Archive for September, 2005

Katrina and Public Broadcasting

Just came across this “breaking story” that several Republican Congressmen have proposed to eliminate federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help pay for the Hurricane Katrina recovery costs.

CPB has already been deeply damaged by Republican cuts, so eliminating federal funding might be more honest than pretending that we have any real public broadcasting in the United States. But given the fact that CPB is a drop in the bucket compared to other forms of government pork, and given some valuable programming supported by the CPB, I think this would be a tremendous loss.

More at the Salt Lake Tribune, including other proposed cuts such as a delay in the start of the new Medicare prescription drug coverage for one year. Because it’s more important to build roads and not to tax the rich than it is to give medicine to elderly and poor poeple.

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DC Underground Film Festival

The DC Underground Film Festival takes place next weekend. Lots of good films, including Jem Cohen’s Chain, which I’ve been dying to see. I may also try to see POPaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English. But the whole festival looks pretty cool.

Update: Here’s more from diyfilms.

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The Medium is (Still) the Message

Thanks to Marc for the pointer to Ubuweb, “a completely independent resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde, ethnopoetics, and outsider arts.”

Like Marc, I was fascinated by the recording of Marshall McLuhan’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. But I was even more intrigued by the fact that Truman Capote and Chicago Bears receiver Gayle Sayers sat in on the McLuhan interview. Also cool: Samuel Becektt’s Film, DJ Food’s “Raiding the 20th Century,” and Mairead Byrne’s “Some Differences Between Poetry and Stand-Up”.

Update: While I’m thinking about it, I just wanted to provide a quick link to the Ourmedia homepage, which I found via one of my recent trackbacks. I could spend days digging around in the archives of Ubuweb and Ourmedia (and probably will), but my guilt about not getting some work done is starting to kick into overdrive.

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Golden Ages and Other Necessary Fictions

Eugene Robinson’s Washington Post editorial discusses this week’s Emmy Award tribute to TV anchormen Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Ted Koppel, connecting “one of the dreary telecast’s few moments of genuine electricity” to the recent coverage of the Katrina catastrophe. In the editorial, Robinson notes that in covering Katrina, TV journalists fulfilled their obligation to inform the public rather than succumbing to “happy-faced oversimplification.”

Specifically, Robinson cites the reporting from the Ninth Ward by CNN’s Jeanne Meserve (“This is Armageddon”) as the moment when he realized the seriousnes of the Katrina disaster (here’s a long MP3 of Meserve’s outstanding reporting–via), and I think Robinson is right that much of the reporting of the Katrina disaster has been impressive, far better than much of the reporting we’ve seen in recent years.

In criticizing the contemporary TV media (from which he distances himself as a “print-media” guy), Robinson cites the a “golden age of television news,” naming the examples of Huntley and Brinkley, the early days of 60 Minutes, and Edward Murrow. There are certainly valuable reasons to identify that moment as a “golden age.” In comparison to breathless round-the-clock coverage of “MWW” (or missing white women) and Bennifer, the high-minded sincerity of these figures offers a welcome alternative.

But in general every golden age is based on some form of exculsion (i.e., it’s not golden for everyone), and while Robinson celebrates Jennings, Koppel, Rather, and their predecessors, it’s hard for me not to think about the position of authority which those journalists and anchormen assumed. Implied in this comment, of course, is the fact that network news reporting, until fairly recently, was the domain of white men, but the more crucial problem–one that I see as persistent from the Golden Age to the current moment–is the very authoritarian structure of media itself, one that is underlined by concentrated media ownership, a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week (I’m teaching Chomsky/Herman’s “A Propaganda Model” and Greenwald’s Outfoxed). And I think it’s crucial here to retain Chomsky and Herman’s comments, in part because comments about reporting rarely take this “industrial” argument into consideration (TV networks owned by large multinationals are not going to report stories that aren’t in their interests), instead usually attributing bad reporting to personal weakness or laziness (“I’m glad to see the media finally developing a backbone”).

That being said, I’m intrigued by Robinson’s attempt to use these two images (the Emmy ceremony and the Katrina coverage) to revive a “golden age” of reporting, even if I’m suspicious that it never really existed. I don’t think a “golden age” necessarily has to be true for it to be useful. Katrina coverage has inspired some self-criticism that might be productive. The difficulty here, of course, is in asking the right questions (the CNN anchor who is interviewing Meserve implies that reporters are sometimes criticized for being “thrill-seekers,” which is one of the least of my concerns).

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Blogs and Jobs

In other news, the first round of the MLA job list came out on Friday, which means that you can expect somewhat more infrequent posting around these parts. This has nothing to do with Ivan Tribble’s advice about blogging. I’m just really busy this week.

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The Night the Lights Went On (and Off Again) in New Orleans

I originally wrote this entry yesterday, but for some reason it wouldn’t publish…..

Brian Williams’ blog entry about the most recent Bush photo-op has been making the rounds in Blogworld. Most bloggers have been citing the first half of Williams’ entry, in which he discusses the fact that just half an hour after Bush’s speech, the electric lights that provided the President with an inspiring backdrop were shut down again:

I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It’s enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it…jump to certain conclusions.

It’s not difficult to jump to the conclusions implied by Williams, especially given the Bush administration’s skill in staging dramatic visuals for Presidential speeches. However, even with dozens of media-savvy bloggers ready to Deconstruct Dubya, the stunning visuals, straight out of a high-concept film, still retain tremendous power. In fact, if someone isn’t working on a sequel to Michael Rogin’s Ronald Reagan The Movie And Other Episodes in Political Demonology, then maybe it’s time to start writing that book.

But while it’s important to unpack the Bush administration’s often unsubtle use of images, I found Williams’ discussion of what happens when the lights go dark (and most of the cameras leave) to be more troubling:

It is impossible to over-emphasize the extent to which this area is under government occupation, and portions of it under government-enforced lockdown. Police cars
rule the streets. They (along with Humvees, ambulances, fire apparatus, FEMA trucks and all official-looking SUVs) are generally not stopped at checkpoints and roadblocks. All other vehicles are subject to long lines and snap judgments and must PROVE they have vital business inside the vast roped-off regions here. If we did not have the services of an off-duty law enforcement officer, we could not do our jobs in the course of a work day and get back in time to put together the broadcast and get on the air. As we are about to do.

The description of a city “under government occupation” and “government-enforced lockdown” suggests a slightly more coercive attempt to manage the crisis. While I was originally pretty skeptical about Williams’ blog, I have to admit that his last few entries have provided some valuable eye-witness insight into the current situation in New Orleans and the potential long-term
ramifications
of Katrina’s impact on the region.

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National Archives Event Reminder

This is a reminder to myself as much as anyone about some upcoming events at the National Archives here in DC. On Thursday, September 22, there will be a panel discussion on blogging and journalism, “Blogging: Free Press for All or Free-for-All?” I was originally less enthusiastic about this panel simply because I don’t believe that the so-called “grassroots journalism” is the most interesting manifestation of the blogging boom (I’m also not always sure that it qualifies as journalism), but after several bloggers reported their eye-witness accounts of Katrina’s devastation of Louisiana and Mississippi, I’m a little more curious about what the panelists will have to say.

On Friday, September 23 at 7PM, there will be another panel that should be worth attending: “Copyright, the Constitution, and the Crisis in Historical Documentary Film.” I’ve already discussed my interest in this topic. Also, just a quick reminder that both events are free, but reservations, available at the National Archives website, are required. I’m planning to attend both events, so if anyone is interested in attending (and would like to grab an adult beverage afterwards), send me an email: chutry[at]msn[dot]com.

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Žižek Watching Lacan

A few months ago, I mentioned Astra Taylor’s documentary Žižek!, about Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek (unfortunately I missed the film when it played in Atlanta and Athens), and now Scott McLemee of Inside Higher Ed has a review of the film that makes me even more enthusiastic about seeing it.

As McLemee notes, it’s probably inevitable that Žižek will be compared to Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman’s Derrida (also a very effective film), but McLemee’s description of Taylor’s doc has me intrigued. Of particular interest is a scene–McLemee describes it as “plenty meta”–in which Žižek watches a clip of Jacques Lacan, a major influence on his thinking, during a television appearance he made in the early 1970s. I’ve been curious to see Lacan’s appearance on TV for some time, but to watch Žižek watching it sounds even more enticing.

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Call For Papers: New Orleans and Other Urban Calamities

The academic journal Space and Culture is calling for papers on the recent events in New Orleans. The papers should be “immediate, short (1000 word) reactions that advance a specific argument rather than general comment.” Via the Space and Culture blog.

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Photographing Six Degrees

Back in 1994, all the cool kids were listening to grunge rock while playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” the party game in which participants attempt to link Hollywood actors to the Footloose star in fewer than six links. The game grew in popularity at around the same time (mid 1990s) that everyone started noticing the Internet, and the game spawned a website, The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia and, apparently, a board game. It’s also probably not a coincidence that this Will Smith film came out in 1993. The six degrees concept is an enticing one, especially when it functions as a way of making sense of the world as network.

More recently, according to The Observer, photographer Andy Gotts became fascinated by the concept and pursued it as theme of his most recent book, Degrees, in which he connects over one hundred actors, including George Clooney and Brad Pitt, to Kevin Bacon. I’m curious to know what Gotts does with the “six degrees” logic beyond merely photographing celebrities, but the project sounds like an interesting one. Meanwhile, I’m trying to ignore the fact that I’m nostalgic for the good old days when I could link Charlie Chaplin and Kevin Bacon.

Gotts’ royalties from the book will go to diabetes research. Thanks to GreenCine Daily for the link.

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“From Slave Ships to the Superdome”

Cornel West on race, poverty, and Katrina:

What we saw unfold in the days after the hurricane was the most naked manifestation of conservative social policy towards the poor, where the message for decades has been: ‘You are on your own’. Well, they really were on their own for five days in that Superdome, and it was Darwinism in action – the survival of the fittest. People said: ‘It looks like something out of the Third World.’ Well, New Orleans was Third World long before the hurricane.

It’s not just Katrina, it’s povertina. People were quick to call them refugees because they looked as if they were from another country. They are. Exiles in America. Their humanity had been rendered invisible so they were never given high priority when the well-to-do got out and the helicopters came for the few. Almost everyone stuck on rooftops, in the shelters, and dying by the side of the road was poor black.

Thanks to Raining Cats and Dogma for the link.

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Bushville

Via Mark Crispin Miller’s News from Underground, information about a planned protest encampment, Bushville, on the National Mall:

Build Bushville, DC on 9/11/05. On 9/11 Survivors of Bush will participate in a NONVIOLENT act of Civil Disobedience: building Bushville, DC on the Washington DC Mall. FEMA pens Katrina survivors like diseased cattle. Bushville, DC will force politicians and reporters to see them every day. Bushville, DC may be small on 9/11, but it will grow. Bushville, DC isn’t an organization – it’s a vision. Everyone come to the Mall and join the crowd. Katrina survivors are encouraged to come, but all Bush survivors are welcome. Be there and make history.

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Three Movies: Funny Ha Ha, Murderball, and Lila Says

I’m way behind on my movie reviews, and it doesn’t look like I’ll have time to catch up anytime soon, so here are some quick comments on a few movies I’ve seen recently (all links to IMDB pages):

Funny Ha Ha: I had a chance to see Andrew Bujalski’s thoughtful, observant film at the AFI Silver last weekend (Bujalski attended the screening and fielded questions afterwards), and this film has ceratinly stuck with me (and really deserves its own review). Funny Ha Ha focuses on the experiences of Marnie, a twenty-something recent college graduate who is doing boring temp work. She also has an unrequited crush on Alex, and the film captures Marnie’s awkwardness very effectively, especially through the halting dialogue. The cinetrix’s review conveys much of what I like about this film and, more importantly, makes the point that it deserves wider distribution. If you get a chance to see Funny Ha Ha, it’s well worth it.

Murderball: One of the hit documentaries of 2005 has been Murderball, the story of the United States Quadreplegic Rugby team. I didn’t realize until the opening credits that MTV had produced the film, and that aesthetic–for both good and ill–informs the film. U.S. Quad rugby star Mark Zupan is certainly an MTV figure, with his musical tastes and his tattoos and goatee, and the heavy music underscored the hard-hitting matches quite well, and the chair-level camerawork serves the film’s subject nicely. But MTV’s documentaries have always struck me as pretty shallow, usually offering imaginary solutions of emotional reconciliation to real problems, and I think that Murderball does fall into that category. Like Rachael, I’d expected a documentary that didn’t conform to past feel-good sports narratives, but on that level, it felt like more of the same, especially when we see Zupan, at the end of the film, introudicng soldiers who were wounded in Iraq to the sport (that being said, to show wounded soldiers in an American documentary is still somewhat rare given our mainstream media’s sanitized coverage of the war).

Rachael’s aside (“Is there a women’s quad rugby team?”) raises another observation I had about this film: its exploration of crises in masculinity. The men on the quad rugby team brag about their ability to have sex and meet women, and the quad rugby groupies are certainly an important part of the film, just as the sport seems to be a way of re-asserting one’s toughness. Perhaps more interesting was the Canadian coach, Joe Soares, a former U.S. quad rugby star who was dropped from the team. His attempts to regain a clearer sense of his own masculinity play out in his treatment of his able-bodied son, who shows no interest in sports but a talent for playing music (the viola, I believe). At the beginning of the movie, especially, Joe is clearly conflicted about his son’s more stereotypically feminine interests in music. And, following the question of masculinity a little further, as Rachael’s commnt implies, we don’t see any female quad rugby players, although the film is careful to show (several times) a wounded female soldier showing interest in the sport.

Lila Says: French teen romance that is probably most interesting for its exploration of a relationhip between a shy Arab male and a French teenage girl. Hearing Lila repeat her inreasingly elaborate sexual narratives is also entertaining, but the film overall seemed trapped in the “I-was-never-the-same-again-after-that-summer” genre without doing anything terribly new with it.

I saw Wong Kar Wei’s 2046 last night and loved it. I’ll try to write a short review later, but given that the film may only be in town for a few days, I’m going to make a quick plug for seeing this beautifully shot film on a big screen.

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We Report. You Decide.

The Scrivener has this image on his blog, and I received it by email yesterday (which means I’m probably a year behind in Internet Time), but didn’t have time to blog it.

bushdisaster9kr.jpg

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Camera Katrina

I’ve already written at some length about the emotional power of the photographs of survivors of Hurricane Katrina, but Scrivener’s reflections on some of the Flickr photosets of the hurricane survivors really convey the power of these photographs, especially when he identifies with the father-daughter relationships portrayed in this photograph or simply the experience of weathering a hurricane while you’re homeless (thanks to G Zombie for calling our attention to these photostreams). His readings of these images leave me wanting more. It’s not interpretation exactly, but something closer to identification. They also suggest the need to make things right for the many people who are still living in these shelters.

Scrivener looks primarily at images from Ioerror’s photset, “Astrodome and beyond,” and few collections of photographs capture the scope of the Katrina crisis as effectively as these photos. Ioerror allows us to see the vast expanse of survivors, but also to get a sense of some of the individuals and families whose lives have been disrupted by the hurricane. This photograph” is especially powerful. Like Scrivener, I’m moved by the sad, exhausted eyes of the father holding his sleeping daughter, but I’m also struck by the father’s isolation against the bright orange stadium seats. There’s a loneliness in the image that I can’t shake, and like Scrivener, I see this photograph as a visual rejoinder to Barbara Bush’s incredibly shallow comments about the survivors who are being sheltered in the Astrodome.

I’m not sure I can add much to what Scrivener has already said, but I will mention another resource for people who want to help the survivors get through Katrina’s aftermath. AlterNet has “10 great ways to help.”

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