Yes we POPCAANZ

Lambton Harbour and Oriental Bay as seen from the summit of Mount Victoria (pic by me).
Lambton Harbour and Oriental Bay as seen from the summit of Mount Victoria (pic by me).

I’m sitting in an apartment, outside which the manic Wellington weather swirls and swishes. After a glorious week, with crisp, sunny days (see above), the clouds have rolled in, and it’s bucketing down.

However, today’s disposition is not dampening mine, with the memories of a second, successful POPCAANZ fresh in my mind. My paper on the cinematic frame was received well, with lots of excitement that I’m developing more research and teaching on the same topic. But that was out of the way early on, and I was able to settle in and see a bunch of other, vastly more intelligent people talk about their passions.

There was a Baudrillardian deconstruction of Wes Anderson which was so thorough that by the end he did not exist. Another highlight was a refiguring of the narrative of Toy Story according to an object-oriented ontology, and a materiality of trash. Not to mention a textual analysis of Agony Aunt columns in the New Zealand Women’s Weekly. And then an introduction to the Leathermen culture of rural New Zealand.

And that’s barely scratching the surface (and I only mentioned two papers in a very strong film stream). Food was great, the location (Massey University) very cosy and accommodating, and the company a lively combination of old friends and new contacts.

There was very exciting news, too, that POPCAANZ will now be opening up to our Asian neighbours, and revamping the associated journal accordingly.

Bring on Sydney next year!

Teaching film and media in a neoliberal bubble

First point: I am a teacher. This is a role that bestows on me power and control over others.

Second point: I am white, male, heterosexual, educated, and middle-class. This is an identity that inscribes within me a particular world-view.

Third point: I teach film and media studies. This is a discipline which is inherently linked to the neoliberalist agendas of globalisation, consumer culture, and corporate-political power.

* * *

Neoliberalism fosters a complicit and compliant consumer citizenry, and much of this is based on the marginalising of non-dominant voices in the public sphere, and the exploitation of the owners of those voices to perpetuate power structures and the ‘global’ marketplace (Gorski 2008, p. 518). The goal of most protocols or policies concerning multicultural or intercultural education seems to be the furthering of these neoliberalist agenda, at least according to Gorski (p. 519). The other alarming characteristic of most attempts at cultural inclusiveness within education is a lack of awareness of the wider sociopolitical context; in essence, an ignorance of the wider world.

As educators, both Gorski and Holladay (2013) have worked through a neoliberalist understanding of what multicultural education should be. For Gorski, this involves ‘the facilitation of intercultural dialogue, an appreciation for diversity, and cultural exchange’ (p. 520). For Holladay, it means working with elementary school children through a limited perspective on historical events. Both of these educators, too, have been complicit in allowing the trivialisation of important events to occur on their watch — case in point: Taco Night.

To reject neoliberalist agenda in intercultural education, Gorski suggests that it is not learning activities or lesson plans that need to change. Rather, an entire intellectual and philosophical shift must occur within the educator. Part of this is acknowledging that ‘cultural awareness is not enough’ and that ignorance of the sociopolitical context further marginalises those already non-dominant voices in the learning space. Holladay takes it further: by infusing multiple perspectives into learning, what the educator is doing is converting ‘consumers’ (the neoliberalist student-subject) into socially-aware critical thinkers. The biggest problem facing both novel paradigms of education, from my reading, is that critical thinking is not seen by the neoliberalist conspiracy as a marketable skill.

As a media teacher, I am aware that the industry into which I am sending my students is competitive and is also linked to very old structures of power. However, I see that I have a responsibility to ensure that all my students can survive in this world. Part of this is ensuring that they are aware of those structures of power, and a further part is demonstrating ways in which those monolithic frameworks have been defied, or even ignored. The wonderful thing about film and media studies currently, is that many who were long silent now have access to production and distribution technologies. I have a responsibility to ensure all of my students can harness those technologies themselves.

* * *

First point: I am a teacher. I have a responsibility to ensure that all my students feel valued, and to offer and encourage them all to share their voices.

Second point: I am white, male, heterosexual, educated, and middle-class. This does not absolve me from the responsibility identified in the first point; it should, in fact, inspire me to work harder to ensure equality in the learning environment.

Third point: I teach film and media studies. This is a discipline which has the power to break down perceived social barriers, to allow non-dominant voices to express their views, and to widen a student’s perspective on the world they share.

* * *

References

Gorski, PC 2008, ‘Good intentions are not enough: a decolonizing intercultural education’, Intercultural Education, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 515-525.

Holladay, J 2013, ‘Multiculturalism in the modern world: Jen Holladay at TEDxDenverTeachers’, TEDx Talks, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5rKgDOs33U>. [6 May 2015].

[this text was submitted as an assessment for a professional development course I’m completing on cultural inclusiveness in teaching]

My theory of cinema

Thanks guys. #pilgrimage #lyon #institutlumiere
Institut Lumiere, Lyon, France. Photo by me.

I’m in the midst of writing a paper for inclusion in a semiotics journal that will eventually, I suppose, become my theory of cinema. The thing is, I could probably just cobble something together from Deleuze and wrap it around a conception of mobility and collaborative cultures. The more I think about it, though, the more intrigued I’m getting about just what my conception of cinema is. ‘Cinema’ doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did fifty years ago. Nor twenty, or even ten years ago. It’s coming to mean the original ‘niche’ understanding of the broad swathe of films that aren’t made, necessarily, for commercial gain. In this sense, ‘cinema’ means a body of filmed work that speaks to something larger than the typical art/commerce spectrum. The definition of what that larger something is, thus, becomes the crux of this paper I’m working on. My issue, though, is that I don’t think movies-for-the-masses should necessarily be excluded from the category of ‘cinema’. I guess I’ll have to work in some social angle, and I guess the mobility and consumer-creation stuff is the bridge there. Anyway – expect more disjointed rantings on the subject as I work through this.

Death to the selfie stick

"Hipster style bearded man taking selfie with selfie stick." - actual description from Shutterstock. Click to see full copyright details and purchase a high-res non-watermarked version, if that's really your bag.
“Hipster style bearded man taking selfie with selfie stick.” – actual description from Shutterstock. Click to see full copyright details and purchase a high-res non-watermarked version, if that’s really your bag.

Today I had the pleasure of attending the RMIT nonfictionLab‘s symposium on interactive documentary. A great many interesting talks were given, and I’m hoping to collate some of my notes into coherent ramblings here and elsewhere over the coming days.

I was reading various tweets today, watching some of the presentations at the conference, and ruminating more generally on photography, mobile media and the ‘self’. As something of a disclaimer, I abhor selfie sticks. I find their presence and purpose incomprehensible, and the people who use them (for the most part) arrogant and, possibly appropriately, self-absorbed.

In spite of this, my mind kept returning to them today, in light of some of the discussion around ‘autodocumentary’. In using our smart devices to track and photograph and record and measure every movement we make, we are, in a sense, creating a narrative; a documentary of our lives.

The ‘selfie stick’, ostensibly, aids in the act of taking ‘selfies’, or photographs of the photographer. The ‘selfie’ finds its origins in the ‘fridge shot’: an often poorly-composed, over-exposed photograph of the photographer and one or several other people. I find this origin important, given that the current ‘selfie’ is a refined and technologically-improved (allegedly) version of the earlier iteration.

What struck me today is that the ‘selfie stick’, by its nature, is a step in a weird direction. Physically, the device distances the camera from the ‘self’, allowing a modicum of control over the composition and quality of the resulting artefact. I think it could be argued, then, that the selfie stick does not create ‘selfies’ as we have come to know them. A photograph taken with the aid of a selfie stick is more akin to one taken with the aid of a tripod, in that the photographer takes much more care with the composition and preparation of the shot.

‘Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention,’ writes Susan Sontag in her magnificent On Photography (1977), ‘[though] the act of photographing is more than passive observing.’

Sontag is relaying here that while photography necessarily detaches any interaction or meddling with the subject (if recording something as it appears in nature or, for want of any other word ‘reality’), it cannot be seen as just that: recording. In the framing up of any given subject, you lose any claim to objectivity.

I would argue that in holding the camera at arm’s length, with no idea of what the frame is, or what the light is like, or whether you and your mates are even in the damn picture, the ‘fridge shot’ and, to an extent, the original smartphone selfie (before front-facing cameras, introduced to Apple devices with 2010’s iPhone 4 – yep, only five years ago), are more in line with the former definition. This is mainly due to the fact that the artist’s control over the artefact is limited, both physically and in terms of the relinquishing of some of the act to the technology itself.

The ‘distancing’ that comes into play with the selfie stick is an attempt to control the entirety of the act of taking selfies which, in some small way, detracts from the entire philosophy and purpose of the selfie.

Yet another, this time thoroughly thought-out, reason to detest the selfie stick.

New things

A big couple of months, hence the lack of updates. I’ve taken up a new position as Lecturer in Media at RMIT University. Yes, RMIT in Melbourne. I’m now, once more, a Victorian. The move has been tough, but it’s great to be back down here surrounded by family and friends and much decent coffee.

The new job is shaping up well, and is sucking most of my hours, particularly in terms of catching up on research. I’m still in the process of editing the PhD for publication, and will have finished another two publications by the time I start teaching proper in early March.

Things bode well, and I’ll keep this updated as often as possible, particularly with notes on research, more war films, games, and so on.