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The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

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  • Copyright or Not?

    by Suvi Helminen


    The Introduction to Civic Media class participated in a role play discussing the pros and cons of copyright within creative industries, from different points of view. The roles were randomly assigned and each person had to argue their own case. Copyright was discussed from eight different points of view of: an idealist owner of an illegal streaming site, a bootlegger, a social activist, a “western world” consumer, a “third world” consumer (in lack of better terms, sorry), a musician, a documentary filmmaker, and the CEO of Fox media.
    Some of the pros were: A good tool for users' rights to control their own material, preventing theft and uncontrolled remakes of original content, creative control over product in general, better release quality, protection of investments, protection of brands, artistic control over remixes, payment for work (and connected to this: a devaluation of creative work could mean the death of professionalism), maintaining ethical control over documentary content.
    Some of the cons were: Prosecution, limitations on culture, preventing knowledge from being equally and freely distributed, preventing development of new knowledge, less fans/audience, payment for quoting television and music in documentary footage, censorship of logos in images (= untruthful depictions of reality), artists are often exploited by their industries anyway and don't get paid, free remixes and quotes of other artist's works.

    From the discussion it seems that copyright can be seen as good from some aspects and bad from others. It also became clear that there can not be one single solution for abandoning copyright that applies to all creative industries. For example a musician may gain more live acts by getting more fans through free internet distribution, while filmmakers don't necessarily gain in the same way. There are also huge differences between production time and costs within different creative industries.
    Possible alternatives discussed: Voluntary collective licensing, free state subsidizes culture, specific solutions for different arenas.
    Intro to Civic Media

  • Chivalry is Dead: SUBA51′s Killer Is Dead, Gigolos, and The Status of (Virtual) Women

    by Henry Jenkins


    This is another in a series of blog posts written by students from my Public Intellectuals seminar in USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.
    Chivalry is Dead: SUBA51′s Killer Is Dead, Gigolos, and The Status of (Virtual) Women
    by James B. Milner
     
    I usually don’t purchase video games without doing my homework. This could take a number of forms. I tend to stick to companies which have produced the games I have loved the most in the past. I closely read reviews from sites like IGN and GameSpot, even though I often take the reviews with a grain of salt. In the buildup to the release of a new title, I will watch any number of video clips to get a sense of whether I will enjoy playing the game, and whether or not it would be worth $60 to get it when it comes out. All of this, and also I keep in touch with the associates at my favorite game store, who let me know what people with tastes similar to mine are reserving.
    Ignoring most of my usual tricks, I bought Killer is Dead brand new knowing very little about it. I was informed that it was an indirect sequel to Killer 7 (which I had not played, but had heard good things about) and was by the same Japanese developer (SUBA51) who was behind the No More Heroes franchise. I had played No More Heroes and enjoyed it: I thought it a bit simplistic, and a touch repetitive, but stylish and fun and even a little challenging at times, and overall weird and unique, these last being right up my alley game-wise. And it was a limited edition, which again appealed to me as a collector (I haven’t recreated the shrine since I moved to California, but in Michigan I had all of my boxed sets, art books, stuffies, and other assorted paraphernalia on display on a series of bookcases). So I plunked down my $60 and took it home with me.
    And then I read the GameSpot and IGN reviews. Mind you, this post is not a review, nor is it even about the game’s reviews, strictly speaking. It concerns, in large part, a debate about sexism in the game that takes place in the comments on the reviews. It is, however, important for the sake of the discussion to spend a little time on the reviews themselves. And the reviews were—mixed. And consistent. The major knock on the bulk of the action in the game, the fighting, boiled down to this: all you have to do to succeed is alternate between A) simply mashing on the buttons and then B) pressing the dodge button when an enemy attacks. And then I watched gameplay footage, to see if, reviews notwithstanding, I might still enjoy the game, and this criticism seemed to be borne out. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean:

    And the only other piece to the puzzle for this game, the only other thing to do in it that doesn’t involve this circuit, are the unfortunate Gigolo Missions.
    I say unfortunate—I of course haven’t played the game, which is why this isn’t at all a review, and although from here on out I will be referring to the GameSpot and IGN reviews of the game, it’s really not about those reviews either. But what I found there was enough to make me question whether I could in good conscience play the game and get any enjoyment out of it. Both Marty Sliva of IGN and Mark Walton at Gamespot reported an uneasy relationship (to say the least) with the Gigolo Missions. But what are the Gigolo Missions?
    Basically, the goal is to have sex with a virtual woman. How is this accomplished? First, you sit down at a bar next to a woman and order a drink. Then, you ogle her, looking at the appropriate places on her body (you’ll know what you should be looking at, because the area under your gaze will light up if, say, you should be staring at her chest, legs, or crotch). Stare at her enough (without saying anything, mind you), and she’ll ask you for a gift. Gifts are found or bought elsewhere in the game, and, if you bought the limited edition of the game or downloaded some extra content, you got special Gigolo Glasses which will give you a hint as to what she wants (and, of course, give you X-ray vision). Give her the right gift, and you’ll get to sleep with her. And then you’ll be rewarded with a special item. Mission accomplished.
    Lest you think I’m making this up, here’s a clip:

    The Gigolo Missions are optional, but not strictly so: sometimes the reward item can only be obtained through a Gigolo Mission, and playing the game without these items makes the game more difficult or less interesting in terms of the action. So that you can skip them and still complete the game, but you may make it much harder on yourself if you do. And I had to ask myself whether I could suffer through this aspect of the game to keep it interesting in the action sequences, or if I could skip them as I would have liked to have been able to do without suffering through even more repetitive fights. My answer was a resounding “no” on both counts, so I returned the game unopened and unplayed. The discomfort expressed by the reviewers over the Gigolo Missions, combined with my own disdain for game content which turns virtual women into hollow sexual shells, made it impossible for me to consider keeping it.
    Where this really gets interesting is not in the two (male) reviewers’ accounts of their discomfiture as playing the Gigolo Missions, who describe these missions with phrases like “digital creeper” and “filth” and expressed how these missions “felt weird” to play. What is really interesting for me is the discussion that springs up in the comments, and how some participants in this discussion took an antifeminist stance based on a few lines of criticism of the Gigolo Missions in the reviews.
    The reviews pointed out misgivings about the misogyny and objectification of women in the Gigolo missions, but in larger part they pointed out technical flaws that contributed to the low scores of the game. This didn’t stop a subset of commenters from focusing on the former criticisms. Some of these comments were what is (unfortunately) pretty standard anti-feminist fare in gamer circles:
    GasFeelGood: “People are tired of seeing Internet Feminists forcing opinions as facts and pushing the politicizing of what is imaginary entertainment. This has turned into a cult and this crap operates like organized religion now.
    “We want to play games and discuss games, not pseudo-intellectual philosophizing political and social crap that has no significance whatsoever.
    “There is no place for subjective political opinion in professional reviews.” To which KillaShinobi replied “They are like Nazis except not intelligent enough to get everyone in on their cause but surely misguided.” (GameSpot)
    Atalalama: “It’s gotten to the point anymore that ANY time a “professional game reviewer” (ie: Panders to what’s Socially Fashionable of The Hour, Blathers Gender-Fascism, and/or Comes with a Creamy Undercoating of Purityranical Tropes) slams a game for “degrading women” in some imaginary way, I go out and buy it.” (GameSpot)
    IceVagabond: “Here we go again with the neo-feminist nonsense… can we go back to having reviews that critique the actual game more than promote a spiteful (and moreover completely irrelevant) ideology?” (GameSpot)
    In these comments, one gets an equation of feminism with Nazism and fascism, as if feminism were concerned with a dogmatic imposition of a coherent and simplified ideology, rather than the breaking down of an entrenched dominant ideology of male privilege. Feminism is multiple, with a variety of aims and a variety of means to achieve these aims, and while there is general agreement that the degradation of women is something to be fought against (rather than a selling point for entertainment media) and that women should be treated equitably, just what this means and how this plays out is so multifaceted that one should hesitate to call it an ideology. But if even if it is granted that it is an ideology, it is not a “completely irrelevant” one that has “no significance whatsoever”: if pointing out that the act of scoping out a virtual woman’s body for sexual favors makes one a “digital creeper” leads to charges of Nazism then clearly the movement has a lot of work to do. And if a culture of virtual objectification doesn’t seem relevant enough, one can get a sense of the broad context of gamer misogyny and anti-feminism by looking at sites like Not in the Kitchen Anymore, Fat, Ugly or Slutty, Kotaku, or The Mary Sue to find an alarming number of disturbing stories of harassment and threats, including threats of rape and other sexual violence, made by male gamers against female gamers, both generally speaking (almost, apparently, as sport) and particularly when speaking up about these very threats or sexism in gaming generally.
    Then there are those who downplay the significance of this type of depiction of women:
    Christoffer112: “blablabla femenism bla bla bla, who cares.. it”s a game.” (GameSpot)
    rnswlf: “ I’m sorry that you are seemingly too intimidated by the female form to appreciate a little light hearted fun.” (GameSpot)
    1983gamer: “Also am I the only one who is tired of all the politics and Hippocratic bull crap that is going on in the gaming community? Really reviewer are complaining about bi-gist sexism in games? Really have we forgotten that video games are a art form? Gamers and reviewer alike. First dragon crown now this?? Its really sicking. The Hippocrates that condemn these games are the worse. No one complains when james bond has sex with a random woman..or halie berry having sex. So if you are one of these people male or female, stop using double standards and review or play the game based on how good the game is. Oh and maybe grow up and not watch sexiest movies or play sexist video games.” [33 votes up, 3 votes down] (IGN)
    Kratier: “next time you see an attractive male portrayed in a video game you should call it sleazy as well. unless you know, you’re a hypocrite “ (GameSpot)
    AugustAPC: “I mean it’s not like I’m going to pretend these are real women or anything. Seriously, why should anyone give a f*ck if women are portrayed as hypersexual whores in a game that doesn’t take itself seriously? It’s in all kinds of media. Shut your brain off and enjoy it or don’t play it. There are plenty of male tropes that are just as negative in video games. Why can a man-slut blindly f*ck any chick he wants in gaming, but girls can’t do the same? Double standards.” [18 votes up, 0 down] To which Ultimatenut replied: “Because in this particular game, the sex missions are just plain weird. You stare a girl in the eyes and when she’s not looking, you stare at her tits and legs. Then you use your X-ray glasses to look under her clothes. And, apparently, as a result of doing this, she goes home with you.” [3 votes up, 0 down] (IGN)
    The charge of “double standards” when there is outcry over the objectification of women in games but not the same outcry when men are objectified is a classic argument (both Kratier and AugustAPC go to this well), but of course ignores the power differential between men and women. Men never lose their fundamentally dominant position in society even when they are objectified, while women are consistently subordinate, objectification being a constant aggravation of this. During the making of Animal House, Karen Allen expressed misgivings about showing her bare behind on screen, so John Landis added a similarly gratuitous shot of Donald Sutherland’s rear end, as if this balanced it out. Allen was apparently put at ease, but maybe she shouldn’t have been: as a young, particularly female actor, her half-nude shot risked her being pigeonholed into “beautiful ingénue who does nude scenes”, while Sutherland’s shot risked nothing. His shot was safe both because he was a well-established actor at the time but also because, as a man, he had little fear of not being taken seriously when he needed to be. In other words, for Sutherland, it was “a little light hearted fun”, but for Allen it was a risky career move. The double standard is not in the criticism of objectification, but in society as a whole. For AugustAPC, the fact that the women are virtual “hypersexual whores” removes them from the sphere of reality, where such things would matter, to the sphere of representation, where they (supposedly) don’t, and that the fact that Karen Allen is a real woman negates my analogy since we are discussing the virtual. But the double standard remains even in a virtual space. A “man-slut” is hardly ever referred to pejoratively, but is more often called a “stud” or, tellingly, “the man,” while negatives like “whore” or “slut” are the weapons of choice for referring to women who “get around.” This means that virtual “hypersexual whores” are a problem in a way that “man-sluts” are not because this trope perpetuates in a virtual space the very real inequality that separates the positive connotations of a sexually active man from the negative connotations of a sexually active woman. Representations draw their content from reality, and as such they have the power to perpetuate this type of inequality or to seek to transform it. Killer is Dead sticks closely to the former. The idea that sexism is innocuous when found in something that is “just a game” ignores the fact that such representations reinforce the reality of sexism pervasive in the broader culture, and in doing so help make it seem natural and inevitable.
    Two comments in particular are worthy of note, one from each site, since I think they get at the heart of the problem. The first commenter, pseudospike, seems to be attempting to dismiss the charge that the Gigolo missions would be off-putting or offensive to female gamers by posting the following video of professional gamer Jessica Negri playing the missions:

    His comment is: “What’s this then, double reverse backwards misogyny!?” (GameSpot) He seems to be trying to play up Negri’s apparent enjoyment of the mission she plays in the video and suggesting that women (as a varied set of individuals) shouldn’t be offended by them because this one woman (Negri) was not, and in fact seemed to have fun while playing. Of course, one can’t decide finally on the basis of the video whether Negri really enjoyed playing the Gigolo Missions or if she was forcing it because she was getting paid to do so. Offering Negri as a representative for women enjoying playing the Gigolo Missions is therefore problematic at best. The idea that one woman’s view negates a flood on the other side is short-sighted and fallacious, and ultimately damaging to the discussion, since it dismisses out of hand the very real concerns of those women (and men) opposed to this type of depiction of women and sexuality. And it is similarly fallacious to point to a woman who is being paid to enjoy what she is doing. Thus, without the irony, this video, or at least its use in the comment thread, may indeed be “double reverse backwards misogyny.”
    And then there is DrakeNathan: “It is way too fashionable for game reviewers in the California area to be offended by sexual depictions of women. Honestly, it’s so nauseating listening to these guys try to get a piece by showing how sensitive they are. I know, I shouldn’t assume motives, and I do apologize for doing it, but it’s certainly trendy in game reviewer circles for dudes to be offended by things most girls aren’t offended by. […] There’s a reason I don’t watch certain shows or play certain games, and that’s because they aren’t made for me. I shouldn’t review them.” [19 votes up, 5 down] (IGN, my emphasis)
    The point that DrakeNathan misses is that he is basically telling female gamers not to play games at all, because, as numerous gamers and theorists have pointed out, games, especially those for consoles, are almost exclusively made for men. Female gamers must choose from among the games that exist, and since the video game industry has been extremely reluctant to produce gender-neutral or female-oriented games, this means dealing with misogyny, hypersexualization, and objectification to do something they love to do. When a game goes beyond the pale, and introduces gratuitous fantasy sequences such as the Gigolo Missions where women literally ask to be compartmentalized into their most sexually charged body parts, where they want to be gazed at without being spoken to, and where an expensive gift is all that is required for sex, of the one-night stand variety no less, one has to wonder if video game companies are making any progress at all.
     
    The ultimate irony is that while a lot of the comments on the reviews defended SUDA51’s artistic vision in the released version of Killer is Dead, he himself did not:
     
    Kiaininja: “Suda never intended to make KID into a Weaboo eroticism. KID originally was supposed to have a clean deep story of Mondo being a family man surviving to protect them but Suda’s boss ordered him to sexualize and add gigolo to the game and as a result fucked up the story and the game’s original vision.” (GameSpot)
    Here is the interview the user cites:

    So why did I feel the need to reject Killer is Dead? Couldn’t I just get past the parts I found offensive and play it for the lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek game that it is? Isn’t it “just a game”? Or can it be read as a sign of a tendency of the video game industry to pander to a subset of the audience that likes its virtual women shallow and easy? Can one see it as an indication that the representation of women in video games remains highly problematic? And, in that light, can’t one understand that the defensiveness of those comments I have singled out here against any call for change to this trend of problematic representations is itself a big part of the problem?  In the end, even the game’s developer thought that the Gigolo Missions were unnecessary and detracted from the game, but commercial interests won out over artistic vision. As it turned out, maybe SUDA51’s company was right—the controversy over the missions probably sold more copies of the game out of sheer curiosity (or, as in some of the comments, spite) than it lost sales due to disgust or outrage. Sex sells, and so, apparently, does sexism. But to allow sexism to remain an inevitable part of the industry is not acceptable, for at least two reasons. First, for some of the reasons I outlined above, representations in media have real consequences, and reactionary representations that reinforce an unacceptable status quo have a naturalizing effect which stifles progress. And second, because I suspect that those who desire sexism in their games are far outnumbered by those who tolerate it or suffer it, so that in the end it is unnecessary to sell games. The broader issue remains—sexual and gender equality is a far off ideal, and in many ways it seems farther than usual when looking at the games industry and gamer culture. But Killer is Dead is just one game, and the comments I selected are representative of one side of the argument over sexism in games, a vocal and fairly coherent side but still not the only game in town. It would seem to me that the way forward would be for all sides of the argument, everyone with a stake in the discussion, to voice their concerns in open forums where they can be heard. The real problem with this rather rosy solution is that, as one gets a taste of in a few of the comments I have quoted, there is a real sense in which civil discussion is not everyone’s goal—and this not only on the side of the argument I’m trying to counter here (dismissive terms like “troglodyte,” “ogre,” “moron,” and “idiot” crop up in responses on the other side). But civility is an attainable ideal, at least on a personal level, and I have tried to treat the commenters I’ve quoted here with respect even as I disagreed with them. Hopefully I have succeeded, at least in a small way, in pushing forward a civil discussion.
    James Milner is a Ph.D. student at USC Annenberg whose research lies at the intersection of video games, philosophy, and education. He is also interested in issues of gender and race within video games themselves and in the broader gamer culture. He is an avid gamer, but never seems to be able to find the time anymore to play anything except FarmVille 2.

  • The Regulation of the Chinese Blogosphere

    by Henry Jenkins


    This is another in a series of blog posts produced by the PhD students in my Public Intellectuals seminar being taught through USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

    The Regulation of the Chinese Blogosphere
    by Yang Chen










    On September 9, the highest court and prosecution office claims that non-factual posts on social media that have been viewed more than 5,000 times, or forwarded more than 500 times, could be regarded as serious defamation and result in up to three years in prison.






    This new law reflects the tense relationship between the government and the emerging and yet proliferating online public sphere. As one of the 500 million registered users on Weibo (the most popular tweet-like microblog in China), I feel a hint of nervousness. Normally my posts would be read around 500 times – which is far less than the 5000 quota – but Weibo is an open space where anyone can view and comment on any posts. Thus I have to be much more cautious about what I post in order to keep myself out of trouble.



    I hope you won’t ridicule my timidity. Everybody has to be cautious, because the first account user who got arrested for violating this new law was an ordinary 16-year-old schoolboy, whose posts questioned the police’s negative act in a case and a conflict of interest in the court (Further information, go to China detains teenager over web post amid social media crackdown). But other than this poor boy from Junior School, there are a group of people who are much more nervous towards this law – the Big Vs.



    Who are the Big Vs? Big Vs are the opinion leaders who actively engage in the discussion of political, economic, and social issues online. These prominent figures are followed by more than a hundred thousand netizens on Weibo. Unlike other grassroots users’ hidden identities, these users are verified by the website with their real names and occupations, and there is a gold “V” mark beside their account names that stands for “verified.”








    Because these Big Vs are followed by a considerate number of Weibo accounts, their posts or reposts can reach a much larger audience than that of grassroots user accounts. As a matter of fact, though verified accounts only represent 0.1% of the Weibo accounts, almost half of the hot posts (posts being commented more than 1,000 times) were written by them. Thus instead of a We-media platform, Weibo is more like a “speaker’s corner” for the Big Vs; their posts easily get reposted and commented more than ten thousand times. Although everyone has the same rights of free speech on Weibo, some people like the Big Vs speak much louder than the others.



    Of course, with real identities and huge popularity online, they are also much easier target for this new law. Let’s take a brief look of what happened to some of the big Vs recently.







    Most Big Vs are Chinese venture capitalists and investors; they would put their properties at risk if they go against the government. Thus not surprisingly, there has been an inclination that the Big Vs chose to cooperate with the government.






    After an account is verified and branded with a “V,” the website fits the account into categories such as education, entertainment, business, and media. The verified account enters the “House of Fame” under that certain category, and be recommended to general accounts which are relevant to that category. This move leads to closer connections among the people under the particular category and would simultaneously distance people in the other categories.



    Earlier this year, the website has asked all users to fill in their education backgrounds and the newcomers to register with their phone number. This move would also allow the website to identity users’ background information and recommend them to people who have similar backgrounds. As a result, highly educated individuals are communicating with other highly educated individuals; individuals with lower education, with lower educated individuals.



    Due to this classification, a user who follows a verified Weibo account will recommend the verified account to members within their groups, so people end up following the same verified accounts. This system creates information barriers. For instance, the likelihood that a high-educated member will recommend a verified account with lots of helpful and accurate information to a lower educated member who is in another group is slim. The lower educated member may never be given the chance to increase his or her access to information, although both are using the same networking service.



    Users are also separated by geographical location. Individuals from northern regions are speaking to individuals also from northern regions; individuals from southern regions, to individuals from southern regions. Each user is matched into groups based on the user’s characteristics and is subject to an environment where the user can only meet other users similar to the user. From this process, these groups are drifting further and further apart from one another.



    Not surprisingly, I have found out that users from outside the country also are segregated from domestic users as well. When I first come to US, I have registered a Weibo account using my U.S. mobile phone number. I found out my posts have been deleted very often secretly without any explanation from the website. It is even more ridiculous that on my personal page, everything looks fine, but on my followers’ page, these posts secretly disappeared. If my friend had not told me, I would never have known.





    A screenshot from My follower’s page





    The Screen Shot from My Page



    As I have shown, the post in the red circle was shown on my personal page, but deleted in my follower’s page. I found the similarity of my “deleted” posts: all of them having the common word “activity,” since I were spreading the information about USC’s upcoming events – some of these events are not even related to China or Chinese regime. Because some of these posts were deleted the second after I posted them, I guessed that a strong automatic filter system was applied to my account – maybe because my U.S. mobile put me into a more sensitive position. I was right! After I changed my mobile number into a Chinese domestic number, I never encountered another deletion. The segregation is really simple, yet effective; there’s no doubt that the censor system creates more information barriers.



    The big Vs constitute the verified accounts that each followed by millions of people, that make them serve as the “links” among different groups. Controlling these links means further isolating the different groups and getting a tight grip on the information flow on Weibo.



    The purpose of the policy maker is to develop a regulated and peaceful internet public sphere. However, we should bear in mind that the word “peace” doesn’t equal  “quietness” or “weakening voices.” There are obviously problems to be solved, voices to be heard. If tears were burried deep in one’s heart, it doesn’t mean the wound is not there anymore. I will end this blog with an old saying in China, “防民之口,甚于防川:” it means if you trap water in a stream, there would be a disastrous flood; if you shut up voices from the public, a worse disaster would be waiting ahead.The old saying is from thousands of years ago, but the words transcend time and still apply today; the Chinese regime should still take lessons from the wit of our ancestors.

  • Information Darwinism

    by Henry Jenkins


    This blog post was produced by one of the students in my PhD seminar on Public Intellectuals, currently being taught at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.
    Information Darwinism
    by David Jeong
    The brain craves information. Individuals demonstrate high preference for novel, highly interpretable visual information (Biederman & Vessel, 2006). This preference stems from an evolutionary advantage that an information-rich stimuli/image/environment would provide over a barren environment. Neuroscientists have even provided evidence we have a bias for irregular, non-singular shapes/curved cylinders over regular, singular shapes/cylinders (Amir, Biederman, & Hayworth, 2011). Simply, human beings are not carnivores or omnivores– rather, we are info-vores. And oh boy, do we have a lot of information– we can presently access more information than ever before in our evolutionary history (I hope I can make this claim?).
    Since our brains evolved to solve the problems of our ancestral environments (Cosmides & Tooby, 1992), we may be experiencing a capacity load crisis in the amount of information we can remember, understand, or care about. Whether intentionally or not, we are constantly sifting through information in our environment– we always have, not just in present day. My main argument is that when we have as much information at our disposal as we have today, there must be casualties.
    One type of information that does seem to thrive is novel information– we are constantly sharing and re-distributing “original content”. It is no coincidence that we receive pleasure from new information. Competitive Learning Theory, otherwise known as “Neural Darwinism”, occurs when strongly-activated neurons among a network of activated neurons inhibit the future activity of moderately-activated neurons upon recurring presentations of an image (Grossberg, 1987). The strongest-activated neurons dominate these future perceptions of a particular image, resulting in a net reduction of neural activity. This means that neurons prefer novel stimuli because they have yet to undergo Neural Darwinism.
    The information in the current media sphere seems to also be undergoing its own version of what I will refer to as “Information Darwinism”:
    * Given two forms of information, the novel information will dominate over the replicated.
    * Given two forms of information, the simple information will dominate over the complex.
    * Given two forms of information, the visually appealing will dominate over the neutral.
    * Given two forms of information, the humorous (which also implies novelty) will dominate over the banal.
    You get the picture.
    //*Note*
    Of course, novel information does not always reign supreme. Nostalgia and familiarity are counter-examples of this pattern. That said, nostalgia would not be nostalgia if it was pushed to our attention daily. Nostalgic content can only become effective through intervals of inattention.//
    We have a bias for the fantastic, the amazing, the horrible, and disastrous. Most of the time, we are not interested in what occurs most of the time. We disregard the status quo.
    What I mean by Informational Darwinism is that amidst the massive amount of information being pushed into our brains, we are witnessing an information-based natural selection where novel, simple, and visually appealing information dominates.
    Not only are shorter, simplified forms of information (memes, Twitter updates, Facebook statuses) winning out, these forms of information champion novelty (original content, humor), and visual appeal. These “predators” are feasting on information that maintains a degree of persistence, permanence, and god forbid– patience. Public discussion of climate change, ongoing conflicts overseas, inner-city poverty, and our tremendously dysfunctional health care industry are simply being driven to “extinction”.
    Tversky’s and Kahneman’s (1982) availability heuristic suggest we attribute greater probability and frequency to information that is more readily available in our minds. Perhaps the more troubling issue is the potential for a naturalistic fallacy to take place: that the survival of the fittest indeed yields the “fittest”. Ultimately, “fitness” should refer to physical survival — and indeed, accurate and proper communication of health and political issues do indeed have implications for life/death– but I feel it also encapsulates physical and mental health, financial stability, and any domain of social life that represents a form of success. As such, “fitness” here refers to the positive impact on the most number of people– regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, and the like. In other words, we may be fooling ourselves to think that the information that our mind’s eye is attending to is indeed the information most worthy of our attention.
    The information that survives is information that garners our collective attention, that captivates the collective consciousness. This information may be biased, inaccurate, or may simply be fictional content intended for entertainment– which is not to say that such information is meaningless as it represents the social reasons for sharing information in “spreadable media” (Jenkins et al., 2012).
    So, not only are we wired to prefer this attention-grabbing information, this attention-grabbing information is concurrently being reproduced and shared at the expense and demise of information that is less attention-grabbing.
    Problem: We have already been primed with much of the important information in the world.
    Another Problem A: Less attention-grabbing information tends to be information we already know, information that is complex.
    Another Problem B: Important information tends to be information we already know, which tends to be less attention grabbing.
    We know diet coke is bad, we know much of the Middle East is under various sorts of turmoil and conflict, we know, we know. We just can’t bring ourselves to care about this information more than the next episode of Breaking Bad, or the top post on the front page of Reddit.
    This is not to say that Breaking Bad offers less desirable information or a less desirable mode of delivery. In fact, its writers demonstrated an example of a truly complex form of narrative that goes against the traditional and familiar TV narrative. It is precisely its creativity and originality that makes it a champion of TV ratings and our collective consciousness.
    That said, annual re-runs of Breaking Bad– while remaining strong in popularity, will inevitably decline in ratings and our collective consciousness over time. Aren’t “ongoing issues” basically “re-runs”?
    //*Aside*
    The Irony: “Fittest” information = information that provides a positive impact to the most people. “Fittest” information represents the essence of morality and altruism. Ironically, the information that is becoming “extinct” is the information that is most crucial for our collective success, survival (Perhaps collective survival goes against the central tenets of natural selection?!). //
    Complex concepts in science are often misunderstood because they are simplified and thought in terms of “linear causality” with a singular cause and effect, when in fact science often involves a complex system of causality that may be iterative, cyclical, and take place over time and space (Grotzer, 2012). According to Grotzer, we simplify causality due to our preference to attribute agency to conceptual understandings, our tendency to make cognitive heuristics (Tversky & Kahneman, 1982), and our limitations of our attention (Mack & Rock, 1998). Our visual perception is subject to natural tendencies of not only our attention, but also differences in the perception of visual images in our central vs. peripheral visual fields.
    With a world of images, memes, and 350-character messages, we cannot help but be deterred from complex understandings of crucial political and scientific issues– let alone an accurate and complete understanding of those issues. The non-immediacy of these issues means that they do not alert our attention or perceptual systems as would an elephant charging towards us. Rather, inattention and conscious ignorance of non-immediate, non-perceivable issues (radiation-contamination, global warming, GMOs, etc) all involve gains that are immediate and gratifying (fresh sashimi, convenience and laziness, cheap food, etc) and harms that are tacit. Even more troubling is the exploitation of our cognitive limitations and tendencies for harmful consequences. Sensory formats (visual/auditory advertisements, and even tastes) are now engineered to target sensory vulnerabilities while we overlook non-sensory information (global warming, obesity, risky decisions, any decision with a positive short term and negative long term outcome.
    This is not necessarily a value judgment against the Breaking Bads, the Twitters and the Reddits of the information world. Rather, there is much to learn from these thriving models of information. There is a wealth of “fit” information intertwined with entertainment on these newer modes of information dissemination. If anything, perhaps we have to move past the “iron curtain” of network news, academic fluff, and the like. We are facing a communication gap, a failure of learning, and a reality that is increasingly at odds with traditional communication environments. If there is indeed an Information Darwinism underway, we cannot continue to beat the dead horse with “what used to work”. It is our moral obligation to engage in our own pedagogical arms race against the changing information landscape in order to maximize information that yields the most physical, mental, social “fitness” for as many people as possible.
    —————————————
    References
    Amir, O., Biederman, I., & Hayworth, K. J. (2011). The neural basis for shape preferences. Vision research, 51(20), 2198-2206.
    Biederman, I., & Vessel, E. (2006). Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain A novel theory explains why the brain craves information and seeks it through the senses. American Scientist, 3(94), 247-253.
    Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). Cognitive adaptations for social exchange.The adapted mind, 163-228.
    Grossberg, S. (1987). Competitive learning: From interactive activation to adaptive resonance. Cognitive science, 11(1), 23-63.
    Grotzer, T.A. (2012). Learning causality in a complex world. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education.
    Jenkins, H., Ford, S., Green, J., & Green, J. B. (2012). Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. NYU Press.

  • Tane-corder

    by mkitagaw


    Building upon my last blog post and comments provided, I will summarize my project proposal here:
    Tane, in Shiga prefecture in Japan, is a unique rural depopulated community where various universities and organizations visit to conduct different projects. These outside projects can seamlessly come into the community largely because of two proactive community leaders; at the same time, there is a big gap of interests, passion and efforts between these two leaders and the rest of the community. My project aims to engage this quiet portion of the community more engaged in what two leaders are making efforts for, specifically in the projects from the outside, by creating opportunities for local people to talk about the projects in videos. Through my experience, I am aware that there are some people who have some interests but do not know what they can do; I would like these people to learn more about the projects by talking, and to connect even more people in the community to participate in the projects. My first responsibility for this project would be to design a prototype that people will be able to use easily and with minimum efforts to make videos in which they talk about the projects. My second responsibility would be to design the "template" of the videos that the people in the community would watch and get interested in the projects; the targeted audience for these videos are the locals who know that these projects exist but never participated in any. My third responsibility is to design a platform where the videos can be collected and which also encourages the civic action of the people, specifically commenting about projects and showing their will to participate in the projects. By the end of the class, I would like to have all the designs ready to be implemented as soon as the technical experts are found; it also means that I would not focus on the "guts" of the products, but on the usability and analysis of the influences that the project could make.

    My plans for the rest of the semester is following:
    Oct 21 - Oct 26: General project concept sketch, Initial designs on hardware and platform, Get feedback from people in Tane
    Oct 27 - Nov 2: Decide on what each video should look like, specs, make example videos
    Nov 3 - Nov 9: Create protocols so that others can make the same videos, Test with others
    Nov 10 - Nov 16: Design and make prototypes on the hardware shell
    Nov 17 - Nov 23: Test the usability of the prototypes, get feedback
    Nov 24 - Nov 30: Compile everything and create the final design. Research and connect with people who can make the "guts" working
    Intro to Civic Media

  • Project proposal: Women's activism in Uzbekistan

    by Польза



    Members of an unveiled club at the Bukhara district Women's Division (Soviet Uzbekistan, 1928).
    The social role of an Uzbek woman is frequently defined within the context of patriarchal values and is considered secondary and inferior to that of men. Major media outlets censored and produced under the government authority, propagate a traditional female ideal – a good mother and wife contained within the private domestic sphere and guided primarily by family values, rather than career ambitions in the professional sphere. While such view of women does widely reflect reality in Uzbekistan, it becomes too easy to be blinded by it and overlook some important localized activist efforts on the part of women. Women’s activism in Uzbekistan does take place and it has been driven by individual female activists’ work, as well as collective women’s protests organized for different reasons at different points in history of independent Uzbekistan.
    I want to start examining the issue by putting the role of Uzbek women into historical perspective and looking at how female identity in the society was shaped in the context of the Soviet ideology, the transition to a post-Communist Uzbek society, and changes in religious attitudes under different governments in the past decades. Soviet government provided public space for women in Women’s division of the Communist Party to exist on equal conditions with men, not only as workers, but also as political actors; it would be interesting to study if the Soviet legal platform for gender equality did in fact influence social processes in Uzbekistan and if it played any role in reshaping women’s identities. Moving on to more recent Uzbek history, I would like to look at how widespread departures of Uzbek men to neighboring countries (Russia, Kazakhstan) as guest workers, has encouraged women to take new roles both in family and in the public sphere.
    Then I would like to look at specific examples of women’s activism and examine the paradox between the mainstream perception of women’s inferiority or harmlessness and consequent opportunity for women to speak out under lesser risk of an instant violent response from the government. Further, I’ll explore issues that are the most resonant in the female community or the kinds of issues that encourage women to go out and seek justice.
    I plan to collect information from books, research papers, Uzbek news-websites outside of the government control and, possibly, interviews.
    The following is the list of sources including but not limited to what I plan to use for my research paper:
    “The New Woman of Uzbekistan” Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling Communism by Marianne Kamp
    “Post-Soviet Women Encountering Transition” Nation Building, Economic Survival, and Civic Activism” by Kathleen Kuehnast and Carol Nechemias
    “Gender and Identity Construction” Women in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Turkey edited by Feride Acar and Gunes-Ayata
    Individual female activists
    Nadejda Atayeva, blogger, head of Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
    Her bloghttp://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2012/12/blog-post.html
    Interview on Uzbek refugees in exilehttp://www.russian.rfi.fr/tsentralnaya-aziya/20100527-kak-zashchitit-pra...
    Mutabar Tajibaeva, human rights defender, journalist
    Her activity including speaking out against child labor, reporting on violations of women’s rights, and organized public campaigns and consequent prosecutionhttp://blogs.state.gov/stories/2009/03/10/mutabar-tadjibayeva-they-can-n...
    Gulbakhor Turayeva, human rights activist and medical doctor
    Speaking out against forced sterilization of women in densely populated rural regions and consequent prosecutionhttp://www.foxnews.com/story/2010/03/02/activists-claim-uzbekistan-order...
    Collective protests
    A group of women in Tashkent protest against police persecution in a hunger strike (end of February, beginning of March of 2013)http://www.uznews.net/news_single.php?lng=en&cid=3&nid=22309
    Bloody Friday in Andijon (May 13, 2005)
    "We went to demonstrate because [the authorities] have raised the fees for gas and electricity, and to demand increase in pensions and salaries a bit," she says. "We demonstrated to demand a dignified life”http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1058951.html
    Protest against unfulfilled promises from the government officials about providing spots for trade in the market (September 10, 2004)
    More than 100 women blocked the transportation movement on a street next to the market where they were promised workplaceshttp://www.centrasia.ru/newsA.php?st=1094990460
    As for my workplan, I want to spend the first week on establishing the historical context of women’s activism with the help of the first three books listed, I will also possibly interview my grandmother as she had a rather vivid experience of taking advantage of new work and social opportunities that came with the collapse of the USSR. I want to dedicate the second week to further research on individual female activists as well as collective women’s protests. I’m planning to spend the third week on further research on specific issues affecting women and the extent to which different issues are voiced in the community. I will spend the fourth week on putting all the findings together to complete the paper.
    Intro to Civic Media

  • A Blessing of Influences

    by Howard Gardner


    In this extensive article, Howard Gardner discusses the influence of others on his life and his work. Looking to the walls of his office, lined with numerous letters and accolades, Gardner praises counsel from others. To learn more, visit the Harvard Gazette website today! 

  • Callback.io: Community Radio Participation

    by jude


    Callback.io: Breaking community participation barriers facing community radio

     
     
    Radio Amani based in Nakuru,Kenya is a community based radio station. Nakuru was one of the towns mostly affected by the post election crisis in 2008. Being the capital of a region that is not only diverse but the agricultural capital of the country, this town if fundamental in the development of the entire country.
    The station christened ‘Amani’ which means peace in Swahili, was started to promote peaceful coexistence and reconciliation in the volatile region. Testament to this is the current ICC proceedings facing radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang in the Hague. The journalist is facing charges of inciting members of a certain community to pick up arms and kick out the so called non-natives. Then he worked as a radio journalist at one of the mainstream stations that is vernacular. Kass FM is very popular with part of the population, broadcasting in the Kalenjin dialect. Kass FM is owned by a leading politician and given the journalist is co -accused with another leading Kalenjin politician shows its level of impartiality.
    Radio Amani has grown tremendously since being established in 2009. Since then their studio has provided the platform for peace building initiatives and bring about public participation around ethnic diversity. The radio has some full time staff while some are part time. Most of their shows allow for call ins from the community, engaging them around specific social topics.
    Their Infrastructure
    The Communications Commission of Kenya has really been hailed as a model authority in regulation of frequencies. Community radio stations are greatly subsidised. A license for a community radio station is about 15,000/= Kenya shillings annually which translates to less than 150$ as opposed to a commercial national licence translating to around 10,000 USD. The program manager does agree that the license fee to them does not worry them. The fee is totally within their reach in management of the station.The studio is based in Nakuru while their transmitter is on Karbanet Hill. They use a satellite microwave link at the station to send signals to the hill where their transmitter is at a frequency of 88.3 Mhz.At the studio, they have a desktop computer connected to the transmitter. Though they use media players, their music is archived in form of folders and files. Very little metadata is attached to the audio stored in the computer. The studio also has the standard studio microphone and a mixer. The mixer comes in handy especially when they host guests in the station and have microphones connected to the setup.At the moment, they have provided mobile phone numbers which the audience can call in and also get SMS. The phones sit in the studio and the DJ’s have to read out the SMS’s or pick up the phone calls on air through their mobile phones. They do not provide for calling back their audience, or only do so when competitions are held and are informing the winners of their newly found win. They did have a technician install FrontlineSMS:Radio but realised it only handles SMS and were looking for more than SMS. Though it did provide useful in storing of SMS’s that come into the android phone that was attached. Some DJ’s still use the Frontline SMS interface for a better SMS reading experience. Juggling the mixer,the microphone,the phone and using the computer could at times become tricky for the older generation presenters.The station also has a social media presence and are able to engage some of their participants using social media. This is through their
    Next Steps
    The main aim is to increase community participation by facilitating callbacks. That is having the studio queue callers and call them back. This helps in saving the community in participation costs. A typical phone call to the station would cost ten shillings per minute. Having a conversation especially around such sensitive issues could perhaps take long hence the need to being the cost down.The station has postpaid lines where call rates are substantially cheaper. There has been conversation around co-sharing of the cost between the caller and the recipient but the mobile networks are yet to provide this in terms of their billing systems.To help them have callbacks, these are the steps I propose taking to getting a product around the callback issue.
    Week One
    This week the activities will focus on finding out more on the technologies and options available. These activities include:
    Call forwarding and callback software available
    Investigate VoIP platforms and what happens when there is not internet for VoIP
    Call records management
    Week Two
    This week will mainly focus on the proposed solution and the technical aspects in solving the problem.This week
    Software Architecture and specification
    Initial setup of similar scenario for testing purposes
    Working on the software call gateway: No matter how or angle we look at the problem, there will be need to set up a gateway, whether using a cloud service or setting up a local install providing the gateway
    Feedback from industry experts. Send the proposal to several community radio participants and incorporate their feedback.
    Week Three
    This week will work on the call record management functionality. This is vital to enable callbacks during the show and will form the base of the application.
    Call record management: Callback requests,call back requests made,
    Voice mail management: This is mainly a desktop client/web toolkit to enable the users view their voice mail and get the chance to preview it before playing it on air. This provides for self filtering and check for calls that are not ideal for broadcast.
    Week Four
    This week will mainly involve doing a deployment and testing. Several options exist. One option would be to set up a webradio for the MIT Media Lab Community. Another would be to use the MIT radio station for testing purposes.
    Deployment and testing
    Documentation
    These activities are not in any way final but provide a basis for the basic on what need to be done to achieve the project goals.
    Citizen mediaIntro to Civic Media

  • Made by Hand, Designed by Apple

    by Henry Jenkins


    This is yet another in a series of blog posts authored by the students in my PhD seminar on Public Intellectuals, being taught this term in USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.
    Made by Hand, Designed by Apple
    by Andrew James Myers
     
    Apple’s recent release of two new iPhone models — the iPhone 5s and 5c — was heralded with a pair of videos celebrating the aesthetics of each of the devices’ design and physical materials. The first, a 30-second spot entitled Plastic Perfected played at the 5c’s unveiling and aired on national TV, shows abstract swirls of liquid colors against a white background, gradually molding itself into the form of the iPhone 5c’s plastic shell. Other components, like the camera and the small screws, emerge spontaneously from within the molten plastic, until the idea of the iPhone is fully materialized, having literally created itself.
     

     
    The other video, a companion piece also shown at the company’s iPhone presentation, depicts a mass of molten gold against a black background, swirling elegantly and weightlessly to sculpt itself into the iPhone 5s. Hovering components gradually descend into place, and the phone spins to present its finished form.
     

     
    Over this past year, in my research of Apple’s marketing, I have watched hundreds of Apple’s ads and promotional videos extending back to the 1980s. For me, these most recent iPhone promotional videos were a surprising addition to this research, as they embody the purest and most potent distillation yet of a longstanding trend in Apple’s marketing. Apple’s marketing texts have long been preoccupied with constructing a certain aesthetic myth for the creation of Apple products. This mythical origin story at its essence taps into notions of vision, creativity, and genius while obscuring the devices’ real-world material origins as the product of concrete human labor.
     
    Apple frequently releases “behind-the-scenes” promotional trailers for each of its major product launches. In Apple’s (widely-accepted) view of product creation, the valuable labor occurs in the realms of engineering, design, executive leadership, and software engineering. This is reflected in two significant patterns in the visual rhetoric of its behind-the-scenes videos: exclusive focus on automated robotic assembly processes, and animated visualizations of components spontaneously self-assembling against blank backgrounds. In the narrative framing constructed by these three rhetorical patterns, human labor at assembly factories like Foxconn is completely erased, written out of Apple’s corporate self-identity.
     

     
    For example, consider the above making-of video for the iPhone 5c. The first visual pattern, exclusively showing automated labor rather than human labor, is always accompanied by a verbal discussion of manufacturing innovation. As we watch Macs and iPads being built, we almost never see a pair of human hands; in fact, I have been completely unable to find a single instance where worker hands — much less a full body or face — are shown in an Apple video made after 2008. Hands as a visual symbol and touching as a ritual are instead reserved for the consumer (“The fanatical care for how the iPhone 5c feels in your hand”), with frequent close-ups of disembodied hands touching, gripping, manipulating the product’s glossy material glory.
     
    Second, Apple’s particular imagination of creation is manifest through its animated visualizations of how components fit together inherently and effortlessly. In one major type of these animations, components float in layers in the air, slowly and gracefully layering themselves into a snug assemblage. The molten-plastic and molten-metal ads discussed at the beginning of this post are merely the most recent (and visually extravagant) iteration of this aesthetic. Designing how components will fit together into ever-shrinking cases is essential to Apple’s hardware aesthetic obsession over making products as thin and small as possible. The designers’ work of putting the jigsaw puzzle together conceptually is seen as the real feat; actually putting it together, on the other hand, is trivial.
     
    The visual rhetoric embedded in Apple’s videos clashes intensely with how Apple’s production process has recently been covered by journalists. Beginning in 2006 and climaxing in early 2012, the popular media has actively worked to raise awareness of the labor conditions of the individuals who work in the overseas factories producing Apple’s popular iPods, iPhones, iPads, and Macs (along with, secondarily, the electronics of almost every other major brand). This sensational story gained wide exposure by juxtaposing the brand mystique of Apple — perhaps the most meticulously and successfully branded company in the world — with a dystopian behind-the-scenes narrative completely at odds with Apple’s image. In response to this narrative in the Media, Apple has responded with a number of public relations initiatives, including a few  laudable measures that have genuinely improved supplier transparency and labor conditions. Yet, as labor violations in Apple’s supply chain continue to surface, and as Apple’s publicity materials continue to gloss over the human labor involved in product assembly, it is clear that much more needs to be done to address these issues.
     
    A few weeks following two high-profile reports in the New York Times and NPR in early 2012, Apple responded to the negative publicity with a press release announcing that it would for the first time bring in a third-party organization, the Fair Labor Association, to independently audit its suppliers.[1] Apple also exclusively invited ABC news to visit the audit, yielding a 17-minute story broadcast on ABC’s television newsmagazine Nightline.
     

    The Nightline piece offered the first journalistic footage from inside Foxconn’s assembly facility, and the pictures produced were astonishing. Reporter Bill Weir expresses surprise at the magnitude of manual labor he sees, repeatedly suggesting that simply seeing the factory process at work will cause viewers to “think different” about their Apple products. “I was expecting more automated assembly, more robots, but the sleek machines that dazzle and inspire… are mostly made by hand. After hand. After hand.” On Apple’s historical secrecy about its product manufacturing, Weir offers one interpretation. “If the world sees this line,” comments Weir over footage of a long, crowded assembly line, “it might change the way they think about this line.” Cut to a shot of a huge crowd of American consumers lined up to get inside a New York City Apple Store at a product launch.
     
    What the Nightline piece lacks in the kinds of sensational details of other reports on Foxconn, it makes up for with the sheer visual impact of the startling images. We see exhausted workers collapsed asleep at their stations during meal breaks, the infamous suicide nets, the cramped 8-to-a-room dorms, and the apprehensive demeanor in the faces of prospective employees lining up outside the gates. The report even stages a moment in which the reporters visit a town and show an iPad to poor parents of Foxconn workers, none of whom have ever seen one.
     
    After ABC’s first exclusive look inside Foxconn, other reporters were granted access to the factory, leading to a significant rise in video footage being broadcast and circulated online. More and more people were being exposed to the reality that iPads and iPhones are made by hand, by real humans struggling in almost dystopian conditions.
     
    As I have researched and grappled with these issues, I have collected every relevant video I could find onto to my hard drive, which has over time become quite an exhaustive archive of Apple’s promotional material. At the same time, as I attempt to write about my research, I am frustrated at my incapability of fully conveying so many of the visual qualities of the videos I was analyzing in written form. My initial interest in the topic had sprung from an intangible, emotionally-entangled reaction I had to the aesthetic contrasts between Apple’s promotional videos and journalists’ Foxconn coverage — and I wondered whether it would be possible to make more impactful points through a visual essay rather than a written paper.
     
    At first, I had in mind little more than a rather conventional expository documentary — nothing more than an illustrated lecture. But after taking Michael Renov’s fantastic seminar on documentary, I decided to try something a little more avant-garde. Inspired by documentary essayists such as Emile de Antonio, Jay Rosenblatt, Alan Berliner, Hollis Frampton, and Elida Shogt, I was interested in testing out these filmmakers’ innovative editing techniques for constructing original arguments by re-appropriating archival footage. I realized it might make a difficult and enlightening challenge to create a compilation documentary purely with archival footage — without voiceover, interviews, or text. I finished a 12-minute first cut of video essay this summer, and the result is below.

    In contrast to the affordances of the written essay, one strength of the video medium that surfaced during editing was an ability to engage more directly with the kinetic and haptic experience of the body. In her essay “Political Mimesis,” Jane Gaines describes revolutionary documentary’s ability to work on the bodies of spectators, to move viewers to action. “I am thinking of scenes of rioting, images of bodies clashing, of bodies moving as a mass,” writes Gaines, suggesting that “images of sensual struggle” are a key element of a number of political documentaries. Gaines argues that certain depictions of on-screen bodies can produce in the audience similar bodily sensations or emotions, which inspired me to focus in my video essay on the concrete bodily attributes of sweatshop labor.
     
    Gaines’s article brought me to formulate the central recurring visual motif of the film: a montage of close-up hand movements. I wanted to illustrate the corporeal vocabulary through which American consumers define their interaction with technology (moving and clicking the mouse, gesturing on a trackpad, tapping and swiping on a tablet), and offer in contrast the bodily relationship factory line-workers have to those same devices: repetitive, slight, monotonous movements.
     
    As mentioned previously, the human bodies of workers — even their hands — are conspicuously absent from the footage Apple uses in their promotional videos about the making of their products. I tried to draw attention to this gaping corporeal absence with an extended montage segment of these fully-automated factory processes played simultaneously over an audio track explicitly addressing the harsh conditions for the factory workers we’re not seeing. I hoped that by explicitly cultivating a sense of mimetic identification throughout the rest of the film, the sequences of hands-free assembly would stand out as somewhat ghastly and unnerving.
     
    Whether this film is successful in communicating its analysis is for others to decide; for me, I both enjoyed the novel experience of making it and feel like the video editing process forced me to think about the material I was working with in new ways. Focusing on making an argument through juxtaposition pushed me to look new contrasts and valences between bits of material I had not noticed before, to consider formal elements like timing and word choice with a new level of scrutiny, and to see my potential output as a researcher and advocate as perhaps not limited strictly to writing books and articles.

    Andrew James Myers is a Ph.D. student in Critical Studies at the University of Southern California, and holds an M.A.
    in Cinema and Media Studies from UCLA. He is post-processing editor for the Media History Digital Library, and
    assisted in the creation of Lantern, an online search tool for archival media history. A former co-editor-in-chief of
    Mediascape, his research interests include media industries and production culture, archival film and television history,
    new media, and documentary.
     
     


    [1] Apple Computer, Inc., “Press Release: Fair Labor Association Begins Inspections of Foxconn,” (2012), http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2012/02/13Fair-Labor-Association-Begins-Inspections-of-Foxconn.html.

  • Talking about “The App Generation”

    by Howard Gardner


    Visit the Amplify website today to learn more about The App Generation in this exclusive interview with authors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis!

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