The Complexities of Free Speech

Freedom of speech, I believe, is one of the most complicated and messy issues facing the world today. I would like to look at the United States in particular, where the freedom of speech is “protected by the First Amendment”; however, it should be noted that these arguments can be applied to other countries as well.

On a broad scale, I don’t see freedom of speech being an amendment that means that we should be able to say whatever we want, regardless of its impact on other people. Many times, people use freedom of speech as a defense to be racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted, and/or intolerant. The first instance that comes to mind is when Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson gave an interview to GQ where he made numerous comments that offended many people, while others chose to support his right to make such comments. The show ended up suspending/firing Phil from the show, and the internet exploded. There were people calling left and right for A&E to retract this decision, claiming that Phil was under attack and his first amendment rights were being violated.

I’m inclined to disagree.

Freedom of speech means that you cannot be prosecuted or arrested for your opinions. (And, if that were the case, most of the people on my Facebook feed would be in jail due to disrespecting the President of the United States.) It means that laws cannot be created that limit freedom of speech, expression, the press, and/or religion. In an opinion piece, CNN Contributor LZ Granderson writes: “You can say some stupid stuff … and the First Amendment will keep you from going to jail. But it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card in the eyes of society.”

Freedom of speech does not mean that there are no negative repercussions for stating your opinion. If you openly denounce a large portion of the public in an interview, on television, in a speech, anywhere, really, you’re opening yourself up to criticism and the negative repercussions that may come.

In this sense, then, the freedom of speech should not be limited in any way. People should be able to say what they want without being prosecuted for it. There should not be laws made that restrict freedom of speech. There have been too many cases in our history of restricting the right to speak of those who were not intending to cause harm to others (see: The Red Scare). If we begin to censor and restrict the right to speak or write, there’s no saying that the power that comes with that would get out of hand. Those who get to decide what is censored and what is not then become those who are in power, and those in power are then able to distribute the knowledge to the rest of the population. But if those who are in power are corrupt, or do not share our particular set of morals, the situation becomes much more complicated.

It would be nice to believe that we could make a blanket statement and say that certain things should be not allowed. And I think it’s fine to make those limits ourselves. For example, I tend to not be friends with people who don’t think women deserve equal rights. This is different, though, from making laws that say people shouldn’t be allowed to say certain things.

I would like to end this post as I began it: by reminding readers that this is an incredibly complicated and messy issue. I am in no way an expert on the First Amendment, nor do I believe that what I wrote here is one hundred percent correct. The 600 words written here do not, and cannot, begin to skim the surface of the in’s and out’s of freedom of speech. But it is my hope that through an open and honest conversation about the different aspects of freedom of speech we will be able to come to a conclusion about how to treat freedom of speech in the digital world.

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Understanding DH through #DayofDH Projects

When I was in art class in high school, we consistently used the words “systematic investigation” and “creative problem solving” to the point where it almost became a joke: “My entire project just fell apart… I guess I have some systematic investigating to do!” The more the teacher used the term to guide us in creating, the more it made sense. We were using trial and error, asking questions, and working to solve problems in a creative way. I had never put together the experiences I had in art and digital humanities until I read David Lacho’s write up for his project for the Day of DH, “Mapping the Day of DH: Using Google Fusion Tables to build a map of #dayofdh and #dayofdh2016 from user’s location on Twitter.” 

One concept that Lacho touches on in the first part of his blog post is that of the archive, which we have written about on the blog before. He writes: “If anything [the project] will serve as an archive of a day where digital humanists participated in making a day that belonged to them.” The notion of making a space for ourselves as DHers made me oddly emotional. It reminded me that if there isn’t a space for something we want, or if there is information we want but can’t find, then we can create it (like the maps of day of DH). In elementary school, my friends and i created a holiday called nothingwhatsoever day where we would exchange gifts. It was in May, and we made it because we wanted to exchange presents, but there were no holidays in May where we could do so. We’re creating a Scalar project on humanity because we believe that it’s important to talk about. And with the globalization of the internet, technology, and ideas behind DH allow for ideas like this to be abundantly spread.

Lacho’s project also put into concrete terms for me the greatness of the open projects that exist on the internet, through the DH world. And the greatness comes from the projects and data collection all being open for interpretation. He writes: “I put the tools and the data in your hands.” The final post, where he links to the spreadsheet and all the data used, is even titled “And here be thy data: This project is for you.” The project demonstrates the DH community’s ability to interpret, share, and collect data. Through looking at the data and the maps that were created, I can draw my own conclusions. I didn’t have to do any of the problem solving of creating the tool or gathering the data, but now I can go into my own type of systematic investigation and close read the data to create an argument (if I wanted). It’s reminiscent of the “beginnings” of DH, where primary sources were uploaded to the internet so that people could gain access to these documents.

At the heart of it, Lacho defines DH in a way that is very similar to my experience in the art room:

To me, the digital humanities is exactly what I did today. I asked questions and I came up with a solution, which led to more questions. I would say the Digital Humanities is an iterative cycle in itself, always stepping towards another question, but remaining reflexive on our tools and processes.

It’s helpful for me to hear DH phrased in this way and looked at through this lens. Currently, I’m working in a group to create a project questioning the humanity in digital humanities. Many times, I’m finding myself having more questions than answers. And Lacho has assured me that this is just part of what DH is. If our project raises more questions, then it has done its job.

Reimagining the Remixed Remix of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”

When I was reading Breckenridge’s article, music is what first came to my mind. In particular, songs that have been (literally) remixed by different artists. Trap and dubstep are two of my guilty pleasures, and I bask in the genius of those who spend their time remixing popular songs into something new. Currently, my obsession is Mike Posner and the remixes that have been done of his songs. The remix of the song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” is done by SeeB (there are curse words in this version, I couldn’t find an unedited, legally posted version of the song. See below for similar examples of his):

(Ibiza is an island in the Mediterranean sea that’s known for it’s clubbing and nightlife scene and electronic music. It’s the place where Orlando Bloom punched Justin Bieber.)

But now listen to the original song:

The two versions inspire different feelings. The remix has almost all of the original lyrics in it, but the beat it is put to doesn’t give the impression of being somewhat tragic. But when I listened to the original song, I felt incredibly sad.

In fact, Mike Posner addressed the irony of the remix of his song becoming popular in an article he wrote for Observer Culture. He wrote: “To add to the irony, the talented Norwegian duo SeeB remixed and re-appropriated the song into an Ibiza-worthy club anthem. How can a song with depressing lyrics like ‘I took a pill in Ibiza to show Avicii I was cool, and when I finally got sober felt ten years older,’ be the soundtrack to partygoer’s tequila shots and sparkler-draped champagne bottle delivery?”

The song started as a ode to his used-to-be career (“I’m just a singer who already blew his shot”) and worked as a type of warning to those who were seeking fame. And now the song has brought back his “fame” and is celebrated as a nice dance song. Because, hey, if nothing else, the remix is a catchy beat. But we don’t always listen to the words when we hear songs for the first few times. Which, as Posner writes, is why he intentionally left his tracks with little instrumentals: to emphasize the words that he feels are the truth. There are two other songs of his that have been remixed from their original. And both have a different “feel” from the original songs. The original tracks have few instruments and there is an emphasis on the vocal and lyrics, which, as mentioned before, was an intentional choice of the artist.

As Breckenridge argues, it’s important to not just recognize that something has been remediated, but how the remediation process works. To do so, Breckenridge writes we must “interpret the most important ideas from the original text” and transfer “them in such a way as to give new meaning to the interpretation without misrepresenting the original.” With that in mind, we look back at the remixes of Mike Posner. The most important idea in the original song would be that the things we associate with fame are not actually as glamours as we may be led to believe. It’s a testament to what happens after fame. As such, we then look towards the remix. While the remix does have almost all of the lyrics still in the song, the meaning is not the same. The beat and the intentional composition that put emphasis on the words is gone, and we are left with another song that we can dance to and enjoy without thinking too much. (Isn’t that the purpose of popular music, anyway?)

I can do nothing but conclude, then, that while the intent of the reproduction/remediation of “Ibiza” is catchy, and I literally cannot get it out of my head, it misrepresents the original text it came from.

(As a footnote, when I was doing research, I found this website that lets the artist and the general public annotate song lyrics. The page to “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” is here and so incredibly interesting.)

The Layers of the Timeline

One of the topics I’ve been thinking more about as we move forward is timelines and the way they fit into thinking of events and teaching literature. After looking at many timelines across many different interfaces, I’ve come to the decision that the visualization of linear time is complicated. The layers become even more complicated and problematic when a narrative or event is put into one compact timeline interface.

Take, for example, the timeline that details the events that happened at the Aurora theater shooting. The timeline is in extreme detail, has a minute by minute breakdown of what was happening at the theater and with police. There is audio, pictures, videos, and many other forms of media. But clicking through the timeline does not give the experience or even the illusion of actually being there. And while the timeline is in depth, it still doesn’t show the full extend of what happen. It lacks humanity. It lacks emotion and feeling. I’m conflicted at this point. Part of me wants to say that the lack of humanity and competing narrative is okay because the event does not need to be compelling or tell a good story. The facts are what matter because the facts tell the story. But another part of me looks at the timeline and thinks that if it were told in a different order, it would be more compelling. And facts leave room for interpretation, which is fine in some situations. Others, not so much.

These two different sides of how timelines can be good or bad is reflected on a broader scale with all timelines that attempt to represent real time and real events. At one point in time, in one second or one minute, there are countless things happening at once. And, beyond that, behind every action there is a series of thoughts, decisions, ideas, theories, and actions that all add up to that one action. But on the timeline, it is only shown as one action. Of course, some timelines do go into depth in that scope. Then, though, there is the question of how effective that timeline can be.

In addition to timelines of real events, timelines of fictional texts also exist. In teaching, and in life, we feel the need to pin down what happens when (and where. See: my post about maps). There are two problems with this: first, fiction doesn’t always follow a linear timeline; second, putting stories into the box reduces the integrity of the text and takes away from the experience of the text.

Hardly any texts follow a strict linear timeline, whether they are movies, books, or TV shows. We sometimes start stories with the end, or at the climax, and then go back and explain how they got there. Putting this in a timeline and restructuring the events to make them be linear does an injustice to the text. The experience of the story should follow the way the author wanted it to go. Forcing the story into a timeline changes the experience of the story in a way that takes away from the text.

Sometimes timelines are taught because they can be helpful for decoding and understanding the text. However, sometimes there can be a beauty and argument for not trying to understand the time and just letting it be what it is.

On Being Lost Without A Map

Before I had a smart phone, I relied entirely on Google Maps to get me from Point A to Point B. This was no easy task, especially considering that I had just moved to Greeley, and knew nothing of the Northern part of Colorado. There are countless stories of how I ended up in towns I couldn’t tell you the name of, on roads that ended, and two lane high ways with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen. Of course, I ended up in those situations because a printed web page of Google Map directions failed to get me to where I needed to be. In that moment, I had no map, much to the dismay of my father, who keeps an atlas of Colorado and of the United States in his car at all times.

There was nothing telling me where to go, which roads lead where, or how I had come to find myself driving two hundred miles out of the way. And that was okay. I eventually made it to where I needed to be, and in the process, created my own mental map of the area. Now that I have the technology, though, I rely heavily on the apps on my phone to take me to where I need to be.

This conversation makes its way back to what I consider one of my favorite topics: power. As Sarah wrote about earlier in the semester, Google has a type of monopoly on the services the internet provides currently, and maps is no exception. For some reason, through some algorithm, Google has decided how I should get to a certain point. There’s no place for me to put in a preference for routes that include Sonic Drive-Ins or two-lane highways only. Google Maps will continuously reroute me while I’m driving to make sure that I take the fastest possible route.

But what if that’s not what we want?

And what if that’s not what we’re looking for?

Thus, we begin to see the confines and limitations of map apps that try to get us from place to place and further dictate how we experience our world. Just as with time, the mapping of roads, towns, states, continents, the world, is an oppressive construct that’s meant to make us see the world in a certain way. A 2D image of a 3D object is going to be morphed and out of proportion. Just like with any other text, there is a way to read, see, question, and interpret maps. Some maps show Africa being small, while many cartographers point out that it is actually larger than most maps portray it being. This article explains and shows well how the image of maps is distorted through the transfer from 3D to 2D.

When thinking of maps in the classroom, though, this image first came to my mind:

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Growing up, I remember seeing this map in classrooms and not thinking twice about it. I never considered that the United States wouldn’t be in the center of any map.

This is what gets back to the center of what I believe teaching should be: questioning and being critical. Teaching students to be critical of the things that they see and asking good, solid questions, should be at the heart of pedagogy. Looking at the way that others map literary texts is no different.

Without a doubt, there are benefits to teaching students how to map out a text. Creating a class map of the town Maycomb for To Kill a Mockingbird, or the routes that characters travel through their text, can help give students a solid grounding for what the world looks like in the book. Students who do not build worlds in their heads like movies when they read are at a disadvantage to those who are able to construct that image in their heads. While I read books, I am able to see these roads, build up what the world of the novel looks like in my head, and travel with the characters. But not everyone is able to do this. So while I am critical of mapping and the way that we decide what gets put on the map and what doesn’t, I still can acknowledge the value in teaching and creating maps with students. Especially if the lesson involves telling stories of how I am consistently lost and not-lost, and how it is perfectly fine to not always follow the instructions of Google Maps.

 

To Teach Video Games is to Empower Students

Recently, a conversation during class with Amelia opened my eyes to an aspect of gaming that I had not considered on a deeper level before: choice. How much choice is given to us by the games that we play? Are the missions decided for us, or do they tell us what to do? Certain video games, such as Scarecrow, robs the player of their autonomy to choose whether they want to play for the scarecrows or against them. Players do not get to choose which missions they go on in what order (at first, at least), or what the missions consist of. There is no “opt out” button: you must save the chickens and the cows from the factory and drop them off at the happy little farm. (Which, by the way, is not what a farm really looks or operates like.)

Before the discussion, which stemmed from Ian Bogost’s article The Rhetoric of Video Games, I had never considered that games are arguments. Because of this, one can fill out a rhetorical situation triangle for a game. In the tenth grade classes I’m observing in, they’re learning about the rhetorical situation. While the teacher is lecturing on how a certain ad has different appeals, one student sits in the back of the room playing a game on his iPad. I wonder if he would be more interested in the conversation if it had to do with the thing that is right in front of him.

I have a feeling the answer is yes.

The discussion around argumentation through video games is one that is both important and critical to have with students. Being conscious of the arguments that the video games is making and being able to analyze the message is important for students to be responsible citizens of the world. Many times, teachers use adverts and commercials to teach rhetoric, and to teach students to not fall into the trap of advertising. But it is important to also teach students that arguments are everywhere and not traditionally what we would always think of. Everything is an argument. Even the game you’re playing while you’re not listening to me talk, dear student that I love.

As mentioned earlier, Scarecrow is a game that has an argument, as well as a lack of realistic farming practices. The argument was clear: fast food corporations are bad. This can be made clear through the video sequence that opens the game. But the bigger question to ask is “what is effective?” Not really. On the surface, it is a effective and pretty fun game to play. But when you think further and realize that Chipotle is a part of the system, then the game becomes glaringly hypocritical.

The company (that doesn’t know that crops take a very long time to grow) is attempting to create an “us vs them” dichotomy that isn’t necessarily true. The game paints them as being dark, industrial, mundane, and evil (see: sad baby cow eyes).

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Chipotle is neglects to mention that it is also a company and an industry (an industry which, by the way, has had numerous cases of e.coli).

All of this goes back to a commodification and exploration of the basic human desire to be good.

The game is a perfect example of how video games can be an argument and persuasive.

Furthering this notion, it is easy to see how and why video games should be included in secondary education. Technology and digital experiences are quickly taking hold across all aspects of life. Video games are not free of the capitalistic and patriarchal values of society. We must teach video games as text to all students. Then students will be aware of their world and the intersection of games, rhetoric, and capitalism. It’s time to stop ignoring the games that are downloaded onto students phones, iPads, and computers, and instead empower the students to be able to see the rhetoric behind games and question the choices they make within them.

Teaching should be centered around empowering students to make their own choices, create their own ideas, and be in charge of their learning. Incorporating video games as rhetoric into the curriculum is a sensible and wonderful idea that had not occurred to me before. Now that it has, there is not a doubt in my mind that I will be lesson planning for this very soon.

The Power in the Archive

The word “archive” is one that I know is in my lexicon, but I can’t remember when or where I learned the word. It has always been around and in my world. However, I’ve never thought much about where the archive comes from, what goes into it, and, perhaps most troubling, who decides what goes into the archive. As someone who is a firm believer in questioning power structures, I was intrigued to be asked the question: who decides what goes into the archive?

I think of the archive as being a big room somewhere that artifacts, documents, photographs, and such exist. A vision of white gloves, a panopticon, and an air of sophistication come to mind. The room would be what aliens would study if they were trying to discover the human race. However, such a room also holds such power that it alienates those who are not part of the community that is privileged enough to be able to access it. As with many aspects of society, we see that those who hold the power are the ones that decide what knowledge and information is distributed to the masses and preserved in the archive.

The internet is one way that the closed-off, hierarchy of the archive can begin to shift. There is no longer the same type of elite power that existed before. One day, this blog post will become a part of the archive. The expansion of human knowledge is rapidly growing and becoming part of the World Wide Web. This could either be seen as a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the context and the person that is asked.

Nevertheless, there is still a power that comes with the digital archive. Only those who have access and ability to use technology are included in the direct production of archival material. And it is not just a matter of being able to get access to the Internet. It is also a matter of being able to use the tool.  Thus, the power is still tilted towards those who are educated and of a higher socioeconomic status.

This is not to say that there are not incredibly wonderful things that have come out of the digital shift in archiving materials and sources. One of the first websites that comes to mind when considering online archives is the fandom website Archive of Our Own, which is part of The Organization for Transformative Works, a nonprofit that was created to provide access to and preserve the “history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad forms.” Through looking at this website alone, I was led to another project that OTW is involved in: Transformative Works and Cultures, a peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles about transformative works, media studies, and the fan community. There is a niche in the internet that has created a new field of study that revolves around fandoms, which would not be possible without the digitization of the archive.

We see a different type of power that is given when the archive becomes digital and more accessible in examples such as OTW. The ability to visit a website where people can build a community, collaborate, and create together, is a powerful tool. The archive no longer belongs to the elite. Although there is still much work to be done to expand access to more people, the power is still being shifted away from a small percentage of people towards a broader audience.

While the rapid expansion of access to the internet and the demystifying of the archive is far from a bad thing, it is also important for us to remember that we have a long way to go before the archive is truly “free and open” to all.