From 2007-2010, I engaged in an innovative praxis of critical Internet studies by teaching about and also within YouTube.
As a longtime practitioner, teacher, and scholar of activist video, I was keen to understand why improved access to production and distribution of media via social media sites like YouTube had not incited the media revolution anticipated by many of us within these movements but rather had led to an escalating production, reception, celebration, and embrace of a consolidated corporate media culture written in the name of freedom of expression and media democracy.
In YouTube is Where we Go it Alone, I wrote:
It became clear to me, from inhabiting, using, and studying YouTube over many years, that the newfound gains in self-expression and visibility allowed by social media are not themselves equivalent to social justice which also depends upon the overt, linked and living qualities of community and politics. Media justice work needs to be rooted in community education, production, and reception. Such concepts and aims are largely unavailable on YouTube’s corporate platform of isolation, self-promotion, and advertisements. We need to look elsewhere to see a media revolution in practice. We can begin by looking here.
“For visibility to have meaning, impact, or power (beyond the indisputable pleasures of self- or celebrity-recognition), it must be connected to specific social-change goals. For visibility to contribute to social justice it must connect information or images to activist communities. Visibility is neutral in and of itself.”
Working with and learning from everyday YouTubers and my students who took the class in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2015 allowed for a communal, situated interrogation and repurposing of YouTube begun during the earliest years in the life of this cultural behemoth. Our work ended up focusing primarily upon the limitations of the platform, particularly in relation to its inadequate infrastructural support for the core aspirations and carefully built practices of media justice movements like Third World Majority, which will be my focus here.
All of our media work about YouTube, as well as connected critical writing were eventually brought together into what I called a “video-book,” a born and only-digital publication (much like this one here) made available online for free by the MIT Press in 2011. Learning from YouTube was an early attempt by USC’s Vector’s team to build authoring tools that help scholars organize and move within large archives of digital material, in my case hundreds of YouTube related objects including my own writing and video, that of my students, and work by everyday YouTubers. The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture's authoring platform Scalar, the tool we are writing with here to engage with the videos and materials of Third World Majority, would build upon and better what they had developed for me earlier. As was true then, is true now; I am particularly interested, when writing about online video, to myself author in a format that honors the video itself as writing, theory, and praxis. Many of my early impulses to write about and in online databases of media have been hard-baked into Scalar and the projects that are enabled by its affordances. For instance, Keeling and Soundararajan write about our effort here: "one of the project’s animating questions is about the relationship between new media technologies and social change, [so] the form of the project itself strives to function as a mode of praxis at the nexus of the digital and the political."
My earlier video-book, in its form and content, argued against quickly consolidating celebrations of social media’s revolutionary potential for “media expression” and “media activism” given that all of this was emerging primarily within corporate platforms given to us for free. We wanted to name what YouTube could provide for media activists, but as importantly what had never been written into the architecture, tools, and norms of the most-used media archive and distributor in the history of the world. In the video-book, I write: “communication, context, analysis, and media making need to accompany verite images if we hope to take advantage of new media technologies to their fullest emotive, indexical, and critical depths.” ("On Iran Verite")
In the pages that follow for my “Dialogue” here, "Third World Majority as Feminist Online Space," I hope to establish how our shared dialogue and interaction with the materials, manifested here as From Third Cinema to Media Justice: Third World Majority and the Promise of Third Cinema, successfully performs what YouTube can not on its own—the much harder, revolutionary act and art of connecting expression and visibility to analysis, history, community, and revolutionary goals—what I have called ThirdTube when it lives on/in a video on YouTube. In my dialogue, I will extend my initial analysis of YouTube to understand the total media expressions of Third World Majority, including this one here, as a Feminist Online Space so as to honor this particular work’s radical and multiple, rhizomatic directions, spaces, media, practices, theories, affects and temporalities.