December 10th, 2010

Becoming New, Becoming New Media

I did something I've never done before for the New Media course that I'm teaching this semester. I gave them the option of making their final paper a critique of one of my pieces. Because there were more conventional options on the list of possible paper topics I handed out, I don't imagine that many students will take me up on the offer. But I somehow felt that it was appropriate in this particular class.

Many of our class discussions touched upon themes I've explored over the years in my writing for alternative publications. I let them go on a tour of my Facebook during the week we devoted to pondering the site. And this particular course holds a special place in my heart, both because I really came to love the Honors Students who comprised it and because it seems unlikely that I'll get to teach it again.

In order to make it easier on any students who do opt for the critique-your-teacher topic, I compiled a partial list of those pieces of mine especially well suited to thinking about New Media. Because it has been a long time since I shared links to my non-Live Journal writing here, I thought I'd let you all see what I sent my students. Besides, given the difficult task of rediscovering my self that I've recently embarked upon -- more on that in a later entry -- I figured it wouldn't hurt to publicly acknowledge work that I'd gone out of my way not to maintain a connection with. Here, then is the message I sent my students:
My writing for ZEEK magazine can be accessed in pages organized in reverse chronological order here -- the most recent pieces -- and here. FYI, some of the latter have formatting problems that emerged after a site upgrade.

Some of the pieces I wrote for Tikkun magazine, before I moved to ZEEK, can be found here.

And, if you want to travel far back in time, the work I did for Bad Subjects: Political Education Life is still accessible here.

Here is a partial list of the pieces of mine that seem best suited to discussions of New Media:

“The Trouble With Toys: Walter Benjamin, Pixar and the Search for Redemption”, from 2010, which is divided into Part I and Part II, shows how the Toy Story movies and Wall-E are perfect foils for Benjamin’s analysis of commodity culture, particularly as it pertains to the mass-production of children’s playthings.

“Days of Future Past: Iranian Garage Rock of the 1960s”, from 2009, which meditates on the “revival”, not of music that was once commercially successful or critically acclaimed, but which barely got heard upon its release.

“Copy Right, Copy Left, Copy Central” from 2009 is an essay review on the documentaries Copyright Criminals:This Is a Sampling Sport and Rip It: A Remix Manifesto, both of which focus on musical artists who make their own “new” material from bits and pieces of other people’s work. It mentions Walter Benjamin at the end.

“Prog Is Not a Four-Letter Word” from 2009 compares the experience of seeing the classic rock act Yes on a recent nostalgia tour with a then-new triple album by the indie-label band Oneida, with reflections on how the music industry has changed since the 1970s and, more specifically, in the wake of the crisis that developed in the wake of file-sharing.

“That Noise in the Background” from 2009 is a review essay on Dinosaur Jr.’s Farm that considers the way in which music has increasingly come to function as a distraction in this era of media oversaturation.

"The iPod's Moment in History", from 2006, which originally appeared in Tikkun and was then republished in AlterNet, ponders the famous technological device’s capacity to turn public space into a private world and speculates that having one’s music collection in such portable form seemed especially attractive in the wake of 9/11.

“List of Ingredients: Matthew Herbert’s Plat du Jour” , from 2006, is a review essay of a “found sound” record by the cutting edge DJ and producer that raises questions about what it means to copy the natural world with a recording device.

“Listmania!: Target Marketing, the Internet and the Consumer’s ‘Me’”, from 2002, interrogates the then-rapid expansion of “participatory consumption”, focusing on Amazon.com’s use of customer-generated lists as a marketing tool.

“Incredibly Strange Culture and the End of the World As We Know It”, from 1994, anticipates the cultural fragmentation made possible by the internet in the course of considering the fate of alternative ideas at a time when they were becoming more and more accessible.
There are quite a few more pieces that are at least somewhat pertinent to New Media, but some seemed too short for the assignment in question and others required a bit too much "metaphoric" thinking for me to feel comfortable making students tackle them.