sleeping alone and starting out early

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Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

clinging to lampposts: a video remix project

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 14, 2010

A few weeks ago, as my colleague Christian Briggs and I were creating our poetry presentation for Ignite Bloomington, I got myself inspired by creating this remix project of some key figures in the literature and media studies movements.

Though I am not a constructionist, I do find that I can find great personal meaning by engaging with new technologies that allow me to work with, reflect on, and making public both wonderful and powerful ideas.

Here, I’m working with scraps of contemporary popular culture, which I’ve lined up in a way that I hope calls into question how we think about social movements, information circulation, and tools for communication.

Posted in creativity, culture, Doctor Who, literature, television, writing | Leave a Comment »

how to eat pistachios and where to buy your jeans

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on October 6, 2009

Here’s how the infamous ex-soon-to-be-son-in-law of Sarah Palin, Levi Johnston, eats them:

And speaking of advertising campaigns that have no problem taking advantage of perfectly unsuspecting people, Levi Strauss & Company has unveiled a new campaign called “Go Forth.” Here’s a sample commercial that embodies the tone and spirit of this most recent sales offensive.

This campaign takes on a tone similar to the 2000 Volkswagen commercial that featured Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” and a group of young adults in a VW Cabrio who choose the purity of a beautiful nighttime drive over the stumbling chaos of a college party.

To be honest, the Nick Drake commercial seriously moved me, and I bet if I’d had the money I would’ve gone out and gotten me a Cabrio. Though if we’re going to be really honest about it, I was that kind of 20-something: I read a lot of Ginsberg. I bought extra copies of On the Road to hand out to my friends. I listened to Dylan, refused to own a TV, and made sure everyone knew it oh god I was such a lame-o.

I was, I’ll admit, curious enough to go to the campaign website, which features a Blair Witch-style video featuring the lost treasure of Grayson Ozias IV. Ozias, according to the site, was a close friend to Nathan Strauss, a nephew of Levi Strauss, and he disappeared in the late 1800’s to explore the Great America. Along the way, he buried $100,000, presumably his entire inheritance. Levi’s has Officially Discovered the cash and will give it away to whoever locates it.

The Levi’s commercial–in fact, the entire campaign–is beautifully executed and would be pitch perfect if it weren’t for the tiny detail that the whole thing is engineered to sell run-of-the-mill clothes manufactured by a company whose labor practices are controversial at best.

God, it’s all a lie. Over at ARGNet, Michael Anderson explains that one key member of the campaign is Jan Libby, formerly of lonelygirl15. If you know your YouTube history, you know that the lonelygirl15 webisodes were carefully (some might say brilliantly; others might say a bit too preciously and heavy handedly) engineered so that viewers couldn’t tell whether Bree, the protagonist, was completely real, kind of real with a scripted story, completely made up or some combination of the above. (If you don’t know which category she ultimately fell into, then I leave it to you to go forth and see the Great Wikipedia Page.)

I can handle the idea that a group of smart(ass), young, new media types would try to make money off of an enormous cultural dupe. I can even accept that Volkswagen and Gap would see nothing wrong with climbing the economic ladder by stomping on the heads of our most awesome dead celebrities.

But Levi’s is trying to out-Whitman Whitman. It’s trying to out-Christopher McCandless Christopher McCandless. It’s trying to out-Dorothea Lange Dorothea Lange. This is a case of a company that wants so badly to be viewed as a Real American Original that it will go so far as to manufacture a Real American Backstory even though nobody’s buying it.

Seriously: Go to the site. There’s a Last Will and Testament of Grayson Ozias IV. There’s the hint at a cast-off pedigree (he is, after all, the fourth and presumably last of the Grayson Oziases, and he turned his back on all that mantle could have meant). The video presents beautiful young men and women frollicking to the backdrop of a grainy sound recording, apparently of Ozias himself explaining his decision to set forth into the great Unexplored America. “Therefore,” he states with unequivocal soundness of mind, “I commit the fortune I have made in my travels back to the earth from whence it came” (cut to beautiful young people in Levis uncovering and then reburying an old-timey trunk).

This is clearly a corporate attempt at harnessing the spreadability factor of social media. And I wonder how well it’s working. For my part, the only message I’m interested in spreading is a message about how lame it is to create a fake genuine American hero to sell fake genuine American apparel.

Posted in advertising, America, celebrity, convergence culture, creativity, lame, literature, spreadability | 2 Comments »

the sleeping alone review of films*: the road

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 1, 2009

Summary: They’re gonna screw it up.

Here’s a trailer:

As always, I want the movie to give me the same experience as the book did. In this case, I know that what I want is not deliverable by the filmmakers, for one main reason: the novel achieved its sparseness in large part because of McCarthy’s decision to eschew conventions of printed text, to avoid description, to avert his eyes from the details that might matter to us as voyeurs but wouldn’t matter to the characters that populate this post-apocalyptic ode to humanity’s innate survival drive.

Look at the following examples:

I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didn’t answer.
You have to talk to me.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We’re still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.

He walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.

Films, visual and aural platforms that they are, hinge on the presumption that a thing worth the camera’s focus is worth showing to the audience in all its textured glory. While we judge a novel(or, for that matter, a screenplay or script) based on the writer’s ability to show us a scene instead of telling it to us, a movie–with some, but not much, variation–is restricted only to showing. You can show well, or you can show less well, but the delicate dance of showing without showing–McCarthy’s tactic throughout the road–is nigh on impossible on the screen.

Besides, when it comes to movie, story is king. we want movies whose narratives bend us over ourselves. We want to get a good look at the enemy, even if the enemy is scarcely described in the novel on which the film is based. We want all dimensions of the relationship between the boy and his father. We want to know the boy’s mother and understand why she did what she did.

Still, you know how I like post-apocalyptic zombie movies, and this movie basically fits the bill. It comes out Oct. 16, which means there’s still plenty of time for any number of interested parties to screw it up royally.

*that have not yet been released

Posted in literature, movies, speechless, zombies | 1 Comment »

Ray Bradbury smacks down new media types

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 21, 2009

First, in case you weren’t aware of this, Ray Bradbury is alive and kicking at 89.

If Bradbury’s name doesn’t trigger instant recognition and a flood of memories of high school English classes, then it’s possible it’s simply too late for you to make any useful contribution for society. In case there’s still a chance, here’s why you should recognize Bradbury’s name: He penned Fahrenheit 451, a novel about a future in which critical thought is outlawed (451 degrees is the temperature at which books burn). Though this is his most famous work, Bradbury is a highly prolific writer and in addition to dozens of novels, short story collections, and novellas, he has also authored multiple teleplays and screenplays. His most famous is the 1956 version of Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, which became the canonical representation of the novel (despite certain liberties taken with Melville’s novel–most notably, a significant rewrite of the ending).

Bradbury is in the news lately because of a crusade to save public libraries in Ventura Country, CA. According to this New York Times article, the libraries there are under threat of closure because of a drop in property tax funds in the city. Property taxes make up the lion’s share of public funds to support libraries in Ventura.

When friends of the library went to Bradbury for help, he was apparently an easy sell. As the article explains:

Fiscal threats to libraries deeply unnerve Mr. Bradbury, who spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.

The Internet? Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Readers of this blog know that I take my joy out of pummeling people who attack the internet as “meaningless” or “not real.” In this case, though, I’m going to let Bradbury off easy, and not just because I’m easily dazzled by literary stars. Bradbury gets a free pass because he points to a key problem inherent in the social revolution: That the demise of print newspapers, public libraries, and books in general means that kids who either can’t or choose not to engage with participatory media will get left behind. This means that the most disadvantaged learners will, once again, live at the mercy of the educated class.

The NYTimes article explains why libraries matter so much to Bradbury:

His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene.

…“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Look, I know it’s not a revolution if nobody loses. But if the same groups of people who have always lost–the poor, the undereducated, the underclass–lose this time, too, then what kind of revolution are we hosting over here?

I will admit, though, that it’s kind of confusing that one of the most innovative, creative, and future-oriented writers of 20th Century America is displaying such a resistance to a technology that appears to feel just a little too futuristic to him. It’s not real? It’s in the air? Isn’t that the premise of the vast majority of Bradbury’s body of work?

Posted in celebrity, creativity, libraries, literature, Moby-Dick, movies, social revolution | 1 Comment »

on multiculturalism and diversity (or lack thereof) in the media literacies movement

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 8, 2009

***UPDATE, 5:30 P.M. 6/8/09***
This conversation was picked up by LiveJournal user Ithiliana, who takes up this issue from the perspective of a queer feminist scholar focusing on women of color (as she clearly explains in her blog, “if you tell me I am being reverse sexist, you will be banned”) in “Appropriation, New Media, Currriculum, a Whale of a Post.”

This morning Henry Jenkins posted a response to my response to Liz Losh’s response to Project New Media Literacies’ presentation of its Teachers’ Strategy Guide: Reading in a Participatory Culture. In his post, Henry argues this:

[Multiculturalism] is not a question we ignore in working with these materials. We are trying to bring these issues front and center in the language arts classroom, just as we are trying to get teachers to engage with new forms of creative expression — including remix in hip hop and techno — that build upon materials borrowed, snatched, stolen from the culture and put to new uses. We see these ethical concerns as central to our definition of appropriation which stresses “meaningful remixing” of existing cultural materials, just as we are also introducing issues around fair use, copyright, and creative commons. I am proud of the work our team has done in this area. It’s certainly not above friendly fire and constructive criticism. And if our presentations of these materials don’t do justice to the nuance and care with which we treated these issues, then we have some more work to do.

In support of his argument, Henry cites materials we included in the “Expert Voices” section of the curriculum. He highlights material we included from Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, who is, as Henry explains, “an African-American play(wright) and director, who has staged a contemporary, multiracial version of the classic novel.”

Here’s a snippet of what Ricardo said (the rest is available at Henry’s blog):

When I came in contact with the new media literacies, many of the concepts were new to me, like the fascinating concept of remixing and appropriation. That’s an incredible choice of words to use in this new field: appropriation. I have spent much of my creative life trying not to appropriate things…..

So when I came across the word “appropriation” in the new media literacies I thought to myself, I’m a product of a black culture where so much of what we’ve created has been appropriated and not necessarily for our benefit. The great jazz artists were not necessarily making money off of jazz. The record companies were making money. Our dance forms, our music, our lingo, all of those things have been appropriated many, many times and not necessarily in a way in which we profited. So when I saw the term used I had a lot of concern about it. I still have a lot of concern about it, because does that mean that everything is fair game whether or not you understand its value? Can you just use whatever you want because it’s out there? Before you take something and use it, understand it. What does it mean to the people? Where was it born? It doesn’t mean that it’s not there to be used. It’s like music in the air: it’s there for everyone to hear it. But don’t just assume because you have a computer and I can download a Polynesian rhythm and an African rhythm and a Norwegian rhythm that I don’t have a responsibility to understand from whence they came; if I’m going to use gospel music I have a responsibility to understand that it’s born of a people and a condition that must be acknowledged.

In expanding on what Ricardo says, Henry writes that

the decision (to focus on Moby-Dick) was inspired by the growing body of scholarship which looks at Moby-Dick as a representation of the whaling ship as a multicultural society where sea men of many different ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds came together and worked towards a common goal. As Wyn Kelly, my collaborator, points out in our guide, Melville does not depict a world without conflict but he is honest to the multiracial composition of 19th century American culture.

The focus was also inspired by the imaginative and transformative interpretation of the book constructed by our creative collaborator, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, and his passionate belief that Moby-Dick and some of the other classics taught through schools have something to say to current generations of readers and offer resources through which minority students can make sense of their current experience. Certainly there is an ongoing debate about which novels should be taught in schools, but the result of that debate should not simply be the replacement of Melville by Morrison. Ideally, both would be taught in dialogue with each other so that we have a richer understanding of how debates about race run through the American literary tradition and ideally, multiculturalism doesn’t just shape which books we teach but also how we teach them. Someone like Pitts-Wiley can teach us to read Moby-Dick through new eyes and in doing so, help us to better understand what it means to live in a multicultural society.

I absolutely agree with everything included above, and I largely agree with the arguments Henry sets forth in his post. Our effort in designing the Teachers’ Strategy Guide was to highlight and grapple with the issues of race and culture around a canonical text like Moby-Dick, and as Henry writes, “if our presentations of these materials don’t do justice to the nuance and care with which we treated these issues, then we have some more work to do.”

Where I think the new media literacies movement is faltering somewhat is in how it works to address these issues–mainly, that the movement is primarily populated by members of what Jim Gee calls the dominant Discourse of our culture. We’re mainly white, mainly middle- or upper-class–and while our intentions are good, there’s something a little…icky about the fact that we’re the ones guiding conversations about multiculturalism. In designing the Teachers’ Strategy Guide, we worked, it’s true, to include the voices of people like Ricardo and Rudy…but we served as the spokespeople for them, the filters of their words. We made the final decisions about what to include, and how to include it, and which pieces of what they said, did, and wrote mattered most to our work.

This isn’t intentional, of course. I can’t help being a white kid from suburban Detroit. (Even coming from the 313 doesn’t make me less white, less suburban–I mean, just look at me over there.) I can’t help that I care about and want to grapple with racism and multiculturalism despite my whiteness. But in the best-case scenario, I’m grappling with these issues alongside a variety of thinkers, writers, and practitioners who come from multiple ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds.

Despite its best efforts and a lot of headway in this aspect, the media literacy movement–at least, the part of it that works at the intersection of new media and education–is still struggling to attract people from these backgrounds. Until we can find authentic ways to authentically open up conversations that include and integrate multiple and diverse voices, our good intentions will fall short.

Posted in academia, education, Henry Jenkins, literature, Moby-Dick, participatory culture, Project New Media Literacies, racism, schools, social justice, teaching | Leave a Comment »

on answers that question the wrong claims

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on June 3, 2009

An engagement with some interesting critiques of Project New Media Literacies
I’m the kind of person who’s paranoid about having something stuck in her teeth or toilet paper trailing from her shoe, so I always appreciate friends who are willing to point these things out to me. As a member of Project New Media Literacies, then, I’m grateful for the impetus of blogger and author Liz Losh in pointing out places where our hem appears to be showing.

Liz, a self-described friend of NML who attended our recent conference, Learning in a Participatory Culture, admits to “hesitation” when it comes to criticizing NML. But, she explains, pointing out a faux pas is the responsibility of a good friend. She writes:

On the plane flying over to the Boston area, I saw a woman whose blouse had come open to expose her undergarments and a man who was trailing toilet paper on his shoe. I didn’t say anything. These people were not my friends. We had no reciprocal understanding.

It’s her duty, then, she argues (and I agree), to offer up her critique of NML’s conference. “And if I’m wrong about this criticism,” she writes, “I’ll look forward to the NML telling me that I have spinach in my teeth.”

I’ll go this far: Liz, I think you’re wrong about this criticism, but not wrong in the critique. Your arguments point to significant weak spots in the new media literacies movement in general, spots that will need fortification as NML and projects like it move forward. In other words, we need friends like you to keep us honest.

But before I get to that, please permit me a moment of self-defense.

On NML’s stance with re: schools
Reflecting on the conference, Liz writes that:

In defining the scope of their work, the group was careful to emphasize their engagement with “learning” rather than “education,” which they defined as being about “institutions.” Yet it might be worth asking why institution should be a dirty word? I might agree that “generativity,” “participatory design,” “flexible and multiple uses,” and “open content” may be worthwhile, but I also think that institutions provide structures of civic permanence that foster ongoing and stable citizen participation in communities. As Geert Lovink has observed, the pyrrhic organization of many artist and activist groups based in the Internet often makes them difficult to maintain.

This criticism seems unfair, and I say that as a core member of the NML team that spent two years designing and piloting a teachers’ strategy guide for use in the formal ELA classroom. Liz perhaps misinterpreted my opening presentation, in which I used this quote from Clay Shirky as a launch point to argue for the value–indeed, the very necessity–of working in schools to support innovative teachers:

“[W]e are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations.”

As I explained in my presentation, we work from the assumption that this quote is not only inaccurate but also unfair to the role of good educators throughout history. “We work from the assumption,” I said, “that it’s not true that all innovative practices are happening outside of traditional institutions.”

Indeed, we know that historically, teachers have always been on the cutting edge of identifying and engaging with innovative resources and practices, and this is no less true with the emergence of new media. What often stands in the way is not teacher intransigence but the whims of administrators and politicians, which means our job is to find ways to not only support innovative teachers but to work for change at the policy level as well.

Far from refusing to engage with institutions, I believe that schools–as the only compulsory learning environment we have–offer an essential venue for working to narrow the participation gap that prevents many young people from engaging with participatory practices and cultures in authentic, productive ways.

Here was my slide on this from the presentation:

Liz is absolutely correct to point out that “institutions provide structures of civic permanence that foster ongoing and stable citizen participation in communities.” In my view, however–and please note that I speak only for myself and not for NML as a whole–the type of ongoing and stable citizen participation that’s fostered by schools, at least schools as they currently exist, is in some ways almost worse than no structure of civic permanence at all. Schools are designed to socialize (inculcate) learners into a value system that benefits our culture’s dominant social group: Middle- and upper-class whites.

Educational researcher Lisa Delpit, whose work has focused on how schools undermine and devalue the abilities of cultural minorities (mainly black children), identifies five aspects of what she calls “the culture of power”:

  1. Issues of power are enacted in classrooms.
  2. There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a “culture of power.”
  3. The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power.
  4. If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.
  5. Those with power are frequently least aware of–or least willing to acknowledge–its existence. Those with less power are often more aware of its existence.

(These principles come from Delpit’s book Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. It’s a scathing critique of the school system’s role in furthering the interests of the dominant culture and oppressing those who do not agree or do not know how to play by its rules.)

I believe, deeply and honestly, that integrating new media literacy practices into the classroom is a matter of social justice. In a culture that increasingly values the kinds of practices enabled by computers and connectivity, we fail our learners and our culture if we resist offering these experiences to students who don’t have access to and support for engaging in participatory practices via technologies in their homes. Indeed, I think I carry even more of a social justice agenda than almost any of my coworkers at NML. Just today I was mocked at a staff meeting for using the word “hegemony” one too many times. So any time I’m accused of supporting the status quo, I automatically get my hackles up.

Yes, it’s true that school provides cultural stability. But it’s not necessarily true that the stability school offers is what we need. In my view (and again, I’m speaking for myself and not for NML as a whole), it’s high time we threw the institution of school into disarray. There is a deep, deep need to work within institutions, is what I’m saying–we’re in agreement there–but not in support of the institution as it currently exists.

On racism and classism
In fact, Liz herself points to exactly this issue in her critique of our decision to work with traditional curricular content (Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick). In doing so, we’re heeding Henry Jenkins’s call to be “conservative in content so we can be radical in approach.” Liz’s concern is that focusing on traditional materials

could be read as a defense of the conservative canon that has excluded many from literary recognition and their place in the historical record. This impression might be further supported by the group’s assertion that they were emphasizing “multidisciplinarity” rather than “muliculturalism.”

If this is how we have presented ourselves, then we have failed utterly to communicate our rationale. Working with conservative content, at least in this case, allowed us to get a foot in the door of the traditional classroom. Working with culturally valued materials gives us space to offer, at our best, revolutionary approaches to the material in question. It gives us space to help learners develop metacognition about what they’re required to read, how they’re supposed to read it, and why the powers that be might like it that way.

I’m worried that we have also failed to adequately convey the impetus behind working with that word “multidisciplinarity.” In our view, a participatory culture enables–indeed, necessitates–communication across traditional disciplinary boundaries, and we need to equip learners to find ways to communicate with people across multiple disciplines, instead of simply focusing on “what good literary scholars do.” This in no way negates the need for a multicultural approach; in fact, it serves to complicate the issue further by adding a new layer to the definition. It’s not “multidisciplinarity rather than multiculturalism”; it’s “multidisciplinarity as another part of multiculturalism.”

Where the Spinach is
If I disagree with Liz’s criticisms of the message Project NML has attempted to convey, this is not to say that I think she’s precisely wrong in the critique she brings to our work. As she points out (and as Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, a playwright and collaborator on NML’s Teachers’ Strategy Guide–over there on the right–also asserted at the conference), appropriation has often been used as a tool by the more powerful to steal from the less powerful.

This is what Liz calls the ‘Vanilla Ice Problem’:

although appropriation may be celebrated in remix culture, there may be some forms of appropriation that represent and potentially reify the exploitation of people of color and the repression of their calls for social justice. After all, even the most racist minstrel shows claimed to be appropriating aspects of black culture that white performers had observed. When Elvis and other white singers popularized material from the “colored” entertainment spectrum, the lack of compensation to the original creators of that music stung many black musicians badly…. I believe that rap music presents a powerful form of social critique that often engages with controversial issues about police abuse, urban abandonment, narco-economics, and family disintegration. Rap music has also been appropriated by vacuous white performers, such as Vanilla Ice, who chant inane, innocuous lines to pap melodies in chart-topping hits.

Liz offers up a performance by a white nerdcore rap artist, MC Lars, as an example; Lars himself has addressed this issue in various ways, both in his music and in interviews (including this interview with Henry), so I won’t address it more here except to acknowledge that this particular issue is complicated, fraught, and thorny.

The larger point, though, is well taken. Our goal in focusing on appropriation and remix practices is to get at the heart of what makes the social revolution so possible and so exciting: new media affords new opportunities to transform a canonical work; new opportunities to transform and to participate in a cultural conversation about what’s meaningful; new opportunities to speak and to be heard. In glorifying the remix practices made possible by new media technologies, our project (and media literacy projects in general) can overlook the dark side of this social practice, and thereby fail to equip learners with strategies for addressing this issue.

A second critique, and in my view by far Liz’s most important point, is this:

In giving examples of their work with young people, the group showcased examples of what Ian Bogost has called “the rhetoric of failure”: Darfur is Dying and Ayiti: The Cost of Life. Yet I might argue that this pessimistic rhetoric is fundamentally different from what the NML panel called “creating challenges” by creating a “fail and fail often” educational model that is designed to strengthen the individual rather than critique the system.

If I read this right (and I’m not a hundred percent positive I am), the critique is that we’re not putting our money where our mouth is. We say we align with the “fail and fail often approach” that’s intended to foster creative, potentially subversive thinking but in practice we present “challenges” that are easily conquered. In other words, we offer the “rhetoric of success” but mask it with the language of approved failure.

There is a struggle, I think, within the hearts and minds of many who work at the intersection of media and education. We want all learners to see how much “fun” participation can be (and by “fun,” I mean how kids describe a tough game of tag that leaves them sweating, panting, and drop-dead exhausted: fun), and we want participation to foster a healthy sense of outrage, an interest in and desire for taking down the status quo. I wonder if both are always possible; if both are ever possible simultaneously. Perhaps greater minds than I have worked this out; I don’t know. I do know, though, that it’s something that we struggle with every day, in designing and presenting materials that we hope will be both fun and educational, in the revolutionary sense of both terms.

As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of the social revolution. Clay Shirky writes that “it’s not a revolution if nobody loses”; he adds that it’s not a revolution if everybody loses, either. In my view, everybody loses if we fail to get the tools, mindsets, and skillsets of the revolution in the hands of every learner; everybody loses if we give up on the spaces where we can provide access to these things; everybody loses if this revolution, like so many revolutions before it, is won by the members of the dominant Discourse that has guided so much of our thinking, our action, our will and reason to act.

Posted in Clay Shirky, education, Henry Jenkins, literature, Moby-Dick, nerdcore, new media, participatory culture, Project New Media Literacies, public schools, racism, schools, social justice, social revolution, teaching | 3 Comments »

Podcast: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Fluid Text: Versions of the Law

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on March 26, 2009

Recently, at my day job, I emceed a colloquium featuring textual scholar and Melville specialist John Bryant and intellectual property and First Amendment expert Wendy Seltzer. Over the course of the colloquium, these amazing scholars covered Moby-Dick, Edward Said, Shepard Fairey, fan fiction, Creative Commons, YouTomb, and how they talk about plagiarism and fair use with their students. This was a fun and fascinating conversation, and well worth the listen. I’m posting John’s and Wendy’s bios below.

To listen to the podcast, go to the link at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies page (

Pictured above, left to right: Media scholar Henry Jenkins; Jenna McWilliams, blogger and Curriculum Specialist for Project New Media Literacies; textual scholar and Melville Specialist John Bryant; and Wendy Seltzer, attorney and intellectual property and First Amendment expert.

John Bryant teaches at Hofstra University. His work explores the larger applications of the notion of fluid text to culture, and in particular identity formation in a multicultural democracy. He is a textual scholar and Melville specialist, whose works include The Fluid Text and Melville Unfolding: Sexuality, Politics, and the Versions of Typee. He is the editor, with Associate editor Wyn Kelley, of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies and of the Melville Electronic Library (MEL). He is a Co-editor of the Longman Critical Edition of Moby-Dick and is currently working on a critical biography of Melville.

Wendy Seltzer is a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and is a visiting professor at American University. She has taught Internet Law, Copyright, and Information Privacy at Brooklyn Law School and was a Visiting Fellow with the Oxford Internet Institute. Previously, she was a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in intellectual property and First Amendment issues. She founded and leads the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, helping Internet users to understand their rights in response to cease-and-desist threats, and to research the effects of these threats on free expression.

Wendy serves as an advisor to the Citizen Media Law Project and on the Board of Directors of the Tor Project, supporting privacy and anonymity research and technology.

Posted in academics, intellectual property, law, literature, MIT, Moby-Dick, new media, politics, President Obama | Leave a Comment »