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What I’m Working On

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This month marks the publication of my article “The Datalogical Drug Mule” in the Data issue of Feminist Media Histories.

This article had a varied lifetime, first as a final paper for a media theory class, then as an award-winning conference paper for the International Communication Association, and finally as a journal publication.

In short, the article argues that borders have always functioned algorithmically, a feature that has only intensified with the spread of information and communication technologies. Yet, despite this technological sophistication, the functioning of borders still relies heavily on human physical interaction. The article traces these issues by staging a fictional travelogue of a drug mule based on official documents and anecdotal evidence.

Feminist Media Histories editor Shelley Stamp interviewed me and other authors in the issue about our articles for the FMH podcast. You can hear the podcast episode here: https://soundcloud.com/user-161032629/data-vol-3-no-3

 

On February 1998, the New York Times decreed that Blockbuster Video had established itself as the main video rental outlet, pushing all other independent video retailers into marginal and niche markets. Fifteen years later, the closure of the last Blockbuster locations still in operation heralded the end of an era, where online streaming services had replaced video stores as the preferred method of film distribution. But this is hardly the whole story.

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During the upcoming Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Seattle, I will be chairing a panel that takes a closer look at this narrative and proposes how various video cultures and communities arise, thrive and/or diversify in the 21st century. In his paper “’Are you guys closing?’ – Video-clubs and the ‘Third World of the internet’”, Matthias Mushinski (Columbia University) looks at cinephile consumers and sellers in Montreal, noting how the dual facts of limited content and Canada’s bandwidth caps challenge the notion that “everything is available” online. Similarly, my paper “What is (in) a diasporic video store?” considers how to incorporate informal and unconventional retail points—particularly those that cater to immigrant communities—into scholarship on media distribution and diasporic cinemas.

Finally, Michael O’Brien’s (UT Austin) paper “Limited Release: Online Cine-clubs and Digital Archives” approaches the legacy of video clubs as practices of community building, and tracks how these practices are perpetuated in private BitTorrent trackers. In different ways, all of these papers take concepts such as cinephilia, film communities, and home film cultures, and set them alongside new work on distribution technologies and film consumption practices, to illustrate the myriad ways in which the transition to digital is ongoing—and anything but smooth.

Our panel respondent will be Professor Daniel Herbert (U of Michigan), whose recently released book Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store charts the rise and fall of the rental industry between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, when video stores served a vital function in the sustenance of movie culture.

Given last year’s announcement of Blockbuster’s closure, the current discussions about ISP speeds for online streaming, and the continuous consolidation of production studios, I expect there to be a lively discussion not only from the presenters but also with the audience. So if you’re also interested in talking about these topics, come join us on Thursday March 20 at 11:00 AM (session F6)!

The time is now ripe to join the insights of decades of film and media studies with the new modes of information management, visualization, and dissemination that digital technologies are enabling. Who better to reimagine the relationship of scholarly form to content than those who have devoted their careers to studying narrative structure, representation and meaning, or the aesthetics of visuality?

Tara McPherson, Cinema Journal 48.2

This term I’m taking the course Digital Humanities: Introduction to the Field with Prof. Alan Liu. The course brings in people from a variety of fields, and as a reflection of such, one of the things we will work on is to think through the intersections between our discipline and the field of digital humanities, and write blog posts on them. Since I am taking the class with two fellow media studies colleagues, I figured as a start I would collect as many cases of media studies projects that fall under the umbrella of digital humanities, as well as what others have said about the relationship between these two fields, in order to help us get a sense of these intersections and depart from there.

The above quote from Tara McPherson nicely illustrates the sentiment fueling many of the recent conversations on media studies and digital humanities. If we media scholars are dedicated to study some of the tools being used by digital humanists, why are we not using them ourselves? Or, if we are, why are we not thinking of them as such?

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I’ve recently taken to Prezi less as a presentation software and more as a space for creating visualizations -concept maps, timelines, etc – that help me work through my readings and research material. This particular visualization is inspired from a seminar presentation I prepared on Brian Larkin’s Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Life in Nigeria, a book I have encountered multiple times in the course of my grad career so far, and whose themes and methodologies speak to my own research interests quite a lot.

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The visualization in full Prezi mode can be accessed here. I hope to keep developing this visualization, and adding concepts and theorists that speak to the same interconnectedness of infrastructure, piracy, and breakdown/repair. Comments and suggestions are most welcome.

Organization

The horizontal funnel created by the two thick blue lines represents the space of technological possibilities created by the development of infrastructure. Moving from left to right represents the passage of time, and the funnel becomes bigger to illustrate the notion of mediation “enhancement” (Graham and Marvin 1996), how new technologies do not simply destroy older forms of communication but, by bringing in new ones, they may in fact intensify older forms as well. Read More

Last year I participated in the 4th FLOW conference in a roundtable titled “Micropolitics in a Digital World“. Given the conference’s scheduling just before the 2012 U.S. elections, the panel sought to ask what were the implications of digital media for local, fringe, or other alternative publics and politics. Its two guiding questions were: How do we bridge the gulf between the scale of national party politics and the intensely local political practices that may more directly shape our lives? How do these kinds of political organizing shape our understanding of the multiple interlocking public spheres we inhabit?

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Although the roundtable was clearly geared towards American politics, I was interested in it because earlier in the year Mexico had had its own presidential elections, and for the first time, Twitter (and social media generally) had become a notable component of the public debate. I applied with a response paper on the role of class and access within the digital public sphere, and specifically focused on the #YoSoy132 movement, which had rapidly gained notoriety in the months leading up to the election. The full position paper can be found at Academia.edu

My contention at the time was that the lack of access and the varying degrees of media literacy within Mexican society transposed the class divides of the offline world into the digital realm. I would argue that this view still holds, with two major caveats. First, I neglected to consider the fact that most new online connections in Mexico were mobile, so the contrasts between those with access to the internet and those with a television might not have been that large—though still considerable.

Second, and partly as a result of my participation on the roundtable, I’m more hesitant to assume that a lack of total inclusion in debates occurring in online social media necessarily translates into an unsuccessful political endeavour. At FLOW, another panelist suggested that politics in social media were, intrinsically, not as useful as offline political movements, that the only—or, at least, the most meaningful—change would come from people on the streets making demands and changing public policy. I remember disagreeing with such a characterisation, principally on the grounds that effecting change on a large scale to the lived political reality of a select group—for instance, teens lobbying and getting a GSA group in their small, rural community—would be as valuable as large-scale shifts to public policy, albeit in a different way. In retrospect, this argument could be used to counter my own initial proposition that lack of inclusion in social media debates was tantamount to a failed political project.

To be sure, the fact that access to online social media is highly stratified is a huge problem, and one that will continue to shape what social media can be and could do. What I would now hold is that, this problem notwithstanding, there is considerable value from engaging in the sorts of micro politics that social media currently allows. That is, as questions around impact are geared towards measurements of breadth versus depth, I’m beginning to wonder whether Twitter’s impact could be better theorised in terms of the latter rather than the former. And I’m interested in understanding how this would affect how we study social media’s impact in our daily lives. How are measures such as impact, success, or change more dependent on abstract ideals rather than real-life results? More importantly, to what extent are these ideals based on incorrect, or incomplete, understandings of the reach and strength that social media interactions can have on people’s daily lives? I hope to continue these lines of thought as I continue to study Twitter and its political uses.

During the winter term, I took a class on sound and struggles with Prof. Kay Dickinson at Concordia University, and for my final project I created three video essays for a series entitled The Drag Queen’s Throat, where I explored issues of space, time, and representation related to sound studies through the cultural figure of the drag queen. The project description and statement can be read here.