The Radical Theatre: How to Turn an Audience Against Itself

This post is cross-posted at Civic Media + Tactical Design in Contested Spaces (with minor revisions)

When we think about civic media as a means to appeal to others through a medium, we may forget that we’re really exploring different types of mediation and not technology. The theatre is not something that immediately comes to mind (at least for me), but like any means of getting a message out, there is a structure to both the creation and the distribution of any content produced for it. We cannot presume that anything we do, simply because it has a political agenda, is immune to the effects of the medium. As Bertolt Brecht writes,

The avant-garde don’t think of changing the apparatus, because they fancy that they have at their disposal an apparatus which will serve up whatever they freely invent, transforming itself spontaneously to match their ideas. But they are not in fact free inventors; the apparatus goes on fulfilling its function with or without them; the theatres play every night; the papers come out so many times a day; and they absorb what they need; and all they need is a given amount of stuff.

Honest expression becomes production, and then “art is merchandise.” It is the same dishonesty that can take place in any creative industry (especially when we view them as such), because when we employ theatrics and/or music without a fair degree of tactical design to ensure the work is not co-opted by the apparatus, it becomes another product.

Brecht also writes about irrationality and pleasure inherent in opera and the provocative effects which still draw our attention. I’m reminded of Frank Zappa’s fantastic rock opera Joe’s Garage, a bizarre, sprawling 3 act work touching on censorship, sexuality, cult religion, and the music industry, released at the same time as the Iranian Revolution (Ayatollah Khomeini banned rock music from the country), and as a precursor to Zappa’s later battles with the PMRC. Four years ago Hollywood’s Open Fist Theatre staged a sold out, fourteen week run of the production.

Being a composer who didn’t particularly care to satisfy anyone’s standards but his own, it’s surprising to note that during live shows Zappa would employ what he called “enforced audience participation” at his live shows, in which people would do things asked of them from the stage (such as jump up and down, and recite a poem during one show in the UK). This wasn’t mandatory, but Zappa (as the composer and head of the band – musicians were considered his employees and went by the script most of the time) freely broke any “fourth wall” during the show’s theatrics.

Although bands have always had vocalists screaming at the audience to try and get them to sing along, Zappa becomes an old-fashioned lounge-band master of ceremonies, talking to the audience, telling them stories, goading them into all sorts of weirdness… In “Dance Contest,” Zappa makes the statement:

“I have an important message to deliver to all the cute people all over the world. If you’re out there and you’re cute, maybe you’re beautiful, I just want to tell you somethin’ – there’s more of us ugly mother-fuckers than you are, hey-y, so watch out.”

In many ways this is Zappa’s philosophy: from his earliest recordings Zappa has been mocking and critiquing the unearned privilege of the beautiful people. This flat-out statement of contempt for the beautiful, and the realization that the ugly have an unacknowledged power, is important in understanding both Zappa and his fans.

This interactivity of live music and opera is something that’s lost in recordings – in fact, before recordings rendered a single performance into crystallizing what “the song” was, there were presumably many mutations given the conditions one would perform in (Roman Mars mentions this in a 99% Invisible podcast about the RJDJ app). But it is the interface of opera, as a physical engagement between performers and the public, is what allows for possible radical transformations, in Brecht’s mind:

“We have seen that opera is sold as evening entertainment, and that this puts definite bounds to all attempts to transform it. We see that this entertainment has to be devoted to illusion, and must be of a ceremonial kind. Why? In our present society the old opera cannot be just ‘wished away’. Its illusions have an important social function. The drug is irreplaceable; it cannot be done without…. Only in the opera does the human being have a chance to be human. His entire mental capacities have long since been ground down to a timid mistrustfulness, an envy of others, a selfish calculation. The old opera survives not just because it is old, but chiefly because the situation which it is able to meet is still the old one. This is not wholly so. And here lies the hope for the new opera. Today we can begin to ask whether opera hasn’t come to such a pass that further innovations, instead of leading to the renovation of this whole form, will bring about its destruction.”

Brecht also notes that changes distinguishing dramatic and epic theatre, brought about by technical innovations which led spectators to “face something” rather than to be “involved in something.” But if we are to apply this as a form of civic media, Augusto Boal’s directive to include an audience becomes paramount:

“In order to understand this poetics of the oppressed one must keep in mind its main objective: to change the people -“spectators,” passive beings in the theatrical phenomenon – into subjects, into actors, transformers of the dramatic action… I believe that all the truly revolutionary theatrical groups
should transfer to the people the means of production in the theater so that the people themselves may utilize them. The theater is a weapon, and it is the people who should wield it.”

As an way to impart the skill to handle that weapon, Operación Alfabetización Integral gave rural Peruvians various types of literacy. These went beyond basic reading and writing (which we take for granted when we hear the term literacy) and  included the the ability to speak in non-lingual mediums. Those abilities allow individuals to impart non-linguistic forms of meaning on core values relating to their identity, belief and way of life.

One day a man, in answer to the same question, took a picture of a child’s face. Of course everyone thought that the man had made a mistake and repeated the question to him:
“You didn’t understand; what we want is that you show us where you live. Take a picture and show us where you live. Any picture; the street, the house, the town, the river … ”
“Here is my answer. Here is where I live.”
“But it’s a child…. ”
“Look at his face: there is blood on it. This child, as all the others who live here, have their lives threatened by the rats that infest the whole bank of the river Rimac. They are protected by dogs that attack the rats and scare them away. But there was a mange epidemic and the city dog-catcher came around here catching lots of dogs and taking them away. This child had a dog who protected him. During the day his parents used to go to work and he was left with his dog. But now he doesn’t have it any more. A few days ago, when you asked me where I lived, the rats had come while the child Was sleeping and had eaten part of his nose. This is why there’s so much blood on his face. Look at the picture; it is my answer. I live in a place where things like this still happen.”
I could write a novel about the children of the barrios along the river Rimae; but only photography, and no other language, could express the pain of that child’s eyes, of those tears mixed with blood. And, as if the irony and outrage were not enough, the photograph was in Kodachrome, “Made in U.S.A.”

Boal also provides an outline for “transforming the spectator into actor” through increasing levels of mastery of technique, medium, and production that leads to a final stage of “the theater as discourse.” Spectator-actors create “spectacles” as per their “need to discuss certain themes.” A contemporary, well mediated example of this would be Reverend Billy (and the Church of Life After Shopping or Earthalujah). Reverend Billy and his group often maintain an identity as a evangelist and his choir, holding revival meeting-styled performances in public spaces, whether on the street or in shopping department stores. They “preach” and “sing” messages of anti-consumerism, perform exorcisms and so on.

They’ve also “cast out demons” for Deutschbank, Bank of America, BP, and other corporations, in an satirical-interventionist style akin to The Yes Men. But the church format works well for involving audiences in all sorts of locations. Most people have seen a street preacher before – but very few have seen an activist impersonating a street preacher talking about climate change or economic inequality.

By employing a familiar, participatory format like “church” in the medium of street theater, Reverend Billy is able to bypass or deflect aversion one might hold to either practice. He also can include the audience through the church format by directly addressing them, encouraging hand clapping, asking for affirmation, and so on. It’s great stuff – better yet, it translates well to the internet, where the parody is not lost on those audiences. The recordings and rhetoric of Reverend Billy’s performance can be shared and fits will with whatever social media it’s sent through.

If you haven’t heard Frank Zappa or Reverend Billy before this, I highly encourage you to check them both out. Zappa distorts the conventions of rock music for his own musical agenda, and Reverend Billy does the same to evangelical pretensions for his progressive causes. Also, don’t let that music in the video be the last you hear of Zappa – I appreciate what they tried to do in spirit, but the recording is terrible and the musicians can’t hold a candle to Zappa Plays Zappa or the original works.

Bertolt Brecht. The Modern Theater is the Epic Theater (Chapter 13), Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, 1964.
Augusto Boal, Poetics of the Oppressed: Experiments with the People’s Theater in Peru (in Chapter 4), Theater of the Oppressed, 1985.
Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, Eds., Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, Rev. Ed., Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001: 71-101.
Lowe, Kelly Fisher, and Kelly Fisher Lowe. The Words and Music of Frank Zappa. Bison Books, 2007.

Naturalization and Questioning the Codes We Live By

Paul Bass and Shafiq Abdussabur

Last Wednesday night the Youth Rights Media staff and I took a group of students from my Media Literacy class to a talk by Shafiq R. F. Abdussabur. The author of “A Black Man’s Guide to Law Enforcement in America,” Abdussabur is a police officer also runs workshops for other police departments in Connecticut. The purpose of this talk was “Race, Politics, and Police,” mostly focussed around racial profiling and police/community relations, always timely topics in New Haven but moreso given the way East Haven’s dirty laundry has gone national.

Because I am a terribly cynical person*, I would characterize Abdussabur’s comments as “the best PR the NHPD has going for it.” While well intentioned, there are uncomfortable overtones that even the youth in our program picked up on. His book, as the literature describes,

gives tough love instructions for those who think they have been victims of racial ethnic profiling, but only to realize that they where [sic] poor communicators.

Abdussabur did raise an important point where he talked about the dificulty of addressing racial profiling and moving forward in solving the problem because of a lack of data. While CT passed the Racial Profiling Prohibition Act in 1999, this was never properly enforced and East Haven was one of several cities that didn’t regularly file reports which would provide evidential records of profiling.

The troublesome bit was all the qualifiers that Abdussabur has for the public. On one hand, they are pretty common-sense – be polite to police, watch your tone, respect their authority, etc. During Q&A, he explained that this is something police belief the public already knows, yet chooses to ignore. The answer is evidently to train the public to meet the police’s expectations. That flies in the face of the seemingly obvious need to train police in cultural competency and overall better people skills.

Also worrisome was his lack of clarity on whether or not it’s ok to record police (which Paul Bass, asking the questions, undoubted wished he could have explored), something an audience member took objection to. It’s really at the heart of these current issues.

AbdussaburThere’s a bit of good and bad here – Abdussabur is clearly aware of what he calls the need for “multidimensional thinking” – where we see each other beyond the roles we play, a degree of personalization where an enemy becomes someone’s parent, sibling, child, etc. The enemy in need of this multidimensional representation is not a “thug,” but the police themselves. He dismisses hip-hop fashion and youth culture as fads and trends, that “everyone looks like a gangster,” and the talk seemed to gloss over the way that media portrayals can make certain demographics into a stereotype, leading to the problem of racial profiling. On a beat, police rely on what he refers to “officer discretion,” or their hunches – which can be motivated by racial preconceptions brought on by those faulty representations.

These preconceptions are promoted and internalized as a value within a culture, as self-perpetuating ego defenses against out-groups (“blacks are so violent, no wonder so many of them are in prison!”) Anecdotal evidence such as the NYPD’s repeated screening of an Islamophobic film for recruits should still be infuriating, but not surprising, in a society where Muslims have been vilified by the media for over twenty five years. The same would go for African-Americans and Latinos, who (as with any non-white minority) have continuously struggled for fair media representations which weren’t ridiculous or offensive caricatures or contrived and pandering token cutouts of real people.

These representations really not only determine the nature “officer discretion,” but the way people see themselves (identity) and the world (ideology).

Connotation, in short, produces the illusion of denotation, the illusion of language as transparent and of the signifier and the signified as being identical. Thus denotation is just another connotation. From such a perspective denotation can be seen as no more of a ‘natural’ meaning than is connotation but rather as a process of naturalization. Such a process leads to the powerful illusion that denotation is a purely literal and universal meaning which is not at all ideological, and indeed that those connotations which seem most obvious to individual interpreters are just as ‘natural’. According to an Althusserian reading, when we first learn denotations, we are also being positioned within ideology by learning dominant connotations at the same time (Silverman 1983, 30). – from Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners

Abdussabur said, “Policing is politics through the use of force.” I think that’s a great quote. I think it’s probably the most unintentionally accurate quote about humanity in general – we police others, we police ourselves, according to some measure of politics, which isn’t always decided by a legislature somewhere (as he presumably meant it to be). His outlook on policing is a decidedly parental one, in the decision to educate the public on how to better conform to the police’s expectations of them. But although the absurdity of that thought is lost on some, we have to understand that each of us go through that process of naturalization, whether it’s through induction into the culture of policing or just “normal life.” We should all have that multidimensional thinking Abdussabur mentions, which lets us challenge codes and dominant connotations – but that training should certainly be applied as part of the institutional naturalization police go through.

For more on the “evil arab/muslim” orientalist stereotype, see Steuter, Erin, and Deborah Wills. At War with Metaphor. Media, Propaganda, and Racism in the War on Terror. Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

On representation of the black community, try Herman Gray, “The Politics of Representation In Network Television,” in Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, Eds., Media and Cultural Studies: KeyWorks, Rev. Ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001: 439-462. There’s a terrific takedown of the Cosby show in it, in case you ever wanted to be disappointed by one more thing.

*It should go without saying that comments are my own and do not reflect the views of Youth Rights Media. Just because I was there with them does not mean I am not an independent thinker with my own opinions.

Occupy The Super Bowl?

Remember what I said (or Eco said) about protesting and sports?

There is one thing that – even if it were considered essential – no student movement or urban revolt or global protest or what have you would ever be able to do. And that is to occupy the football field on a Sunday.

Well, it appears as though people are starting to grasp the power of that idea:

As Tithi Bhattacharya says,

“…the protest on Sunday actually is not a one-off. It stands on the shoulder of and in solidarity with the thousands of people who came to the State House over the last two weeks to protest this bill. It is also not, I think, the end—-or I hope it’s not the end of this series of protests. Why the Super Bowl? Lucas Oil Stadium was built with 100% union labor. Every single structure that is up in the city of Indianapolis today that has been built to beautify the city has been built with union labor. So, I think it is absolutely shameful that the legislature passed a law that condemns unions and is now using the city to kind of showcase Indianapolis while ordinary people in Indiana are completely opposed to this law. The protest on Sunday also stands in solidarity with the NFL Players Union, which has come out so strongly against the legislation. I think there has been some talk of how the Occupy movement may—-there has been some fear that the Occupy movement may disrupt a Super Bowl. As far as I know and as far as I’m concerned, the Occupy movement nationally has been a non-violent movement and absolutely is committed to being non-violent on Saturday. The question of disruption absolutely is not an issue because as I said before, we stand in solidarity with the Players Union. The only thing the Occupy movement, on Sunday, hopes to disrupt is the complacency of the 1% who think that they can get away with this.”

Good luck to them, but just remember how Eco wrote that:

…an attack on a sports field would surely cause the massacre of the attackers, indiscriminate, total slaughter carried out by self-respecting citizens aghast at the outrage…

Not to say that it shouldn’t be done – it is a smart move to try and interrupt the inevitable media spectacle of the Superbowl for the aims of these demonstrators. Protesters must find those intersections of physical and virtual space to create interruptions for the public if they’re going to draw attention to their cause, especially in a world where the traffic of our attentions is increasingly virtual and not physical.

Freeing Ourselves Through Network Ownership

This post is cross-posted at Civic Media + Tactical Design in Contested Spaces

Saturday afternoon I attended the Activist Demo Day at Eyebeam, along with other students in my Civic Media and Tactical Design class. A good number of people crammed into half of a gallery to talk about how technology can aid the goals of community organizers and activists in many ways. Some of what I saw was the application of existing tools for those goals, such as the General Assembly’s Tech Ops use of RSS aggregators and a “wishes” and “gifts” to allocate information and resources. There was also MyI,

a collaborative-collective front page based on the concept that the accumulation of constantly updating unedited images from a multitude of viewpoints more accurately depicts contemporary society and events. An app that allows users to instantaneously upload media from handheld devices to the Internet, MyI builds on the use of ubiquitous photography in modern technology as a key motivator and communicator for activism and information.

There were also some fairly innovative ideas. Protesting robots, essentially very low-tech sign holders and bullhorn mounts actually seemed to have some really interesting thought behind them. After all, how would you feel if you saw a little robot hoisting a sign at you? It reminded me of IAA’s Little Brother, something that’s over a decade old and I still haven’t seen used or mentioned anywhere.

I won’t go over everything, but I really wanted to see something that wasn’t essentially a “activist alternative” to an existing commercial tool or product. The Free Network Foundation had it.

So, there are several ideas going on here – free access, greater privacy, local data, and privately owned networks. This mesh topographical hardware has some pretty interesting applications if you think about it in the global terms FNF does – I asked Wilder about the range of the devices. One tower covered Zucotti/Liberty park, and they got up to a half mile in Dallas, but with multiple towers and more height, you could get a “bigger” networks across a larger physical area. And the signal can be boosted some as well. My idea (which he had thought about before and got pretty excited over) was to send the whole thing up in a tethered balloon, and provide access to a rural area where there’s a greater digital divide. There are some strict rules about the use of such balloons, but my guess is you could send out a signal pretty far with one less than 500 feet up, and others would just make it even better. The applications would be interesting – each unit costs $1300, and it wouldn’t take much to provide superb access for an entire remote community, so long as the unit’s global connection was stable. The main thought behind this was that “networks owned by the people make us free.” I could see the logic in that, even if I didn’t understand all the technology they were using to make it possible.

There was a high degree of civic ethic and practicality among the people at Activist Demo Day. I was struck by the thought that when society collapses (as most of us present are presumably motivated by the belief our culture is fundamentally unsustainable), these people are ready to pick up the pieces and rebuild. There is also this weird dichotomy between the reality of New York as the global center of capitalism, and activists living and breathing that culture while searching for an effective anti-capitalist dialect that doesn’t sound ridiculous or hypocritical. During the panel mini-debates emerged about things like Facebook, Twitter and the high tech tools we take for granted in a developed society, and how to reproduce those commercial mediums with tactical, pro-social intentions.

The crux of that nervous indecision came in the form of a question by Taeyoon Choi, a fellow at Eyebeam who also ran the robots. He asked, “Can we have democracy without money or capitalism?” One person commented on currency as technology itself, and a need to develop a better alternative. The unanswered questions of heterodox economics also had a lesser-acknowledged parallel which still had to be addressed: the problem of public opinion (“can we have democracy period”) and the issues general assemblies are confronted with in situations like the All-City Student Occupation or those discussed here. It’s helpful to go back to John Dewey’s The Public and it’s Problems:

The essential need, in other words, is the improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion. That is the problem of the public. We have asserted that this improvement depends essentially upon freeing and perfecting the process of inquiry and of dissemination of their conclusions. Inquiry, indeed, is a work which devolves the experts. But their expertness is not shown in framing and executing policies, but in discovering and making known the facts upon which the former depend. They are technical experts in the sense that scientific investigators and artists manifest expertise. It is not necessary that many should have the knowledge and skill to carry on the needed investigations; what is required is that they have the ability to judge the bearing of the knowledge supplied by others upon common concerns. (208-209)

Before we know whether or not we can have democracy, it will take the ideas and tools offered by these activists to create the necessary forum to discover an answer. What they’re building is a new infrastructure for “debate, discussion and persuasion” that the public desperately needs.

To see some more pics from the day, check out my photoset, and if you’d like to hear a little bit of that panel discussion (the audio was really bad as a warning) check out the following soundcloud uploads.

Dewey, John. The Public and Its Problems. Swallow Pr, 1954.

Media Literacy: All things to all men

I recently got the opportunity to co-teach a class for this semester on Media Literacy with Youth Rights Media, a non-profit in New Haven, CT. I have to admit I didn’t fully understand their mission for a while; as I understood it, it was an after-school program designed to teach kids media production and civic advocacy. It goes a bit beyond that, but all the ideas flow very nicely together. Here’s one of their projects (they usually produce one documentary each year).

Youth Rights Media was founded in 2000 by a pair of Yale law students and an American studies student, who were looking for a way to educated teens on their rights for encounters with the police. You see, New Haven has a rather ugly history of racial profiling,  and minority teens faced the problems of

[Connecticut’s] spending on incarceration, the racial disproportionately in its juvenile and criminal justice system, and the percentage of youth incarcerated in adult facilities.

Over time, they’ve addressed other issues, all while teaching how to analyze, encourage and facilitate these discussions in the community. So, YRM is about empowerment, providing young people with the understanding and ability to express issues which affect them directly, especially when they’re used to not having a say. Media literacy is major part of this; public discourse and “common knowledge” is shaped by media products in a technologically mediated society. These products are the work of enterprising corporations and (occasionally) public-interest groups, all of which have various agendas, which sometimes satisfy the revenue driven interests of said corporations (think the NRA and it’s ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council).

Media studies and media literacy are complementary topics – literacy is a basic skill which is bolstered by further study. To digest and produce messages, we have to have an understanding of the medium. There are numerous working definitions for media literacy. The Center for Media Literacy has one which emphasizes the educational aspects:

Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

I think I’ve mentioned NAMLE‘s definition before, it’s a little more rigorous:

– Media refers to all electronic or digital means and print or artistic visuals used to transmit messages.
– Literacy is the ability to encode and decode symbols and to synthesize and analyze messages.
–  Media literacy is the ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages.
–  Media education is the study of media, including ‘hands on’ experiences and media production.
–  Media literacy education is the educational field dedicated to teaching the skills associated with media literacy.

Media literacy as a grade-school curriculum or even a discipline is far less popular in the US than it is in other English-speaking countries, an irony only highlighted when you realize the US media industry has the largest reach (with an incredibly homogenous concentration of ownership) and that other countries began their media literacy programs as a way to combat that foreign influence. In fact, it raises the curious question of why? Especially in a country where the media industry comprises “20,620 companies generating $95.4 billion in revenues in 2010” in film and music alone, notwithstanding the journalism, publishing, communications, advertising, and public relations industries, all multi-billion dollar industries in their own right.

Ultimately, media literacy provides necessary critical thinking skills to help youth and other citizens become more engaged audiences who can more skillfully mediate the impact of messages, the intentions of a producer, and the agenda of any cultural elite, who have always had those resources on hand for whatever aims they desire. It also alerts youth and citizens to their abilities in engaging new media and production tools to promote personal, community, and civic goals to potential audiences. I believe training others in media literacy is about as altruistic as you can get, because it’s one of the most useful and relevant forms of education for today.

My own classes at The New School start up again tomorrow, I’m especially excited that I’ll be taking Nitin Sawhney‘s Civic Media & Tactile Design course, which deals with participatory culture and DIY media in the interests of social change, much in line with the ideas behind YRM.

Kubey, R. “Obstacles to the Development of Media Education in the United States.” Journal of Communication 48, no. 1 (1998): 58–69.

New Year, New Interests

I’ve always felt that New Year’s celebrations were a little silly – a mark on an arbitrary calendar has about as much meaning as we want it to have. Nothing really has changed, yet like so many other social phenomenon, when enough people have decided it’s important, it’s difficult not to be moved by that energy alone. The real significance is the passing of the seasons, as the days have begun to get longer and not shorter. I can say I’m really happy about that.

How I've been spending my winter break - catching up on reading something other than papers

When your life is inexorably tied to university, then the big deal is the winter break and the change of semesters. I’m looking forward to some of the work this spring; a methodologies coures (so I can finally realize how to research things better), digital media theory and a “civic media and tactile design” course which is really all about “DIY media” and participatory culture. I’m also looking forward to getting involved more with Youth Rights Media, a New Haven non-profit which equips teenagers with media literacy and production skills to address the social issues that are important to them. It’s really exciting stuff, and I’ve followed them for about a year and a half now.

While we’re on that, I recently overheard an NPR discussion on YRM and another group out of Toronto called “The Remix Project.” Their goals seem similar, but the Canadian organization has a different scheme which is slightly troubling to me. Gavin Sheppard describes it as an “arts and cultural incubator” for underprivlidged youth, but Through the discussion he references the need to for “making money, making change” and how their work attracted corporations who realized they “have the year of our demographic focus groups” as he put it. One of the ventures they established is Blackboard Marketing, a “boutique lifestyle services agency” which “connects corporates with the millennial market in a more authentic way.” Most of the staff comes out of the program and is hired from the areas and communities serviced by The Remix Project, and the work they do included marketing and event coordinating for BMW Cooper Mini 50th anniversary, as well as online  and social media marketing for Mark Ecko watches, through Timex. Most importantly, it’s a way for those companies to find out “what is cool” in an effective and direct means, by letting the youth do their marketing for them.

If you’ve ever seen Frontline’s “The Persuaders” piece, this should be ringing a lot of alarm bells. If not, it’s certainly worth a watch, if you want to know in what way major brands and corporations use market research and any means possible to discover the essence of “coolness” and how to attach business strategies to trends. It seems like a fundamentally inauthentic and exploitive practice – instead of teaching kids how to analyze and interpret social and corporate media and marketing campaigns, giving them those critical skills which are sorely lacking in our society, they are turning them straight over and incorporating them into the culture industry.  If anything it’s certainly less than altruistic. And the directors would probably freely admit that, saying it’s important to give youth job opportunities. I’d agree, but it’s still ironic that youth media projects would funnel their students into the very machine that produces and encourages said economic inequalities and structures.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about that. I’m also interested in book sculptures now – how old media has been repurposed to create these art projects, and what it represents. I haven’t read anything about this, although it’s been going on for a few years, and I don’t think it’s extremely popular yet. There are at least several artists out there doing this, and I even found a “how to” book. And I’m wondering what it would be like to travel and do research – I’d love to do some interview-style qualitative research and maybe make a podcast out of it. It’d be fun, though possibly not academically rigorous. Which is why I’m glad for the methodologies class coming up.

Also, it may be gauche to mention this, but it’s been interesting to see the functionality of an iPhone up close – my wife and I recently got our first smartphones ever, and it really is more of a mobile computer than a telephone (since I hardly talk to people on the phone!). Really illustrates the capabilities of “citizen journalism” and diy media which I had only really read/speculated about before. I know, I’m years behind the rest of you.