May 5th, 2016
Glitch as Digital Activism
Glitch as Digital Activism is referencing the use of Glitch as a process of making a form of art and the conceptualization of glitch as ways to develop and create a photo, video or soundscape with transcendent meaning and implications to society. Our Glitch project will be a repetitive piece from a Silent Cinema Era film. The film we will glitch from will be one that deals with the representation of Asian men and women in an aggressive or sub-level manner. Through glitching we will display the ridiculous tropes, attempting to glitch the Asian character, masking, dramatizing and mutating their identity. Through this process we can display what is at work in Hollywood cinema and use these videos as a form of activism, displaying the truth and provoking critical thought where it is much needed. Take a glitched photo for example, mutating the brightness and color of one pixel can cause the photo to be deemed glitched, no matter how subtle or dramatic. Sometimes glitching can exaggerate certain portions of photos in an effort to send a message. Glitch, according to dictionary.com, is “a defect or malfunction in a machine or plan”.
Tim Barker discusses creativity in the digital era and the concept of art as an error in his piece “Aesthetics of the Error: Media Art, the Machine, the Unforeseen, and the Errant”. He introduces Bruno Munari and his series Useless Machines. His kinetic sculptures revolved around the idea that these “machines” were meant to interact with the surrounding environment. “The art of the machine here is an art in which the machine, after being built by human hands, is itself creative”(42). This the goal of our glitch final piece. After the creation of the glitch piece it will exist, in a repetitive nature, on its own in the creative digital realm, ready for interpretation by people and serving as its own form of activism, illuminating what is wrong with these tropes through the exaggeration of the trope. Tim Barker ends up making a connection between this creative concept seen in Munari’s work to the digital era of digital errors and digital art. Art as an error, especially as a digital error, is an art that is outside of what was pre-programmed, pre-conceived, or the primary purpose or routine. The manifestation of such errors as implemented through glitching, are not always expected or controlled and yet can and should have meaning beyond their aesthetic appearance.
To go more into depth on our project, we will hopefully be glitching the scene in The Cheat (1915) directed by the notorious Cecil B. DeMille. Cicil B. DeMille has made many films that have been criticized for the racial representations of his characters, notably in Unconquered where Native Americans were represented as rapists and murderers. Thirty minutes into the Cheat the Asian male character Hishituru Tori, played by Sessue Hayakawa, Edith Hardy attempts to Tori back when he denies the payment and instead makes an advance on her and brands her as his property. Coupled with the racial representations at work in this scene involving an aggressive “other” is a melodramatic representation of a female who states she will commit suicide if claimed by Haka and yet when given a gun, does not enact the action followed by her objectification as a possession.
Legacy Russell’s article “Digital Dualism And The Glitch Feminism Manifesto” discusses another aspect of glitch that relates to our project. “The glitch is the digital orgasm, where the machine takes a sign, a shudder, and with a jerk, spasms” Russell writes. Unlike the preconceived notion that glitch is an error, Russell argues otherwise explaining that glitch not an error but rather a happy accident, a catalyst for new opportunities. He explains that when any digital glitch takes place, whether that be a video pausing to buffer, while an accident, serves as a sort of sexual foreplay momentarily pausing the pleasure but igniting and almost stylizing the prolonged process to orgasm. Russell gets metaphysical, subtly jabbing at the notion of AFK, the conception that there are two selves that are isolated from one another. Digital dualism’s IRL, which her work coincides with, is the notion that we are one self but that self is made up of two sides that loop together in a continuation of one another. Russell argues that the glitch is split between the two and “jars us into recognition of the separation of our physical selves from the body that immerses itself in fantasy when participating in sexual activity online”. It is this process that glitch catalyzes and that artists can take advantage of in order to make the process of seeing a glitched work transcend more than just an aesthetic, even if for just a brief moment of time. “To acknowledge that when the mediation of digital space fails us, albeit briefly, we continue right where we left off, taking the revolution offline, but not out of body, thereby demonstrating the fallacy of the digital dualist dialectic.” The concept that the digital could and does have implications on the physical coincides well with our project and my implication that glitch can and has been used as a form of digital activism, inspiring people to look, act and see things in their world differently. If an art work can ignite a thought in someone it can ignite them to take action, motivate them to see and respond to the world in ever changing way. To some people that “changing way” could be a small moment of little importance to another it can be a dramatic moment of a considerable size, motivating them to take social and revolutionary action.
Russell then introduces the concept of Glitch Feminism and connects it to her concept of glitch that breaks from the hegemony of our system by dealing with the implications of patriarchy and marginalized female-identified bodies. This statement and its connection to Glitch Feminism is another statement by Russell that supports my claim that glitch can be used as a form of digital activism which is what our project aims to leave viewers with. We want to inspire them to see culture and media differently in an effort to instill a lack of trust with what is viewed illuminating subtle and blatant forms of racism in the past and present.
“Queer/Error: Gay Media Systems and Processes of Abjection” by Chad Parkhill, begins with the an in depth analysis of the implications when connecting such terms as “error” and “queer”. Parkhill explains that those terms and their connection to one another have existed throughout history, specifically with homophobic uses. Interestingly enough, queer theory actually, according to Parkhill, positions queerness as “something of an error” (210). With the help of David Halperin’s quote, Parkhill positions the adjective “queer” as a term that can be embodied in many things and relationships which include the heterosexual. He uses Halperin’s phrase as a basis which states, “[q]ueer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers” (211). Moreover, glitching and queerness share threads as they both refer to something at odds with the dominant, whether that be a dominant ideology or a dominant racial stereotype.
Parkhill continues his article by moving into discussions focused on community, culture and audience interpretation. He states, “Contra the Frankfurt School’s “hypodermic” model of ideology transmission, audiences do not unthinkingly consume texts. Their preexisting subjectivities contribute to the meaning they make from texts” (213). He explains from here that, whether conscious or subconscious, viewers pick up on certain products and advertising that adhere to certain identities. Which leads me to a conflict within a conflict. It is difficult to portray, whether through glitching or other artistic processes, ones social or political goal via certain forms of art. Unless explicitly stated, how am I too assume that one, especially due to subjective perceptions associated with their viewing, will see the underlying meaning in our glitch project. Obviously, I hope that one will view the looped video of a glitched aggressive Asian man in Silent Era Cinema and feel a discomfort, in turn, clearly displaying the wrongful representation of this racial group but this is not ensured. One can interpret is as just an aesthetically pleasing video glitch. Moreover, despite our intention to display the underlying racial representation in Hollywood cinema, to be sure that a viewer will see that and evidently interpret that is to be foolish. Everyone’s experience and viewing process is different and so will their coinciding interpretation. Hopefully, if the project is done with good taste and correctly, it will be more likely someone will understand the social critique at play. Whether or not there is a specific understanding of the art piece we hope to communicate a questioning of culture and media through this glitch. This glitch will not be an error but rather, as Halperin explains, a component at odds with the normal. This glitch is at odds with past racist representations in hopes of having people question dominant ideologies at work in the present.