Archive for January, 2008

Documenting Academic Labor

I’m currently waiting for a review copy of Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works, but thanks to Miriam, I spent a few minutes checking out Bousquet’s YouTube channel, which features interviews with a variety of experts on academic labor issues, including one PhD student who discusses the demands that the profession places on graduate students and their families.  His most recent video, “Ph.D. Casino,” addresses the daunting statistic that “after a median 10 years of study, and perhaps four or five years of job hunting, 40 percent of language PhDs will not have tenure track jobs anywhere.”

I’ll have more to say about the book in the next couple of weeks, but for now, you can follow Bousquet’s videos both on his YouTube channel or on his blog.


Democrats for Romney

Writing Working on my paper on parody campaign advertisements and just came across this new one from Andy Cobb, “Democrats for Romney.”

I like this video in particular not only because it offers a much needed parody of the 2008 primary season but also because it seems to have more substance than most parodies. Cobb also produced one of my favorite political mashups, the “Godfather IV” trailer I wrote about here a few months ago (h/t Atrios).

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Monday Morning Links

Some reading material for your morning cup of coffee:

  • The In Media Res feature is back up and running on the MediaCommons website after a brief break for the winter holidays. This week features an “Irony and Politics” theme, which is right up my alley.
  • Miriam has a thoughtful review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, taking in the politics of adapting Upton Sinclair’s rather didactic novel, Oil!. I won’t have time to read the novel before the film reaches Fayetteville, but I’m interested in how Miriam explores some of the adaptation issues, including Anderson’s much greater emphasis on the psychology of the characters than the politics of capitalism. Interesting stuff, and I can’t wait to see the movie.

Update: While taking a break for lunch, I came across Oliver Willis’s pointer to the godawful trailer for Untraceable, a thriller featuring Diane Lane as a cop tracking someone who broadcasts murders on his website.  I mention the trailer mostly because Oliver and his commenters point to one of my biggest pet peeves, the inability of Hollywood studios to depict internet use (or computer use in general) in interesting, thoughtful ways.  While I haven’t seen Untraceable, which looks like a big-budget adaptation of Dee Snider’s Strangeland crossed with an Ashley Judd thriller, the trailer makes it appear that Hollywood depictions have advanced little since the era of Hackers, The Net, and Swordfish.  Certainly part of the problem is the difficulty of depicting tension using mouse clicks, rather than typing on the keyboard, but these depictions of the internet always make me cringe.  That being said, the degree to which the film suggests that audiences themselves are complicit in the culture of depictions of violence in the media might be interesting.


Leave Ron Paul Alone!

Poor Ron Paul. Why does Fox News treat you so bad?

Update: The more I think about this video, the more unsettling I find it. I think that the target of the humor here is supposed to be some combination of Ron Paul supporters and Fox News, and finding the video on the Brave New Films website certainly framed my reading of it, but given the whacked out gender politics that have been driving election discourse, I’m finding the use of the original “Leave Britney Alone” to mock Ron Paul supporters video pretty disconcerting, especially given how Chris Crocker’s original video was treated.

I originally posted the video because it makes use of the forms of intertextuality that inform so many prezvids, but now I find it more interesting as a form of “failed” intertextuality where the source texts (Britney herself, the Crocker plea, the complaints of Ron Paul supporters, even the gendered discussion of public tears) don’t quite cohere or do so in potentially reactionary ways.

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Cloverfield and Media Horror

I know I’m probably the last film blogger on the planet to comment on the trailers for J.J. Abrams’ fascinating-looking new horror film, Cloverfield.  Now that the trailers are starting to get wider play–the film is due to be released on January 18–I am very belatedly paying attention.  I’ve done some writing in the past on what I call media horror films, and Cloverfield seems to fit neatly into that category, borrowing from The Blair Witch Project and The Ring, among others, while also forcing us to think about the knowability of the monster and the ability of our media technologies to apprehend just what’s going on.

In fact, in one of the trailers, one horrified Manhattanite addresses the camera–essentially us–saying, “If you’re watching this, then you know more about what’s happening than I do.” Of course, at the point when we are watching the trailer, we don’t know anything more.  All we have seen are a few jerky, handheld camera shots, a few confused and frightened partygoers, little that would allow us to make sense of what is happening, other than our knowledge of media horror film conventions (the found footage of Blair Witch Project, for example) and, quite possibly, our knowledge of media promotion practices.  Of course, now that the trailers and posters are available, a post-9/11 subtext has emerged, one reinforced by the NYC partiers who have their celebration interrupted by an unseen monster (in addition, in one poster, we see a decapitated image of the Statue of Liberty).  But, as the folks at The Extratextuals point out, the marketing of Cloverfield has proven to be pretty clever.  Here’s hoping the film itself lives up to the hype.


Saturday Links

Just a few quick links, many of which came out of a very productive phone conversation this morning:

  • Listening to one of the public affairs shows on KEXP this morning, I learned about Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp’s documentary, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, narrated by Sean Penn. The film’s trailer suggests the kind of video-style criticism that the folks at Brave New Films have been so successful at doing. Perhaps most powerful in the War Made Easy trailer, a litany of liberal and conservative presidents saying that they “want peace” just days before launching a war. This probably won’t make it to Fayetteville, but hopefully I’ll be able to catch it on DVD soon.
  • Tom Watson picked up my post on Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire speech and points to the Washington Post coverage of her campaign. I mention this because I’ll be interested to see how/if the discussion evolves over there. I’ve become increasingly interested in how the youth vote is being “represented” this time around and how “younger voters” have become so pivotal to discussions of the campaigns themselves but also–and more crucially–to how the youth vote now seems to stand in for relatively weighted concepts of the future, even of campaigning in general (Obama as the “Facebook president,” etc).
  • Which brings me to Heather Smith’s Esquire article, “Rock the Vote 2.0,” which I just learned about today. Some interesting practical details here about how to get younger voters involved in the process and about how younger voters are far more engaged in 2008 than they were in 2004.
  • I also just learned about Today’s Man, a documentary by Lizzie Gottlieb about Asperger Syndrome, that aired on PBS a few months back that somehow failed to cross my radar. I’ll use this as an excuse to remind myself and others to check out Robert Stone’s Oswald’s Ghost on PBS on Monday night. I’m a fan of one of Stone’s previous docs, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (although my original review is somewhat tepid), and Oswald’s Ghost appears to be getting similarly good buzz.
  • One more link to “youth vote” stuff: a Hillary Clinton video featuring young voters asking Clinton questions about her campaign. The video shows Hillary on a campaign bus answering questions submitted to her online intercut with students at various campaign stops responding to Clinton’s positions. The video feels a little too scrubbed for my tastes, but it’s yet another example of the simultaneous attempt to reach to and depict younger voters (note: the folks at TechPresident have an interesting read on the process by which questions were submitted).

Update: Pamela at Still in Motion points out a couple of cool upcoming documentary and media events sponsored by the Center for Social Media at American University in Washington, DC. First, Katy Chevigny of Big Mouth Productions will be giving a lecture on “Ethics and Aesthetics in Advocacy Documentary” on January 31st at 5:30 PM. Second, Pamela also mentions the Making Your Media Matter 2008 conference, scheduled for February 7-8.


Fair Use and Media Studies

Ben Vershbow at the Institute for the Future of the Book blog has a post commenting on a YouTube crackdown on what they video sharing site regarded copyright-infringing material.   As Ben points out,  MediaCommons, the media studies network where I am a sometime contributor, saw several of its In Media Res clips taken down (including at least one of mine).  These clips often feature short quotations from television shows and movies, which we then analyze from a variety of scholarly perspectives.  To that end, MediaCommons has issued a fair use statement that Ben also cites.

But in addition to Ben’s (crucial) emphasis on fair use, I think it’s also worth highlighting his comments on how this incident illustrates the “fragility” of the digital archive in which many of us are conducting scholarship.  While it is sometimes easy to see YouTube as a boundless archive of film and visual materials, these purges are also an important reminder of how easily certain clips can get lost, thus diminishing our ability to analyze certain media texts, including fan-produced media such as the Jericho fanvid I cited above.

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Prayers and Tears in Fayetteville

Just a quick reminder to my local readers that the very cool Chapel Hill-based indie band, the prayers and tears of arthur digby sellers, will be playing at an exhibit opening at the Fayetteville Museum of Art tonight from 6-8 PM.  Admission to the event is free, but donations are happily accepted.


Institutionalizing Documentary

One of the most salient points in Patricia Aufderheide’s Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction (my review) is the argument that film scholars should be more attentive to the business of documentary, including the institutions that support documentary filmmakers and the economies in which documentaries circulate.   And because of conversations both in the blogosphere and at documentary festivals such as Full Frame and Silverdocs, I’m inclined to agree.  In a blog post on the Oxford UP blog, Aufderheide describes, in the context of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, the ways in which docs are increasingly becoming “big business” for a number of social and technological reasons, including new distribution channels/networks and docu-auteurs such as Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock (filmmaker and blogger A.J. Schnack seems slightly less sanguine here).  In this sense, the role of festivals and awards in shaping the reception of documentary (even our access to certain kinds of docs) needs to be considered more carefully.

I mention Aufderheide’s post in part because I’ve been looking for an excuse to discuss A.J. Schnack’s ongoing discussion of a new set of awards for documentary filmmakers, launched by “a coalition within the nonfiction and film festval community” and supported by IndiePix, a prominent film distributor.  These awards are designed to counter the Academy’s often confusing qualification rules (which have led to a number of eminent films, including The Thin Blue Line and Hoop Dreams, being disqualified from consideration).  A.J.’s frustration with the “Academy’s byzantine and oft-changing rules” is well-documented, and creating a more reasonable and equitable approach to highlighting the best in non-fiction filmmkaing is much needed.  But A.J.’s comments also underscore the need to acknowledge that documentary production, like feature filmmaking, is a craft.  In proposing these new awards, A.J. seeks to reward docs that “pushed creative and stylistic boundaries or marked the arrival of a major new talent.”  Instead of merely rewarding the “best” documentary of the year, these awards would also recognize the craft of documentary filmmaking by highlighting seven additional categories including Direction, Production, Cinematography, Editing, Graphic Design & Animation, International Feature and Debut Feature.

Like a number of other bloggers, I think there is quite a bit to debate here. Is this shortlist significantly different than the Academy’s?  In other words, aren’t omissions inevitable when trying to encapsulate a genre as diverse as documentary?  What gets lost by possibly emphasizing “craft” over “message” (and I realize these categories are not mutually exclusive)?  I do think these are important questions, though many of them can be answered as the awards evolve.  But in general, I appreciate the attempt to recognize that documentary entails a craft of “representing reality” and not merely recording it.

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

About to dive into some more academic writing for a few days, so blogging will–by necessity–slow down, but I just wanted to mention this useful chart compiled by Grist, an online environmental magazine, comparing the stances of all of the presidential candidates.  It’s a useful chart that can help to navigate what is quite clearly a complicated issue.  After talking so much about the terrible coverage of the election, I thought it might be nice to, you know, actually mention one of the issues important to this year’s campaign.  Thanks to Peter Rothberg at The Nation for the link.


Visible Evidence CFP

The call for papers for the 2008 Visible Evidence conference is now available. Visible Evidence is an academic organization devoted to the study of documentary film, and they have a related book series published by the University of Minnesota Press. I had a chance to attend the conference in Montreal a couple of years ago and was impressed with the range of participants and the quality of research on documentary.

One of the cool aspects of the conference is that it is truly international in flavor, with recent stops in Montreal, Brazil, and Germany, and this year’s conference will be at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom (just a short hop from London). The conference is scheduled for Monday 4 – Thursday 8 August 2008. There are several possible deadlines for papers and panels, but the earliest deadline is March 14, so there’s some time to put an abstract together.


“There Will Be No More Invisible Americans”

Perhaps it’s the Writers Guild strike or the imminent end of the football season. Or maybe I simply have too much time on my hands as I wait for classes to start, but I keep finding myself becoming more and more engrossed by the primaries, particularly what feels like a historical clash between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I still have a hard time taking any of the Republicans seriously, whether the Mayor of 9/11 or Mitt “Two Silvers” Romney, but the Clinton and Obama speeches both had moments that I found positively electric in what is shaping up to be an incredibly competitive primary race. And I have to admit that it says something cool that the first two Democratic caucus and primary winners were an African-American and a woman (as a side note, I do think it’s important to emphasize that Clinton’s victory is not the “upset” that all of the cable news chatterers are making it out to be).

While I remain convinced that this week’s gendered attacks on Clinton’s “emotional moment” were reprehensible, I do think that Clinton handled those attacks brilliantly and gave what I found to be an impressive, impassioned speech, one that essentially took the attacks (Hillary is too emotional or not emotional enough) and turned them on their head, in part by suggesting that the week’s events had allowed her to “find [her] own voice.” This assertion was not so subtly reinforced by the mise-en-scene of Clinton’s victory speech, in which Bill Clinton, Wesley Clark, and Madeleine Albright were conspicuously absent, replaced by a backdrop of Bennetton-esque college kids and identifying Hillary with the youth vote that Obama had supposedly cornered.

But one of Hillary’s strongest moments came when she asserted (and this is a rushed personal transcript scrawled on the back of an envelope), “Too many have been invisible for too long. Well, you are not invisible to me….There will be no more invisible Americans.” It’s a nice twist on John Edwards’ “Two Americas,” but without the baggage of polarization. More importantly, like Obama, Hillary has begun connecting her campaign to a larger narrative about empowerment, avoiding Edwards trial lawyer rhetoric of fighting for and replacing that with something more inclusive (fighting together). Her description of America’s “can-do spirit” almost perfectly echoed Obama’s mantra, “Yes, we can.” Hillary also channeled her inner Kennedy by calling for viewers to “join in this call to greatness” and to “roll up our sleeves and keep going.”

I may be wrong, but the emphasis on participation, on citizenship, on an “us,” seems significantly different than the most recent presidential elections, particularly the 2004 Fearfest. It was already there in Obama’s “post-partisan” rhetoric, but the emphasis on an empowered electorate works incredibly well and seems designed to include voters in what has seemed, for decades, like an alienating process. Perhaps a better way of putting this is that Obama and Clinton are attempting to articulate a new form of citizenship, one that I can’t help but find at least somewhat intriguing.

[I’m still waiting for Clinton and Obama’s speeches to be posted to YouTube and will add links to them later.]

Update: Here’s Obama’s speech (via TPM). I imagine that Clinton’s speech will be posted soon.

Update 2: And here’s Clinton.

Update 3: I hope it’s clear that I’m not endorsing anyone here (I honestly haven’t decided how I’d vote in the primary), but that I’m simply intrigued by the ways in which Obama and Hillary, in particular, are talking about citizenship, participation, and about the electoral process in general.

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Warhol, YouTube Style

Charles Trippy has set a new record by posting a nine-hour video of himself to YouTube, in what is, quite clearly, a stunt designed to attract page views (Trippy himself acknowledges that anyone who watches the entire thing “needs a life”). But, as Jackson West at NewTeeVee suggests, the video might also suggest that YouTube’s copyright detection program may have matured. Interesting stuff, though I won’t be among those who watch all nine hours.


Tuesday Afternoon Linkfest

Classes here at Fayetteville State start Thursday, so blogging will slow down soon (I also have a couple of upcoming article/conference paper deadlines), but here’s a quick link post so that I can procrastinate on work I ought to be doing:

  • First, in one of those cool coincidences, I just discovered the music of Fayetteville-based indie-acoustic musician, Joshua Morrison (MySpace), on KEXP Seattle this afternoon (strange to “discover” a local musician on a radio station based over 3,000 miles away). Even though I’m sometimes reluctant to make comparisons, his music sounds a bit like Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith, so if you like them, Morrison is well worth checking out.
  • Second, I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned the P.O.V. blog (or if I have, I lost track of it). But it’s definitely a go-to blog for all things documentary, including this round-up of documentary best-of lists. I’ll have more to say about documentary, including a new award for non-fiction films, in a subsequent entry.
  • Via Agnes, I just learned about the International Documentary Challenge, which is “a timed filmmaking competition where filmmaking teams from around the world have just 5 days to make a short documentary film.” This sounds like a lot of fun, and although I won’t be able to participate this year (the dates overlap with SCMS), I’d love to give it a shot in the future. Last year’s winners are available in the website’s “screening room.”
  • Girish posted an interesting survey of some top film scholars conducted by Screening the Past, asking them to name the most important contributions to film and media studies in the last ten years. Not surprisingly, it’s an interesting and eclectic list, ranging from Charles R. Acland’s Screen Traffic, Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media, and Toby Miller, et al’s Global Hollywood to the restored Touch of Evil DVD and the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement on Best Practices and Fair Use. I could spend hours poring over the list in order to comment further, but I’ll leave the discussion to the folks over at Dr. Mabuse.
  • Agnes also points to the call for entries/new distribution model sponsored by some of the champions of web distribution, Lance Weiler, Arin Crumley, and M Dot Strange, “From Here to Awesome.”  One of the challenges of writing about what I am calling “networked film publics” is that new approaches to production and distribution seem to appear overnight.  But this looks like an exciting way for independent filmmakers to find that elusive wider audience.

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Your Medium is Dying

Nelson Muntz teaches print journalists a lesson in media history.

Update: The original version was deleted.  Let’s try this again.