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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
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.

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5 comments or Leave a comment
alsoname From: alsoname Date: December 10th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'd be interested in hearing how many students took you up on this option, and how you felt about the critiques!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 15th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
We're going to find out today, when they turn their final papers in!

BTW, I've been wanting to come over and see you guys very badly, but the combination of having to put my mother to bed every night since her post-Thanksgiving decline and doing all my end-of-semester responsibilities has made it impossible to get out. I'm hopeful, though, that after my cross-country drive next week I'll have some time to hang out before the madness recommences.
alsoname From: alsoname Date: December 15th, 2010 10:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Sounds like you have a lot of stressful stuff on your plate. Here's hoping for some quality rest as the semester fades into the past!

Remember that the two of us are generally night owls, so if you have the urge for late-night socialization you could probably come over and we could make you soup or cookies or whatever.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 10th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


You should have announced you were writing an article on Yes earlier--I can't think of a better advocate of Prog Rock than someone whose interests have moved like yours. I am a bad defender of Yes because I was never much for punk. My own Yes concert experience, in Phoenix at Desert Sky Pavillion in 1996, was unsurprisingly similar to yours, only I had the added benefit of both being in high school, with irony new enough that it hadn't masked my appreciation of ambition and musicianship, and attending when Jon Anderson was still with the band. In an interview a few years ago (just after the release of OK Computer), Thom Yorke dismissed Yes with a condescending sneer, and I felt betrayed, especially because my sense was that OK Computer could trace its geneology right back to Fragile, and yes, even Relayer. A solid reading of Heart of the Sunrise, by the way. Well-done, my former teacher.

James L.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 15th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Yes

James: So nice to hear from you!

I'm wary of condescension in all forms, but especially when it's younger artists mocking older ones. I can understand, up to a point, given the resentment that bands like Radiohead probably feel about missing out on the era when rock was a more lucrative and hedonistic enterprise than it is today. But still, that's no excuse for failing to acknowledge influences on one's own musical ancestry. You're absolutely right to hear some Yes in Radiohead. A lot of Yes, in fact.

Anyway, thank you so much for this.
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