I’ve spent the last few days at the New York Public Library Performing Arts Collection which is located at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. All of my research here has been going through their vast collection of playbills, photographs, architectural plans, newspaper clippings about the various theaters that I’ve determined will be the focus of my study. I’m not a stranger to research libraries, but I had never before used an actual card catalog before – of the analog sort where one has to pull out a drawer and search for related information. I was a little shocked when the librarian suggested this was the easiest way to find all materials related to theaters in Brooklyn, but I ended up really enjoying the process and it made my research feel more like a fun scavenger hunt. I also got to use microfilm for the first time when I was looking at old vaudeville programs from 1912-13 from the Bushwick Theater and the Greenpoint Theater.
Thus far I’ve done two major steps in my archival retrieval. The first being the research at the New York Public Library that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Second is, although it isn’t technically archival, I’ve logged and mapped the various sites of theaters that I’ve found and taken photographs of their current condition (or if the theater doesn’t exist – which almost none of them do, I’ve taken photos of the current buildings that are situated on the former theater sites. These photographs will provide the last point in the timeline that I’m creating and more importantly, help to address some of the major questions have arisen since starting this project: With such a plethora of former theaters in the area, how were these entertainment sites repurposed? Why did almost all of the movie theaters close in the 1970’s (as my research seems to suggest)? Was this due to some sort of radical shift going on in the neighborhood or in cinema itself?
There are three more phases of research left to do that include going to the Brooklyn Public Library and looking for more photographs of the theaters. I also need to look at the deeds for each property to get a bigger picture for just how use has changed over the years. The deeds are located at the Municipal Records Office. And lastly I think it would be interesting to see how the demographics of the neighborhood shifted over the course of time and thus altered the need and availability of theaters. This can be done by looking at old census data.
“mapping the rock n roll genome”
Band2Band is an interesting user created map taking the form of a family tree and is meant to show the interconnected relationships between musicians and bands. Unlike websites like Pandora, which are able to aggregate not only musicians, but genres of music resulting in an accurate forecast of musical taste, Band2Band is set up to visually display connections between groups.
It is possible to submit bands to the website that haven’t yet been listed, but to do so requires the adherence to a very strict set of rules. These rules, which (to name just a few) range from what to do when a band changes its name, when an artist changes their name, how to categorize super-groups and jam bands which have revolving cast of musicians – could be the reason why there is a real lack of bands and musicians listed on the site. When trying the map out, the first two bands that I wanted to check out weren’t in the database. Both of the bands, Dirty Projectors and Bon Iver, are less than ten years old so I decided to try something a little bit older and my next input, Smog, a band from the 90’s, did show up. With Smog, the first page that the search feature takes you to contains a photographic list of all the albums that the band produced. When I scrolled down I was also able to see that the site only listed Bill Callahan as the sole member of the band. And upon further scrolling I could see the family tree with 119 bands stemming from Smog. The bands are hyperlinked, so you can go into each of their specific sites and explore.
I checked to see when the site was last updated and found that the copyright was current. How could it be that there was such a lack of bands in the database? Couldn’t Band2Band hook up with a website like last.fm or myspace music to automatically create a database of bands, band members, and albums to then create a visual map using that data?
This site, in my opinion, requires a major revamp. Although there is a link that allows you to play a short preview of songs by the artist whose page you are on, it would be nice if it could do that within the map, instead of on the sidebar. I’d also like to know more about band history that could be located on a subpage. I’d also like the map to be the central feature of the site, instead of having it placed at the bottom of the page.
As far as the map itself, perhaps it would be better to create an interactive web. This way it is possible to see the larger picture of the various connections within the music industry. Facebook, in its very early days, had a feature that I absolutely loved: you could map out how all of your friends were connected and through whom. You could then see who were the key members of groups of friends, an activity that I remember spending hours on until it was mysteriously taken down. Perhaps it could even have two options for viewing: if you want to get lost in music connections, a sort of “choose your own adventure” click-through flash application could work best. But if you wanted to see the overall picture, perhaps a full web could be shown with the closest 150 connections related to the artist of your choosing.
I do like how the site allows you to link to amazon to purchase albums. I also like that it is possible to generate random maps between artists and bands but so much redesign needs to go into creating a useful interactive map.
My neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn is full of old movie theaters that have been repurposed into other important community centers, be it a bank, pharmacy, or even a church. While I’ve bemoaned the lack of a proper cinema in north Brooklyn, new, ultra indie movie theaters are starting to pop up in storefronts, apartment buildings and other non traditional spaces in the neighborhood.
I’m assuming that it was a lack of profitability, due to a shift to a vertical production and distribution method by Hollywood that led to the shuttering of the neighborhood’s original theaters, whose ornately decorated ceilings and walls allow for a glimpse into the past. North Brooklyn’s new population of working creatives, who desire more venues of entertainment within the neighborhood, are clearly what are driving the current surge in boutique film venues today.
By analyzing the history of both the neighborhood (in terms of demographics) and film production within the United States, I believe that I’ll be able to quantify just how the two waves of movie theater existence came to happen. My research will begin by looking at the locations of the old theaters as well as their specific neighborhood’s demographic at the time of establishment. I’ll gather not only the data, but also images from the archives of the interior and exterior of the buildings at (hopefully) the time of their establishment and time of closing. I’ll juxtapose those images with ones of what the buildings look like now. This will in turn show if they had been torn down or repurposed. It is possible to do this with today’s theaters, showing what they were originally and what they are today while also studying the current demographic of the specific area within north Brooklyn in which they are located.
Even with some preliminary investigation that included looking at maps of my neighborhood on the New York Public Library’s digital archive site, I learned that several places I frequent, including my grocery store, were, in 1916, theaters. So why study these two waves of theaters in the neighborhood? Entertainment’s, and the various buildings that house centers of entertainment, use in society can be seen as a marker for the healthiness of the economy and also can help to pinpoint major changes within the demographics of a city (or within a city, a specific neighborhood). It is also important to chart how the failing of Hollywood to achieve the monetary success that it once had in the 1980’s and 90’s has contributed, on a more localized level, to the development of a stronger independent movement within cinema.
Besides for having archival and recent images, the interactive map should also be able to convey the changing demographics of the neighborhood. Perhaps the best way to show this would be with some sort of color overlay that could represent the amount of recent immigrants or median income or even what job sector residents resided in, with a different color for a different decade. And when placed with the other maps from class, a portrait of New York City should emerge; one that traces nearly every element of urban life since, let’s assume, the era of industrialization.
Dunn, Angela Fox. “William Fox: Cinema Czar.” Westways. 73.11 (1981): 35. Print.
Hiler, Mary Louise.  The Beginnings of the Cinema in Brooklyn: the Vitagraph Company of America, 1898-2925. Thesis (BA) St. Joseph’s College. USA.
Levy, Emanual. Cinema of Outsiders: The rise of American independent film. New York, NY: New York University Press, 1999.
Musser, Charles. “American Vitagraph: 1897-1901.” Cinema Journal. 22.3 (1983): 4-46
Newman, Michael. “Indie Culture: In pursuit of the Authentic Autonomous Alternative.” Cinema Journal. 48.3 (2009): 16-34.
Perera, L.A.D. The rise, decline, and fall of Hollywood’s mighty empires. 1st. New York, NY: Vantage Press, 1992.
Torrence, Bruce. Hollywood, the fist hundred years. New York, NY: Zoetrope, 1979.
The NYC Department of Records – Municipal Archives’ Collection includes original census documents from 1905 and 1915. These are organized by Ward. It also has assessed values of real estate from 1789 – 1979. This could be an interesting marker for inflation and the changing value of property within neighborhoods. The collection also includes the archives of the WPA FEDERAL WRITERS’ PROJECT (NYC UNIT) which lasted from 1936-1943.
Brooklyn College has one specific archive that could be of use called Brooklyniana. This includes photographs and maps.
BrooklynPix.com has a collection of photographs of old theaters.
use bell hooks’s (and others) concepts of the Other and imperialist nostalgia to read the Burger King whopper virgins commercial.
My research began with the assumption that sometime in the future I am going to create a visual ethnography about recent Chinese immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. Living within close proximity to the enclave, I became fascinated by the motivation required to travel across the world for a better life and concurrently if when here, are the immigrants happy with their decision to leave their homes and families? To begin such a project requires an understanding of the history of Chinatowns across the United States, as well as knowledge of current trends in Chinese immigration patterns.
Mark Abraham’s book, Urban Enclaves, argues that within current ethnic enclaves today, there is no longer a desire for assimilation, nor does “social mobility…require movement out of the enclave” (Abrahamson 15). This is a major shift from the historical ideal assimilation and movement understood from previous generations. Min Zhou and John R. Logan explain that the reasons for the increased high numbers of Chinese in Chinatown, in contrast to the lower numbers of other ethnic groups who actually live in designated ethnic enclaves, results from specific factors—that “most of the Chinese immigrants entered New York to join their families, and they came disproportionately from rural areas of South China, bringing little education and few industrial skills with them. These immigrants provided the labor force for an ethnic economy” (Zhou 392). And yet, this answer doesn’t seem to explain or provide credible reasoning as to why such a thriving and self-inclusive Chinatown exists while, for instance, Korea town can barely be called an ethnic enclave. There does not seem to be any conclusive answer as to why Chinatown became so centralized as opposed to other immigrant communities.
Min Zhou and John R. Logan’s sociological study of Chinatown and its residents, although important for understanding the enclave’s history, is outdated. Almost all of the data cited census statistics from the early 1970s until the late 1980s. Migration patterns can change greatly in the course of fifteen years and a new study needs to be conducted to update and expand previous work. Christopher J. Smith conducted a detailed ethnography for his article Asian New York: The Geography and Politics of Diversity that was published in 1995. It is important to note that his article focuses on Asian immigration more broadly (not just on Chinese immigration) with an emphasis on Flushing, Queens as a destination for Asian immigrants. In fact, according to yet another outdated source, two-thirds of recent immigrants (not just Chinese) settle in Brooklyn or Queens (Edmondson 16). Flushing has, according to Smith’s paper, become an important cultural capital and destination for all Asian immigrants. As of the winter of 2007, there are more than twenty civic organizations of ethnic Chinese from main land China active in the Flushing Community (Haifeng 10). This shows that there is an incredibly strong community, but is the community only self-inclusive? Does the enclave understand the importance of representation in local and state government? In 2000, Chen Daoying became the first ethnic Chinese New York State member of Congress. (Haifeng 11) Such political participation perhaps reflects a dissolution of the enclave by opening a greater channel of communication between residents and the government. Are community leaders now more than ever required to abide by labor laws and housing codes in order to receive government funding?
It is important to note that the bulk of existing research, specifically the sociological studies which relied on data and numbers, does not include the undocumented population. The majority of recent immigrants from China are illegal (cite source). In order to get an accurate estimate of the number of illegal immigrants in the New York area (incorporating all Chinatowns such as the ones in Manhattan and Flushing), community organizations and churches within Chinatown seem to be the best way to not only get an accurate statistic of the number of undocumented Chinese immigrants, but also serve as a gateway.
Much of the existing research tends to use statistical analysis as the primary methodology. However, some studies used ethnographic means such as Kenneth Guest’s ethnography, God in Chinatown: Religion and Survival in New York’s Evolving Immigrant Community (2003), which uses religion and various churches in Chinatown to explain both the documented and undocumented Chinese immigrant experience. This book provides an excellent model for documentary work and for future research that is concerned less with sweeping statistical data and more with intimate stories. What must it be like to grow up in a household that includes several generations including recent immigrants and children born in the United States to these immigrants? This question is reminiscent of Joan Mandell, Andrew Shryock, Sally Howell and Dwight Reynold’s visual ethnography, Tales from Arab Detroit, which was – at its essence – about the assimilation and the dissolving traditional cultural practices with each generation within Dearborn, Michigan’s Arab enclave. This same subject, while focusing on Chinese immigrants in New York, could be a fascinating way to record a particular unique perspective on the immigrant experience.
There is one passage in Guest’s book that diverges from the positive images that predominate stories of Chinese immigration found in other works on the subject. He writes, “For while Chinatown is a gateway into America for most Fuzhounese and the beginning of their pursuit of the American dream, for many Chinatown is also a trap, an ethnic enclave manufactured by the economic and political Chinatown elites to keep them [recent immigrants] isolated and thus vulnerable to labor exploitation” (Guest 17).
Ko-Lin Chin, in his book Smuggled Chinese: Clandestine Immigration to the United States, surveys and interviews several hundred illegal immigrants, community workers and social workers in the New York area. These immigrants primarily come from Fuzhou, “a city in southeastern China [that] has overtaken Canton as the leading ethnic community origin of immigrants from China” (Guest 4). Both Chin and Guest chronicle the human smuggling business that has evolved to accommodate the many Fuzhounese who wish to leave China. While documenting their struggle, Chin also asks the question of why such a mass exodus seems to be occurring. He concludes that it is because of both the myth of the American dream and the established immigrant network that provides jobs and support for a new life (Chin 34).
There seems to be confusion as to whether the smugglers are part of organized crime rings or work on their own. This could be an interesting question to address in future research. Smugglers, also known as snakeheads, charge anywhere between $30,000 up to $60,000 (US dollars) per person (Chin 20). They provide false visas and passports for flying as well as accommodation on ships to Mexico where the immigrants are brought across the border into the United States by the same routes that Mexicans use to cross over illegally.
Once in America, it is usually the extended family within the United States that pays the smuggler, leaving the immigrant in debt to the family. The debt, which in many ways resembles indentured servitude, is normally paid off within several years (Sawoski-Smith 794). The enclave and religious institutions provide the necessary network for immigrants to find places to live, food to eat and jobs. The new illegal Chinese are subcontracted, along with recent immigrants from across the world, to provide services at the bottom of the social ladder: construction, kitchen, factory etc. And yet, more than other immigrant groups, the Chinese tend to subcontract within their own enclave; the recent immigrants working long hours and for less than legal pay for the business leaders of Chinatown (Light 1345). “The business leadership has actually attempted to prevent the American public from gaining access to information about crime, housing, poverty and disease in Chinatowns…which has led to a failure to attract federal welfare funds” (Light 1355). Does the recent representation of the community in government (as I wrote earlier) have any effect on this lack of welfare? And yet, even with the previously noted crime, cramped housing conditions and poverty found in Chinatown, the area is still able to remain a tourist destination.
Greg Umbach and Dan Wishnoff’s article, Strategic Self Orientalism: Urban Planning Policies and the Shaping of New York City’s Chinatown, 1950-2005, examines how and why New York’s Chinatown never evolved into the tourist spectacle characteristic of other major Chinatowns. They argue that Chinatowns across the United States (and even in Canada and Great Britain) were built in such a way as to promote exoticism and authenticity as means to increase tourism – the mainstay of most Chinatowns. The economy of New York’s Chinatown was never based only on vice or tourism. It was a true immigrant ghetto instead of a manufactured quasi-reality. The reality is that recent immigrants are forced to work so hard that it seems as if there isn’t even enough time for assimilation. While I wasn’t able to find any numbers or first hand accounts to support this claim, it is a subject that I plan on tackling when I begin interviewing immigrants.
Annette Bernhardt conducted extensive research on workplace violations in New York City. Her research took the form of interviews with 326 individuals ranging from workers to supervisors in unregulated and semi-regulated industries. According to her own research, the Department of Labor “found that in 1999, only 35 percent of apparel plants in New York City were in compliance with wage and working-time laws” (Bernhardt 137). The apparel industry is a major employer of recent Chinese immigrants. Even employment agencies exploit new immigrants by, after charging for their services, sending workers to jobs that do not exist or to jobs that violate labor laws (Bernhardt 153). The articles on exploitation state the problem in a detached manner, but never are the stories heard of those who are facing such exploitation. Future research could provide an outlet and bring the issue to the forefront of academic circles.
Although Umbach and Wishnoff state that the economy was never based on vice, this does not mean that illegal activities do not exist in New York’s Chinatown. On the contrary, prostitution seems to be thriving. There is a lack of academic articles specifically adressing the sex trade in Chinatown. However, Denny Lee’s New York Times article Immigrants Work in Parlors Offering More Than Massages does offer a journalistic view. This article, although from eight years ago, noted that the New York police department does not keep track of massage parlors that act as fronts for prostitution in back rooms. Lee also references two community groups: the Chinatown Planning Council and the Better Chinatown Association as sources for realistic statistics on illegal sex workers in the area.
James McKinley and N.R. Kleinfield wrote several articles, also for the New York Times, about a specific brothel on the Bowery in Chinatown that had trafficked women from Thailand to New York and kept them against their will. It seems that the majority of women who are trafficked come from Thailand, a country that specializes in the business of prostitution. Even though Siddharth Kara’s book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, is about prostitution and slavery in Thailand, his methods (surveys and interviews of young women forced into prostitution) provide excellent guidelines for future research. He would actually go to the brothels and instead of engaging in sexual acts with the girls he would talk to them. Perhaps my gender will be a hinderence to conducting field studies, but it is nonetheless important to try to get a dialogue started. By using resources available, such as community advocate and health organizations, I think that it would still be possible to conduct research on a subject that is inevitably cloaked in secrecy.
I was struck by the lack of academic writing on the subject. From the numerous massage parlors I pass daily where I have noticed men entering and exiting, it is obvious that prostitution and the exploitation of women occurs in the enclave. Why isn’t this part of any academic discourse? Perhaps sex trafficking and prostitution are separate issues that deserve their own ethnographic study. But there needs to be a defining text on Chinese immigrants in Chinatown that provides a detailed account of real life, just as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle did in it’s representation of Chicago’s immigrant community working in meat processing factories. My ethnography could be this text.
Abrahamson, Mark. Urban Enclaves : Identity and Place in America. New York: Worth, Incorporated, 1995.
Bernhardt, Annette. “The state of worker protections in the United States: Unregulated work in New York City.” International Labour Review 147 (2008): 135-62.
Chin, Ko-lin. Smuggled Chinese: Clandestine Immigration to the United States. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 1999.
Edmondson, Brad. “The Newest New Yorkers.” American Demographics 19 (1997): 16-17.
Guest, Kenneth J. God in Chinatown : Religion and Survival in New York’s Evolving Immigrant Community. New York: New York UP, 2003.
Haifeng, Zhu. “Self-Balancing of New Immigrants in Social Ecology.” Chinese Studies in History 41 (2007-8): 8-14.
Kara, Siddharth. Sex Trafficking Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 2009.
Kleinfield, N.R. “Five Charged With Holding Thai Women Captive for Prostitution.” The New York Times 5 Jan. 1995: B1.
Kleinfield, N.R. “Former Office in Chinatown Admits That He Took Bribes.” The New York Times 14 June 1995: B2.
Lee, Denny. “Immigrant Work in Parlors Offering More Than Massages.” The New York Times 12 Nov. 2000: CY9.
Light, Ivan, and Charles Wong. “Protest or Work: Dilemmas of the Tourist Industry in American Chinatowns.” The American Journal of Sociology 80 (1975): 1342-368.
McKinley Jr, James C. “Woman Testifies on Weeks Held Against Her Will in a Brothel.” The New York Times 6 June 1995: B2.
Sadowski-Smith, Claudia. “Unskilled Labor Migration and the Illegality Spiral: Chinese, European, and Mexican Indocumentados in the United States, 1882-2007.” American Quarterly 60 (2008): 779-804.
Smith, Christopher J. “Asian New York: The Geography and Politics of Diversity.” International Migration Review 29 (1995): 59-84.
Umbach, Greg, and Dan Wishnoff. “Strategic Self-Orientalism: Urban Planning Policies and the Shaping of New York City’s Chinatown, 1950-2005.” Journal of Planning History 7 (2008): 214-38.
Yee, Shirley J. “Dependency and Opportunity.” Journal of Urban History 33 (2007): 254-76.
Zhou, Min, and John T. Logan. “In and Out of Chinatown: Residential Mobility and Segregation of New York City’s Chinese Author(s).” Social Forces 70 (1991): 387-407.
MEDIA STUDIES: IDEAS
Stuart Hall’s premise in Encoding/Decoding is that there is never one fixed meaning of a message. Meaning arises because of shared conceptual maps between people. This shared understanding of meaning creates the codes by which a particular society is structured. Such codes and representations are what make up cultures and it is the differences in the shared maps of meaning which account for differing cultures. Hall quotes Barthes, who states that “the connotative levels of signifiers, have a close communication with culture, knowledge, history and it is through them, so to speak, that the environmental world invades the linguistic and semantic system. They are, if you like, the fragments of ideology.” (169)
Because of these differing maps of meaning (and differing ideologies), it is entirely possible (and more than likely) the encoding and decoding of a message work autonomously. In other words, the message that the sender encodes with his own cultural framework can be perceived and decoded with an entirely differently meaning by the receiver.
Hall performed an experiment to test this hypothesis. He set up screenings across the globe of the popular American television program Dallas and afterwards asked the viewers to summarize the narrative. There were substantial differences in how the program was understood based upon different sets up cultural cues and conceptual maps.
In conclusion, it is apparent through the writing of Stuart Hall, that societal and cultural ideologies between sender and receiver can change the meaning of a message; that the codes of encoding and decoding are not identical, but rather autonomous.
Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld were the first to recognize that interpersonal relationships have a significant role in the decision making process. This notion played an important role in the development of communication studies by laying the foundation for all further research regarding mass media.
In Personal Influences, Katz and Lazarsfeld hypothesize that “the response of an individual to a campaign cannot be accounted for with out reference to his social environment and to the character of his interpersonal relations.” (25) Using an election to study how decisions are made, it became apparent that certain individuals from across the socio economic stratus had much greater influence over decisions than others. More importantly, they discovered that these individuals proved more effective than radio or print advertisements. (32) From the election study, Katz and Lazarsfeld created the concept of a two step flow of communication where “ideas flow from radio and print to opinion leaders and from them to the less active sections of the population.” (32)
Stuart Hall’s article, Encoding/Decoding, built upon Katz and Lazarsfeld’s theory that one’s relationships with others, and thus one’s understanding of appropriate social mechanisms, changes the effects of any given message. (166) This decoding is only possible when a message has passed the test of whether the audience can understand the built in codes of meaning, also known as encoding. Problems arise when the receiver of a message does not share the same basic contextual maps of meaning as those who have produced it.
To conclude, Katz and Lazarsfeld found that interpersonal relationships were immensely important to the decision making process. Hall expands on this notion by describing how the influence of an opinion leader on the masses is only possible through the use of shared maps of meaning. These codes dictate culture, and more importantly, cultural differences.
In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey argues that film best exemplifies the image of woman as passive material for the active gaze of the man. It is the male spectator’s identification with the male protagonist, who thus acts as an on-screen surrogate for the spectator, which doubles the objectification of the woman on the screen. (347) What ensues is “the separation of the erotic identity from the subject on the screen”, otherwise known as scopophilia (346) The woman’s body, always on display, is filmed in such a way that it is distorted by close ups. “ One part of a fragmented body destroys the Renaissance space, the illusion of depth demanded by the narrative, it gives flatness, the quality of a cut out or icon.” (347) Thus, she is turned into an object void of all but her sexuality.
The female form becomes nothing more than a plot device to further the story and, more importantly, her body is the passive receiver of the spectator’s active gaze. The female body becomes a representation for the male “other”, which must be controlled due to the Freudian fear of castration. (343) This castration anxiety stems from the traumatic moment of birth. The act of giving birth is the ultimate power and thus in order to control and dominate, men must place women in a passive role by stripping their bodies of all meaning except for that of erotic pleasure. (344)
Mulvey argues that film is itself a historically masculine form, which creates an arena for the active, controlling gaze. This occurs though the cinema’s use of the manipulation of the dimensions of time (editing, narrative) and space to adhere to the male fantasy. Not only is the male gaze inherent in the very nature of film, but the theater itself reinforces voyeurism, and thus objectification of the female form, by placing the spectator in a dark room, whose only illumination is that of the screen. The entire movie going experience has been concocted to promote masculine dominance in the struggle between the genders.
In order to understand Bell Hook’s statement that “the commodification of differences promotes paradigms of consumption wherein whatever difference the Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies the significance of that Other’s history through a process of decontextualization,” one must first understand what the term “the other” means.
The Other represents those outside of the mainstream white culture. Ever since slavery, white society has felt the need, whether consciously or unconsciously, to dominate and impose its cultural norms on those conquered. This is necessary for understanding the appeal and later the commodification of the Other to white society. The commodification is of both the body and culture of the Other - the Other being, in Hook’s essay, primarily African Americans.
Hooks writes that “it was this black body that was most desired for its labor in slavery, and it is this body that is most represented in contemporary popular culture as the body to be watched, imitated, desired, possessed.” (376) The body of the Other is sexualized, but such erotic fantasy is not meant to dominate and control as it was previously. Rather, sex with the Other is meant to create a change in the outlook and being of the white person who desires a taste of otherness. Hooks uses an example of a conversation she overheard on the Yale campus between white male students. The students used “fucking as a way to confront the Other.” (368)
Such openness about the desire for the Other, and seemingly anti-racist rhetoric, is in direct contrast with the conquering and domination of black women historically done by white men. (368) However, Hooks writes that “the desire for the Other body, although now declared openly as to show non-racism, still invokes imperialist nostalgia because the Other is a new frontier to be explored and to be changed by.” (369) The white male students she overheard only wanted to use women from various cultures for their own selfish gain. This reinforces white dominance over the Other.
Critical to understanding the statement upon which this paper is based is Hooks’s belief that “the desire to make contact with the other, with no apparent will to dominate, assuages the guilt of the past, and even takes the form of a defiant gesture where one denies accountability and historical connection.” (369) The commodification of the black body, to be used for the pleasure of members of white society is racist because as Hooks writes, of the imperialist nostalgia unconsciously found in the open desire for the Other.
Not only is the body a point of contestation, but it is also the commodification of the culture of the Other in mainstream white America that displaces and decontextualizes the Other. The excitement found in the body of the Other is displaced onto the entire culture of the Other, thus making anything associated with black society more desirable specifically because it is not mainstream.
I am not sure if I agree with Hooks’s belief that there has been “a crisis of identity in the west, especially experienced by white youth,” (369) which has lead to the influx of black culture into white mainstream America. Hooks’s describes this as “ white cultural imperialist appropriation of black culture [which] maintains white supremacy and is a constant threat to black liberation.” (375) Instead of taking their bodies, we now have taken their culture.
Hooks uses rap music as an example of such commodification. What began as a way for black men to express their powerlessness (as seen in Public Enemy’s song, Fight the Power) soon became a way for white mainstream to flirt the stigmas attached to the notion of the Other. Here is a verse from Fight the Power:
As the rhythm designed to bounce/ What counts is that the rhymes/Designed to fill your mind/Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived/We got to pump the stuff to make us tough/from the heart/It’s a start, a work of art/To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange/People, people we are the same/No we’re not the same/Cause we don’t know the game/What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless/You say what is this? My beloved lets get down to business/Mental self defensive fitness/(Yo) bum rush the show/You gotta go for what you know/Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be/Lemme hear you say…/Fight the Power
This song, which is specifically written for and by African Americans, became a sort of national anthem, taken over by white youths and eventually crossed into the mainstream. Hooks writes that “as signs, power to ignite critical consciousness is diffused when they are commodified.” (375) The struggle against racism and also the plight of African Americans today (all of which Public Enemy addresses in the track) are decontextualized by mainstream approval. The struggle and pain of the Other is thus subverted to the point of near eradication.
A song such as Fight the Power, which tries to inspire an uprising to fight the oppression of racism, fails because it reinforces the true “powerlessness” of the Other. Their history, their struggle and the culture that they have created because of all that they have been through is being copied by those whose ancestors had enslaved them. The image of the other, and its associated meanings is also used to sell products to the mainstream. Hooks references one particular Tweeds catalogue that exploited Egyptian otherness by juxtaposing a white model next to Egyptians in traditional dress and against the country’s landscape. The resulting images had the same unconscious imperialistic quality to them as discussed prior. The images also represent the Egyptians as not on the Other, but also as primitive. (372) The native women are dressed in skirts where as the western white woman, to the western eye, “appears liberated” in her pant suit. (372) It is the acknowledgement of racial difference, and the pleasure gained from such difference, which is perpetuated in mass culture through visual representations such as the Tweeds catalogue.
At the root of all of this lies a mass media system that reinforces and legitimizes racial stereotypes and allows for the commodification of the Other’s body and culture.
Strategic Self Orientalism: Urban Planning Policies and the Shaping of New York City’s Chinatown, 1950-2005
Greg Umbach and Dan Wishnoff’s article examines how and why New York’s Chinatown never evolved into the tourist spectacle characteristic of other major
Chinatowns. As seen in the article’s three examples of failed urban planning policies: China Village, Chinatown Street Revitalization, and the Unity Arch, New York’s Chinatown remained a gritty urban enclave rather than an orientalist mecca. This is due to factors unique to the city; such as the rise of the garment industry, as well as a lack of “political alliances and commercial forces” (216).
Umbach and Wishnoff’s thesis is based on the assumption that Chinatowns across the United States (and even in Canada and Great Britain) were built in such a way as to promote the exoticism and authenticity of the Chinese as means to increase tourism – the mainstay of most Chinatowns. However, the economy of New York’s Chinatown was never based only on vice or tourism. It was a true immigrant enclave instead of a manufactured quasi-reality.
The term “Orientalist”, as the title suggests, is central to the text (in various forms: anti-Orientalist critique, post-Orientatlist narrative, etc.) and indicates the labor involved in the manufacturing of “authentic” Chinese identity and culture.
Umbach and Wishnoff conducted extensive historical research. with their primary source being the New York City Housing Authority papers at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives. Their argument and thesis is based on three examples of failed urban planning policies: China Village, Chinatown Street Revitalization, and the Unity Arch. Using comparative methods, the authors provide evidence of how New York’s Chinatown differed in development from these failed projects. They also rely on the New York Times, specifically articles covering the happenings in the enclave to provide a greater historical framework in which to understand the community’s sentiments during the three development failures.
The article’s major fault is in its lack of proofreading. Perhaps it was the transition between print and internet, but one would think that an article that was published in a scholarly journal would have been looked over with more diligence. That said, the authors were able to shed light on not only the obvious lack of urban development in New York’s Chinatown, but also on the concept of a manufactured identity and culture that was at the heart of Chinatowns globally and yet which was met with such forceful resistance only in New York.
Media Uses in Immigrant Families
Nelly Elias and Dafna Lemish investigated media usage by Russian immigrants in Israel and concluded that media was a way to “preserve the immigrants’ cultural heritage and strengthen the sense of intra-group solidarity”, bring the family unit both together and further apart, and ease the transition into a new society. (22) The study was based on the assumption that mass media has the greatest influence on immigrants’ transitions into a new country. (21)
Elias and Lemish draw on previous migration studies that conclude there are two media processes that immigrants use: inward and outward integration. Inward integration refers to the use of media to bring the family together while retaining the original cultural heritage. (24) Outward integration is in reference to the immigrants’ use of media as means to integrate into their new society. (24)
Elias and Lemish’s research methodology took the form of two sets of interviews with 30 Russian immigrant families living in Israel. The interviewees were asked questions relating to their media usage and then both a statistical and theoretical analysis were conducted so as to provide not only physical evidence of media’s influence in socialization but to show patterns among usage based on demographics.
This article and the research that was conducted in association with it did not provide any new revelations about media usage and immigrants. The authors note that there have been previous studies whose findings were equitable to their own. Perhaps if they had chosen to see if such specific immigrant media usages were a worldwide phenomenon (especially in the age of globalization), their findings would have been able to make more of a contribution.
In Urban Enclaves, Mark Abrahamson argues that unlike the ethnic enclave of the past, new immigrant communities will have more permanence. Abrahamson sites the reason for this being that there is no longer a desire for assimilation, nor does “social mobility…require movement out of the enclave.” (15)
According to Abrahamson, there are two basic components to the word enclave. Primarily, the term represents a “concentration of residents who share a distinctive status that is important to their identity.” (13) Also important are special support systems for residents’ way of life. (13) As shown through Abrahamson’s study of several of the most well known urban enclaves, it is possible to see a trend supporting his thesis. The enclaves that are used as examples are the elite in Boston’s Beacon Hill and Back Bay neighborhood, Chicago’s meat-packing plant communities, black Detroit, the Chinatowns found in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Little Havana in Miami, the gay neighborhood in San Francisco (the Castro district), and finally the Hasidic Jewish enclave in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
The concept of identity is also a central theme in the text. The term refers to the roles and status one has in concurrence with society. (5) Thus Abrahamson points out that based on ones concept of identity, being in a homogenized society, such as an urban enclave, allows for the less dominant identities to develop. (7) A crucial element of Abrahamson’s research was that such homogeneity and segregation is not always self-imposed. Local governments play a major part in dictating enclave boundaries.
The book is a product of extensive research based primarily in academic texts, specifically in the field of sociology. However it is important to note that Abrahamson also uses the New York Times as sources for quotes from notable historians and local residents in the areas that he studied.
Stylistically, Urban Enclaves works its way backwards by stating histories and factual evidence to support Abrahamson’s thesis in the last section of the book. Once the background has been covered, it is possible for him to begin the process of analyzing what the past will mean for the future of enclaves. Abrahamson is thus able to compare urban enclaves from a hundred years ago (i.e. San Francisco’s Chinatown) with the suburban enclaves of immigrants from the Philipines in Southern California. From such comparisons, he is able to make conclusions as to why enclaves that have been traditionally urban are now rapidly forming in suburban areas. And yet these enclaves, whose geography and even density differ from its predecesors, have shared social characteristics.
Although a great historical reference, the book as a sociological academic text fails because Abrahamson does not conduct any of his own independent research. If he had included ethnographies that he had done in the various urban enclaves, the book would have an added layer of depth. Abrahamson also skimps on his investigation of the suburban enclave. Granted, the title states that the topic of his book will be the historically urban neighborhoods, but he teases readers by briefly touching on the new enclave in the last section.
Urban Enclaves provided a concise and comprehensive history of several of the most important distinct enclaves in the United States. Perhaps its contribution to the field will be to pique the interest of the next generation who will hopefully tackle the subject of the new suburban enclave and its importance both to residents inside of it and to the country as a whole.
Abrahamson, Mark. Urban Enclaves: Identity and Place in America. 5th. New York: Worth Publishers, 1996.
Elias, Nelly, and Dafna Lemish. “Media Uses in Immigrant Families.” The International Communication Gazette 70(1)(2008): 21-40.
Umbach, Greg, and Dan Wishnoff. “Strategic Self-Orientalism: Urban Planning Policies and the Shaping of New York City’s Chinatown, 1950-2005.” Journal of Planning History 7(2008): 214-238.
Fall 2008: Understanding Media Studies, Media Studies: Ideas
Spring 2009: Media Practices: Concepts, Media/Critical Theory: Walter Benjamin
(the rest is based on the spring 2009 course offerings)
Summer 2009: Media Practices: Film Form, Media and American Modernity
Fall 2009: Directing Documentary, Documentary as Social Practice
Spring 2010: Documentary Research Methods, Emerging Media and Aesthetic Experience, Writing from Screen to Screen
Summer 2010: Thesis Proposal Supervision, Globalization and Media
Fall 2010: Thesis Tutorial, Sexual Personae, Media Practices: Time Based
Spring 2011: Thesis Supervision
Looks like I have my work cut out for me (and I didn’t even include non-media studies courses that I wanted to take).
Because the media studies program is tailored to students who work full time jobs and also due to the fact that the campus is so incredibly urban, it is hard to establish connections with other students - or rather, it is harder than it was at Indiana University. I have made a point of engaging with my fellow graduate students during class and facebook friending everyone that I meet. Even though I find facebook incredibly obnoxious, it has had positive effects on my blossoming friendships with my classmates by providing a non-school virtual arena for us to learn more about one another.
Working full time has made it hard to attend graduate student functions or other New School events held before 6:30pm. I’ve wanted to attend several lectures this semester and have not been able to leave work in time. Next fall I would like to become more involved in student organizations such as the yearly critical themes conference. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet more like minded fellow students this way as well as build up a stronger relationship with my advisor, Paulo Carpignano.
the uses and meaning of viral video
To build upon what I will learn (and have learned thus far), I believe that it is important to study outside of the media studies discipline. This can only enrich my experience. During my undergraduate years I took several courses in anthropology because the courses in the department often were cross listed with classes in the communication and culture department. I loved the anthropology classes, specifically with visual anthropology. I would like to complete a visual ethnography for my master’s thesis and perhaps even pursue a PhD in anthropology upon graduation from this program. Listed below are a few of the courses offered in the Anthropology department that I would love to take in the future.
Anthropology as a History of the Present (taught by Ann Stoler) In l950 don of British anthropology, Evans Pritchard warned that anthropology would have to choose between being history or being nothing. What did he mean by that statement? How prescient was he in charting the direction that anthropology would take in the 21st century? This course explores the changing form and content of historical reflection in the making of anthropology as a discipline, a set of practices, and mode of inquiry. It starts from the notion that anthropological knowledge is always grounded in implicit and explicit assumptions about the ways in which the past can be known, how people differently use their pasts, and what counts in different societies as relevant and debatable history. We will look at how different understandings of the relationship between history, culture and power and the concepts that join them — habitus, structural violence, cultural debris, imagined community, social memory, genealogy, tradition — have given shape to critical currents in ethnographic method and social theory. This course is required for MA and PhD students in Anthropology.
Truth Production: Historical and Cultural Frames (taught by Ann Stoler)
This course explores the production of truth as an historically and culturally variable phenomenon. When and how is it that “facts” come to matter? When and why does “the eye-witness” account come to be a more credible truth? Under what conditions do rumors produce more reliable truths than being present? What is the relationship between torture and truth, between sincerity and deception, between narrative form and truth claims? Truth production takes different forms (confession, testimonials, truth commissions) just as it employs and produces different technologies (truth serums, psychoanalysis, torture, lie-detectors, dna sampling). Truth production is situated knowledge par excellence. How we imagine we can know the past is contingent on what we take to be plausible and reliable truth claims about the past, who counts as a credible witnesses, and what kinds of evidence are marshaled to back historical claims. Drawing on the work of Steven Shapin, Hayden White, Michel Foucault, Natalie Davis, and scholars of historical ethnography, we will look at “hierarchies of credibility” (documents, testimony, memory, rumor, visual vs. verbal evidence) and the conditions under which they change. Readings will be drawn from Truth and Reconciliation Reports, torture documents, court cases, and from the fields of philosophy, literature, and history as well as anthropology. This course is not open to first year graduate students.
I would also be interested in taking courses within the consortium that the New School belongs to. NYU has a great anthropology program with some courses geared specifically towards visual ethnography:
Culture and Media I G14.1215
Open only to graduate students in the Departments of Anthropology, Cinema Studies, and Performance Studies. Ganti, Ginsburg, Himpele. 4 points.
This course offers a critical revision of the history of the genre of ethnographic film, the central debates it has engaged around cross-cultural representation, and the theoretical and cinematic responses to questions of the screen representation of culture, from the early romantic constructions of Robert Flaherty to current work in film, television, and video on the part of indigenous people throughout the world. Ethnographic film has a peculiar and highly contested status within anthropology, cinema studies, and documentary practice. This seminar situates ethnographic film within the wider project of the representation of cultural lives, and especially of “natives.” Starting with what are regarded as the first examples of the genre, the course examines how these emerged in a particular intellectual context and political economy. It then considers the key works that have defined the genre, and the epistemological and formal innovations associated with them, addressing questions concerning social theory, documentary, as well as the institutional structures through which they are funded, distributed, and seen by various audiences. Throughout, the course keeps in mind the properties of film as a signifying practice, its status as a form of anthropological knowledge, and the ethical and political concerns raised by cross-cultural representation.
Culture and Media II: Ethnography of Media G14.1216 Open only to graduate students in the Departments of Anthropology, Cinema Studies, and Performance Studies. Prerequisite: G14.1215. Ganti, Ginsburg, Himpele. 4 points.
In the last decade, a new field—the ethnography of media—has emerged as an exciting new arena of research. While claims about media in people’s lives are made on a daily basis, surprisingly little research has actually attempted to look at how media is part of the naturally occurring lived realities of people’s lives. In the last decade, anthropologists and media scholars interested in film, television, and video have been turning their attention increasingly beyond the text and the empiricist notions of audiences (stereotypically associated with the ethnography of media), to consider, ethnographically, the complex social worlds in which media is produced, circulated, and consumed, at home and elsewhere. This work theorizes media studies from the point of view of cross-cultural ethnographic realities and anthropology from the perspective of new spaces of communication focusing on the social, economic, and political life of media and how it makes a difference in the daily lives of people as a practice, whether in production, reception, or circulation.
Professor Paulo Carpignano has been a role model for what I hope to achieve throughout my time at the New School. He has taught me, whether he knows this or not, that it is possible to combine traditional academic fields (such as sociology in his case, and anthropology in mine) with media studies in order to have an even greater understanding of the way that we as humans interact, learn, and live.
Although Professor Ellsworth was initially my advisor, I switched to Professor Carpignano halfway through the first semester. His knowledge of critical theory inspires me to learn as much as possible. I’ve never before read someone in school (in a non literature related course) and thought that I HAD to read the full breadth of that authors work. Since the beginning of the semester, I’ve bought Walter Benjamin books and almost every critical theory text that I can get my hands on and/or afford. To be able to continue the philosophical debates from class within the confines of Carpignano’s office is absolutely wonderful. My world has expanded ten fold since reading McLuhan, Benjamin, Echo, and all of the other great thinkers covered thus far.
I believe that with his guidance, my own research and work will be ready to submit to conferences and help make me a more ideal candidate for further graduate school.
Working a full time job (which happens to be over fourty hours most weeks) limits what I can take. Courses that begin after 6pm (most of them) are my mainstay. If I decide to take any production courses in the future (which I most certainly will) I will have to do so on the weekends because production labs are so time and labor intensive that I won’t be able to give the class my all if I arrive straight from work only to sit for another four hours.
I am currently a part time student, meaning that I am only taking two classes per semester. Thus far, it seems to be a perfect way to balance academics and work. I cannot see myself ever going full time unless I somehow magically get paid for going to school. Perhaps in the future I will participate in the subsidized program where the media studies students teach public school children the basics of camera production. I would also love to become a teaching assistant so that I can get a feel for being on the other end of the classroom spectrum.