This portfolio emerges out of our readings and conversations in IML 501: A Seminar in Contemporary Digital Media in the Fall of 2017 at the University of Southern California. Reflecting on the various readings and projects that we have completed, two interrelated topics stood out to me: How do we perceive media and how do we see media. The former is about contextualization of media and media objects. How and where are they deployed, how are they received, and how do they shape and reflect the cultures in which they appear. The latter is about different media apparatuses. How and where do we see media, what kinds of forms have appeared as expressive outlets, and how can the way in which we see something shift our perception of its content? I locate a few issues that attempts to begin to address some of these questions. First, they both delve into the perceived shift or break between old and new media and the anxieties that surrounds such a perception. With this perception of a shift, there is also a question of ownership and authorship in these media modalities. Finally, as authorship over media articulations transforms, the practice of media making can take on different forms that include images and video as critique.
And so, a series of provocations rather than answers.
How does media fit into time, how does media disrupt time? In fact, time or a conception of time shapes how we think of media. Starting at Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, we encounter the effect of photographs and media on perception in a contextualized way. Specifically, Sontag deals with who the photographic medium works in the context of war and atrocity. This sort of analysis already marks a break where emergent forms bring about a shift in how we understand media and media participation.
The problem lies in the way we discuss media in a linear temporality where we have “old” and “new,” when in fact the “great divide” is not that gaping at all. Linear time is what Laura Mulvey critiques, media has been understood as old or new, traditional or modern. Set on a timeline, old media is somewhere behind, and new media occupies a space that is at once the present, the now, and the future as in we are looking to new media as the future. This method, however, is inherently flawed because it ignores possible intersections, how can we come to new media without old media, perhaps they are not as different as we think. Sure, their forms are decidedly different, but the logic behind them bears some resemblance. We can think of some media as re-assemblages of other forms of media a la Hannah hoch’s kitchen knife.
Time is thought of as a dividing factor for media, but in fact, as Jerome McGann implies, the practices of media production have not shifted so much at all. Time may affect the iteration of media, but many times media is already hyperlinking, being hypertextual hypermedia. Critical editions point outward towards information that may not be found in the text itself, and hypertext allows us to do the same. McGann connects books with hypertexts. Books and the practice of critical editions is not an outdated mode of participation in media, but hypertext takes cues from this practice of critique and makes it into one that is media-rich in presentation.
Another conception of time. the time in which we live is the context in which media emerges. Our age, epoch, eon. Working from Susan Sontag, we encounter photos or media in contextualized ways. Whether it is in an art gallery or on the television on the 6 o’clock news, media presented in different ways, in different times effects our affect towards them. Here is also where media can break, it breaks the division of viewer and participants, a twist on Sontag: a democracy brought about by photographs. The viewer can be the participant.
Ownership and Authorship
If we break down these constructed temporalities of media and media practice, we still run into the problem of who own and who authors this media. Here, John Berger’s work is crucial. The transmedial “Ways of Seeing” franchise addresses how art is owned but also how art moves through and in different parts of the social realm shifting cultural narratives. It is as if the media takes on a life of its own, yet this does not prevent structures of power (mostly capitalist) from exerting its claim of ownership over media. Virginia Kuhn’s work on YouTube sheds light on the precarious existence of media. Even when authorship has shifted and transformed through the editing process with fair use protections, ownership over media is still contested.
Ownership of media is precarious even when the media is produced by the author. Ways of seeing discusses how art is owned by specific individuals and its move into the art gallery, and it shifts to media and how it is presented. Art and media can shift cultural narratives depending on how it is presented but they can also be used by existing hegemony to reinforce ideas about the patriarchy, censorship, and a medley of other neoliberal capitalist ideologies. Who owns art, who owns media, really depends more on who uses art and media?
In a way, media takes on a life of its own, that is itself mediated by ideological impetus. When this happens, authorship also comes into question, after all, it is not the author who owns the media anymore, especially when we can take media and transform it, remix it. We can rework it. We can be authors, but not in the same way where authorship is the singular genius. Authorship is no longer about singularity but connectivity. We can be collaborative authors working together, being together.
Critique and Practice
And so, how can we engage in critique and practice when there are these sorts of considerations and, at times, roadblocks? Media stylos are Eric Faden’s answer. They are liberatory and subversive, and Faden seems fully invested in such forms of critique. While the media stylo may hold this sort of potential, it is unclear what the boundaries of a media stylo are. Kuhn’s work on the video remix as digital argument illuminates more clearly how critique of media can emerge from audio-visual media form. While video remix has been defined in various ways, including Eli Horwatt’s more categorical checkbox based understanding, the practice of video remix is one of criticism and critique of media. We can use remix to form arguments and to think differently.
Our practice in almost any way shape or form can be critique, practice is the opportunity for productive critique. I want to emphasize opportunity. Media production does not necessarily demand critical practice, but I think it opens the opportunity for productive conversation. A practice of media production does not always lead to critical analysis, but constructing media under or in our own terms is where a glimmer of power lies for me. This is where I return to authorship. “In our own terms” is essential in that we cannot replicate oppressive structures through rhetoric, which is why Kuhn’s argument is so convincing for me. We may not know what certain forms have ideological attachments, but in fact, they do.
Media producers must use forms and rhetoric in innovative ways, and these forms and indeed, rhetoric itself, can a space where we resist the dominant narrative and attempt to subvert the oppressive structures in our lives. Understanding rhetoric and enhancing literacy, making connections, being connected, are imperative, and these are the terms in which I want to produce media.