Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Michael Jackson: An Inconclusive End

The quest for answers to explain a tragic death may prove unfulfilling

It took the passing of a close relative for me to begin to realize how little I really know about anyone other than myself. The privilege of studying abroad has severe costs, most noticeably the progressive estrangement of those once close to you. Geography dictates the intensity of human relations. The present intimacy of even familial ties can quickly become history.

At the time of her passing, my relative was in her early 40s, single and working a blue-collar service job. It is difficult to begin to comprehend the pain of the prospect of missing out on motherhood and marriage, especially as a woman within a society that values long-term commitment and often unfairly equates the full status of adulthood with raising children. I can only imagine that the booming resonance of a maternal clock ticking as time slowly passes in an unfulfilling job can become deafening to the ear and deadening to the soul.

When my relative died, we didn’t know the complete details. But for one, I didn’t want to know. An autopsy could tell me the physical reason but it gave me no insight into an emotional one, something that may have motivated this tremendous loss. And in many ways, I don’t think it would have led to anything beneficial. Communing with the pristine memory of a dear relative is difficult. And I feared having the sanctity of these memories muddied by the sadness of too many details about her ending may have been too much.


There is a natural inquisitiveness into the reasons behind Michael Jackson’s death. It’s something that I can empathize with, having a relative who died under inconclusive conditions. People want answers. They want finality. And I cannot blame them. However, finding out the physical explanation for Michael Jackson’s death is only one small part of a long and tortuous life narrative with a tragic end.

Michael was a complicated person who lived a surreal life. A child star who was forced to rehearse instead of living a normal childhood, he appeared fixated on recapturing the tender moments of youth he missed out on. Whether it was his tremendous financial debt, the pressure of reclaiming the mantle of the biggest entertainer in the world, poor health, the ravages of prescription drug addiction or a complicated mixture of all of these factors, the final mystery will never be solved. The King of Pop is dead and the certainty of an autopsy will never be able to uncover the depths of despair in his soul and how that may have contributed to his untimely and unwelcome end.

Rest in peace.

@ Marcus Garvey Park (Lawn B, northwest of the Pelham Fritz Recreation Center, btw. Mt. Morris Park West & 124th St)

Presented by The Maysles Cinema and Reel Harlem

King of Pop, Master of the Music Video: A Tribute to Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

7:30pm King of the Video Jukebox: A Tribute

8:30pm Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller
Dir. John Landis and Jerry Kramer, 1983, 60 min.
The late, great Michael Jackson's Thriller was broadcast on MTV three weeks before Christmas in 1983. It was the most expensive video of its time, costing $500,000, and according to the Guinness World Records remains the most successful music video of all time, selling over 9 million units. This is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this pop masterpiece.

Rain Venue: Inside Pelham Fritz Recreation Center

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Are they paying attentinon?

In the video “Are you paying attention?,” the authors juxtapose Howard Gardner’s widely accepted ideas of multiple intelligence learning with something more provocative. That children are digital learners.

After a series of statistics demonstrating the penetration of digital technology in youth lives, the logic is assumed. If students watch television, surf the internet, etc. they must be learning.

I’m not sure if I fully buy it.

I do believe in the use of technology to meet curricular and instructional goals. And after a semester of thought, I am a much more assured believer in technology’s role within learning as a social process. My resistance is in the passive role that technology often plays in people’s lives. Is there nothing more disheartening than watching a youth sitting inside watching television when they could be outside playing a sport, climbing a tree, or exploring a forest?

Children are digital receivers of content. They are also certainly digital targets for commerce. And they do learn something in their day-to-day interaction with technology. I’m just not sure what that is. But leveraging the inherent enthusiasm and rampant participation rates for mobile technology, video games, mass media, etc., certainly is a fertile area for investigation. Otherwise, why am I in a program titled Communication, Computing, and Technology in Education?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

chillin' with bob dylan

just got back from a two-and-a-quarter hour set from folk/rock/insert-your-genre-here musical luminary bob dylan. or as i like to call him, bob dylan.

have some video from the concert but have misplaced the cord connecting my phone to the computer. yes, i'm as pissed as you. it was the first time i used the video function on the phone. unfortunately, it produces only super-short clips.

my dylan experience forced me to reflect on some thoughts about copyright protection i previously had about radiohead. more specifically, both dylan and radiohead have transcended the normal constraints that most musicians find themselves under - indentured servants to record companies, unscrupulous a & r reps, and garden variety capitalist vultures who pick on the entrails of most creative artists unable to financially sustain their art.

i own a super-duper canon rebel xsi slr digital camera. i didn't even think of bringing it to the concert because it's about the size of a toaster. what surprised me was that the security guards didn't check us AT ALL. i could have easily snuck in my westinghouse 4-slice digital camera. for that matter, i could have brought in an arriflex film camera and d.a. pennebaker to shoot it. maybe even the multiple cameras for a scorcese-like "shine a light" concert complete with mick, charlie and enough j.d. to keep keith elegantly wasted.

in terms of copyright, people like radiohead and bob dylan up-end the gravitational laws of protection. they've succeeded to a point where they can give their work away in a pwyc model (see radiohead's "in rainbows" experiment) or even forgo instructing security guards to frisk civilians for cameras, mp3 recorders, HD cameras, etc. how this effects "the common man" (e.g. the struggling artist), we'll just have to see.

i don't want to make any predictions, but if you don't need to pay radiohead for their album or can openly record bootlegs of dylan, i can make a pretty good guess where the lead singer of "dino sossi's warbling blues band" will be getting his rent money...

"would you like fries with that?"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

review of “media that matters” films

a heavy load of pre-break assignments, essays and research studies makes re-purposing more forgivable. or at least i hope so. the following are mini-reviews of films from the "media that matters" film festival...

p.s. a quick note to the programmers. i kind of wish there wasn't a submission fee. anything that increases barriers to sharing independent creative work is an issue that, for lack of a better word, "matters"

Review of “Media that Matters” Films

SOMETHING OTHER THAN OTHER (http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/5/something_other_than_other/)

Did Barack Obama commission this? Multi-raciality (look mom, I invented a new word!) is quickly becoming the normative state in North America post-Boomer personal identification. This tender story soft sells an increasingly difficult decision facing parents - the mandatory categorization of race at birth. The film smartly substitutes what could have been a typical cloying soundtrack for the emotional musicality of warm parental voices aspiring for the better days of a post-racial future.

A GIRL NAMED KAI (http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/5/a_girl_named_kai/)

A hyperkinetic, supersaturated personal biography of a youth working through gender identification issues in filmic form. The combination of never-stay-still images and hypnotic music creates a highly immersive mood that helps the viewer become involved in the fragmentary nature of gender formation. Aside from the inevitable romantic rupture that always seems to motivate these types of work, it was engaging in both style and content.

POPangada: THE ART AND SUBVERSION OF RON ENGLISH (http://www.mediathatmattersfest.org/4/popaganda_the_art_and_subversion_of_ron_english/)

I’ve never been much of a fan of people who are excessively self-congratulatory. This DIY-style film focused on the subversive guerilla advertising of Ron English. Although the ads are clever and have enough aesthetic parity to bewitch unaware viewers into looking at them at face value, English comes across as a bit too proud of his art. Has this faux advertising raised awareness? Probably in the towns where he displayed his work. But more importantly, has it changed people’s behaviors? Until there is proof, I would prefer a wee bit more humility. For those who like this kind of stuff, please see the British graffiti artist Banksy. A bit more satirical and a whole lot less unnecessary ‘tude.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The prescience of Manuel Castells: 2009 going on 1999

I've always been a fan of subverting conventions. Toronto's iconic CityTV, under the cool leadership of Moses Znaimer, started a lot of interesting broadcasting innovations - the "busy newsroom as background set for news anchors", street level broadcasting studios, Mark Daley's sarcastic voiceover promotions for City programming and, of course, Ed the Sock. Does it get any better than an angry, cigar-chomping sock tearing a strip out of an unknowing ingenue or a lacerating commentary on another ephemeral part of pop cultural detritus? (Editor's note: Aren't all parts of pop culture both "ephemeral" and "detritus"?!? Writer's note: Cynic!)

One show I liked watching was repeats of old CityTV News. Basically it was a late night show in the mid-2000s that rebroadcast the 6 p.m. evening news from the 1980s. Watching Daley with a huge afro and 70s style glasses and Jo Jo Chinto roaming the city beat was strangely captivating at 4 in the morning.

I have been reading Manuel Castells' "The social implications of Information and Communication Technologies". Although it is more of a "state of the union" style report than analytical think piece, it is still superb. One of the best things I have read this year. Castells has a real ability to concisely report the dynamic nature of the internet while making remarkably sage forecasts of the coming storm. It was written in 1999 and obviously a lot of ground has been covered since that time. But what it does so well is take the then current state of the offline world, add the decentering effects of the online as well as ICTs (information and communication technologies) and stir in a little prudent foresight. Tah dah!

Take education. Similar to today, there is quite a diverse range of ICT penetration in learning environments. But what is still the issue is not so much the availability of these technologies but the context. Without a transformed environment that is capable of supporting these ventures as well as a trained and knowledgeable staff, ICT interventions may in fact cause more chaos in schools.

What puzzles me most in the context of education is how painfully accurate these words are today. Somehow, although close to ten years has passed since this report was completed, we are essentially in the same situation in many jurisdictions.

Investment in education reminds me of investment in municipal transportation. In transportation, there just seems to be a perpetual inclination to invest in the most "sexy" thing possible - capital projects like new subway lines, light railroad lines, subways cars, buses, etc. What gets perpetually left behind are operating expenses like maintenance, wages, fuel costs, etc. "Sure you can have this brand spanking new transportation line but good luck affording to run it!"

The same thing happens with schools. New schools are great. So are new computers. States, provinces, foundations love funding these kinds of capital-based projects. But allocating significant amounts of money to banal things like training just doesn't cut it. As a result, schools have the computers but not the human resource infrastructure. Same problem, later date.

Overall, I found Castells incredibly concise about the current state of affairs in 1999 as well as his short-term predictions. I just hope we progress enough so that these short-term prognostications don't turn out, due to neglect, indifference, etc., into long-term ones.

Castells, M. (1999) The social implications of Information and Communication Technologies. In The world social science report (236-245). Paris: UNESCO.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

“Welcome Home to Facebook": Social Networking as a Tool for Maintaining Social Capital - A Small-Scale Exploratory Qualitative Study of International and Out-of-State Post-Graduate Student Experiences Using Facebook

Introduction, Research Question and Hypothesis:
Computer-supported social networks (CSSNs) have been studied less than other computer-related phenomena (Garton, 1998, p. 1). To help address this gap, the main research question for this study is the role that the CSSN site Facebook plays for post-graduate students in terms of maintaining social capital and how this potentially differs between international students and those who study out-of-state within their own country. For the purposes of this study, those who are classified as out-of-state students are ones who are American citizens who normally live outside New York state. Maintained social capital “speaks to the ability to maintain valuable connections as one progresses through life changes” (Ellison, 2007, 1148).

Description of Study:
I initially conceived this as a quantitative study but, at least for the purposes of the class requirements, I would prefer it to be qualitative. As you will see, this project is an expansion of Ellison et. al.'s "The benefits of Facebook 'friends': Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites" but this would include the international student experience.

The proposed sample of two people is incredibly small, but I would like to compare only one international and one out-of-state student. After investigating the breadth of possible interview questions I could ask, I think I could arrange to do at least one, but probably a couple, of highly extended interviews (e.g. an hour or more) with each respondent. Ideally I would complete this incredibly small qualitative study for your class and later expand it to include other interviews, a more widely disseminated questionnaire, etc. Given my time constraints, I think I could do the "best" study by following the interview route. And by best I mean the "thickest" possible qualitative research given my time and resource constraints (e.g. after an agreement with the subjects, I would like to be able to negotiate return interviews if possible, etc.). My belief is that if I get the kinks out of the interview process this time while still getting "good data" (for a novice researcher), I could use this information and experience to scale up next time. This is assuming, of course, that the study will be good enough for there to be a next time... Unfortunately I have not previously conducted any qualitative interviews as a basis for a study. I think in terms of my longer term development as a doctoral student, it would be good for me to begin to understand the many difficulties associated with the qualitative process.

Literature Review – Tentative Articles:
The choice of articles has not been finalized but the Ellison article is obviously focal to this study. Garton provides more of a macro level context to rationalize CSSN research.

Ellison, N.B., Steinfeld, C., Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12, 1143-1168.

Garton, L., Haythornthwaite, C., & Wellman, B. (1998). In S. Jones (Ed.), Doing Internet research: Critical issues and methods for examining the Net (75-105). London: Sage.

Ellison, N.B., Steinfeld, C., Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12, 1143-1168.

Garton, L., Haythornthwaite, C., & Wellman, B. (1998). In S. Jones (Ed.), Doing Internet research: Critical issues and methods for examining the Net (75-105). London: Sage.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

what happens now?

Two quick post-election anecdotes that I experienced the following morning.

First, an African-American woman was proudly typing away on a laptop emblazoned with a new screen saver. "The Obama's. America's New First Family".

Second, I saw a person of color working in a restaurant struggling to lift a big metal container full of food around a hot kitchen. His head was beaded with sweat and lines of effort carved into his face over many years of toil.

These contrasting anecdotes aptly summarize the great promise and tremendous peril of the new Obama presidency.

People across the world, especially of color, have imputed much hope in this astoundingly historic victory.

However, although he will be, in the space of less than 60 days, the holder of the most powerful office on earth, there are limits to what even a remarkably skilled politician like Mr. Obama can do.

In a precarious world that has become increasingly intertwined, where social problems have seemingly become intractable, Mr. Obama's words of hope resonated with a large proportion of the population. But still, there is a sizable minority of Americans who resoundingly rejected his message and, more disturbingly, who he is as a human being. It will take every ounce of Mr. Obama's inestimable skills as a communicator to invite the entire population into a frank discussion about its future. And perhaps, more importantly, to depolarize an increasingly fragmented House and Senate that is divided among party lines, get them to work together and come to a consensus on a number of important issues that will effect this nation for a long long time.

If that is not the most tremendous American communication problem of our time, I'm not sure what is...