Voices of Women – Against Silence in “Alias Grace”


For people who study media, a production like Alias Grace has much of interest. I look forward to reading and hearing about what it discussed about how the act of speaking is constructed in amazingly complex webs of power, and the possibilities for self-representation for women who are so completely caught in these webs.

In some ways AG is the anti-Downton text, removing the justification of proper social location from the manor house to the Warden’s house. The escort from prison cell to domestic space, conducted by men enforcing the will of the state, becomes an opportunity for routine micro-assaults from the guards.  Director Mary Harron brilliantly brings us so close to Grace, but at the same time respects the character’s self-possession. As a viewer I felt apart from her, but that distance felt respectful, necessary, even admirable. Quite an accomplishment for a character imprisoned for two murders. What, after all, really is a confession?  What does it mean for a woman to take the chance of telling the truth of what happened? Would she be believed?

Among Grace’s domestic responsibilities, she has lengthy conversations with a doctor, who acts as if he is interested in her story. And much of this story is told, all while Grace works on her quilt.

But it is not just one story. We hear and see what Grace says–choosing her words carefully and tailoring them for her audience. Then there is what Grace tells us in direct address as she narrates her situation to the audience. Finally (no spoilers), there is the voice that never gets to speak, that is inside Grace but can only get out when she is shrouded–like she is speaking though a veil that is both marital and funereal. It is amazing and terrifying and liberating when this voice is freed.

It is quite special to experience a story so thoroughly deep in the woods of patriarchy. And it should not be that unusual. The disruption of traditional legacy production models has produced opportunities for storytelling in visual media since the measure of success is so different.

This program remains an exception, but we can hope that it is becoming more likely that stories demonstrating such a clear understanding of patriarchy through displaying its failures can and will be produced.

Know Your Rights 1: Photographing in a Public Space

from the ACLU posting on rights to shoot photos in a public space:

When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.

When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).

Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search your cell phone when they arrest you, unless they get a warrant. Although the court did not specifically rule on whether law enforcement may search other electronic devices such as a standalone camera, the ACLU believes that the constitution broadly prevents warrantless searches of your digital data. It is possible that courts may approve the temporary warrantless seizure of a camera in certain extreme “exigent” circumstances such as where necessary to save a life, or where police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that doing so is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence of a crime while they seek a warrant.

Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances. Officers have faced felony charges of evidence tampering as well as obstruction and theft for taking a photographer’s memory card.

Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.

Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.

If you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:

  • Always remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
  • If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, “am I free to go?” If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
  • If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, and remind the officer that taking photographs is your right under the First Amendment and does not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Special considerations when videotaping:

With regards to videotaping, there is an important legal distinction between a visual photographic record (fully protected) and the audio portion of a videotape, which some states have tried to regulate under state wiretapping laws.

  • Such laws are generally intended to accomplish the important privacy-protecting goal of prohibiting audio “bugging” of private conversations. However, in nearly all cases audio recording the police is legal.
  • In states that allow recording with the consent of just one party to the conversation, you can tape your own interactions with officers without violating wiretap statutes (since you are one of the parties).
  • In situations where you are an observer but not a part of the conversation, or in states where all parties to a conversation must consent to taping, the legality of taping will depend on whether the state’s prohibition on taping applies only when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. But no state court has held that police officers performing their job in public have a reasonable expectation.
  • The ACLU believes that laws that ban the taping of public officials’ public statements without their consent violate the First Amendment. A summary of state wiretapping laws can be found here.

Photography at the airport

Photography has also served as an important check on government power in the airline security context.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) acknowledges that photography is permitted in and around airline security checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process. The TSA does ask that its security monitors not be photographed, though it is not clear whether they have any legal basis for such a restriction when the monitors are plainly viewable by the traveling public.

The TSA also warns that local or airport regulations may impose restrictions that the TSA does not. It is difficult to determine if any localities or airport authorities actually have such rules. If you are told you cannot take photographs in an airport you should ask what the legal authority for that rule is.

The ACLU does not believe that restrictions on photography in the public areas of publicly operated airports are constitutional.

Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties. Unfortunately, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs from public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply. Learn more

When I Go Away

This Levon Helm performance of When I Go Away is a telling example of what to make of the idea of “swing”. Swing can be the tension around on or off the beat.

There is a Dixie Hummingbirds version of this song as well (go to about 3:00 on the video), but this Helm version is the one that got me. It’s a great notion of what Helm could do.

The highlight is the bridge section, which goes into a four-part vocal that plays with the beat, creating tension over where the rhythm swings. And it works because this song is upbeat but morbid…in other words, perfect as a memorial of the tensions of being both good and bad, deserving and undeserving, sad and joyful. Home to leave my troubles in the graveyard…

“We at Gaylord College strongly condemn the recent racist aggressions at the University of Oklahoma. We stand firm against bigotry of all kinds. Our commitment here at Gaylord to welcome, educate and include across all boundaries remains unshaken. We remain devoted to the ideal that our strength lies in our diversity.”

“We at Gaylord College strongly condemn the recent racist aggressions at the University of Oklahoma. We stand firm against bigotry of all kinds. Our commitment here at Gaylord to welcome, educate and include across all boundaries remains unshaken. We remain devoted to the ideal that our strength lies in our diversity.

If you need help, please reach out to Assistant Dean Yvette Walker at (405) 325-5684.”


Media Literacy – Basics #1

Ralph Beliveau

August 26-27, 2016

Five Key Concepts of Media Literacy

  1. All media messages are “constructed.”
  1. Each medium has different characteristics, strengths, and a unique “language” of construction.
  1. Different people interpret the same media message in different ways.
  1. Media messages are produced for particular purposes, including profit, persuasion, education, and artistic expression.
  1. Media have embedded values and points of view.


Six Questions to Ask about Any Media Message

  1. Who made – and who sponsored – this message, and for what purpose?
  1. Who is the target audience, and how is the message specifically tailored to them?
  1. What are the different techniques used to inform, persuade, entertain, and attract attention?
  1. What messages are communicated (and/or implied) about certain people, places, events, behaviors, lifestyles, etc.?
  1. How current, accurate, and credible is the information in this message?
  1. What is left out of this message that might be important to know?

Media Literacies and Genre Literacies: Finding the Doable


In his piece on Scientific and Religious Literacies, Mike Sandler raises an important perspective that might address the question of polarization, but only if we can recognize the mutual coexistence of different literacies…and by extension, the way we both are and are not like other people in how our literacies are organized.

The key…with apologies to the more rigid…is empathy, the “I and Thou” of moving through the world. Consider it this way: I admit that I am a bit of a critical/rhetorical media literacy absolutist. But only a bit. If I take it too far, I lose the ability to see that:

  1. There are many different ways that people see and experience this issue
  2. My version can be equally flawed, myopic, bigoted, and capable of perpetuating systemic awfulness

One of the fundamental steps in adopting a critical literacy perspective is an analysis of the terms of power in any media moment. The harder part is not seeing power from that critical perspective, but seeing it from the perspective of the empowered. That is , seeing the genre, for lack of a more precise term, in which a thought or a position is held. A religious (i.e., faith-based) position and a scientific position are different genres. In terms of the use if communication/language, they are incommensurable (see Thomas Kuhn or Paul Feyerabend).

I hope that recognizing that difference can prevent stalemated coexistence. And then we can talk about flying spaghetti monsters and rabbit eating habits (the glory of cecotropes!).

Here is how anthropologist Elizabeth Provinelli expresses a similar notion:

“If we take liberal theorists of liberal worlds seriously, the anthropological study of radical emergences and incommensurate social imaginaries is faced with a numbing recognition. If the message addressing the liberal public might be “begin with the doable,” the message addressing radical worlds is “be other so that we will not ossify, but be in such a way that we are not undone, that is make yourself doable for us.” And the message conveys the stakes of refusing to be doable, and, thereby, the stakes of forcing liberal subjects to experience the intractable impasse of reason as the borders of the repugnant— actual legal, economic, and social repression.”

new serial world

Limetown-logo-SQ-Largemaking a murderer film makers

Recently found my way through Limetown and Making a Murderer. Season 2 of Serial is next. But the challenge is managing the time, to find the time to explore the new media experiments going on. What is impressive is how much work is being done “on spec.”

Engaging with the literacy of all of these forms requires paying attention to the motivations, just as much as media literacy advocates think that knowing the motivations of, say, the Chicago Tribune or The 700 Club is key to making sense of their messages.

In the guardian, filmmaker Laura Riccardi said “We’re not prosecutors, we’re not defense attorneys, we do not set out to convict or exonerate anyone,” she continued. “We set out to examine the criminal justice system and how it’s functioning today. It would have been impossible for us to include every piece of evidence submitted to the court. So we took our cues from the prosecution, what they thought was the most compelling evidence. That’s what we included.”

The difference in a “serial” world is that the story can go on. It’s somewhat automatically reflexive, aware of its own past, and responsible to it in the best possible circumstances. And if not, some creative soul, acting out of interest, will add to the world of the story in a different forum.

Digital Space/Digital Place

There is an important interaction between Douglas Rushkoff’s idea of Place in Program Or Be Programmed, Joshua Meyerowitz argument in No Sense of Place, and Martin Buber’s notion of “I-It” relationships vs. “I-Thou” relationships. The distancing and displacing of the the digital world can cause a dehumanizing effect. World Refugee DayThe local is set aside in deferring to the non-local. The person sitting across from you lost in their phone. And then there is the challenge of humanizing the non-local. How can we learn to care at digital distances? This would seem to fall under a notion of digital citizenship: learning the ability to reach through the machines and not let a notion of care get filtered out; to not turn the people on the other end…even the people we disagree with…to be rendered an “It.”