Session 8.1: Show AND Tell: Multimedia Composition as a New Writing Space For Pedagogy and Research
Dundee Lackey, Andréa Davis, and Suzanne Webb (Michigan State University)
While writing a literature review as a way to learn about another country, Lackey questioned her use of the genre: was it simply an academic’s response to something new and different? She gave as an example the controversy surrounding Elizabeth Burgos’ interpretations of conversations with Rigoberta Menchu. Lackey posited that genre privileges epistemologies, so that the Menchu controversy was really about differing interpretations of genre. Perhaps there would have been less controversy if the tapes had been released in the original audio format, without the academic commentary and interpretation?
Combining this thought with ideas from Ellen Cushman, Terese Guinsatao Monberg, Gunther Kress, and Anne Wysocki, Lackey reconsidered and compared literature reviews to other genres. The result suggested to her that all scholarship is remixing, taking previously existing parts and making them into something new. The most important implication: academic forms may help bury the truth. Lackey discussed the Shoah Foundation (http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/vhi/) as how experiences are more immediate via first-hand testimony than when reading transcripts or others’ interpretations. Similarly, her website remixes Shoah survivors’ audio texts with music and images to recenter the survivors’ experiences. This project made her reconsider her position of authority as a writing teacher and increased her student empathy, since she developed a broader appreciation for the problems they encounter in multimodal compositions.
She has increased her coverage of rhetorical choices with her students and allows students to choose their own modes. Students communicate more effectively when they can work with their strengths while exploring areas in which they need to do more work. Students have to interrogate their own writing and how their choices fit into different modes, which pushes them to investigate more choices and sources while teaching them about modes. Lackey models multimodality in class and recognizes more strongly her appreciation for music and its rhetorical power. She concluded with a call to increase discussion on the topic of academic remixing, since, although she doesn’t claim to have the answers, she knows that the questions need to be asked.
Davis described her presentation as a reflection on her work and its effect on her pedagogy. The presentation covered her first, still-emergent New Media piece: a clip of a larger work revised from 15 to 3.5 minutes long. Joining images of Othered women, such as Native American women represented by Disney’s Pocahontas, with statistics about the higher rates of violence against Native Americans, Davis demonstrated the damaging effects of Othering. The piece delivers a political thesis about identity trauma, with visual arguments reinforcing textual ones, by connecting organizations that combat Othering, such as Indian Nation, a Native American organization, and Bastard Nation, an adoptee organization. Davis’s membership in the latter and her unease with pictures of children on adoption sites that implicitly promote themselves as “saving sad little children” led her to pair images of adoptees with music to comment on adoptee identity and argue that the policies of adoption need to focus less on the “child in need of saving” mode.
Davis felt that the piece failed to show her pro-adoption stance and that her revision will be more obviously pro-adoption and less aggressive. Influenced by Sam Dragga and Jay David Bolter, she found that creating the piece helped her to re-consider rhetorical moves in multimedia. Teaching document design, typography, and visual education is only the beginning for New Media instructors. For example, Davis found that to express rhetorical motives such as a desire to articulate the whole concept of identity trauma, she often had to employ synecdoche, with visual tropes responding to verbal ones. This may have been because she started with design decisions instead of rhetorical ones, so she now advocates in-class review of rhetorical devices for short media pieces.
Webb started her presentation by giving out a useful handout on basic principles of hypertext design entitled “Type, Color, and C.R.A.P. Like That.” Webb argued for changes to copyright laws, since remixing as a vital and useful form of expression. As a demonstration, she screened Grand Theft Audio, a short video presently not online because it contains copyrighted material. Copyright reform was the center of her argument, and she argued that in instances like Grand Theft Audio, for which she does not profit financially, there’s little reason to invoke copyright protections. Following Lawrence Lessig, Webb argues that copyrighted material on the soundtrack solidifies audience interest, reinforces visuals, and increases student interest in pushing boundaries.
Grand Theft Audio unfolds in two acts: Piracy and Open Source. Webb argues in Act I that copyright laws must change in recognition of the tremendous technological changes in the past 20 years. She presents remixing as a historically widespread and valuable artistic act. As an example, she explored the origin of Mickey Mouse, which was Walt Disney’s remix of the song “Steamboat Bill” into the “Steamboat Willy” cartoon. She gave several demonstrations of the ease of digital theft, which occurs within what she terms the “right-click” generation. In Act II (accompanied by The Who’s “I’m Free”), Webb covers sites such as Creative commons, Wikipedia, Flickr, and ccMixter, along with all .gov websites, which host royalty-free content. This section argues for revamping copyright laws, raising voices until lawmakers change their minds. The final scene shows that everything has been lifted from the Internet without permission. For more information, Webb recommends Bound by Law (http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/) and Danielle Nicole DeVoss’s and Jim Porter’s articles.
Cheryl Ball: Response
Cheryl Ball responded to the presentations by reflecting on the two “different lifetimes” of copyright and New Media in 2001 and 2007, with 2001 chosen as the beginning due to the publication of Anne Wysocki’s Computers & Composition article. Ball’s mantra is “show not tell,”1 but since composition is often all about telling (i.e., text-bound), rhetorical arguments have to be integrated for effective audience persuasion. She views New Media Studies as a subfield of writing studies and recommends rhetorical analysis as a means of revision. She called for more interdisciplinary talk, more public pitching of “our” ideas, and better identification of higher level audiences in order to validate “show AND tell” (especially the show part). Increasing visibility is necessary for tenure, a broader acceptance of the field in general, and instructors to show that they can do what they teach.
1 The presenters decided to name their session “Show AND Tell” in part as a response to Cheryl Ball’s 2004 (article “Show, not tell: The value of new media scholarship,” published in Computers and Composition 21.4 (pp. 403-425).