Archive for April, 2012

Reinventing Hillary

The “Texts from Hillary” Tumblr exploded on the web several days ago–Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show several days ago–and I’ve gone back to the site several times when friends mentioned it on Facebook, but I think it’s worth discussing in detail because it seems to illustrate some of the ongoing changes in political parody.

First, like the Downfall Meme, I think the Texts from Hillary meme is extraordinarily flexible. It can be used to riff on any number of current events and celebrity personas. Recent posts have parodied Jon Stewart, Maddow (possibly a shout-out after Maddow praised the site), and Mitt Romney. More crucially, it illustrates how Clinton’s political persona has been redefined after her epic primary battle with Barack Obama during the 2008 election. While Clinton was depicted as out-of-touch and harsh, the meme redefines her as embodying what Benjy Sarlin of TPM calls a new form of “badass cool.” The image of Clinton on a military jet, wearing dark sunglasses, and examining her Blackberry can now be re-read to suggest her political authority, at a moment when Clinton now maintains high popularity with both Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps the best illustration of this badass cool is the following text exchange:

What this post also illustrates is the degree to which these political parodies continue to rely upon intertextual references. The 3 AM reference recalls an advertisement in which Clinton attacked Obama’s lack of experience by imagining a 3 AM phone call and asking whether voters trusted Obama to handle the situation. The ad was widely parodied as being too harsh and threatening, but now, it has been reworked to fit within Clinton’s jet-setting, confident style. I’ll be interested to see if (and how) the meme endures because it seems to be a powerful illustration of how political meanings can shift over time. Oh, and because it’s really fun.

Update: FYI, now Clinton is submitting her own contributions to the Texts from Hillary Tumblr. Very cool.

Comments (3)

What Else I’m Reading

Because I haven’t been posting in a while, here are some more things I’ve been following lately. In other news, I somehow completely forgot to mention my ninth anniversary of blogging last month (I started a Blogger blog way back in March 2003)  until I noticed how Atrios was commemorating his tenth (!) anniversary. This gives me about ten or eleven months to come up with a creative way of marking ten years of blogging by March of next year. Suggestions are always welcome. By the way, here’s another bulleted list for your weekend entertainment:

  • A longtime blog friend, Craig Lindsey, will be teaching a course on film criticism and column writing on May 5. The course is open to the public and will be held here in Raleigh.
  • One of the early inspirations for my blogging habit was Robert Greenwald, whose anti-iraq War documentaries showed me how social media could be used to promote political activism. Now he’s back (yet again), this time with a documentary, Koch Brothers Exposed, which is meant to document the poster boys of SuperPACs.
  • The cinetrix has posted another fantastic collection of links, but I’m highlighting this one because I’ll probably borrow at least half of these links when I teach Introduction to Film next fall (scroll down a bit for some terrific Welles and Kubrick links).
  • Hugh Atkin has posted what is, without doubt, the best political remix video of the 2012 election so far: Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?
  • Michael Newman offers a compelling reading of advertisements for TVs, mobile devices, and 3D imagery.
  • For the 10th edition of Film Art, their introductory film textbook, Bordwell and Thompson are linking up with Criterion to create a series of videos for teaching many of the formal techniques of cinematic storytelling. Very cool.
  • Meanwhile Kristin Thompson warns against identifying trends based on a single year of box office numbers.

Hoping to have some more substantial blog posts soon, including reviews from this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, scheduled for next week (I believe this will be my fifth or sixth year of attending, another milestone that I find particularly unsettling).


Comments off

What I’m Reading: Digital Delivery Edition

Thanks to an unusual travel schedule (including trips to London, Dublin, Boston, and Atlanta), I’ve been completely out of the loop for the last month, so many of these stories are relatively old, but hopefully you’ll find some of them to be of interest:

  • There continues to be quite a bit of uncertainty regarding the future of digital delivery. Will Richmond Videonuze in particular calls into question a report from Bloomberg that predicts that streaming movie views will surpass DVD views in 2012. Richmond even speculates that Ultraviolet could be used to spark an increase in DVD sales, while pointing out that DVDs still play a vital  role in the entertainment economy.
  • Similarly, New Tee Vee tries to read the tea leaves regarding Netflix’s decision to purchase the domain and decides (without a whole lot of evidence) that it’s much ado about nothing.
  • David Poland offers a number of reminders about the status of digital delivery, observing that Netflix now lacks any significant studio content in its streaming collections and that DVD sales have finally leveled off after declining consistently from 2006 to about 2010 or so. As usual, Poland’s skepticism for “home media hysteria” is a welcome antidote to some of the more utopian and dystopian claims about media use.
  • The Carsey Wolf Center (note: I am currently part of a research project affiliated with their Connected Viewing Initiative) is featuring an interview with Richard Berger, a senior vice president of Global Digital Strategy and Operations at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on the history and aims of Ultraviolet. Particularly informative is Berger’s discussion of how Sony and other studios transitioned from a video-on-demand to an electronic sell-through model. Perhaps not surprisingly, Berger acknowledges that the biggest challenge facing Ultraviolet is the difficulty of fostering the impulse to collect that drove DVD sales for the last fifteen years or so.
  • Some interesting discussion of the role Hulu is playing in fostering the growth of new TV series.
  • Hacktivision points to some research indicating that people are indifferent–at best–to having Netflix viewing histories be shareable on Facebook and presumably other social media sites. Netflix is currently legally prevented from doing this (thanks to Bork’s Law). Although Reed Hastings continues to lobby to make frictionless sharing of viewing histories legal, but like Peter Kafka (linked above), I suspect that most people would prefer that this information not be public.
  • Mark Stewart speculates about the future of streaming video services in New Zealand, including Netflix and Quickflix, with a follow-up on his personal blog.
  • Finally, Anthony Kaufman has an intriguing article and blog post, both of which speculate on the reasons why we have so little information about the data behind VOD sales and rentals, even for indie films.

Comments off

Rethinking “Stop Kony”

A few weeks ago, I expressed some fascination with the Stop Kony phenomenon. My reaction was oddly timed in that Jason Russell, the “star” of the first video was detained while I was composing my blog post, but it was impossible to deny that the original video had made what appeared to be a profound impact on an international youth culture using a combination of social media tools, celebrity “attention philanthropy (to use danah boyd’s phrase),” and a persuasive narrative structure. At the time, my post was torn between addressing the political simplifications within the video and the colonialist and evangelical ideologies. Unlike the Alternet article I cited, I didn’t see the video as a means of promoting evangelical Christianity. Instead, I saw it as multiplying the powers of social media with the (widely under-discussed) communication networks of Christianity.  But the power of the original video was, without doubt, short-circuited by the circumstances of Russell’s detention, which allowed media commentators to place both Russell and the Invisible Children organization under greater scrutiny.

Still, I think it is worth unpacking how and why the original “Stop Kony” video worked and to see how the organization has responded to these complaints while maintaining their appeal to an international youth culture that might be responsive to using participatory media in order to support some form of service or activism. Boyd offers one of the more compelling maps of how the Stop Kony phenomenon circulated, pointing out how existing religious networks played such a vital role in circulating the video. Henry Jenkins and Neta Kligler-Vilenchik also point out that the video should not be reduced to simplistic accusations of “Slakctivism,” in which youth are depicted as participating in “one-click” activism. Although many people no doubt simply “shared” or “liked” the video on Facebook, thousands of others have mobilized for the day of action on April 20, and one of the reasons is that Invisible Children provides a structured format through which youth feel as if they can make a difference. Jenkins and Kligler-Vilenchik (like boyd) are also quick to point out that Invisible Children has been active for a decade, building these networks and fostering a climate in which a single video can make a significant impact.

These questions re-emerged for me when, yesterday, one of my students alerted me to the fact that there is a new video from Invisible Children, Kony 2012: Beyond Famous. Unlike the previous Stop Kony video, this one has had a slightly slower roll-out, reaching just over 750,000 viewers in its first two days, but it is notable in at least three respects. First, Jason Russell is almost invisible here. As a result, although we see things through the narrative point of view of Ben Keesey, the video is careful to expand its POV to place emphasis on local Ugandan activists who are campaigning for Kony’s arrest. Finally, it also offers a much broader picture of Kony’s activity, pointing out that he is now currently involved in three other neighboring countries, while acknowledging that Kony is not currently active in Uganda. This approach offers a somewhat more effective image of the conflict, which shows Ugandans themselves to be involved in the process. It’s also worth noting that Invisible Children sought to emphasize the multi-ethnic and cross-class alliances of groups involved in the Stop Kony movement. As I’ve suggested, I think it’s way too easy to categorize this as a movement that merely plays on the naivete of celebrities and youth. We should follow the practices of Invisible Children closely in order to understand how social media is affecting the way we communicate and the ways in which activism is being defined.

Update: Here are some more comments by Henry Jenkins, linking the Stop Kony phenomenon to his concept of “spreadable media.”

Comments off