Civic Paths Hotspot: Remixing the U.S. Presidential Campaign

Introduction by: Henry Jenkins

Donald Trump for President? Don’t make me laugh!

Well, actually, laughter may be one of the most effective forms of political speech in an election cycle with so many over-sized personalities, so many odd twists of fortune, so many outrageous statements from all the parties involved. We are reminded of an earlier political advertisement from the 1972 U.S. Presidential election where laughing away the opposition turned out to be a key gesture.

Over the past term, the Civic Paths research group has been developing a shared framework for thinking about contemporary politics, one which has been inspired by the groundwork we had done for our recently released book, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. Here are a few of the defining traits we’ve been talking about together:

  • Activists have always promoted social change by tapping the civic imagination. That is, before you can change the world, you have to imagine what a better world looks like. More and more, young people are using popular culture references as a shared frame of reference for debating the kinds of future they want. This form of the civic imagination tells us what we are fighting for.
  • The civic imagination may also require us to envision dystopian alternatives — worlds gone bad, evil triumphing — so we know what we are fighting against.
  • Activist media is designed to circulate — it is spreadable — through informal social networks both on-line and off, and one of the most effective ways to insure circulation is to make people laugh.
  • These new forms of activism rely on the mechanisms of participatory culture: young people — many of whom would not have been politically active otherwise — are being drawn into engagement via what researchers are calling participatory politics.
  • So, one of the ways to bring these insights together is to be attentive of the ways popular culture and politics are remixed into memes which circulate within and sometimes spread beyond participatory culture communities.

These memes can deploy a range of different media, as we will see — from the tangible to the digital, from images to videos. We are thus seeing a Bernie Sanders-themed musical, modeled upon Hamilton, and Donald Trump as a evil warlord in the world of Game of Thrones, to cite just two examples, of the civic imagination at play.

Sanders ( Bernie Sanders + Hamilton ) from Tabitha Holbert on Vimeo.


We hosted a show and tell session where members of our research group identified examples of grassroots mashups of the political process that were circulating within their own communities. We brought them together for comparison and analysis. And what follows here are short pieces intended to share some of the conversation they engendered. Many of these, as you will see, use parody to express ideas about what is going on out there on the campaign trail and to share what it might mean for the people who will be most impacted by the outcome.

We’ve love to see examples you encounter in your own social networks and especially we would love to see examples of how these same practices may be deployed by conservative groups, given that most of our examples take a more progressive stance. These materials are ephimeral, but significant, in understanding how politics works today. So, we are trying to assemble our own archive for future research and teaching.

**********************************************************

“Participatory Aesthetics” by TJ Billard

Untitled

hyperakt (hyperakt.com), Brooklyn, NY

Untitled1Shawn Hazen (hazencreative.com), Chicago, IL

Both of these pictures demonstrate the way appropriating the graphic elements–and in particular typeface–of Obama’s campaign allows citizen content producers to contribute to the campaign’s messaging. The first of these pictures is interesting for two reasons: it uses Gotham (the typeface used by Obama’s campaign) to tie the image into the campaign’s official content, and it uses the famous picture of Barack and Michelle as well; but it also riffs on Shepard Fairey’s HOPE poster, engaging simultaneously with the official campaign content, as well as other citizen-created content. The second image more simply reflects the appropriation of the campaign’s official typeface and color palette, blurring the lines between citizen-originated content and campaign-originated content.

**********************************************************

Mark America Great Again by Yomna Elsayed

We have witnessed some extreme, sometimes “surreal”, political rhetoric this election season. But, many times the response to surreal rhetoric such as that of Trump or Cruz, was equally surreal, even hilarious. After all jokes are a temporary displacement from the control of the conscious to the arbitrariness of the subconscious[1]. Hence it was not surprising to see comedy flourish in atmospheres of fear and racism. Lawrence Levine in his Black culture and black consciousness records how slaves used humor for a variety of purposes from self-control, by releasing a wide range of inhibiting energies and feelings, to subversion and control of the social situation, by using the majority’s stereotypes in their humor “in order to rob them of their power to hurt and humiliate”. Jewish humor was also utilized as a “political weapon and as a provocative form of entertainment during (and in response to) an extreme state of a culture under threat of extermination”[2]. In either case, one can say that humor was a response to a situation that goes beyond human reason, one that deals with primitive human feelings of hate and fear. Humor certainly entertains, but it also works to challenge our perceptions by inviting us to reconsider taken-for-granted assumptions in a different light, bringing about cognitive dissonance to our clearly defined unproblematic understanding of the world. It does so, without necessarily incurring our resistance, but rather clandestinely encouraging us to laugh at ourselves in the company of others. Ultimately, notes Levine, laughter is a social phenomenon.

At a time of conflict, our response to jokes depends not only on how clever they are, but on our relation to their subjects and butts as well. Therefore, the more we identify with a leader the less we are going to enjoy jokes at his or her expense[3]. Hence jokes demarcate by defining those who share the joke as ‘we’, and those who don’t, as the ‘other’. But to muster the will to laugh at someone is to exert power on oneself and others; a power to overcome one’s helplessness in response to what appears to be a ridiculous situation on one hand, and to turn the tables and laugh at those in power (a temporary exchange of places) on the other. In colloquial Egyptian, if someone successfully ridicules someone we’d say, “He has left a mark on them” and that’s precisely what humor does. Humor could be a temporary release of energy, but it is also one that leaves visible marks on what once seemed to be unconquerable.

This election season, Trump has been the subject of many comedy shows from SNL sketches to the daily show’s satirical commentary. His outrageous comments regarding minorities, coupled with his unrestrained trolling, made him an amusing figure to media pundits and comedians alike. Other less professional ones, focused on Trump supporters by attending Trump rallies and recording their reactions to seeing an unlikely face. Though others suggested that this maybe an opportunity to reach out to Trump supporters (who “identified with Trump for a reason”) rather than simply ridicule them. However, of the funny videos circulated around Trump, “Your Drunk Neighbor: Trump” stands out to me.

“Your Drunk Neighbor: Donald Trump” has so far garnered over 1 million views since its release in October 2015. The video appeal lay in its use of incongruity, and surprise to draw laughter from viewers. This was one of the few sketches that removed Trump from the presidential candidate podium to a more familiar setting and character: a drunk neighbor. By juxtaposing Donald Trump speeches with the familiar image or frame of “your drunk neighbor”, it exposes the irrationality and lack of seriousness in choosing Trump as a presidential candidate: much like choosing your drunk neighbor for president. However, this video would not have been as successful if it did not build its humor on grounds of a non-threatening familiar situation1, such as that of drinking beer over your porch’s rocking chair in a warm summer afternoon. Furthermore, a recent survey by the university of Quinnipiac, showed that Trump’s name had a polarizing effect “on Americans attitudes about general statements and policies” advocated by the presidential candidate. With such polarization, humorous videos like “Your Drunk Neighbor”, can take away the edge of political criticism, inviting viewers, supporters or not, to assess their position in a non-threatening light situation of both entertainment and release. For Trump himself, one can say, at the very least, it “leaves a mark”.

[1] Douglas, M. (1968). The social control of cognition: Some factors in joke perception. Man 3(3), 361-376.

[2] Kaplan, L. (2009). In Jenkins, H., McPherson, T., & Shattuc, J. (Eds.), Hop on Pop: The politics and pleasure of popular culture. Duke University Press Books.

[3] Lewis, P. (2006). “Divided We Laugh”. In Cracking up: American humor in a time of conflict. University of Chicago Press, pp 1-20.

**********************************************************

Collection of Election-related folk art for sale on Etsy by Samantha Close

etsy

From left to right:

“Ted Cruz Republican Leading the Fight” from ConservativeArt

“Feel the Laser Bern” from DanSchaubDesigns

“Women for Hillary jewelry” from slrfreespiritjewelry

“Donald Trump doll” from TobeyTimeCrochet

 

The stuff of politics is never supposed to be important.  Signs get taken down, pamphlets get thrown away, and people move on to laws, policies, and budget disputes.  In traditional thinking, this arena of financial appropriations and negotiating which and what laws make it on the books is the important political “stuff,” the way you see what the candidates are really made of.  There is a lot of truth to this.

But, as Stephen Duncombe (2007) points out, this is also a highly intellectualized, rationalized, and cerebral way of understanding politics that misses out on much of what inspires and motivates people to take part.  The craft and folk art objects related to candidates in the 2016 presidential election that are pictured here suggest a different, more affective and emotional relationship to politics that requires an outlet in durable, material stuff that will remain long after the candidates are selected and the election concluded.

The contemporary political climate in the United States, as many of my comrades are pointing out in this discussion, is often highly cynical.  Political talk is heavily inflected by irony, humor, and sarcasm—to the extent that, at first glance, many might wonder if the folk art pictured here isn’t taking the piss rather than being sincere.  It’s an elitist, urban—Duncombe might say traditional leftist—sensibility that sees a hagiographic woodcut or hand-penciled (and sharpie-d) portrait as parody rather than proud declaration of identification and admiration (Sweeney, 1997).

Particularly in communication and cultural studies scholarship, this kind of highly invested affective relationship is more familiar in the realm of fandom—we would have little pause in characterizing a Harry Potter amigurumi doll as made out of love.  It is past time that we take as much care and bring as much nuance to analyzing how identification works on an emotional level in the domain of political communication as we do in the domain of popular communication (for one example of such analysis, see Liana Gamber-Thompson (2016) on Libertarian fandom).

Such a politics is at once more and less empowering for the average citizen and very different from how we were taught that our political system works in sixth-grade civics.  It much more closely resembles the Christian “What Would Jesus Do?” philosophy, oriented towards the impact of identification and belief in daily life rather than in official spheres (Jackson, 2006).  This is in line with the religious overtones and symbolism of much candidate-related folk art.  This election folk art suggests a different interpretation of the ubiquitous question “does my vote matter?”  It matters because it matters to the voter, not necessarily for them.

References
Duncombe, S. (2007). Dream: re-imagining progressive politics in an age of fantasy. New York: New Press ; Distributed by W.W. Norton.
Jackson, G. S. (2006). “What Would Jesus Do?”: Practical Christianity, Social Gospel Realism, and the Homiletic Novel. PMLA, 121(3), 641–661.
Jenkins, H., Shresthova, S., Gamber-Thompson, L., Kligler-Vilenchik, N., & Zimmerman, A. M. (2016). By any media necessary: the new activism of American youth. New York: New York University Press.
Sweeney, G. (1997). The King of White Trash Culture: Elvis Presley and the Aesthetics of Excess. In M. Wray & A. Newitz (Eds.), White trash: race and class in America (pp. 249–266). New York: Routledge.

**********************************************************

It’s Over 1000! by Rogelio Lopez

crbergen

I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed and thought it was funny/interesting. The piece is by artist CR Bergen and was apparently posted to his Tumblr on April 5, 2016. The illustration re-imagines a scene from the Dragon Ball Z animated series, where the characters Vegeta and Nappa sense the protagonist Goku’s increase in power as he becomes enraged. The scene became a widely circulated meme on its own, due to the hilarious voiceover for the phrase “It’s over 9000!” Bergen uses the scene to interpret the unexpected populist rise of Bernie Sanders, comparing him to DBZ protagonist Goku. At the same time, Hillary Clinton is compared to Vegeta, an antagonist of the series. The image clearly provides a comical critique of Clinton and the DNC by associating her to imperialist villains from DBZ, while showing support for Sanders. The “Feel the Bern” pin on Sander’s characters while he is engulfed in blue flame is a nice touch.

**********************************************************

Hashtag #HillarySoQualified  by Limor Shifman

hillarysoqualified

Zach Haller ‏@zachhaller

#HillarySoQualified she can only win by buying votes

The story of this hashtag, which started as a pro-Hillary response to Bernie Sanders’ assertion that Clinton is not “qualified” to be president and was quickly hijacked by Sanders’ supporters, is particularly revealing. What it seems to expose (beyond Clinton’s inferiority in this scene) is that some forms, or templates, of participatory “positive” commentary are almost by default inviting cynical responses. Hashtags which are cynical, or ironic, to begin with are thus more likely to maintain their original agenda (e.g. ##distractinglysexy,  #benCarsonWikipedia).

**********************************************************

Donald Trump and Mean Girls by Chloe Yuqing Jiang

I came across this video shared by a friend on my own Facebook news feed last week.

Being one of the biggest fans of Mean Girls, I found this video extremely interesting and captivating (probably given the fact that I could memorize the whole script by heart). The video “stars” Donald Trump as Cady Heron and incorporates some of the key arguments Donald Trump has been making. It also highlights these arguments which makes it amusing to watch. The video was posted on April 3, 2016 under the account TheCrazyGorilla, a YouTube channel made by two guys who produce funny videos weekly. With 185,456 views on YouTube, I think it is a smart idea to combine politics and entertainment to raise more awareness on election, especially for those who are less tuned in with political issues. This video might inspire more young people to create more relatable content like this and share the message through social media platforms to reach more audiences.

**********************************************************

Bernie of Hillary Meme by Michelle C. Forelle

meme1 meme2 meme3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a meme I’ve been seeing all over my Tumblr dashboard. According to Know Your Meme, the meme originated from a 12-image post simultaneously put up on Tumblr and Reddit on January 28, 2016 by user ObviousPlant, with the caption “Left in the streets of Los Angeles”. It is clearly designed for people to mess with, with big text fields that are very easily Photoshopped. What’s particularly interesting about it is that the blank template could be used by supporters of either candidate – when it’s blank, there is no indication who is favored. Interesting note that I found on the KYM entry for this — there is a Facebook group, now with over 436,000 members, called “Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash”.

**********************************************************

#Time2Escalate: A movement of movements by Emilia Yang

The Black Lives Matter organization, the anti-deportation campaign Mijente (#Not1More), and the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (which works on global issues including climate change) promoted a call with a hashtag first popularized by the white-ally network Standing Up for Racial Justice: #Time2Escalate to agitate Drumpf through the GOP’s summer convention and beyond in order for white allies to join and take a stance.

Anti-Trump protesters aren’t trying to change anyone’s mind. Here’s their strategy. (Vox explainers)

The action and the push towards escalation is based on some of these assumptions:

http://us3.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ccd613dafe6681329ae72b256&id=e90f9c901c&e=5649f5c71f

http://mic.com/articles/139615/wisconsin-s-white-people-want-to-stop-donald-trump-too#.9hiDklRz3

Bernie is almost as cute as Mujica <3

http://thingstolovefor.tumblr.com/post/142065321382/every-time-i-see-something-like-this-im-on-the

**********************************************************

Trump’s Bizarre Election by Yining Zhou

makeamericagreat

I found this image on my facebook stream, repost by several friends whose interest lies in the intersection between manga and politics.  Trump was put in a scene from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (JJBA) series. In its third series, Stardust Crusaders, JJBA introduced the concept of  supernatural power called “Stands”, which was the semi-physical manifestation of the user’s psychic powers resembles a spiritual familiar standing next to them.

On one hand, the picture offers a critique, pointing out Trump over emphasises “the stance” all the time. On the other hand, it is hilarious smart to juxtapose Trump election with Jojo’s adventure, implying that both of them are kind of radically idealistic and bizarre.

By Any Media Necessary (Part Six): To Trump Trump’s Wall (and Hate)

Reposted from Henry Jenkins’s blog (April 14, 2016).

This is the sixth and final entry in a series of posts showcasing the archive and resources we have assembled around our book project, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, which is being released by the New York University Press. This book was funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Network and written by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman.

To Trump Trump’s Wall (and Hate)

by Emilia Yang

Donald Trump, real estate magnate and reality television star (against all odds and many people’s disbelief) is still running and leading in the primary elections of the Republican Party. During his campaign Trump has made various statements regarding illegal immigration using derogatory and generalizing terms to refer to the Latino population and even proposing to ban people from “Muslim countries” from entering the country. At the same time, various white supremacists and neo-Nazis organizations have shown support for Trump. Sadly, Trump’s hateful rhetoric not only has had a political effect on his fellow candidates’ positions about immigration, but it has also materialized through violence toward various racial groups, growing exponentially since I first started researching this topic in September 2015 [1].

His proposal for “stopping” illegal immigration is to build a giant wall that would be called “The Great Wall Of Trump”[2]. It is evident that Trump and his supporters do not understand nor care about the humanitarian catastrophe that this would represent. Immigration and security experts warn that historically, US government border enforcement strategies have resulted in a massive increase in border crosser deaths [3]. As Gloria Anzaldúa writes in Borderlands, “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta [is an open wound] where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds” (1987). Untitled Source: Ian Cleary, “The great wall of Trump”, August 26th, 2015 In a parallel context, students at USC and many other Universities across the Nation are struggling to call attention and overcome structural racism. Even though Trump’s hate speech does not directly link to the discrimination lived by the students on campus, it is disproportionately present in the media discourse that we are exposed to. The recognition of these issues provides a context for discussions about the realities of ethnic minorities such as the Latino community. In response, I created a media art project borrowing ideas from participatory co-creative media, agonistic design and installation and participatory art, which I called To Trump Trump’s Wall. The main objective of the project was to test different participatory frameworks (a workshop and an art installation) where a political issue is discussed, imagined, and represented in situ. A secondary objective was to find the difference in results between these two frameworks, and the third objective was to inspire fellow students, activists and academics to work with media making methodologies as communication alternatives that challenge both their perceptions of difference and their political engagement. The first iteration of this project was in the 2015 West Coast Organizing Conference hosted by the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) in what I will call the workshop framework. At this conference, student leaders from across the West Coast reunited to teach, support, learn from and inspire each other in their fights for justice. This inspirational weekend featured panels, caucuses, and workshops including To Trump’s Trump wall workshop, as discussion spaces for transgender, women, queer, people of color, working class, and people with disabilities. The second iteration of this project was presented in in the lobby of the SCI Interactive Media Building in the School of Cinematic Arts at the “Against Method” Exhibition that presented five ongoing PhD. student projects in what I will call the installation framework. During the organizing conference I was given a time frame of one hour to enable a discussion about undocumented issues with 20 participants. I was inspired by Think Critically – Act Creatively: Harnessing The Power Of Fiction For Social Good workshop [4] created by my colleagues Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Sangita Shresthova, along with Karl Bauman, Ilse Escobar and Susu Attar in collaboration with community partners, artists, and activists and presented in the website By Any Media Necessary. This website provides resources that enhance and illustrate the forthcoming book By Any Media Necessary: Mapping Youth and Participatory Politics authored by Henry Jenkins and the Media, Activism & Participatory Politics (MAPP) group. In this world building workshop model, facilitators use prompt cards and ask participants to produce a one-word response to their prompt. Then they ask participants to imagine a future world set in a specific year (i.e. 2044) where fantastical things are possible and to come up with a narrative of what happens in this world, relating it to one of the themes fleshed out in the brainstorm. At the end, participants have to come up with a way to perform the story back to the whole group. Similarly, in Trump Trump’s wall workshop, I asked participants to discuss issues of immigration prompted with cards, reflecting on the immigrant experience, and then craft a message that they would like to inscribe in Trump’s wall if it was built and they had it up front. These are some examples of the cards given to the participants: Untitled yang2   The participants of the workshop engaged in very interesting discussions in groups. Their message was first drafted, both in words and visually on a storyboard, and then created and projected in the form of stop-motions animations. This mechanic enabled participants to learn how to animate figures and understand the logic of stop-motion animations while doing them. yang3   The installation piece enabled an interactive experience of facing the wall, listening to a soundscape of the US/Mexico border. As in the workshop, participants where asked to create a character with a message that would face the wall with the materials and objects available. yang6 The results are a large amount of media creations that will have a longer life than both frameworks. The animations created by the participants were politically charged, thoughtful, with calls for action. Participants stated that this was an innovative way of discussing any subject and they were interested in doing similar activities in their organizations and sharing their creations online. Despite being different frameworks of engagement, both enabled multiple discussions with diverse voices of students and faculty. These conversations generated media creations that address a relevant political theme with a playful approach. Overall, I believe that the collaborative and public creation of media activates new spaces for political debate and possibilities of expression within the participants, tapping into practices associated with participatory culture. My proposal for critical participatory making is to recognize us in others and harness the power of imagination to think otherwise. I propose participation as the place where real, inclusive and contested communication can take place, without erasing difference. I hope for participants not only to empathize with a real situation like the immigrant experience, but also to imagine an alternative positioning where they feel that they can confront this reality creatively. In this sense, I align with Henry Jenkins’ call to stimulate the civic imagination. For him, change emerges from the possibility of imagining a different world, infusing this imagination with a sense that change is possible, and understanding ourselves as agents capable of helping to drive that change. Thus the duality between “this is our reality” and “how we would like it” are displayed not as two isolated and abstract events, but as a contested open space in the present that we can transform through the encounter between reality and desire.   In the case of Trump’s hate, racial discrimination and active calls for the enactment of violence, I believe we are entering into a completely different reality than the one I foresaw when developing the project, and we have to address this with multiple practices of civic imagination. The animal we are facing has mutated drastically. Lives are at risk and we have an ethical and moral responsibility to Trump Trump’s wall and hate by any media necessary. Citations: [1] Gabe Ortiz, “TIMELINE: Trump’s Racial Demagoguery Is Having Dangerous, Real-Life Consequences”, America’s Voice, September 16, 2015, http://americasvoice.org/blog/a-timeline-trumps-racial-demagoguery-is-having-dangerous-real-life-consquences/ Dara Lind, “What the hell is going on with violence at Trump rallies, explained”, March 14, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/3/14/11219256/trump-violent [2] “Trump on border: We’ll call it the great wall of Trump”, August 20, 2015, Real Clear Politics, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/08/20/trump_on_border_well_call_it_the_great_wall_of_trump.html [3] Clare Floran, “Trump’s Immigration Wall May Have Lethal Consequences”, August 25, 205, National Journal, http://www.govexec.com/management/2015/08/trumps-immigration-wall-may-have-lethal-consequences/119371/ [4] Workshops: “Think Critically – Act Creatively: Harnessing The Power Of Fiction For Social Good workshop” http://byanymedia.org/works/mapp/activity-1?path=activities References Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands: la frontera. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Luke Book Company Emilia Yang is an activist, artist, and militant researcher. Yang is currently a Ph.D. student in Media Arts + Practice in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Her work has been interconnected with digital communications, performance, and public art. Her research focuses on participatory culture and its relationship to media, arts, and design. She is interested in transmedia storytelling framed through the question of how it can foster social change and civic engagement. Her art practice utilizes site-specific interactive installations, interactive documentaries, performance, and urban interventions, all of which explore social justice issues in participatory ways. Emilia completed an M.A in Communications at Penn State University. Her Master’s project researched the first social media protest to make it to the streets in her home country Nicaragua. She developed a participatory transmedia storytelling hub in a site called ocupainss.org with the objective to present the maximum number of stories and violations of human rights around this protest.

By Any Media Necessary (Part Five): By Any Infrastructure

Reposted from Henry Jenkins’s blog (April 12, 2016).

This is the fifth in a series of posts showcasing the archive and resources we have assembled around our book project, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, which is being released by the New York University Press. This book was funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Network and written by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman.

By Any Infrastructure Necessary

by Samantha Close

What does a scholarly transmedia project look like?  We’ve become familiar with venturing into fictional worlds created by weaving together different mediums, different modes of engagement, and different narratives.  For the By Any Media Necessary project, there was already a book being written.  When your purpose is to analyze and explain rather than to create and entertain, what kind of digital structure makes sense?

At the start, it looked like a google doc and an excel spreadsheet—the time-honored academic method of listing out sources, citations, key notes, and organizing them into thematic clusters and columns.  One of the key affordances of digital media is its ability to extend, to archive more kinds of content in more ways and simply more volume than any one printed book ever could.  We used that capacity to accumulate a hefty pile of case studies and examples, interesting groups and fascinating moments, which at that stage of brute force listing and organization could have easily become another book or an article in a journal.

Books and articles are, in general, linear.  The argument is organized as a forward march and the existing content materials are marshalled accordingly.  What doesn’t fit gets moved around; what doesn’t contribute to the point gets cut.  With the digital structure, however, we didn’t have to.  Even more than the affordance of abundance, the ability to allow, and even privilege, the winding detour turned out to be key.  One argument and line of logic doesn’t need to satisfy all comers because they, like us, can follow and chart idiosyncratic paths through the assembled materials.

After several long meetings, it looked like an alien lifeform.  As research assistants, Raffi and I sketched out circles, lines, and arrows in multi-color marker on our meeting room whiteboard, accompanied by snippets of suitably cryptic text.

BAM Brainstorm Visual

Our scribblings were motivated by the desire to find a balance between railroading audiences through material without allowing for exploration and dropping them into the middle of a trackless archival heap. The navigational structure had to clarify, not confuse, but also to anticipate a wide range of perspectives. Speaking to different audiences coming from very different places meant that questions like “what items do you put on the main menu?” and “how do you explain that there are educational resources without using the words ‘curriculum’ or ‘education’?” assumed great importance. Using terminology that didn’t signal to the audience who could use the content, that led people to expect something that didn’t follow, or that encouraged people to artificially corral themselves in one small corner of the project could lead to teachers, activists, students, scholars, and other folk closing out and not coming back.

And then, it started to look like a website. A really ugly website. But we were getting there. We settled on a few key navigational principles that balanced separation and classification at the top with a web of dense interconnection once you dove in. Navigating into the archive, you’re asked to choose between learning about people doing things (groups, individuals, and networks) or about the things they were making to do them (different kinds of media). That allowed us to chart out analytical paths through each of these broad categories that highlighted particular properties of activities and texts, like the impact of media form or a focus on a specific issue.

Once audiences drilled down to a particular case, though, they had easy routes out to follow whatever piqued their interest—not necessarily what brought them there in the first place. One could start looking at civic networks, find the Class War Kittehs case and see the way actors within this network join cute (and grumpy) animal memes with strong statements about labor rights and economic policies that they share on social media. Now curious about the use of such memes in activism, it’s easy to move from a focused look at the Class War Kitteh Grumpy Cat (who is still waiting for it to trickle down) to analysis of how single, still images can and are being used to promote social justice. From one of those images, a teacher could move to the Conversation Starter video on remix and authorship, which translates the analysis of how civic networks use images into a classroom-ready prompt for student discussion. An activist passionate about economic issues might move instead from these images to the collection of other organizations tackling these topics with different methods and from multiple points of view.

 

titlepage

Writing this now with the advantage of hindsight, the structure seems almost painfully obvious. Of course that’s what we would want! The process of getting here, though, was far from straightforward. It pushed us to conceptualize our material in new ways and to collaborate with both a graphic designer and an interactive media team. For my part, I am almost as excited to see how people engage with the infrastructure as with the content, to the extent that the two even can be separated. Like the activists this project analyzes, we’ve tried to find the best media to get our message across. Come help us figure out where it will go from here!

Samantha Close is a doctoral candidate in Communication at the University of Southern California.  Her research interests include digital media, theory-practice, political economy, fan studies, gender, and race. She focuses particularly on labor and transforming models of creative industries and capitalism.  Her documentary “I Am Handmade: Crafting in the Age of Computers,” based on her on-going dissertation work into the economic culture of crafting, is hosted online by Vice Media’s Motherboard channel.  Her writing appears in the academic journalsFeminist Media Studies, Transformative Works and Cultures, and Anthropology Now as well as in more informal online spaces.  You can find her on Twitter @butnocigar.

By Any Media Necessary (Part Four): The NAMLE/MAPP Educator Collaboration

Reposted from Henry Jenkins’s blog (April 7, 2016).
This is the Fourth in a series of posts showcasing the archive and resources we have assembled around our book project, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, which is being released by the New York University Press. This book was funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Network and written by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman.

The NAMLE/MAPP Educator Collaboration

by Michelle Ciulla Lipkin

The exploration of the topics of credibility, remix, agenda shifting and privacy are of utmost importance for media literacy educators. I was thrilled when the organization I lead, The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), was asked to develop and implement a strategy to distribute videos and curriculum related to these topics to educators. These Conversation Starter Videos featured as part of the MAPP Project were created through collaboration between MAPP, Participant Media and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRecord. Supporting materials were also developed for the videos to be used in high school and higher education classrooms.

The goal for this particular project was to conduct professional development sessions with the videos and accompanying materials for high school teachers and college professors. NAMLE conducted a series of workshops with the Conversation Starter Videos in various locations around the U.S.A. from July, 2015 – November, 2015. I had the opportunity to coordinate and lead these workshops. I attended NCTE’s WLU Literacies for All Summer Institute in Atlanta, Georgia and the University of Rhode Island’s Summer Institute in Digital Literacy in Providence. I coordinated a professional development session in collaboration with the Jacob Burns Film Center in White Plains, NY and the Newseum in Washington, D.C. I also had the chance to conduct a workshop for Rhode Island librarians as part of the statewide Media Smart Libraries Initiative.

NAMLE Workshop

You’d think that in my role as Executive Director of a national education organization that I would have lots of the opportunities to talk directly to teachers. I certainly do my best to create those opportunities but I often find that my time is spent doing lots of other things in support of teachers but not necessarily with them. This project was unbelievably appealing to me because it gave me an opportunity to be face to face with teachers to talk about topics integral to media literacy. The conversations did not disappoint.

Overall, the videos and materials were very well received. Teachers felt the videos were engaging and thoughtful. There were certain themes that resonated throughout the workshops. Teachers are hungry for easily accessible resources to use in their classrooms. They greatly appreciate free resources. It allows all teachers to have access. They want contemporary content that speaks to their students and echoes the type of media their students are consuming and creating. Teachers want the opportunity to decide how they want to use resources in their classroom rather than being told how to use them in a prescriptive way.

As far as the video topics are concerned, there are two points that really stuck out for me. First, the topic of credibility is of tremendous concern to educators. In the workshops that I conducted, teachers were asked to break out into small groups and develop activities using one of the videos. By far, credibility was the one people chose to discuss. There is an evident desire to explore the ways to teach credibility. Teachers feel that the issue of credibility continues to grow more and more complex with the increase of digital technologies that allow access to more and more information. It was apparent that teachers are struggling with how to teach their students the skills they need to assess credible information in a media saturated world.

Second, teachers had the most questions about the remix video, having difficulty understanding the basic concept of remix and how to teach it. It was tough to delve deeply into substantial conversation after the remix video because of the focus on clarifying the topic itself. The divide between the generations was evident here. While youth embrace the remix culture, adults are somewhat confused by it. It is apparent that more tools need to be developed to help teachers comprehend remix and its relevance in their classrooms.

IMG_1121

One of the highlights of the project came during the one student workshop we conducted with the Student Leadership Committee of the National Speech and Debate Association. The National Speech and Debate Association is the largest speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school, and college students in the United States. 153 students from 38 states actively participated in our online chat and were very engaged by the material. The video format, music, and style were very appealing to the students. They had a lot of thoughts on the topics, were eager to share their answers with the questions posed in the videos, and were willing to debate points with each other. It was clear these videos sparked conversation for the students.

After conducting these workshops, I conclude the videos and accompanying materials are valuable resources for teachers interested in exploring issues with credibility, remix, agenda shifting, and privacy. Their energetic style with a celebrity host only adds to the appeal for students. It is important to note the videos really do act simply as conversation starters. While they pose important questions and provide discussion prompts, they do not provide answers or practical action steps. Teachers consistently said that they would have appreciated more concrete answers to the questions posed. The use of accompanying materials and additional resources are needed to truly explore the topics.

I was incredibly glad to be able to share media content with teachers for free that could lend itself to important conversation. Watching teachers discuss and debate credibility, remix, agenda shifting and privacy made it apparent how essential media literacy professional development is to the success of a 21st century classroom. Teachers are eager to discuss these topics and enthusiastic about bringing them into the classroom.

As an organization, NAMLE is committed to ensuring that everyone is taught to be a critical thinker, effective communicator and an active citizen. It is no surprise that we are inspired and encouraged by the work of Henry Jenkins and the MAPP project. We were so honored to be part of this project and look forward to seeing how these resources are used in classrooms across the country.

IMG_1081

——-

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin has been the Executive Director of NAMLE since September 2012. After graduating from NYU’s Film School in 1994, Michelle began her career in children’s television production, working for Nickelodeon from 1995 – 2000. Michelle returned to NYU to earn her graduate degree at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

Michelle focused her grad work on children and television while also continuing to do freelance television production. Since earning her graduate degree, Michelle has been lecturing and doing workshops for parents and children on media use and digital citizenship. Michelle also worked as a facilitator for The LAMP (Learning about Multimedia Project) from 2010 – 2013 teaching media literacy and production classes from Pre-Kindergarten to 5th grade.

For the last 7 years, Michelle has been an active parent in the NYC public school system. Michelle served as Chair of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, President of the District 3 President’s Council, and President of the P.S. 199 P.T.A. Michelle currently serves on the Parent Association Board and School Leadership Team of M.S. 245, The Computer School. Michelle lives in New York City with her husband, son and daughter.

By Any Media Necessary (Part Three): Educator Collaborations with the National Writing Project

Reposted from Henry Jenkins’s blog (April 5, 2016)

——-

This is the third in a series of posts showcasing the archive and resources we have assembled around our book project, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, which is being released by the New York University Press. This book was funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Network and written by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman.

Educator Collaborations with the National Writing Project

by Diana Lee (with materials created by Liana Gamber Thompson, Gabriel Peters-Lazaro, Alexandra Margolin and Sangita Shresthova)

Are you interested in how teachers are using the By Any Media resource to plan lessons? The educators section of byanymedia.org offers an in-depth look at how educators and activists have helped us build on and improve this resource for use in learning spaces by sharing their  lesson planning processes.

Starting in Summer 2014, we began piloting the By Any Media Necessary (BAM) online resource with groups of K-12 educators affiliated with the National Writing Project. This was done in an effort to see how teachers can utilize the resource in their classrooms. Sessions brought together small groups of teachers to informally explore the BAM resource, provide feedback on the utility of the scalar platform and usability of the interface, test drive some of the available materials such as the MAPP workshops anddigital media toolkit, and engage with the sizable archive of media on BAM. For example, high school Economics teacher Albert spoke from experience as a teacher who already incorporates creative use of digital media and technology into his classroom. He described how different aspects of the BAM resource could help him scaffold and build lessons that deepen students’ critical engagement with social issues and how working with these practices and tools could help students learn to express their knowledge and opinions through creative and maker practices that they are passionate about.


Through our conversations, we also sought to understand some of the structural obstacles preventing teachers from working with digital media and technology in their classrooms. For example, high school Language Arts teacher Kate talked with us about administrative and systemic barriers to working with cellphones and other kinds of digital media and technology at her school, and discussed ways that she and other teachers could legitimize this kind of work and navigate around these barriers.

While the MAPP team hopes that BAM is a resource for teachers, we understand that we ourselves are not teachers and therefore the development of lesson and unit plans is not our expertise. Rather than outline how we feel BAM can be used in the classroom, we would like to highlight how actual teachers are using the resource. We hope to continue to partner with teachers who are using BAM in their classrooms in the months ahead.

Also see:

  1. Lesson Plans: Teachers from Locke High School in South LA
  2. Teaching Teachers: Nicole
  3. Conversations with Activists and Educators

Diana Lee is a doctoral candidate at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism who researches the creation and circulation of mediated counter-narratives in response to racial microaggressions. Through multimedia visual culture and storytelling resistance practices, she explores how these networked participatory cultures aim to collectively process, speak back to, or educate about racial microaggressions and their layered, cumulative effects. She is particularly interested in the potential healing and empowering impact of participating in these resistance practices for those who frequently navigate microaggressions in their everyday lives, and how these kinds of engagement can be utilized and fostered for education in other contexts of learning. Before doctoral studies, Diana worked in education research and evaluation, afterschool programming and development, and on several mixed-methods research projects in education, psychology, mental health, immigration, youth culture, media literacy, and communication. Diana holds a B.A. in Sociology from UC Berkeley, an Ed.M. in Learning and Teaching from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a M.A. in Media, Culture, and Communication from NYU.

By Any Media Necessary (Part Two): Conversation Starters on Digital Voice (By Any Media)

Reposted from Henry Jenkins’s blog (March 31, 2016)

This is the second in a series of posts showcasing the archive and resources we have assembled around our book project, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, which is being released by the New York University Press. This book was funded by the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Network and written by Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman.

resources curated by: Alexandra Margolin, Gabriel Peters-Lazaro, Sangita Shresthova

The “Conversation Starters on Digital Voice” collection aims to help you get a conversation on By Any Media Necessary started in communities, organizations and educational settings. The core theme shared by all the conversation starter short films in the series is that the nature of political participation is changing in an era of networked communication. More and more we rely on each other for news and information, more and more we work through issues and concerns in conversation with others within our social networks, and more and more we tap the affordances of new media in order to mobilize for change.

As we do so, then, there are practical and ethical challenges: Young people — indeed, all of us — need to take responsibility for the quality of information they circulate, they need to recognize the risks and opportunities of political engagement, they need to understand the copyright implications of their choices to remix and share media, and they need to respect the contributions of others within their community. We want to use these interstitials to help young people to better understand what is at stake in participatory politics and to ask core questions before they act online.

How were these films and materials created?
All the interstitial films were created through collaboration between MAPP, Pivot.tv and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRECord. Below is a little more information about each of the collaborators.

HitRECord
The collaboration started with HitRECord, a self-described “professional open collaborative production company” founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. According to Gordon-Levitt:

HITRECORD is different than your typical Hollywood production company. Anyone with the Internet can contribute to our collaborative projects & this website is where we come to make things together, like Short Films, Books, Music, Art, and our latest & greatest production – our television show: HITRECORD ON TV. You can contribute your Video, Image, Text, or Audio RECords to any of the collaborations we’re working on, or you can start your own collaboration on the site. And if your work gets used in a money-making production, we pay you for it. For their work in 2013, the community is receiving a grand total of $737,175.09.

HITRECORD ON TV airs on the Pivot.tv television network which is a component of Participant Media.

Participant Media/Pivot.tv

Participant Media is a media company that serves a double line “dedicated to entertainment that inspires and compels social change.” According to their website:

Founded in 2004 by Jeff Skoll, Participant combines the power of a good story well told with opportunities for viewers to get involved. Participant’s more than 65 films include Lincoln, Contagion, The Help, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Food, Inc., Waiting For “Superman,” CITIZENFOUR and An Inconvenient Truth. Participant has also launched more than a dozen original series, including “Please Like Me,” “Hit Record On TV with Joseph Gordon-Levitt,” and “Fortitude,” for its television network, Pivot.

Pivot.tv is Participant’s television network where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord is aired. In their own words:

We’re Pivot TV, a new TV network where what you watch does make a difference. We’ve got all the usual stuff like original shows, movies and docs, but we’ve also got a little something more. When you watch Pivot TV, you won’t just be entertained.  You can also take action on the issues raised in our content.  The chance to do something about it will be right there on the screen, or just inside the next commercial break. So go ahead and pivot. You just might be able to make a meaningful difference in the world. Pivot TV: It’s Your Turn.

Media, Activism and Participatory Politics (MAPP)
The Media, Activism and Participatory Politics (MAPP) research team is lead by Henry Jenkins and is based at the University of Southern California (USC). Over the past five years, MAPP conducted five case studies of diverse youth-driven communities that translate mechanisms of participatory culture into civic engagement and political participation.

Building on these findings, the MAPP team partnered with the Media Arts + Practice Division at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts to create resources, conversation starters and workshops that encourage participants to think critically about previous examples of civic media and act creatively as they draw on their own experiences and aspirations to translate these insights into their own media practice. These resources and workshops currently live in the “By Any Media Necessary” collection and can be accessed at byanymedia.org.

What does this collection contain?

This collection contains the following:

Films: Four short conversation-starter films created through a partnership between HitRecord, Pivot and the Media, Activism and Participatory Politics (MAPP) Project at USC. The films cover the following digital age topics: credibility, private vs. public, remix and shifting the agenda

Resource Packets: Four corresponding resource packets with sample questions, key points, key term definitions, and examples that will help you identify ways that these films may serve your community or students

Supplemental Resources: Additional article resources on related topics to help you further explore the topics covered.

Conversation Starter Topic: Credibility in the Digital Age

 

How do we assess the quality of information we encounter online? What accountability and responsibility should we have over the integrity of the social justice content we decide to circulate? And how prepared should we be to defend the claims we make to support our arguments around political issues? According to a recent survey conducted by the MacArthur Foundation’s Youth and Participatory Politics Network, 85 percent of high school aged youth want more help in learning to discern the credibility of the information they encounter online. For us, this issue is most powerfully raised by our case study of Invisible Children’s Kony2012campaign, but it is also one which almost every public awareness effort confronts sooner or later.

Conversation Starter Topic: Shifting the Agenda in the Digital Age

How might identity groups use media to react to, reshape, or even control the narrative being constructed about them in mainstream media? We are seeing many of the groups we study — but especially the DREAM activists and the American Muslim networks respond quickly to news stories or popular culture programming that they feel places them in a negative light. They are using their collective capacities to pull together information, critique representation, construct alternative narratives, and get them into circulation, often in ways that commands the attention of major news organizations. In part, these strategies work because of the ways they are able to quickly mobilize dispersed and decentralized networks that are invested in helping them spread content.

Conversation Starter Topic: Public vs. Private in the Digital Age

How might activists assess risks, especially those concerning privacy and security, as they share their stories online? In a widely shared critique of so-called “Twitter Revolutions,” The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell argues that online activists do not face the same kinds of risks as previous generations faced in their struggles for civil rights. Yet, we are finding that there are high risks for, say, undocumented who post videos coming out via YouTube or American Muslim youth who use social media to think through their identities in the Post-9/11 era. Many of these risks emerge as these youth make choices about the bounds between publicity (“coming out,” “speaking out”) and privacy, which are similar to more mundane choices confronting all youth in the era of Twitter and Facebook.

Conversation Starter Topic: Remix in the Digital Age

How can appropriating and remixing content from popular culture lead to new kinds of political consciousness? And, how do activists who appropriate and remix  existing media in their campaigns resolve issues around copyright? These are the sorts of topics that prompted the Remix conversation starter video collaboration with HitRECord.

We are seeing examples of the merging of the identities of fans and citizens across a range of political movements — most spectacularly in our work through the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters, but also in the use of remix for political expression via the Occupy Wall Street movement (like the Pepper Spray Cop memes), the protests against Gov. Walker in Wisconsin,  “Binders Full of Women” during the 2012 Presidential Campaign, and the use of the Guy Fawkes mask, most closely associated in the United States with V for Vendetta, by a range of activist groups, including Anonymous.

Remix promotes a mode of political speech that can be easy to understand, funny and powerful. It contrasts with the policy wonk language that often excludes youth from meaningful participation. Within this context, copyright can be seen as “private censorship” that silences a particular kind of expression. Creative activists need to understand the basic criteria of Fair Use and make informed choices as they quote and circulate pre-existing media. Diving into these complex issues with your organization, community or students can open up many opportunities for meaningful learning. In classroom contexts especially, remix practices may intersect with questions around plagiarism and present a productive context in which to develop best practices for citation and appropriate use of existing content for purposes of critique and transformative work. This video is meant to be a starting place and jumping off point. More context, resources, and topics to consider are provided below.

You can also download “Conversations on Digital Voice” resources and videos here.

——-

Alexandra Margolin is the Project Manager for the Mellon Funded Digital Humanities Initiative at the Claremont Colleges. She comes from a background in Ethnic Studies, non-profit project management, and grassroots media production having spent the last 6 years working on non-profit and higher education grants. Prior to joining Claremont’s Digital Humanities team, Alex served as the Program Specialist for the Media Activism & Participatory Politics (MAPP) project at USC which examined participatory models of youth activism and was responsible for the project’s outward facing programming with activists and educators. She received her B.A. in history from Pitzer College and an M.A. in Asian American Studies from UCLA. Her research interests include: social constructions of multiraciality through foodways, social justice learning, and alternative modes of storytelling.

Gabriel Peters-Lazaro is an assistant professor of the practice of cinematic arts in the Division of Media Arts + Practice at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where he researches, designs and produces digital media for innovative learning. As a member of the Media, Activism and Participatory Politics (MAPP) project he works to develop participatory media resources and curricula to support new forms of civic education and engagement for young people. He helped create The Junior AV Club, a participatory action research project exploring mindful media making and sharing as powerful practices of early childhood learning. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on digital media tools and tactics, digital studies and new media for social change. He received his B.A. in Film Studies from UC Berkeley, completed his M.F.A in Film Directing and Production at UCLA and is a Ph.D. candidate in Media Arts + Practice.

Sangita Shresthova is the Director of the MacArthur funded Henry Jenkins’ Media, Activism & Participatory Politics (MAPP) project based at the University of Southern California. MAPP focuses on civic participation in the digital age and includes research, educator outreach, and partnerships with community groups and media organizations, and companies. Sangita’s own scholarly work focuses on the intersections among popular culture, performance, new media, politics, and globalization. She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures and MSc. degrees from MIT and LSE. Her book on Bollywood dance and globalization (Is It All About Hips?) was published by SAGE Publications in 2011. Drawing on her background in Indian dance and new media, she is also the founder of Bollynatyam’s Global Bollywood Dance Project. Her more recent research has focused on issues of storytelling and surveillance among American Muslim youth and the achievements and challenges faced by Invisible Children pre-and-post Kony2012. She is also one of the authors on By Any Media Necessary: The New Activism of Youth, a forthcoming book that will be published by NYU Press.

By Any Media Necessary (Part One): The Book Companion as Multimodal Scholarship

Reposted from Henry Jenkins’s blog (dated March 29, 2016)


9781479899982-th

Later this month, New York University Press will release my newest book, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. This book reflects seven plus years of field work which I have conducted with Sangita Shresthova, my research director, and our Media, Activism, and Participatory Politics research team. This work has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of their ongoing support for Digital Media and Learning and in particular, as an outgrowth of the multi-disciplinary, multi-university research network on Youth and Participatory Politics (headed by Joseph Kahne, Mills College).  Our research team interviewed more than 200 young activists as well as monitored their media strategies, seeking to better understand the mechanisms by which these groups tapped the existing skills and interests of young people and helped them channel these resources and literacies towards civic ends.  Here’s the official description for the book:

There is a widespread perception that the foundations of American democracy are dysfunctional, public trust in core institutions is eroding, and little is likely to emerge from traditional politics that will shift those conditions. Youth are often seen as emblematic of this crisis—frequently represented as uninterested in political life, ill-informed about current-affairs, and unwilling to register and vote. By Any Media Necessary offers a profoundly different picture of contemporary American youth. Young men and women are tapping into the potential of new forms of communication such as social media platforms, spreadable videos and memes, remixing the language of popular culture, and seeking to bring about political change—by any media necessary. In a series of case studies covering a diverse range of organizations, networks, and movements involving young people in the political process—from the Harry Potter Alliance which fights for human rights in the name of the popular fantasy franchise to immigration rights advocates using superheroes to dramatize their struggles—By Any Media Necessary examines the civic imagination at work. Before the world can change, people need the ability to imagine what alternatives might look like and identify paths by which change can be achieved. Exploring new forms of political activities and identities emerging from the practice of participatory culture, By Any Media Necessary reveals how these shifts in communication have unleashed a new political dynamism in American youth.

Each of the book’s co-authors — which include beyond myself and Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman  — took ownership of one or more specific case study of youth activists at work. Our exemplars include Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign, the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters, The DREAMer movement, Students for Liberty, and a range of projects within the American Muslim community. But the overarching themes of the book emerged from many years of intense discussions amongst the writers, including the core theoretical frame I helped to provide in the opening and closing chapters. We’ve already received some great responses to the book:

 

“A far reaching book that explores the many different digital strategies and platforms young people use to have their voices heard and their political agendas advanced. The case studies at the heart of this book are powerful,  telling the story of how young people across demographic categories are using digital media to engage in a new form of politics—Participatory Politics—that is destined to significantly shape  civic life for years to come.”

—Cathy J. Cohen,  author of Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics

“Fantasy is not an escape from our world; it’s an invitation to go deeper into it. The most relevant book of our era, it will undoubtedly inspire you and those you love to join the millions of people who are transforming our world: by any media necessary.”

—Andrew Slack, creator/co-founder of the Harry Potter Alliance

 

“A much-needed narration of political agency that tackles its many contradictions head-on, without losing sight of nuance. The book’s case studies, rich in detail, are wonderful invitations to think more and better about the role of empathy, care, ethics, empowerment, and participation in our contemporary political realities.”

—Nico Carpentier, Uppsala University, Sweden

“Understanding the connections between practices of media consumption and enduring civic engagement is one of the most exciting challenges that cultural studies currently faces. For over a decade, Henry Jenkins has been exploring this issue, and now he and an excellent team of co-authors offer the most searching examination of this question for a US context that we have.  An inspiring and enlivening book, this is a definite must read!”

—Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Political Science

 

As we’ve prepared the book for publication, we’ve also developed some additional online resources which educators and activists might use to foster discussions around its core themes of transmedia activism, the civic imagination, and digital citizenship. Over the next few installments of this blog, I will be sharing with you reports from members of our larger research team, describing how these resources were developed and how we have been working in partnership with several core educational networks — the National Writing Project and the National Association of Media Literacy Educators — to test these approaches with educators. I am hoping you will check out our online site,  byanymedia.org, and consider how you might make use of these materials in your own context.

The Book Companion as Multimodal Scholarship

by Yomna Elsayed

As a book about new forms of political activism that have emerged from the practices of participatory cultures in the past few decades, By Any Media Necessary approaches publishing in a way that addresses the multimodality of each case study, from web pages and social media to remixes and videos. The role of the online book companion is to extend the dimensionality of every chapter with a chapter summary and its accompanying audio-visual content. Hence, print chapters should be read concurrently with their companion chapter to get a more holistic understanding of the type of activist practices discussed and referenced in the case studies.

BAM1

The hybrid design, with both digital and print components, and the choice of Scalar as a platform, is a reflection of the authors’ appreciation of the digital scholarship tradition lead by Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson. In the book companion, the multi-modal artefacts are given center stage while the summary text is used to provide the context of the audio-visual content. Multimodality, Tara McPherson notes, helps scholars “understand their arguments and their objects of study differently” by experiencing the argument “in a more immersive and sensory-rich space” (McPherson 2009).

While mostly amateurish, the value of showcasing digital artefacts, such as confessional videos, or campaign ads around which action was organized, is not to highlight the videos themselves as much as it is to highlight the practices they facilitate. These media objects also signal a shifting relationship between consumers and media products, and a networked mode of visual expression .

BAM-bookpath

The book companion path is composed of seven pages. Each page revolves around one of the book chapters, providing a summary of key ideas and concepts as well as any referenced audio-visual content in the print version. It also connects with the groups/organizations path, media library and the glossary to provide readers with new pathways to follow the argument in a non-linear fashion. The intent of non-linearity is to explore new relationships and new research questions that “are not necessarily based on the structure of a linear argument” 1. The book companion can be accessed through the main menu at byanymedia.org.

 

 

McPherson, T. (2009). Media Studies and the Digital humanities. Cinema Journal 48 (2), pp. 119-123

Yomna Elsayed is a PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is a research assistant for the MAPP project. Her research interests include the cultural productions and manifestations surrounding social change in the Arab World and Egypt in specific. She is also interested in online technologies and how they are appropriated by youth to overcome cultural and political barriers, and to engage in a process of public will formation at a time of social conflict.

Hot Spot Challenge: What is the Role of Social Media in Shifting Power Relations?

Overview

Contributed by Liana Gamber-Thompson

It’s been almost a year since we published our last Hot Spot, a collection of mini-blog posts organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. As the membership of Civic Paths changes and expands, we continue to experiment with new forms of scholarship that help put those varied viewpoints in conversation and allow us to work through ideas in a fairly informal way. This time around, we are publishing the results of an email exchange started last Fall in which participants discussed examples of times when social media was used to disrupt traditional power relations between individuals and established institutions, as well as some of the potential drawbacks, challenges and puzzles presented by such a model.

After a period of deliberation, the group chose to write on this prompt, penned by Neta:

This week I watched the movie “Chef,” a very adorable depiction
of a once-successful chef, whose creativity is restrained by the
traditionally-leaning owner of the restaurant he works at. When a food critic
bashes the Chef, their public confrontation spreads online, and the Chef’s
instant Twitter-fame is translated into a successful independent food-truck
business.

The movie seemed to me as another representation of the
power of social media to upheave the traditional power relations between
individuals (such as the Chef) and established institutions (in this case,
restaurants and traditional methods of advertising).

As a first question, what are examples you think of in
regards to the role of social media in changing power relations between
individuals and established institutions?

Raffi started us off with his discussion of how his research interests in minority representations and today’s celebrity culture both places social media in a position of accountability and opens specific spaces for varied user/creator practices. Sam, who Raffi called on to respond, offered some insight into the world of webcomics as one such case of specific online spaces and practices. I should explain here that, under the agreed upon rules of this Hot Spot, any Civic Paths participant could be “challenged” (or invited or encouraged) to respond by the last poster–and there were penalties for not complying! If a “challenged” member of the group failed to respond, they agreed to bring freshly baked, homemade treats for the whole group (no Trader Joe’s cheating allowed!).

Everyone kept their word (no treats for us), and the chain of responses grew. Michelle followed Sam’s challenge, discussing how her experience of following the Michael Brown grand jury decision and its consequences on radio, cable news, and on-site protester livestreaming intimated a different understanding of the publics that form and follow breaking news via social media.

Kjerstin goes on to discuss the politics around visibility and the many contingencies that now shape such individual experiences of political events. Neta argues that social media has changed Benedict Anderson’s famous conception of imagining from communities (nation) to individualities (profiles attached to every like and tweet). Nathalie focuses more concentratedly on the power relations and institutional oppressions that backgrounds communication channels like social media. Finally, Nick argues beyond the mass versus social media binary to ask who makes up the social media space and where is transformative action taking place.

It’s amazing the insights that can be drawn from this kind of academic game of telephone, and we hope you enjoy reading. As always, we also encourage you to add your own thoughts, picking up where the conversation leaves off, in the comments section below.

On Celebrity Culture, Accountability, and User Practices

Contributed by Raffi Sarkissian

With such an effectively broad prompt, there is no shortage of directions this discussion can follow. To get started, though, I will get specific and draw first from my own research interests and hopefully build multiple entry points for responses.

There are actually two tracks of thought that came to mind when thinking about social media’s role in the changing power relations between individuals and established institutions, both related to entertainment media. The first stems from my interest in studying minority images and narratives in popular culture – more specifically, how (and now the varying spaces where) representations of race, gender, class, and especially sexual/gender identity are constructed, mediated, interpreted, and utilized by both dominant institutions and the public.

We can’t really talk about the power of social media without also addressing celebrity in its traditional and evolving iterations (think terms like micro-celebrity, followers, “Youtube star,” etc.). To keep things simple, though, my first example involves taking traditional celebrities (for my purposes this means movie stars, athletes, etc.), as established institutions and how social media does wield a certain amount of power in altering their behaviors and image-management. When Jared Leto won the Golden Globe in 2014 for playing a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club, his acceptance speech, which included jokes about body transformations and failed to acknowledge either the trans* or AIDS community, was immediately taken to task by various bloggers (including industry trades, grassroots trans/queer communities, and those in-between). While most of the ensuing debate took place in niche social media spaces, what arguably resulted were a string of follow-up acceptance speeches by Leto (for SAG, Independent Spirit, and Oscars) that more consciously addressed what he was critiqued for.

The Jared Leto example is just one in many in recent years relating to flack, accentuated by a groundswell of participation on social media, in regards to homophobic and transphobic remarks made by stars, athletes, music artists, etc., often on Twitter, for which they consequently are pressured to backtrack, apologize and/or coordinate with GLAAD to repair any PR damage. The trend of critical feedback from the public through social media (though, sometimes undoubtedly fanned by various influential players) of course extends beyond political correctness on LGBTQ issues and into any topic, often including Politics. The larger concept at hand is accountability.

Accountability perhaps most traditionally or directly addresses the relationship between politicians and their constituents. And so, I use that term strategically in the discussion of celebrity as our social media age has certainly helped further blur an already loose distinction in the second half of the twentieth century between stars and politicians, between civic actors and famous people, between entertainment and Politics. With increased modes of public scrutiny, celebrities and public figures in an era of heightened “reality” culture are held to be more accountable (in whatever meaning that may take). As social media has changed the dynamics of celebrity and fame, it has also changed along with it larger functions of accountability from the trivial (celebrity feuds) to the institutionally effecting (Occupy).

Now, while this first track has mostly considered individuals (celebrities, politicians) as stand-ins for established institutions, the second track I had in mind concerns the impact of social media (broadly conceived here as tools and platforms that invite participation and connecting with others) on the practices of larger economic entities. More precisely, how social media is used to undermine the power of those established institutions by modes of audience interaction and the spread of amateur production practices. In this arena, what we mostly hear of in the mainstream are the impossible success stories (Justin Bieber, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Issa Rae) and less on how the spaces these exceptions came from are the sites where shifts in power or power relations are taking place.

My familiarity is mostly with the television industry that seems to have adapted well (for now) to such shifts by adopting social media strategies (virality as promotion, live-tweeting as attempt to bring back appointment television). The dominance and resiliency of the industry, however, should not necessarily overlook the fact that key economic models (promotion, distribution, production, and especially evaluating success) have drastically changed in no small part due to how audiences are sharing, tweeting, making media. A tangentially related industry that is almost never addressed in larger discussions of social media practices is porn. Much like Hollywood, though, the porn industry deals mostly (but not exclusively) with visual media, and ever since moving online has had to adapt to its audience’s consumption practices. Amateur porn now thrives on social media, utilizing video sharing and microblogging platforms to spread (free) content. I’m curious how this affects such a purchase/subscription-based market. I don’t study the porn industry, and thus I cannot conclude on how much impact social media trends have had on the industry’s economic model, but I’m interested to see what other spaces and institutions anyone else has observed similar shifts resulting from both user/consumer and producer practices.

Following, I invite other participants to respond to this discussion thread either directly to some of the ideas I put on the table (accountability, confluence of celebrity culture and Politics, audience/producer practices via social media) or open up other areas of thought. Top

Making a Case with Webcomics

Contributed by Samantha Close

Webcomics, which for me here means comics posted online as their creators’ primary mode of distribution, are one of those spaces of shifting power dynamics you mention. Exceptional success stories, like XKCD creator Randall Munroe’s vault into the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List or Order of the Stick creator Rich Burlew’s $1.2 million in Kickstarter donations, are fairly well-known. What is less well known is the way creators, fans, and the various arms of the print comics industry are re-negotiating what had been an infamously rigid production system. And that the webcomics arena is home for a thriving sub-genre of porn.

Or, at least, people won’t admit to knowing about naughty comics online. The primary model of support for webcomic artists has been merchandise sales, through online stores, or Kickstarter and Patreon donations from fans, with spreadability as a key mechanic. Creators build up audiences via social media shares, fan appropriations, and memetic mutations of their images. Micro-payments, whereby each comics viewer pays a very small amount of money to view each comic, largely failed while donations, often publicly acknowledged or rewarded by swag, succeeded. But not for porn. Most of these comics are subscription-only behind a paywall, which cuts against the emerging business model for the rest of the form. As Rob Balder, writer of webcomic Erfworld, said in a panel on financing webcomics, “no one wants to walk around wearing a t-shirt that says ‘I watch porn.'” There are clear limits on what people want their real names to be associated with online, particularly when that linkage itself has the potential to be shared across databases.

But they still support it. And porn comics creators have a seat on the panels with webcomic artists and writers from genres across the board. From my vantage point, what’s happening in comics with the rise of social media is a growing appreciation among the audience for the craft skills of making solid artistic work. Sure there’s plenty of pornographic comics and art on the web for free, but there aren’t necessarily plenty that have that special something a reader needs. Audiences are showing that in a world with an over-abundance of art, they’re willing to support creators who make work that moves them. This isn’t a model that lends itself to those blockbuster success cases, where the goal is wide appeal and massive spread. It is one that supports a myriad of communities growing around and through art that is relevant to them. In other words, if you want to read about the challenges of oral sex while deaf, I’ve got a comic for you. Top


Livestreaming and its Publics

Contributed by Michelle C. Forelle

I want to come back to a point about accountability that Raffi made. Earlier this week, I rushed home from campus in order to be home in time to hear the announcement of the grand jury results in the case of Darren Wilson, a policeman who killed a young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. I was able to hear the announcement live through public radio, and read real-time analyses of its language via Twitter, but what was most remarkable about that night for me is where I watched the consequences of its announcement. While my partner streamed CNN on his laptop, we watched a livestream being recorded on the cell phone of a protestor, on mine. I’ll give you one guess as to whose coverage came across as more knowledgeable and accurate.

The cameraman was Bassem Masri, a vocal Ferguson activist. I was one among an audience of 90,000 watching the demonstrations unfold from Masri’s viewpoint. Although often characterized by news media as an agitator, Masri remained calm over the course of the few hours I watched his livestream, offering lost activists directions, cautioning bystanders to move away from a police car in flames, and just generally describing what he was seeing around him. He had some choice words for the news camera crews that seemed to inevitably focus on either themselves or the rare spots of high tension at the demonstrations.

The livestream itself is only arguably a form of social media; the website Masri used provided a chat window next to the video stream, but the chats were largely one-off comments, overwhelmingly racist and almost entirely incendiary, with little interaction between the chatters. However, the link for this particular livestream was being shared widely over my social media networks. This example suggests that, while social media play an important part in challenging existing power structures by allowing for the circulation of information and the creation of publics around that information, their power is greatly magnified by media production technologies now available to ordinary citizens that allow for the creation of new or alternative sources of information. This is particularly important in situations where the existing power structures are deeply entrenched and can respond oppressively, even violently, to criticism. I am mindful of Katy Pearce’s work in Azerbaijan here, as well as recent events in Hong Kong, which illustrate what can happen if these established institutions get wise to such activist tactics and work pro-actively to cut them off or co-opt them for their own ends. However, at least in the case of the US, I am somewhat encouraged by recent Supreme Court decisions that, to an extent, protect citizen’s rights to use their devices in these ways.

Furthermore, to call back Sam’s point about alternative funding models for emerging media, it’s interesting to note that Masri punctuated his livestream with reminders to his audience that he was funding his livestream using crowdfunding site Fundly, although he offers no details on how the funds would be used. Another crowdfunding site, GoFundMe, was the fundraising tool of choice a couple days later when friends scrambled to raise the $15,000 needed for his cash-only bond after Masri was arrested for driving with a suspended license (he was reportedly in the passenger seat of a friend’s vehicle when the arrest occurred, leading supporters to claim is just the latest form of the extreme police harassment Masri has been experiencing since becoming involved in the Ferguson protests). If we consider these funding sites as social media (which is, again, arguable), then here we have yet another example of how social media can afford popular resistance. Top

Visibility and its Limits

Contributed by Kjerstin Thorson

First off, don’t think I didn’t consider pouring the bucket of water over my head (this is now a metaphor for homemade snacks). But I loved reading about your examples of social(ish) media and opening up opportunities for resistance. Like Michelle, I sat with my family—Happy Thanksgiving, by the way—waiting for the grand jury result in Ferguson. We crowded in the living room and watched CNN because, well, we’re a mainstream media kind of family. I was the only one in the room who was also following the story on Twitter, and thus the only one to see, for example, the floods of criticism of the CNN coverage, or stats going around about how rare it is for a grand jury not to indict (wow), or debates over whether police had or had not used tear gas. I was also the only one in my family to see screen shots of Facebook’s trending topics being passed around on Twitter in a blind grope collective attempt to understand whether the Facebook news feed algorithm was hiding, or at least not highlighting, content about Ferguson. Not for the first time, I found myself obsessing over the many tangled layers of visibility and politics.

When I think about the potential for social media and changing power relations, visibility jumps out as a central puzzle. One consequence of life in a so-called “post broadcast” media environment is the increasing array of contingencies that shape individual experiences of a political event. Algorithms are one piece of the puzzle, but the contingencies are also about personal choices—what you seek out, what you expect to find interesting—as well as who you are connected to, and to what extent you are considered a valuable target by strategic communicators. Given all these contingencies, who sees all this new political activity and for what kinds of people will these emerging forms of activism remain largely invisible? Many of us know that our Twitter feeds will enhance what we can know about an election, a debate, a protest—our media spaces are chockablock with this stuff. We can relate to Michelle’s instinct to watch a livestream as an alternative to cable news. But these uses of social media put us somewhat outside the usual. In one of my favorite recent pieces of understatement, Marc Smith and colleagues in a Pew report about network structures on Twitter wrote, “it is important to remember that the people who take the time to post and talk about political issues on Twitter are a special group” and point out “the relatively modest size of the social networking population who exchange political content in their network” (http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/02/20/mapping-twitter-topic-networks-from-polarized-crowds-to-community-clusters/).

“Relatively modest” indeed. Of course, when we’re talking about the impact of social media on (political) institutions we don’t always need big visibility to make a difference—visibility with the right people can be just as or vastly more important. But I’d love for us to talk about what it might mean—over the long term—that my family “sees” events like Ferguson quite differently than Michelle’s. It seems to me that Raffi’s example of Jared Leto’s slowly changing speeches describes something like a ‘visibility bridge’—one of the topics that drew me to Civic Paths in the first place was the possibility of popular culture as a space for translation between “stuff about politics” and “stuff that people actually enjoy.” Top

Imagined Individuality

Contributed by Neta Kligler-Vilenchik

Thanks so much for your post Kjerstin! I enjoyed reading it and the article you linked is relevant to what I wanted to touch on, though it will come at the end of my little hot-spot journey.

Thinking about the potential of social media in relation to the political realm, I’ve been toying around lately with an idea that I’d be happy to air.

My thought about this concept starts with Benedict Anderson, and his famous term “Imagined Communities”. Anderson, as every graduate student in Communication/Sociology/Political Science will tell you, described the nation as an “imagined community”, “imagined” because “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (p. 6).

I still remember how ground-breaking I thought this argument was when I first heard it, coming from a country where the nation takes up such a prominent presence in your everyday life.

At first, upon learning about Anderson’s work, I thought its meaning was that the nation is a fiction. But that is not how I interpret the concept today. Contrasting those who have predicted that globalization will make nations obsolete, the nation is alive and kicking, and is causing as much trouble and havoc as ever. “Imagining” has two possible meanings – one of them is conceiving of something that is not real; in the other sense, “imagining” means forming a mental image of something, being able to conceive of it. When Anderson talks about imagined communities, he is talking about the social process that enabled people to conceive of nations as a “thing”.

What makes Anderson’s argument particularly interesting to us as communication scholars is the role of the media, and specifically, the daily newspaper, in bringing about the social process that, in Anderson’s words, “made it possible to ‘think’ the nation.” (p. 22) The reading of the daily newspaper as a form of ritual, Anderson argues, allowed members of the nation to feel like they are exposed to the same information that pertains to them all, and to imagine that others in the nation read about the same events, at roughly the same time they are. In his words, “each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion.” (p. 35, my emphasis). Anderson’s full argument is of course a lot more complex, but at its basis is the idea that the shared ritual of reading the newspaper was key in being able to imagine other members of your nation, and your (imagined) affinity to them. By extension, this also enabled you to imagine that there are other nations out there, with other people, who aren’t part of your nation.

So where does today’s social media fit in?

The idea I am toying with has to do with how social media allows us to imagine (in the sense of forming a mental image of) not so much “the nation” but, for the first time in history perhaps, the actual identities of many of the specific individuals that it consists of. You might call it, imagined individuality. As Anderson described it, reading the newspaper entailed imagining other people reading it, but we didn’t have any idea about who these people are. We had certain conceptions, based on the people we do know, on mass media depictions etc, but we ever encountered only very few of these people and were able to attach to them a specific name or image.

Ironically, at a time when we are no longer “reading the same newspaper”, and are no longer necessarily exposed to the same information flows (as Kjerstin and Michelle importantly pointed out), we are given a glimpse of the “actual identities” of many individuals. I am thinking of moments of scrolling through my Twitter feed, or seeing comments on photos by friends of friends on Facebook, or browsing Tumblr pages by people I do know. Through social media, we are offered glimpses into the lives, thoughts and views of many, many individuals, who we often don’t know personally, but who – for a brief moment – share some aspect of their lives, be it a funny comment, a recipe, or a political Tweet. We are invited to imagine this fellow human being, who is out there somewhere in the world, who has a name, sometimes attached to a picture or some basic details, and who is living their life at the same time as we are. Potentially, we could even interact with this person (though we rarely do). Whatever this person is sharing is of course only a very specific aspect of who they are, but for a moment, they take on a real presence in our consciousness, as individuals or as members of groups.

Now, this fact may seem trivial, and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone pay attention to it in an explicit sense, but to me it seems that “imagined individuality” has the potential to be quite fundamental, among other things in changing power relations between individuals and established institutions.

One example has to do with our conceptions of “out-groups”, people who perceive as belonging to different groups than us. Rather (or at least, in addition to) having the media, or our school, or our parents, tell us what a certain group is like, we can conceive of them ourselves by getting a glimpse of individuals belonging to that group.

What could be some of the effects of imagined individuality? Being somewhat of an optimist, I think about things like reducing prejudice by imagining the actual people who consist of “out-groups” (a social-media variant of the ‘indirect contact hypothesis’). Then again, we know from articles, like the one Kjerstin linked, that social media networks around political issues tend to cluster into distinct partisan camps, with little communication between them (see also this example about Israeli/Palestinian communication networks during the conflict this past summer https://medium.com/i-data/israel-gaza-war-data-a54969aeb23e).

This may be one space where the translation that Kjerstin hinted at, and that I play around with a lot in my work – the translation between the “cultural” and the political – could come in. Perhaps, when people connect and communicate with others, including members of “out groups”, not around politics but around other issues (the recipe, the comment on the photo) that we may increasingly imagine them as individuals, relate to them as such, and then come to also listen to – and respect – their views when it comes to disagreement and conflict. Perhaps. Top

Institutional Oppression and Counter-Power

Contributed by Nathalie Maréchal

When I first read the prompt, my mind immediately jumped to two pair of definitions, borrowed from Castells, that I’ve used in several projects. Power is “the structural capacity of a social actor to impose its will over other social actor(s)”, while counter-power is “the capacity of a social actor to resist and challenge power relations that are institutionalized” (Castells, 2007, p. 239). Meanwhile, media is the space where power is expressed, while social media (“the media of mass self-communication) is the space where counter-power is expressed.

With these definitions in mind, it becomes obvious that the Internet, and social media specifically, is a game-changer for the relationship between institutions and individuals. The cases cited by the previous discussants on this thread bear this out, at least on the micro level. There are many more cases of individuals (including groups/networks of individuals) voicing their opposition to, or dissent from, institutional power through social media that I’m sure we can all think of. But at the macro level, there’s good reason to worry that the channels through which these voices express themselves might not be available for much longer.

Over the past six months I’ve done a lot of work on forms of institutionalized oppression that are largely invisible to the individual, or not readily identifiable as rights violations in the moment. For example, internet companies’ lack of respect for users’ free expression and privacy rights make them complicit in all manners of human rights violations, but individual instances of censorship or snooping are often experienced as inexplicably slow download speeds, buggy software, mysterious browser errors, or simply not experienced at all. Similarly, the algorithms that determine what content we see on Facebook also fit into these invisible controls. For example, on my own News Feed I hardly saw any egregiously racist discourse around the Brown/Garner grand jury decisions, but there could be any number of reasons that’s the case. The complete absence of bigots from my acquaintance circle is nowhere near the top of the list. To go back to Hong Kong, which Michelle brought up, mainland Chinese Internet users were kept in the dark about the protests in Hong Kong for weeks, and even now are only receiving seriously slanted information. The lack of accurate, timely information is a rights violation, but an invisible one that isn’t even experienced. Yet the fact that the victims aren’t aware that it’s happening doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. To my mind, this is why the fight for net neutrality is so important: to keep the U.S. Internet safe for activism and for access to information, and to avoid setting a horrendous precedent for other countries where America’s bad behavior is used to justify all sorts of terrible things.

I could go on and on with examples and dire warnings, but they all boil down to this. The powerful currently have overwhelming control over the means of communication, and we need to fight to (re)claim it. (I am aware of the Marxist undertones of this phrasing. It is fully intended, though I am still grappling with what that might mean concretely, beyond “censorship bad, activism good.”) Top

The “Who” and “Where” of Social Media Activism

Contributed by Nick Busalacchi

I find this whole “mass media/social media” binary to be woefully unproductive. For one, they’re rather mutually imbricated at this point. Network and cable news outlets retweet user posts and are active on social media; you can’t peruse Facebook or Twitter without some reference to a mainstream article. Also, subversive content is hardly restricted to social media. I find traditionally produced satirical programming to be transformative and subversive, while the bulk of what I read on social media is noise. (Of course, there’s shit on both ends.) Both rely on sensationalism to a large degree. Clickbait is to social media as sensationalist headlines and lead-ins are to mainstream media. On top of this, the political economy of this whole mess is trending toward (#)conglomeration, which is undermining (misguided) populist notions of these platforms in the first place. Now I don’t write this to completely diminish the importance of social media, but instead to beg two questions: “who makes up the social media space?” (both as a public and as a governance structure) and “where is transformative action taking place?”

Re: the who, I rather enjoyed Neta’s connection to Benedict Anderson and her notion of “imagined individuality.” Individual expression made visible through social media is certainly deconstructing the nebulous imaginary of our communities, nations and, well, world. I now have faces, (narrowly constructed) identity profiles and digital traces to more effectively label my fellow Americans–or morally degenerate Tea Partiers. What does it mean that our communities are digital mosaics instead of purely imagined constructions? Is this really (normatively) more desirable? More troubling, if this is the way we view our communities (or individuals in our communities), what does it mean for populations that opt-out, are excluded (e.g., digital divides) or simply, like yours truly, don’t care much about posting content or updating my profile(s)? Lastly, and without getting into a comprehensive neoliberal critique, I find the rat race for individual visibility on social media disturbing and antithetical to community. On Facebook, for example, I do not feel part of a community, but a voice in the crowd shouting “like me, like me” (not very effectively, mind you).

There are, of course, many example of communities that never would have existed but for social media. That is awesome and testament to the positive transformations networked society brings to bear. These communities are valuable in their own right, particularly so when they become agents of change. This brings me to the “where?” To preface, I don’t have much love for the online/offline binary–we live in a hypertext world where everything is simultaneously locally situated and globally connected. Nowhere is this more clear than in contemporary activism. Brown/Garner, Syria, immigrant rights, etc.–all are clear manifestations of digital space interwoven with physical place. That said, I don’t believe true social transformation can reside in digital space. It occurs in the places of everyday life, with the assistance of social media, sure, but also so many other innovative communicative tactics (e.g., die-ins, the Foursquare street art Mike sent out). To address a point Nathalie made, the powerful have ALWAYS had overwhelming control over the means of communication, but we’ve also always found a way to affect incremental change. Social media is at its most revolutionary not as the nagging little sibling of traditional media pushing alternative digital content, but as a component of place-based activism that fuels assembly and creative (and situated!) expressions of resilience. Top

Hot Spot 5: By Any Media Necessary

 

Henry Jenkins introducing “By Any Media Necessary,” the Spring 2014 Civic Paths Hotspot Vimeo.

Hot Spot Overview: “By Any Media Necessary”

By Liana Gamber-Thompson 

How do we foster a civic imagination? That’s the question Professor Henry Jenkins asks us to consider in his video intro. Of course, there is no one answer to that question. That’s why we’ve kept the topic broad for this Hot Spot, our semesterly collection of mini-blog posts organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group.

We’re calling this collection of posts “By Any Media Necessary” because it gets at the myriad ways that social and political change happen in the age of digital media. Henry explains:

At the heart of the phrase “By Any Media Necessary” we’re building upon Malcolm X’s famous phrase “by any means necessary,” but we’re saying today change will come, not through a single media platform, but by the ability to coordinate your message across many different channels, to reach many different publics with multiple messages, all serving some shared vision of what political change needs to be.

In that spirit, we invite you to explore the multiplicity with us through this collection of posts that touches on many interpretations of what it means to effect change “by any media necessary.”

First, Andrew Schrock draws parallels to previous generations of “ethical engineers” to describe how “civic hackers” attempt to bring about institutional change through community-based work and technological production. He argues that civic hacking serves as a mode of political participation closer to civic engagement than hacker cultures aligned with activism or software production.

Diana Lee looks at the recent “I, Too, Am Harvard” Tumblr campaign to shed light on the ways young people are using online spaces and new media platforms to take a stand against their everyday lived experiences of racism as well as institutionalized structures of inequality.

Kari Storla examines how survivors of rape are using a variety of media forms to talk about their experiences of sexual assault and to communicate about a subject matter that is often rendered invisible in public discourse and cultural representations. She considers how humor is employed to open up conversations about rape and rape culture.

Neta Kligler-Vilenchik provides her account of a recent workshop, “Think Critically, Act Creatively,” at the 2014 Digital Media and Learning conference. She draws on her experiences to think about how tapping into our civic imaginations and engaging in acts of “critical utopianism” can broaden our conceptions of what’s possible for social change.

Raffi Sarkissian shares several case studies of queer activism and shows us how the web is just one arena in which queer-identified and LGBT youth are exerting their voice and garnering visibility. He looks at both on and offline strategies used in contemporary queer activism, urging us to look at the variety of ways LGBT youth are asserting their influence.

Lastly, Yomna Elsayed describes the shifting nature of popular representations of American Muslims, examining their reception both within and without the Muslim community. From the appearance of a veiled Muslim woman in a Super Bowl Coca-Cola ad, to one Muslim woman’s attempt to normalize her experiences as a “Muslim Hipster,” she describes how such representations, however fraught, continue to broaden the national conversation about Muslims in America.

We hope this collection inspires you to think critically about what a kind of activism that relies on “any media necessary” might look like in 2014. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section because we believe you can’t have a theory of change unless it’s also constantly growing and evolving.

 

“Think Critically, Act Creatively”: A workshop on civic imagination

(Part of the Hot Spot series “By Any Media Necessary”)

By Neta Kligler-Vilenchik
(@netakv)

5_neta1

“Mind=blown” – this is the way that @n0anch0r, one of the participants in the “Think Critically, Act Creatively” workshop at the Digital Media & Learning (DML) Conference in Boston, described his experience. @n0anch0r wasn’t alone. @laurenthebird tweeted:

5_neta_2

As a not-completely-objective, but still external, observer, I can only agree with their judgment. In my years of attending academic conferences, I have never seen people so enthusiastic and excited. Who would have thought what a kick a group of community organizers, educators, and academics investigating digital media would get from imagining the world in 2044, writing a scenario set in that world, and performing it in under one minute?

The “Think Critically, Act Creatively” workshop was devised by my colleagues Sangita Shresthova and Gabe Peters-Lazaro of the Media, Activism and Participatory Politics project, in collaboration with Susu Attar and Ilse Escobar, community partners, artists, and activists. The conceptualization of this workshop derives from our multi-year examination of diverse youth-driven communities which translate socially and culturally-based affinities into civic and political engagement. Groups like The Harry Potter Alliance, Nerdfighters, DREAM Activists, Libertarian Youth, and American Muslim youth, have all taught us important lessons on the role of cultural appropriation, storytelling and remixing, deploying metaphors from popular culture, and drawing on strong social ties. The workshop is an attempt to translate some of these lessons into a format that can be used in both in-school and out-of-school contexts, to reach a wide variety of youth. The goal of the workshop is to imagine a future world in which social inequality can be solved, as a way of sparking youth’s civic imagination. So far, versions of the workshop have been piloted with participants in the Muslim Youth Group Leadership Academy and with the CDF Freedom School. At DML, this was the team’s first attempt to bring the workshop to a variety of educators and academics and get their reactions (with the added challenge of conducting a workshop planned for several days over 90 minutes!). My role as supporter and live-tweeter enabled me to observe the process and share not only my impressions, but those of other participants through their tweets.

The workshop started with an icebreaker that enabled participants to immediately create media. Using Mixbit, an app for video creation, each participant was recorded expressing their one-word response to a one-word provocation. Having barely stepped into the room, participants could already see themselves on the screen along with other participants.
5_neta3

Participants were already excited about this format:

5_neta4
5_neta5
In the description of the rationale of the workshop—a world-building exercise, in which you imagine a world and find the story in it—I was particularly struck by the words of Susu Attar: “Don’t be limited by the imagination of who you are”. The first group activity was to collectively imagine the world in 2044, which is a world without borders. We brainstormed what such a world might look like, in terms of government, communication, or agriculture. Some of the ideas included: flying shoes, apparition, universal translators, intimate relationships with robots, and downloadable food.

Next, workshop participants were divided into small groups of around five to six participants. Each group was to come up with a narrative that was set in our imaginary 2044. The groups received some creative constraints: the story should include a main character, some conflict, a pivotal moment of how this situation came to be, and a resolution. Gabe talked about the importance of creative constraints in enabling productive creativity.

After ten minutes of writing their narratives, the groups received new instructions: their stories should be performed, in any way, in under one minute. Susu explained: particularly for youth, performance helps them to break out of their shells, and say things they might not otherwise. Plus, it cracks everyone up!

And crack everyone up they did! The groups’ performances were imaginative, thought-provoking, and funny. Above all, everyone was having a blast.

5_Neta65_Nera7

5_Neta8

After the groups’ performances, we discussed how principles of improvisational theatre are useful in thinking about digital citizenship. This was also the time for participants to share their impressions of the workshop. Quite surprisingly for the context of a conference on digital media, several participants shared how liberating it felt to put their devices aside and to connect with each other on an interpersonal level. Another participant shared the excitement his group felt – like a bunch of kids – and pondered on how impactful creativity can be. Many of the educators and organizers in the room were already devising ways of bringing this activity “to the youth back home”.

5_Neta9
In the wrap-up to the workshop, Henry Jenkins linked us back to the idea of the civic imagination. The workshop, he explained, is an exercise in critical utopianism – imagining what the world could be like, examining where we are now, and then devising the steps that take us from here to there.

As for me, I can only thank the workshop organizers and all the participants for such an electrifying experience. #DML 2044, coming soon to a youth space near you!

And… long live the Lasagna Revolution!

5_Neta10

 …Check out all tweets coming out of the workshop – #DML2044…