I liked how the Bennus pointed out the amount of content being produced on social media; mix of voices being heard; and yet there is also ambiguity in defining “democracy”. Great to see the discussion on intellectual property – Translating and transforming digital data that exist. And yes, I agree with Bennu’s “It’s about the work being out there”. Great post to finish the Open Source Academia discussion this week, Mark!
Brilliant entry Mark - and the link to the interview with the Bennus on Left of Black is really useful. I like Bennu’s point that social media enables micro-scale production that irritates the mainstream audio-visual industries on so many levels - your post opens up a whole new area of discussion for academic videography and its audiences. Great finish to a fabulous theme week.
Thanks for your great comment Stephanie - it may be that we can start by acknowledging the limits of our control as researchers/scholars, and then move on to opening up dialogue with those unidentifiable user/reader/participants. However, this isn’t without risks - first because it could be considered an imperialist enterprise if the dialogue is not clearly equal on both sides, and second because dialogue may not be an option, for a number of reasons. Are there limits to inclusivity in the open source project?
Hi Wen - thanks for your interesting response. One of the exciting and challenging aspects of open source academia is the complexity of the questions raised. It enables us to revisit, reassess and reformulate some of our cherished methods, assumptions and values.
I derived a lot of joy from reading your post. Good job, Mark!
I do confess that I confronted the same dilemma when I was watching this commercial. I felt that the video is too absurd to be treated seriously, and I just couldn’t help laughing out loud. What makes me think deeper is why this phenomenon happens. Maybe we are getting used to this since everything in this era is “dramatized” to some degree. Maybe the African American people are gaining more confidence so that they won’t feel hurt by this types of commercial mockeries anymore. Or, maybe our ideas are exhausted so that we have to “consume” something that are supposed to be revered or unmentioned. I don’t know the reason, but I am curious to know how other people think about this video, especially how the African American think about this one.
Great video essay, Pam- particularly the juxtaposition of the words and moving image that brings out your idea. Your post makes me rethink that it’s the quality in which the audience engage deeply in a conversation along with your idea that matters. The control over the “connection with unidentifiable people who may have little interest in [your] scholarly intentions” may seem limited, as you commented on Suzanne’s post today, “if we embrace open source we can’t expect to control the outcomes”. Referring to Vicki’s comment, the IMR posts this week on Open Source Academia are great start to searching answers for “how do we move beyond that to include others who are unknown”, to get your ideas across. Great post on de-centering of knowledge. The lack of control over public perceptions and interpretations of digital argument is definitely worth discussing.