Tag Archives: humor


My Digital Storytelling class is covering copyright this week, and while my classmates have definitely offered some articulate and cogent points on the topic in their blog posts, I’m deeply discouraged by the apparent emotional effect of reading a couple hours of information on copyright. The prevalent emotions that people describe after this week’s reading are fear, discouragement, and sadness.

networkmadashell1I’d like to offer an alternative: Rage. Anger and indignation. I know, we’re supposed to be educators, academics. Dispassionate. Objective. We’re supposed to keep our heads low, to save our politics and our opinions for obscure monographs that nobody reads. Educators may be “liberal” or “progressive,” but certainly not radical. We’re the theory folks– leave the praxis to someone else.

I think it’s time we all channel our inner Howard Beale and say:

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; educators are having to make due with even less, and at the same time we’re told that digital instruction is the future. We’re expected to be high-tech and given little institutional support and no legal guidance.

We know this is an untenable situation. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we have had another 20,000 copyright suits and 30,000 more on the way— as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy.

It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my Youtube mashups and let me use a copyrighted picture in my PowerPoints now and again, and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.

Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and No Child Left Behind and the state budget cuts and the infringements on our right to Fair Use.

All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.

You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value! I have a right to free expression!

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”

Teaching, researching, and scholarship are all spelled out in our copyright law as protected activities that entitle one to protection under fair use. We shouldn’t let ourselves be cowered.

And while that passage was written before there was a need to take into account issues like digital pedagogy, I’d argue that it provides for “multiple copies for classroom use” provides a spirit-of-the-law coverage. And don’t even get me started on Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, and its implications for the current state of copyright.

But the fact is, copyright law in America is broken, it grows more and more restrictive, and monied corporate copyright holders have the means to bury individuals, even when those individuals work within the letter of the law with regard to copyright.

And in reaction to this, as we saw in Bound by Law?, documentarians– even those who operate in accordance with fair use laws– are forced to take an array of CYA measures, including paying for clearances that shouldn’t be necessary, editing out key scenes that they can’t afford to clear, and paying exorbitantly for Errors and Omissions Insurance.

So where does that leave us as academics, educators, and students? If we need to be developing these digital skills, to be come digital storytellers ourselves… and if the internet allows us to engage students in a truly multimedia way that is deeply compelling– it’s no wonder that we look at the hoops that filmmakers jump through with fear. ‘Cause teachers have even fewer financial and other resources than even low-budget filmmakers. But we can’t let that push us away from the inevitable direction of education, and we can’t just keep everything we do behind the walled garden of BlackBoard. At least I couldn’t. Not in good conscience.

Instead, we have to take the opposite approach. We have to assert, and assert loudly, that just because we use digital technology doesn’t change the fact that we are academics, teachers, and students. This may mean coming into conflict, at times, with administrators and University Copyright Offices. It may mean getting a few takedown notices and cease and desist letters… That just means you’re doing something right, if it lands in the hands of higher-ups and people outside the school.

Thinking about it, I realized that the provisions protected by fair use and free speech– teaching, research, scholarship, criticism, and parody– that represents something like 99% of everything I do, when it comes to re-purposing other people’s copyrighted material. That could change some day, and I am fine with that, but until it does, I’m just going to go ahead under the assumption that if I’m doing it, then it’s fair use. I refuse to distract myself from the more important issues of scholarship, social and political commentary, communication with students, etc. by the thought of the possibility of copyright lawyers swooping in like Dementors and hitting me with a lawsuit.

So I leave you with a little image I created. Yeah, it’s got a couple copyrighted figures in it, from some big companies: McDonalds, Disney, Warner Brothers, and Windows. But I just don’t care. It’s satire. And the purpose of this blog is academic. That’s protected. And plus– I’m doing it, it must be fair use.

My Fair Use Manifesto.

Cartography can be fun…

  • One of my favorite quotes about cartography, from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
  • Guildenstern: What a shambles! We’re just not getting anywhere.
    Rosencrantz: Not even England. I don’t believe in it anyway.
    Guildenstern: What?
    Rosencrantz: England.
    Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers,  you mean?

  • From Deputydog’s blog, a collection of AMAZING holes.

Alternative Citations?

Someone sent me this link a couple weeks ago.

To be completely honest, I didn’t even realize it was a joke until the second entry.

The first one seemed completely commonsensical– of course you need a technique to cite graffiti. What if you’re working on a paper about, say, the use of Situationist graffiti in Paris in 1968. Or even a paper on contemporary graffiti– these things often get political or personal, they’re interesting and colorful, you could probably apply some of the same theories of anonymity and role-playing that people like Lisa Nakamura apply to the Internet. There’s some good papers there.

Only when I got to the method for properly citing a magic 8-ball or alien mind transmissions did I realize it was a joke. To be honest, I still like the idea of a citation format for graffiti or tattoos. I think they’re both things that one could find insight in. Maybe it’s just me, though.

But that experience got me to wonder about citations, and the role they play in our lives as students and academics. How much do we allow the people at the University of Chicago Press dictate what is or is not a valid object of academic work?

This is one of the challenges faced by anyone who does scholarly work on the Internet. The Chicago Manual of Style just has one catch-all category of "electronic source." When I was in college, I remember how excited the reference librarian got when he showed me the library’s first book that dealt with online citations.

Without an agreed-upon method of citing a source, the source itself is cast in a sort of shadow. If there’s no consensus about how to cite it, you open yourself up to battles between readers or editors about how to structure your citations that could leave your work in limbo while they thrust and perry. Some people are willing to take that chance, and they’re slowly starting to develop a consensus about certain questions of online citation, and opening up new questions… Should a blog post and an online newspaper really be cited the same way?

But there’s something deeper than all that going on here– how much do standards of citation unconsciously affect our decisions about what is or is not a valid object of scholarly research? It’s a difficult question to answer. It seems reasonable to assume, however, that standardized citation techniques do lend a certain amount of authority to certain types of texts. Might their absence do the opposite?

I was trolling around the Internet, and I couldn’t find much of anything on the history of standardized citation. Having done research that involved reading history books and literary criticism from the 1920s and earlier, I knew that the cult of MLA, APA, and Chicago (not to mention that radical Turabian splinter group) wasn’t always the monolith in academe it is today. In fact, back then, there seems to have been NO discipline-wide standardized citation technique.

Not that I’m saying that was a better situation– reading those sources can be a nightmare. It’s citation anarchy. If I had a dime for every time I encountered someone saying, "As Smith wrote in his diary," without clarifying who Smith was, whether his diary had ever been published, and if it hadn’t, where it could be accessed… well, I wouldn’t be a rich man, but I’d probably be a might happier. I would never advocate going back to those days, even if there are certain drawbacks to standardized citation as we know it today.

One thing I found that was interesting to me, however, was that (according to those all-knowing sages at wikipedia) the first edition of the Chicago Manual of Style was published in 1906. This shocked me, because from my own personal observation, citation standardization didn’t really take off until the mid-century.

But then, I saw this: at the time, the title was  Manual of Style: Being a compilation of the typographical rules in
force at the University of Chicago Press, to which are appended
specimens of type in use
. Rather than being a conscriptive standard set for all academics within a a certain set of disciplines, it was actually a guide to how to format things for the U of Chicago Press.

APA style first appeared as six pages of guidelines in The Psychological Bulletin in 1929, and the first edition of the manual was printed  in 1953. Similarly, somewhat later, the MLA first distributed a style sheet in 1951, and didn’t publish a manual until 1977. Obviously, the fifties were a time when the issue of standardization of style took on a new importance. I’d love to hear someone explain why. Also, it’s interesting that in all three cases, it really is the style itself that differs. The sorts of texts considered are fairly uniform. Is this perhaps a relic of fifties conservatism and fear of sticking out?

This is all rambling, and doesn’t really go anywhere. But I’d love to find more information and theories about how and why standardized citation came about when it did, and about when they were making the first decisions about what made the style-manual cut and what didn’t.

It’s all rather interesting to me.

If anyone reads this and has any books or articles to suggest, PLEASE comment.

…taking a moment for humor…

From Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett (Little, Brown and
Company, Boston, 1991):

The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain any more so it eats it. It’s rather like getting tenure.

((This was something I ran across on-line, so I can’t vouch for its veracity.  I find it nevertheless highly amusing.))