DIY Video 2010: Activist Media (Part Two)

This is the first of an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following selection was curated and described by Sasha Constanza-Chock.

What follows is the full selection of videos that I sent to the DIY Video 2010 organizers, structured by the 10 social movement categories that I mentioned above. Short clips of many of them were remixed into the screening program, where they were placed in interesting juxtaposition with other kinds of DIY video by style, technique, and narrative and visual strategy. Here, you can watch the complete set of Activist Media videos, as well as some that didn’t make it into the theatrical screening. Enjoy, and I hope that they inspire you to action!

DIY Video Activism Program

Meta: Video Activism

The opening selection is a compilation of key clips from the first two years of the human rights video Hub at witness.org. Witness is a widely respected video advocacy organization, based in New York City, that uses video as a tool to defend human rights. They’ve trained hundreds of video activists, and produced a number of good resource kits around the complex issues raised by video advocacy – representation, privacy, repression, agency, etc. They’ve also grappled with the tradeoffs between relying on YouTube and video hosted on corporate platforms vs. creating their own space online. I thought it appropriate to start with a retrospective they put together of recent human rights videos that have had an impact.

2 Years of the Hub – A Look Back (1:03), By Witness

2008 Election

The 2008 election was full of DIY video all over the spectrum, but I chose to highlight two works that emphasize the role of DIY video outside the formal political process, and that were connected to activity in the streets and at the polls.

Terrorizing Dissent (Trailer) (2:07), By the Glass Bead Collective

I was invited by a video journalism organization called iWitness Video (not to be confused with Witness, above) to help document protests against both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions during the 2008 campaign cycle. At the RNC in the twin cities, iWitness video was repeatedly raided by federal agents who, among other ludicrous claims, at one point insisted that they didn’t need warrants because the DIY media outfit was holding ‘hostages.’ The raids proved to be totally baseless, but were effective in part at disrupting our video trainings and production schedule. There’s at least a 40 year history of mass protest at the national conventions, and every year there seem to be more riot police, with more ‘less lethal’ weaponry, beating up more nonviolent protestors who oppose both parties of War and Empire. At the same time, every year there’s also more and more DIY documentation of police abuse. This is great for legal teams, who in recent years have had a lot of success winning class action lawsuits in city after city over rampant first amendment violations (peacefully assemble!). Activists I was working with managed to pull together nearly a terabyte of video footage for the legal team in the Twin Cities. Over time, people have also found innovative new ways to remix protest footage in ways that can capture attention.

I contributed footage, editing, and coordination work to the feature length documentary Terrorizing Dissent. This trailer for the film (edited by the Glass Bead Collective) uses the giant American flag projected behind McCain’s head as a bluescreen to show the police brutality taking place on the streets just outside the convention center.

Video the Vote 2008: Why Would Anyone Want to Stop You from Voting? (3:41), By Video the Vote

After the theft of the 2000 election, and widespread irregularities again in 2004, In 2006, Ian Inaba of Guerrilla News Network, John Ennis of Shoot First, Inc., and James Rucker of ColorOfChange.org launched a nationwide network of citizen videographers to try and document voting problems on election day. They ended up getting buy-in from major foundations, public media, and corporate partners, and thousands of people across the country volunteered to participate and help ensure that young people, low income people, and people of color wouldn’t be systematically denied the right to vote again. It was all coordinated via web, email, and conference calls. It was inspiring to participate in and will hopefully keep growing during future elections.

Iran

It was obvious that this program would have to include the anonymous video of Neda Aghan-Soltan’s death during the mass uprising against the theft of the Iranian election. This DIY video was seen worldwide, won the Polk award in a new ‘videography’ category, and did more than any other single media text to complicate Western publics’ monolithic antipathy to Iran by compelling audiences to differentiate between Iranian leadership and the Iranian people. But I didn’t want to just include the clip – I wanted to show it situated within a text that draws from a remix aesthetic familiar from daily cultural practices (slideshows mixed with music and short video clips), but applied to mass mobilization.

Neda Soltan [warning: graphic content] (2:22), By AliJahanii:

Iraq & Afghanistan

The massive, worldwide antiwar movement that generated the largest coordinated protest in human history on February 15th, 2003 (a date decided on via the World Social Forum process – see http://www.wsftv.net/) was unable to avert the US invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of dead soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths later, increasing numbers of US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are getting organized to end the wars – and they’re using DIY video as part of their tactical arsenal. These short videos (by IVAW) highlight creative protest tactics and direct moral appeals by veterans against the war. The third clip is from Brave New Films, an activist documentary shop that is a little too big to be called DIY but not big enough to really be ‘industry’ either. I included it anyway since they often incorporate DIY footage into their projects.

Iraq War Veterans Raid Gas Station (1:09), By IVAW

Iraq Veterans Against the War: End the War Now (0:30), By IVAW

Veterans to Obama: Do Not Escalate in Afghanistan (1:53), By Brave New Films – Rethink Afghanistan

LGBTQ movement

The LGBTQ movement has made great strides over the last decade, but California’s Proposition 8 dealt a cruel blow to proponents of full equality. Protests and creative actions against “PropH8″ exploded into the streets, and it was all documented by protest participants, DIY videomakers, small online journalism startups, and LGBTQ movement organizations. For more background check out “Tactical Media and Prop H8″.

National Equality March Madness (1:34), By NatlEQMarch:

Immigration

The successful struggle to defeat the Sensenbrenner Bill in 2006 brought immigrant communities to the streets in the largest wave of mass marches in U.S. history. Hopes of legalization for over 11 million undocumented immigrants, fanned by Obama’s election, which had heavy backing from Latino voters, have by now been largely derailed. The Obama administration has pursued detention and deportation even more aggressively than the Bush administration, with 370,000 deportations in 2008 and 390,000 in 2009. This DIY video from Detention Watch Network documents a nationwide grassroots effort to lobby Congress for a more just and humane immigration policy. If you’re interested in the use of social media by the immigrant rights movement check out “The Immigrant Rights Movement on the Net”. If you’re _really_ interested, check out my diss, “Se Ve, Se Siente: Transmedia Mobilization in the Los Angeles Immigrant Rights Movement”.

Making Our Voices Heard in DC (3:12), By Will Coley for Detention Watch Network:

Police Brutality

When BART officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant on the Fruitvale train platform on January 1st, 2009, it was recorded by multiple videographers who documented the event on camera phones and a handheld video camera. Soon, the footage was circulating on YouTube, seen millions of times and reposted across the web, then picked up by broadcast TV news. DIY video is one of the most powerful tools in the ongoing struggle against police brutality, and in response police departments across the country are attempting to enforce laws against filming police. To follow this battle more closely check out and for a gallery of creative memorials to Oscar Grant.

Oscar Grant Shooting (1:59), By ? (multiple reposts)

Economy & Gentrification

Many of the best DIY activist videos have always been music videos. Music videos are woefully underrepresented in this program, I’m not sure how it turned out that way. But this one, produced by an amazing crew of Detroit artists, makes up for it all. It begins with beats and rhymes that highlight issues of neoliberal globalization, deindustrialization, battles against gentrification, community led development, movement building, and more, all without feeling preachy and while keeping your head nodding to lyrics by the D’s very own Invincible. Then it morphs into a minidocumentary about Detroit organizers who are taking back their city for the next generation, featuring civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs . It won the Housing Rights award from Media that Matters.

Locusts (6:29) Directed By Iqaa The Olivetone, Produced By Invincible for Emergence Media, Joe Namy, and Rola Nashef

Haiti

It was incredibly difficult to find DIY video produced by Haitians about what was going in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. A youth film school called Cine Institute started putting out regular short video stories in the days and weeks after the quake. This compilation provides a taste of their work. It’s not exactly social movement media but I felt it was important to include some DIY video from Haiti.

After the Earthquake: A Compilation of Cine Institute Coverage (3:45), By Cine Institute:

After the Earthquake: A Compilation of Ciné Institute Coverage from Ciné Institute on Vimeo.

Climate justice

To close the program, I chose two DIY video selections from the climate justice movement, both related to the Copenhagen COP15 climate summit that, unfortunately, failed to deliver a fair and binding agreement. The first is by the 350 movement , and weaves together stills and short clips from people all around the world who participated in a global day of action to demand a carbon target of 350 parts per million. The final clip is an interesting short by the Copenhagen Bike Bloc that provides a visual history of civil disobedience and serves as a a call to tactical innovation. I wanted to end with this because it’s a direct commentary on the way that social movements constantly create new tactics – including new forms of tactical media – in order to push forward towards a more just and sustainable world.

The Day the World Came Together: October 29th, 2009 (2:10)

By The 350 Movement

Put the Fun Between Your Legs: Become the Bike Bloc (1:38), By the Copenhagen Bike Bloc

Sasha Costanza-Chock is a researcher and mediamaker who works on the critical political economy of communication and on the transnational movement for media justice and communication rights. He holds a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, where he is currently a postdoctoral research associate. He’s also a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and a member of the community board of VozMob.net.

DIY Video 2010: Activist Media (Part One)

This is the first of an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following curator’s statement was developed by Sasha Constanza-Chock.

Activist Media: curated by Sasha Costanza-Chock

I was invited by Steve Anderson and Mimi Ito to curate a program of ‘Activist Video’ for DIY Video 2010. I was happy to get involved since this is an area that I both study (as a postdoc at the ASC&J and a Fellow at the Berkman Center [http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/scostanzachock]) and have been an active participant in for about 10 years now.

I first got connected to DIY activist video through Indymedia, a worldwide network of grassroots journalists working from within the global justice movement that was inspired by the Zapatistas in southern México. Indymedia videographers used cheap video cameras to document the spectacular wave of popular mobilizations that rocked global financial meetings from 1999 forward, edited those videos on personal computers, and used Free/Libre Open Source Software platforms to circulate them transnationally via the net (this was back before the rise of blogs, social network sites, and especially YouTube as the hegemonic web video space).

In 1999, some friends of mine from Big Noise Films were cutting together footage shot by over 100 street videographers at the protests that shut down the WTO in Seattle, and asked me to help work on the soundtrack for a collaborative, DIY documentary called This Is What Democracy Looks Like The film captured the energy of the moment and was seen very widely, subtitled and distributed around the world for thousands of screenings in homes, community centers, and activist spaces. I was inspired and hooked, and over the next few years spent a lot of time helping to organize new Independent Media Centers, getting video cameras and computers into the hands of grassroots activists in the global justice movement, and shooting, editing, and coordinating collaborative DIY video documentaries (for example, check out The Miami Model [http://www.archive.org/details/miamimodel].) I was also part of the editorial collective for video.indymedia.org].

The Indymedia network is really an interesting phenomenon, and one that’s often overlooked by academics studying political media, despite the large number of people involved, the technological innovations it produced, and the huge amount of traffic it (still!) actually gets. It has also been a generative space for many people who went on to become innovators in social movement technology spaces as well as web 2.0 firms more broadly. But the still-quite-recent history of innovative DIY video activism on the web, let alone the much longer history of DIY video (and film!) in general, is too often ignored these days when we talk about activist media. For those interested in a little more history and theory of media activism, check out this short article on “New Media Activism: Looking beyond the last 5 minutes”, or for a book-length text see John Downing’s excellent “Radical Media: Rebellious communication and social movements.”

Besides the disappearance of history from narratives about media and social movements, it seems to me that conversations about ‘activist media’ in general, but especially ‘online activism,’ all too often begin by asking the wrong question, usually some version of ‘does x media technology produce social change?’ Just to take a recent example, see Malcom Gladwell’s article “Why the revolution will not be tweeted“. My response:

> “We can avoid both cyberutopianism and don’t-tweet-on-me reactions with a quite simple strategy: look at how ‘real’ social movements communicate, rather than start with communication tools and then argue about whether they are revolutionary. Start from the social movement, then ask ‘how is this movement using ICTs, from old to new, to achieve its goals?’ The revolution will be tweeted – but tweets do not the revolution make.” (You can read the rest here

This is similar in a lot of ways to the position put forward by Kevin Driscoll, who argues that we should focus on how networked social movements actually use new tools I agree: start from the movements, then look at the media practices. This is the strategy that I used for my work on transmedia mobilization in the immigrant rights movement in Los Angeles, and it’s the curatorial strategy I employed when I assembled the ‘Activist Media’ program for DIY Video 2010.

To put it simply, I started by thinking about mobilizations that took place since the last DIY festival in 2008, and about social movement organizations and networks that had significant impact during that time, then went looking for DIY videos made by participants in these movements. Deciding which movements to include (and exclude) was of course difficult, but also energizing, since despite the persistent pessimism of pundits about the ‘decline of civic engagement,’ once you actually go looking, there is just an overwhelming amount of diverse movement activity going on everywhere :)

I ended up narrowing it down to 10 categories, most of which felt to me like they just *had* to be included: the 2008 US presidential election cycle; the Green uprising in Iran; the movement against the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the protests against Prop 8 and for GLBTQ rights; the immigrant rights movement; the murder of Oscar Grant and the movement against police brutality; the environmental movement and the Copenhagen climate conference, and struggles against gentrification. I also decided to include a video from Haiti, since DIY and local perspectives on the crisis there were so sorely lacking in both mass media and online coverage, and to look for a ‘meta’ video about the last few years of video activism.

I then let networks of community organizers and video makers, like the Transmission Network, know that I was pulling together this program, and received lots of video links via email and Internet Relay Chat. Most of the videos that made it into the program came from culling through all this material, although there were a few videos that I knew I wanted to include from the beginning. Some of the videomakers I know personally, and it was simple to let them know that their work would be included in the program. Others I contacted to ask for permission, and everyone who got back to me responded positively. Two, I was not able to reach, but in all cases the context of the videos and their wide circulation across the web made it fairly clear that the makers would want them to be seen as widely as possible.

Sasha Costanza-Chock is a researcher and mediamaker who works on the critical political economy of communication and on the transnational movement for media justice and communication rights. He holds a Ph.D. from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, where he is currently a postdoctoral research associate. He’s also a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and a member of the community board of VozMob.net.

Risks and Safety on the Internet: The Perspectives of European Youth

Sonia Livingstone is no stranger to this blog. She was one of the two keynote speakers at last year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference on “Diversifying Participation.” And around the time the conference was announced, I featured an interview with her here about her most recent book, Children and the Internet: Great Expectations and Challenging Realities.

She’s a tough-minded academic, one who challenges the easy answers offered by digital critics and supporters alike, insisting we “get it right” if we are going to “do right” by young people. She certainly values the benefits of the kinds of participatory culture and informal learning which has become a key focus of the American DML community, but she also cautions us not to move too quickly over risks and inequalities that still surround young people’s lives online.

Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010 Closing Keynote and Closing Remarks from UCHRI Video on Vimeo.

In her talk at the DML conference, she argued that many young people lack the skills and resources to learn online outside of the classroom environment, facing frustrations and distractions which make it difficult for them to achieve the full benefits we’ve seen in other instances of youth engagement with participatory culture.

This past week, Livingstone contacted me to help share the results of a large-scale survey she and a team of researchers (Leslie Haddon, Anke Görzig and Kjartan Ólafsson) conducted with 23,420 young people drawn from 23 European countries and intended to get data on a number of “online risks,” including “pornography, bullying, receiving sexual messages, contact with people not known face to face, offline meetings with online contacts, potentially harmful user-generated content and personal data misuse.”

This data could not be more urgently needed given the ways that the American and international media has been focusing on issues of cyberbullying and teen suicide in the wake of a series of devastating cases of gay, lesbian, and bi youth taking their own lives over recent weeks. What follows is taken from the Key Findings section of their report:

12% of European 9-16 year olds say that they have been bothered or upset by something on the internet. This includes 9% of 9-10 year olds. However, most children do not report being bothered or upset by going online.

Looking across the range of risks included in the survey (as detailed below), a minority of European 9-16 year olds – 39% overall – have encountered one or more of these risks. Most risks are encountered by less than a quarter of children – as reported under specific findings below.

The most common risks reported by children online are communicating with new people not met face-to- face and seeing potentially harmful user-generated content. It is much rarer for children to meet a new online contact offline or be bullied online.

Significantly, risk does not often result in harm, as reported by children. Being bullied online by receiving nasty or hurtful messages is the least common risk but is most likely to upset children.

Since most children do not report encountering any of the risks asked about, with even fewer having been bothered or upset by their online experiences, future safety policy should target resources and guidance where they are particularly needed – especially for younger children who go online.

Sexual risks – seeing sexual images and receiving sexual messages online – are more encountered but they are experienced as harmful by few of the children who are exposed to them…..

The more children in a country use the internet daily, the more those children have encountered one or more risks. However, more use also brings more opportunities and, no doubt, more benefits…. In other words, internet use brings both risks and opportunities, and the line between them is not easy to draw.

Among those children who have experienced one of these risks, parents often don’t realise this: 41% of parents whose child has seen sexual images online say that their child has not seen this; 56% of parents whose child has received nasty or hurtful

messages online say that their child has not; 52% of parents whose child has received sexual messages say that their child has not; 61% of parents whose child has met offline with an online contact say that their child has not. Although the incidence of these

risks affects a minority of children in each case, the level of parental underestimation is more substantial.

Later, the report provides some specific information about the prevalence of cyberbullying:

Nearly one in five (19%) 9-16 year olds across Europe say that someone has acted in a hurtful or nasty way towards them in the past 12 months. Bullying is rarely a frequent experience – 5% say someone acts towards them in a hurtful or nasty way more than once a week, for 4% it is once or twice a month, and for 10% it is less often,

suggesting one or a few instances have occurred in the past year….

The most common form of bullying is in person face to face: 13% say that someone has acted in a hurtful or nasty way towards them in person face to face compared with 5% who say that this happened on the internet and 3% who say that this happened by

mobile phone calls or messages.

Although overall, younger children are as likely to have been bullied as teenagers, they are less likely to be bullied by mobile phone or online. In other words, it seems that for teenagers, being bullied in one way (e.g. face to face) is more likely to be accompanied

by bullying online and/or by mobile….

Although overall, the vast majority of children have not been bullied on the internet, those who have are more likely to have been bullied on a social networking site or by instant messaging. Bullying by email, in gaming sites or chatrooms is less common, probably because these are less used applications across the whole population….

Among children who say “yes, I have been sent nasty or hurtful messages on the internet”, one third (30%) of their parents also say that their child has been bullied online. But in over half of these cases (56%), parents say that their child has not been bullied, and in a further 14% of cases, the parent doesn’t know….

Parents appear more aware that their child has been bullied if the child is a girl, or in the middle age groups (11-14) than if they are either older or younger.

Parents appear over-confident that the youngest group has not been bullied, when the child says they have, though parents also most often say they ‘don’t know’ about the 9-10 year olds.

Where-ever one stands on the value of youth’s online experiences, such numbers are at once sobering and empowering. The team’s nuanced research helps us to put into perspective a range of competing claims about the risks of going online. For some of us, these numbers are higher than we’d like to believe, while for others, they are lower than some of the news coverage might have suggested. It is especially helpful where they give us contrasts between the risks online and those kids confront in their physical surroundings, as we’ve shared above in regard to bullying. We should be concerned that so many young people are confronting these problems without their parents being aware. I’ve written here before that young people may not need or deserve adults snooping over their shoulders as they interact with their friends but they need adults who are watching their backs, who understand the risks and benefits of what they are doing online, and can help them talk through the challenges they confront there.

For more information on the Livingstone et al report, check here.

Digital Media and Learning: New Video Series

Last spring, I expressed my dismay over what I saw as the failure of PBS’s Digital Nation documentary to adequately express the work being done as part of MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, a project which has brought together some of the smartest contemporary thinkers about formal and informal learning in the digital age. I was not the only one disappointed in the documentary and so I was delighted to be working with folks from the Pearson Foundation who were producing an alternative account, which is scheduled to be aired on PBS stations around the country next spring. Their project will be called Digital Media, New Learners of the 21st Century.

In advance of the broadcast, they have started to release a series of video profiles of leading thinkers about media and learning via a temporary Vimeo site. They have said that there are more profiles coming and that they are in the process of building a spiffier website to showcase the material. But I wanted to take advantage of my inside knowledge to give you a sneak peak at the forthcoming project.

Here is the profile they constructed about my work. It was shot in and around my new digs at the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Henry Jenkins from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

One of the things I really admire about this series of videos is their attempt to situate each “thinker” in their real world context — to show where we live and/or work and to suggest some of the factors in our surroundings which shape our thoughts. This next one focused on John Seeley Brown does a beautiful job of showing the natural environment that surrounds his home in Hawaii and how he draws insight from the surfing culture there that shapes how he thinks about the learning process. (I am not sure what to make of the focus on athletics in their depiction of me — trust me, I’m no jock, though I do enjoy an office which backs up to the field where the USC Marching Band practices.) The profile of James Paul Gee, which you can find at their site, also situates the educator taking a walk in a beautiful natural setting, again refusing to construct images which pit the digital (or the life of the mind) against the natural.

John Seely Brown from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

This profile of Katie Salen offers us some intriguing glimpses into the Quest to Learn School, an innovative charter school in New York City which uses game design principles to encourage young people to develop systems thinking. You might contrast the respectful way that the school is depicted here with the disorientating representation the project received in the Digital Nation documentary. Here, we have a sense of what young people are doing, why they find it engaging, and how it relates to traditional curricular standards.

Katie Salen from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

Check out their Vimeo site to see the other profiles of James Paul Gee, Mimi Ito, Nicole Pinkard, and Diana Rhoten. Each makes important and inspiring contributions to our understanding of digital media and learning.

Henry Jenkins The Movie or How Does Fandom Happen?

Around the same time as Teenage Paparazzo first appeared on HBO, I was participating in a Social Media week event billed as a “Fanthropology” workshop here in Los Angeles, hosted by Cimarron Digital, and intended to share insights with area media makers about how they might productively reframe their relations with their fans.

I was asked to deliver some opening remarks as a “fan expert” and then join a panel of entertainment bloggers as they talked about their relations with the media industry. My fellow speakers were:

  • Alex Billington, FirstShowing.net movie blog, Owner and Executive Editor
  • Brett Erlich of Current TV, host of The Rotten Tomatoes Show and the Webby Award winning Viral Video Film School segment on infoMania.
  • Babette Pepaj, CEO of BakeSpace.com, the Webby-award nominated largest food-themed social network, which has created social campaigns for Desperate Housewives, Julie & Julia, Grey’s Anatomy, It’s Complicated, Ugly Betty, etc.
  • Scott Perry, New Music Tipsheet music blog founder
  • Eloise Hess, 15on15, 15-yr-old Creator, Producer, Host. 15on15 is a live music, video web series and music blog which has interviewed bands including Dead Man’s Bones, Local Natives and Titus Andronicus @15on15
  • Jovana Grbic is the Creator, Editor and Creative Director of ScriptPhD.com, a blog and creative consulting company focused on science and entertainment

and the event was moderated by Digital LA founder Kevin Winston and Cimarron’s Kristen Olson.

How Does Fandom Happen? from Cimarron Digital on Vimeo.

Stitched through the discussion was a power point presentation created by the Cimarron Digital team which explored the stages through which the media industry fed and responded to fan interest surrounding the emergence of a media property.

Much to my amusement, the slides were organized around Henry Jenkins the Movie. A highlight for me was a photoshopped image that shows what the more or less appropriately aged and built Bruce Willis would look like wearing suspenders, glasses, a grey beard, and my alternately bald and shaggy pate — that is, in the branded, trademarked, and copyrighted persona of Professor Jenkins which I sometimes play in the media.

Here’s part of a synopsis created for the rather unlikely Henry Jenkins vehicle:

In the Summer of 2011, America’s attention is held in thrall by the 24/7 news machine, focusing on the deterioration of the Space Station and last-minute rescue attempts to remove the scientists and experiments aboard it before it potentially crashes to earth. For Henry Jenkins, however, business goes on as usual in preparing to attend the San Diego Comic Con… until a mysterious woman leaves a mildew-ed, yellowing packet of papers in his office containing an ancient prophecy predicting the space station’s crash, and suggesting that only George Takei can stop it. He brushes it off until reaching Comic Con and discovering the situation is dire: not only are several major cities threatened by the crash, but the suggestion of sabotage has the makings of an international incident. As San Diego is one of the cities under threat, organizers have curtailed activities in cooperation with local authorities.

Though he dismisses his own concerns as foolish, the product of an idle mind, Henry is compelled to find George Takei and show him the papers. Despite being a respected professor, he can’t even get close; Takei’s people won’t let Henry see him, and the papers are scattered. He can only recover a few, but as he does, he realizes that the George Takei depicted isn’t the George Takei of today, but of 1967, during Star Trek‘s second season. Confused and frustrated, and figuring someone has played a practical joke on him, he makes his way out of the exhibition hall, colliding with a young woman in steampunk gear, Sally. The papers go flying again, but this time he leaves them. Sally picks them up and returns them to him anyway, and noticing their content, offers to help him with his “time travel problem.”

Of course, he’s still going to need Takei – otherwise he won’t be able to find his past self. So Henry waits for an opportune moment during the Con and grabs Takei, stuffing him into an elaborate costume to avoid detection. When Takei wakes up, they’re in the basement of a San Diego hotel with Sally and her steampunk friends. One of whom is suspiciously military-looking. He hands them a couple of devices that don’t look anything like steampunk technology, and, before Takei can object, zaps them back to 1967. No explanations, instructions, or anything. Just zap!

Takei is furious. He immediately attempts to kill Henry in an epic fight, before calming down and remembering he’s a pacifist. Henry shows him the few papers he has left, and by his reaction, it becomes clear that they mean something different to George than to Henry. He immediately recognizes the nickname of a man he met in 1967 called “The Dreamer.” He doesn’t know what he has to do with it, but he agrees to take Henry to where he was when he met The Dreamer… The Monterey Pop Festival in San Francisco. But neither one of them has a car…

I don’t know about you but I’d certainly buy multiple tickets to that movie and almost certainly grab it when it came out on DVD! Your stakes might be a bit lower than mine, but still, you can surely see why this movie would generate buzz. We might call it William Shatner In Love With Himself or as the Hollywood team preferred, The Redemption of Sulu.

As it happens, I do not know George Takei, but I did have a chance to moderate a panel featuring the Star Trek actor at MIT where he was taping narration for a game in which he played one of my faculty colleagues, Shigeru Miyagawa, so sometimes reality is almost as strange as fiction. At the time, our biggest concern was heading off likely audience questions that might attempt to out the still closeted Star Trek performer, though today, he’s a poster child for gay marriage in California.

For the presentation, the Hollywood types had mocked up everything from Tweets and Facebook updates to blog posts, suggesting how the fan community would respond to news about the production — from its initial announcement through to subsequent announcements and promotions. The goal was to prod the panelists into reflecting on the ways that they, as entertainment bloggers, interfaced with the publicity machine surrounding a major studio release. They did a very effective job at simulating the courtship dance between producers and fans, including unauthorized leaks (and strategies for dealing with them) and fan objections to race-bending casting decisions as well as more carefully controlled PR releases. Below are a sample of the materials generated for this event.

As the presentation’s narration explains:

A film is in social media as soon as it’s announced – because today, that announcement always occurs through an online news source. An aggressive social media strategy means you leverage every drop of content, using it when it will be most effective. As soon as you announce a film, there will be people – we call them “bleeding edges” – that will be looking for information. Setting up channels for information early establishes the studio as an accessible and important news source.

Their presentation worked through how the studio gradually reveals information about the production, how it responds to fan speculation and gossip, how it fuels and expands audience interest, and how it incorporates grassroots intermediaries into the information flow. It is a strategy designed to build buzz and cultivate but not regulate the growing fan base around this property. I’ve included some samples from their slides below.

All in all, I felt they did a plausible job of modeling fan response, including how the fan base emerges from existing fan communities, how interest gets expressed initially through speculation and later through various kinds of cultural production, how fans develop a sense of ownership over the property and sometimes doubt the legitimacy of the people producing it, and how this buzz may or may not translate into box office success.

After all, Scott Pilgram went through this entire cycle only to disappoint its producers, though I have argued this has as much to do with inflated budgets leading to inflated expectations. After all, if Scott Pilgram was a small budget indie film (on the same level as the comic on which it was based), it would have been fantastic to see it ranked fifth in that week’s box office, where-as seeing a highly touted major studio release there was a devastating disappointment.

After all of this excitement, I will now go back to my normal life as a mild-mannered, absent-minded, and over-worked USC professor who wants to make the world safe for participatory culture. But you never know when I may get pulled back into duty as a time-traveling adventurer or when I may find myself being played on screen by Bruce Willis. When duty calls, I hope to have the smart folks at Cimarron Digital build the PR campaign for my big screen adventures.

How YouTube Became OurTube

In 2008, the University of Southern California hosted 24/7: A DIY Video Summit, which was organized by Steve Anderson, Mimi Ito, and the fine folks at the Center for Multimedia Literacies.

Here’s some of what I wrote about the conference at the time:

The conference featured screenings focused on 8 different traditions of production– Political Remix, Activist Media, Independent Arts Video, Youth Media, Machinima, Fan Vids, Videoblogging, Anime Music Video. The inclusiveness of the conference is suggested by the range of categories here — with avant garde and activist videos shown side by side with youth media, machinima, anime music videos, and fanvids. The curators were not outsiders, selecting works based on arbitrary criteria, but insiders, who sought to reflect the ways these communities understood and evaluated their own work. Paul Marino, who directed Hardly Workin’, and who has helped organize the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences, put together a crackerjack program which took us from the very earliest use of games as animation engines through the most contemporary and cutting edge work, spanning across a range of different gaming platforms, and mixing videos which are about the games world with those which have a more activist or experimental thrust. Laura Shapiro, an experienced video-maker, brought together a range of fan music videos, again representing a diverse cross-section of fandoms, while Francesca Coppa offered informed critical commentary which identified the schools represented and their aesthetic and thematic goals for their works. Tim Park, an experienced AMV producer, put together a program of anime videos drawn from more than half a dozen different countries.Even in those categories I thought I knew well, I was familiar with only a fragment of the works shown, and even where I thought I knew a work well, I understood it differently when read in the context the curators provided. In some cases, these materials were being shown outside their subcultural community for perhaps the first time. Having written about fanvids since the 1980s, I was delighted to see them gain a public exhibition in this context and for media students to get a sense of the aesthetic complexity and emotional density that is possible working within this form.

Ito and Anderson recently returned to these same curators to see if they could offer us an updated view of their corners of DIY video culture. The IML team edited together a remarkable compilation representing of the key trends in contemporary online video for a screening last month at Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum.

24/7 DIY 2010: Collective Action from IML @ USC on Vimeo.

I was asked to give some remarks after the screening and I thought I would write out some of my core ideas below. I have also asked the various curators to share their selections (with commentary) through my blog over the next few months. So, keep an eye open for what should be a fascinating series of snapshots of the best of contemporary DIY video.

How YouTube Became OurTube

I always stumble over pronouns when thinking about YouTube. After all, in the English language, “You” is both singular and plural. Most accounts of YouTube assume that it is a space for personal expression, yet if this is the case, why used networked technologies. It is not simply a site for self-branding or “broadcasting”. Rather it is a site for collective expression, with many of the videos posted there coming from specific subcultural communities, each of which has a longer history than YouTube itself, each of which has evolved its own traditions of cultural production and circulation. So, for my purposes, let’s consider the “You” in “Do-it-Yourself” as plural, multiple, collective, rather than singular, personal, individual.

This sense of YouTube as composed of many different production communities is vividly illustrated by the opening segment of this video, which shows how “I’m On a Boat,” traveled from a Feb. 2009 sketch on Saturday Night Live, across many of the different subcultural communities represented in this program — as it gets applied to anime and Star Trek, as it gets performed by A Capella groups and by the U.S. Navy, as it gets rewritten into “I’m on a Blimp” or “I’m on a Broom” to better fit the interests of specific fan communities. What we see here are the consequences of these various DIY media production communities coming together to a shared site where they can see what each is doing and where they can quickly apply what they learn to their own work. We can see this process as one which both impacts these various subgroups and starts to create a shared culture which runs across all of those populations who have chosen to use YouTube as a site for distributing their work.

All of this is a vivid illustration of what I’ve described elsewhere as “participatory culture.” In a participatory culture, there are relatively low barriers for engagement and participation, there is strong support for sharing your creations with others, there is a system of informal mentorship where experienced participants help train newbies, and there is a sense that others care about what you say and create. Each of the subcultures represented here have some if not all of the properties of a participatory culture, and when YouTube provides a home for these communities, it acquires some of those properties as well, though it is less clear whether anyone has a primary identification with YouTube and it is very clear that in some ways YouTube itself (especially in its comments sections) can be hostile to the diversity that a participatory culture needs to thrive.

All of this is to say that Web 2.0 is not participatory culture. The Web 2.0 companies seek to court, capture, and commercialize aspects of participatory culture but they do not create it and they do not own it and often, their commercial interests are imperfectly alligned with the noncommercial interests which motivate DIY cultural production. What I am calling participatory culture has a long history — we can trace its roots back to the folk cultural logic which has shaped human expression throughout much of its history; throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, participatory culture has run through many struggles of everyday people to capture the means of cultural production and to communicate their own stories to the world, a history which runs across many different technological platforms and many different cultural communities.

As I suggested in my essay, “What Happened Before YouTube?,” our society was ready for YouTube when it appeared, which is why it was flooded so quickly with all forms of amateur and noncommercial media production, many of which had been looking for a site for circulation and exhibition. While the mad rush to get their work on YouTube is impressive by any criteria, it was a byproduct of long-standing interests within these various groups in producing and sharing media with each other. Some of the practices represented in this program build on those traditions, while others reflect the new potentials which have emerged as a consequence of the hybrid media ecology which has formed at the cultural crossroads which YouTube represents.

Confronting the quick spread of themes and sounds represented by the “I’m On a Boat” phenomenon, many fall back on empty phrases, such as “viral” or “meme” to explain what is going on. In our forthcoming Spreadable Media book, Sam Ford, Joshua Green, and I dissect these concepts, suggesting that they each mystify rather than clarify the process of cultural production and circulation by treating culture as if it were “self-replicating” rather than acknowledging the human agency involved. In particular, the “I’m on a Boat” videos break down the notion of “fidelity” which runs through writing on Memes and Viruses: we do not simply pass these songs on from mind to mind, rather each new group makes its own contributions, leaves its own mark on what the others have produced. These videos are not simply spreading rapidly, like a contagion, but they are evolving rapidly, through a high speed and high tech version of the folk process.

Some of what gets produced for YouTube may start as self-branding, but the work that matters to people matters because it invites their participation, because it encourages them to join the action, even if only through spreading the word. We see this process at work in the segment featured here showing Matthew Harding’s “Where the Hell is Matt?” videos, which began as one man’s tour of the world, dancing to the sound of his own drummer, but ends with larger and larger groups of people dancing along with Matt. Other featured videos turn our attention towards collective action — encouraging people to share images of their communities working towards shared interests or agendas. This tendency is spectacularly represented here by the 350 Movement and The GayClic Collab Against Homophobia, both represented in the “All Together Now” portion of the video. In other cases, the videos function as a call and response system, encouraging people to jam together, even though they remain geographically dispersed, as can be seen in “The Mother of All Cords.” This desire to express collaborative or collective expression may be what fuels the proliferation of windows, a set of formal practices which gets singled out later in the program.

The program also offers us some examples of how the community passes along knowledge to newer members, shown here in “AMV Technique Beat,” an Anime Music Video about the conventions shaping the Anime Music Video genre. And elsewhere, we get the sense of the video platform as a site for important community conversations, as the curators brought together a selection of the different responses to the Derrion Albert beating. As Jean Burgess and Joshua Green have noted in their book about YouTube, even seemingly unprocessed clips, segments taken from commercial films and television series, may serve as resources for the community’s conversations, with the comment sections on the site and elsewhere being as important to the process as the video itself. YouTube has become a platform where we go to talk about, through, and around videos, and the site’s willingness to make it possible for us to embed these videos on social networking sites and blogs is another key factor in enabling it to support these kinds of dialogues between and within diverse populations.

As I reflect on this process of transforming media content into resources for conversation and communication, I am reminded of the work of my mentor, John Fiske:

“If the cultural commodities or texts do not contain resources out of which the people can make their own meanings of their social relations and identities, they will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace. They will not be made popular.”

Fiske insisted that mass culture texts only became popular culture when the public took them up as “resources” through which they could express their own perspectives.

Fiske’s theories in the 1980s helped prepare me and many media scholars of my generation for contemporary remix culture. The “Deconstructing Our Icons” and “Putting Words in Our Mouths” sections here show this remix process at work. Each of the subcultures that are reflected in the current program draws some of its raw materials from popular culture, but several of them — the Fan Vidders, the Anime Music Vids, Machinema, and the Political Remix vids — in particular are built around different strategies for appropriating and remixing video content. In some cases, the original content is abstracted beyond the point of recognizability, while in others, the point is for us to recognize it both in terms of its original context and the new context into which it has been inserted. There are several striking examples here from the last presidential campaign, including “Terrorizing Dissent” where McCain’s convention speech is juxtaposed against the police’s assault on protesters outside, “Dance Off” where McCain, Obama, and Palin dance for their awe-struck publics, and “Synchronized Presidential Debating” which makes visible the candidate’s reliance on preset soundbytes rather than spontaneous engagement with their rivals. The selections from the Fan Vidding world also show us how the form is being increasingly used to make critical comments on the culture around them, as illustrated by the “Art Bitch” video based on Battlestar: Galactica and the “Piece of Me” video commenting on Brittany Spears and celebrity culture.

A striking shift from the 2008 to the 2010 videos has been the increasingly globalized nature of this grassroots media production. We see this in playful ways as media makers from the developing world join the “lip dub” movement or contribute to pass-along video compilations, but we also saw it in the ways that protesters in Iran were able to capture and transmit powerful footage of the action in the streets in the aftermath of their failed elections. The images of Neda gave a face to the movement and will remain key icons of the 21st century. If some have described, with a certain degree of mythologization, what happened in Iran as a “Twitter Riot,” we need to also recognize that it was also a YouTube and Flickr riot. In each case, though, we need to recognize that these media were directed towards us in the west rather than being resources used in Tehran to mobilize the revolution that never quite came. The Iranians tapped new technologies and their strong diasporic network to get word out of their often closed country and to court public opinion around the world. This too is part of the story of DIY media in recent years.

Through this process of media sharing, we have collectively distilled attention around key images and moments which now form key elements of our cultural archive — some of these elements come from mass media (such as Kanye West’s disruptions and eruptions), some from the grassroots media (such as “Charley Bit Me,” “Keyboard Cat,” or “Double Rainbow,”). In either case, these images have become culturally central because they have provided many different groups with expressive resources. They have gained resonance as they have been deployed and redeployed through countless other videos and thus they have become part of the shared culture of the various networks which pass through YouTube.

In this context, each new formal innovation (capacities to autotune sounds, to layer on windows, or to use Little Big Planet to design characters and levels) travels rapidly from one producing community to another. Early on, the tool may become a source of fascination in its own right, while later, it simply becomes one more device which can be used to create a fan vid or score a political point. In such a context, it becomes challenging to maintain any sharp dividing line between different kinds of subcultural practices. What seemed relatively distinct in 2008 seems less so in 2010.

For me, one of the most compelling segments of this video involved the “lip dub,” a practice of grassroots performance where communities of people get together and produce elabroate, single-take music numbers. As I watched these, I was delighted by the sense of collective joy as places of work — stores, offices, and schools primarily — get transformed into performance spaces, taken over as sites of play. Behind each such video there is a story of collaborative production, often creative expression which straddles other kinds of hierarchies – as bosses and workers, teachers and students, doctors and patients, work together to create something which allows each of them to feel a moment of stardom. Compared to many traditional societies our culture has surprisingly few such moments of collective joy, few chances to transcend fixed relationships and imagine new ways of singing and dancing together.

Here’s a complete list of the videos featured in the program:

Get on the #@&$! Boat

“I’m on a Boat” A Capella | Acquire A Capella of UC Santa Cruz | 2009

I’m on a Boat – Star Trek | kiki_miserychic | 2009

I’m on A Boat (Wind Waker Version) | Matthew Gallant | 2009

Pokemon I’m on a Boat Music Video | DJPhiUp | 2009

I’m on a Blimp (ft. Teddy) | LittleKuriboh | 2009

In a Snuggie | Mikey and Big Bob | 2009

I’m on a Boat Navy Edition | Eychner | 2009

One Piece Tribute: “I’m on a Boat” | fishytoothy | 2009

I’m on a Broom (I’m on a Boat parody) | heynadine | 2009

All Together Now

Day 18 NaVloPoMo | Ermander |2009

Day 10 NaVloPoMo | miglsd | 2009

navlopomo#08 | Miguel Serradas Duarte | 2009

shadow out of time | AliaK | 2009

It’s Time | Videolution | 2009

Why Would Anyone Want to Stop You from Voting? | Ian Inaba | 2008

The Day the World Came Together – The 350 Movement: October 24, 2009 | 350org | 2009

Where the Hell Is Matt? | Matthew Harding | 2008

THE BIG FAT GAY COLLAB! | steviebeebishop | 2009

The GayClic Collab Against Homophobia (from France) – Fuck You by Lily Allen | GayClicTube | 2009

SOUR ‘日々の音色 (Hibi no neiro)’ | Masashi Kawamura + Hal Kirkland + Magico Nakamura + Masayoshi Nakamura | 2009

Deconstructing Our Icons

Ian Fleming’s Property of a Lady | qwaga | 2009

Buffy vs Edward: Twilight Remixed | Jonathan McIntosh | 2009

Piece of Me | obsessive24 | 2008

Art Bitch | hollywoodgrrl | 2009

Creepy Mario 64 | LightningWolf3 | 2008

Terrorizing Dissent RNC08 – Trailer | terrorizingdissent.org | 2008

See it, Shoot it, Share it

Neda Agha Soltan, killed 20.06.2009, Presidential Election Protest, Tehran, IRAN | AliJahanii | 2009

DERRION ALBERT- BEATIN TO DEATH SEP, 27 2009 | laurenmonique19 | 2009

RE:Chicago student Derrion Albert KILLED in a FIGHT | lovelyti2002 | 2009

DERRION ALBERTS BEAT TO DEATH AT 16YRS OLD (Fenger Highschool) | dncmoneyblogtv1 | 2009

RE: Raw Video of Derrion Albert 16 teen year old beaten to death in chicago sep 27 2009 | nate4keys, 2009

Teach it Yourself

The Story of Stuff | Annie Leonard | 2009

RSA Animate – Crises of Capitalism | theRSAorg | 2010

Charts Music | Johannes Kreidler | 2009

Marines – The Red Stripe | Patrick St. John | 2009

The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water | The Surfrider Foundation | 2010

Little Big Mods

Little big planet COSTUMES SACKBOY | xxxNUCKxxx | 2008

Little Big Planet: Takeshi’s Castle | IGNentertainment | 2008

Little Big Planet: Love and Marriage (Engagement Proposal) | Jed05 | 2008

Frost* – Toys – Little Big Planet Music Video | Pete Waite | 2008

Little Big Revenge | Michael Van Ostade and Kaat Schellen | 2009

LittleBigPlanet – This is Sparta (300 parody) | DarkAslox | 2009

Little Big Planet – Watchmen Trailer | Machinima.com | 2009

Little Daft Punk | DanteND | 2009

MTBig Planet | DanteND | 2009

Put Some Words in My Mouth

AMV Technique Beat | Douggie | 2007

Davos Annual Meeting 2010 – Queen Elizabeth II of England | World Economic Forum | 2010

HTC Evo VS iPhone 4 | Brian Maupin | 2010

White Wedding: Literal Video Version | DustoMcNeato | 2009

Davos Annual Meeting 2010 – ADM CEO Patricia Woertz | World Economic Forum | 2010

Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version | David A. Scott | 2009

Obama and McCain – Dance Off! | David Morgasen | 2008

Gimme More Windows

Kutiman-Thru-you – 01 – Mother of All Funk Chords | Kutiman | 2009

Mario Kart Love Song (Original) | Sam Hart | 2008

Mario Kart Love Song Matlock Project ( cover ) | matrockrecords | 2009

Alice – Pogo Remix | Pogo | 2009

Alice – Pogo Remix – YooouuuTuuube Remix | David Kraftsow (YooouuuTuuube) | 2009

Only Bob | Infinity Squared | 2009

Synchronized Presidential Debating | 236.com | 2008

A Soundtrack for our Life

A Day at the Office | sfeder331 | 2009

The first LIP-DUB in the Arab World and Africa | Anas Benkirane | 2010

Hey Ya: A music video | Shorecrest Video Department | 2009

Shorewood Lip Dub | Shorewood High School | 2009

Hôpital Sacré-Coeur Lip Dub | HSCM2009 | 2009

Lip Dub TOYS R US NANTES Martin Solveig | Toys R Us Nantes | 2009

University LipDub – Brazil – FACCAMP | Campo LImpo Paulista College | 2009

Weird Science- Office Lip Dub! | rancidbry | 2010

lipdub MINI STORE rennes | Mini Store Rennes | 2009

Lip Dub – “Miley Cyrus” by KIIS FM Staff | KIIS-FM Staff | 2008

Tune it Yourself

Dude You Have No Quran AUTOTUNE REMIX | Bart Baker | 2010

This Year in Auto-Tune 2009 – That Really Happened?! | DJ Steve Porter | 2009

Auto-Tune Cute Kids and Kanye | The Gregory Brothers | 2009

Auto-Tune the News #2: pirates. drugs. gay marriage | The Gregory Brothers | 2009

Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10 | Yosemitebear | 2010

Double Rainbow Song | The Gregory Brothers and Yosemitebear | 2010

Carl Sagan – ‘A Glorious Dawn’ ft Stephen Hawking (Symphony of Science) | John Boswell | 2009

Wedding Dance Videos

JK Wedding Entrance Dance | TheKheinz | 2009

JK Divorce Entrance Dance | NYVideoProduction | 2009

Spanish Wedding Dancers | Gonzalo Garcia Martinez | 2009

wedding entrance dance spain- entrada boda bailando Miguel y Loida Forever | rbkme | 2009

DK Wedding Reception Entrance Dance | MrPandit33 | 2009

VIJAY & NISHA BEST EVER ASIAN RECEPTION | cookiesclients | 2009

Moran & Irit’s wedding Entrance Dance surprise | irimori | 2009

MK Wedding Entrance Dance by Chippendales | chippendales | 2010

JK Wedding Entrance Dance Webkinz Style | PuppyDawg1022 | 2009

JK Wedding Entrance Dance Baby | http://lifeinarabia.org | 2009

Credits

Event Coordinators: Steve Anderson, Mimi Ito, Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Holly Willis

Program Editor: Ana Shepherd Video Coordinator: Miranda Peter-Lazaro Legal Advisor: Jason Schultz

24/7 2010 Curators: Matteo Bittanti, Francesca Coppa, Sasha Costanza-Chock, Ryanne Hodson, Jonathan McIntosh, Tim Park and Mike Wesch

Special thanks to Jonathan Wells, Meg Grey-Wells and the staff of The Hammer Museum

Sponsored by the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California

Towards a New Civic Ecology: Addressing the Grand Challenges

Last week, I was asked to deliver one of the keynotes for the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges conference which was hosted on the USC campus. I had not been aware of the Grand Challenges program previously, but it seems to bring together engineering students and faculty to work together to confront some of the major problems of the 21st century, seeking to inspire them to direct their research towards the public good and social betterment. I was asked to open a panel on Communications by telling them what they needed to know about how to share their insights and ideas with key stakeholders in the current media landscape.

What follows is my attempt to capture some of the key insights that I shared during my presentation.

Towards a New Civic Ecology

If you are going to confront and overcome the Grand Challenges, you are going to need to learn how to navigate through an increasing complex communications infrastructure. Communicating your core insights is the responsibility of all of us in this room — the engineers and educators, the journalists and communicators. As you do so, you are going to need to be able to deploy a range of different media platforms and practices. And like the rest of us, you are going to need to do what you can to build and support a robust, diverse communications system which can allow you to educate and motivate all of the many people you are going to have to work with to overcome the obstacles and achieve the solutions you are here to discuss.

Seen through that lens, the contemporary communications system is at once struggling with the threat that many major news outlets which have been the backbone of civic information over the past century are crumbling in the face of competition from new media. We may not be able to count on the traditional newspaper, news magazine or network newscast to do the work we could take for granted in the past. We are already seeing science, health, and technology reporters as especially vulnerable to lay-offs as the news media struggle to maintain economic viability and cultural relevance. At the same time, we are seeing expanded communications opportunities in the hands of everyday people — including in the hands of academics and other experts who traditionally had little means of direct communication with the various publics impacted by their work. The problem at the present time is that existing channels of professional journalism are crumbling faster than we are developing alternative solutions which will support the kinds of information and communication needed for a democratic society.

Often, this moment of transition has been framed in terms of the concept of citizen journalism. As someone who blogs, I have many problems with this concept and not simply the one which Morley Safer raised when he said “I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery.” This comment was a sharp defense of the professional skills which our students acquire through journalism schools and apply in the course of their working lives in the news media. As I’ve noted here before, citizen journalism is a transitional concept at best. Like the phrase, horseless carriage, it defines what is emerging in terms of legacy practices. Today, if I asked you to list ten things about your car, it is unlikely most of you would identify the fact that it is not pulled by horses, yet there was a time when the salience of this description was strong enough that it framed our understanding of what an auto was. Now, we seem to be determined to describe what citizens are doing in a language which pits them in competition with rather than in collaboration with professional journalism. In doing so, we set up several false oppositions.

First, last time I looked, most journalists were also citizens and there is a big danger in them abstracting themselves from their status as citizens when they write about the news. Second, there is often an implication that those who are not journalists are amateurs. But, when I write this blog, I am not writing as an amateur journalist. I am writing as a professional in my own right, someone who has expertise which I seek to share with a larger public, and someone whose expertise is only passed along in fragments by the traditional news media. And finally, I see what citizens as building as more expansive than journalism. We are collectively creating a communications system to support our civic engagement. For the purposes of this argument, I am going to be calling this infrastructure the civic ecology.

Thinking about a civic ecology helps us to recognize that while journalists do important work in gathering and vetting the information we need to make appropriate decisions as citizens, they are only part of a larger system through which key ideas get exchanged and discussed. We understand this if we think about the classic coffee houses which Habermaas saw as part of the ideal public sphere. The proprietors, we are told, stocked them with a range of publications — broadsides, pamplets, newspapers, journals, and magazines — which are intended to provide resources for debate and discussion among the paper who are gathered there on any given evening. We might think about the ways that the newspapers in colonial America were supplemented by a wide array of different kinds of political speech — from petitions, resolutions, and proclamations to various kinds of correspondence (both personal and collective), from speeches, parades, sermons, and songs to street corner gossip.

By this same token, the present moment is characterized by both commercial and noncommercial forms of communication. As the comic strip, Zits, explains, “If it wasn’t for blogs, podcasts, and twitter, I’d never know whar was going on.” And of course part of the joke is that these new forms of communication are part of how his entire generation follows and makes sense of civic discourse, though often, what they are doing is monitoring and directing attention towards information which originated through professional news channels.

The 2010 State of the News report found that Americans were getting an increasing amount of news and information in the course of their day but they were doing so by “grazing” across the civic ecology — consuming bits and pieces of information across their day from many different news channels rather than sitting down to read the morning newspaper or watch the evening news from start to finish. They flip on the television to CNN while getting dressed, they catch a few minutes in the radio in the car or listening to their ipod on the subway, they flip across a news app on their iPhone while waiting for class, they pick up a discarded newspaper at lunch and flip through it, they follow a link sent via twitter and brouse around a site on the web, and so it goes across the day and across the week. Their civic education doesn’t rest on a single profession, publication, or platform, but is rather constructed across platforms. The news system is porous — enough so that ideas flow from community to community — until we do not always know where they originated.

A recent report from the Knight Foundation on the information needs of local communities identifies three core challenges which impact the future of news which you need to factor into the solutions you propose to the Grand challenges:

  • Maximize the availability of relevant and credible information to all americans and their communities;
  • Strengthen the capacity of individuals to engage with information; and
  • Promote individual engagement with information and the public life of the community.
  • Let’s consider each of these challenges in turn as we think about the strategies you need to adopt to reach the folks who will be most effected by your discoveries and innovations.

    Challenge One: Maximize the availability of relevant and credible information

    The good news is that this new civic ecology maximizes the potential of scholars — scientists, engineers, researchers of all kinds — to communicate directly with the publics they seek to inform without going through professional intermediaries. The bad news is that most of you are so bad about communicating your ideas in languages that laypeople can understand and most of you see doing so as below your pay grade.

    It is going to be up to the generation currently in graduate school to turn this around — seeing science writing as something more than scrawling formulas on the blackboard. This means learning how to use the wide array of tools and platforms the digital media makes available to you. This means figuring out how to translate what you know into content which is going to engage the interests of non-specialist readers, and that means figuring out the conversations they are already having and providing the resources they need to conduct those changes better. You need to build a trusted relationship with those readers; they need to recognize the value of the information you provide and learn to respect the expertise you offer.

    When should you start? There’s no time like the presence. I regularly encourage my own graduate students to start a blog around their research topics. Doing so expands their research networks. Many of them get jobs based on the reputations they build through these practices. Many of them discover that they have something new and important to add to ongoing conversations. If this is going to be a regular part of your professional practices in the future, graduate school is the best time to practice these skills. Form partnerships with other graduate students either at your own institutions or elsewhere, and see if you can set a regular schedule for sharing what you know with the world.

    But keep in mind that blogs are only one possible mechanism for contributing your expertise to larger conversations. At the talk, I shared a visualization of the science entries on Wikipedia. I did so for two reasons: 1) to encourage scientists, engineers, and educators to contribute what they know to the larger project of collaborative knowledge production that Wikipedia represents and 2) to reflect on the ways that new tools for producing and sharing visualizations, such as those offered by the Many Eyes project, expands the resources through which STEM experts can share what they know with others.

    As you reflect on these new opportunities, you also need to recognize that the new communication environment does not respect national borders. I was struck recently talking to some veteran journalists that they kept insisting that Americans did not value “foreign news” and I responded that part of the problem is that professional journalists still think of it as “foreign,” when Americans now come from all of these countries and are often seeking information from their mother countries, when American youth are actively seeking out entertainment content from many corners of the world through digital sharing platforms, and where America’s political and economic interests are global and not geographically local. The point is not to construct some “foreign” place — those people over there — and try to engage us with it but rather to insert global insights into all of the conversations we are having as a society. And as you do so, also to recognize that American news escapes our borders and because a resource which gets deployed, sometimes embraced, sometimes attacked, in all of these other conversations.

    For many of the problems you want to confront, you are going to have to break through national silos and speak to a global population which needs to understand the changes you are proposing. As you do so, you need to embrace whatever works, whatever constitutes the most appropriate technologies for reaching those varied populations. And that means mixing high tech and low tech communication strategies. What begins as digital content in the developed world may be translated into images which can be printed out and pasted on walls in the developing world. What begins as a podcast in the global north may become a cassette tape which is passed hand to hand in the global south.

    Again, thinking of this as a civic ecology helps us to understand how different channels reach different niches and how communication may occur between different sectors or nations by translating content from one medium to another and passing information from one person to another. This process is central to my forthcoming book on Spreadable Media. There, we distinguish between distribution, which is a top-down process under the control of mass media, and circulation, which is a hybrid process which involves movement between commercial and noncommercial participants.

    Challenge Two: Strengthen the capacity to engage with information

    The Knight commission correctly notes that educational reform should go hand in hand with our efforts to restructure the civic ecology. As I’ve shown in my work for the MacArthur foundation, young people need to acquire a range of skills and competencies if they are going to meaningfully engage in the new participatory culture. As they scan the media ecology for bits and pieces of information, they need more discernment than ever before and that comes only if they are able to count on their schools to help them overcome the connected concerns of the digital divide, the participation gap, and the civic engagement gap.

    The Digital Divide has to do with access to networked communication technologies — with many still relying on schools and public libraries to provide them with access. The Participation Gap has to do with access to skills and competencies (as well as the experiences through which they are acquired). And the Civic Engagement Gap has to do with access to a sense of empowerment and entitlement which allows one to feel like your voice matters when you tap into the new communication networks to share your thoughts.

    Unfortunately, we’ve wired the classrooms in this country and then disabled the computers; we’ve blocked young people from participating in the new forms of participatory culture; and we’ve taught them that they are not ready to speak in public by sequestering them to walled gardens rather than allowing them to try their voices through public forums. To overcome these challenges, scientists and engineers may need to work against their own vested interests in the short run. Despite constant cries against scientific illiteracy, our public funding for education has strip-minded the funding for all other subject matters in order to support STEM education decade after decade with devastating effects. Certainly, we need to be more effective at training kids to think in scientific and engineering terms, but that does not mean we should crush humanities, arts, and social science education in order to do so. The problems you identify are as much social problems as they are technical problems and if you want your solutions to work, you have to have an educated and empowered citizenry who are able to act upon the information you provide them.

    As we do so, we need to recognize that in the new civic ecology, we are going to confront conflicting regimes of truth, which is why so many Americans believe that evolution and global warming are myths or that Obama is a secret Muslim, an alien, or even someone who comes from Star Trek‘s mirror mirror universe. We need to understand those other regimes of truth if we are going to find ways to communicate across them. Again, this may be a social or cultural problem but it can not be left to us humanist and social scientists if you are going to achieve your goals.

    Challenge 3: Promote engagement with information

    It is no longer enough simply to inform. You must inspire and motivate, you must engage and enthrall the public, if you want to cut through the clutter of the new media landscape. I’ve often talked about the ways entertainment franchises are both creating cultural attractors which draw like-minded people together and cultural activators which gives them something to do.

    Jessica Clark and Pat Aufderheide have written about Public Media 2.0, suggesting that we should no longer think about public service media (as if the knowledge simply flowed from above) but rather public facilitating and public mobilizing media that creates a context for meaningful conversations and helps point towards actions which the public might take to address its concerns. It is no longer enough to produce science documentaries which point to distance stars without giving the public something it can do to support your efforts and absorb your insights into motivated action.

    I’ve been inspired lately by the efforts of Brave New Films, the producers of progressive documentaries, to motivate grassroots activism. Initially, the films were distributed via dvds which could be mailed to supporters who would host house parties where they would be discussed and where local activists might point towards concrete steps that could be taken. Now, they are distributing them as online videos which can be embeded into blogs and social networking sites and thus place the burden of their circulation into the hands of their supporters. This strikes me as a strategy which could be embraced by scientists and engineers who want to build a base of support behind their projects.

    Historically, one of the best tools for capturing the imagination and rallying the support of scientifically literate segements of the population was through science fiction. Science fiction was designed as an intervention into the public debates around science and technology — pushing us to the limits of known science, speculating about the implications of new technological discoveries, and creating a community ready to discuss what they read. The science fiction fan world became major supporters of NASA and remained supporters of manned space flight well after the rest of the public turned their eyes elsewhere. Indeed, several key science fiction blogs still publish NASA photographs of deep space exploration as “space porn” — that is, images of heavenly bodies that will remain untouched by human hands. As you move forward with your grand challenges, see if you can find ways to engage with science fiction writers and deploy them as key allies helping to shape the public imagination so we as a society are ready for the great discoveries and innovations you generate through your research.

    So there you have it, the three core challenges of communication. Each of these requires bold action just as much as will be needed to solve the energy crisis or to confront global hunger or climate change. This is why it becomes so important for you to forge cross-disciplinary partnerships throughout your graduate career. You need to walk across campus and engage in conversation with people who are pursuing other majors, who are trying to make a difference through other sectors.

Wanted: Post-Doc to Help Research Youth and Civic Engagement

I sent word via Twitter and Facebook a few days ago that we are now searching for a Post Doc who can work with out Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics research group. This is a project that is being funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of a larger network of affiliated researchers seeking to understand young people’s civic engagement. You can learn more about our research here and our group blog is here.

USC’s Annenberg School for Communication is seeking a Postdoctoral Research Associate to join its Media, Activism, Participatory Politics (MAPP) Case Studies Project.

The Postdoctoral Research Associate will assume significant responsibility in conducting case study based research for the Project. This research will investigate the continuities between participatory culture and civic engagement. As such, qualified candidates should be aware of current research trends in fan studies, civics, globalization and/or media studies and should be ready to apply that knowledge to the case study research.

The Postdoctoral Research Associate will have earned an advanced degree and/or conducted previous qualitative research in one or more of the above listed areas. Successful candidates must be able to work independently and apply knowledge of domestic and international participatory cultures and civic action to the development of innovative models of civic learning and identity. Fluency in one foreign language, especially Spanish, is strongly preferred. The Postdoctoral Research Associate will report to the Project’s Research Director.

The University of Southern California (USC), founded in 1880, is located in the heart of downtown L.A. and is the largest private employer in the City of Los Angeles. As an employee of USC, you will be a part of a world-class research university and a member of the “Trojan Family,” which is comprised of the faculty, students and staff that make the university what it is.

Job Accountabilities:

  • Serves as a research trainee for the purpose of enhancing and developing research competencies. Participates in planning, designing and conducting highly technical and complex research projects under the direction of a supervisor. May or may not work independently.
  • Identifies, researches, compiles and evaluates data sources, background information and/or technology related to area of specialization.
  • Analyzes and evaluates research data utilizing computers and provides interpretations requiring significant knowledge of a specialized area of research. Searches literature, utilizing all available resources including electronic, regarding new methodology and designs experiments accordingly.
  • Contributes to the development of research documentation for publication and/or prepares technical reports, papers and/or records.
  • Performs other related duties as assigned or requested. The University reserves the right to add or change duties at any time.
  • The University of Southern California values diversity and is committed to equal opportunity in employment.

Start date is as soon as possible.

Position is open until filled.

more information about posted position and application details

Harry Shum Jr: Dancing With and Without Glee

In Media Res is a project of Media Commons. Every day, a media scholar posts a clip and some commentary which is intended to spark conversations. These clips are ideal for incorporating into teaching, but can also be considered resources for the ongoing virtual community of media scholars around the world who use the site to wake up their brains each morning. The format is one which exploits the properties of the web environment well in order to expand our teaching to larger communities. This week, In Media Res is running a series of posts themed around “Transmedia: New Platforms,” and I was asked to provide one of the post. My materials are found below, but you will want to check out other great posts from Janet Murray and Chuck Tryon so far, with Christina Dunbar-Hester and Jeff Watson rounding off the week.

Transmedia Narrative is simply the most high-profile of a series of different transmedia logics shaping convergence culture. Today, I want to focus on another transmedia logic — performance. I’ve chosen as a case in point Harry Shum Jr., perhaps best known as the “other Asian” (more recently named Mike) on Glee. Several critics have noted Shum’s status as an eternal extra and what this says about racial politics surrounding television’s treatment of Asian-Americans. Even one Facebook fan page for the character calls him simply “the Other Asian.”

By contrast, Shum plays a central role in The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD), now finishing up its first season as a direct to Hulu video series, designed to showcase spectacular urban dance performances. Shum was allowed to essentially solo episode 8, “Elliott’s Shoes” in a performance which echoes back to Jim Carry’s rubbery movements in The Mask. Check it out, since Hulu doesn’t allow us to embed clips.

Shum is never given a chance to dance like that on Glee! There, the camera placements and choreography subdue his performance to make his co-stars shine. Yet, after seeing him in LXD, his efforts become much more visible when I watch Glee. His Showreal, shared here, suggests how often Shum has appeared in shadow (as in his appearances for iPod) or in the edges of frames (as in countless music videos), while LXD finally allows him to take center stage.

Prior to the series launch, the LXD dancers were featured on the Oscar telecast (which was produced by Adam Shankman)

and on So You Think You Can Dance, which features Shankman as a judge.

Shankman in turn was the executive producer for Step Up 3D, which also featured Shum and was directed by Jon Cho, who is the executive producer of LXD. Step Up, which was released near the end of LXD‘s first season, also features Twitch and Little C’, two other veterans from Dance, while Little C appears in a cameo role in LXD. And the LXD dancers opened for Glee‘s summer road show (where Shum was given his own spotlight moment).

Will his character get more screen presence on Glee this season? As the magic black ball hints, “Signs Point to Yes.”

What seperates these transmedia performances from more conventional strategies of star development may be the intense coordination across these various properties which are clearly designed to move attention from one media platform and one text to the other. I would love to hear of other examples of how transmedia performance is operating today.

Raising the Digital Generation: What Parents Need to Know About Digital Media and Learning

A few weeks ago, I was asked to represent the School of Communications by giving a talk for Trojans Parent Weekend at USC. (For those who do not follow American universities and their team mascots, the Trojans is the name for the USC sports team and thus, the name that is attached to anyone affiliated with the university.)

Below, you can find the webcast version of my remarks, which sought to congratulate parents on their obvious success in raising a child smart enough to become part of our student body and to challenge some of their preconceptions about the forms of informal learning their offspring may have encountered in the course of their interactions with new media platforms and practices.

I felt that this talk might be of interest to my readers, many of whom are educators and/or parents, and who have displayed in the past great interest in my posts on new media and learning. Parents receive so little advice about how to confront the real challenges of navigating the digital environment which is unfamiliar to them and often to their children. Most often, they are told just say no. The more you restrict media use, the better parent you are. And for God’s sake, keep the computer out of the kid’s bedroom. But none of that feels adequate for a world where there is real learning taking place on line, where learning to navigate the new media environment is going to be key for your offspring’s future success. Our schools are already blocking access to many of these core technologies and often refusing to advise youth about how to use them ethically, safely, and creatively. If parents start shutting off computers in the home, they really do close down potentials for their children’s growth and development. And if they start snooping through their young person’s internet accounts, they run the risk of damaging trust that is going to be vital for their long term relationship. My core advice to parents: Kids need someone to watch their back and not snoop over their shoulders. They need adults who are as engaged in their online lives as they are with their off-line lives — not less and not more.

Some of what you hear here will be familiar, reflecting other talks and essays I’ve published on the work of Project New Media Literacies. Some will be newer, having to do with my ongoing projects in the area of youth, new media, and civic engagement.

I mentioned there in passing that we are in the process of creating the Participatory Culture and Learning Lab in the Annenberg School. Participatory Culture has long been the over-arching theme of my work, whether applied to think about creative industries and consumer/fan culture, new media literacies and education, or civic engagement. Over the past year, I have been transitioning out of many of the research roles I played through the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and consolidating my research efforts here at USC. I have been lucky to draw several key members of my research staff on the East coast to join me here in sunny California — including Erin Reilly who has long been the research director of the New Media Literacies team (and now is building affiliations with the Annenberg Innovation Lab) — and I have reunited with Sangita Shreshtova, a CMS alum, who is now Research Director for the work we are doing on civic engagement with the MacArthur and Spencer Foundations. PCL (which people are already calling Pickle) represents an umbrella organization which will sustain these efforts while opening up a space for new research initiatives down the line.