Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Filmmaker Michael Jacoby Talks To New England Post About 'The Undesirable'

[From New England Post]
Two weeks ago, the official end to the policy known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, was perhaps seen by some gay rights supporters as too little too late. For those supporters, however, it was a victory nonetheless. Others, specifically the current field of Republican presidential nominees, see it as quite a significant setback.
Rick Santorum, one candidate who’s been unhappy recently with the level of media coverage he’s been receiving, called the repeal of DADT “social experimentation” and “tragic.”
“Sex is not an issue,” he said at last month’s GOP debate in Florida to rapturous applause. His comments came after several audience members booed Stephen Hill, a gay soldier serving in Iraq who submitted a question about DADT via YouTube.
“We would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president,” Santorum said of himself in the third person. Given Santorum’s poll numbers, it’s not likely that that day will ever come.
For filmmaker Michael Jacoby, the repeal of DADT means a happy ending for his latest documentary, The Undesirable. Currently in production, the film tells the story of Melvin Dwork, a WWII Veteran who was tossed out of the United States Navy’s Hospital Corp in 1944. The phrase “undesirable discharge” hung over Mr. Dwork for almost 70 years until his record was cleared earlier this year, another happy ending for Mr. Jacoby’s film.
Mr. Jacoby, whose previous effort was Ten More Good Years, a film about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender aging issues, talked to New England Post this week about progress on The Undesirable.
NEP: When did you get the idea for The Undesirable and what's your connection to Melvin Dwork?
MJ: I met Mel fifteen years ago when I first moved to New York City from Los Angeles. I got a job working at a little restaurant in the village called Pearl Oyster Bar. At the time it was a tiny restaurant with only counter seating—sort of like working behind a bar. Because there was so much face-to-face with regulars, I got to know Mel. He came in quite often and had a lot to talk about. We eventually became friends and now consider each other family. Throughout the course of our relationship we learned more and more about one another and it didn’t take long before I learned about Mel’s life as a young man. When he told me he had served in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman I had a ton of questions for him. My grandfather was a Marine during WWII and I learned quite a bit about that war through him and his storytelling. Because I am gay, I had always wondered what it must have been like for gay service members at that time. Most men who survived The War returned to their families proud, victorious and honored. Men like Mel, undesirably discharged for being homosexual, had to return to their families and either come out to them at a time when no one did such a thing, or decide to lie about it. Mel told the truth and found that his family did not care. Most men were not so lucky. Since his discharge in 1944 Mel has been trying to clear his record. Nearly 70 years later he can finally say that he is as honorable as any of the service men or women that he served with.
NEP: Was Mr. Dwork always interested in the idea of having part of his life immortalized in a documentary film or did he take some convincing?
MJ: Mel had no problem with the idea of being in a documentary about his life. We had been talking about trying to make a narrative film for some time, but eventually settled on a documentary format. Perhaps one of the reasons Mel was so open to the idea of being in a film is because he helped inspire my last feature documentary, Ten More Good Years. He knows that if I set out to make a film it will happen. It isn’t just talk. He wants his story to be told in order to inspire others so that they may “right the wrong” and set their own records straight. I think he is confident in my ability to make sure that happens.
NEP: How much of the film have you completed and how is fundraising going?
MJ: I am currently shooting all of Mel’s interviews. This is the easy part. I have been fortunate enough to find a sound stage in New York called Pirate Audio to shoot Mel’s interviews in. I had done some voiceover work there in the past and they were kind enough to offer me an incredible rate for use of one of their studios simply because they were very engaged by the story. Making a documentary independently is very difficult if you cannot find people like the guys at Pirate or are not able to raise the cash. I am raising money now via a non-profit arts organization here in NYC called Fractured Atlas. Any money donated to the film is tax deductible as FA is a 501c3. FA then follows exactly how I spend the money to make sure it is going strictly towards the making of the film. Now, saying all that, I have only been able to raise about $2,500.00 so far. I need to raise about $200,000.00 to make this film from start to finish.
NEP: Did the official repeal of DADT increase interest a bit?
MJ: The repeal of DADT did indeed raise interest in the film, I think mainly because the repeal of Mel’s own “undesirable” status to “honorable” status by the Pentagon happened just one month prior to the DADT repeal. The Associated Press broke Mel’s story the Friday before the repeal of DADT and it quickly became their biggest story with over 200 news outlets picking it up. I think it was natural for reporters to put the two stories together even though they had nothing to do with one another. The timing seems to have been nothing more than a coincidence. These stories did drive people to my website and I can see that views of the trailer skyrocketed. While I have had plenty of positive comments and request for interviews I have not seen an uptick in tax deductible donations. (sad face)
NEP: What can people do if they want to donate?
MJ: If your readers wish to contribute to the film they should visit the website at and click on one of the donation buttons. They will be taken to the Fractured Atlas secure website for online contributions or given directions on how to make contributions via mail. All donors receive credit in the film and depending on how large the donation is there are gifts involved, as well as more prestigious credits.
NEP: Your last film, Ten More Good Years (2008), did really well at festivals and aired on Sundance Channel and Logo. I think people imagine that filmmakers who achieve critical and popular acclaim like that are just suddenly "in a club," meaning making a living off your art, in the film business, no looking back. Talk a little bit about the experience of Ten More Good Years and how it met or surpassed your expectations.
MJ: Despite the critical success of the Ten More Good Years it most certainly did not translate into big money. I did license the film to three networks, the two you mentioned and one in Canada. That money went to pay off the debt I incurred while making the film. I decided to retain all distribution rights in order to make more on educational and home sales. I was relatively successful with those sales but have since licensed the film to educational distribution companies in the US and abroad and just last week licensed home use sales of the film to TLA, a distribution company that focuses on LGBT content. It’s too difficult and time consuming to try to market, distribute and make new films all at the same time. Despite knowing that there is little to no money in making documentaries I am here doing it again. As with Ten More Good Years, I know this is a great story. I know people will want to hear it. The main thing that TMGY did for me is I now have something of a reputation as a filmmaker and I do find it easier to get people to listen to me and take me seriously. I’m hoping to partner with a network to make The Undesirable and am currently working on getting pitch meetings together. I’m crossing my fingers for HBO.
NEP: How has your life been changed by TMGY?
MJ: Ten More Good Years changed my life in many ways. While making a film like TMGY I became immersed in the story. It took nearly four years to make that film from start to finish. It’s was a bit like writing a thesis. I became somewhat of an expert on the issues. It affected my life so much that I have recently considered going to graduate school and getting a Master's Degree in Social Work so that I can work with and around older LGBT adults. I love LGBT history and I love learning about the men and women who paved the way for me so that I can be the open, honest LGBT person that I am today. If I can’t seem to make a living in film in the next year or two, I will most likely go for the MSW. Either way, I’ll be very happy.
NEP: What have you been working on since TMGY?
MJ: Following TMGY the producers at In The Life, an LGBT television series airing on PBS, asked me to come in and consider working on a couple segments for their broadcast. I produced one called The Written Word and another called Aging In A Safe Environment. Following that I directed and produced a short narrative film called With This Ring that was just selected to screen at the 26th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in late October, early November. The film is an “Official Selection” placing it in competition for Best Short. With This Ring is a cautionary tale of gay marriage and something a little different than viewers might expect. It was a lot of fun to take a break from documentary and work in a more controlled environment; something I hope to do more of.
NEP: In an ideal world would you make a living as a documentary director?
MJ: In an ideal world I would love to work as both a documentary director and as a narrative film director. Documentaries satisfy my desire to learn about a specific topic and narrative films satisfy my desire to work with a larger crew in a more organized setting. Both types of film are so different, yet from one you can learn a lot about the other.
Mr. Jacoby lives and works in New York, NY and hopes to have finished The Undesirable in 2012. For more information, please visit:
(In the interest of full disclosure I feel I must point out that I composed the original music for Michael Jacoby's 2008 film, Ten More Good Years. My work as a film composer however does not affect my work as a journalist in any way, shape or form.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Phish Bassist Mike Gordon Tells New England Post About Another Side of In

[From New England Post]

If you've ever listened to Mike Gordon’s 2003 album Inside In, you've probably never thought to yourself, “This music would be perfect for an interactive multimedia installation.”

While most of the folky, psychedelic self-consciousness that Phish’s bassist summons is well worth revisiting when you’re in the right frame of mind, the funky 70s grooves and throwback slow jams will likely not remind listeners of art museums, galleries or the paint-splattered loft spaces of Velvet Underground’s New York.

Still, with guest appearances by Béla Fleck, Vassar Clements and Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.), among others, it's a memorable listen.

Inside In is a fulcrum of sorts; one point of a three-work constellation. The other two are Outside Out, Gordon’s 2001 full-length feature film, and Another Side of In, a collaboration between Gordon, artist Margorie Minkin (Mike's mom) and electronics engineer Jamie Robertson.

Another Side of In is made up of Minkin’s painted Lexan sculptures, sounds from Inside In Gordon lifted and looped specifically for the piece, light and perhaps most importantly, the intervention of a willing participant.

The latest exhibition of the piece will be at the Charles River of Industry and Innovation through December 23. Mike Gordon’s been a busy man lately—Phish’s recent benefit concert raised $1.2 million for Vermont residents affected by Tropical Storm Irene. But he was nice enough to answer a few questions from New England Post about the Another Side of In.

NEP: With the interactivity of an installation like Another Side of In, pictures, recordings, even videos, don't really do much to explain the experience. How would you describe the work to someone who's never experienced an interactive multimedia art installation?

MG: Interactive means that you are making a friend with the piece of art. You're relating to it as if it's another living creature, it reacting to your movements. My mother’s torso shapes make that easy to imagine, whereas the sounds provide a more abstract kind of character for those new friends.

NEP: Originally, if I'm not mistaken, there were 20 individual painted Lexan sculptures accompanied, with the presence and movement of spectators, by sounds and light. What was the process behind selecting and placing portions of the work for exhibition, five pieces in the case of the Charles River Museum version?

MG: My mother chose the five pieces, based on providing a variety of visual and auditory experiences, and ones that can blend together nicely when activated. There is something nice about a small exhibit, since you get to know each one more intimately. It's like playing music in an arena versus a club... both approaches have cool aspects.

NEP: For those unfamiliar with your 2001 film Outside Out and 2003 companion album Inside In, how would you describe their relationship? Was the record a collection of ideas, snippets and fragments of unfinished songs from a period of many years or did you sit down, decide to make a record, write it and record it?

MG: I had recorded all of the soundtrack for the movie myself, including the sound effects, music, production sounds, and ambiences. It was particularly cool to mix and match the roles of those categories—like using the sound of a washing machine as a song texture. I took the background sounds and score music and created the album from the movie. This involved spending a few months with film music, adding lyrics and song structures that would stand alone. The original tracks were used, with new parts overdubbed.

NEP: Another Side of In includes looped portions of sounds culled from the record. I know some artists feel like projects are never finished, they're just abandoned. Was it fun to get under the hood of that record again? To what extent did you know exactly where to find the sounds that might best compliment Another Side of In?

MG: The nice thing is that some creative fun goes into sound design for movies, and for albums, but in this case the backgroundy textures that one might not be conscious of hearing are given the spotlight. There were considerations about finding sounds that would mix together—some more ambient, some more rhythmic, etc., and searching for the kind of abstraction in sound that would allow each piece to grow into it's own character. My mother listened to each sound for the time she was working on the piece that would accompany it, and as the collection came into fruition, we discussed what we needed more or less of.

NEP: Your mother, Marjorie Minkin, created the painted Lexan sculptures in the exhibit. In you artist's statement, you say your artistry has always been inspired by your mother's. Can you describe how?

MG: We had a neighbor who used the expression, "anything within limitations," and my mother said she hated that concept—that limits are to be pulled and stretched. I was inspired how she would find a new medium or approach and then spend a decade or so trying countless variations on a theme, stretching every limit possible, from colors to opacity to layers. I was always so proud that the concept of mom to me was a woman in a room with several hundred gallons of iridescent paint and twenty foot canvases, or warped layerings of plastic.

NEP: I think people tend to dismiss work like this, interactive multimedia installations, without having an understanding the history of conceptual art. I'm thinking of Marcel Duchamp who began to work with ideas like interactivity, mixed media, recycling found objects, etc. about 100 years ago. Growing up around your artist mother, you must've been aware of conceptual art in a way most children are not. Does the work of specific conceptual artists inform Another Side of In or does the work flow simply from a place of open-minded creativity?

MG: For some reason, I fantasized about multisensory installations and spaces my whole life. I wanted to build an enclosed room with prerecorded media that would appeal to all the senses at once since being a young child. Growing older, I refined my tastes and grew to love abstraction, and the kind of simplicity art like this can have. I've also been involved in many kinds of interactive experiments in the live music setting, so making art interactive appealed to me. What didn't appeal to me is a lot of the interactive shows I saw when I started researching the field—especially when there is a latency that makes the experience feel disconnected. You have to feel like you are directly causing something to happen immediately, and if you do, it's a cool feeling.

NEP: Why do you think practitioners of some styles of art, music, dance, etc. seem to have no shelf life, while others struggle to gain traction outside of very small, cliquey communities? Do you think technology (Internet, smartphones, etc.) is changing this?

MG: We couldn't have predicted that Phish would have become so successful, and it would take volumes for me to attempt to guess why, though I have some guesses. One could read "The Tipping Point," by Malcolm Gladwell for a dabbling into the subject of why some things get popular. I'm sure new technology will both change the way art is created and the way it's experienced, and things are getting more interactive with touch screens and online schools. Creative people are having a field day, regardless of which ones become popular.

NEP: Phish just played its first show in Vermont in a long time, a benefit for Tropical Storm Irene victims. How are things in Vermont at the moment and what can/should people do if they want to help?

MG: Even assessing the damage will take a while, never mind all the mending. People can donate through by finding links to our Waterwheel Foundation, and volunteers are needed to help at cleanup sites.

NEP: What are you working on now? Are there any other mother/son collaborations on the horizon?

MG: I have fantasies for some intense variations and enhancements of our show. ASOI v. 9.2? I'm currently working on some music writing and recording projects, with various people, and for various outlets. I'm also looking forward to my next film project when the time is right.

Another Side of In will be at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation through December 23. Thanks to Jon Fischer Photography for the images.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Short Film From Derek Dubois At 13th Annual Pawtucket Film Festival This Weekend

[From New England Post]
Fallout, the new thriller from Rhode Island independent filmmaker Derek Dubois, will be included in the 13th Annual Pawtucket Film Festival this Sunday. While the official schedule has not yet been released, Dubois told the New England Post that the screening will indeed take place on Sunday at 4:30.
Derek Dubois was kind enough to sit down with the New England Post for this short conversation.
NEP: Are there things you want people to know about Fallout before seeing it or would you prefer they just sit down, let the lights dim and enjoy the show?
DD: With Fallout I definitely prefer the latter. There are certain ambiguities about the relationship between the main players and the nature of the conflict that I think are designed to roll out when they do. Fallout is a thriller. Dim the lights, crank the sound. That's all you need to know.
NEP: Did the idea for the Fallout screenplay come from somewhere specific or was it simply a case of a genre you felt like tackling?
DD: Believe it or not Fallout was inspired primarily by two films I'd seen in very quick succession: Anton Corbijn's The American and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. While these films are very different on the surface both center around very quiet, internalized male protagonists. If you look back at my previous films you'll find, historically, that I've often been far more concerned with female characters - they always seem much more complex and richer to me (maybe it's my feminist-film theory background). But on the heels of these two screenings I really wanted a straight no-frills genre plot but populated with an introspective male character that forces the spectator to really dwell on contemporary American masculinity and what the expectations of being "the man" in that scenario entail.
NEP: What films inform the screenplay and visual style of Fallout?
DD: Since Fallout is my first exercise in pure genre, I really wanted to play with the best of the best. This is a film whose entire time-span is relegated to one very small location: a fallout shelter. The central question became: how can we transmit that intense claustrophobia onto the audience without boring them? We found our answers in several disparate places: The setting is very inspired by something like Ridley Scott's Alien. One of those locked down locations that'll make your characters stir-crazy. But we chose to often keep the camera moving (albeit subtlety) to consistently put new information into the frame.
Funny enough, we stole our framing setups from The King's Speech. One very interesting thing I had originally noticed about that film was how inventive (and daring) it was in breaking with traditional framing designs. Speech often weighed their characters to the wrong side of the frame generating tons of negative space. We felt that approach was perfect for inspiring the right atmosphere during the uncomfortable interactions between our two main characters.
NEP: Talk a little bit about the production design and sets.
DD: Production Design was by far the most rigorous element of any of the stages of filmmaking. We instantly knew that shooting in an actual fallout shelter (if we could obtain access to one) was impossible because there would be no room for camera setups. So the crew's original discussions led us to consider scouting for a "mill basement" or something that was already practical for us to work with that would look like a Fallout shelter. I was never sold on that idea and secretly began construction on a set in my family's basement - not knowing if I could pull it off. I designed it so that each wall of the four-wall set would be entirely removable - thus permitting total visual freedom. I have absolutely no construction abilities whatsoever but over the course of two-months things slowly began to take shape. If you become a fan of Fallout on Facebook you can see a time-lapse photo album that charts the building of our little set. But excuse me, I have to go, my family's been on my case to start ripping it down.
NEP: Other than Pawtucket Film Festival this weekend, where else can people see Fallout?
DD: Fallout has thus far been accepted to three festivals. This coming Sunday Fallout will play on the opposite side of the country at the 2011 SoCal Film festival. Also, we were accepted into the 2011 Shockerfest Festival, which is an interesting genre-specific festival (horror and sci-fi), that airs it's films on a local cable station to a potential audience of 1.5 million people. Finally, as of last week, we have released the film online. Anyone interested in seeing Fallout can simply visit to view the film in full.
NEP: What are you working on now?
DD: Now that Fall has arrived I'm back at the head of the classroom leading a new group of Rhode Island College students in learning the joys and wonders of film analysis and, for the first time, screenwriting. I'm also hoping to put down the camera for a little while and try to sell a feature length script. I'm shopping around a horror-feature entitled Miss Diagnosis with several production companies at the moment.
(In the interest of full disclosure I feel I must point out that I composed the original music for Fallout. My work as a film composer however does not effect my work as a journalist in any way, shape or form.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Art and Hoax

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Michele Meek, a Rhode Islander whose C.V. is far too long to collapse into a single introductory paragraph. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, the above image is Michele teaching English to Buddhist monks in Thailand in 2006. When she’s not teaching, studying or overseeing, which she started, Meek writes about cinema, food and travel. She most recently presented her new paper, Art and Hoax, at last month’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference in New Orleans.

SS: How did you come to write about the marketing of Exit Through the Gift Shop in the first place?

MM: My husband actually wanted to see the film, so he, my brother and I all went to see it at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence in May 2010. I've seen a lot of documentaries throughout the years, but this time, I was totally surprised. Unlike most contemporary documentaries that tell you what to think, this film made you think. On the surface, Banksy is exposing the contemporary art world as a sham. Yet there is another meaning to be uncovered about the documentary genre itself and the struggle between subjectivity and objectivity, truth and interpretation, auteur and subject. Perhaps even more ironically, Banksy profits from both his art and the film, again blurring that line between art and commerce.

After seeing the film, I was hooked. And after researching their strategies for reaching an audience, I knew it was worth further study.

SS: How did you end up presenting at the SCMS and what was the experience like?

MM: I've been a member of SCMS for several years, and last year, I attended my first conference in L.A. Of course, anyone can submit a paper for the conference. I've presented numerous times on panels at writing conferences, film festivals and at universities as a guest lecturer. Still, I was anxious since this was my first academic presentation. Ultimately, it went well, and I did feel prepared to answer questions that came my way. But I've long since learned that you can't know everything, and it's all right to say you don't know something. In fact, that's much better than pretending to know something you don't.

Since I'm relatively new to academia, I decided to propose something that was more industry-oriented and related to a subject where I had some expertise—so I proposed a paper for the panel Arty and Indie in America. Since I had seen the industry from both sides as a independent filmmaker and a reseller (I had run, a community to buy and sell independent films, for nearly a decade), I felt that I had a unique perspective to bring to the subject. The paper I presented "Art and Hoax: The Viral Marketing of 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'" discusses the unconventional (and remarkably successful) distribution and marketing strategies behind the film.

SS: Can Art and Hoax be read online anywhere?

Not yet, although I'm happy to send it to anyone who is interested in reading it and providing feedback! I'll be editing and expanding it over the next few months, and then will submit it for publication. Ideally, it will find a place in one of the peer-reviewed film journals.

SS: Tell me a little bit about, its history and your involvement, past and present.

MM: I started in 1997. I was finishing my MFA in screenwriting at Emerson College and working at a magazine in Boston and had the idea to start a magazine for the regional film community. But then I realized how expensive print magazines were. So my husband (boyfriend, at the time) recommended I start it as a website, and I figured I'd do that until I could switch it to a print publication. But when I saw how successful it was online -- so much more interactive and timely then a monthly print publication -- there was no going back. Eventually, we built out other features in addition to the magazine like the industry directory and most recently, the online film festival. There's a timeline at where you can see the progress through 2004 (I guess I need to update that!) Anyway, I still oversee the site, but I do have a small freelance staff to help out at this point.

SS: You're a Ph.D candidate in English at URI. When you began looking at programs, was that an easy decision for you or were there several other disciplines on the table like, say, Film?

MM: There are so many factors that go into a decision like this. Since I had already gotten a Master's in writing, I had more of a head start with an English Ph.D. And since I have a family, I wasn't really willing to move anywhere in the country which also limited my options. And then there's that little matter of only being able to go where you actually get in. But ultimately, I am interested in both literature and film and hope to write a dissertation that reflects that.

SS: Was there a clean transition from your interest in screenwriting to your interest in academic writing or does one inform the other and vice versa?

MM: I'm honestly not sure there's a logical transition between any of the things that I do. When I look at my C.V. even I wonder how (or why) I've packed in all of the disjointed things I've done. That said, I've always taught -- filmmaking, screenwriting, and writing. And of course, I've always loved to write, and over the years, I've written poetry, fiction, and screenplays, in addition to writing blog posts and magazine articles. Still, in my opinion, there's not much in common between writing a screenplay and a piece of journalism and a poem -- except that every word needs to belong. Each type of writing, I approach differently. With academic writing, I find myself thinking much more critically. In journalism, you can be lazy and make generalizations like "It's getting harder for independent filmmakers to distribute their films." But in academic writing, you can't state something like that without knowing how it's getting harder (what are the numbers?) and why it's getting harder (what are the forces causing the industry changes?). Or maybe you're supposed to do that in magazine writing too, and I've just been doing it wrong all these years.

SS: In addition to film and culture, you've written quite a bit about food and travel. Are there any subjects you haven't tackled that you think you might want to explore in the near future?

MM: I don't think I've written about the space program -- yet! No seriously, there are many subjects I haven't tackled. I simply write about the things I love -- mostly film and travel. My blog is an outlet for the lighter writing I enjoy. For both and my blog, I only write about things that stand out -- I'm not in it to pan anyone, so if I go to a restaurant I hate, then I don't write about it. Since I'm fairly picky, this makes it so I often have nothing to write about.

I'm still not quite sure where my academic interest will lead me. I have an article being published in the upcoming Tennessee Williams Annual Review about the feminist subtext in the 1956 film "Baby Doll," which is obviously much different than my conference paper on "Exit Through the Gift Shop". But ultimately, I'd like to somehow leverage both my industry experience and academic training to create a study that would be useful for a more general filmmaking audience. Also before starting the Ph.D. program, I was working on a book in the genre of literary nonfiction about my experiences living in Paris for a year, and at some point, I'd love to make time to finish it.

SS: What's your dream job and what are your plans for after URI?

MM: I don't think I can say that I have just one dream job (maybe that's my whole problem). I'd love to be a serial entrepreneur since I love creating something out of nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, I would love to be able to write and teach and somehow make money doing that. Basically, I'd like to do something I love (and change what that was as I wished) and be paid well for it -- but who doesn't?

For more information on any of the above, please visit

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Song Remains the Same

Today, March 8th, at 2:00pm in Horace Mann 193, Dr. Jeffrey T. Nealon will give a talk entitled: The Song Remains the Same: Classic Rock, Cultural Studies, and Post-Postmodernism. Dr. Nealon, a professor of English at Penn State, is the author of Double Reading: Postmodernism after Deconstruction (Cornell, 1993), Alterity Politics: Ethics and Performative Subjectivity (Duke, 1998), and The Theory Toolbox (with Susan Searls-Giroux, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), an indispensable introduction to reading cultural theory. We’re very happy to offer this brief preview of the event.

SS: What’s the gist of your presentation?
JN: The Song Remains the Same is a critical account of the continuing ubiquity of 1960s-70s “classic rock” in American culture. I’m trying here neither to celebrate nor to denounce the commodity called classic rock, but to try to understand its continuing and singular place in American cultural life – and to think about whether its unprecedented continuing popularity suggests any changes in what cultural studies theorists have to say about the fraught relations among contemporary American cultural production and economic production. To anticipate my conclusion, I argue that classic rock’s longevity is both a symptom of Fredric Jameson’s famous understanding of postmodernism (in shorthand, the complete collapse of cultural production into the logic of economic production and vice versa), but that in addition the continuing reign of classic rock as a cultural commodity also shows us the emergent logic of something else: not necessarily something “new,” but a different, more intense mode of production/consumption that I’ll call, for lack of another word, post-postmodern.

SS: When you refer to the "commodity called classic rock," do you mean solely rock music of the 60s and 70s or do you include current popular acts who reproduce a classic rock aesthetic in their music?
JN: Just the 60s and 70s, really.

SS: Regarding Jameson's understanding of postmodernism, what stands out to you about classic rock over other popular musical forms born in the mid-20th century like Country or R&B?
JN: Well, for Jameson postmodernism is the complete collapse of the logic of cultural production into the logic of economic production (innovation, symbolic economies, affect all get folded into economic production, rather than functioning as something 'other'), so all popular music on Jameson's account functions according to that paradigm. For me, the distinction or uniqueness of classic rock is its longevity as a cultural commodity -- 17 yr olds still listen to The Doors, and there's still a popular radio format dedicated to that genre of 40-year-old music. But 17-year-old country fans don't routinely listen to the country songs of the late 60s (e.g. Tammy Wynette), and there's no widespread "classic country" radio in every American media market. That's the thing that's hard to explain about classic rock from a cultural studies point of view -- its longevity as a youth cultural product.

SS: Is it oversimplifying to state then that the reason for classic rock's continued ubiquity, as opposed to the relative obscurity (in pop cultural terms) of "classic country" or "Americana," is its profitability during the 60s and 70s? In other words, reproducing today the aesthetics of that era, as a means of making a profit, necessitates the inclusion of its most commercial components.

Well, there are plenty of profitable cultural operations of the 1970s -- from The Partridge family to the pet rock -- that were plenty successful in their day, but nobody today thinks of them as "cool." Think Boudieu, cultural capital: it's partially classic rock's commitment to "authenticity" in the face of a commodified world (what, for example, "Satisfaction" and "Stairway to Heaven" have in common) that makes classic rock such an enduring cultural commodity. That and what's changed about capitalism in the meantime, which is mostly what the paper is about

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alumni Update: Jason Rossi

SS: You're from Warwick but you came to RIC by way of Arizona. Briefly, how did you find your way into the Media Studies program?

JR: I came to RIC by way of Arizona, then Connecticut, then, to come full circle, back home to Rhode Island again. In Arizona, I was first introduced to digital media as a form of communication and expression when I had my first experience with Photoshop. I don't remember what version it was, but it was probably Photoshop 4 or 5. I was using an Apple G3 in the photo department of the independently run student paper at my school, Northern Arizona University, where I earned my bachelors in Photography. The paper was The Lumberjack, and we shot 35mm color and black and white film in those days, scanning the negatives into the computer as we prepared our images for publication. I was hooked by my first contact with Photoshop, I remember being in awe as I slid the color adjustment from red to cyan. That was my first photo adjustment ever.

Anyhow, that's where it started. Eventually, I went on to become a staff photographer at the Middletown Press in Connecticut, followed by some studio work and some wedding work in RI. Sure, I had been shooting digitally as a photojournalist, but after leaving photojournalism for a little while, I was provided an external view of the rapid changes that were shaking the industry. There was some relief that I no longer felt the pressure of working in an unstable, changing field- but I always stayed very interested in what was happening. Eventually, I realized that I still loved photojournalism, I was still very interested in digital media, and I was ready to make a move.

I opted to apply in the Media Studies program to augment my photojournalism background with advanced knowledge of new media. I've blended my RIC education with my photojournalism education and experience. Instead of stepping out of the journalism industry, I'm hoping to stay onboard to contribute to the ongoing changes. For now it feels right, and if I decide to take a detour from that path, it'd be great to use my Media Studies degree from RIC to open other doors.

SS: It's a little unusual, during a recession and what some consider the death rattle of print media, to have landed a job at a newspaper. How did you find the job? What hoops did you have to jump through to get it and what do you think of the current state of the newspaper business in America?

As a National Press Photographer Association member, I found the position in the NPPA job bank. Unfortunately, however, in support of your recession and “death rattle” mentions, I’ll add that the number of jobs posted there has been noticeably receding in recent years. In speaking with several editors and contacts throughout my search, many of them have made the same observation.

The job I now have was actually applied for via email, which is atypical. In their job posting, they provided an email address. Since I was already spending a lot of cash on sending packages, I opted to take them up on the email option. I sent my cover letter, résumé, list of references, and a .pdf slideshow version of my photojournalism portfolio. In the email, I also directed the employer to my website to view the After-Effects version of my portfolio as well as my other work.

Ok, now for the hoops... I had to drive out to Utica, NY, where the Observer-Dispatch, my current employer, is located and have a 2-day interview. They put me up in a hotel for a night for the process. I had to meet with several folks at the paper, including editors, reporters, the other staff photographer, and human resources. In addition, I had to shoot 2 test assignments for the paper. On the second day, they actually had me shoot a third assignment as well. After that, I waited for a few weeks until they called and offered the job.

The current state of the newspaper business in America? I’m not too sure about when everything might settle down, but I can say that many folks are nervous about their jobs. I’ve spoken with two different multi-media/photo editors at large, well-known papers in the recent past who were legitimately concerned about whether or not their jobs would disappear due to the current state of the business. One of them was, in fact, laid off shortly after I talked to him. Their photo department was also downsized. Many great veteran shooters have been losing their jobs, and they continue to do so. It’s sad and sobering.

Currently, I see the business end of print journalism trimming the fat and, like so many businesses these days, the workforce and product quality are suffering. I don’t think all is dismal, however. I actually apply a Darwinian view to the situation. I believe that those who have the creativity and wit to adapt will survive to become the new species of the digital landscape. I just hope it doesn’t become a homogenized, corporate formula that might compromise and water down the quality of the information that needs to keep flowing. I’m hoping and leaning on my Media Studies M.A. as a tool to help keep me in good standing through the changes.

SS: As a photojournalist now, you had many of the skills required for your job before you entered RIC. What did the Media Studies coursework add to your resume/skill set that informs your current work?

JR: Well, I’m hoping my Media Studies degree will provide an edge and advanced vision so I can contribute to the digital evolution the industry is undergoing, instead of being left behind in the wake of change.

I think the video components to the degree were absolutely essential. The theory/culture-based courses provided a great foundation as well. Overall, the entire program actually assists in my ability to contribute to some dialogue and conversations that I otherwise might not have previously weighed in on. As a networking professional, that is a definite plus. It also helped me to think in more analytical, observant ways while broadening my awareness of how we communicate in today’s society.

SS: I've heard more than one professor mention your thesis project. I know there's some documentation on your site but could you explain it for those of us who weren't present for its "premiere?"

JR: The project was a commentary on the ever-expanding amount of photographic content being uploaded to the Internet by amateur enthusiasts every day. It was a projection-based installation involving three projectors and it brought the viewer into the piece.

The project analyzed and organized the found photographic content by age group. I started with slow-motion video of a pregnant couple, shot in a style similar to a still portrait, and they were buried underneath an accumulating quilt-like stockpile of images I found online that were reflective of that particular age group. This correlating scenario was consistent throughout 8 different segments of a typical American’s life: pregnancy through senior citizen.

The viewer became part of the piece as their “digital reflection” was cast on the surface of a “digital reflecting pool” that stood on the floor before the imagery mentioned above. The reflecting pool was a large rectangle with a raging river projected on a white surface within. Viewers stood at its edge, under the glow from a photo umbrella, as their reflection was secretly cast from a camera embedded in the wall of the pool. I reversed the image of the viewer in the projector’s settings to make it appear as a true reflection. The reflection was projected on top of the other projection for the effect of it being cast onto the surface of the water.

As the river rushed from the viewers’ stand point toward the wall projection, I was trying to provoke self-reflection as almost everyone in one way or another is involved in the growing collection of photographic content online. Whether you were a direct contributor, an intentional or unintentional photo subject, or have viewed photos online, you’re involved. I was also interested in the nature of the content posted by each age group. I hoped that viewers would, in response, also contemplate their own experience of being born, living, and ultimately dying, in our culture. Hopefully it was successful in these goals!

SS: Every day, you probably have to compete with people who can capture compelling images with very little money, time or effort. I'm not trying to force you to brag about your photography, but I think people would like to know what separates your work from the amateur photographer who is simply in the right place at the right time.

JR: It’s true, I suppose photojournalists do have to compete with these folks now. It’s a muddy area. At my own paper and other news organizations all over the world, we’re all taking advantage of social networking to allow readers to contribute to news reporting. Sure, it might affect the job market to some degree, but it’s not all a bad thing. This whole industry is in a massive transitional period, and this is only one part of the evolution. I believe it empowers the ordinary citizen and increases our ability, as human beings, to witness so many important events that may have been otherwise missed.

Of course, a huge negative side effect that comes to mind is the desensitization of ordinary folks to serious situations. Instead of helping a fellow human being, many folks are now feeling compelled to take a photo or shoot video of the victims instead. This is a very dangerous trend. We really need to help one another, now more than ever. As photojournalists, it’s our job to cover these events so the world can hopefully learn from them. But if I’m ever the first on a scene and there’s no one else to help someone in dire need- I’d be a compassionate person first, photojournalist second. It’s our duty as people to help one another. I like to think that that’s what I’m doing in this profession. Helping.

I feel as if many news organizations value and understand the importance of having a staff of professional, seasoned “photojournalists” who can take on the constant challenges that inevitably come up. Fires, shootings, funerals, sports, war, and on and on…so many issues require consistently tactful thought, behavior, ethics, and accurate, responsible, unbiased information gathering. You also need to be able to adapt to an endlessly unpredictable variety of environments, lighting scenarios, stresses, and you even need to adapt the mundane. Some assignments are so stale or repetitive, that you need to tap into a constant reserve of creativity to try to find the freshest, most effective way to tell the story. The benefit of having a true photojournalist performing these tasks is that they’re consistent, passionate, reactive, and dedicated to the social responsibility that comes with being a journalist.

You can’t safely, consistently depend on folks with iPhones or hobby backpack digital SLRs to accurately and ethically tell the stories. So, there will probably always be a need for photojournalists. Much of it comes down to not only quality, but also to credibility. However, I’m curious to see how everything pans out over the next 10 years or so…