DIY Dilemmas (October 24, 2008)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2008 blog post marks my humble online dialogue with new media visionaries Ian MacKaye and Henry Jenkins, who both contemplate the power of DIY production in their work.
"Of the members of punk rock's second generation—Bob Mould, Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra, etc.—Ian MacKaye has had the greatest influence on music and commerce: The DIY ethos he and his peers established in early-'80s Washington D.C. affected the genre as profoundly as his music."[cit]

The Third Cinema was a radical film movement that occurred in the 1960s in the decolonizing nations of the Third World, including Latin America, Africa and Asia. Like DIY, Third Cinema is "an ideologically charged and aesthetically meaningful term that denotes the adoption of an independent, often oppositional stance towards commercial genre and auteurist cinemas emanating from the more developed, Western (or Westernized, in the cases of Israel and Australia) capitalist world. As such, Third Cinema is both less geographically bound and more actively shaped by anti-imperialist and counterculture movements that emerged during the 1960s."[cit]

Jonas Mekas writes about the New American Cinema Group: "On September 28th, 1960, some 23 independent filmmakers, including myself, met in New York and decided to create a self-help organization which became known as the New American Cinema Group. The Group held monthly informal meetings and discussed dreams and problems of independently working filmmakers...We believe that cinema is indivisibly a personal expression. We therefore reject the interference of producers, distributors and investors until our work is ready to be projected on the screen."[cit]

Maya Deren, a member of the New American Cinema Group, was "a dancer, choreographer, poet, writer and photographer. In the cinema she was a director, writer, cinematographer, editor, performer, entrepreneur and pioneer in experimental filmmaking in the United States. Like Jean-Luc Godard and Sergei Eisenstein, Maya Deren was both a film theorist and a filmmaker."[cit]
I went to an inspiring talk by Ian Mackaye, of long-time punk and more-recent Fugazi fame. Since the 1980s he's quite successfully run an underground record label, played in bands, and lived his life by his own private ethics as an artist on the outside and in opposition to corporate, media, military culture.

I wasn't there as a fan, although I understand why people would be, I attended because I thought he might be able to help me with my concern about the current ubiquitous use of the term DIY—one which I credit to punk, rightly or wrongly—toward any-old user-produced digital stuff: fan vids, remixes of The Hills, odes to Naruto or Apple. I asked him if the term "DIY" necessarily included a critique, a counter-cultural attitude, an anti-corporate agenda, or if it really just meant "stuff people make."

He answered that if people make stuff off the expressway of dominant, corporate culture and they instead choose to wend their way around the small slow back roads of craft (the transportation metaphors are his), outside the rules and goals of the market, that this "was political," whether the maker had a political position or not, whether the user celebrated corporate culture, or not. I had to stop and look at my dogmatic position once again. These guys are challenging to me, they're much more inclusive and open to the likes and activities of regular people than I seem able to be. However, MacKaye spoke about being a lonely teenager who found a place for himself in punk (and who started the band Minor Threat at like eighteen) because there, for the first time, he was in a room with the freaks, and outsiders, and political people, and artists who knew that they would not be satisfied or recognized or fully realized within the stuff and ways of the slick, fast, highway to nowhere (or to more vapid stuff) of dominant culture.

Let's face it, I asked the expert. He's lived a real DIY life (although, in many ways I have too. All my video and academic work, really, falls outside corporate mechanisms of production and reception) and he's ready to accept it all.

But then I read Tomas Guiterrez Alea for my Media Praxis class, and he also speaks to my concerns about questions DIY: "When I refer to 'contemplative' spectators, I mean ones who do not move beyond the passive-contemplative level; inasmuch as 'active' spectators, taking the moment of live contemplation as their point of departure, would be those who generate a process of critically understanding reality (including, of course, the show itself) and consequently, a practical, transforming action."

I want to find, believe in, and celebrate, the possibilities of a critical DIY culture that activates a process of understanding reality that compels us to practically, actively transform. What might the less-than-critical DIY culture need to move from contemplation to activation? Why can't more of us be like Ian MacKaye?