Pre-Conference Showcase 2017

Mediated Populisms: Pre-Conference Showcase

New York University | Thursday | October 5, 2017 | 5 – 8 pm

Location: 239 Greene Street | Floor 8 | New York

With Dr. Radha Hegde as faculty respondent.

Rhodes Must Fall and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary South Africa (David Farrow, NYU Media, Communication, and Culture)
In 2015, the decolonial student movement Rhodes Must Fall launched a series of protests at the University of Cape Town that resulted in the removal of a statue commemorating the colonist Cecil Rhodes. In light of contemporary anti-confederate memorialization protests in the United States, examining Rhodes Must Fall provides an opportunity for strategic reflection on the possibilities and pitfalls of social movements aimed at uprooting the racist, colonial foundations of South Africa and the United States. To this end, this presentation examines the dissolution of Rhodes Must Fall in 2016 through critically evaluating the role of identity and difference within the movement. In developing both a general critique of intersectionality through Stuart Hall’s theorization of identification, and a specific critique of intersectionality within the Rhodes Must Fall movement, this talk explores the relationship between intersectional identity politics, governance strategies within South Africa, and the strategic implications for decolonial and anti-racist politics.

David Farrow is originally from Charlotte, NC and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Cultural Studies and Public Policy. During his undergraduate coursework, he focused on social movement studies, political economy, critical theory, and South Africa studies. At MCC, David focuses on transnational capitalism, social movements (specifically decolonial, environmental, and anti-capitalist), critical theory (specifically influenced by Deleuze and Guattari), and changing governance strategies in Africa in light of global corporate networks. David is also interested in strategies to translate the complexity of academic scholarship to younger audiences through his work at the NC Governor’s School.

Creating Queer Acts of Resistance During the First Six Months of the Trump Presidency and Beyond (Anni Irish, NYU, Independent Scholar)
In Jose Munoz’s seminal text Cruising Utopia, he writes “Queerness is not here yet. Queerness is an identity. Put another way, we are not yet queer.” Since the 2016 US presidential election, there has been an overwhelming display of far-right, anti-LBGTQ, anti-woman, and anti-POC rhetoric that has been observed within the media and beyond. These displays of racist, xenophobic and homophobic viewpoints have come to be a populist consensus among a growing number of Americans. If Munoz’s assessment is accurate, and queerness is not yet here, how can it be used as a larger tool to destabilize ideas surrounding political and social identity as it relates to neoliberalism and representations of this group within Western media? Drawing on the work of Munoz, as well queer studies scholars Jasbir Puar, Heather Love, and Fred Moten, this paper will interrogate the performative modes of identity categories, and how they relate to the representation of this community within the media. It will analyze the ways in which queer and performance studies has been used to further disrupt identity politics, and will offer a nuanced analysis of the way this has been displayed in the news and beyond. By thinking alongside this framework, and looking at various examples in the news such as the dance parties that took place outside of Vice President Mike Pence’s and Ivanka Trump’s house among others, and the larger visual history of queer artists such as Felix Gonalez Torres and Cathrine Opie, this paper will consider how performative modes of being contribute to creating queer acts of resistance.

Anni Irish’s work focuses on the representation of bodies, queer archives, and the social history of tattooing. She holds a BFA from Tufts University, an MA in Gender and Cultural Studies from Simmons College, and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University. Irish has been a contributing writer to national publications including Teen Vogue, The Village Voice, VICE, Bomb Magazine, Hyperallergic, and others. She has presented at numerous academic conferences and has guest lectured. She has also worked as a research assistant for Simmons College English Faculty member and has taught as an adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts.

Algorithmic Resonance: Dissolving Forms and Sham Clarity (Alex Kennedy-Grant, NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study)
Adorno was skeptical of treating the culture industry as mass culture. Populist politics should not be imagined as “springing forth” from the masses either. Populist sentiment is symptomatic of the technological rationality inherent in cultural immersion in information networks. In order to understand phenomena such as the proliferation and dissemination of ‘fake news’ on Facebook and/or Twitter as well as the inability of ‘experts’ to predict electoral outcomes, we must understand the operational limits and architectures of information systems that shape these phenomena. These architectures create a type of algorithmic resonance much like the acoustic resonance explored in Alvin Lucier’s 1969 composition “I am Sitting in a Room.” Just as in the amplification through repetition explored in Lucier’s composition, algorithmic prediction amplifies particular behavior in recursive operation. The co-determinate limits of data legibility and relevance drive the valorization of probable and predictable behaviors while both increasing and obscuring behaviors deemed illegible and irrelevant. As the meaning of the text in Lucier’s piece becomes obscured as message and channel meld we witness the loss of one type of fidelity and the amplification of an alternative kind. Algorithmic resonance shapes culture similarly. As practices like search-engine-optimization mold messages to channels, meaning becomes elusive. Like Boorstin’s ‘pseudo-events,’ the systems ratify themselves. Algorithmic resonance increases ‘dissolving forms’ and what Heidegger called ‘sham clarity.’ This semblance of truth in algorithmic systems obscures that which operates outside of that system. An increase in the predictable inversely increases the unpredictable.

Alex Kennedy-Grant is a composer and improviser.  He received his BA with honors in music from Wesleyan University, is an MA candidate at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and the library supervisor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.  His master’s thesis uses the music of Alvin Lucier as a guide for examining fidelity, resonance, and generation loss in algorithmic culture.

Control, Alt-Right, Delete: The Horizontal Propaganda of Digital Networks (Shane Sheehy, NYU Media, Culture, and Communicaton)
Many different groups have laid claim to the mantle of the rising tide of right-wing populism that has entered the political discourse of the western world. None are as unsettling or as bizarre as the loose collection of neo-reactionaries that have aggregated under the title of the ‘alt-right’. This hitherto fringe group gained mainstream recognition as a result of their primarily digital support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and eventual victory. In particular, the way in which the alt-right successfully utilized and developed internet ‘memes’ to support a candidate necessitates a re-examination of the traditional model of understanding political and sociological propaganda. Using a qualitative analysis of a cross-section of alt-right digital propaganda (specifically drawing upon ‘forum culture’), I will make the argument that what these platforms allow is horizontal propaganda, the purpose of which is ideological formation. Which is to say, the mechanisms and algorithms inherent in these platforms permit groups such as the alt-right to create and distribute propaganda as a means to not simply espouse an already existing set of political ideals, but to actually create ideology as a community using the means of sharing, voting/liking, etc. How then, do the particular structures of the internet platforms used by the alt-right articulate and propagandize this emerging ideology? Furthermore, if it is so that this particular ideology was formulated explicitly via a communicative process using digital media, what does that say about the classically defined relation between propaganda and ideology?

Shane Sheehy is a filmmaker and media theorist based out of NYC. He is currently working on his MA Thesis at NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. His creative and intellectual work centers around the themes of digital fascism, propaganda, and techno-skepticism. He completed his first feature experimental film Next is Entertainment in 2015.

The Practice and Imagination of Chinese Programming Language (Pengpeng Zhang, NYU Media, Culture, and Communication)
There has been vigorous debate on the necessities of localized, Chinese-based programming languages in Chinese coder community. This article will document and examine this discussion for its concern over digital inequality and globalization. It will also look at the history moments of some noticeable practices of Chinese programming, among them Yi Language (Literally translated as “Easy Language”), the difficulty they faced, the experiments they performed and the disputes them received. The topic, registering the imagination of a cohesive global geek community and the anxiety over the local identity of the young generation, also provides a miniature of the century-long effort Chinese people adopting their ancient, analphabetic language to a modern world where modernity is merely defined by themselves.

Pengpeng (Zeppra) Zhang is a Beijing-born artist and independent researcher. Now, she is an M.A. student in Media, Culture and Communication program, New York University.

Faculty Respondent | Radha S. Hegde is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University. Her research and teaching focus on gender, transnational feminism, media flows, migration and globalization and media flows. Her edited book, Circuits of Visibility: Gender and Transnational Media Cultures, was published by NYU Press in July 2011. Radha is currently working on a book Mediating Migration where she examines a series of sites (including music and food) where technology mediates the meanings and value of tradition in the diasporic context.