15 Megabytes of Fame

Michael Wesch’s compelling video An anthropological introduction to YouTube is a Rosetta Stone for the current state (give or take a few years) of the video blog or vlog.

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He highlights and translates a possible meaning for the shared experiences of Gary Brolsma’s Numa Numa, Juan Mann’s Free Hugs, and Lonely Girl 15, while thankfully leaving Brittany alone.

What is intriguing yet utterly confusing to me is the need to share one’s innermost thoughts or outright silliness with this cold and cynical world. Where would Numa Numa Gary have lipsinked before YouTube? Would Free Hugs Juan still be seeking a little warmth in a pre-internet life? How would he have been received by passers by? And what about Lonely Girl 15? Would she still be a soap opera queen in training, but in a different venue?

And what about all the copycats?

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Is this any different than me and my friends pretending to be The Supremes when we were kids? We were just having fun, sharing the experience of a song we loved and at the tender age of 8, a group we emulated. When the eccentric Charles Caleb Colton wrote “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I doubt he had his kid brother in mind. Yet hundreds of emulators and autotuners are only sharing the love, right? What makes us want to imitate and remix and mashup? Is this the only way we can acquire our god given 15 megabytes of fame?

When I invite my students into the visual rhetoric conversation, where will I draw the line? How do I grade a re-envisioning of mashup of a repost?

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While I love the absolute joy and liberation from the drudgery of grad school that free-form video allows, I am ever practical and looking for a way to teach this genre of visual rhetoric without losing site of critical thinking. Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome below.

Addendum and Reflection

I went to a Community of Practice workshop yesterday sponsored by Berkeley City College and The Academy for College Excellence. My takeaway is that there are definitely more inspiring uses of online video and social networking that I can share and discuss with students. I do not look down on the imitators, autotuners and mashup artistes of the world. Collective entertainment and shared experience has its place and makes me laugh. However, at the end of the day, I want a bit more substance. For example, look at the work of Oluwaseun Odewale, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He writes about elections in his home country, Nigeria:

Of the 87 million mobile phone users in Nigeria (44 million of which have access to the Internet), it was an interesting trend to see how social media, for the first time, was adopted and, quite interestingly, adapted, to ensure credibility of the electoral process in Nigeria.

And then there is the social justice work we are doing with ACE, to promote success for basic skills students.

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Counterculture in New Media

 

The description of Mann’s collage centered around the quotation-“Whoever controls the media“- made me recall a new media project I saw by another student years ago, where they focused their work around a scene from Clockwork Orange with the thesis: rebellious youth culture has overturned the bourgeoisie ideology that predominantly existed in middle class suburbs of London in the 1960’s through standard forms of media (music, television, film.) The Clockwork Orange clip serves to illustrate how the counter-culture movement presents the negative impacts that people’s fascination with capitalism and consumerism, masked by religion and wealth, has had on society. In Mann’s college, the main concept of media and the impact that a person can have on society (depending on who is in charge of it) is expressed through primarily visual images on one piece of paper. This other project is illustrated through the movie clip and relies heavily on music and speech to present a message. The images that Mann chose are all recognizable to a mass audience (President Bush and Rush Limbaugh) and as a result of this, they have immediate associations for the viewer that can carry meaning. Other signifiers are used, such as the television, the puppet strings, and even the crucifix. All are easily recognizable symbols, and they serve to illustrate Mann’s thesis that President Bush uses various spokespeople to send a negative conservative ideology, which includes, but is not limited to, religion and war propaganda. The Clockwork Orange clip above similarly uses religious symbols through the images of porcelain Jesus figurines (martyrdom), the snake (evil), the poster of the naked woman (Eve) and media is represented through movie clips from One Million Years B.C.(decadence) and Beethoven (conservativeness). Both projects are successful because they don’t just randomly present images and clips to the viewer, but instead construct these pieces of media with a unified message. The message is then further elaborated upon through examples and explanation-the how and the why. All things one would expect to see in successful essay, and this information is just instead presented through visual or auditory means.

 

“It is at first a bit disconcerting to see the lyrics of one song plays in the background; adding to the oddness is the visual experiences of seeing a very famous paintings faded in and out on the screen with the words superimposed on them…new context with new associations.” This description of Starry Night is similar to how I would describe the Clockwork Orange clip, and the value that each project has seems to rest in this last line: “new context with new associations.” That is the importance in multimodal assignments. However, deciding how to determine whether a new media project has accomplished this is the challenge facing instructors now. How to best assess multimodal assignments is a valuable concern when addressing the transitional process that is occurring in classrooms now where new media is being more readily incorporated. New media being defined as “…texts that juxtapose semiotic modes in new and aesthetically pleasing ways, and in doing so, break away from print traditions so that written text is not the primary rhetorical means.” Cheryl Ball (2004) “Show, not tell.”

 

The primary tools for evaluating new media, as presented in the article “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition,” are: looking at how effectively a project addresses audience and its ability to achieve purpose, how clearly the message or meaning is conveyed through the use of multiple modes (that each one has a purpose and is not just applied flippantly), and how effectively the connections between these modes have been formed in order to effectively illustrate meaning. Sorapure’s flexible stance that these assessment tools should not be applied to all assignments in all contexts, lest the value of the project be neglected because it is important to take the context of the assignment, purpose of the course, and the teacher and students themselves into account.

 

Problems occur when the project simply includes an element because it looks good or because it is a cool effect. There exists no meaning and then instead creates a distraction. Addressing this concern helps the evaluator not feel that just because the work is aesthetically pleasing, they need to give the project a high grade. The idea here seems that new media should be judged close to the way that an essay is assessed. There needs to be a central thesis, main ideas and arguments that link together the author’s ideas, and that these need to be elaborated upon through some sort of commentary. Ultimately, there does need to be some coherence that links together the purpose of the work, and analysis also needs to exist, so that there isn’t just a surface-level message. The article presented several examples of evaluated works, and Gabe Mann’s collage with the image of Bush as a puppeteer to conservative media moguls was presented as the most highly valued because of it’s use of both metonymic and metaphoric components. The combination of images, sound, and text worked metonymically because it linked images by association like “lines from a poem combined with a melody from a song.” This collage, like the Clockwork Orange project was successful because as a “Digital composition [it] weave[ed] words and context and images” with a unified thesis. This is something to look for when evaluating multimodal works.

Whoever controls the images…controls the culture

There are problems for assessing new media literacies. We do not know how to evaluate new media literacy. There is so much more involved than print text—such as visuals and logic behind words. Should we just get rid of assessment together?

Madeleine Sorapure in “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition” suggests using a mix of criteria that applies to both new media and print text.

Eportfolios are one suggested method of assessment.

Sorapure points out that we make the common mistake of assessing the print portion of a new media assignment.  She suggests a “broadly rhetorical approach” where assessment is based on whether you reached a specific audience with a specific approach.

New media is putting together threads of ordered complexity (e.g, a graph is easier to understand than a chunk of text. In this case the writing is of higher complexity than the image)

An interesting point to note is that we are not qualified to assess the effectiveness of how well different mediums are put together but rather on the effectiveness of different resources combined.

Relations between modes in new media need to be explored. Metaphor and metonymy can be used to describe relations between modes.

An image such where modes are too closely matched are not as effective as when an image is a metaphor for something else.

Anne Frances Wysocki in her article “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” wrote a fascinating bit on why we are attracted to looking at a woman’s picture. She gave us criteria for creating such a visually stimulating picture: the only reason we see it is because of the contrast of light and dark and the way the words are shaped around the silhouette of the female body.

Wysocki mentions that we should not create new media images that are simply designed to catch our attention in this way, but to see new media as a series of choices where we can continually revise images to create more thoughtful relations between each other.

Wysocki also sprinkles images and different fonts throughout her article which at some points seemed random but they definitely brought a meaning to the text. I particularly enjoyed the right curly brace on page 172. 

We should be careful not to simplify the deep and complex ideas of new media.

Elements out of their Context

This week’s articles focus on the disparity that arises when composition classes transition to incorporate new media, and how the lack of appropriate modes of assessment fail to meet the accompanying transition from traditional print to newer digital platforms.   Anne Wysocki concentrates on the visual image in her dense piece titled “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty,” while Madeline Sorapure details the need for assessment with varied forms of digital technology in “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions” that includes Web sites, images, video, audio and text altering software.  The two articles share a similar desire to find alternative ways of evaluating student work that takes advantage of the multimodal landscape twenty-first century students inhabit.

Both articles also look at form and content, but suggest different avenues in executing an approach. Wysocki is frustrated at the formal tools available to discern art, which separates form from content, stating “these approaches assume a separation of form from content, but they emphasize form in such a way that ‘content’ can be unremarkably disembodied” (149).  Wysocki seeks to find an approach that “builds” from “community” and works within the construct of the  “particular” and the “messy” as opposed to the distancing that the formalist approach that we all inherited, and to some degree, internalize.  Conversely, Madeleine Sorapure’s article suggests that as compositionists we critique what we know best, using tropes such as metaphor and metonymy as our guideposts.  Sorapure proposes separating content from form by extension in examining her student projects to demonstrate her model.  Sorapure reveals that through alternative forms to print, i.e. music, video, and image, and through re-conceptualizing the original source, we see “elements out of their contexts” (11), which then allows students an opportunity to show us something new, and perhaps unexpected.

I must admit that the subject matter of both articles initially intrigued me – essentially searching for a system of assessment rules for the non-written aspects of student work – but ultimately frustrated me for different reasons.  Wysocki sets out to figure out why she feels both excited and repulsed by the image of the naked woman in the New Yorker advertisement.  I applaud her methodical, trenchant approach to demonstrate how old forms of visual evaluation do not allow for the observer to respond more personally with the piece, or to view the object as more than the sum of its parts within the composition as a whole.  However, I felt as though Wysocki’s article was more of a mash-up of Art History lesson mixed with an Anthropological investigation as to how to approach the visual representation.  And Sorapure’s method is interesting but proves tiring as well as limiting in approaching student work with the narrow measurements of “metaphor” and “metonymy”. If we assign students visual, digital representation as part of their written work, then, I feel, we should also assess that work.

I still come back to the role that we serve, which is teaching students composition technique, strategies, reading approaches, critical thinking, engagement with text (yes, this can include visual mediums) and the myriad of ways to execute this goal.  While, I find many of the examples put forth by Wysocki and Sorapure to be very good, and most likely assist with generative writing, such as manipulating text with images; I still come away thinking that some students may not be able to express themselves in this new visual way. Are we then providing a disservice to those students within Composition Studies?  I do believe that incorporating some of these practices in the classroom can be useful; to assist in sparking creativity and to shift students from passive receptors of knowledge, to more active writers and thinkers.

Collaboration and Negotiations

After reading Scott Warnock’s Chapters 10-18, I found myself drawn to two main ideas: collaboration and assessment. They may seem like two separate topics, but I am thinking about them in terms of collaborative assignments and how we would go about grading/assessing such assignments. Scott Warnock’s chapter on “Collaboration” is short, but when read in conjunction with the other chapters on “Assignments,” “Peer Review,” and “Grading,” it is clear that collaboration, cooperation, and the shared nature of knowledge are pivotal elements in Warnock’s ideas about an online class.

In Chapter 10, Warnock says, “If instead we see knowledge as being created by a community of knowledgeable peers and that learning is social, then peer review makes sense” (115). Continue reading