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Category Archives: Hunter’s section

The content of CitizenFour obviously touches a lot of nerves for contemporary citizens; the NSA worked to silently poison internet anonymity bringing the tenuous, complex relationship between media and democracy to the fore.  But as many other students noted in their blogs, the film employed a very peculiar, almost cautious cinematic presentation exuding a subtle aura of action and penalty, risk and reward.

CitizenFour’s focus oscillated between Snowden and the sociopolitical drama that ensued shortly after his leaks, presenting the audience with two simultaneous, but interwoven diegeses: the individual’s decision to revive the public sphere of critical opinion and the public’s violent confrontation with democratic facades.  While the film started with a Matrixesque espionage address to the audience, it was almost jarring that so many of the shots focused on Snowden being a “normal” guy; the camera cohabited his hotel room to record (and to survive through editing and post-production cuts) the mundane routines of Snowden’s everyday.  There was a particular focus on the “sillier” human moments of this “traitor”, the scene of him covering himself with the blanket to avoid the all-seeing eye of surveillance or when he insists on hiding personal passwords.  His dialogue with Greenway unfolded like a quiet toxicity revealed through subdued, sincere, mutual bewilderment at the current state of national privacy.  But this lull in action was constantly intercut by the media’s mixed but violent responses to his “selfish” and “treacherous” actions.   This kind of cinematic poiesis effectively presents the audience with the stakes of Snowden’s decision, but also effectively meta generates a wake up call for the audience.  It animates dystopic visions of pervasive, unavoidable surveillance with quiet brilliance and shows the audience that a mass public movement, or outrage, can be mobilized by one individual.  Whether that individual actor chose the right media outlets that do not undermine the political potentiality of the public sphere with patriotic discoloration, is another question all together.

This is a slightly delayed response, but only because I feel more equipped to revisit SuperStar: The Karen Carpenter Story as a media object rather than a cinematic experiment.

This film was critically received by a range of peripheral subgroups.  Its post-digital aesthetics and its material experimentation gave it a challenging presence.  But the Barbie’s and the content were not why we watched this film in MCM230.  Rather, it was the film’s import into cult values, its animation by “aura”, and its status as a filmic “poor image.”  Together, these forces entrenching the film make Karen’s exploited silver screen tale an exemplary digital media object hosting a social and artistic multiplicity.

But when this animated apparition travels through these social and media subgroups, the critical observer dig deeper into the object’s compression.  When we compress our content, what details are erased?  Resolution?  Yes.  Sound quality?  Yes.  The intricate details of disorder and death?  Definitely.  And each time the film enters a spectator space, the compression due to travel reduces the object’s ability to communicate its complex content on untainted interpretive grounds.  The cult aura ascribed to this object only exemplifies the critical detachment that the film capitalizes on with, on one hand, its inherent defective materiality (the use of indifferent, plastic perfect dolls), and the bootleg aesthetics that keep the object vintage and intriguing (despite its obsolete depiction of eating disorders) on the other hand.  There is a danger when a particular reading of a racy text crystallizes in a subcommunity, but this film represents the dangerous transmutation of that chain of noncritical hand-me-downs into the aesthetic which continues to draw contemporary audiences.  Now, instead of questioning the destructive .  This film is poor image, or poor depiction of its referent, turned to a fetishistic ideology systematically reproduced through aesthetics irrelevant to its content.

The social-semiotic phenomena animating this film raises questions about the relationship between cultural knowledge and its “image” reproduction and how power is disseminated through particular networks of culture.

When this movie started, its unique audiovisuals struck me as impressionistic, emotive, even effective.  They seemed to conjure a mood of quiet perversion that veiled the tragedy of Karen Carpenter’s unhealthy psychosis, coupling tacky cinematic staging motifs (likely a symptom of its historical moment) with a jarring tale that still resonates with many young girls today.  The use of Barbie dolls can even be a case for “post-digital” creativity, in which the seemingly best tool (the penultimate symbol of perverse, inhuman perfection) or medium, was chosen for the task (“the medium is the message” etc).  But I truly believe, even after our conversations in class and in section, that this exaggerated stylization caustically influences those on the periphery looking into the afflicted’s concaved world.

There are couple of angles I want to take to explain my minority opinion.  Firstly, the film suffers from a mortal ideological wound: Central Conflict.  The narrative arc of the film voraciously follows this protagonist, garnishing her character flaws for the audience to devour.  This “athletic fiction” inflicted upon the film addicts the audience to the thralls of Karen’s conflict, anxiously awaiting to see her regurgitate any progress, and detracts from the central issue or the possibility for a more intricate lattice of interpersonal relationships to crystallize in the audience’s mind.

This post-digital melding of vintage hisses and overexposed images obliterates the potentiality of the photographic unconscious by saturating it with a hunger for protagonist centered combat; the resulting ontological vacuum its audience is sucked into betrays the intersecting forces that make eating disorders such a complex and harrowing issue.

If this is the message of the medium, to feast upon psychological tragedy turned fetish, then perhaps these artistic choices were warranted; but if the directors really cared about shedding light upon eating disorders, they would have exercised more tact when raping Karen’s struggles.

In this post, I am going back to week 13 to address the readings from that week. Ranciere discussed the paradox of democracy in that the democracy of social life undermines the political democracy. However, I also saw this paradox in the examples of how some immigration reform activists use social media as a platform to give a face to their campaigns. The individual support of each individual is stressed. Giving each opinion and voice a face, a more personified aspect, would enhance the support of the campaign to bring together a collective of relatable individuals. This made me think of my sister’s favorite artist, JR, that she told me about a few months ago. He does something a bit different- instead of bringing together thousands of voices, he highlights just one, but on a huge scale. He plasters a cut-out of a photo of an immigrant on a public surface so that the image can then only be viewed in its entirety from a distance or from a bird’s eye view. Most recently he plastered an image near the flat iron building where thousands of people walked over the art piece without knowing. Only until the cover of last weekend’s NY Magazine showed the image from above did it become apparent what it was. It is supposed send the message that the immigrants are integrated into the US, where everyone passes by each other without being aware of their background. They are sewn into the fabric of the everyday life in the states.

DM Assignment 2, Prompt 1

Kirschenbaum describes screen essentialism as “the prevailing bias in new media studies toward display technologies,” the (over-)emphasis on what is made purposely visible rather than what lies underneath (Kirschenbaum, 32). Data is stored as electrical signals converted through a series of abstractions to what is displayed, but we focus only on the highest level of abstraction, the way the corporations constructing our new media devices intend. Visibility thus serves to distract us from studying the totality of new media.

Kirschenbaum uses this notion of what is typically made visible in two ways: (1) to settle and differentiate his study from the prevailing “medial ideology” of new media theory and (2) to provide a basis for studying computer forensics, which seeks to unearth what lies beneath the screen-level understanding of new media.

Kirschenbaum takes a decidedly critical stance towards the notion of screen essentialism, arguing that it limits the study of new media. In contrasting screen essentialism to the way data are actually stored and inscribed, he describes the prevailing ideology as “medial–that is, one that substitutes popular representations of a medium…for a more comprehensive treatment of the material particulars of a given technology” (Kirschenbaum, 36).

In his characterization, much is being left out of discussions of new media. He cites numerous authors, some of whom embody this rift and others who get closer to the “comprehensive treatment of material particulars” for which he advocates. In particular, he finds that in focusing on what is visible, new media theorists lack a realization of the permanence of the technologies they are studying, criticizing several authors’ work as relying on (among others) notions of “speed of light” and ”evanescent electrons” (Kirschenbaum, 43). He does concede that in some cases this “effectively captures what most users experience as the basic phenomenological difference between analog and digital media,” but he finds this lack of regard for the material inscriptions—as well as analysis “at the more general level” of “race, class, and gender”—to be dissatisfying (Kirschenbaum, 43-44).

Kirschenbaum’s study of computer forensics relies heavily on the physical realities of the storage devices that back much of digital media. He tackles the notion that new media is ephemeral, fungible, and fluid by examining the processes of recovering data that—for reasons intentional or unintentional—are difficult or impossible to retrieve through conventional means. These conventional means form the limits of visibility for those who prescribe to the notion of screen essentialism. (Importantly, some of the techniques he describes are screen-based software tools. While this complicates the notion that computer forensics reaches beyond the screen, these tools provide access to data beyond what is typically considered accessible.)

There are various processes by which he describes recovery of the “lost” data, but it can be summed up in his citation of Ordway Hilton: “Virtually all erasures can be detected by a thorough examination” (Kirschenbam, 60). As Kirschenbaum notes, despite this having been written about traditional media, “he may as well have been talking about computer storage media” (Kirschenbam, 60). Thus, screen essentialism operates in this essay by not only offering a critique of prior work and a motivation for his research but also as a counterpoint to computer forensics, which expands the notions of what is visible in the realm of new media theory.

Visibility is approached from a different angle in Bucher’s study of the Facebook News Feed. Bucher contrasts the notion of visibility provided by the EdgeRank algorithm to that of Foucault’s study of the Panopticon, demonstrating that while both structure visibility through architectural means, only the Panopticon treats all subjects equally. She notes that EdgeRank “prioritizes some [subjects] above others,” by multiplying the criteria of Affinity, Weight, and Time Decay as defined by Facebook. For her, “EdgeRank functions as a reversal of the regime instantiated by the Panopticon”, since instead of mandating visibility it requires the subjects to strive for it (Bucher, 1172 & 1166). This structuring of visibility is an inherent byproduct of all media. However, Facebook in particular structures what is visible in a “circular logic” that affects how its users behave when sharing personal and social information in an attempt to gain visibility (Bucher, 1169).

Visibility also shows up in Bucher’s analysis of the structure of EdgeRank itself. She notes that there are other factors than the three she focuses on that are not made public; indeed now over 100,000 are included (McGee). Thus her analysis is complicated by the fact in addition to structuring what is made visible, Facebook itself is only partially visible.

Contrary to Kirschenbaum’s reading of (in)visibility, what is at stake for Bucher is not that what is kept unseen is dangerous because it hides exposable, presumably erased data. Rather, she is concerned with how one can become irrelevant by failing to structure interactions so they rank highly according to EdgeRank’s criteria. However, both of of these authors’ characterizations rely on the idea that something is perceived as being hidden from view in a non-obvious way. Importantly, both the computer forensics industry and Facebook have a profit motive reliant on shaping what is made visible.

Curiously, both authors abstain from criticizing the media themselves for being opaque. Rather, they each call for a broadening of research into what lies beyond the screen. Neither of these authors claims to have produced a truly comprehensive study; it is impossible for either of the media they focus on to be entirely visible. Furthermore, while arguing for comprehensiveness they have still chosen to highlight specific aspects of particular media in the process. This feeds into the call for both a furthering and diversification of research in their domain. Despite their noted limitations, Kirchenbaum’s and Bucher’s respective studies of inscriptions and algorithms expand the visibility of new media, both explicitly in their arguments and implicitly by highlighting media that have not often been studied and pushing for further research.

Works Cited:

Bucher, Taina. “Want to be on the top? Algorithmic power and the threat of invisibility on Facebook,” New Media & Society 14:7 (2012), 1164- 1180

Kirschenbaum, Matthew, “Every Contact Leaves a Trace,” Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 25-71

McGee, Matt. “EdgeRank Is Dead: Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Now Has Close To 100K Weight Factors.” Marketing Land. Third Door Media, Inc., 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.

Rounding off the semester with a reading concerning society entering an age of the post-digital struck me both as appropriate and strange. It read to me as a reminder that although my classmates and I just immersed ourselves into an extensive study of digital media both as a subject and an era, and how it affects both our present and future – that one day this era will soon end as well. It almost terrifies me that the age of digital media as a new media will no longer be, and it will merge into another moment in history’s extensive chronology.

I think the fact that digital media has brought the focus towards conceptions of the future results in people conversely producing a sense of nostalgia for the past — and in some cases, the present. I may be only speaking for my generation, but I am beginning to notice the way in which my peers and I acknowledge the concepts of the future and the speed in which it will one day approach us. We thus use digital media as a way to capture our current surroundings, in a way insinuating that we are already nostalgic for the present. We acknowledge, that every moment and event will soon one day be left in the past, with the possibility of being forgotten. I find myself constantly seeing friends snap and post pictures to social media, relishing in perfect memories and ideals the frames contain. I think that my generation is less concerned with the exposure and visibility that digital media provides, rather at the speed in which it moves. With the constant focus on the importance of the future, we seek to the represent the present as more meaningful (or at least seem like it) so that our own pasts and identities will not be one day so easily forgotten.

Looking at Cramer’s sense of the Post-Digital, the trend in the hyper-personalized and hyper-subjective digital art that has recently been rearing its head (I’m thinking of a bulk of the works at the New Museum Triennial) can be better understood. He writes:

“These fictions of agency represents one extreme in how individuals relate to the techno-political and economic realities of our time: either over-identification with systems or rejection of these same systems. Each of these extremes is, in its own way, symptomatic of what I would call a systems crisis: not a crisis of this or that system, but rather a crisis of the very paradigm of ‘system’” (710).

Looking, say, at Casey Jane Ellison’s construction of self as a (poorly coded) digital avatar or even the impeccably rendered 3D sculpture of Juliana Huxtable, we can understand how the “post-digital” enters into something of a “systems crisis.” Both artists deal with a certain challenging of sexuality, gender, and self-conception using digital media as a conduit in which to reflect. What i’m considering, however, is the manner in which engaging with this digital media, which, can itself be understood as operating within a systems crisis (or within the possibility of a systems crisis), allows “systems” (identity systems, in this case) to be called into a “crisis” and be successfully interrogated.

Time is not a digital medium — at least, as far as we can tell, it is analog (in the sense that it is not composed of discrete parts, but can in fact be infinitely subdivided). Granted, there is a sense in physics in which there is a smallest length of time that can be meaningfully discussed in certain contexts, but this isn’t to imply that it has any sort of real granularity, and the scales of time concerned in that sort of discussion are so small as to be irrelevant in most practical situations.

And so it’s this — the continuum of history, that makes me frustrated at the usage of terminology like ‘new,’ or ‘post,’ or even ‘modern’ to describe segments of time and culture. There seems to be a human compulsion to discretize time in this way, breaking it into eras — the digital age, the information age, the time of new media. It’s not that I’m saying these distinctions are meaningless, or not in some contexts useful, but I am offering a bit of a push back against the treatment of them as essential.

For one, terms like ‘new’ and ‘post’ are inherently temporal, and it seems to me that they will age poorly. What happens in a hundred years to what we currently refer to as new media? It’s kinda like how the Vartan Gregorian quad still gets called New Dorm despite the complex not being very new (and not even the newest of the Brown dorms). Or like how Modern Art refers to art produced in an era that has already passed. I actually really liked Cramer’s What is ‘Post-Digital’? I found that it offered an interesting, and fun to read exploration of what actually is implied by the all-too-common prefix, when applied to the digital.

In general, I guess I’m skeptical of the idea of new media being set in dichotomy with old media, as if human kind had been producing a sort of homogeneous pastiche of analog media since the dawn of history, and only in the past twenty years or so has there been this dramatic shift of paradigm.

But I’m also not a historian, and I’m very much a product of the generation in which we live. I haven’t been around long enough to really experience the passage of time on the scale of eras, and I’ve never lived in one without so-called new media objects essentially inundating my life. Perhaps the distinction is clear, and relevant, and unavoidable… and I just don’t have the perspective to notice.

Big Data has allowed for real time data analysis that has opened the doors to many predictions and observations of behavior that were previously not possible on a small-data scale. Maya Schonberger states that big data provides “the ability of society to harness information in novel ways to produce useful insights or goods and services of significant value” (2). However, I also find it interesting that big data is also used in order to back up observations that may have been concluded without it. As Professor Chun had pointed out in class about the Target example, perhaps if there had been a woman involved in the analysis process, the correlations between pregnant woman and their shopping habits could have been found just as easily.

The readings reminded of something a friend showed me a few years ago: Google Ad Preferences. When I first learned about it and clicked on it from my own computer, I was shocked. What was presented to me was a description of who Google thought I was, thereby allowing them to tailor ads to my preferences. Google had been able to predict my gender, age, the languages I speak, and pinpointed some of my interests. I was already aware that my searches were collected, however, I hadn’t seen the results. Whether this information truly reveals more about myself to Google or rather puts me into a category of 19-23 year old females with similar broad interests is the question. I just went back to my Google Ad Preferences and was surprised to see my updated google-self. The age range had widened and so many categories had been included in my interests, that I would not be able to distinguish my profile amongst thousands of other profiles.

Before reading Mayer-Schonberger’s piece on big data and attending the Professor Chun’s last lecture, I had very little understanding about the subject despite coming across it very often. What was particularly surprising to me was how the alarming emergence of vast amounts of data (of things what weren’t measured, stored and analyzed before) allow us to move away from causality and to focus on correlation. I’ve taken a couple of classes in the economics department which deal directly with trying to prove causality, which I’ve always found it a bit ridiculous since it constrains us to assuming the relationship between two (or more) variables is not dependent on a variety of outside factors. I found Mayer-Schonbergerger’s argument extremely relevant as it made me realize the way in which our society is moving away from the why and towards the what. Since we’re looking at vastly more amounts of data, we’re concentrating on probabilities and relationships, instead of solely on why something causes another. As the author points out, the reason behind the fluctuation in airline ticket prices over time is irrelevant if we’re able to predict when to buy the cheapest ticket. But, if the amount of stored information grows four times faster than the world economy, how do we sort between the correlations? Which ones actually matter?