On July 16 we are launching Theorizing the Web Presents, hosted by @MovingImageNYC, a series featuring guest speakers discussing issues related to technology and culture. Our first guests will be @DrAlliRich and @mutalenkonde and we are very excited to have them kick off #TtWP!
As we get closer to the actual event, we here at Theorizing the Web thought it would be helpful to dive into some of the fantastic work done by our invited speakers. We will begin with @DrAlliRich who is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communication at @USC Annenberg
Easy Level Life is a newsgame by Yvvy which debuted on 11 July 2016, roughly one week after the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Richardson, “explores the procedural rhetoric of Easy Level Life to investigate how it condemns police brutality through play.”
Richardson wanted to see if the argument presented in the game mirrored that of any Black Lives Matter-themed newspaper, magazine, or Web-based articles that appeared around the time of the Sterling-Castile killings.
Richardson analyzed Easy Level Life using Teun van Dijk's theoretical frameworks that outline how news relies upon 'macropropositions' and 'macrorules' to provide structure and convey meanings via headlines and story components, but in ways that omit crucial information.
Along with five other 'player co-researchers', Richardson played through the game and created codes and subcodes assigned to the lines of script presented onscreen in order to analyze Easy Level Life's discursive elements.
The player becomes a Black 7th grader headed to school who is confronted with three White officers beating a Black man with red billy clubs. They are given five options in response: Eat breakfast, cross the street, quickly go past, stand there quietly, or this is so scary!
No matter what choice the player makes, the Black avatar faces death by a single gunshot, with a subsequent screen of a newspaper outlining what occurred. The result is that, “the player is left to contend with the feelings of helplessness that such an unwinnable game summons.”
Headlines and quotes from civilian observers and the DA found in Easy Level Life's newspaper convey what Yvvy believes to be a boilerplate response to fatal shootings of Black people. Details change, “but the public's response and the non-indictments remain the same...”
Richardson concludes, “this gaming experience casts the main character, a 12-year-old Black child, as the Other who must be destroyed. The avatar becomes a symbolic dilemma in this game; a character who bears no weapon of self-defense, but whose very identity is the weapon.”
“As social justice-themed newsgames continue only to proliferate the digital journalism landscape,” Richardson argues, “we need more thorough ways of thinking about how these kinds of media tell difficult stories and make bold arguments.”
Now let's shift to “Bearing Witness While Black: Theorizing African American mobile journalism after Ferguson” found in the journal Digital Journalism https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2016.1193818
In this article, Richardson is surveying how the centuries-old practice of media witnessing transformed, “to twenty-first century sites of black rhetorical resistance, found now in selfies, tweets, and mobile video.”
Her approach on this topic utilizes three, broad theoretical frameworks: Holocaust-era Jewish witnessing, Manuel Castells 'networks of outrage and hope' exemplified in so-called Black Twitter, and the notion of the black public sphere as a distinct discursive subgroup.
Richardson identifies three salient characteristics of mobile-mediated black witnessing: it assumes a sousveillant editorial stance, co-opts racialized spaces within Twitter to serve as ad hoc news wire, relies on interlocking black public spheres to engage diverse audiences.
Looking towards similar examples, Richardson identifies that, with regards to the Holocaust, “In the Jewish tradition of witnessing, survivors speak to commemorate the slain, and to verify that atrocities indeed transpired.”
She links this to black citizen journalism in Ferguson/Baltimore, noting, “witnesses help create a long, thematic thread of narrative that links similar human rights violations to one another throughout history, rather than regarding each new violation as an isolated incident.”
“For the poor man of color,” Richardson argues, “the cellphone is the closest visual production tool that he can muster to protect himself from news narratives that may try to frame his untimely demise incorrectly.”
Media scholars often argue witnessing via cellphone videos creates too much distance between viewer and the 'other' depicted, yet Richardson counters, “African Americans...tend to see themselves in the battered body of another black person in these kinds of amateur footage.”
Twitter has become one of the de facto networks used for 'bearing witness while black.' Black witnesses can thus use Twitter to, “create an ad hoc news outlet that breaks news and supplies updates in real-time, rivaling some of the most time-honored legacy media.”
Richardson notes, “they achieve this by harnessing the power of interlocking layers of the black public sphere, which is stratified by levels of political agency and varying desires to engage the general public at times of peak crisis.”
Indeed, “the black public sphere has leveraged the technological medium of the era to debate, mourn, scream, and rejoice collectively.” In doing so, members signify their subaltern identities using dynamic discursive practices afforded by the various media outlets.
But it would be a mistake, Richardson argues, to suggest that all black public spheres are visible and that such spheres represent or comprise all black people. There are subgroups within subgroups, forming complex layers that are not always easily discerned.
Drawing on the work of Catherine Squires, Richardson outlines three types of subaltern black spheres; the enclave, the counterpublic, and the satellite. Each have their own configurations that utilize media and messaging for different audiences and effects.
Richardson asks if, “this seemingly democratized process of black witnessing successfully challenge old hegemonies,” noting that scholars must critically analyze public transcripts by Black witnesses in order to avoid legacy media's traditional framing of African Americans.
“By viewing [videos posted on social media] as thematic, and from a point of view that aims to moralize and galvanize, we can have more nuanced critiques of the promises and perils of black witnessing,” Richardson adds.
Ultimately, Richardson concludes, “For journalism scholars then, we must find these black witnesses too—both frontline and distant—to question anew how our current political climate empowers or silences vulnerable voices.”
That does it for our review of @DrAlliRich's work. More info can be found at her @USC Annenberg page here https://annenberg.usc.edu/faculty/allissa-v-richardson Tune in tomorrow as we review @mutalenkonde's work in preparation for Thursday's #TtWP discussion!
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