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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.

“…individuals are at risk of being targeted for being suspected ‘extremists’ or for being suspected of being ‘opposed to our constitutional legal order’, even if they have not (yet) committed any criminal (let alone terrorist) offence… Freedom is being given up without gaining security.'”

Immediately when I read this quote by Thomas Hammarberg within the Rouvroy essay on “Governmentality in an Age of Autonomic Computing”, I thought off the certain piece of information Glenn Greenwald revealed in the film we watched, “CitizenFour”. He claimed the US government had 1.2 million people on their “watch list”. That is a rather large number and I am confident that many of those, who are on the watch list, have yet to commit a crime (false positives). Still, they are constantly monitored, unbeknownst to them, and their freedom is essentially stripped from them. To make matters worse, that “watch list” certainly does not contain all of the real terrorists (false negatives) out there. Therefore, our freedom is being taken away as security still does not improve.

I wanted to crystallize some concluding thoughts about the semester by discussing our last reading on the post-digital.  Or perhaps I want to pry open the discussion to get better answers.

What intrigued me the most about Cramer’s discussion were the multiple vectors of influence he ascribed to the post-digital illustrated by his description of meme’s: “Other important characteristics of imageboard memes are: creation by users, disregard of intellectual property, viral dissemination among users, and potentially infinite repurposing and variation (through collage or by changing the text).”  Post-digital is amorphous; it is a concept contoured by every system it attempts to subvert, every classical distinction which it repurposes with rebellious intent.  Cramer did a great job at illustrating the conceptual rift that exists between the digital and post-digital and how rarely this disjunction is registered by contemporary audiences and by negatively defining post-digital, he opened up new frameworks for understanding the practical possibilities of its implementation.

Within Cramer’s framework of the digital, one could surmise all the possible deficits our current, fanatical understanding of new media suffers from and why its study has produced only illusory solutions for real-world problems.  That’s because we’ve entered a realm where the virtual and the concrete are tenable, and even more complex when we try to sum up our individual value by the increments appropriate to the digital.

If Cramer is right and the “‘Digital’ simply means that something is divided into discrete, countable units – countable using whatever system one chooses”, under this condition of distinct counting, social renovation becomes difficult, adhering to the same fraught systems which undermine individual agency and large-scale change.  Further, if we take Cramer’s definition of digital information as “an idealised abstraction of physical matter which, by its material nature and the laws of physics, has chaotic properties and often ambiguous states”, any sociologist, student, or citizen could see how the stringent framework of the digital would be an ill fit for the complex cultural architectures constructing everyday living.  So how does one implement real change?  Is it really through DIY crafts?; or is it through choosing the right medium for the message, on never favoring the hich-tech for its fidelity but for its aptness of the situation?  And further, how can we apply this tech worldview to social practice?

While I struggled all semester to answer this question, our last lecture clued me in to the secret of the course: this searing enlightenment is not meant to provide answers, but to bring the hidden structures of power and social control into sharp relief, where one can critically examine and proceed with an educated awareness.  After reading about everything that the post-digital is not, perhaps critical digital media studies are more about building a reflexive skepticism towards visceral revolutionary thought and to prod into the future with informed hesitation.  That technological disruption does not signal change, but a new network of possibilities that must be approached with the patient caution of Cramer’s paranoia: that “the post-digital condition is a post-apocalyptic one: the state of affairs after the initial upheaval caused by the computerisation and global digital networking of communication, technical infrastructures, markets and geopolitics.”

And as for this last quote, well I’m still working on its interpretation.

“Each of 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 a systems crisis – not a crisis of this or that system, but rather a crisis of the very paradigm of ‘system’”

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.

Beltrán’s essay Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic was the reading that struck me most form this week. I’ve been familiar with people sharing their lives on the internet; I think a lot of the people in my generation had access to and probably read articles and watched videos in which bloggers or vloggers (video-bloggers) have shared personal life stories. (“Draw My Life” Youtbe video, for example). Stories of personal struggle are abundant on the net, but it was very enlightening to read that undocumented immigrants (young people specifically) shared their lives on the internet, when they have little to no exposure in real life.

Reading the testimonios of these people really struck me. One of the struggles an outsider or and immigrant faces is paradox of being uncomfortable not fitting in, and being uncomfortable losing one’s identify and roots to conformity. Communication on the internet seems to allow one to actually keep who they are, but with exposure and exposé this is not the case. The exposé brings down individuality because the content is open and disseminated to people who could have no relation to the original content creator. I’m curious to see if the DREAMer networks consist mostly of immigrants or if the communities have a diversity. If the undocumented immigrants are just surrounding themselves with themselves, the their discourse will not “allow them to articulate political alternatives that can be shared across time and space.”

If hospitals, prisons, corporations, and schools concretize the ways in which societies’ control individual existence (through control of reform, production, health, etc), digital media plays an interesting role in defining what exactly we are controlled by when engaged with by individuals. The internet might be far too fast to examine in this particular example, but the world of World of Warcraft might suffice. Thinking of the ways in which Foucault’s notion of biopower sublimate in the World of Warcraft, we can see a similar connection to Deleuze. The power of institutions in societies of control is gaseous, it spreads out beyond the institution itself and permeates. Deleuze’s text makes me think about the ways in which his notions of control conflate and intersect with digital media, potentially creating a problem that exists in both the digital and non-digital world. In particular, I’m thinking on online-for profit colleges, or modes of production that are entirely digital like the World of Warcraft gold farmers.

In “Stitch Bitch: The Patchwork Girl”, Shelly Jackson writes, in regards to hypertext, “You can’t tell what’s the original and what’s the reference. Hierarchies break down into chains of likenesses.” Hypertext essentially operates as flattening tool that, in some instances, reclaims power from what Jackson refers to as (in so many words) reality’s hegemony within fiction.

In my group presentation, my peers and I explored the way in which hypertext operates within Buzzfeed’s listicles. While hypertext makes the lateral and flattening movements that Jackson describes, it also facilitates the listicle’s massage-like quality which can quell the reader into a spell of the unquestioning intake of information. Hypertext, in this way, is rather harmless in the typical listicle (11 best condiments to put on french toast!) where the stakes of the content are low. However, as Buzzfeed transitions towards more politicized and long-form content, hypertext potentially becomes more insidious. I bring my extremely condensed version of my group project into this discussion to illustrate the fact that hypertext’s lateral, or flattening, movements are not always as ‘democratic’ as they appear to be. I am interested in the ways in which hypertext becomes insidious, and how we navigate these instances.

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.

The stakes are high in Julian Dibbel’s “A Rape in Cyberspace”: the incident of Mr. Bungle calls to question the division between public, private, digital, and physical space. I came away from this article not only asking myself how we can navigate digital and physical spaces (given this example), but wondering about this subject’s connection to notions of screen essentialism explored later on in the course. How do we engage the digital space of digital crimes and maintain Kirschenbaum’s notion of a symbiotic feedback loop? How does A Rape in Cyberspace translate into the physical world, and thus transform notions and sublimations of visibility?