What is the role of the Communist party today?

[by Matthew Boman]

Jodi Dean calls Communism “the force of an absence and an alternative, as the general field and division of the common, as the subjectification of the gap of desire” (Occupation and the Party). For her, Occupy opens the space and can potentially

provide the momentum for the Party as long as it does not fall under the spell of any of the three paths that, she argues, have been the downfall of the American left: democracy, anarchism, and liberalism.

Democracy she faults because of the impossibilities of it creating any equitable social system or properly responding to our current environmental crisis. This I’m partial to agreeing with, especially given our current political climate—how can one expect a democratic solution these two problems when half the country doesn’t believe that they are problems, and even those who do would not willingly adopt the radical measures necessary to solve either of them?

Dean’s definition of anarchism is very specific and almost synonymous with localism—i.e. self-organization, DIY community organizations, co-ops, and so on. She faults it because she believes that it cannot address large-scale problems, and that it cannot be anything but primitive, backward-looking.

Liberalism she defines as an emphasis on individuality or a fetishization of freedom and rights. While living in China, I heard similar arguments from Maoists upset about the Americanization of their way of life. She laments that discipline has become a bad word within the American left, and says that instead of focusing on individual voices we should be more process oriented, push towards participationism.

As people are asking what happened to Occupy a year after its inception, it might be worth taking Dean’s criticisms and solutions into consideration. Continue reading

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Come as You Are: Community, Conversation, and the Milwaukee Film Festival

By Molly McCourt

This fall I am teaching a course entitled “Introduction to the Road Film” here at UWM.  So when Cara Ogburn told me about Come as You Are, a Belgian film in which three men with special needs take to the road to find a mythical brothel, I jumped at the opportunity to lead a post-film conversation for it during the 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival.  Before I walked into the Oriental Theatre to see the film, I made sure that every portal of communication announced my Friday afternoon plans.  My Gmail and Facebook statuses proclaimed the festival’s arrival, my film students all received emails encouraging them to attend this flick, and I tweeted to all that I was about to enjoy this movie and couldn’t wait for the conversation to follow at Hotel Foster #MFF2012.  While I am coming around to the positive aspects of all of this electronic communication (I was a full-on luddite mere months ago…now just partial-luddite), I cannot express how great it was to sit down around a table and discuss the film face-to-face afterward.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  This magical experience began in the theatre as everyone found their seats, munched popcorn, and waited for the whur of the projector.  After a festival attendant introduced the film and everyone settled in, I was struck by the idea of how different this viewing experience felt from most trips I take to the theatre.  Most times, I feel a sense of camaraderie with the few friends I go with, but feel completely separated from the rest of the crowd.  However, at the film festival, there was this palpable sense of belonging in the room.  We were all there for a purpose—to enjoy a film—but also to support films as a community.  All of these feelings were affirmed by the strong applause of the crowd as the end credits rolled.

What made the experience even better was that we could extend this feeling of community by continuing the conversation right across the street.  Not that every spectator floated from their seats in the theatre to the bar on some cloud of post-movie euphoria: there were hesitant folks, delays for restroom breaks and drink orders, and that polite awkwardness that inevitably comes when strangers sit around a table for the first time.  However, that feeling of community came through as I expressed my unabashed love for one of the characters and then another person chimed in about plot development, effortlessly launching us into a thoughtful discussion.  Come as You Are centers on a group of three young men who escape the watch of their parents to set out on the ultimate road trip to El Cielo—a brothel in Spain that welcomes special needs clients.  We talked about the elements that humanized the characters—gripes over money, fights over friendship loyalty, and belting out pop songs at the top of their lungs.  As a group, we established that a film following this familiar journey formula could have easily been predictable and maudlin, yet Come as You Are didn’t fall into that trap.  Because the characters were perfectly flawed; it was difficult to perceive them as victims of their disability or illness.  As a spectator, you watch how anger, judgment, and selfishness can take over these friends as their ex-con nurse/chaperone referees, while managing to keep the van on the road.  As a group, we discussed how this character development allowed the filmmakers to achieve emotion without sentimentality and the actors to touch our hearts without tugging too hard at their strings.

Come as You Are is a film that leaves you with feeling like you have just stepped out of a van after a long journey:  a bit sad it’s all over, but so glad you made the trip.  Taking part in the conversation that followed was like instantly reuniting with your road buddies and reliving the crazy journey.  There is something to be said of sharing a film in the dark quiet and then bringing voices, faces, and laughter to that experience. Social media just cannot match it.  And that makes this partial luddite smile.

[Molly McCourt is a second year PhD student in the Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies track in the English department at UW-Milwaukee.  Her research interests include intertextuality, Bakhtinian carnival, and constructions of gender and sexuality in 20th and 21st century film, television, literature, and pop culture.  She is participating in English 820 this fall (a course where you get credit for attending C21 events, among other things)]

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We Are a Legion of…?

by Matthew Boman

We Are Legion tells the story of Anonymous, a loosely-connected hactivist collective, from its inception on the /b/ board of 4chan, to its pranks and political activism. The Milwaukee Film Festival hosted a conversation after the Thursday screening (10/4) so that audience members could discuss both Anonymous and the film istelf. A mere glance at the way that the diverse discussion group arranged itself at the table—by age and ideology—raised questions about the challenges of creating collective political action and democratic consensus.

On one side of the table sat those middle-age and older, many of them retired. They supported a lot of what Anonymous had become and were curious what would happen next. They thought that, like Occupy (the end of the movie tied the two together), Anonymous raised important questions. But they were wary of the ways that both groups undermined the current sociopolitical structure. Instead, they sought answers within this structure. “Were they a potential third political party in the American government? What steps do they plan to take to fix things politically and economically?” they asked.

No one on the other side of the table was older than twenty-five—at least a generation younger than those across the table from them. They were less concerned with where Anonymous was heading than what it had done, believing that Anonymous had already opened up the space for something new. They were also less eager to condemn the more nihilist factions of Anonymous such as LulzSec. For them, a third party was not an option, and solutions tended towards an entire reconceptualization of how society understood the social, political, and economic spheres. Continue reading

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Difference and the Digital Turn: Beyond Good and Evil?

By Kyle Henrichs

“When they ask how you, feeling you, tell em you, feeling like, something important died screaming” – Aesop Rock, “ZZZ Top”

Is the digital turn in twenty-first century cinema “beyond good and evil” as J. Hoberman says it is?  Or are we replacing something special with a close-but-not-the-same, cheaper, generic-brand cinema?  In his recent talk at the Downer Theatre on Sunday afternoon, “The State of 21st Century Cinema:  Film After Film,” Hoberman characterized the digital turn in contemporary cinema as something that has happened (and is still happening) whether we like it or not, and he’s not pessimistic about it.  Still, Hoberman seemed at least a little disappointed when he introduced Sans Soleil at the Oriental Theatre the night before, mentioning that Milwaukee’s beloved movie palace will be switching to digital projection after the festival.  He also said, during Sunday’s talk, that he recently re-watched a movie he had seen on film as a child that was digitally projected and noticed a slight difference.  He was quick to insist that the difference made the experience of watching the movie neither better nor worse, just . . . different.

Can we believe him?  I agree that these changes are happening and will continue to happen against the wills of the most militant cinephiles, so maybe it’s just best to put on a resolute face and not bemoan the loss of something so fated to go.  But if we notice the change—as Hoberman did—how can our enjoyment stay the same?  Doesn’t it have to be either better or worse?

In terms of production, I remember knowing before I saw David Lynch’s Inland Empire in its original theatrical run and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies that the films had been (at least partially) shot with digital video cameras.  The quality of the picture disappointed me in both cases.  Maybe I imagined the deficiency.  Even if I imagined the difference, however, the experience of watching the movie was stunted, if only slightly.

Is this why Paul Thomas Anderson and others like him insist on shooting on film, to avoid the potential, slight diminishment of the viewer’s experience?  If so, then it seems to me that shooting on film (if it hasn’t already) will become an endeavor that only the most elite, uncompromising filmmakers will insist is worth the extra cost and effort.  I think Hoberman’s slight disappointment parallels a slight depreciation of one of our shared popular art forms.  The digital turn offers us so much, and the shift is both necessary and also good, but we shouldn’t pretend as if something isn’t dying in front of us.

[Kyle Henrichs is a first-year doctoral candidate in English at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee who studies aesthetics after postmodernism.  He received his master’s degree in English Studies at Illinois State University and has presented his research on ecocritical film theory and irony in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections at various academic conferences.]

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Milwaukee Film Festival Panel Preview

By Cara Ogburn

The Milwaukee Film Festival is just around the corner.  C21 is involved with two events- it is cosponsoring J. Hoberman’s keynote, and partnering with the film WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists.  Get your tickets now! With so many exciting films, panels, and conversations coming up, Cara Ogburn took the time to explain some of the highlights. 

In addition to my life as an elusive dissertator in English, I also work as Panels Producer for the Milwaukee Film Festival. This is my second year in this position and I wanted to write to let people know about the great panels we have planned this year.  From serial murderers to film careers on youtube, public policy discussions to conversations about contemporary Chinese cinema, we’ve got it all.

J. Hoberman

Which isn’t even mentioning the main event: our keynote this year (Sunday, September 30 at 1pm) will be delivered by none other than revered film critic J. Hoberman. His talk is titled: State of Cinema in the 21st Century: Film After Film. This is such a big event that we’re holding it in the Downer Theatre and we are ticketing it. The tickets are free, but to reserve some of the limited space you’ll need to pick up a ticket either at C21, online at mkefilm.org, or at one of the Milwaukee Film Festival Box Offices (open now at the Oriental and Fox-Bay theatres, opening Friday at the Downer).

We also have a slate of eight additional panels, all of which are free and open to the public. Most are held in UWM’s Kenilworth Square East (KSE) building, on Kenilworth Place (the street just south of the Oriental) between Farwell and Prospect. See our website at mkefilm.org/content/panels for full and up-to-date details.

But here’s a few highlights that I think you might want to check out. With one exception (see below) all of these panels will be held in KSE 640. Hope to see you there!  Continue reading

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Filtering the World: an Interview with Natalie Diaz, Returning the Gift

By Ching-In Chen

Natalie Diaz recently visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the 20th Anniversary Returning the Gift (RTG) writers’ conference.  I was excited to meet her after hearing so much about her work and words and was grateful that she made time to chat with me about her book, When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), and her writing. 

Ching-In Chen: I had my students read your abcedarian, and we’ve been talking about

Natalie Diaz reading at the Returning the Gift Festival

structure and content in class, and the connection between the two. So this question is for them: why do you choose to write in form, and is it a choice you make related to your content, or something else?

Natalie Diaz: I like the tease of form, the tease of control it flashes at me when I start a poem. There is an almost-promise of rules and a rein that will help me harness all of the fast and loud of my emotions in my head.

But, at least for me, when I start moving around in form, start pushing and pulling at the structure, I realize that I can control it more than it can control me. I think the very idea that form poetry is controlled or has rules somehow gives me permission and power to break it down and make it submit to what I need it to be.  Ironically, I’ve found form poems to be the places where I am the most free on the page.

Sometimes I abandon the form after it has given me a few lines. Starting out in form lets me see what my poem is made of and also lets me see if the form can handle what I’ve got to give.

We tend to see form as this giant door with a million keyholes and bolts and latches to keep us out, but once we get past that, there is so much room and space to explore, you can walk into the kitchen and break all the dishes, or build a fire in the sofa, or make love in the library, or punch a hole through the hallway wall.

UWM graduate students Shanae Aurora Martinez and Ching-In Chen celebrate the 20th anniversary of Returning the Gift

CIC: This idea of the house is actually one that I’m using to help my students think about content vs. structure — and I appreciate how you relate form to that. Did you intentionally set out to construct this running narrative thread about your brother? Are all these poems different rooms in the house that are related?

ND:  I’m glad you asked this, because I keep getting questions asking about the third section of my book…

The way I see my book, is that I’ve invited my readers to a place, the place of me, the place of my living. It was important for me to give voice to all of the “me” that exists in me. While a large chunk wanders or runs or struggles through the landscape of the reservation, another large chunk invites you in a little more, into the houses of me, and this is where you meet the brother who figures so deeply or darkly into my work, and then, finally, I take you by the hand and lead you maybe into my room or into my chest, to see more, maybe not much, but more of me.  Who am I and what do I do in the midst of this place and people? I certainly don’t stop.

Some people feel like the last section of my book doesn’t match or fit with the first two sections, because they are looking for despair, maybe. But, the last section of my book is the carrying on that we all do. The surviving. I can grieve and make love at the same time. Maybe that is how I grieve.

Continue reading

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Intermediality and Transmedia Storytelling

By Michael Z. Newman

A colleague who studies the history of media and popular culture was excited and a bit astonished recently to discover than an excellent book addressing a main topic of her research had been published in the 1990s. She wished she had read it while working on an essay she completed years ago. It may not be the only reason why that volume remains unknown to Americans, but the fact that its authors and publisher are German would seem like a pretty good explanation.

Your field may be different, but in film and television studies, the world of the American academic includes few scholars outside of North America and the UK. We read or at least know about all kinds of Continental theory (claim your ignorance of Gramsci, Habermas, or Foucault at your own risk) but are unlikely to know who’s who among contemporary Italian, German, or French media scholars, never mind those in Asia or Latin America. (There are some exceptions – some Danish and Dutch scholars in film, television, and video game studies come to mind.)

What if there are important ideas out there that we’re missing? This was one of my first thoughts on hearing that Hans-Joachim Backe of Ruhr-Universität Bochum was coming to give a talk at the Center for 21st Century Studies with the title “Becoming Batman: Computer Games, Comics and Concepts of Intermediality.” In Anglo-American film and television studies, as well as in the entertainment/media industries, “transmedia” has been a buzzword and object of scholarly attention in the past several years. Transmedia is usually short for transmedia storytelling: the expansion of narratives in media franchises such as Batman or Star Wars across multiple platforms including movies, TV, web video, comics, novels, and games. “Intermedia” was not a term I had noticed, though. As Backe described in his engaging presentation on September 13, intermediality has been a subject of much research and publication where he lives and teaches in Germany and elsewhere in Europe — more than a dozen books on the topic have appeared — particularly among literary scholars whose interests have turned to other media. Yet, in his words, it “furrows the brows of non-Europeans” to hear this term rather than the more familiar transmedia. The two ideas ostensibly do not have much to do with each other conceptually, and yet I kept wondering during Backe’s talk if it might not be productive to consider them side by side and see what each one reveals about the other.

Continue reading

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