Multimedia for Social Change

Stasi’s week 3 reflection by stasiharrell
January 30, 2011, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Reflections

            I don’t know about anyone else, but I found myself pretty depressed after last week’s readings about the digital divide.  I mean, I grew up in an idyllic southern Californian suburb.  I cannot remember a time when my family did not own at least one computer.  Always aware that I was lucky, that some children don’t grow up with access to technology, this issue never felt urgent until I watched videos or heard testimonials of people who are victims of the digital divide.  The Wikipedia page on “Digital Divide” reported findings that low SES students suffer not only academically, but also emotionally and temporally.  Instead of going home and completing their homework in a timely fashion, they must travel to public libraries and wait in lines, completely at the mercy of the 5p.m. closing time.  These alternate methods of completing assignments mean less time for after-school activities, building friendships, or even just relaxing with one’s family.  It breaks my heart to see kids who desperately want to learn and are truly dedicated to achieving academic success, but who fall behind because of where they live. 

            The worst part is that it seems as though there is nothing that we can do to remedy this unfair situation.  We could demand that public school systems in low-income areas, where many students do not own a computer at home, offer more computer lab time in the classroom.  However, extremely low test scores indicating below grade-level abilities make the idea of taking time away from math and language arts instruction ludicrous.  Furthermore, even if LAUSD, for example, did decide to devote more time to technological instruction, the hours would be miniscule compared to the time other children from more affluent homes spend on the internet.

            What if we decided to take the ideology behind the One Laptop Per Child project, and apply it here in the United States?  Wouldn’t giving a laptop to every student in America erase the digital divide?  Not necessarily.  We would have to deal with the lack of internet connectivity in some of the more rural cities of the United States.  Furthermore, we must consider the cultural obstacles of the digital gap.  When a child’s family lacks the history of having a computer in the home, it is difficult to acquire the same technological repertoire as someone whose family has always used technology.  A child whose family does not use computers does not have the same motivation or encouragement to engage in the activity.  They also lack the parental support and instruction provided by a tech savvy parent.  This is not to say that he or she cannot catch up, but the student will undoubtedly have to work harder to make up for the economic injustices.

            Learning about the digital divide, though distressing, highlighted why media projects designed for social change are so important.  As ambassadors for social change, we can use technology to give a voice to those who may not have the tools to spread their message for themselves.  I am excited to get started working with the community based organizations.


Haran’s Week1/Week2 reflections by hsivakum
January 26, 2011, 12:57 am
Filed under: Reflections

After viewing the numerous videos offering social commentary and/or advocating activism, I had one of those moments where I get an epiphany only to slap my forward the very next moment upon realizing that my “epiphany” is something so painfully obvious. I had just realized that although such socially-based media has nobler intentions than other types of media, it is by no means exempt from getting down and dirty and using manipulative and cunning techniques other form of media employ.

What I mean is that socially-based media still has to appeal to an audience and has to market itself and advertise in a way that attracts viewers. A video that simply “does the right thing” is not sufficient when it comes to satisfying potential viewers. The video that I felt was by far the most effective and powerful was the one on the Haitian film school. It managed to take one of the greatest and most unjust catastrophes of the past year and turn it into a heartwarming feel-good story by focusing on a very thin slice of that story. Now, I’m by no means condemning the film and its intentions. It conveyed a very important story and revealed how powerful of an equalizer film can be. What I’m saying is that as a film it is far more attractive to a viewer and likely to stick with a viewer than the film on the Muslim woman who was beaten.

While I still do feel that social injustices can be raised through film, I can’t help but feel that an overwhelmingly negative film such as the one on the Muslim woman simply aren’t doing the best job. Such films should offer a ray of light and spin the story in a way that emphasizes the potential of a brighter future. With no real info as to how I could directly help or how Islamic society might get past such savagery, I was left with no way to channel the uncomfortable feeling the film left me with. As a result, my mind simply did what was convenient and forgot about it.

A film that did manage to leave me feeling empowered was the voting ad. It highlighted an important social issue, scare tactics being used in elections against voters, and offered a solution. Now, obviously the solution in this case was fairly obvious and simple: vote. However, I think the same formula applies to all socially-charged films. When making a social commentary or raising awareness about an injustice, it is important to include information on how the viewer can directly go about addressing such an injustice. If this information isn’t revealed, it begs the question of why even raise the issue in the first place. It’s one thing to leave the viewer with something to chew on. But when the food being chewed tastes gross, no one is going to want to chew it. No one wants to keep thinking about poverty, war, crime, etc. People do however want to feel better about themselves and to feel hopeful about the world. Providing a call to action enables them to do just that.

Reflection for Week 2: DIY Video Activism by Liz Krane
January 25, 2011, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Reflections

Wow, I’m really excited about this class! It’s inspiring to see so many examples of this passionate new niche — one that I hardly knew existed before last week. I was already pretty familiar with DIY culture in general, though. Wikipedia has an interesting page on it.

“DIY culture in the United States can be linked to many of the same philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1900s, which sought to reconnect people with hands-on activities and the aesthetics associated with them – in direct opposition to the prevailing industrialization and modernization”

And now that modernization is exactly what’s making today’s new DIY movement even more powerful! Funny, isn’t it? It’s fascinating how DIY culture used to be about good old-fashioned knitting and pottery, and now it’s all about using the latest media technologies. DIY video today combines the awesome power of accesible technology with the hand-crafted, personal touch of the arts and crafts movement. Some of the videos might not be especially professional, but they definitely have personality — the equivalent of a hand-knit sweater compared to a store-bought one.

For example, the video about Neda Soltan was a simple slideshow of photos mixed with shaky, low quality video footage. But it was shocking footage, and it was real. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make an impact. Getting the word out is the number one priority in this case, and how that’s accomplished doesn’t matter as much since the content is inherently attention-grabbing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the video titled “Why Would Anyone Want to Stop You from Voting?” was all about fancy graphics. Most of the information was presented through text, with lots of animations and some video footage to illustrate the main points. A lot of time went into the production of this video, and in this case it was probably necessary to get the message across to its target audience: young adults who don’t already know or care much about politics. Instead of relying purely on the content, this video used graphical elements to grab the audience’s attention, illustrating every few words with a new visual to appeal to the younger generations and their shorter attention spans.

Another point I found interesting from last week’s readings was in the third part of the interview with Sasha, on the topic of transmedia mobilization: “One important aspect of this is shifting from the role of ‘spokesperson for the movement’ to ‘aggregator, curator, and amplifier’ of movement voices.” That’s one of the great things about the internet: the aggregation and amplification of those voices. It seems that almost every campaign today — whether it’s for a social cause or part of a product’s marketing campaign — invites the audience to create and share something, and then uses those contributions to create a snowball effect (the more participants, the more attention it gets, and then the more participants it gets, and so on). A couple examples off the top of my head:

  • the Doritos and Pepsi “Crash the Super Bowl” contest that asked fans to make their own commercial for the products
  • Ada Lovelace day, “an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science”
  • Star Wars Uncut, a collaborative remake of Star Wars and an experiment to “explore the dynamics of community creation on the web”

It’s great to see similar things happening in the realm of activism. One person with a camcorder can only do so much, but as part of a community focused on a common goal, anything is possible!

Jason – Week One/Two Reflection by jlipshin
January 22, 2011, 9:11 pm
Filed under: mm4sc, Reflections

First off, let me just say how thankful I am for the curatorial work that Sasha has completed for the DIY Video Festival. As a budding digital media scholar and practioner, I say this with the utmost sincerity, because, to my knowledge, these posts provide one of the few looks into the specific media practices of activist movements working today. In many of the work I have read for courses in both film and new media, scholars seem to be very comfortable talking about the politics of DIY video in relation to issues of representation, fair use, remix, and popular culture. And while these discourses around the politics of expression and identity should continue to be treated with the utmost importance, I have often wondered why the DIY productions of activist organizations dealing with specific policy issues have not received more systemic critical and historical accounts in the academic literature. Seeing examples of such political practices beyond the off-cited pop culture remixes mentioned by scholars like Henry Jenkins has been very inspiring and I can’t wait to delve even further into the history, theory, and practice of this kind of activist work.

In fact, watching these videos and reading these posts has proven very instructive to me in beginning to map some of the critical and aesthetic strategies activist organizations have used in trying to disseminate their messages and mobilize support. For instance, I had no idea that the slideshow set to music (interspersed with stills, video footage, and/or interviews) was such a prevalent genre in activist video circles. Given the wide (though certainly not ubiquitous) availability of relatively cheap desktop editing software and the ease with which slideshows can be created, it certainly makes sense from the standpoint of cost and skill set that this genre has become so popular. But even if many of the slideshows and other videos posted here may not display the best production values (as one of my colleagues already mentioned in their post), I think videos like the one from the 350 movement and the one concerning Neda and the botched Iranian election of Ahmadinejad remain powerful in their own right. In both cases, they are able to conceive of “bearing witness,” curation, and aggregation as a kind of intervention on a global scale – and in that sense, I believe they qualify as exemplars of activist media.

That being said, I also enjoyed some of the more aesthetically polished approaches to activist media. The video concerning the recent history of voter disenfranchisement, I felt, was incredibly effective in its merger of statistics, testimonials, and animation; in particular, I enjoyed the sequence in which news clips concerning the topic were layered onto a map of those states that were most guilty of denying voters the right to vote on election day. I also enjoyed the video by the Copenhagen Bike Bloc and its attempt to engineer innovative approaches to protest and civil disobedience. In any case, seeing such a wide variety of approaches to activist video work right off the bat has been immensely helpful to me in building an idea of what I might be able to complete this semester.

I simply can’t wait to jump in and get my hands dirty! 🙂

First Week Reflection! by koreey
January 21, 2011, 3:10 am
Filed under: Reflections

This week was very interesting! Before this class I never realized the impact of multimedia, the weight it holds and the realism it has the ability to capture. Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect coming in to this course. However, meeting with the class and collectively watching and discussing the videos gave me a clear understanding of what this course is about.

The videos posted this week opened my eyes to a new realm. They captured the realism of our everyday lives -a realism that we often disregard or don’t give much energy to on a regular basis. I was particularly intrigued by the way most of the videos mixed live video clips with animation. In my opinion those were the ones that grabbed and maintained the audiences’ attention -generating food for thought or a desire for change. The Neda Soltan video in Iran was one of three videos that grabbed my attention. Not only did this video have the power to grab the audiences’ attention, it has the ability to raise awareness about the exiting social issues in Iran. What is interesting is that the inequality that exist in Iran is something that most Americans feel “entitled” to or at least have the right to fight for, while the people of other countries don’t. The video about Haiti titled After the Earthquake: A Compilation of Cine Institute Coverage captured so many powerful images. This footage has the ability to bring the audience so close to the catastrophe that you feel a connection with it and with the suffering people.  The fact that the footage was filmed by a local film school (the only school on the island) goes to show how significant the school was to the island. Without the contribution of these students these images would not exist. In addition, the video about gentrification in Detroit, Economy & Gentrification provided a great deal of insight about the economy and the gentrification movement that is occurring throughout America. Many are unaware of the gentrification process and the people who ultimately suffer from it. They only see the end product –the beautification of the area. This video does an AMAZING job of revealing the alternative side of this epidemic. 

In addition to these videos, I found the video about the 2008 election (Why Would Anyone Want to Stop You from Voting?) to be very interesting as well. My sister was actually living in Miami Florida during the 2000 election of George Bush. I vividly remember her telling me about the chaos and how they wouldn’t let “certain” people vote. She told me that they literally told people “no” and ironically, even law enforcement engaged in this activity. They failed to send out absentee ballots and the lines were ridiculously long. Some people waited up to five hours to vote which ultimately deterred people from the polls and back in to their homes. She was actually one of many people that were unable to vote that year. I remember how upset she was but there was nothing that could be done. Why Would Anyone Want to Stop You From Voting?  The video said it best, “If you control who votes, then you control who wins.”

I am so fascinated by these videos! And the reason is because it is difficult to get people to feel connected to something… However, these videos (unlike other forms of media) truly have the power to do so – in just a few minutes! They are essentially a tool for progress and the fact that they have the ability to truly capture life through a lens in no longer than five minutes is remarkable.

I am very excited for this semester!!!

Week 2 Reflection by stasiharrell
January 19, 2011, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Reflections

            After spending class time to watch the videos, I began to realize just how impactful this medium can be in terms of bringing light to important societal issues and movements.  If done well, DIY videos allow us the ability to (quite literally) see those affected by a particular issue, adding a humanistic element that transcends the very straightforward, often cold accounts and information gleaned from a newspaper article.  While I appreciate the efforts of my fellow Annenberg scholars who will dedicate their lives to print reporting, there is a very dramatic difference between hearing an author’s “voice” in a piece, and hearing an activist’s voice or a victim’s voice set against a mood-setting soundtrack.  Simply put, videos activate more senses, so the audience feels as though they are a part of the movement, or at least that they should be.

            In particular, the “Neda Soltan” video, though it lacked the production value of many of the others, was quite haunting.  It put a face to Iranian violence.  It gained power through its simplicity.  Some of the other videos, however, were not as effective as a result of their simplicity.  The National Equality March video, for instance failed to provide its audience with enough information about the event.  The rainbow symbol and theme song was helpful, but insufficient and I do not think I would have picked up on exactly what the video was trying to do had it not been for the accompanying blog.  Some of the other videos relied too heavily upon interviews for my taste.  The “Locusts” video provided a lot of good information and important perspectives, but I found it difficult to focus my attention on each of the speakers.  I would have appreciated some sort of animation or music to break up the sound bites.

            By far however, my favorite video was the voting one.  It showed how far we can take DIY video to create a piece that is truly inspiring.  From the ominous music to the short sound bites of enraged voters to the unbelievable statistics to the visual phantasmagoria, this video was so effective at shedding light on the hypocrisy of the current voting system that I sent it to a friend who happens to be a political science major doing research on voter turnout. 

            Overall, I think this exercise was beneficial.  I enjoyed getting to see a few examples of media campaigns and discussing them with the class.  It was interesting to see what worked and what didn’t work, and to compare my own opinions with the perceptions of others.  I think this will help generate inspiration for our own projects as the semester progresses.