Circling Jenkins #2: Boobs and Bytes (October 14, 2008)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This 2008 blog post refers to ideas we were debating and videos students made in Fall 2008 after reading Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture and Paul Willis's Common Culture.
"The Hills is an MTV television series that premiered on May 31, 2006. The show uses a reality television format, following the personal lives of several people living in Los Angeles, California."[cit]

"'Yes We Did' provides a slide show of strategic insights from the campaign that redefined modern politics."[cit] According to the New York Times: "Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans."[cit]

"Consumer activism is a coherent set of activities in which citizens use their consumer identity to press political claims."[cit]

"Clicking links and sending pre-written faxes is The Lazy Activist way. It truly is the easiest activism on the Net."[cit]

"Collectively, informed consumers can be a powerful tool for change."[cit]
In the same Learning from YouTube class where two students presented their fake documentary about convergence culture and the tv show The Hills, two other groups presented on political convergence culture. They made videos about their research about how user-generated YouTube videos have enhanced citizens' participation in our current election.

I use the circle in my title for two reasons. First, while The Hills project ridicules girls for wasting time engaged in DIY close-readings of bad television, the politics projects celebrate YouTubers for doing the same. Can you have it both ways and no way at once (going round and round and round in the circle game ... )?

The second round reference is to the breasts that feature prominently and centrally (if unintentionally) within all the videos featured in my students' intelligent, if uncritical compendium of the formats used for YouTube political convergence culture.

As we build collective intelligence about this election (and otherwise), should we be satisfied with the sexism and satire that undergirds much YouTube discourse about politics? Is a reliance upon (even if sarcastically) often-stupid popular culture even understandable as intelligence?

My students suggest that moving (circling) bytes of media from one platform to another (convergence), raising its exposure and hits, is today's dominant form of contemporary political participation. Given that politics is merely cynical spin, and thus there is no distinction between media about the world and the world itself, they say, then watching and passing on videos, and sometimes commenting on them, is a form of activism.

No more circling. Stop the spin. I will be direct in my criticism. While any participation and passion and action is better than none, we must be bold enough to name ideals for the best of people's culture (not just getting stuck in the fact of it), and retro enough to state that there remains a world outside the media hall-of-mirrors.

All of this is to say that participatory culture can benefit from both teachers and theorists, who pass along ideas and structures to allow for deeper engagements with culture, and reality, where the criticisms of real people leave the looking glass and enter, and better yet alter lived experience.

As I lectured my students yesterday: there is a war and a depression. Some bodies don't get health care, and all bodies must vote to be counted in this election. Sure, they may only know these things through parodic YouTube videos, but some bodies also feel these effects. Politics is not just spin, nor is participation.

Paul Willis put it this way: "the point is to increase the range, complexity, elegance, self-consciousness and purposefulness of this involvement." [cit]