Friday, October 19, 2007

Pretty Pictures

One problem with the annual AoIR conference is that there are often a lot of academic papers about studying Internet culture, yet the voices of the actual creators of new media are often not brought to the table. That's why I was very pleased to be preceded by Richard Hall, a professor of Information Science and Technology at the University of Missouri, Rolla and star of The Richard Show. For his fifteen minutes of fame, instead of reading a scholarly paper, he showed a film he had made called "Vlog History" that included interviews with other video bloggers, parts of the online film "There are So Many of Us," and snippets of some of the most popular clips from his own vlogging, which includes him jumping into icy bodies of water in the Ozarks, butt-crack and all. Hall 's basic thesis was that this form of communication changed his life and connected him to a broader online community that could even include, as one of his subjects said, "seeing what a Chinese person is like." Perhaps the most interesting part for me was when Hall reflected on his academic persona as shown in his c.v., official department websites, and academic publications. When he asks which one is the real Richard Hall, he says "I'm not sure either of them is me."

Of course, the irony of Hall's feel-good message was that much of our panel was about conflicts that emerge in online communities of bloggers or Flash animators when visual rhetoric is involved. My talk was about "blogspats" between large political blogs when Photoshopped images offend readers and writers from competing social media outlets. I was specifically looking at images about race and sexuality that involve the alteration of pictures with former president Bill Clinton. I was also thinking about the broader function of images in political blogs and how they serve to 1) commemorate an event and authenticate the blogger's authority as a witness or participant, 2) encourage particular critical ways of seeing or ideological scrutiny, or 3) provide the raw material of a digital file that can be used for editorial alteration. Also on the panel was Lori Kendall, who examined a NSFW highly gendered online conflict among user-producers in a community of Flash animators producing "Animutations."

Update: Here's another write-up at How Very Meta.

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Blogger Richard said...

Thanks so much for your nice words about my video and presentation, it was very different from anything I've done at an academic conference before.

I was also pleased that all the other talks, including yours, were very interesting to me, and these were also more interesting than the typical information systems conference I go to.

As far as the irony of my "feel good" video vs. talks like yours that referred to blog splat (my new favorite term :), I think these new media and communication systems are like weapons that can be used for good, bad, or everything in between, and many times the bad and in-between are the most interesting.

1:09 PM  

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