Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prep for the GRE and get an iPad for FREE!?!

It's too good of an offer not to post this anywhere.  My work is giving out $499 rebates for iPads if you enroll in one of their test prep courses by Dec 31.  If you are already thinking about prepping for these test or know anyone who is thinking about prepping for the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT then this is a fantastic deal.  The courses are a little expensive, but definitely get results, and would be totally worth it if you're getting an iPad out of it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

kids at the center

picking stickers for finishing homework

playing outside in the neighbor's field
balloon races

antony showing his origami

making collages

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

video about cajamarca

A video we made about the center in Cajamarca.  (We just like making videos)

Monday, June 28, 2010

More of Peru

showing off the origami I taught them

central plaza in Cajamarca (biggest city in the region)

crazy fruit that´s not really fruit

kids we work with (they love to color)

Ok.  That has to be it for now.  Pictures take forever at this internet cafe.

Monday, June 14, 2010

In Peru

Near where we volunteer

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Camera is Racist

Yes, I am a little bit crazy.  I´m living in Peru for the summer and I don´t quite speak Spanish.  The area where we´re staying can best be described as a small town, bu the area where we´re volunteering is definitely the country.  When my husband and I get on the micro (buses that are public transit but don´t seem to be government or city owned) the more traditional campesinos tend to stare at us.  We´ve gotten some great pictures, but something troubling has happened.  My camera is racist.  So, we have a newer Nikon camera that was given to us as a gift before going on this trip, and haven´t really gotten to use it much.  Much to my surprise the auto setting keeps asking if I have blinked when we take my picture. Sadly, no, I´m not blinking I´m just Asian.  Despite the fact that I´m of the opinion that technology is rarely neutral, it is still surprising that this has occured. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Visual Research Methods Retrospective

I originally started this blog for my Visual Research Method course to fulfill the requirements for the class.  Initially, I thought that this would be a great idea.  I could articulate my scholarly thoughts in a centralized location, and maybe have a commitment to academic blogging that would be helpful as I begin to undertake my quals.  Throughout the course, I have found that I generally like blogging while I am actually typing, however, this seems to be complicated by two main issues:  finding the time to actually sit down to make the blog and finding thoughts to make a blog about.  This semester more than any other, I have been in a perpetual state of panic about not having enough time to complete all of my assignments and responsibilities.  Perhaps if I were taking less than a full load of classes, or not working, or not preparing to leave the country for the summer, I would look forward blogging instead of  having to find time in my schedule, which usually meant not going to bed in order to fit a post into my schedule.  Additionally, I found that most often when I sat down to compose my blogs, I simply felt like I was being redundant.  I thought my blog would be a place for me to work out my thoughts and have a less structured way to explore my theories, however, I hadn't realized that I am already participating in working out my thoughts outside the classroom and my academic papers as my husband and I are constantly doing this at home.  By the time I sat down to write my ideas for my blog, certain ideas had already been processed in my head and debated with my husband, which meant I had already worked through specific issues and was not really sure what to write, because I wasn't sure if I was writing this to myself, in which case I felt that I was simply rewriting what had been said, or if I was writing for someone who was completely unfamiliar with these topics, in which case I was spending too much time outlining background, also feeling redundant, and not really getting to the meat of the issue.  Even though I was kind of writing for classmates, so many of the members of the VRM class have different backgrounds, it was hard to figure out what was common ground. Perhaps if I simply need to figure out who my audience is.

I think I will continue blogging even when the class is over, but I do need to reevaluate the purpose of my blog and what my ultimate goal is in blogging, so that I don't feel self defeating.  It is helpful to have a record of ideas and theories, not just class papers, to see how ideas are developing over time.  Academic blogging has made me less wary of academic competition, especially since as recently as last semester I had been told that making your ideas known as an academic before projects are completed allows others to "steal" your ideas and complete books before you.  Especially in the humanities, I need to worry less about "unique" ideas, and worry more about being in conversation with existing scholarship, and blogging can help me find that existing scholarship.

The Good, the Bad, and the Misguided: Mixed Race Asian Digital Storytelling

This video project was done for my Visual Research Methods class with A Fevered Dictation as a part of examining digital storytelling.  We decided to work together on this project because both of us as "hapa" individuals have tried to theorize about being mixed race academically, and have also searched popular culture for satisfactory representation of being bi-racial.  As the use of video technology has become more available, individuals have started making their own digital stories, some of which attempt to address their personal struggles with being mixed race.  Unfortunatley, many of these personal stories only seem to be reiterating popular stereotypes about Asian mixed race individuals: hailing mixed race individuals as kind of natural “melting pot” signifying improved race relations, being able to disband racism with their mere existence, or that mixed race individuals represent some kind of superior hybrid.

Any attempt to challenge the discourse on racial categories must enter an already established discourse on racial and racial construction, as Pierre Bourdieu states that to "revalue upward the notion of multiraciality in American life" only comes as a part of a larger classification struggle. These videos almost always focus on bodies or physical appearance, which usually undermine the argument many mixed race individuals make by not wanting to be looked at as a racial Other, while inviting the viewer to gaze at the "foreign" features of the individual. Especially in the context of bi-racial Asian individuals in the U.S., identification by "white" Americans as being something other than Caucasian, only confirms existing discrimination in which Asian Americans have been perpetual foreigners as Asians first and Americans second.  The dominate mode of scholarly racial discourse revolves around the division between privilege and discrimination, privilege being almost always synonymous with whiteness.  Especially those of mixed white racial ancestry who have been typically denied their claims to whiteness, upward mobility in light of a newer acceptance of multiracials, brings with it economic and social capital that was once denied them.  

 Working on this video project, we made decisions about content, style, and voice very consciously.  While there are some good personal narratives (thoughtful, highlighting cultural/historic context, not making stereotypical melting pot statements), we found that they were harder to find, and more prevalent were the kinds of videos we decided to critique.  We talked extensively about how difficult it was when using video, not to undermine arguments about the gaze, looking, and bodies, when that is mostly what is present in our video.  This project as collaborative was difficult but enjoyable.  We spent a lot more time theorizing and outlining so that both of us could be satisfied with the project, especially since we were dealing with such a personal and issue ridden topic.  We were able to have some productive conversations about our mixed race experience, as well as comparing notes about the scholarly work we had both done in this area.  Also, it was good to work with a fellow scholar and friend.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gaming to Change the World?

Maybe we can pool collective wisdom to change the world.  I don't know if people believe in epic wins in real life, but I suppose its worth a shot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

thinking about docs on fandom

is weekend as a little break from hard work on final projects, I took a break and watched King of Kong:  A Fist Full of Quarters.  This documentary follows Steve Wiebe as he breaks the world record score for Donkey Kong and his attempt to get that score legitimized by Twin Galaxies, the official score keeper of classic video games.  The drama of this documentary is that the officials at Twin Galaxies all seem to be groupies of the existing world record score player, Billy Mitchell.

While I enjoyed this documentary on many levels, I always have mixed feelings watching these kinds of fan documentaries.  I understand that these docs cannot begin to explain the complex dynamics of these communities, but that the filmmakers can get at least a glimpse of a world we might not be apart of.   Additionally the skills or cultural capital of this group is made clear, which can help to illustrate how value is flexible according to the properties of specific communities.  However, there is always the major risk of bringing a community to outsiders attention, and exploiting that, and belittling the members of a community.

With King of Kong, this line between sharing a community and belittling its members seemed especially thin.  While the complicated process of validating scores and the politics of who gets recognition within the community seemed even more complex than I could have imagined, the lack of context for quotes especially from the non-major players in the documentary seemed to fall directly into the main kinds of video game player stereo-types (socially incompetent, nerdy, male, adolescent, intellectual in the wrong areas).   Even the protagonist Steve, seems set up from the start to be kind of abnormal--a desire to break a world record in order to fill his unemployment time.  Of course Steve's refusal to stop playing Donkey Kong to help his son in order to reach his top scoring goal is made insignificant when compared to Billy Mitchell's schemes in order to stay number one.  As the film progresses Steve's non-game playing activities are highlighted, in order for the audience to connect and sympathize with him and away from Billy.  While this is an effective filmmaking technique, it leaves me wondering how playing up "nerdiness" or "obsession" undermines the individuals while simultaneously enhancing the narrative of the film.  This happens so often in these types of docs, but is it ok?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is it naive to want to change the world?

 After viewing Food Inc. and writing about it for one of my classes, I found myself continually coming back to some critics and bloggers who dismiss the film's message of consumer empowerment as naive.  Personally, I didn't feel that the film was naive, but found it refreshing that the film asked its audience members to do something about the issues raised in the film.  Well, maybe more than refreshing.  As a person interested in  the problems of consumerism and a believer that ordinary people do have power to make large scale changes, I want people to watch a film like Food Inc and actively make changes in their lives.  I frequently watch documentaries about social, environmental, and political issues that work to educate audiences, yet can leave an individual feeling overwhelmed and powerless to change anything.  Documentaries of this sort are usually made with a goal to shape opinions, but wouldn't shaping action be even more effective? 

Some might argue that it would be impossible to go all organic or all local, and I would have to agree.  It would be very time consuming and very expensive to undertake such a lifestyle, although some can do it.  Personally, I am not going to give up everything that's not local, and my trips to the 99 Ranch Market to purchase honeydew soymilk shipped from Hong Kong definitely disqualify me from being a locavore.  However, I am not silly enough to buy things like strawberries, oranges, or raisins from outside of my currently location in California, since all those things are made right where I live.  So what does it matter if I get my produce locally?  Would that even make a dent in corporate food?  If Steven Hopp is correct in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, then by eating one local meal a week, it could change the food economy up to 10 percent, and "reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.  That’s not gallons, but barrels." 

I also think back to a consumer culture course I took a couple years ago.  Most people think about consumer movements as Upton Sinclair's  Jungle or the addition of labeling on food products, but we talked extensively about the links between Civil Rights actions and consumerism.  Bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins were an intricate part of protests and action against segregation.  The pressure placed on national chains that had segregated branches in the South were the most effective because the pressure placed on them was national.   Additionally, the U.S. government used commerce to get its way, in Katzenback v. McClung, in which the U.S. Supreme Court, deemed segregation at restaurants illegal because it violated the interstate commerce clause. 

I think in such a consumerist society that purchasing power can make a difference, and I don't think its naive to ask people to know how their food or other products are produced.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

the power of juxtaposition

This past week I've been working on a paper about reactions to the atomic bomb for my history class, and enlisted the film Atomic Cafe as one of my resources.  This documentary has been on my radar for a while, but this was a good excuse to move it up my queue.  The entire film was done using archival materials from newsreels, the dropping of the atomic bombs, military training videos, educational videos, and medical footage from the 1940s and 1950s.  The entire film was done without narration, with audio existing on the archival footage and minimal titles--in fact I think most of the titles were on the existing archival footage. 

Perhaps I haven't seen an only archival footage documentary in a long time, or one as exclusively based in archival footage, but the power of the creators thesis was clear, merely by the juxtapositioning of images.  After spending a considerable time thinking about how to make documentaries and ethnographies, I was unprepared to think so much about post-production, rather than the production aspect.  I've spent so much time thinking about how to respectfully approach subjects without making them objects, how to frame scenes, what questions to ask, etc., that I've spent little time thinking about editing.  In Atomic Cafe, the footage remaining the same, could have been edited together to make almost a whole new thesis, if one wanted too.  Obviously when much of the footage was originally used, it was propaganda supporting the bomb, and one could have edited that together to continue that point of view.  However,  It was very clear from the placement of "duck and cover" drill videos with images of some of the measurements of the damage at Hiroshima, that this not only advocated peace and anti-nuclear action, but implicated America as victimizer.


Besides the increased attention I will be doing to documentary and ethnography editing, I also feel like I need to reexamine the casual way in which atomic was used following the bombing.  Within and incredibly brief time, the term atomic began to be used for everything from music, to drinks, and to movie stars. But that's another project.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

my first video essay

Disposable Bodies Video Essay

I was immediately inspired while reading Norbert Wiener's "Men, Machines, and the World" to address a visual topic that also involved social responsibility.  The more theoretical work I read about media studies, the visual studies, and digital media, the more I was drawn into the notion of our changing view of our self and our bodies.  Here I was drawn to the work of  Amelia Jones's  "Dispersed Subjects and the Demise of the 'Individual 1990s Body in/as Art'"  and N. Katherine Hayles'  "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers." We are constantly rethinking our bodily-kinesthetic relationship to computers based on the evolving technology of the interface.  The new tablet technology I use in the video is only the most recent manifestation of this.

However, the continued technologizing and multiplying of our bodies really only applies to those who constantly and consistently use this technology.  I began to think about a lecture I attended by Toby Miller in which he theorized our relationship to the television itself, as a thing. Our relationship with television screens and computer screens is not permanent, both metaphorically and physically.  The physical object of the screen will become obsolete as new technology comes to replace the old.  What happens to the self when the computer, which was once intimately connected to us, is disposed of?  What happens to those bodies that must deal with our techno-trash?

I propose that our relationship with the technobody, our and others, is entirely dependent on real world social and political realities.  Why else would we dump e-waste in developing countries where damage is being done to poor bodies of color?

Making this video essay was an interesting process.  I researched in the same way I would to write an essay, but the evidence I used seems more random and required more analysis on my part to make connections.  I also have not used irony in written essays before, but appreciate their use in visual text, and found it much easier to be visually ironic than on  paper.  I felt as if the technical process took up more time, not because of the use of video editing software, but because I was acutely aware that others would be viewing this video, and it was not just an exchange between myself and a professor.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reading a Photo with Cultural Anthropology

I've find myself continually returning to this image. While the aesthetics of the photograph are poor, much to my own chagrin of having taken it in a rush, it is an image I am continually rethinking. This past week in my Visual Research Methods course, I encountered some ideas that will help me in this desire to better read this image.

Our guest lecture during the class did an incredibly contextual analysis of 17th Century Genoan depictions of the Virgin Mary and the controversy of crowning her the queen of Genoa.  While I cannot say that the inter-workings of  the Genoa Republic will be useful in any of my future scholarship, it was an incredible example of how to dig deeper and use all available avenues to really dissect an image more than merely discussing its aesthetics. 

In encouraging us to apply interdisciplinary principles to the study of visuals, we discussed Clifford Geertz and Victor Turner.  While this was not my first time working through Geertz, I think that the value of thick description should not be underestimated when applied to visual images.  In my Elivs-Stormtrooper image you could continue to read the image in terms of what made Elvis so popular and imitable as well as what makes Star Wars, and specifically Stormtroopers imitable.  However, it is probably more than merely the symbol of these two popular images that prompted this individual to don his attire, but a larger cultural impulse of media convergence that has become popular.  The media technology that we now possess (or those of us who use and possess) has encouraged all sorts of re-interpreting and re-inventing of popular images that makes something like a Elvis-Stormtrooper possible.  There are so many layers to what could be said:  Is it that Elvis will live on--even into the future?  Or perhaps because Star Wars was "a long time ago and a galaxy far far way" that no one can escape the influence of Elvis?  Is it a commentary of what he wished was under the Stormtrooper helmet?  Do the values of Star Wars and the values of Elvis coincide?  Is it merely an attempt to get extra usage out of both an Elvis costume and a Stormtrooper costume?

But perhaps I should point out that this particular image is also tied to the place in which I took the photograph, San-Diego Comi-con, which comes with another set of "cultural" values as well.  Comic-con has an atmosphere of festival and performance that is not typical of everyday settings, and one in which dressing as a convergence pop-culture imagined figure would not be unusual, and perhaps encouraged.  I find Victor Turner helpful here, and wish that I had read his material before when for a previous class I attempted to discuss some of the aspects of convention costumes.  When you think about performance as an integral part of culture, that life is very much like theater, it is helpful to see very obvious manifestation of this in the costume culture of  dressing up at a convention.  We perform as part of a space that brings social cohesion and inscribes meaning in an event.  Comi-con is a kind of imagined community that only appears physically once a year, and so in participating in one of its most popular events, the masquerade, one could be said to have credentials to show one belongs in that community.   Our Elvis-Stormtrooper is as much at Comi-con to see as he is to be seen.  While most of us don't don superhero or pop culture costumes everyday, there is performance for all of us in the way we select clothing, wear appropriate work attire, or style our hair, that makes the costuming of Elvis-Stormtrooper less unusual that I would have previously thought.  Our own everyday performance enables us to show what communities we belong to, as much as Elvis-Stormtrooper is proving his part in the Comi-con community.

Friday, February 5, 2010

re-posting some articulated thoughts

I decided I needed to save this post, since the blog I originally wrote it in died a couple years ago.  I think it was definitely worth saving, especially since I find myself tackling issues of authorship and ownership again and again.

Previously posted:  Thursday, March 29, 2007

Here's something I've been working on for my cultural and media studies class:

Author and Textual Authority

Contention over who is the “author” is really a contention over truth and authority. Who has the power to declare textual truth? Who has the power to change textual truth? Two main issues need to be addressed when defining the author of a text. First, what is the author’s authority over the interpretation of the text, and second, how does the power of interpretation affect the relationship between the author and the audience.

The notion of a creator or author’s textual authority can be viewed in two parts: the intentional or unintentional. Intentional textual authority functions as an extension of the author as a rational being, having authority over his creations. The author as creator can be used as a source of interpretive authority by merely asking the author about the original intent of the text. Popular culture and some sectors of academics, gives a large percentage of interpretive power to authors. One of the most prevalent examples of this is the case of film authorship. Popular culture gives a tremendous amount of credit to film directors as sources of interpretive authority, as evidenced by DVD extras and talk show interviews. A recent example of this is Mel Gibson and numerous interviews he gave about Apocalypto. Nearly all the interviews asked about his interpretation of the film, concerning the rise and fall of civilization, and a few asking about his view of Mayan culture.

This is in large part because of the theoretical legacy of the auteur theory, literally French for author, popularized by French film critics in the 1950s. Even though popular culture has largely misappropriated the auteur theory, and used it to give textual authority to directors, this theory of textual interpretive power is not entirely an intentional one on the part of the director. An auteur, usually the director, is given interpretive power only after a large body of work has been produced. The auteur may know, or not know, that over the volume of his texts, certain patterns and themes will emerge, and these are the core meanings of all his texts. Thus, an auteur makes and remakes the same film, over and over again, becoming the authority on specific themes. Howard Hawks is a commonly cited auteur because of his breadth of work and themes of male heroism.

The auteur theory was loosely based on a more prevalent theory that an author’s intentional choices are largely outweighed by the unintentional choices, mainly in the form of literary historicism. By privileging the author’s personal life and historical period, textual power is given to factors out of the author’s control. In a review of recent biographies, Leonard Cassuto observed that our idea of the biography comes from the influence of Leon Edel, who outlined the biographer’s purpose as “locat[ing] the subject’s secret self.” Anything that authors leave behind become evidence in the search for the secret self, and ultimately a source of authority on any text that the author has written. Cassuto highlights the 2005 biography of Theodore Dreiser as an excellent example of the secret self biography, claiming that at Dreiser’s core he was man of Nineteenth Century ideas writing in the Twentieth Century, and that his novels are reflections of this. If interpreting a text is dependent on the author’s life and influences, as evidenced by the legacy of these secret self biographies, then interpretive power is given to both the author (such as Dreiser) who makes intentional choices about what he writes and the author-biographer who uses psychoanalytic power to find the author-novelist’s secret self (uncounscious Dreiser). In this case the biographer triumphs as supreme author, or one with the most interpretive power because he enables others to utilize his information as entitlement. However, the biographer is himself an author, and subject to his own secret self. Either way, both of these ideas still invest interpretive power with the author.

This brings us to Roland Barthes’s pronouncement that the author is dead. Barthes states that the author is a modern figure and a product of society and English empiricism; that it is capitalist ideology that necessitates this “tyranny of the author.” As a semiotician, Barthes uses this to explain that the very act of writing removes the author from the text, because he is not present at its connection with the reader. The author is the past and the reader with the text is the present. The text does not disseminate an author’s secret self, but is “a multidimensional space,” a “variety of writings,” none of which are original. A text is only a translation of expression into words, and words are signs that can be lost and meaning deferred. Therefore, if the author is removed from the text, than all attempts to decipher it will be in vain. By imposing an author on the text, it gives the text a sort of finality of meaning. This is false, Barthes concludes, since a text should not be finally “signified” but allowed the play of language and cultural shift. The text is really a creation of the reader, because “text unity lies not in the origin but in the destination.” Ultimately, Barthes names the writer, formerly the author, as scribe to distance it from the author as supreme textual interpreter.

Because of Barthes declaration, textual power can now be given from author to reader, or audience. In this way the audience receives textual interpretive power; it takes on the traditional role of author as meaning creator. Audiences are not required to accept all of the content in a text, and may choose to only accept a portion of it. For example, if one were to watch a television program and disagreed with the content, one is empowered with the ability to change the channel. Horace Newcomb and Paul Hirsch call the audience “cultural bricoleurs” and are free to disagree, add or change assigned meaning, and ultimately become their own textual interpreters. An audience in a mass medium is not homogenous, and therefore the meaning that these individuals place upon any text will be controlled by their personal experiences inside and especially outside mainstream culture.

However, the textual authority with which Barthes or Newcomb and Hirsch endow the reader is contradictory to the power that scholars in other fields have given to authors. One in particular is Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism. If Orientalists have the ability to construct the East as an uncivilized Other, and their versions of the East continually propagate themselves, then the author’s textual power is present. Said says that scholars and travelers are taken as experts that purvey their Orientalism throughout the rest of the Western world. The attitude of Orientalist authors shapes the reality of the Western experience in the Eastern world because Westerners only see stereotypes. Said basically concludes that colonialist literature of the Nineteenth Century is a closed text; it exudes Orientalism, which is not subject to interpretation. Evidence that these racial stereotypes are reinscribed by numerous authors, and all throughout society, would prove an author’s textual power. The author has power because people believe the stereotype.  This calls into question whether audience interpretation moves beyond story to culture.  If a reader, or audience, can disagree with narrative, then by association shouldn't the reader be able to disagree with the cultural messages contained within a text as well?

Because an author is traditionally defined as one who has authority over the text, the author can be writer, audience, or according to Said, culture. Textual interpretation is a power that shifts, from author to audience, depending on how each of them define their role in assigning meaning. It is not surprising then, that popular culture and theorists are not in agreement on who has this interpretive power. If what Barthes says is true about capitalism contributing to the tyranny of the author, then mass media will not want to deny its right to textual authority because it is linked with monetary power. Copyright law and the contemporary disagreements about fair use are probably the ultimate example of this fight for textual power in which we see creators and users disagree. Despite laws and opposing theories, an author’s textual power may ultimately reside in the amount of textual power the audience decides to give him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

onward and upward

success!  I have entered the world of academic blogging.....