I am slated to teach Introduction to new media again (very happy about that). In this course I try to have a signature project for the students that is relevant to their life or the current socio- cultural, political, and historical context. Last time, all of my students were seniors so they did a “master of your own domain” project. This semester, I am planning on some how getting a video capable drone and having the students push the drone to its creative limits through making experimental digital shorts, with the backdrop of learning about the current political and legal, commercial interest etc. conversations around drones.
So… I sent an email to a few drone companies asking if they have any form of educational discount as I will more than likely end up having to purchase the drone myself for use in the classroom, especially if I can’t find an adequate discount. One company replied, not only not answering my question (they suggested a different model), but they started the email to me with “Dear Sir“.
It wasn’t an auto email. Someone replied and called me a sir. I think there are two reasons for this. Someone sees teaching fellow/professor and assumes male… (and I guess Jade is sort of unisex, but I’ve never met a man named Elizabeth) and drones seem to be for boys and men… specifically middle aged white men with a good amount of disposable income. Now, I am not saying they are the only ones who use drones for fun. However, I spent almost all of Saturday and half of Sunday watching people’s drone videos and tips, and comparisons, etc (I should probably be ashamed of the amount of hours I spent (seriously, it was more than 15)… and none of the people coming from the US did not fit that demographic. It was a bit shocking. I didn’t expect it to be so homogenous. So, I feel even more determined to have my class use a drone for the purpose of a creative intervention. The demographics of my University and the major means our courses tend to have more women than men. I want them to make videos and share them.
Boys grow up and get remote control toys like airplane and cars. I guess girls are supposed to get easy bake ovens and baby dolls. Boys grow into men and the toys are upgraded to drones. Girls become mothers and get the kitchen. That is what this is feeling like. When girls are depicted as doing surveillance it is almost always to show they are crazy and unhinged. There are a few things where women get to be spies or thieves too with special gadgets, etc, but the popular trope of the snooping girlfriend or wife seems to be dominant and pretty well accepted. When are doing surveillance they are generally super cool spies, action heroes, military (or related career) men, or hobbyist with a bunch of disposable income and time. I was one of those little girls that loved cooking, but on a stove… and even more than cooking loved my chemistry set and my race track. I always wanted remote control vehicles instead of the barbies and baby dolls i would get. The barbies lost their heads, and the dolls were never touched. I longed to see commercials as a kid that showed that things like hotwheels were for me too so when I told my family and other kdis that I wanted boy toys it would be normal. This is part of the reason the lack of representation of girl droners out in the world populating the YouTubes was so… epically sad for me. That this seems to be so culturally ingrained, and from a young age makes me sad too. But it seems to be our popular surveillance culture. I desperately want drones to be for girls too though.
Anyway, if anyone out there in the silence of the internet has suggestions for affordable video capable drones, please send them. I’m thinking that all the companies will say no about educational discounts right now (and all of them might call me a sir), but… I will find a way to make this happen.
Also, if there are any amazing girl droners or research out there and on gender demographics and/or the culture of drone hobbyists (did a search and found nothing), that would be awesome too.
I saw something the other day. On the Hottentot Venus wikipedia page, there was a copy of an advertisement, not well sourced. I was looking into the often told story of fashion being influenced by the Khoikhoi body type. Namely the bustle, that thing that protrudes at the back of dresses from the 1800s, when it came into fashion. Are you lost yet? It gets worse. Apparently there was another famous “hottentot” who was around at the same time as Saartjie Baartman. But, her body wasn’t treated the same, or maybe she lived a long and happy life, or something… her name has disappeared, but I found a reference to her existence somewhere in the archives and went on a hunt for her name and lost the original reference in the process but learned a lot more on the other side. And, as an aside, “hottentots” were shown for a really long time. I have a hard time with all the ones we forget for how strong the memory of Saartjie Baartman is… but I understand. I really, truly, understand. It is why I can’t bring myself to post the very old pictures of the cast of her body that was in the Jardins, even though I know where that photo lives digitally. It hurts to see. But, there were more. And they displayed the men and children too. Here are some albums from the 1884 international exposition in Paris (I don’t remember there being images of the children here): http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b77023200.r=Hottentots%2C+album+de+31+phot.langEN http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b7702319b.r=hottentot.langEN My relationship with these images is complicated. I will be addressing it in my dissertation (and I addressed part of it in my article). I mean, that part is basically written… the nuts and bolts of it is this though is, often people chose to go to these expositions. We cannot know why. But, often times, these images that come from these awful practices are the only reflections we see of bodies that look like ours in the historical photographic archive. And if we can step out of the colonial framing for a moment, and look again, maybe we’ll see something else. Maybe we’ll even find a name. For instance, the woman on the right in this series of photos is named Bebye Rooi.The names of the other two have been lost to history. I know her name because of the amazing work of Deborah WIllis and Carla Williams, who use one of the photos from this series in their book “The Black Female Body: A Photographic History”.
Anyway, in the midst of my research I found plays that talk about the Hottentot Venus and how in love with her body people were from 1814. I read the play linked below about a man who is so enamored with the idea of Venus Hottentot that he refuses to marry his cousin. She meets a man who tells her how popular the body shape is in Paris. All the women are buying clothes and house coats that allow them to have a body in her shape. She buys one of these outfits. Her cousin immediately falls in love with her, and when the real Venus Hottentot arrives he accuses her of being an impostor.
Just found a play called “La Vénus hottentote, ou Haine aux françaises , vaudeville en un acte” http://t.co/YGNIcIXzJz
— Jade E. Davis (@jadedid) June 26, 2014
— Jade E. Davis (@jadedid) June 27, 2014
I found a single reference to the “tournure hottentote” (hottentot bustle) in my initial French search. It was in a digest of court cases. The story is actually a little bit funny. A wife told her husband she was pregnant for the fourth time. He kicked her out of the house and sent her to the hospital and told her not to return home if she brought home another girl (they had three girls already). Well, luck would have it that she had a girl. And he didn’t let her come back. So with the help of a friend who had a key and had a neighbor who was on her side, when he was away she would have the neighbor go to the house and get her stuff, including a pot. The neighbor put the pot under her dress as he ran into her during one of these find and retrieve runs, in the back. He was very angry about the pot and said she looked ridiculous, with that pot giving her a “tournure hottentote” (you can read all about it here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k4514944.r=%22tournure+hottentote%22.langEN). Since my French search was turning up nothing, and I’d fallen down a black hole of research for the night on this weird historical representation
This one was a bit painful because the idea of the body had gone from beautiful but grotesque (I think we understand grotesque but beautiful things) to monstrous… and it becomes monstrous at the time those three beautiful women above were in paris as well as the others in that album possibly. Anyway, after the French search I moved on to research in English. I found tons of photos American Bustles that mimic the shape, so I’m wondering if it was more an american fashion thing (will need to find a fashion scholar to ask). But something else happened… I looked up “hottentot bustle” and learned that it is medical short hand for Steatopygia, the medical term for having a completely natural body shape. The shape is described as having a backside that looks like it belongs to a wholey different body. But.. these women, men and children existed and exist. That’s why I think these photos are important.
and it hurts that this is the medical terminology. That is from 1994, so 20 years ago. So I did another scholar search and found medical references as recently as 2011 that call it the hottentot bustle.. and I learned that hottentot apron is the shorthand for elongated labia, or Hypertrophy of the labia minora, because that is something that was also common amongst the tribe. Another “medical condition” to describe perfectly normal bodies. That term also has an article from the 2010s, but I didn’t bookmark it and don’t care to look for it right now. So… a search for a name and a fashion reference (which yes, i found some in Vaudeville, but have not yet found a hard link to it changing fashion), led to finding out a bunch of other disturbing stuff. But it’s the stuff that makes me think it’s important that we see the image above for what it is, and for what it could be. I write about image 3 in my dissertation (if you click through on the image you can see a bigger version). The women are linked, they are embodied, and they are there. For some they might be an oddity, but for someone like me, and many others, it is one of the few occasions I see my body reflected back historically. And, despite the circumstance, their heads are high. They aren’t some marvel of modern medicine. They are just there. And they are beautiful. And I am thankful that I know they existed, even though I will only ever know the name of one. I never did find the name of the other famous “hottentot” from the early 1800s… she’s lost to a few historical footnotes.
Yesterday I finally managed to successfully create a twitter bot. Thanks go out to the amazing twitter community that made this possible, namely @samplereality who provided me with the easiest bot creator I’ve found to date… and I say easiest because I managed to get it to work in less than 30 minutes, once I realized I’d been forgetting to authenticate. The tutorial he suggested that worked can be found here:
I think it might be something I use in my classes too, just need to come up with the broader framework and theoretical engagement. I know it’s there, but I’m stuck on the “OMG this is so friggin cool” moment still.
Why this bot?
Because why not? No. That isn’t the reason. I’ve been vocal of the years about how horrid that American translations of Fanon’s works are, partially because of the time they were translated in and the political situation on the ground here. But, it can be translated better, in bits and pieces, by a bot and a platform. You see, twitter has integrated bing translate. So if you click on a tweet, you have an option to translate it, and the translations so far have been pretty good. So, gift to anyone who is interested.
The other reason I made this bot is… I like have random bits of Fanon show up in my own twitter timeline. So, as a result, we now have @FanonInFrench putting the quotes out there as they were originally written, because.. I think that’s important.
The one thing about the amazing simple bot creator that I used is, there’s a limit to the text archive. Which is fine. It means that I have to form a schedule of when and what to update. But, I think that’s good to. It’s like a half bot bot. Or I’m part bot. Or, it’s a cyborg bot. Right now I’m trying to determine if text will be updated weekly on Friday, or bi-weekly. Given my character, I imagine it will be updated once a week.
So… I have a phone. A smart one. I call it my information calculator for shits and giggles, but really, that is what it is. My relationship to information, like many people have said over and over again, has totally changed because if I get interested in something and I have just my phone with me… boom, in less than 5 minutes I can know more than I ever wanted to know… which is partially how I because I an amateur coffee roasting expert, complete with my own in office coffee bar (because I have 9 to 5 job and have made myself entitled to a certain level of quality from my coffee) for my personal use (and those who come over for a cup when I’m brewing) in my office. And if you think I’m kidding, here is picture proof, taken by my dear friend when she came to visit me at my office.
— tressie mc (@tressiemcphd) May 21, 2014
But I think this is where internet culture seems to be going. I think I’ve thought the expertise thing for a long time. It goes along with self-branding, and that role self-branding and popularity play in social media. It’s very, intense, and confusing. Or not really. I guess I should say, as a child of the half offline half online generation of teenagers, I find it weird. And I’m not a teenager anymore. I’m someone who is studying digital culture because I’m deeply interested in the ways we turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into culture (and the implications of all that). It’s sort of what I’m writing my dissertation on. I think the coffee thing is a part of that too. I’ve decided to be a coffee snoob (it’s like a n00b coffee snob), but it’s personal. I won’t judge you for your coffee drinking decisions but I might encourage you to try a nice single origin roast from Yemen because it’s fantastic. Or the blend of Panama Esmerelda Gesha with Ethiopia Deri Kochowa roasted just past new England and rested for 24 hours…. because omg it’s so flowery and perfect. For things like this, the panoptic gaze of the internet seems fine, except for I think we think we’re seeing something that we aren’t. It’s like this:
We think we are moving, like in picture at the top of the article, but what we actually see is this static world of non-movement. So I made this tweet to describe it, that I’m going to embed rather than rewrite because I can:
panopticology: study of the future of internet culture as surveillance both real and imagined continue to be our operating system/technique
— Jade E. Davis (@jadedid) May 31, 2014
I think this was spurred on by two things I’m seeing in the internet circles I run in… there’s lots of talk on surveillance happening, and lots of talk about colonization, post-coloniality, and (my heart baby) decolonization… but I’m not seeing a lot of cross over, and I find that weird. Maybe a little confusing too… because colonization was always about controlling from some central source of power, have overseers, etc, out. And it was always about, even when that central power was invisible, making sure that those subjected to the power of whoever/whatever had control felt that control psychically. So… to me, and this is a thread through most of my work too, if I am being completely honest, which, since I said I’m a know it all I am, almost everything is about the methods of control, power, and relations that were set up through all the various types of colonization throughout history… and I take the history waaaay back… like.. empires and stuff. It’s just the human pattern. Technology, and seeing humans as technology for use outside of war settings changed it drastically…
So… what does this have to do with anything? Nothing really, other than I think many of us, myself included, are stuck in these suspended animations where we think we are making movement, but we’re really just on a spinning disk with a set sequence. I think that is what many of the reactions to recent social injustices have looked like. I think that is what the conversation around prison culture looks like. I think that is what the surveillance conversation is looking like. And I think that is what many of the attempts to break open the post-colonial into the decolonial are doing…
and that just brought something together for me. So now I will shamelessly self plug my article again. If you read from page 12, the section that is all performance studies titled: “Re/bound/ed: Mapping trauma and crisis”. I think we don’t realize how much we close off conversations, and how stuck we are. I used to think it was an echo-chamber but there’s too much movement for that. It is definitely more like a Phenakistoscope. A flat disk surrounded by dark edges where we focus on the parts we can see moving and take it for the whole… because that is our experience. The crappy thing about the internet information over-underload is that we assume we are getting a panoptic gaze of things, forgetting that the content we see still started with people. Even the bots. The underlying part is still human, and our experience, because… death. it limited.
So… not sure if there is a solution other than to keep googling. And talking. And searching. And finding things like coffee to be the places you decide to enter the oblivion of the internet-panoptic.
“Official culture still strives to force the new media to do the work of the old media. But the horseless carriage did not do the work of the horse; it abolished the horse and did what the horse could never do. Horses are fine. So are books.” – Marshall McLuhan
The other day I picked up a book and tried to look through it. I didn’t flip through the pages or turn the book over, I simply held it in my hands and brought it closer to my face to see if anything became clearer is the distance between my eyes and the thing in my hand diminished. Much to my dismay, rather than anything contained within the book becoming clearer, I found all I was doing was make the world around me darker. The contained universe of the book is fascinating because it is something we are, for the most part culturally literate in. It contains its own beginning and end and the mind of its creator. It can fit in the palm of our hands. Because most of us have had experiences where we had to write something but couldn’t find the words to fill in the space, we understand the labor that goes into the task of its creation. Because we can hold in our hands and take time to look through it, because even when it is not in our hands it doesn’t change, the book becomes its own standard. And it is the standard we have for where knowledge worth knowing is contained. The book is the prism we use to understand knowledge. The book seems to be the model we’re building from to determine what knowledge online should look like. Me writing this is no exception. There is a slight difference I’d like to call attention to though by asking a question:
What color is the sky?
I recently asked this question during my session at DML, with a different image of a blue sky, text in blue. There was no response. I had to ask twice, and everyone said blue. It was the only answer that was logical given the givens of the image and the cultural understanding we have of the color of the sky. I have to confess I spent a good portion of my life thinking the sky was blue as well, until I listened to an episode of the podcast radiolab called “Colors”.
It is an fantastic episode. I highly suggest anyone who has time listen to the whole thing. There is a section in the podcast titled “Why Isn’t the Sky Blue?” that brought me to using the question about the sky to understand the digital as a space of knowledge production and what I like to call knowledge-play that. The piece explains that the sky has not always been blue because across cultures, blue is the last color humans learn to recognize. The sky, without the cultural knowledge of blue then is something without color. But, because we have blue, the sky is blue.
What I think is fascinating about this is even with blue, the sky we experience is capable of being so many more colors within the limited range of colors we can see (another topic explored in the podcast). It is many colors we can’t see as well. But cultural we know for certain that the sky is, in fact, blue.
I googled “the definition of saturation” so you don’t have to. It makes one of those wonderful little google boxes pop up that contains a bunch of information including the definition of saturation that is important to my thinking here:
(esp. in photography) the intensity of a color, expressed as the degree to which it differs from white.
My chapter in Field Note’s for the 21st Century is titled “The Medium is Light”. It is freely available on the HASTAC website and Rap Genius You can see the condensed video version created as part of an assignment give to me and my co-authors from Omar Daouk
a video exploring aspects of digital media through McLuhan’s the Medium is the Massage and the Medium is the Message.
Since writing the book, and I more thoughts on the important for understanding light and why McLuhan’s statement that “light is pure information” is so important in this moment as we still try to figure out how the digital can be used to create a classroom without walls. I’ve already pointed to the problem of using the book as the prism for knowledge in the digital age, and provided some other things from McLuhan that show that this conversation is not a new one. What is new though is how light based electronic media have become as discussed in the chapter and video linked to above. I am a bit obsessed with backlit screens and fibre optic cables because they are our primary information sources now:
The information me we see is reflections of information that is projected and I think that is a theoretical explosion (and I sort of love thought explosions because they lead to the creation of new worlds).
If we go back to the episode of radiolab, it starts with a story of Newton trying to figure out if the color was in the prism or if it was in the light. You should listen to the podcast to hear the cultural beliefs and how he eventually figured out the prism (It worth the time!). We cultural know how prisms work. And we can use it as a metaphor, as I did when I started. The book is the prism we have for knowledge. Our devices, computers, smart phones, tablets, phablets, etc. are the prisms we use to filter and render digital data and information. Prism has a specific cultural relevance with regards to digital information given the revelations from the summer. I don’t think that is a coincidence. What my message is with all of this, especially with regards to understanding knowledge in our current information age is that, we have to think of how playful light can be. There is something from the book that I think translates very well to light. A book is like a shadow, it blocks out a lot of stuff so you get a silhouette of relevant information. Right now, when we think of the light of the internet it is like the light of the sun, blinding if you look directly into it, but helpful and necessary to live in a world where data and information are currency.
I recently went to a Ken Wissoker talk at Duke University. He was speaking about the (academic) book. He said it is no longer the place to create new information because the information is already on the internet. The more interesting books will come up with new ways of interpreting or putting the information together. So what is the role of the digital then? I think it is to make shadow puppets. When we use it as a flashlight, like I’ve tried to do with this post, where we highlight, play with, bring together, and make move information that’s relevant to the thing we are trying to understand, if we learn to apply filters, and change the data we are rendering with our electronic devices into meaningful bits of media that resemble media from the past, we might just figure out the color(s) of the digital information age. I hope that it doesn’t end up being like the sky, stuck in a single hue, but instead it is a dynamic ever-shifting gradient that pushes the limits of our perceptions and understanding.