Is It All About the Hips?: Sangita Shresthova on Bollywood Dance (Part One)

Sangita Shreshtova, a 2003 Alumni of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, recently published an informative and engaging new book, Is It All About the Hips?: Around the World With Bollywood Dance, which explores some important questions at the intersections of transnational media, participatory culture, and film performance. She writes with the experienced eye of someone who is herself a gifted dancer and choreographer and with the theoretical sophistication of someone who has gone through several top academic programs.

This engaging ethnography explores the ways Bollywood dance is moving off the screen and into the everyday lives of fans all over the planet, through attentive close studies of what performance means in a range of different local contexts (from London and Los Angeles to Kathmandu). Shreshthova knows from her own work as an organizer of the Prague Bollywood Film Festival that these films, their music, and their dance cultures, are traveling not only to places where there is a strong South Asian diasporic community but also into places which have had limited history of contact with India before. This is part of the fascination of our current moment where popular culture is being circulated across traditional borders in ways which produce unexpected consequences.

I have been lucky enough to have worked with Shreshtova, first as my graduate student at MIT and now as the research director on the CivicPaths project here at USC, so it is a source of great pride and pleasure to be able to share with you this interview. Here, she shares both her own journey to write this book and some core insights about the transnational contexts within which contemporary popular and participatory culture operates.

In your acknowledgements, you describe Bollywood dance as “a messy, yet appealing, reflection on my own scattered cultural identity.” What aspects of your autobiography did you draw upon in shaping this book? Is there something about Bollywood entertainment which speaks especially to the diasporic experience?

While my book is based in ethnographic and academic research, there are certainly some autobiographical elements that informed its final shape. For one, my initial encounters with Hindi films are interwoven with my own cultural struggles to define my Czech-Nepali mixed race identity growing up in Kathmandu. It was during this time that I was first drawn to the hybrid content of Hindi film song-and-dance sequences. Much later, I was once again drawn to Hindi films as a homesick undergraduate student at Princeton University. At that time, I was so grateful to the Indian students who shared their Bollywood audio and video collections with me. The songs and images became an accessible way for me to feel connected to a familiar culture in ways that somehow eased the profound isolation that dominated my initial years in the United States. Watching the films also connected me with other students in similar situations.

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Films like Pardes (1997) really catered to diasporic nostalgia. Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardes_(film)

When I returned to the study of Bollywood as a graduate student in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, I, of course, drew on these early experiences with Bollywood. I then combined my research with my training in dance and media.

So yes, to me, Bollywood films, in general, are very well suited to the diasporic experience. For one, they provide accessible familiar content that can be shared in the community. To me, the hybrid nature of the films themselves is also particularly well suited to the fragmented identities that emerge out of particular diasporic experiences. And, Bollywood dance specifically is an eloquent commentary on the juxtaposition of the global flow of media enabled by media technologies and the physical experience of these images on a local level. This is why I am particularly cautious about the nostalgic urge to treat Bollywood film content as representative of Indian (and at times even explicitly Hindu) culture. To me the richness of Bollywood (dance) is its portable mixing of cultural content that enables multiple (related) meanings to emerge in multiple locations.

You describe Bollywood dance as “a participatory culture based in Hindi film fandom.” What forms does the participation take? How is it linked to other forms of fan practice which surround these films?

There are many practices associated with Hindi film (and more recently Bollywood) fandom, including keeping up with current trends within the industry, organizing screenings, creating art inspired by films and actors, and following references to other films and actors within a given narrative. To me, the shared memory of films is really central to Bollywood fandom. This pleasure may further be encouraged when audiences make watching Hindi films a group activity – to be shared with relatives and friends.

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As one of the organizers of the Prague Bollywood Festival, I had the opportunity to witness and encounter many Bollywood fans. (image source: www.bollywood.cz)

In many ways, Bollywood dance grew out of these shared pleasures. Put simply audiences wanted to experience the films first-hand. The also wanted to share these pleasures with others through performance. In this context, thresh-hold to participation in Bollywood dance was very low and took place in the privacy of people’s homes or at community gatherings. Anyone could participate. By emulating particular movements from films, dancers could summon up the shared memories of those films. They would also teach movements to each other and invite others to join in as best they could. In many ways, Bollywood dance movements became a shared language of Bollywood film fandom. To me, this is what makes Bollywood dance a participatory culture.

In some ways, current trends towards a more “professional” Bollywood dance as live performance are now changing these practices. There is, however, no indication that the Bollywood dance as fandom is about to fade any time soon.

You are describing a phenomenon throughout the South Asian diaspora where Bollywood dance classes are growing in popularity, sometimes at the expense of more classical Indian dance. What factors have contributed to this growth? What do you see as some of the consequences?

The relationship between Bollywood dance and the Indian classical dance world is quite controversial and has been for some time. For the sake of clarity, I will situate my answer within the United States and limit my observations to this context. The growing popularity of Bollywood dance and its frequent positioning as representative of Indian dance has indeed caused much concern among Indian classical dancers in the United States. While I am not sure about the actual enrollment numbers, there is a general sense that Bollywood dance is gaining in popularity at the expense of Indian classical dance and many classical dance teachers have expressed their distress at this trend. Often this distress also is tinted with a slight disdain for Bollywood dance, which classical dance teachers tend to see as a less refined, dislocated and even crass from entertainment. There is also a sense that Bollywood dance is in some ways riding on the coat tails of the hard work that many Indian dancers have done to establish and raise awareness about Indian dance outside India. The popularity of Bollywood dance is also a source of concern for those advocating the preservation of specific (conservative) elements of Indian culture in the lives of Indian-American youth who may otherwise only feel a very tenuous connection to Indian culture. 

Students of Bollywood dance often feel that Bollywood dance is much more accessible, malleable, learnable, and fun than Indian classical dance. As source material, song-and-dance sequences from Hindi films are today quite readily accessed through sites like Youtube.com. Students can quickly adapt movements to suit their skill level. They may be in a position to show off their moves to their friends quite quickly as well. In contrast, music to classical Indian dances is often a closely guarded and will only be shared once a teacher deems the student is ready to make a public appearance. There are very few or no compromises made to accommodate student’s skill level. They have to master set dances. It may take years before an Indian classical dance student actually has a dance to show and even longer before he/she is ready to perform in public.

Reflecting on these realities, several Bollywood and Indian classical dance teachers have been searching for new ways to address this situation. More and more often, Bollywood dance teachers and dancers make a very active effort to integrate Indian classical elements (and at times actual full classes) in their teaching. They often also actively encourage that their students study classical Indian dance. On the other hand, Indian classical dance teachers make efforts to add Bollywood (or as they prefer to call it Hindi Film dance) components into their repertoire. Drawing on the Indian classical dance Kathak, Anjani Ambegaotkar has choreographed an ode to Hindi film dance in “Made in Mumbai”, and Made in Mumbai II.

Sangita Shresthova is Czech/Nepali scholar, filmmaker, dancer and media scholar, Sangita’s work has been presented in academic and creative venues around the world including the Schaubuehne (Berlin), AIGA Boston/ATE Massaging Media Conference (Boston), the Other
Festival (Chennai), the EBS International Documentary Festival (Seoul), the American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), and Akademi’s Frame by Frame (London, UK). She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures and earned a MSc. degree from MIT’s
Comparative Media Studies program where she focused on Hindi film dance. Sangita is also founder of Bollynatyam (www.bollynatyam.com). She currently works with Professor Henry Jenkins on questions related to participatory culture, new media, and civic engagement.

On Transmedia and Education: A Conversation With Robot Heart Stories’ Jen Begeal and Inanimate Alice’s Laura Fleming (Part One)

This week, I want to showcase two innovative projects which seek to explore the intersections between transmedia storytelling, participatory culture, and education — Robot Heart Stories and Inanimate Alice. Here’s some background on the two projects, taken from their respective home pages:

Robot Hearts Stories is an experiential learning project that uses collaboration and creative problem solving to put education directly in the hands of students. This fall, two classrooms, a continent apart, will work together to get a lost robot home, and they will need your help… The experience begins when a robot crash lands in Montreal and must make her way to LA in order to find her space craft and return home. Two class rooms in underprivileged neighborhoods, one in Montreal (French speaking) and the other in LA (English speaking), will use math, science, history, geography and creative writing to help the robot make her way across North America. At the same time, Robot Hearts Stories extends beyond the classroom, as the project welcomes involvement from a global audience. We need participants of all ages to share their own passions in the form of a creative act involving a robot they can print, customize and document. For each photo or piece of art featuring the robot that is submitted, the “signal strength” of the robot grows stronger and helps her to get back home. Robot Heart Stories is the first in a trilogy of experiential learning projects from award winning storytelling pioneer Lance Weiler and creative producer Janine Saunders.

Robot Heart Stories from WorkBook Project on Vimeo.

Set in the early years of the 21st century and told through text, sound, images, music and games, Inanimate Alice is the story of Alice and her imaginary digital friend Brad. nanimate Alice is Transmedia – designed from the outset as a story that unfolds over time and on multiple platforms, the episodes are available on all devices capable of running Adobe’s Flash Player. Alice connects technologies, languages, cultures, generations and curricula within a sweeping narrative accessible by all. As Alice’s journey progresses, new storylines appear elsewhere providing more details and insights, enriching the tale through surprising developments. Students are encouraged to co-create developing episodes of their own, either filling in the gaps or developing new strands. Designed originally as entertainment, ‘Inanimate Alice’ has been adopted by teachers eager to connect with students through media they inherently understand. Created around a high-quality robust text, the content is suitable for the deep-reading and re-reading necessary for academic investigation.

My desire to learn more about these imaginative and groundbreaking projects led me to two women (Robot Heart Stories‘ Jen Begeal and Inanimate Alice‘s Laura Fleming) who have been heavily involved in their development and deployment. What follows is an online conversation between the two of them which describes not only their work on these projects, but also dig deeper into their underlying philosophies concerning the value of transmedia and participatory learning. (For my own thoughts on these topics, see this blog post.) My hope is that this exchange will help spark similar discussions across projects, across entertainment companies, nonprofits, educators, and schools, about how we can tap in the power of new forms of storytelling experiences to enhance the opportunities students have to learn and grow.

You have both been involved in recent projects to create transmedia experiences for young people. Can you describe these projects and your participation in them?

Jen: I have recently been involved with Robot Heart Stories (RHS), an experiential education project that used collaboration and creative problem solving to put education directly in the hands of students. The experience begins when a robot crash landed in Montreal and must make her way to LA in order to find her space craft and return home. Two class rooms in underprivileged neighborhoods, one in Montreal (French speaking) and the other in LA (English speaking), will use math, science, history, geography and creative writing to help the robot make her way across North America.

At the same time, Robot Hearts Stories extends beyond the classroom, as the project welcomes involvement from a global audience. We need participants of all ages to share their own passions in the form of a creative act involving a robot they can print, customize and document. For each photo or piece of art featuring the robot that is submitted, the “signal strength” of the robot grows stronger and helps her to get back home.

Robot Heart Stories was created by award winning transmedia storytelling pioneer, Lance Weiler and creative producer Janine Saunders. My role with the project is as social media strategist, I helped build the social media strategy for the twitter feed and the blogger outreach campaign.

Laura: I have been working on Inanimate Alice , a series of interactive, multimedia, episodes that uses a combination of text, sound, images, and games to tell the story of Alice, a young girl growing up with technology as her best and sometimes only friend. During my time with the project, I have been able to work closely with the producer of the series advising on the educational media attributes of the story and helping devise intriguing new ways to navigate the transmedia experience that is just starting to unfold.

In addition, I was a collaborator for Robot Heart Stories, a project in which transmedia strategies were used to engage students from across the world. I also implemented pieces of the project within my own classroom.

What lessons have you taken from your experiments so far in deploying transmedia practices for education?

Jen: You need to understand your audience, and know that what works for each grade level will be different. Also, you must make the project easy to understand, curate and showcase for educators and students. Another lesson we learned from RHS is that you need an open line of communication between collaborators which may include needing an administrator to oversee discussions to you ensure that goals are made and met.

Laura: When thinking about transmedia and the affordances it provides for learning, the most important lesson I have taken away is that transmedia properties designed for education must be pedagogically sound, by shifting the locus of control firmly away from the teacher towards the learner. In the case of Inanimate Alice, I have seen learners become producers of content in the widest transliterate sense- teachers and learners learning together, shaping new narrative possibilities has enabled learners to participate, grow and be an integral part of the story. Transmedia practices for education must allow room for freedom, flexibility, and creativity while at the same time being practical and addressing standards, objectives and the needs of learners.

While transmedia has long been a property of commercial franchises aimed at young people, we are just now beginning to explore the implications of transmedia for education. What lessons do you think educators might take from commercial transmedia aimed at children? In what ways does educational use of transmedia require different underlying models and assumptions?

Jen: Some lessons that educators may take away from commercial transmedia aimed at children are the social communities built around the project, and how these communities encourage each participant to have a voice. Some examples of commercial properties which have accomplished this include: Inanimate Alice and the eagerly anticipated Pottermore, currently in Beta, but which allowed one million early testers to join in the summer of 2011.

Transmedia projects are about being actively engaged with a story and “playing.” Educators must understand that there is no right or wrong way to tell a transmedia story because the landscape and communities are continuously changing and evolving. Digital technologies are in a constant state of flux therefor we can no longer rely on “standards” for teaching as educators will face a harder time connecting with students who are becoming more accustomed to shifting technologies.

Laura: Successful commercial franchises have proven that transmedia narrative techniques create intense loyalty, interaction, and engagement. Educators can use these same techniques to create anytime, anywhere learning that is fully integrated and embedded into learner’s lives. Spanning educational content across varying platforms and incorporating varying forms of media meets the needs of all of our learners, while at the same time creates an emotional connection to content. Transmedia techniques create a totality of learning experiences that encompass learning both in school, in the community, and at home. Ultimately, I feel educators and indeed learners, increasingly, need to be an integral part of the creation process

.

Jen Begeal is a social media strategist and transmedia producer. Her recent projects include developing a social media strategy for the experiential education project, Robot Heart Stories, developed by The Workbook Project and producing the transmedia campaign for the film, Zenith. She currently works at Umami.TV and can be found tweeting at @jlbhart and @umamitv Jen has spoken at leading conferences including the Film & History Conference for the University of Wisconsin and Mobility Shifts Conference at The New School on the subjects of film theory and media literacy. As a writer her works have been featured on the Tribeca Film: Future of Film blog and on Huffington Post‘s blog. Jen received her BFA from The State University of New York at Purchase in film directing and her MA from The New School in media studies. She is a co-organizer of the Transmedia NYC meetup group and an active member in the New York Film community.

Laura Fleming has served the children of New Jersey as an educator for the past fifteen years as both a media specialist and a teacher. In recent years she has taken a professional interest in developments in new media and in vanguard techniques in interactive and transmedia (multi-platform) storytelling. In this context, she has been able to draw powerful connections between transmedia and education. She blogs on these issues at www.edtechinsight.blogspot.com and is a regular contributor to other outlets, including the Huffington Post. Laura is currently playing a lead consultative role with the BradField Company, the developers of the innovative and popular transmedia story, Inanimate Alice. She has played a major role in growing and sustaining a thriving and vibrant global community around Inanimate Alice. She has consulted on several transmedia properties, working with producers to help maximise the value of their creations and toolsets for teachers and students as well as for the corporations themselves. Laura is currently co-authoring a book on Transmedia LearningWorlds, due for publication in Autumn 2012, and has spoken at a number of prestigious education, publishing and media events on the significance of transmedia for teaching and learning.

On Transmedia and Education: A Conversation With Robot Heart Stories’ Jen Begeal and Inanimate Alice’s Laura Fleming (Part Two)

Some transmedia properties are entirely top-down, deploying fairly conventional models of authorship, despite their deployment across multiple media platforms. Others include strong elements of participatory culture. How central is youth participation in the production and circulation of media to your visions for transmedia education?

Jen: Youth participation is very important In production and circulation as many Transmedia projects are aimed at young people, and the ones aimed at adults require that the adults have some prior knowledge of media which leads us back to teaching media literacy at a young age. Specific youth aimed projects, like Robot Heart Stories, require that the students create their own videos, write collaborative stories and construct and color their own paper robots (called “heart packs”) which were pdf downloads from the website. The theory behind transmedia education is that user generated content (i.e. created by the students themselves) should be at the core of these projects.

Laura: Story-driven user-generated content is a powerful piece of the transmedia experience and in my opinion is an essential consideration for any educational property. Technology tools allow for new forms of participation and learners inevitably seek out those opportunities. Even just the notion of creating transmedia experiences for specific groups or demographics is something we need to consider carefully. Learners themselves should be immersed in the creative process to ensure that they are not mere consumers of the experience.

What are the implications of teaching a generation not only how to read but also how to write across media?

Jen: There are several implications to this, for one there will be a larger population of active consumers, prior to the “digital generation” most media consumers were passive with little choice in what they were sold or presented with. This new generation now has the choice to decide what to watch, who to interact with and decide which brands can target them. This likewise poses a challenge for brands to be smarter and more engaging with their target audience. I also foresee a higher literacy rate as well as lower drop-out rates as students will have to have certain levels of education to compete in the working world, which will be heavily media driven.

Laura: One of my personal goals has been to blend the theory of transmedia with the implications from entertainment and business and layer it in a discussion about reading, writing, and learning for even our youngest learners. Children will read and write across platforms, whether they are taught to or not. As an educator, I feel I have a personal responsibility to teach my students how to read and write across media by providing a learning environment that allows for freedoms to think about story in less conventional ways. Transmedia storytelling techniques enable us to expand the definition of literacy and allow for new opportunities to experience both reading, writing, and publishing in a transmedia environment and students should be taught to do so responsibly and effectively.

One potential implication of the use of transmedia for education is that it might help students to experience the same story or events through multiple points of view. How might such practices contribute to young people’s capacity to explore different perspectives?

Jen: Exploring different perspectives allows for students to filter the facts of a story and sift through the evidence presented to determine the truth. As was the case with RHS, French speaking students in a Montreal classroom had to convey their stories through video, music, and images to their sister classroom of English speaking students in Los Angles. This presented a problem that the students themselves needed to solve, one which involved telling a narrative which could be understood across language. The global initiative of the project prompted our collaborators to translate the initial French/ English curriculum into other languages including Swedish and German.

Laura: Transmedia by nature promotes multiple points of view which fosters a dialogue within global reach that can connect technologies, languages, cultures, generations, and curricula. The dynamic experiences transmedia storytelling helps to provide allows for the proliferation of information and knowledge, as well as ensures that young people will learn together and from each other. Ultimately, transmedia practices have the power to shape and possibly even alter beliefs or interpretations offering mutually beneficial solutions for all. This power makes it all the more critical that learners themselves are instrumental components of transmedia learning worlds.

I have used the metaphor of “hunting and gathering” to describe the activities of consumers engaging with a transmedia narrative. What connections do you see between these modes of active consumption and the kinds of research processes which have long been central to education?

Jen: Research requires actively searching out information and can be as involved as your project requires. Likewise transmedia storytelling allows you to be as little or as much engaged with the project as you desire. The students who participated in Robot Heart Stories had a specific curriculum presented to them, however what they chose to do with the information provided was up to them. In the end they chose to tell the story of the robot across multiple platforms including videos, e-mails and through song.

Laura: There is no problem with the notion of ‘consuming’ transmedia, but its true educational value will come in our definition of ‘active’– its definition has to be about more than mere ‘thinking about the content’, it has to stray knowingly into the creative and the immersive aspects too. In the case of Inanimate Alice, students around the world have been motivated to create their own next episodes of the series. Learners have used critical literacy skills to deconstruct the digital text as readers, and have used the knowledge they gained to write and create. They have become producers of content, shaping new narrative possibilities. Students have developed episodes of their own, either filling in the gaps or developing new strands of the narrative. In addition, students have created interstitial episodes that fill in the gaps in Alice’s story.

Inanimate Alice has created an active virtual circle of storytelling where transmedia meets co-creation inspiring many learners to write and create. Creators looking to build a market here will succeed best where they can find a path between ‘delivering’ transmedia experiences which can then be consumed, and building transmedia platforms/landscapes/immersive experiences that empower the learner to create (and live!) their own stories.

How might we reconcile calls for transmedia education with ongoing concerns raised by the Kaiser Foundation and others about the amount of time young people spend engaging with “screens.” Does transmedia education compound the concerns others have raised around multitasking and divided attention or might it foster a higher level of media literacy?

Jen: For some, transmedia may be seen as technology overload, however not all transmedia projects take place completely on screens. For instance with Robot Heart Stories part of the project involved students physically cutting out paper robot heart-packs and either drawing pictures or pasting photos on the robots stomachs as a way to “fuel” the robot. The students also had to create videos which meant they had to engage in face to face collaboration.

Another transmedia project that focuses on youth culture is Socks, inc. asks participants to create a physical sock-puppet then photograph or video the puppet interacting in the real world. This type of teaching, which requires a cross-pollination of digital and real world problem solving, should be the core theory behind all transmedia education. We are already a society of information overload but now we need to learn how to examine the world around us and learn how to engage with it through digital media and hands on activities.

Laura : When considering the amount of time young people spend engaging with “screens”, it is important to differentiate effectively between the many uses to which screens are put- playing an immersive and complex computer game is not the same as watching television. In the case of transmedia each screen facilitates the manifestation of the whole storyworld.

One promise of transmedia education is that it responds to research about multiple intelligences — that is, the idea that different young people might learn more effectively through different media channels. Should the model of transmedia education focus on multiple paths to the same knowledge or on the ability of any given learner to synthesize information across multiple channels?

Jen: The model of transmedia education should focus on the ability of the learner to synthesize information across multiple channels as students need this skill in the real world. Content is continually being dispersed across multiple channels and as more content becomes available it will be up to us to teach young people how to curate this content and synthesize the constant stream of information.

Laura: To me, neither of these models are mutually exclusive. Ultimately, only the learner is really in control (for a concise exposition of this position, see I am Learner) Teachers can influence, guide, and facilitate, but what is taught is rarely if ever what is actually learned- so while learners focus on synthesizing information across multiple channels, they will also, naturally, when they are allowed to, take multiple paths to knowledge. The most powerful transemdia education will therefore try to combine both models into one more persistent model.

Pottermore has been a highly publicized attempt to connect multimedia and participatory elements to children’s literature. What are your hopes or concerns about Pottermore as a model for transmedia entertainment and education?

Jen: Pottermore has the ability to connect children globally, to teach them how to learn from different cultures, to understand how to connect with one another and be more accepting of each other. I foresee projects like these with such a broad scope and community to reduce prejudices, stereotyping and encourage collaborative learning.

Laura: JK Rowling has done a fascinating thing with Pottermore. She has taken her linear novels and created a non-linear experience around them. Her fans have been wanting to get close to her for years and through Pottermore they will feel like they have gotten that chance and that they now have the opportunity to contribute to the story world. The loyalty this will foster should not be underestimated and should serve as a model for future transmedia properties. In the case of education, these strategies will empower learners to share, contribute, and create by making discoveries through their own interpretations, which encourages passion and responsibility for their own learning.

Both of you have placed strong emphasis on the value of stories as a means of capturing and communicating human wisdom and knowledge. How do we decide which stories or themes should form the basis for these kinds of grassroots storytelling activities?

Jen: Stories should have personal meaning, and they should have an overriding theme. We had learned that for primary and secondary education topics that deal with social good, passion and personal responsibility (anti-bullying) campaigns are the easiest for students to tackle. There are many themes which can be explored or addressed, however the theme itself should be easy to understand and engage with, and be meaningful to the students learning the curriculum.

Laura: Storytelling activities should have the power to offer multiple perspectives and different ways of communicating ideas. Authentic, meaningful, genuine narratives that engage learners through their intent will naturally capture them and enhance the depth of their knowledge.

Our culture has historically reified the concept of authorship, suggesting that only special people have the capacity to create meaningful stories. What techniques have we discovered that help young people overcome their own insecurities and resistances to becoming authors?

Jen: By allowing students to tell their stories across multiple platforms we have given them the chance to be authors without making them self conscious. Some students tell stories visually, others through music and some even through short form dialogues, transmedia embraces the telling of stories across multiple channels, thereby giving everyone a chance to be a storyteller or author. In the case of Pottermore, these same young people are encouraged by a community to pick and choose how little or how much they want to involve themselves into the stories. It gives them the chance to become immersive creators and to actually play instead of write. This is especially helpful to those kids with learning disabilities as they can engage with others in their own way and at their own pace. By breaking down traditional barriers of storytelling we build a world of creators who can tell a story and synthesize information more effectively than ever before.

Laura: Transparency, connecting learners directly to the storytellers allows for powerful opportunities for co-creation. Learners themselves become multiplatform producers by mashing-up commercial content or by creating their own original content that extends the overarching narrative. Once embraced, contributing to the story world will provide satisfaction and a sense of achievement. In addition, celebrating the participation of the learner is validating and will lead to further engagement with the content and will make them feel empowered.

Jen Begeal is a social media strategist and transmedia producer. Her recent projects include developing a social media strategy for the experiential education project, Robot Heart Stories, developed by The Workbook Project and producing the transmedia campaign for the film, Zenith. She currently works at Umami.TV and can be found tweeting at @jlbhart and @umamitv Jen has spoken at leading conferences including the Film & History Conference for the University of Wisconsin and Mobility Shifts Conference at The New School on the subjects of film theory and media literacy. As a writer her works have been featured on the Tribeca Film: Future of Film blog and on Huffington Post‘s blog. Jen received her BFA from The State University of New York at Purchase in film directing and her MA from The New School in media studies. She is a co-organizer of the Transmedia NYC meetup group and an active member in the New York Film community.

Laura Fleming has served the children of New Jersey as an educator for the past fifteen years as both a media specialist and a teacher. In recent years she has taken a professional interest in developments in new media and in vanguard techniques in interactive and transmedia (multi-platform) storytelling. In this context, she has been able to draw powerful connections between transmedia and education. She blogs on these issues at www.edtechinsight.blogspot.com and is a regular contributor to other outlets, including the Huffington Post. Laura is currently playing a lead consultative role with the BradField Company, the developers of the innovative and popular transmedia story, Inanimate Alice. She has played a major role in growing and sustaining a thriving and vibrant global community around Inanimate Alice. She has consulted on several transmedia properties, working with producers to help maximise the value of their creations and toolsets for teachers and students as well as for the corporations themselves. Laura is currently co-authoring a book on Transmedia LearningWorlds, due for publication in Autumn 2012, and has spoken at a number of prestigious education, publishing and media events on the significance of transmedia for teaching and learning.

Funny Pictures?: An Interview on Hollywood Animation with Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil (Part Two)

Both cartoons and comedy shorts have a relationship to the Hollywood studio system which is different from the feature films which have dominated film studies. What do we learn about the logic of the studio system by recentering our focus on this level?

CK & DG: To a certain degree, these shorts operated on the margins of the studio system. The units set up to produce them even occupied a separate space within the studios, physically reinforcing their marginality. In many ways, like the B-film, shorts were the poor step-child of the studio family, less highly regarded than the A-level feature, but a indispensable part of the distribution mix.

Even if the studios didn’t value the work of the animators to the degree that they might have, the studios did provide an outlet for these animators to ply their craft and the sheer volume of cartoons produced during this period is quite impressive.

Looking more closely at these marginal products of the studio system reminds us that it wasn’t only about stars and valued literary properties; the studios were responsible for turning out a varied array of products for mass consumption and both diversity and reliability had equal weight in the industry’s calculations. If we consider the role of

works such as cartoons within the broad aims of the studio system, it allows us to see that system as the complicated, hierarchical, sometimes ungainly method of operating that it was. It also helps to reveal some of the ways in which the studios did resemble factories, because turning out animated works relied on so much repetitive labour. Scott Curtis’s consideration of boredom in the work of Tex Avery is an incisive look at how that repetitious labour finds itself replicated on a formal level.

The essays here certainly cover the canon of American animation, including the Fleischer Brothers, Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, Tex Avery, and Frank Tashlin. What new insights do we gain about these familiar figures as a result of the comparative approach this book adopts?

CK & DG: The most obvious insight is amplified context. Focusing on the studio period means that we don’t isolate particular figures as aberrational geniuses. But when exceptional work was produced, we can still understand its relationship to the traditions and tendencies evident throughout the period. Directors like Tashlin and Avery were distinctive, but as various of the contributors point out, they were beholden to broader tendencies enshrined within the system and influenced by comic conventions passed down from other comic forms. By focussing on the basic common element of animated humour, one can begin to see th continuities linking these figures to a larger representational system, to widely-held cultural values, and to a pre-existing industrial context.

At the same time, your contributors also bring new discoveries into the mix. What films and filmmakers should we be paying more attention to as a result of this new scholarship?

CK & DG: Well, we hope that readers will take their cue from Rob King’s eye-opening chapter on Charley Bowers and pay more attention to this largely forgotten hybrid figure. More generally, the volume’s tacit message is that much of animated work from this period remains underexplored. Again, there are so many films being made during this time that to watch even a fraction of the output requires a lot of time. Representative works of interest are highlighted in the volume, by authors such as Richard Neupert and Donald Crafton, just to take two examples of contributors who focus on largely unheralded cartoons from the 1930s.

But the same could be said of almost any decade within this period: there is a lot to see and a lot to discover. And the work on sound, primarily represented (in very different ways) by Philip Brophy and by Daniel, reminds us that we shouldn’t ignore the sonic dimension of these funny pictures.

All that said, this anthology can only scratch at the surface; our main aim was to come at the vast amount of material from a key perspective that had largely been overlooked–that all of these films were made with an aim to get audiences laughing.

The formal structure of the gag is a shared concern of scholars working on comedy and animation. What can we learn by exploring this issue across these two domains?

CK & DG: One of the more interesting aspects of the gag from an analytical perspective is the constructed nature of it. And yet, as familiar as the gag may seem to a viewer, it must still be produced with an eye to conveying a spirit of spontaneity, else the responsive laughter will be diminished.

For both live-action and animated films, a lot of preparatory labour goes into the mounting and execution of the gag. In live-action, practice makes perfect, whereas in animation, it’s all achieved in the process of drawing. Yet the result is so similar. The gags often play to the spatio-temporal strengths of the cinematic universes created by film comedy, the seeming defiance of gravity, the manipulation of objects, the emphatic, almost parodic violence of the pratfall.

Because the intent–to elicit laughter–runs across both live-action and animated comedy, gags are surprisingly similar in both forms, even if the means differ substantially. As might be predicted, animated gags don’t have to go to the lengths of live-action to impress us, as it’s all ultimately on the page and almost anything is possible.

As many of your contributors suggest, comedy and animation both draw on earlier forms of popular amusement, such as vaudeville and the comic strip. How does this book contribute to our understanding of this larger history of popular culture?

CK & DG: By stressing the comic conventions that underlie so much of what comes out of Hollywood, live entertainment and the print media, our anthology tries to draw through lines that suggest productive intermedial cross-fertilization. Popular culture is always a product of diverse and not always completely compatible factors. This was true early on, as evidenced by Mark Langer’s demonstration of the debt that the Fleischer Brothers owed to vaudeville and the comic strip. Similarly, J.B. Kaufman shows how silent live-action comedy exercised an influence on early sound-era animation. And both Paul Wells’ article and your own remind us not to forget that popular comic forms also intersect with modernist tendencies in intriguing ways.

Dealing with these genres, your authors necessarily have to confront the history of stereotyping, especially racial and ethnic stereotypes, in American humor. What new insights do we gain?

CK & DG: Nic Sammond’s work on racial masquerade and early American animation is a game-changer, in our opinion. He asks the hard question: how do we reconcile our ready laughter with the fact that many of these cartoons are irredeemably racist? Rather than simply condemning these works, he tries to understand the roots of their racist humour and why they still strike us as funny. There are no simple answers available, but the questions demand asking. And as we say in our Introduction, this is equally true of much of the uncomfortable laughter that these cartoons often engender as they trade in stereotypes, demean women or adopt ideologically reprehensible positions. But by so insistently focussing their energies on being funny, they draw our attention to why we laugh in the first place.

What has been the lasting legacy of the early cartoon shorts on contemporary forms of animation?

CK: The studio-era cartoons have become a part of our shared cultural heritage and especially in this ‘age of allusion,’ their importance to present-day animators cannot be ignored, because it is constantly on display. The technology of animation may be changing at a head-spinning rate, but its basic impulse–to keep audiences laughing–remains pretty much the same. So these earlier works will never cease to be a source of inspiration for animators nor of delight for viewers. Our anthology is a reminder that the pleasures of studio-era animation, as palpable as they are, demand careful consideration, as surely as do our often visceral reactions to those pleasures. We designed Funny Pictures to supply that consideration while never denying the satisfaction of the belly laugh. We didn’t want to lose sight of the indelible fact that cartoons are funny–while still providing room for reflection.

Daniel Goldmark is Associate Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University and the author of Tunes for ‘Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon. Charlie Keil is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto and the author of Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style, and Filmmaking 1907-1913 and American Cinema’s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, and Practices.

Funny Pictures?: An Interview on Hollywood Animation with Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil (Part One)

A few years ago, I featured here the draft of my essay, ‘I Like to Sock Myself in the Face’: Reconsidering “Vulgar Modernism,”which updated some concepts first introduced by J. Hoberman about American comedy in the 1950s and sought to make a case that artists such as Tex Avery, Spike Jones, Basil Wolverton, and Olsen and Johnson, among others, were part of an informal “school” or “movement” which straddled media platforms. Now, the book for which this essay was written — Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil’s Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood — has been published and I am featuring this week an interview with the two editors about the collection.

For those of you who are interested in either the history of American cartoons or in live action comedy, this collection will be a rare treat, one which brings together many of the key people working in this space today, including Mark Langer, Donald Crafton, Richard Neupert, Susan Ohmer, Paul Wells, Nicholas Sammond, Philip Brophy, Rob King, Scott Curtis, and Linda Simensky. The contributions extend from considerations of the silent films of the Fleischer Brothers to the echoes of the studio era cartoons in contemporary animation practice, from discussions of racial stereotyping to the role of the musical score. Collectively, the essays both map the familiar and the less well known and contribute enormously to our understanding of how comic texts do or do not fit the logic of the classical Hollywood film as articulated by recent film scholarship. At its core, the book is making an argument that the history of live action comedy and animation are intertwined in ways more complex and more decisive than anyone had previously suggested.

In the interview which follows, the book’s two editors, Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil, chose to speak in a collective voice, offering their insights onto their goals for the project and what they’ve discovered along the way.

Let’s start with the question you use to frame your book. Is Hollywood animation a subset of the broader field of comedy or is the cartoon a particular (and distractingly popular) strand of animation practice?

CK & DG: One of the points we wanted to make in putting together this anthology involved acknowledging the hybrid status of the Hollywood cartoon: it is both an example of studio-era comedy and of animation practice. Insofar as American animation developed primarily within versions of the studio system, it became indebted to principles and practices of that system pretty much from the outset. In fact, the routinized labour involved in producing animation would seem to exemplify Fordist principles of manufacture sometimes associated with the studio system. So animation could be seen as the consummate studio product.

But the Hollywood cartoon, with a few notable exceptions, also aligned itself with comic traditions, derived from comic strips, vaudeville, and other pre-existing forms of humorous representation. In that regard, it has strong ties to other forms of comedy coming out of Hollywood at this time.

As we say at the beginning of the book’s introduction, Hollywood made efforts to define itself as a purveyor of entertainment, and nothing epitomized that moreso than the relentlessly comic cartoon. And yet there is the proviso: Hollywood cartoons often resist the pull of verisimilitude that we associate with classical period norms, and the cartoon’s indebtedness to comedy often manifests itself in an admittedly bounded tendency toward anarchy.

As someone who works in comics studies, I am well aware that both comics and animation are constrained by a tendency to imagine them as a genre rather than as medium and from an assumption that they are, as your title suggests, just “funny pictures.” What steps can or should be taken to break out of that ghetto?

CK & DG: One is to rethink the concept of genre, a move that has been undertaken productively by many different scholars in the field, Rick Altman being just one notable example. That would help us imagine the generic category of comedy more expansively, so as to see logical connections between the work of live-action comic directors and those working in animation. There are numerous points of overlap even if there are relevant medium-specific distinctions.

Another is to stop thinking about animation as a genre, period. That makes little sense, as animation is a broad type, in categorical terms, akin to documentary or experimental cinema. What links Hollywood cartoons to other animated work is the fact of animation, not any generic affiliations.

But what binds cartoons to their humorous live-action counterparts is the common aim of trying to evoke laughter from an audience: whether that makes all such films part of the same broad genre or mode is a separate matter. But at a certain level, Rabbit of Seville has more in common with A Night at the Opera than it does with Begone Dull Care, so the fact that these are FUNNY Pictures should not be undervalued

.

Does focusing a book on the comic aspects of animation run the risk of reinscribing the stereotypes or does it allow us a way to think past them?

CK & DG: Admitting to the inherently humorous nature of these films addresses an historical reality borne out of production decisions made at the time. Studios could have made serious animated films had they wanted to, and Disney certainly infused its features with a high degree of dramatic material (though rarely the shorts). But the cartoon as comic short remained the studio norm for decades, and even now, as Linda Simensky shows when writing about television animation in the 1990s and its indebtedness to the studio era, the vast majority of American animated film and television material is still designed to make audiences laugh.

Rather than seeing this as a stereotype, our volume seeks to understand how and why this happened. Many of the contributors take very seriously the cartoon’s impetus to make us laugh and that proves to be a valuable analytical endeavour. From Susan Ohmer’s examination of how Disney engaged in forms of audience response research in the 1940s to ensure that their cartoons maximized the production of humour through animation to Ethan de Seife’s attentiveness to Frank Tashlin’s mise-en-scene-based comedy, the essays in our volume demonstrate in quite varied ways how paying closer attention to the comedic aspects of American studio-based animation reveals a new dimension of a seemingly familiar period of classical filmmaking.


Tish Tash: The Animated World of Frank Tashlin

Daniel Goldmark is Associate Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University and the author of Tunes for ‘Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon. Charlie Keil is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto and the author of Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style, and Filmmaking 1907-1913 and American Cinema’s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, and Practices.

Internet Blackout: SOPA, Reddit, and Networked (Political) Publics

This wednesday, Wikipedia, Reddit, and a range of other high profile on-line sites will go black in protest of SOPA and PIPA, legislation currently being considered by the U.S. Congress, which will impose regulations on net practices in the name of exerting greater control over “piracy.” For those of us who have been involved in the digital world for a long time, this protest recalls another key moment in the history of the web when key sites went black in 1996 in protest of the Communications Decency Act, which would have similarly regulated the content and practices of the online world, in this case in the name of “protecting children” from obscenity. We should be cautious about the deployment of morally fraught terms like “piracy” and “decency” in framing public policies, since the stakes in these regulatory struggles are always more complex than such black and white language might indicate. Both are often deployed in ways that place the participatory ethos and free expression of the web at risk.

One can argue that the broadcast media has already largely “gone black” over SOPA — since they have shown a remarkable unwillingness to discuss this important media policy issue on the air, or at least had refused to do so prior to the statement the Obama administration issued this past week coming out in opposition to SOPA but defining alternative ways that they might confront the war on “piracy.” (I recall having a CNN executive some years ago tell my class that they did not cover the Federal Communications Act because they did not think the public would be interested, a unique definition of the “public interest” if ever I heard one. Thankfully, my students were not buying this explanation, which is more than the public got in terms of the willingness of news media to cover issues where their own corporate interests are at stake.)

Under such circumstances, those us in the blogosphere have a special obligation to help educate the public about matters that commercial media thinks is “over our heads” (or more accurately, “behind our backs.”) So, I was delighted when Alex Leavitt, a PHD candidate in Communications at USC, offered to share his reflections on SOPA and especially on the online communities efforts to rally in opposition to it. Leavitt worked with the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT and now is part of the Civic Paths Research Group I run here at USC.

Internet Blackout: SOPA, Reddit, and Networked (Political) Publics

by Alex Leavitt

If you don’t have time to read this article in full, the easiest way to skim information about this topic is to visit http://americancensorship.org/.

In the past year, we’ve dealt with various novel political moments around the world that have been enabled or augmented with networked technology, from Anonymous’ global “hacktivist” incidents to the numerous protests in the Middle East, topped off of course with the vibrant grassroots protests of the Occupy movement. Over the last few months, we’ve also seen another interesting case study taking place in American politics: rampant opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, dubbed as “the most important bill in Congress you may have never heard of” by Chris Hayes of MSNBC.com.

Watch Chris Hayes’ interview for a good introduction to the debate around SOPA.

SOPA, a bill currently making its way through the House of Representatives (along with its sibling PIPA, the Protect IP Act, currently in the Senate) has faced weeks of protest from Internet companies and users alike. Why? Well, on Google Plus, Sergey Brin — cofounder of Google — likened the potential effects of SOPA to the Internet censorship practiced in China, Iran, Libya, and Tunisia. Basically, to protect against international copyright infringement, SOPA allows the US to combat websites (such as file lockers or foreign link aggregators) that illegally distribute or even link to American-made media by blocking access to them. Theoretically, the bill has dangerous implications for websites that rely on user-generated content, from YouTube to 4chan. Many have already written about the worries that SOPA and PIPA cause, such as Alex Howard’s excellent, in-depth piece over at O’Reilly Radar. For more information on the bills, visit OpenCongress’s webpages, where you can see summaries of the legislation, which companies support and oppose them, and round-ups of by mainstream and blogged news: SOPA + PIPA. The bills are one more step in a long line of anti-piracy legislation, such as 2010′s Combatting online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA).

Within the first few weeks since SOPA was introduced, http://fightforthefuture.org/ introduced the hyperbolic http://freebieber.org/ to illustrate the fears ordinary Internet users should have in relation to the legislation. In essence, SOPA would radically undermine many of the fan practices that Henry and others have analyzed on this blog. Fight for the Future also released the following video (which was my first media exposure to SOPA):

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

However, for the most part, criticism — or even basic coverage — of SOPA remained an online phenomenon. While there have been a few online articles written on CNN and a couple other networks, the mainstream news coverage of the bills remain fairly nonexistent, reports MediaMatters, likely due to the fact that the television networks largely support the bill. The Colbert Report featured a pair of short segments on SOPA in early December.

The Internet, though, largely worked around that problem.

In his book, Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software, UCLA anthropologist Chris Kelty describes free software programmer-activists as a recursive public. Drawing from Michael Warner’s concept of “publics and counterpublics” from Habermas’s “public sphere,” Kelty illustrates these programmers as a group that is addressed by copyright and code, and who work to make, maintain, and modify their technological networks and code as well as the discourse with which they engage as a public. This “circularity is essential to the phenomenon.”

Especially over the past two months, we’ve seen an exceptional effort on the part of online companies to engage users with the political process to oppose SOPA. For instance, on 16 November 2011, Tumblr blacked out every image, video, and word on each user’s dashboard, linking at the top of the page to http://www.tumblr.com/protect-the-net, where users could call their local representative.

The effort set of thousands of shared posts and hundreds of hours of calls.

While other companies attempted similar experiments (like Scribd on 21 December), Internet leaders joined together to spread word and inform Congress (such as with this letter from Facebook, Google, and Twitter on 15 November, and later this letter by many others on 14 December) and even political opponents of SOPA reached out on social media, like when Senator Ron Wyden asked people to sign their names at so he could read the list at a filibuster. Other experts eventually spoke up too.

But perhaps the most intriguing political effort occurred within one specific online community: Reddit.com.

Reddit, founded in 2005, is a social news and discussion website where users submit and vote on content. According to Alexa.com, Reddit is currently the 53rd most-visited site in the United States. Due to its increasing popularity, Reddit’s slogan is “the front page of the internet” — pertinent, because when a link hits the front page of Reddit, it can lend hundreds of thousands of page views. Though members at times highlight the site’s immaturity and incivility, its vibrant community — combined with the hypervisibility of the front page, has particularly thrived over the past couple of years, especially in terms of political participation and charity. Co-founded Alexis Ohanian gave a TEDtalk about Reddit’s dedication to strange things online and when that translates into a sort of political participation:

Humorously, every activist-related post on the official Reddit blog is tagged with “do it for splashy.

In terms of more prominent political activism, Reddit’s community — particularly it’s subreddit, /r/politics, and the emergent subreddit /r/SOPA — has unified around opposing SOPA, in line with the free-speech, utopian personality that pervades the site. For instance, a couple posts on /r/politics and r/technology that reached the front page [1, 2] helped bring rapid visibility to Senator Wyden’s filibuster initiative.

A more effective protest occurred in the form of a website boycott. GoDaddy, the domain register, was discovered to be a supporter of SOPA. After some discussion on Reddit, one r/politics thread reached the front page: GoDaddy supports SOPA, I’m transferring 51 domains & suggesting a move your domain day. Visibility of SOPA-related content was aided by a new subreddit, r/sopa, to which a global sidebar linked from the Reddit homepage. Less than 24 hours after the boycott started (even though, by numbers, it was deemed hardly successful), and with two more /r/politics threads that reached the front page [1, 2], GoDaddy reversed their stance and dropped support for SOPA.

SOPA debate continued to be fueled by various posts, including one by cofounder Alexis Ohanian: If SOPA existed, Steve & I never could’ve started reddit. Please help us win.. At the end of December, r/politics joined together to place pressure on SOPA-supporting Representative Paul Ryan; eventually, he reversed his position and denounced the bill.

Most notably, Alexis Ohanian recently announced on the Reddit blog that the entire site would voluntarily shut down on Wednesday 18 January 2012 for twelve hours, from 8am-8pm EST. Replacing the front page will be “a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.” This blacking out of Reddit coincides with a series of cybersecurity experts’ testimonies in Congress, at which Ohanian will be representing and speaking.

In reaction to SOPA (and PIPA, to which the opposition is now growing, since the SOPA vote has now been shelved), a vigorous public emerged across the web and united around discourse about the bills, particularly on Reddit.com. But to return to Kelty: is this a recursive public? Do the political users of Reddit have enough power and agency to maintain and modify their public?

I believe this question gets at a deeper question of ontology: what does political participation mean in a 1) networked, and 2) editable age? For instance, some users are able to promote their skills for discourse — eg., My friend and I wrote an application to boycott SOPA. Scan product barcodes and see if they’re made by a SOPA supporter. Enjoy. — but in certain cases, participation in technological systems becomes participation in a recursive public because that participation helps modify the system. In the case of Reddit, participation can become political when content reaches extreme visibility. And this is particularly important when we reconsider that the mass media has barely covered SOPA as a topic: due to this conflict, participation on a network platform like Reddit becomes an inherently political action.

And out of these seemingly-innocuous actions emerge more political moves. In reaction to the black out, other websites have agreed to join the effort, such as BoingBoing.net. Perhaps the decision with the most impact came on Monday, when Jimmy Wales announced that Wikipedia — which receives up to 25 million visitors per day at the English-language portal — would also shut down, but this time for a full 24 hours, after a lengthy discussion on Wales’ personal Wikipedia page. Wales responded to the announcement on Twitter by saying, “I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday.”

In a recent New York Times article, Reddit’s political actions were noted. “‘It’s encouraging that we got this far against the odds, but it’s far from over,’ said Erik Martin, the general manager of Reddit.com, a social news site that has generated some of the loudest criticism of the bills. ‘We’re all still pretty scared that this might pass in one form or another. It’s not a battle between Hollywood and tech, its people who get the Internet and those who don’t.” Of course, Reddit isn’t the only platform that is part of this important recursive public, just as Twitter wasn’t the saving grace of the Arab Spring or the Iranian Revolution. The efforts of hundreds of activists around the country have contributed immensely to the anti-SOPA effort. But keep in mind that Reddit has reached a pinnacle of political participation in the last few months, and I have a feeling that — like YouTube in the 2008 presidential elections — Reddit may be the site to watch in 2012.

Alex Leavitt is a PhD student at USC Annenberg, where he studies digital culture and networked technology. Recently, his work has focused on creative participation in immense online networks, examining global participatory phenomenon like Hatsune Miku and Minecraft. You can reach him on Twitter @alexleavitt or via email at aleavitt@usc.edu; to read more about his research, visit alexleavitt.com.

My Favorite Things: Raymond Scott

This is the first in an occasional series devoted to things in popular culture which have inspired my passion or captured my imagination. Let me be clear: this is not a series of “guilty pleasures,” a term I hate since I don’t think we should feel guilty for taking pleasure in the culture around us. These posts will feature things that I’ve discovered and have an urge to pass along to my readers, figuring that while they may not be to everyone’s taste, there will certainly be people out there who might not encounter these artists and works otherwise.

The other night, my wife and I watched the dvd of a documentary about the composer-performer-inventor-visionary Raymond Scott, Deconstructing Dad, which had been made by his son. Below is the trailer for the documentary, which will give you some sense of who Scott was and why he might rank fairly high on my list of favorite things. While the film is perhaps a bit more invested than I am in dealing with Scott’s multiple marriages and whether or not he was a decent father, the documentary nevertheless is crammed with his remarkable performances and helped me to place Scott’s work in a much broader context.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Scott and his band recorded a series of highly infectous and playful swing songs with titles such as “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House,” “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,” “Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner,” “Bumpy Weather Over Newark,” or “The Girl at the Typewriter.” These whimsical titles barely hint at the playful quality of his music, which managed to be experimental in its style yet accessible in its approach. Here, for example, is Scott and his band performing “Twilight in Turkey” for the Eddie Cantor vehicle, Ali Baba Goes to Town (1938).

And here’s another vintage musical performance of one of my favorites, “War Dance for Wooden Indians.”

If you recognize some of these songs, it is most likely because Carl Stalling was a huge Scott fan and used his music in more than 120 classic Warner Brothers cartoons. I found an interesting fan made video which shows how one of Scott’s best known compositions, “Powerhouse,” surfaced across a surprisingly broad range of cartoons. Scott never wrote music directly for cartoons, but his songs worked so well in this context that they were rediscovered by a whole new generation of animators, starting in the 1990s, who used them for, among other shows, The Simpsons, Duckman, Animaniacs, and most consistently, Ren and Stimpy.

Scott went on to become the bandleader on the classic 1950s era television program, Our Hit Parade, and to become a key experimenter in the early development of electronic music. Deconstructing Dad offers the curious insight that in the 1930s and 1940s, he sought to develop a style of jazz which was highly rehearsed and carefully scored, allowing limited room for improvization, where-as in the 1950s and 1960s, he ceded far more control of his compositions over to his digital tools, foreshadowing John Cage and others in his fascination with chance in composition. Nevertheless, I would argue that you can still hear Scott’s puckish personality at play in at least some of his digital music, especially if you listen to the electronic and jazz stuff side by side.

If you’d like to discover the pleasures of Raymond Scott’s jazz, I’d recommend Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights as a cd which features many of his best-known songs. This was what set the Jenkins family down the path to actively pursuing as much of his work as we can get our hands on.

Dreaming Out Loud! Youth Activists Spoke About Their Fight for Education, Immigrant Rights and Justice Through Media and Art (Part Four)

This is the final installment in a four part series, written by Arely Zimmerman and Sangita Shreshtova from the USC Civic Paths Project, concerning the young activists who are supporting the Dream Act. This research was funded by the MacArthur Foundation and is part of the work of the Youth and Participatory Politics Network.


  New Media and Movements

 

Dreamer youth have

also used new media to grow their movement on a national scale.  Between 2009-2010,

youth organized many protest, including sit-ins at Congressional offices,

hunger strikes, marches, and symbolic graduations. They used new media to

exponentially amplify their voices through sophisticated and strategic use of live

streams, blogs, user generated video portals and social media like Facebook and

Twitter. For example, in June 2009, the founders of Dreamactivist.org, and United We Dream,

organized 500 youth to participate in the National

DREAM Act Graduation in Washington DC. This protest combined

a symbolic ceremony with legislative lobbying (Behary 2009).

Thumbnail image for dreamactphoto1.jpg

On the same day, solidarity graduations took

place in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky,

Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Texas (Dream Activist 2009).


Thumbnail image for 12012010-DREAMERS-IMG_20101201_155737-575x431.jpg

source:

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_hispanicaffairs/tag/dream-act

 

In another widely publicized campaign, on

January 1, 2010, four undocumented youth from Miami Dade College began a

4-month, 1500-mile-trek to Washington, DC to advocate for the DREAM Act. In

what they aptly called the “Trail

of DREAMs,” the youth documented and mobilized support

for their their walk through blogging, Facebook, YouTube, and twitter. Along

their journey, they gathered 30,000 signatures to bring to President Obama.

 

Watch the trail of dreams video here: 

 


Despite all these efforts, the DREAM Act has yet

to pass, and undocumented youth continue to be deported. In the face of this

continuing crisis, the youth have used a combination of direct action and media

activism to highlight (and render visible) detentions and deportations, which

have generally received little public attention (Kohli 2011). They have staged rallies and sit-ins at detention centers, ICE offices, and

have even targeted banks that invest in private prisons to directly confront

the institutions invested in the immigrant detention and deportation system (Foley 2011). Grass roots new media messaging campaigns have been crucial to these action as

youth use Facebook, Twitter, and microblogging to share the stories of, and

garner support for, those detained and fighting deportation.


The story of Matias Ramos,

, an undocumented youth and co-founder of United We Dream, is a powerful

example of such mobilization. On the morning that an electronic monitoring

device was placed on his ankle, Matias Ramos posted a photo of himself on

Twitter and announced that he had been given two weeks to leave the country (Berenstein 2011).

 

Thumbnail image for matias ramos 2.jpg

source: http://americasvoiceonline.org/blog/entry/dream_activist_matias_ramos_scheduled_for_deportation/

 

Ramos and his supporters were able to gain high

visibility for his case, to the point where it was even called a “high

profile challenge to the White House’s new deportation guidelines.”

Stories like these are transmitted through many overlapping social media

networks connecting campus organizations, community groups, sympathetic media

and allies, providing links to petitions and online donations.

 

Nancy Meza is a key

media strategist for the END our Pain campaign. At DREAMing Out Loud!

 she discussed the importance of

combining both new media and traditional media strategies to shape the movement

messaging.  To Nancy, social

media is a space where “we can ‘freely’ express ourselves, push our messaging

forward… in terms of Twitter and Facebook.”  At the same time, Nancy stressed the need to complement new

and more traditional media as she continued: “Our organization doesn’t even own

a camera…With whatever resources we have…I have a blackberry on a month to

month plan…So I think for us, it’s really been about how we use traditional

media and how we mix it in”.  New

media has allowed for youth to shape their message in a more democratic and

participatory fashion. They are, however, increasingly conscious of the need to

be strategic about its use. For example, Nancy explained that a lot of effort

goes into coming up with a Twitter hashtag for an event.  Is it accurate? Is it catchy? Will it

travel? Often, Twitter is a good way to catch the attention of more traditional

media, she explained. To her, the key is arriving at the happy medium between

locally constructed messaging and coordinating a coherent frame that can

translate to major media outlets. 

 

Concluding

Thoughts:

At the heart of the event were the stories that

the panelists shared and accounts of how stories inspired activism.  Pocho

1, a internationally recognized photographer, recalled how

photography shaped his activism and his reformation from a gang member to a

social activist: “I started telling stories…I wanted to tell their story…I

started hanging out with artists…I picked up a camera…I went crazy with

it…shoot it everyday… tell people’s stories”. Now Pocho 1 documents the Dream

movement, using his camera and social media as a form of social commentary and

social activism. 

 

Thumbnail image for p1.jpg

source: http://www.pocho1.com/#!

 

DREAMing

Out Loud! provided many insights into how young people

use new media to participate and mobilize in their communities. In many ways, the

event highlighted the great democratizing potential that new media has,

especially when it can be used to provide a platform to amplify the voices of

youth who are marginalized from the mainstream political process. 

References

Behary, Samya. “Students

storm Capitol Hill for National Dream Act Graduation Day,” Immigration Impact, June 25, 2009.

Berestein, Leslie Rojas. “A High-Profile Challenge to the White House New Deportation Guidelines,” MultiAmerican, September 21, 2011, multiamerican.scpr.org/2011/09/a-high-profile-challenge-to-the-white-houses-new-deportation-policy.

DREAM Activist, “DREAM for

America: National DREAM Act Graduation Day – June 23, 2009,” press release, June 21, 2009

dreamactivist.org/blog/2009/06/21/nationalgraduation/.

Foley, Elise. “Immigrants to Wells Fargo: Stop investing in For-Profit Detention,” The Huffington Post, October 17, 2011.

Kohli, Aarti Peter l. Markowitz, and Lisa Chavez, “Secure Communities by the Numbers:

An Analysis of Demographics and Due process,” Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute

on Law and Social Policy Research Report, October, 2011.

Sangita Shresthova is currently the Research Director of the Media Activism and Participatory Politics  (MAPP)  Project at USC. She is a Czech/Nepali international development specialist, filmmaker, media scholar, and dancer with extensive interdisciplinary qualitative research experience. She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, and a MSc. degree from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program where she focused on popular culture, new media and globalization. She also earned a MSc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). While at LSE, her work focused on the educational communication components of international development interventions. Her scholarly writing has been published in several journals, and her work on global participatory aspects of Bollywood dance was recently released as a book by SAGE Publications.


Arely Zimmerman, a Melon Post-Doctorate Fellow at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity,  holds a doctorate in political science from UCLA. Her scholarship engages overlapping research areas of U.S. Latino/a studies, race and ethnicity, social movements, transnational, media, and feminist studies. Before joining PERE, she held a postdoctoral appointment at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she examined how new forms of social and digital media are reshaping modes of civic engagement amongst Latino, immigrant, and undocumented youth. As part of her ongoing concerns with issues of identity and citizenship in transnational contexts, Arely’s manuscript in progress, “Contesting Citizenship across Borders: Central Americans in the United States” details Central American migrant communities’ struggles for citizenship and inclusion across multiple nation-states through transnational social movement and community activism.


Dreaming Out Loud! Youth Activists Spoke About Their Fight for Education, Immigrant Rights and Justice Through Media and Art (Part Three)

The following is the third installment in a four part series on young activists who are using new media to rally behind the Dream Act. It was written by Arely Zimmerman and Sangita Shreshtova from the USC Civic Paths Project. This work was funded by the MacArthur Foundation. 


Coming Out/Pop Culture

The need to be active, to be connected to other

undocumented youth, and to strive collectively to make positive changes are key

motivators for all of the youth panelists. They are all extremely active online.

They create original media content. They blog. They share their stories and art

through Facebook and Twitter.  They

participate in public online conferences and symposia.  Yet, online visibility comes with its

own challenges and risks. As Nancy recounted, she was personally targeted in a

public campaign after a local conservative radio program called for her

deportation.  Because of her role

as the communications director of Dream Team Los Angeles and IDEAS at UCLA, she was an easily identifiable target.  The campaign got so vicious that she

eventually had to disconnect her phone. 

But, the risks of visibility have to be counter balanced with the

benefits, she concluded.  “Yes, it

is dangerous, there are risks that we face in being so publicly active, but it

is even more risky if they don’t know we exist”. 


Listen to Nancy

Meza speak on this topic here:


 

Driven by their urgent need to draw attention

to their plight, undocumented youth put themselves at risk of deportation and

arrest not only by participating in public civil disobedience but by also

publicly ‘coming out’ via social media platforms.  The coming out process, as Erick notes, is a deeply personal

one, shaped by each individual’s own journey towards self-awareness and

identification.  But, this process

also has significant consequences on the movement because it is a first step in

embracing one’s undocumented legal status and becoming politically

involved.  One of the common themes

in the ‘coming out’ stories of undocumented youth is asserting their belonging,

their ‘Americannes’, despite their undocumented legal status. Most Dream activism

youth were brought to the United States as young children, and the United

States is the only country they’ve ever known. It is their home. Fluent in

English, educated in the American school system, these youth defy the already

clearly inaccurate stereotypes of the ‘illegal immigrant’. Mohammad of Dreamactivist.org, an online undocumented

youth advocacy network, shared one often cited “coming out” narrative.

 

Watch Mohammad’s “I

am Mohammad and I am undocumented” video here:


 

The ‘coming out’

narratives of Dreamer youth often draw on shared cultural references.  Erick, for instance, shared how he

formulated his identity from “Anime, heavy metal, and comic books”

which he says, ” framed my outlook on life”.  When he came out as undocumented for the first time, he says

he was inspired by a story arc in the popular comic Spiderman.  “When I mentioned my first name for the

first time- I compared it to a story arc of Spiderman- when Spiderman shares

his identity, I am also sharing my identity”. Erick, and others, have also

drawn connections to Superman as being undocumented.

 

Thumbnail image for superman comic strip.jpg

source: yfrog.com/h314mmz

(@laloalcaraz)


Sangita Shresthova is currently the Research Director of the Media Activism and Participatory Politics  (MAPP)  Project at USC. She is a Czech/Nepali international development specialist, filmmaker, media scholar, and dancer with extensive interdisciplinary qualitative research experience. She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, and a MSc. degree from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program where she focused on popular culture, new media and globalization. She also earned a MSc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). While at LSE, her work focused on the educational communication components of international development interventions. Her scholarly writing has been published in several journals, and her work on global participatory aspects of Bollywood dance was recently released as a book by SAGE Publications.


Arely Zimmerman, a Melon Post-Doctorate Fellow at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity,  holds a doctorate in political science from UCLA. Her scholarship engages overlapping research areas of U.S. Latino/a studies, race and ethnicity, social movements, transnational, media, and feminist studies. Before joining PERE, she held a postdoctoral appointment at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she examined how new forms of social and digital media are reshaping modes of civic engagement amongst Latino, immigrant, and undocumented youth. As part of her ongoing concerns with issues of identity and citizenship in transnational contexts, Arely’s manuscript in progress, “Contesting Citizenship across Borders: Central Americans in the United States” details Central American migrant communities’ struggles for citizenship and inclusion across multiple nation-states through transnational social movement and community activism.

Dreaming Out Loud! Youth Activists Spoke About Their Fight for Education, Immigrant Rights and Justice Through Media and Art (Part Two)

Dreaming Out Loud! 

by Arely Zimmerman and Sangita Shreshtova

Civic Paths Project


Theme 1: Barriers and Supports

The DREAMing Out Loud! symposium provided the

panelists an opportunity to reflect on how

they have grown their movement through harnessing new media’s technological

and communication affordances. Clearly, immigrant, low-income, undocumented

youth face many barriers to both online participation and civic engagement,

none more important than the lack of financial resources.  

 

Yet, these barriers

do not foreclose their ability to mobilize online communities around their

cause. Studies conducted by William Perez and more recently by USC sociologist Veronica Terriquez show staggering rates of civic engagement

amongst undocumented immigrant youth, challenging dominant presumptions about how

youth become active and which youth are able to tap social networks behind

their causes. Arely Zimmerman’s research on Dream Activism similarly finds that

youth – including those who are undocumented and low income -  are active in organizations supporting

the Dream act also acquired high levels of new media skills. Not only were they

active on social media; they also created new media content and shared it

through platforms such as Flickr and YouTube.  Given this context, the Dreaming

Out Loud! panelists spoke openly about how they overcame financial and

other barriers to their political participation.

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Erick-Huerta.jpg

(source of image:

http://blogs.laforward.org/2010/12/06/news/another-dreamer-tells-his-story/)

 

Erick, for example,

is working towards his journalism degree but has had to take time off because

of financial hardships.  Since

2007, Erick has been blogging about his experiences as undocumented youth.  Without full-time access to a personal

computer, Erick uses various resources to develop an online presence.  With his mother making ends meet as a

street vendor, and his father picking up odd jobs, Erick used a scholarship to

buy an Iphone.  Although it doesn’t

have Internet access, Erick uses his Iphone to take pictures, take notes, write

blog entries. He then uploads the content to Facebook and Twitter via SMS text

messaging.  Erick notes that, “As

technology progresses it’s becoming easier and easier and easier to be ‘out

there’.”

 

Listen to Erick speak about this here:

 

The lack of access to technology does not keep

these youth from participating online.

 

Julio Salgado is a co-founder of Dreamers Adrift,

a collective of digital media artists. 

After graduating with a degree in journalism from Cal State Long Beach,

he could not put his degree to use. 

Working odd jobs primarily in the service industry, he was frustrated by

the lack of opportunities.  He

became more active in the Dream movement and used his artistic talents at the

service of the cause. He has developed a personal style that is immediately

recognizable, and his images have been used to represent national conferences,

t-shirts, and other movement iconography. 

He recalls how he has used whatever we could to ‘make ends meet’, going

to college parties and gatherings and drawing caricatures of friends to raise

money to pay for books and tuition. 

Using his artistic talent, he began posting his drawings of ‘dreamers’

on Facebook using a scanner and photo-booth on his Apple laptop. Soon

thereafter, his pictures garnered national attention.  

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for LIBERTY78.11.jpg

(image source:

http://dreamersadrift.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/LIBERTY78.11.jpg)

Reflecting on the barriers he has faced, Julio

says, “that never stops you, you’re so passionate…I need to draw this stuff”.  


See Julio’s video “Wall of Dreams” here: 


Sangita Shresthova is currently the Research Director of the Media Activism and Participatory Politics  (MAPP)  Project at USC. She is a Czech/Nepali international development specialist, filmmaker, media scholar, and dancer with extensive interdisciplinary qualitative research experience. She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, and a MSc. degree from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program where she focused on popular culture, new media and globalization. She also earned a MSc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). While at LSE, her work focused on the educational communication components of international development interventions. Her scholarly writing has been published in several journals, and her work on global participatory aspects of Bollywood dance was recently released as a book by SAGE Publications.


Arely Zimmerman, a Melon Post-Doctorate Fellow at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity,  holds a doctorate in political science from UCLA. Her scholarship engages overlapping research areas of U.S. Latino/a studies, race and ethnicity, social movements, transnational, media, and feminist studies. Before joining PERE, she held a postdoctoral appointment at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she examined how new forms of social and digital media are reshaping modes of civic engagement amongst Latino, immigrant, and undocumented youth. As part of her ongoing concerns with issues of identity and citizenship in transnational contexts, Arely’s manuscript in progress, “Contesting Citizenship across Borders: Central Americans in the United States” details Central American migrant communities’ struggles for citizenship and inclusion across multiple nation-states through transnational social movement and community activism.