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?