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.


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?


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?


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.


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.

New Media in Composition Classrooms

David Buckingham says in “Introducing Identity” that digital media shapes young people’s identities. I think that the internet makes it easier for people to create multiple identities.


In “Students Who Teach Us” by Cynthia L. Selfe talks about how composition teachers are slow to utilizing media texts in the classroom. New media is different from print text in that it increases interactivity and creates multiple literacies (seeing, listening, writing and reading)

People who are familiar with printed text may have a difficult time adopting the new media.

Here is an interesting site

Something that print text cannot offer is aesthetics and design along with information. New media, therefore, caters to a wide audience. Some interesting quotes are brought up in this article:

“New media texts now exist on William Blake, the Salem Witch trials, hip hop, the architectural history of Rome… among many other topics” (44)

Coverage of historical events is more accessible and convenient for the younger generation to get a hold of.

Also, “Imaginative texts percolates through the sub strata of composition classrooms in direct contrast to students’ laissez faire attitudes toward more conventional texts” (44) This means that there is more enthusiasm to learning. If teachers can utilize this enthusiasm, it would make for a dynamic curriculum.

The essay also talks about how students can be teachers as well, as they can teach the older generation of new computer capabilities. Rather than curriculum being teacher-centered, students can benefit from teaching their teachers new computer skills.

In Selfe’s “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” there is talk of increasing computer usage. Selfe says “writers might compose differently with computers but probably not better.” This is problematic because computers may not help people become better writers.

Two people’s lives were followed as case studies in Selfe’s article. Both of these people, Melissa and Brittney grew up in middle class families. The term “cultural ecology” was introduced. Selfe points out that schools are not the sole places where people gain access to digital literacy (644). From 1978-2003 personal computers slowly became commercially available into composition classrooms. In the 1970’s computer programming was introduced into classrooms. Britney was born into an era of internet and email. She grew up with computer as a child while Melissa taught herself how to use computers when they were first being used in the military. Britney says, “I appreciate when my teachers embrace technology” (660). She also says, “We do best at things we have a genuine interest in, not those that are spoon-fed to us.”

If English teachers can address new literacies in their classrooms, that would make a more dynamic way for students to learn.

Visual Rhetoric: Whose Bailiwick?

In The Low Bridge to High Benefits by Anderson and The Sticky Embrace of Beauty by Wysocki, the authors call for composition education to include visual rhetoric. While I agree that form carries function and that learning to analyze these forms makes us better readers (and publishers), isn’t visual rhetoric the bailiwick of art class? One takeaway from these articles could be that we desperately need to restore funding for art education at all levels of education, and that perhaps art & visual rhetoric should be a required class at the college level.

Q: To what extent is visual rhetoric the domain of the comp class?