Scale

I’ve been meaning to mention for the last few days that I’ve now been blogging for six years, something that I find hard to believe, not because I ever thought I would run out of things to say but because those years seem to have passed so quickly.  When I reflect on the history of my blog, I’m inevitably reminded that I started blogging, in part, because I felt frustrated by the pro-war messages being promoted in most corporate media outlets and what felt like the lack of serious attention being given to dissenting views.  While I didn’t have any expectations for my blog, the solidarity I felt at joining in with other anti-war bloggers was very meaningful at the time.

Now, with the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War approaching on March 19, I find myself thinking about these issues again after watching Alexandra Juhasz’s hour-long documentary, Scale: Measuring Might in the Media Age, which is now available for free on SnagFilms and follows Alex’s sister Antonia as she goes on a tour to promote her book, The Bush Agenda. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with Alexandra quite a bit at conferences over the years, and I know that she and I share concerns about media and activism and about the potential effects that our cultural productions–our books, articles, blogs, videos, and movies–can have in the social and political world.  Scale explores some of these questions via the “scale shift” Antonia experiences when her book begins to make a dent in some bestseller lists, in part because of interviews with a number of media outlets, including Air America, Greg Palast, and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.  The sisters discuss the ways in which Antonia is able to leverage her new status in order to ensure that her arguments about the Bush administration’s economic motives will be heard by a wider audience, and the concept of a scale-shift is a useful one, even if I found myself wanting to complicate it to some extent.

Alex’s documentary is a “little” film in the best sense of that term: intimate and reflective without being intrusive, and she and Antonia consistently reflect on the role of the camera in mediating what is happening onscreen, a theme that is introduced in the opening sequence when Antonia and Alex plan the scene they are about to perform.  Shots of Alex, reflected in a darkened window, camera in hand, also remind us that we are watching a constructed artifact, something that is actively making meaning, unlike most news shows that seek to hide their seams to create the illusion of objective truth.

I’ll admit that I’m somewhat skeptical of one of the underlying assumptions suggested by the film and by the framing on Scale’s Snag page, which asks whether “regular people can use the media” to expand the reach of their voices, in part because it seems to treat the media, which I regard, in part, as a vast collective of individual people often with competing agendas, too homogeneously (that is by implicitly excluding those in the media from the category of “regular people”).  This is beyond the intended scope of Alex’s documentary, but I’ve also found myself interested in thinking about how we are experiencing a different sort of scale-shift in the field of journalism right now as a number of major local newspapers are going bankrupt or shifting to online-only editions, with once powerful voices now becoming somewhat muted in relationship to their digital counterparts, a question that seems to be a dominant one at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.  And yet, as I move into my seventh year of blogging, I continue to find myself returning to some of the questions Alex raises in this film, about how political speech is shaped by the media in which we communicate.  And I’m especially glad that I’ve had the blog as a means of working through many of those reflections with such an attentive, critical audience.

Update: There is further conversation about the concept of “scale,” as both Alex and Antonia are thinking about it on Alex’s YouTube page.

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