[iDC] MLK Day post
markcmarino at gmail.com
Sun Jan 20 21:27:07 UTC 2008
On the commemoration of the birth and life of MLK, I wanted to turn our
attention to the practice of remixing and the issue of race with this video
response to Michael Wesch's "A Vision of Student's Today." (
(Re)Visions of Today's Students
A little context first
Michael Wesch has produced two widely publicized videos. The first, "The
Machine is Us/ing," has been the subject of discussion for quite some time.
The second, "A Vision of Students Today." has received less attention, but
still about 1 million views. Liz Losh mentioned the film here <
https://lists.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2007-December/003015.html> as an
illustration of in-class use of Google Docs. Wesch's says this video "was
originally created as Part 2 of a 3 part series on Higher Ed. Part 1 has
been published as Information
Recently I've been considering these two videos, "Us/ing" and "A Vision," in
light of each other. The one seems to capture the excitement some of us
feel about various new software applications (mostly in free beta release).
It creates a dream-like celebration o the software that is part of that
contested and derided category (Web 2.0). That first video seemed to give
us a teaser for today, a trailer for contemporary technologies in which we
are the full-access subjects, the transcendental eye balls floating through
all levels of media (from code to interface), able to make the internet
dance. This was the video that established Wesch as an authority on these
The second video focuses on one of these technologies, Google Docs, but, by
contrast, also brings in images of human users. If the voice of "Us/ing" is
a timeless, bodiless voiceover, in "A Vision," that bodiless commentator
(made of text alone) shares the screen with the faces of some of the 200
other contributors. What's more, because these students are represented
not merely text, we now have something else to contend with: their bodies.
These are the bodies of "Students Today," though perhaps that title should
be qualified to "students in Michael Wesch's KSU class room on the day of
the recording." They are more than just color-coded user-names
collaboratively generating a document. They are human subjects.
As the video proceeds, these students become a (low-affect) medium for the
information from the Google Doc. With nonplussed faces, they hold up
placards that reveal statistics about the state of their computer use and
their other academic habits. The implicit suggestion is that these students
are not what we expect and that they are different from those who came
before them. They Facebook in class. They buy expensive books they never
use. A number of these students have laptops. And they are a wall of
It is their image of their raced bodies that carries so much information and
yet goes uncommented.
Of course, Michael Wesch doesn't have to deal with every topic every time he
makes a video, but I would argue that the homogeneity in the featured
students' appearances communicates something about race, even if that was
not the intention. This isn't to rehash representational politics but to
comment on what happens when Wesch's subjects go from social software to
Now it's not that the video isn't representative. Surely, KSU doesn't have
anything to apologize for. It's demographics are not too different from
state demographics with respect to race and ethnicity. It's economic
diversity also shows its openness. (Nor am I suggesting that other
universities get the mix of diversity better.)
But this video isn't about KSU. Part of the problem may be that due to the
success of Wesch's Web 2.0 video, this "Vision" has taken a kind of
hegemonic weight. Again, its title offers the video as an image, albeit ONE
image, of "students today" (in America, presumably) and in the process
ignores its own implicit message about race.
My first reaction is: I'm not surprised. In my experience, white students
do not tend to think about race. As one professor has pointed out to me
elsewhere, students from homogeneous environs don't nec. think about race
with the same frequency that students growing up in more integrated environs
My second reaction is: I'm concerned. How often do our conversations about
"this generation" of internet-using, always-Googling, Facebooking students
drop questions of race, or the questions of access or institutionalized
discrimination that underlie them.
For my mock-up, I attempted to use Wesch's collaborative technological
approach from "Us/ing" to remix and rewrite "A Vision," not as a "gotcha,"
but as my own contribution to that Google Doc and a small reflection for MLK
Of course, the critique doesn't merely reduce the issue to black and white.
There are many other groups that don't appear in this video (though might
even be in the room). The critique is that the group does not notice or
comment on something that becomes quite central to the display technology.
The fundamental questions that interests me here are: How do questions of
technological possibilities obscure questions of access? When we think
about spreading media literacy are we first thinking about the students that
already have high degrees of access? Do euphorias about new technologies
and the participation they afford obscure other questions about
opportunities to obtain literacy or about technological use varying among
communities? Does the sense of our new generation of technology users lead
us into much older traps of universalizing our observations or falsely
homogenizing our image of our students?
By the way, Wesch has offered the following responses to criticism and a
thread for even more feedback here:
http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=124 and there is much more on his
Wesch has also included a link to the Google Document here:
Here's a link to a further discussion of my video at WRT:
I also wanted to use this post as an opportunity to discuss the practice of
remixing videos. Liz Losh has produced her own remix of video content in the
context of military maneuvers:
She also uses the video to comment on itself, here by inserting other
These kinds of videos suggest ways of response we can, of course, take on
with our students.
Anyway, these practices of writing back with some of these emerging
technologies may be great tools for our politics of resistance, to our
agitation for change, which seems a fine topic for MLK day.
University of Southern California
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