CCR 633: Multimodality, Part 2

Chapter three begins with the “prosumer,” an idea that Alexander and Rhodes borrow from Daniel Anderson. The “prosumer,” they describe, is “a convergence of the consumer and the professional in terms of new media tools” (106). Many new media tools allow consumers, formerly just receivers, to produce products, thereby acting as professionals. This, in turn, allows a more critical focus on production, as it is no longer black-boxed behind the usual channels, but in the hands of the consumer.

This similar idea–that of consumer as professional or producer–also connects with the Situationalist notion of “détournement,” a form of “pillaging or appropriation,” as Frances Stracey describes (qtd. in Alexander and Rhodes 112).  The Situationalists argued that capitalism had the constant need to project a “spectacle” of needs that inspire consumers to thirst after products, so people should critically produce to counter this.

Alexander and Rhodes connect these ideas to current DIY movements, but emphasize the “critical” dimension of this production. In other words, it’s not simply enough to be critical, in a humanities sense, or to produce; one must use production in a critical way, engaging in multimodal production through new media tools. They provide the example of images that grew in “excess” from their work that argue their work or ethos as “queer rhetoric” scholars in different ways.

The next chapter focuses more on the interactive feature of new media, particularly through videogames. When studying student gaming,  they write, “we sense a significant arena in which to explore not just multimodal composition but also multimodal interaction” (128). They navigate this interaction, primarily, through notions of literacy, drawing from work by Gee and Selfe and Hawisher, and the multiliteracies approach of Stuart Selber.

Their own student interviewing and observations seem to validate what these past scholars have argued, particularly students’ critical understanding of values in these texts and the complexity of “reading” them. But Alexander and Rhodes also emphasize the social element involved in much gaming (though such socializing is often digitally mediated) and the transferability of some of these literacies, like problem solving, which they call “transliteracies.”

The last of these three chapters provided one of the more complicated and engaging discussions, focused around the role of subjectivity in our increasingly digitally mediated and multimodal expressions of self, using the flood of expression after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 as an example.

After the shooting, for example, emotional and “knee-jerk” reactions proliferated rapidly, creating a network of shared primary texts like Cho’s plays, commentary (like comments and reflections), homages and reactions to those homages, a shooting game (with mixed message-board reactions), and more. But many of the discussions after the shooting didn’t touch much on technology, or if they did, engaged it as a “neutral affective space” (189).

Instead, Alexander and Rhodes argue, “We want a more (dare we say) humanistic–yet still critical–literacy of technology, one that takes as part of its ecology the affective realm of technology and technology use” (190). And as part of this discussion, they argue, we should also discuss the role of technology on the subjective, “how that media form part of our very sense of being” (191). In other words, if we already include emotional, affective, social, and historically contingent elements when discussing human subjectivity–and more–we should also include technology, including new media technology. Moreover, this inclusion can take place in a variety of ways–how we research, how we discuss things with students, how we examine our own subjectivity.

Collectively, reading these three chapters, a few things stood out, but one of the more resilient threads here and elsewhere in the course is the role that technology plays in changing how we experience ourselves. I think starting with the prosumer example is helpful, as it reminds me of what fanfiction scholarship has worked through.

Fanfiction, and its related occupations have been around for some time. David Brewer’s The Afterlife of Character, for example, traces texts authored by non-literary consumers based on literary characters like Gulliver from 1726-1825. Furthermore, Blake authored Milton-inspired work, and intertextuality in the sort that fanfiction writers today employ, was a common thread in medieval writing. But I think Brewer’s work is especially helpful in that it investigates folk practices, not the practices of what we may term “professional” writers.

But fanfiction, as fan studies takes it up, often stretches back to the 70s. As with some zine and avant-garde work, cheaper printing technology and distribution–coupled with an increase in televised “pop culture”–created the seeds of fanwork. Most of this took place through mailing lists and conventions, and most people were adults, who were particularly fanatical and tech savvy. Constance Penley, Helen Merrick,  Camille Bacon-Smith, and Henry Jenkins have some helpful work with this. And many of this work from the early 90s reminds me of the “prosumer” model in the text, this notion of  a role reversal between producer and consumer.

But, in the mid-90s, the World Wide Web created new networks of exchange, new audiences and participants, and new terms, like “beta-reader.” It created new ways of doing things. And even more recently, especially past the legal battles with fanfiction in the late 90s and early 2000s, fanfiction portals, social media, and a more receptive popular culture has further changed this century old practice.

When looking at these sorts of genealogies, I always think of the same question: What has changed and what has stayed the same? And perhaps more provocative:  How do we judge what has changed? Particularly, in the last chapter, when Alexander and Rhodes focus on subjectivity, we once again see the knotted relation between self, social, and technological and must decide how this knotted relation affects our methods.

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