Aesthetics, Authorship, and GIFs

What is the theoretical value of a short clip of Tina Fey “high-fiving a million angels”? What does a GIF say about new media aesthetics and how we conceive of authorship/ownership? The now ubiquitous GIFs and memes are what Henry Jenkins defines as spreadable media. The prototypical word used for media that moves virally through an online network is meme, a term that was coined by Richard Dawkins to explain how cultural ideas, practices, and symbols are transmitted “by leaping brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” (Dawkins 189). Unlike the cultural memes Dawkins theorized, Internet memes do not maintain fidelity or an unaltered state as they pass from “brain to brain.” In their study of online memes, Michael Knobel and Colin Lankshear discovered that many were altered, “the meme ‘vehicle’ was changed, modified, mixed with other referential and expressive resources, and regularly given idiosyncratic spins by participants” (208).

A recent example of an online meme that has propagated due to modifications is the “Ryan Gosling says Hey Girl” meme. The meme began on a Tumblr feed entitled Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling when a captioned picture was posted that stated, “Hey girl, No Shoes, Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Wait to Kiss You” (Jezebel). This led to a circulation of a whole series of captioned Ryan Gosling photos that began with the words “Hey girl.” It spawned a derivative blog entitled, Feminist Ryan Gosling, where after the opening of “Hey girl,” the captioned Ryan Gosling delivers musings/statements related to feminist theory and literature, such as “Derrida thinks language is fluid enough to break the gender divide, but nothing will split us apart” (Henderson). At the point of this most recent iteration, who is the creator of this text? Tumblr user Jezebel wrote a caption on a photo she did not take and uploaded it to a site that she did not create. Danielle Henderson parodied the original meme to promote a feminist agenda and perhaps promote herself as an academic and writer, as her feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr led to a book contract. Analysis of her usage led me to create my own Ryan Gosling meme, which I used in my dissertation defense, which was the final step to earning my doctorate.

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If we consider aesthetics as a way of judging the value of art, then the aesthetics of online media/art involves how easily and likely a text is to be “appropriated and reworked by a range of different communities” (Jenkins et al 2). Because viral media and memes rely on the audience to transform and repurpose the original text, the value of a piece is co-determined by the audience. To reach an audience and elicit their participation, pathos is needed. According to Jenkins, Ford, and Green, spreadable media most commonly contain: “absurd humor or parody,” “puzzles or enigmas which encourage us to seek out other information,” a need for audience participation to be complete, and “themes of community and nostalgia” (6). As Micciche argued, emotions bind a social body together. Online, emotions are the catalyst behind likes, shares, and posts. We are not only circulating images and information, but emotions.

Understanding the aesthetics of new media texts should be recognized as a form of literacy. “Literacies call us to generate and communicate meanings and to invite others to make meaning from our texts in turn,” explain Lankshear and Knobel, “This, however, can only be done by having something to make meaning from—namely, a kind of content that is carried as ‘potential’ by the text and that is actualized through interaction with the text by its recipients” (4). Whether this type of literacy should be referred to as digital literacy, electracy, aesthetic literacy, or critical literacy is up for grabs. What is clear is that we must reconceptualize literacy, authorship/ownership, and aesthetics to glean the most from the affordances of new media.

Works Cited:

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, 1990.

Henderson, Danielle. Feminist Ryan Gosling. Tumblr, 2013.

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. NYU Press, 2013.

Jezebel. “Hey girl, No Shoes, Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Wait to Kiss You.” Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling. Tumblr, 2012.

Knobel, Michael and Colin Lankshear. A New Literacies Sampler. Peter Lang, 2007.

Micciche, Laura. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching. Heinemann, 2007.

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Blogging: The Case Against Immediacy

In our New Media Writing class this week, we are preparing to enter the blogosphere. Part of that preparation involves considering the genre of a blog. As an introduction, we read Andrew Sullivan’s essay, “Why I Blog?”. When I first read this piece nearly a decade ago, I felt the wave of techno-optimism as a true public sphere emerged online where everyone could have a voice. Today, I feel less optimistic reading about the power of free expression, as we have become inundated with perspectives and have begun to treat all perspectives as valid, even those that perpetuate the oppression and the suffering of others. It’s become difficult for many to differentiate between fact and opinion, between well-reasoned analysis and false causality. Because of this, I believe we need to abandon our goal of speed when it comes to posting, commenting on, and sharing information online.

In his essay, Sullivan writes, “We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now—as news reaches us, as facts emerge.” Having access to information at all times has created a world that is constantly being fed bits of stories, not just online, but on our 24/7 cable news stations. We do not need more truths that are likely to changes as details emerge. We do not need more cherry picked facts with commentary instead of context. What we need to do is redirect our attention to the longview, to the aggregated facts. Our attention drives the media cycle.

Our blogs can still be expressive and written in one sitting (ala Doogie Howser-style). However, when facts are involved, verify them. Proceed cautiously with emerging stories and new studies. Speed is not the ultimate value. Let’s approach blogging as an endurance sport.

Introduction to Multimodality

The key shift between composing for a print environment and composing for a digital environment is the number of “modes” available to aid in the storytelling. Modes are different forms of expression: linguistic, visual, aural, spatial, and gestural. In the discipline of English, we are most familiar with the linguistic, the selection, arrangement, and delivery of words. I like to say to be a new media writer you need to be a jack of all writer-605764_960_720trades and a master of one. For most of us, writing will be our “master trade.” The trick in new media writing is not relying solely, or too much, on our strongest and most comfortable form of expression.

While writing may be our strength, it may not always be the most effective mode. As the cliché goes, “A picture tells a thousand words.” Visuals can give viewers a more immediate understanding of a concept or situation. In addition, visual choices regarding size and color drives a viewer’s attention and shapes their understanding/perception of the message. Visual choices, not just linguistic choices, are a part of every paper we compose. For example, academic papers should look a particular way. We would not use pink Comic Sans for a font choice.

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In conjunction with the visual is the spatial. Appearance and function often work together. The spatial mode involves the arrangement of a piece and how people move about it. This movement can be how someone opens and consumes a brochure, how we navigate a website, or even how we sit in a classroom. The rhetoric of place is a fascinating area of study if you are into architecture, landscaping, or urban design. However, in this class, we will mostly look at layout and navigation. When we move from a print environment to a web environment, the spatial mode also expands, as web texts are not isolated — they can easily connect to other texts via hyperlinks.

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Another change as we enter the digital environment is the introduction of sound. Instead of reading an interview, we can hear an interview. As a standalone mode, sound allows 1-1260977459Qiyistories to become more portable. I can listen to a podcast while I drive and do household chores. As a supplementary element, it brings personality/culture to the individuals and places featured. We can use music as a new way to express tone: this is serious, this is relaxing, etc. This can get us into trouble at times if the music we have chosen is not appropriate to the situation or editorializes the content in negative manner.

The final mode is the one that we will employ least in this class, the gestural. Unless you celebration-1295014_960_720are delivering a monologue via your webcam, this won’t be a factor. The gestural is the way our bodies communicate: our expressions, our hand gestures, our posture, etc. If you are wondering an emoji could be counted as a gesture (I was), the answer is yes. At least, some scholars are arguing that they be considered as such. In this way, the gestural may find its way into your social media posts.

As you can see, we can express ourselves in many ways and can constructive meaning, at times, without even realizing it. In this class, we will be utilizing multiple modes whenever we construct a text. Our focus will not be on the technical aspects of page layout or audio editing; it will be on making good choices to create an effective, cohesive text where all the elements are appropriately selected and arranged.

For a more in-depth explanation of the five modes discussed, see: https://www.amazon.com/Writer-Designer-Making-Multimodal-Projects/dp/1457600455

 

Curating New(s) Literacies

When I first began researching social media, I picked up Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart, which covers the skills needed in order to communicate, network, and cultivate an identity online. One of my favorite terms he uses is the word curate— essentially the act of choosing and presenting information discovered online. I’m returning to this term in order to consider how to teach news literacy in the upcoming semester. While the class could go through the usual process of evaluating credibility and verifying facts, I want to make this lesson more applicable to the ways in which we share information every day, which is not in academic research papers. I want us to become more critical curators.

Twenty years ago, trusted print and broadcast journalists curated content for us, not only at the national level, but also at the community level. Increasingly, those small papers have shrunk and merged. In Michigan, the distinct identities of many news organizations have morphed into the large networked space of Mlive. If you follow them on social media, you are as likely to see a national news story on some salacious story in another state (children in cages, gruesome murders, etc.) as a local story. We have filled this dwindling of community news with other filters we identify with, such as media personalities and particular civic and political organizations/groups.

It’s important to distinguish between media personalities and news reporters, which is one part of critical consumption. While all news stories are filtered by the sources selected, the use of quotes, and the arrangement of information, reputable reporters seek out those closest to the story and who have the highest level of expertise and work to portray those viewpoints fully and accurately. A good news story also is balanced and told without revealing the reporter’s individual stance.

One of my stronger students this past semester chose to write a paper on fake and misleading news. In one of his examples, he mentions news coverage by Nancy Grace. At this point I stumbled and questioned him, as Nancy Grace does not deliver news coverage as a journalist, but gives opinions on news events as a commentator. Commentary is not news reporting, even if it is on CNN. In newspapers, opinion pieces are easily identified in their own sections. On cable news stations, the lines between factual, impartial news and commentary are often blurred. Even more dangerous is the fact that these news stories are tailored to audiences of a particular viewpoint, who are unlikely to question information that mirrors their beliefs.

On a smaller, but perhaps more influential level, our news is also being filtered by our social media circles. Each of our friends and liked pages and groups perform curation. While we are most familiar with how individuals curate their statuses and photos to present the most attractive aspects of their life, the non-personal information they share is also a form of curation. In fact, even liking and clicking a story drives the attention information receives. We make stories go viral, we make fake news profitable, and we shape how search engines rank information sources. Maria Popova argues that we have become moderators, sifting through the heaps of information and choosing which ones to shine a spotlight on. It’s a weighty role we have all unknowingly taken on and most of us do not have the skills needed to do it well.

In the composition classroom, we spend most of our time preparing students to enter the conversations of their discipline. However, we do not spend enough time preparing them to ethically drive the attention economy and critically consume and curate information. Here are the resources I am drawing from as I move towards making a paradigm shift:

Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world

Verification Handbook

Stony Brook Center for News Literacy

Fake Or Real? How To Self-Check The News And Get The Facts

Revisiting Remix Through #CLMOOC

Though we brainstorm, labor, arrange, and perfect, our texts are not finished when we hit publish. Instead, we are throwing our words and images to the world in hopes that they will live beyond our hard drives, memory cards, and web space. Like our children, when the leave the house, our control fades. We may have created the initial shape, but the world will permeate their structures and alter the perspective we instilled. Excluding the murky world of copyright law, how do we feel about this?

For the Make Cycle #2, the #clmooc community used remix to reciprocate “with generosity and gratitude.”  I intended to select quotes from other blog posts and Tweets to overlay with #silentsunday images, as I enjoy the interplay of image and text. However, when I looked at the images, I realized I could make a (mostly) visual remix.

clmooc 2016 Found Poetry

I created this image solely to express gratitude to those who shared weekly snapshots from their life. Together, these snapshots create a new, imaginative world, richer for each perspective contributed. In general, I have enjoyed the tapestries people have woven using other people’s work to express what they found meaningful.

The why is key in remixing. The topic of plagiarism was trending last week due to Melania Trump taking words and structures from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech to use in her own. It was not a purposeful remix to pay homage to the great work Michelle has done as first lady. Instead, it was speech that missed a step in the writing process.

The reaction to Melania’s speech and the various concerns and questions #clmooc raised regarding remix/plagiarism/ownership indicates it is a discussion that would be fruitful in a writing class. I am visualizing breaking up a class into groups to each analyze a different text to determine whether or not it is a remix protected under fair use or a plagiarized text with no artistic merit. They will then defend their standpoint.

Key questions from other blog posts:

“What does it mean to “own” something composed we’ve composed? If we are remixing someone’s composition, then where does that ownership begin and end? Does it matter? (If not, why is intellectual property law such a booming field?) Is ownership in the intention or act of communicating? In the product?” (Karen LaBonte)

“If I use someone else’s words for a remix, am I a writer or remixer? Is it writing if the words are not my own? (I prefer: composer)…. If the writer asks the remixer to stop/halt/remove, does the remixer have an obligation to do so? (legal, moral, etc.)” (Kevin Hodgson)

Remix – The Art of Juxtaposition

One of the featured assignments in my dissertation was the Remix Video. The Remix best illustrates what it means to be a new media writer. We gather, we curate, we link, we comment, and we create. Our social media identities are remixes of shares, posts, retweets, likes, etc. As we move forward in our digital era, we are leaving behind the myth of the self-contained author, who extracts brilliance from his own mind in isolation.

As Thomas Rickert in his book Ambient Rhetoric explains:

“The writer writing is not so much in the middle as extended into the very dynamics of ambience. The ‘writer’ writing cannot be understood as a discrete, individualized entity bounded by skin and self-image, wielding external tools and thoughts (which, by being external, can ‘alienate’ us), for in writing we can entwine ourselves with the accouterment of writing—pen, paper, keyboard, typewriter, computer, books, ideas, sounds, furniture, food, beverage, interruption, serendipity, the things dotting the local environment and the environment itself, the larger infrastructure, other people, even our own bodies—and lose ourselves in this immersion. Ideas emerge in the complexity of interaction beyond our individual control, since the ambient situation worlds us. We contribute, of course, but as catalyst and site of disclosure, not as sole producer and controller.”

What he is saying is that when we write and create we are synthesizing a collection of influences to respond to a certain rhetoric situation. Essentially we are remixing.

Remix and Fair Use

Now how do you deal with copyright in a world of remix? I imagine copyright lawyers will always wrangle with this issue. However, as of now, Fair Use offers new media writers a good deal of protection, especially in educational settings.

There are many great resources online discussing what the four statutory factors of Fair Use are, such as this one from University of Minnesota Library: https://www.lib.umn.edu/copyright/fairuse. Our remixes will most likely contain commentary and criticism of published media clips/shows. We won’t be stealing the main argument or heart of another work or taking a large portion of the original. All the clips we take will be transformed into our own creation. Hence, what we do will fall under the umbrella of Fair Use.