Q&A #1 with Henry Jenkins (February 20, 2008)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This is the first of a three-part 2008 blog-interview that was first published on Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Henry Jenkins had been following my blogging and speaking about teaching LFYT (we had debated its radical potential at the 24/7 conference at USC), so I asked him if we could engage in an interview as I was attempting to write (and network) concise, systematic lessons from the output and experiences of LFYT 2007, and he generously took me on. This was another attempt to organize and present the otherwise large and unruly body of student videos made for my class.
"Henry Jenkins is the Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending the past decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture."[cit]

"In addition to its focus on personal liberation through the development of critical consciousness, critical pedagogy also has a more collective political component, in that critical consciousness is positioned as the necessary first step of a larger collective political struggle to challenge and transform oppressive social conditions and to create a more egalitarian society."[cit]

The consolidation of corporate ownership of the media, and its effects on democracy, are much discussed by academics, journalists and citizens: "What if you woke up tomorrow to find that Yosemite National Park had been turned over to Chevron? Or that the Everglades were now under the watchful eye of DuPont? Most people would agree: Giving corporations nearly unlimited control over a precious public resource is unacceptable. But that's exactly what we've done with our airwaves and media—delivered them into corporate hands."[cit]
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More videos related to the content of this page
(Published first on Confessions of an Aca-Fan)

HJ: You sought to use YouTube itself as a platform for pedagogy. What limitations did you discover about YouTube as a vehicle for critique and analysis?

AJ: My hope that the students would be able to see and name the limits of this site as a place for higher education were quickly met. By the midterm, we could effectively articulate what the site was not doing for us. Our main criticisms came around these four structural limitations: communication, community, research, and idea-building. We found the site to be inexcusably poor at:

- allowing for lengthy, linked, synchronous conversation using the written word outside the degenerated standards of many online exchanges where slurs, phrases, and inanities stand in for dialogue.

- creating possibilities for communal exchange and interaction (note the extremely limited functionality of YouTube's group pages, where we tried our best to organize our class work and areas of conversation), including the ability to maintain and communally experience permanent maps of viewing experiences.

- finding pertinent materials: the paucity of its search function, currently managed by users who create the tags for searching, means it is difficult to thoroughly search the massive holdings of the site. For YouTube to work for academic learning, it needs some highly trained archivists and librarians to systematically sort, name, and index its materials.

- linking video, and ideas, so that concepts, communities, and conversation can grow. It is a hallmark of the academic experience to carefully study, cite, and incrementally build an argument. This is impossible on YouTube.

Given that the site is owned by Google (a huge, skilled, and wealthy corporation), and that all these functionalities are easily accessible on other websites, we were forced to quickly ask: Why do they not want us to do these things on this particular, highly popular, and otherwise largely effective site? This is how we deduced that the site is primarily organized around and effective at the entertainment of the individual. YouTube betters older entertainment models in that it is mobile, largely user-controlled, and much of its content is user-generated (although a large amount is not, especially if you count user-generated content that simply replays, recuts, or remakes corporate media without that DIY emphasis on critique).

The nature of this entertainment is not unique to YouTube (in fact much of its content comes from other platforms), but it certainly effectively consolidates methods from earlier forms, in particular those of humor, spectacle, and self-referentiality. As YouTube delivers fast, fun video that is easy to understand and easy to get, it efficiently delivers hungry eyeballs to its advertisers. It need provide no other services. In fact, expanded functions would probably just get in the way of the quick, fluid movement from video to video, and page to page, that defines YouTube viewing and bests older models of eyeball delivery, which is not to even mention that users also rank materials, readily providing advertisers useful marketing and consumption information.