Tuesday, May 10, 2011

HUSL 6384 - Digital and Visual Rhetoric - Final Project

Part I: Seminar Paper
From Text to Multimedia: Blogging Grows Up

Traditionally, blogging has been a medium characterized by being reflective, intensely personal, immediate, linear, and primarily – nay, most importantly, text based.  For much of its relatively short history the phenomenon of blogging differed from traditional print media most markedly in delivery format.  (That is, of course, notwithstanding standard editorial practices.) Essentially, blog followers consumed their chosen editorial content by reading text from a digital screen while print consumers held a tangible paper good to consume theirs.  As blogging had its roots in text based content it is not surprising that most descriptions of the medium define it in terms relating to text.  For about half of the last decade this association worked very well…then came 2005, the year of YouTube.
The advent of consumer marketed video recording devices, the ubiquitous bundling of webcams with computer hardware, the introduction of affordable and easy to use video editing software, and an intuitive push button publishing platform - one very similar to traditional text based blogging platforms, in fact – all converged to usher in a new era in blogging.  Add to this the increasing popularity of photo blogging and image blogging and a pattern begins to emerge.  Contemporary blogging is most often discursive, hyper mediated, non-linear and increasingly, visual. So is the definition of blogging as text based medium an outdated one that requires revision, or are these new visual online serial publications something different altogether?  I believe the former is correct.
Let’s take a virtual step back and revisit the question of what, exactly, is a blog.  According to Rebecca Blood, one of the pioneers of the medium:
The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays…Their editors present links both to little-known corners of the web and to current news articles they feel are worthy of note. Such links are nearly always accompanied by the editor's commentary…Typically this commentary is characterized by an irreverent, sometimes sarcastic tone. More skillful editors manage to convey all of these things in the sentence or two with which they introduce the link (making them, as Halcyon pointed out to me, pioneers in the art and craft of microcontent). Indeed, the format of the typical weblog, providing only a very short space in which to write an entry, encourages pithiness on the part of the writer; longer commentary is often given its own space as a separate essay. (Blood, rebeccablood.net)
As indicated in Blood’s passage to blog in the year 2000 was invariably to write. Contrast that with Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere survey of 2,828 influential bloggers in 2009.  In this landmark survey 49% of all bloggers polled across three primary disciplines - Self Employed, Corporate, and Part Timers – regularly used video in their blogs.  82% of all surveyed regularly used photos. In 2010 the statistics increase to 50% and 87% respectively. 

The numbers are also very telling in respect to text only blogs.  In the same survey only 13% of bloggers polled used only text in their publications in 2009.  That number fell to ­10% in 2010.  Additionally, of those bloggers surveyed who didn’t already regularly rely on multimedia content 40% said that planned to in 2009. No corresponding statistic is given for 2010.

Hence online serial self publishers who define themselves as bloggers are overwhelmingly producing digital content that is visual rather than textual.  So, if these publishers aren’t bloggers what are they? To answer that let’s briefly examine some of the commonly acknowledged characteristics of a blog.  Per Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic, another blogging pioneer, blogs are:
            To blog is therefore to let go of your writing in a way, to hold it at arm’s length, open it to scrutiny, allow it to float in the ether for a while, and to let others, as Montaigne did, pivot you toward relative truth….Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does. They will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity to an idea. The role of a blogger is not to defend against this but to embrace it. He is similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete.
The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers as they go through their lives, experience the same things you are experiencing, and share the moment. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
and Immediate
On my blog, my readers and I experienced 9/11 together, in real time. I can look back and see not just how I responded to the event, but how I responded to it at 3:47 that afternoon. And at 9:46 that night. There is vividness to this immediacy that cannot be rivaled by print. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
Of course Sullivan is referring to blogging exclusively as a written form. However, the traits he detailed are in no way exclusive to textual content. In fact, the introduction of visual multimedia technology to serially published content serves to greatly amplify these characteristics in contemporary online publications.  Hence not only are non text based publications actually blogs, indeed they are more blog like than their text based predecessors.
When Time magazine named “YOU” the 2006 person of the year it marked a watershed moment in publishing – both digital and traditional.  The social web, Web 2.0, had reached mainstream status and the darling of all this public adoration was YouTube.  Launched in 2005, YouTube put personal video broadcasting literally at the fingertips of anyone with a webcam and an internet connection.  The ability to publish video content simply without any advanced knowledge of A/V production led to an explosion in the production of multimedia user generated content.  Suddenly the bloggers we had been reading for years had faces, and voices…and we could see and hear them.  User generated video content presented a more personal and immediate link between publisher and viewer because of a phenomenon that Sullivan himself describes as the “human brand.” Says Sullivan:
The pioneers of online journalism—Slate and Salon—are still very popular, and successful. But the more memorable stars of the Internet—even within those two sites—are all personally branded. Daily Kos, for example, is written by hundreds of bloggers, and amended by thousands of commenters. But it is named after Markos Moulitsas, who started it, and his own prose still provides a backbone to the front-page blog. The biggest news-aggregator site in the world, the Drudge Report, is named after its founder, Matt Drudge, who somehow conveys a unified sensibility through his selection of links, images, and stories. The vast, expanding universe of The Huffington Post still finds some semblance of coherence in the Cambridge-Greek twang of Arianna; the entire world of online celebrity gossip circles the drain of Perez Hilton; and the investigative journalism, reviewing, and commentary of Talking Points Memo is still tied together by the tone of Josh Marshall. Even Slate is unimaginable without Mickey Kaus’s voice.
What endures is a human brand… People have a voice for radio and a face for television. For blogging, they have a sensibility. (Sullivan, TheAtlantic.com)
If this is true then video bloggers have a voice, a face and a sensibility.  All of which are always on display, and all of which are critical components in making that all important connection between blogger and audience.  But what of the first criterion that a blog be participatory in nature? 
In video blogging, much like traditional blogging, the comments section endures as a publisher’s primary engagement tool with his or her audience. Even from blogging’s earliest days commenters have always had the ability to include links in their comments.  Increasingly video blogging platforms are being designed to include multimedia commenting capabilities. The ability to embed images and video as responses to images and video will only increase as the popularity of multimedia content continues to grow. 
Also, there is the ever popular phenomenon of the remix or mashup.  Appropriating and remixing the digital content of a fellow content producer is perhaps the purist form of participatory media.  It requires a not only a familiarity with the content being appropriated but also a familiarity with the context of the content being appropriated.  This evolution of publication from a one way broadcast to a two way conversation is one of the very cornerstones of blogging as a medium.  This conversation is amplified many times over when the content in question is multimedia. 
Blogging as a cultural phenomenon is still in its relative infancy in comparison to other media forms.  In fact the term “infancy” rather denotes significant future development that has yet to occur.  The existing definition of blogging that precludes multimedia content is one that at best no longer fits the medium.  Indeed blogging has its roots in text based content.  However it is the nature of all media, indeed of all life, to grow.

Works Cited
Blood, Rebecca. "Rebecca Blood : Weblogs: A History And Perspective." What's in Rebecca's Pocket? N.p., 7 Sept. 2000. Web. 31 Mar. 2011. <http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html>.
Grossman, Lev. "Time's Person of the Year: You - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - TIME.com. N.p., 13 Dec. 2006. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1569514,00.html>.
Sobel, Jon. "HOW: Technology, Traffic and Revenue - Day 3 State of the Blogosphere 2010 - Technorati Blogging." Technorati. N.p., 4 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://technorati.com/blogging/article/how-technology-traffic-and-revenue-day/>.
Sullivan, Andrew. "Why I Blog - Magazine - The Atlantic." The Atlantic — News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Life – TheAtlantic.com. N.p., Nov. 2008. Web. 4 Apr. 2011. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/why-i-blog/7060/1/>.
Sussman, Matt. "Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2009: Day 3: The How of Blogging." Technorati.com. N.p., 21 Oct. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://technorati.com/blogging/article/day-3-the-how-of-blogging1/>. 

Part II: Remediation

Part III: Meta-Reflection

The subject of my original essay, the evolution of blogging from a textual medium to a visual one, necessitated a visual remediation.  When tasked with remediating the essay it was incumbent upon me to live up to its visual promise.   I felt that remediating the essay in any other form would not only have negated my thesis, but really fallen short of its potential.

In rethinking the original essay I repeatedly came back to our assigned reading by Marshall McLuhan. Interestingly at the time the class did the readings I remember drawing a distinct and contradictory conclusion from McLuhan regarding the significance of the medium in the medium/message equation. Per McLuhan, “…it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale of and form of human association and action” (203). This remediation has caused me to rethink my earlier position and indeed gain an entirely new and radical perspective.  McLuhan was correct.  The medium that I chose reinforced my original argument in a myriad of ways that a text based remediation never could have.  However its limitations often got in the way.  The medium didn’t change the message per se but it did significantly shape the telling of it. Overcoming the built in limitations of my chosen medium challenged me to reinterpret both my own vision and indeed the manner in which I attempted to digitize my essay.

For example viewers may be startled to see that I chose a Caucasian male narrator, one with a British accent who bears a striking resemblance to Larry King in fact, to represent myself in the film.  This choice was as much a representation my “tongue-in-cheek” aesthetic as it was a limitation of the Xtranormal platform. There weren’t many female avatars to choose from.  Of those available several were dressed in provocative and rather suggestive attire.  Racial ethnic minorities were in even less represented in the available choices.  This dearth of diversity may be a telling indication of the true state of gender and minority representation in contemporary media, however I will leave that subject for another reflection.  Hence lacking the ability to employ a narrator that resembled my real life self, I opted to chose a narrator that was as far as possible from reality.  In doing so my argument regarding how visual content increased the personal nature of blogging was simultaneously reinforced and challenged. It was strengthened in the fact that I was able to express the playful side of my personality, but weakened in that I was unable to inject a literal representation of myself into the film.

As the paper deals extensively with the subject of remix I felt it highly necessary to incorporate that genre into the remediation.  I brainstormed for weeks attempting to devise a way to visually remix an essay on visual blogging that didn’t exceed my technical abilities. During this time Gibson’s take on affordance gained particular resonance:

An affordance according to Gibson exists relative to the action capabilities of particular actors. Therefore, to a thief an open window can have an affordance of "climbing through" (and subsequently stealing something), but not so to a child who is not tall enough to reach the window and therefore does not have the action possibility…the information that specifies the affordance is indeed dependant on the actor's experience and culture. (Soegaard 2010)

I found myself stymied by my personal affordances with digital media.  Until this project animated characters were commodities to be consumed by me, not created.  However to be “digital” requires a set of read/write capabilities that being analog does not.  One doesn’t need to know how to animate a character in order to “write” a blog.  In the creation of my digital remediation I was forced into the role of consumer once more, this time because I didn’t know how to animate. Hence my digital animation affordance or lack thereof, challenged me to produce my vision without compromising it too significantly.  However, it could also be argued that my own technical limitations forced me to be more creative in the execution of my remediation.  Ultimately I believe my goal of digitally and visually remediating my original thesis was achieved but not without a reluctant sacrifice of some creative control. 

Works Cited

McLuhan, Marshall, and W T. Gordon. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Corte Madera, CA:       Gingko Press, 2003. Print.

Soegaard, Mads. "Affordances". Interaction-Design.org 22 March 2010. 10 May 2011     <http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/affordances.html>

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Confessions of a Copyright Criminal

Keeping in theme with this week's readings regarding copyright I did a little YouTube surfing for inspiration.  Hence this week's blog post is a visual one defining and questioning the validity of copyright.  Irony of irony this post, at least in part, likely violates copyright - at least according to the criteria put forth by Brad Templeton.  Oh well, I've always been a bit of a rebel.

An explanation of copyright set to a catchy tune.

This Dilbert cartoon is actually a parody of Garfield. So it falls within the bounds of fair use and thus is not a violation of copyright. Ironically my posting of it probably doesn't fall within those boundaries.

Ok, I've gone legit with this one.  Here's Michael Moore's take on copyright law.  I am interpreting Moore's s statements in the clip as permission to repost his thoughts on copyright...by posting the clip.  A very literal interpretation indeed, however it does meet Templeton's criteria.  It was fun being a criminal...if only for a few minutes.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


The preceding viral video was a parody of the Tosh.0 cable show on Comedy Central which parodies viral videos on YouTube. Basically it's a parody of a parody. Yes, I've gone meta.  This weeks readings have us examining the phenomenon that is viral video.  Such examination also got me thinking about the cottage industry that has sprung up around viral video.  I find it fascinating, perhaps a lot like Wesley actually, that viral video has effectively jumped mediums.  Think about it. An entire TV show devoted to videos that can't be watched on TV...well at least not until rather recent technological advances anyway.

What are the implications for authorship with all of this medium jumping afoot. (Pun intented.)  I've watched the Tosh.0 show a few times and I confess I often find it wildly funny... and just as often wildly offensive.  Though I'm not presently aware of any significant backlash from the stars of the videos being parodied I often wonder how they feel about their sudden, if dubious, second layer of fame.  Particularly as Comedy Central is profiting from their "work" while they aren't. Is authorship an outdated construct in the realm of viral video? Hmm. What about the videos in which the star is clearly unaware that they were being recorded? Or where the video was uploaded without the star's knowledge?  Who is the author in that case...the person who filmed the video, the person who uploaded it, or the person in it? Or Daniel Tosh? Or does it even matter?  Weighty questions indeed.

Furthermore, when said video is then taken out of it's context and lampooned before the world, why in the world would anyone even want to claim authorship? Well, anyone except for Daniel Tosh, that is.  I've more than once wondered at the people who appear in those "Web Redemption" segments. Somehow they never actually succeed at "redeeming" themselves but always manage to look like a bigger...well, you get the idea.  I suppose there is some comfort afforded in officially being in on the joke but personally I'd sooner avoid being the joke in the first place. But, apparently, that's just me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blogging, The Final Frontier...Maybe

This week's readings are concerned with practices and implications of blogging.  In the span of about a decade blogging has grown into a respected form of self publishing, with enough credibility to challenge stalwart traditional news organizations for the attention of readers.  Just what does all this personal, push button publishing mean for the future of media? The answer to that, I suppose, requires a little review of recent history.

Blogging expert Rebecca Blood identifies the first generation of blogs, or weblogs as they were known then, popping up around 1998. Text heavy, link laden web pages hand coded by web enthusiasts typified this early generation of blogs and spoke to the unique interests of their author/coders.  With the release of push button publishing tools like Blogger in 1999 blogging exploded and became a bona fide phenomenon.  Next up: a redefining of "media" to include public participation.

It is this new definition of media that I find most fascinating.  As a stalwart industry, literally monopolized in the hands of a privileged few for generations, media though one of the very cornerstones of democracy was not a democratic institution.  Irony of ironies.  I find it remarkable that blogging has risen to such prominence so quickly as to change the very paradigm of publishing- and to such extent that traditional publishers are often striving to look and feel more like blogs.  Though with such an overwhelming surge in popularity it could be argued that a shift in modus operendi was inevitable.  Still, the shift represents quite a feat.

So what's next on the horizon for this new form of publication?  I'm going to venture out on a limb (a little bit anyway) and predict video blogging, or vlogging. With the ever dropping price of quality production equipment, and growing knowledge of SEO principles (You do know how dramatically video can effect search engine rankings, right?), as well as the fact that YouTube is actually currently the largest search engine on the web, I predict the next generation of self publishing authors will actually be auteurs. Interestingly, such a shift may actually necessitate another redefining of media and indeed of blogging.  And the democratization of media marches on.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Facebook: An Unintended Haven for Bullies

The preceding was a funny video admonishing Facebook users against poor social media etiquette.   I have often wondered at the sometimes shocking displays of...well meanness that have taken place on social networks.  Social media, while posessessing the potential to foster human connection on a scale yet to be seen has the particularly nasty side effect of enabling some of the worst behavior imaginable. Social networks have given bullies a whole new venue to exact their torture.  What is it about the screen/keyboard/avatar combination that so often divorces us from our best selves?

I believe it has something to do with a lack of true accountability.  Not that status updates are anonymous, as we all know they're not. Not even close.  They are, however, quite different than person to person interactions.  Hence it is remarkably easy to talk nastily about a person when that person isn't physically present.   It's a similar dynamic to trolling or comment flaming.  Furthermore, I believe it emboldens the bully the larger their audience.  Everyone knows how traditional bullying works.  Cyber-bullying works essentially the same way except with a larger audience and even less accountability.  There is however, evidence, which again makes me wonder at the growing incidence of cyber-bullying.  If a public stream of harsh commentary is not evidence against a cyber bully then I don't know what is.  At least the playground bully has plausible deniability (I'm sure I spelled that wrong.) working in their favor.

Anyway, these are a few of the things that ran through my mind while reading this week's assignments, particularly Emily Rutherford's blog, "Thoughts on Facebook and Identity."  I guess since I had also just read a post on my friend's blog about a Facebook mean girl, and the death of kindness in general, and I was struck by the differences in the way social networks could be used and the reality of the way in which they too often are. I believe more thoughtful self reflection ala Rutherford may be in order. It is a "social" network after all.  Shouldn't the rules of civilized "society" apply?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh 1889 - A Rhetorical Analysis

The object of study that I have chosen for my rhetorical analysis is the 1889 painting "Sunflowers" by Vincent Van Gogh as currently on display in the permanent collection of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.  However the iteration of the painting that is being analyzed here is likely one that even Van Gogh himself wouldn't have imagined some 100+ years ago.  I will be analyzing the painting in the context of its inclusion in the Google Art Project, an online compilation of high-resolution images of artworks from galleries worldwide as well as virtual tours of the galleries in which they are housed.

Here is an introductory video which explains the Google Art Project in greater detail:

Here is a video detailing the history and context of the painting.

Also, here is another version of the original five that Van Gogh created specifically to adorn the walls of the guest room occupied by his friend and peer, Gauguin.

Remediating the Museum Experience:
The Google Art Project remediates the museum experience in an unprecedented fashion.  Indeed it may be asserted by some traditionalists that the project obsolesces the traditional museum visit by presenting the contemporary digital visitor with a hyper mediated experience that could never be duplicated in a real world setting.  Thus, even in its very conception, the project changes the way that we can and do view art.  It essentially puts the world’s most treasured art artifacts literally at the fingertips of anyone with a high speed internet connection. This universality of access is, I believe, is the project’s most significant fait accompli - and also potentially its greatest weakness.

The Interface:
Let us examine the work itself.  Via the painting’s micro site, within the larger scheme of museums and collections gathered under the project, the viewer is able to magnify his or her view of the still life to several times its actual dimensions. The site’s zoom capabilities allow the viewer to get a “closer than real life” look at the painting, that visitors to the physical museum would never be permitted.   On the painting’s site the viewer can zoom in close enough to see even the tiniest details of the artist’s brush strokes on the canvas.  Differences in tone and shadow can be magnified for examination so far that they actually lose their meaning within the context of the painting.  This is, needless to say, the type of detail that technical students of the work have sought since its creation.  "The giga-pixel experience brings us very close to the essence of the artist through detail that simply can't be seen in the gallery itself," said Freer Museum director, Julian Raby of the Art Project’s various digital recreations.  Conversely, however, traditionalists assert that even given a “closer than real life” view, the online visitor still wants for the “aura” of the work that the physical museum visitor receives sheerly from his or her being in the physical presence of the original work.  There is something valuable, if difficult to define, lost in imposing a three dimensional work on a two dimensional interface.  
Other art museum directors who have seen the technology are impressed by it, though not convinced it will substitute for a scholarly eye in direct contact with an actual painting. Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, said the gigapixel images can bring out details that might not be visible to ordinary museum-goers in a gallery. But scholars will still want a three-dimensional view of the art, which even a very high-resolution two-dimensional image can't provide.  (Kennicott 1)
Examining the Effectiveness of the text’s rhetoric:
The effectiveness of the work, and the larger art project itself, is a highly subjective concept.   Notwithstanding the arguments for and against presented above, viewing the painting via the Google Art Project necessarily takes it out of its intended context.  Indeed as the video stated the work was created by the artist to adorn the walls of a room occupied by his friend, Gauguin. Hence it could be argued that while Van Gogh ceaselessly sought artistic development and contemporary acknowledgement throughout his career, this actual work was never intended to be seen outside the walls of his own home.  Indeed it wasn’t even to be seen inside the walls of his home except for the bedroom in which his friend was staying. Given that historical perspective even the display of the work in Van Gogh museum takes it out of its intended context, and the Art Project’s digital remediation only further exaggerates that disruption.

Metaphors and Affordances:
If a virtual tour is to become a metaphor for an actual real world museum visit then some examination of the other non-tangible aspects of art becomes necessary.  We’ve briefly visited context, aura and even the micro-examination of technique.  Let us return however to the question of access.  Historically the value of art has rested on its scarcity.  High art, at least until very recently, has never been a democratic construct.  This begs the question then of whether “Sunflowers” loses its value when imposed upon a digital interface.  The answer to that question lies in how one defines “value.” Technocrats would argue that the beauty of the work is particularly enhanced within the digital sphere.  Additionally being able virtually walk the halls of the world’s great museums via a highly intuitive interface (affordances), without ever leaving one’s home, would certainly add to the value of the art using this reasoning.  Conversely, however, traditionalists would argue that the very interface of the text, a digital screen, destroys its value as the work, as Van Gogh painted it, was meant to be viewed with the naked eye.  The affordances of the medium democratizes the text in a manner never before seen and never intended, thus negating its value.

I believe the true answer lies somewhere in between.  The project’s designers admittedly never intended the digital text to be a replacement for the “real thing,” though social and economic forces will undoubtedly force the project to be a digital proxy for much of the viewing audience.  Notwithstanding socioeconomic concerns there is evidence that the project actually drives viewer interest.  Says, Christian Ghiron, Italy’s Ministry of Culture Technology Chief:
Our goal is to get more visitors to museums, to demonstrate this can be possible…. The biggest criticism we always receive is that the more we digitize, the less visitors we have in our museums. Instead, it is exactly opposite. The more we digitize, the more you want to see it live; you cannot substitute the experience. (Cohen 2)
Indeed it does appear that the ease of access, intuitive design, enhanced viewing, and supplemental information available via the painting’s site have all been designed to feed viewer desire to see the actual work, in the Amsterdam museum.  Perhaps this is the new value proposition of this work in particular, and art in general, fueling viewer interest by universalizing access. Art is, after all, always meant to be seen.

Works Cited
Cohen, Noam. "Stopping to Gaze, and to Zoom." New York Times. 16 Mar. 2011. Web.  <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/arts/design/google-art-project-teams-with-worlds-top-museums.html>.

Kennicott, Phillip. "National Treasures: Google Art Project Unlocks Riches of World's Galleries." The Washington Post 1 Feb. 2011, Arts & Living sec. Web. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/01/AR2011020106442.html.