Wisconsin – Antenna http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 “What is a Wisconsin Film?”: 2013 Wisconsin Film Festival http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/04/10/what-is-a-wisconsin-film-2013-wisconsin-film-festival/ Wed, 10 Apr 2013 14:00:19 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=19590 Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 10.02.23 PMWhat is a “Wisconsin” film? Such was the question facing me when I was offered a programming job in this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival. Now in its 15th year, the festival (running April 11th-18th) offers a wide range of cinematic offerings, from choice selections off the international film festival circuit to retrospectives full of little-seen gems from decades past. For lovers of locally-grown film, however, this yearly cinematic smorgasbord is perhaps most notable for its “Wisconsin’s Own” slate, showcasing an array of movies with state and regional connections. It was this section that I was charged with helping to program, and it was within this capacity that the aforementioned question first began to percolate in my brain.

The problems and possibilities of defining cinema geographically have long bedeviled scholars of national cinemas, and have become all the more complicated as the contemporary cinematic universe has become increasingly diasporic in nature. As it turns out, many of the questions germane to conceptualizing modern-day film’s regional character (or lack thereof) can be found in microcosmic form in this year’s festival line-up. For every film that comfortably fits into a traditional idea of a cinema defined by local landmarks and culture, there is another that escapes easy classification, pushing us to consider what it is we mean when we claim a film as “Wisconsin’s Own.”

Take perhaps the most basic of regional-cinema boundaries: geography. Certainly, several of this year’s offerings use local spaces and institutions to vivid effect. In Flog Therapy and University of Wisconsin-Madison: Zoological Research Collections, filmmakers (and UW-Madison students) Ayla Larson and Billy Johnson sketch the interiors of the Inferno Nightclub and the university’s zoological research labs, respectively, in playful and unexpected fashion. Towns like Lodi, Sauk Prairie, and Baraboo form the bucolic backdrop against which director Jonathon Quam tells a quietly devastating story of childhood abuse and fraternal bonds in Blood Brothers.

But what to do with a film like Delphine Lanson’s Father’s Birth, a heartfelt love letter to the complexity of modern families that splits its time evenly between Waukesha and Paris? Or The Librarian and the Banjo, in which director Jim Carrier hopscotches from Madison to New Jersey to Tennessee as he tells the story of Dena Epstein, a music librarian who wrote the definitive book placing the origins of the titular instrument in African and African American culture? Their ties to Wisconsin are essential, but their stories cannot be told without leaving the confines of the state.

And what of those films whose “locales” barely reside in the physical world at all? Using stop-motion techniques to animate Lego characters, Eric J. Nelson’s Siszilla pays gloriously low-fi homage to both the Toho classic and the glories of childhood play. On the other end of the tonal spectrum, Meghan Allynn Johnson’s The Howdy House presents a meeting at a restaurant (in St. Louis, natch) through stop-motion as well, though the results swerve between the beguilingly surreal and inexplicably unsettling.

StreetPulseWhat of works that explicitly enmesh themselves with the issues, mores, and culture of the state? Marc Kornblatt’s Street Pulse (pictured) refracts the experience of Madison’s homeless population through the stories of several individuals, most memorably a married couple whose large difference in age and experience do not deter them from forging a life together, on and off the street. The capitol’s annual summer solstice festival gets captured via a playful pastiche style in Meghan Monday and Brijetta Hall Waller’s Solstice. Such films take a powerful look at the state of Wisconsin today, offering insights and observations that only a ground-level view can provide. Yet might a “Wisconsin” film capture more intangible feelings, moods, thoughts—ones experienced in a given place and time but not bound to it exclusively? An audience in a university town like Madison will laugh knowingly (and perhaps sigh wistfully) at the gentle skewering of fratty men aging semi-gracefully in Mark Kerins’ Drunken Phone Calls, but so will anyone who knows the gentle ache of growing up and apart from one’s college pals. The haze of familial memory and emotion explored so sensitively by Kellie Bronikowski in Somewhere in Between has a reach that knows no geographic boundaries.

And let’s not even get started on the matter of defining a “Wisconsin film” by directorial biography. Nathan Punwar—the director of the dizzying, dazzling Loves of a Cyclops—spent almost his entire youth in Madison, but lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Joel Allen Schroeder grew up in Madison and attended UW-Madison for two years…before transferring to USC and residing in Los Angeles—his heartfelt documentary, Dear Mr. Watterson, explores the lasting legacy of the Calvin and Hobbes comic-strip. Are they any less “Wisconsin filmmakers” than, say, Steve Miosku, a UW-Milwuakee student whose Gears—a masterfully ambiguous tale of a father, daughter, and the mysterious forces threatening to separate them—was made entirely in the state with an all-Wisconsin crew? (Never mind that he grew up in New York City.)

The examples could go on and on, but the message is clear: in an age of ever-increasing mobility and cross-continental communication, filmmakers and films are rarely products of a single environment. Far from suggesting a dilution of regional identity in the face of hyper-connected postmodern culture, though, such imbrication of influence showcased in this year’s “Wisconsin’s Own” selections speaks to the exciting way in which films tied to a particular place nevertheless negotiate multiple influences in surprising and original ways. They suggest that Wisconsin identity itself is not a static bundle of characteristics, but a dynamic way-station where ideas and identities from various times and places overlap, intersect, and fuse together. It should come as no surprise, then, that such a locale would produce such a vivid, unpredictable, and invigorating selection of films.

Madisonians and others will be able to see these films for themselves starting tomorrow and continuing on through April 18th. Whether lifelong Wisconsinites, globe-hopping transplants, or somewhere in between, we can with pleasure claim these films as “our own”—an identification as multifaceted in theory as it is invigorating in practice.


Through the Lens: The Wisconsin Protests in Photos http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2011/02/21/through-the-lens-the-wisconsin-protests-in-photos/ Mon, 21 Feb 2011 14:47:28 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=8489 Over the course of the past week, I’ve been in and around the Capitol Square capturing as much of the story as possible with my camera – this is something I tend to do in most situations, but it felt particularly necessary here. For a few days, my photos went unshared thanks to a misplaced card reader, and it felt like some form of injustice – now, having found what had been lost, it’s been almost thrilling to share pictures from “on the ground” with those who may not be in Madison, or who may have seen only parts of the goings-on at the Capitol.

Admittedly, this is not quite a journalistic perspective: most of the pictures share my own experience, or the experience of those I know personally, rather than that of the thousands who have their own stories to tell. However, I feel as though the pictures were taken with an objective eye, offering a glimpse of the overall atmosphere more than any one particular point of view.

All photos were taken between Wednesday February 16th and Saturday February 19th in Madison, Wisconsin.

Inside the Rotunda: The Capitol

Writing Testimony
A graduate student prepares to give testimony to the Democratic representatives who continued the public hearings after Republicans chose to end the hearings after a single day. Testimony only stopped late Friday night, as Democrats went home to visit their ridings.
Protesters camped out in the Rotunda – this photo was taken at around 4:15am on Thursday, but people have been sleeping in the Capitol since Tuesday evening.
The bust of former Governor Robert M. La Follette Sr. is adorned with a common t-shirt during the protests, a more direct example of the building’s history and meaning being co-opted by the protesters to bolster their message.
Thousands gather on all three floors in the central Rotunda – later in the day, capacity on the bridges was limited out of fear for their structural integrity.
The capitol was filled with signs and stray personal items throughout the week – this jacket and sign were left in an alcove on the third floor.
What's Jesse Jackson's GamerTag?
The volunteer-run Information Station is part of a central infrastructure which has emerged this week – here, function mixes with comedy in an example of the high-spirited atmosphere in the Capitol.
Peace Room

A third floor conference room has become headquarters for the TAA (Teaching Assistants Association), which works around the clock on data entry, communication (through both traditional and social media), and general support.

Capitol Square: Marching in Madison

Sign Station
While filled with people later in the weekend, the West Entrance to the Capitol was an information hub and sign-making station on Thursday afternoon.
Marching in Solidarity
Although unaffected by most of Governor Walker’s efforts to curtail collective bargaining rights, local Firefighters have been a constant presence at the Capitol; here, their bagpipes lead a Saturday afternoon parade.
While many of the coverage of the event has focused on less flattering comparisons to Wisconsin’s governor, some offer a more aspirational role model.
Many of the meme-driven signs feel as though they are explicitly designed to try to make it into online galleries of meme-driven signs – this individual was clearly successful.
"Wash Me": Protest Style
Protests can tend to feel fairly ephemeral, but this “Wash Me” style graffiti offers a unique example of temporary expression.
Air Support
The “We” here refers to no one in particular, at least as far as the crowd was concerned – the lack of branding raises questions of who sponsored the banner (The pilot? The banner company? A local business? A local union? An out-of-state union?), but it also renders it a selfless show of support rather than a shameless bit of self-promotion, which has been common throughout the rallies.
Young protesters may not have a full grasp of the reasoning behind the rallies, but this young demonstrator’s correlation between Wonder Woman, government, truth and justice seems to indicate that their involvement is opening their eyes to the political system (and the real world allegorical value of superheroes).
Of the various pop culture-oriented sign trends, Star Wars seems to be the most prevalent – our own Jonathan Gray has written about the proliferation of pop culture-themed signs at the rallies, although only a few took it to the level of cosplay.
Finishing Touch
They remain the minority, but the signs comparing Walker to Mubarak or Hitler were present throughout the week – here, a protester adds a finishing touch to their Photoshopped dictator.
While Saturday’s rally began at 10am, thousands were still on the Capitol for a second rally as the sun began to set later in the afternoon.
Sign Bins
Signs on sticks were not allowed inside the Capitol, which meant that those waiting in line (as if at Disney World) could see evidence of those who went before them.

An Alternate Voice: The Counter-Protest

Tea Party
While the Tea Party rally was not expected to start until noon, a small contingent were on the Capitol when the main rally against the Budget Repair Bill began on the opposite side of the Capitol.
A Peaceful Debate
While most of the Walker supporters stayed on the East side of the Capitol, some mingled among their “enemies” in order to discuss the bill and its implications – heated words were exchanged, but not a single arrest was necessary to calm the crowd.
As the Tea Party rally began, hundreds of anti-bill demonstrators moved to the other side of the capitol to attempt to drown out the much smaller group of Walker supporters (which generous estimates placed at about 2500).
While the group was smaller, the Tea Partiers operated much the same: various different flags and slogans were common, while representatives from both genders and from many generations were present (albeit in much smaller numbers).
By the Time I Finish My Song
As the evening waned, the Tea Party rally became considerably smaller, having not scheduled another speaker-supported rally later in the day – based on this picture, their smaller size emboldened some of Walker’s critics to wade into the fray.

Eye on Wisconsin: The Media in Madison

Truth and Lies
As the media narrative was being formed earlier in the week, this particular pair took to the streets to try to take it back – they were seen with the same sign on Saturday.
Schultz Show
MSNBC’s Ed Schultz was the first major media figure to arrive in Wisconsin on Thursday, and was met with a fairly raucous crowd still finding the media’s presence novel – it would seem commonplace by the weekend.
ABC News
News crews were camped out around the Capitol, although finding a place to set up was challenging as the various rallies were still somewhat spontaneous. Here, ABC News deals with constant traffic and considerable noise, as well as concern for the safety of their lighting setup which led me to serve as a human sandbag for ten minutes.
Media Outreach
On Saturday, the media seemed more integrated with the protests, looking to capture the intimacy and atmosphere more than (perhaps) the scale of the proceedings.
"Wash Me": Current Events Style
Another example of graffiti, although this one seems well-intentioned (and was left, fittingly enough, on a CBS News truck parked off the Capitol).
This is...
There were a few curious onlookers later on Saturday as CNN prepared their report on the rally, but for the most part the media presence had become a non-event compared to the novelty of Ed Schultz’s presence on Thursday.
Wisconsin Eye
Wisconsin Eye, the state’s online streaming service for public proceedings, was given new function and purpose during the ongoing testimony. Sitting in the room, it was always unclear whether anyone was watching from home, but even at 4am the Representatives would acknowledge their potential presence.
Love Notes for a Refugee
While Senator Lena Taylor has received various notes of support online, through both Facebook and Twitter, her office door has also become a real-life guestbook where visitors to the Capitol demonstrate their appreciation without the use of a ‘Like’ Button.

[For more photos from the week’s protests, feel free to peruse my “Wisconsin Protests – 2011” set on Flickr]


“We are Wisconsin”: Building Collective Identity in the Wisconsin Protests http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2011/02/20/we-are-wisconsin-building-collective-identity-in-the-wisconsin-protests/ Sun, 20 Feb 2011 19:46:04 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=8494 They arrive on buses, in carpools, by bike, on foot. They hail from Neenah, Richland Center, Milwaukee, Rice Lake, Janesville, Delavan, Madison. They carry signs, push strollers, walk dogs, chant slogans, dance, sing, play instruments, and even do yoga in the rotunda of the Capitol. They are police officers, firefighters, nurses, snow plow drivers, teachers, construction workers, janitors, students, non-union members, Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Libertarians. They are Wisconsin.

In the past six days, as I have joined in the vibrant, energetic, and peaceful demonstrations of tens of thousands of people united against the Budget Repair Bill at the Wisconsin State Capitol, I have been struck by how those demonstrating against the bill have constituted a collective identity for themselves as Wisconsinites. Rhetorical scholars, building on the work of Michael Calvin McGee and Maurice Charland, recognize that collective identities are not a given, but constituted through discourse. While rhetorical scholars often examine how individual speakers or texts create identities for their audiences, it seems the collective identity being forged in the Wisconsin protests has not come from a centralized leader or group, but has been generated through diverse and diffuse signs, chants, videos, Facebook groups, Tweets, and other rhetorical acts.

Demonstrators invoke Wisconsin’s progressive history in creative and powerful ways. Signs and t-shirts remind others that Wisconsin led the way in labor laws and organizing, with slogans such as “Like the weekend? Thank Wisconsin.”  This widely-circulated clip from the Rachel Maddow show summarizes Wisconsin’s history of labor leadership, and also features images and video of some of these signs. Demonstrators in LaCrosse, Wisconsin held a candlelight vigil for “the Death of the Labor Movement” on Thursday night that connected Wisconsin’s labor history to the dire future of the labor movement if the bill passes.  Invoking this shared history provides demonstrators with a larger purpose for their actions, calling demonstrators to act to prevent, as one sign declared, “50 years of labor history [from being] undone in one week.”

In the East Gallery of the Capitol, a make-shift shrine has sprung up around the bust of Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, the Wisconsin Governor (1901-1906) and Senator (1906-1925) who ran for President in 1924 as the nominee of the Progressive Party, which was created as a vehicle for his nomination. Signs reading “What Would Bob Do?”, “The Spirit of Fighting Bob is Back,” and “Long Live La Follette” decorate the pedestal on which the bust sits. Invoking the spirit of “Fighting Bob” may have even more meaning for the protesters, since Governor Scott Walker broke the longstanding tradition of holding the inauguration ceremony in the East Gallery, and instead held his ceremony in the North Wing, where attendees had their backs to the legendary “Fighting Bob” bust. While Walker may have symbolically turned his back on the Wisconsin’s progressive history, the tens of thousands of protesters at the Capitol and throughout Wisconsin are using it to remind themselves that they are not only fighting for their own rights, but are also fighting to carry on the tradition of the generations of Wisconsinites who came before them.

Demonstrators also invoke a more recent event in Wisconsin history that brought them together two weeks ago around their televisions and brings them together again this week in front of the Capitol: the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl victory. Packers-themed signs permeate the demonstrations, declaring “Aaron Rogers is a Union Man,” “The Super Bowl was Won on Union Labor,” and “I Blame Favre.” Indeed, several current and former players for the only community-owned, non-profit professional sports team in the nation issued a statement opposing the bill and expressing solidarity with Wisconsin workers. Through the symbol of the Packers’ Super Bowl victory, demonstrators create an collective identity for themselves that not only draws them together around a common love for the Packers, but also forecasts a victory for unionized workers.

On her Facebook page on Friday, Sarah Palin offered an ominous warning, “As goes Wisconsin today, so goes the country tomorrow.” In response, tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents who oppose the Budget Repair Bill are declaring: we are Wisconsin. No matter what happens with the outcome of the Budget Repair Bill, there is a united movement of Wisconsin residents and their supporters nationwide forming around the the progressive values that have propelled the State of Wisconsin “Forward” since its founding in 1848.


Protests in Wisconsin http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2011/02/18/protests-in-wisconsin/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2011/02/18/protests-in-wisconsin/#comments Fri, 18 Feb 2011 15:56:53 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=8443

As you may’ve heard, something is going on in the state of Wisconsin. Needless to say, it’s wrapped up a lot of our time here at Antenna. Governor Scott Walker has proposed his Budget Repair Bill, which would effectively eliminate collective bargaining for public workers in the state (limiting unions to negotiating wages, and even then tying them to the Consumer Price Index unless a statewide referendum ordered otherwise), would increase the percentage of healthcare costs that state employees need to pay, and would similarly increase the amount that state workers need to pay towards their pension plan.

Wisconsin was the first state to extend collective bargaining rights to all public employees, back in 1959. And now Walker has proposed his bill, and attempted to rush it without any discussion, in a move that would make Wisconsin not the forerunner of union rights, as it once was, but the forerunner in union-busting. Indeed, I winced with pain when I read an LA Times article that discussed other states’ consideration of such “Wisconsin-style” measures, depressed to see the state has already become a descriptor of union-busting.

Most closely to home, this affects your beloved Antenna editors dearly. The TAA (Teaching Assistants’ Association), and with it, our TAs, stand to lose a great deal. The Department of Communication Arts runs on the philosophy that we should take only those graduate students whom we can fund. While sometimes that funding takes the form of fellowships, lectureships, and/or PAships, more commonly it takes the form of TAships. The bill would increase our TAs’ healthcare costs, but more drastically would kill their union, or render it impotent, unable to collect union dues by mandate and left solely to argue for marginal differences in salary. Of particular concern is tuition remission, a benefit which the TAA would of course no longer be able to fight for. At stake is also simple stability – the TA’s contract with the state could be negotiated anew each year. While there are possibilities that some of these state measures could be counter-balanced through university decisions and policies, nothing is clear as of yet.

Some have pointed out that our TAs already get a much better deal than do many across the nation. Indeed, we’re proud to be able to offer all that we do. Which is why the thought of giving it up is vexing. Why shouldn’t we be ahead and offering more, rather than just one in the mix? “The mix” and the national norm is deeply exploitative of graduate labor, shamefully underpaying those who increasingly are doing the lion’s share of undergraduate education. If graduate students traditionally gave their blood and sweat as downpayment on a good job down the line, as the nature of the academic market vastly reduces the number of those good jobs, universities’ undervaluing of TA labor becomes all the more egregious and completely unjustifiable. The norm is a shambles, in other words, not something to aspire to, nor even something to resign oneself to.

Also close to home, the faculty will be affected, facing increases in pension and healthcare costs. And many of the other members of the university community, such as support staff, will be deeply affected, especially since few of them make professor-level wages.

More broadly, though, at stake is the fate of unions in this state. Beyond the pension increases, and healthcare increases (none of which I like) is the larger issue of 180,000 workers across the state whose union rights may be thrown out the window, and with them the belief in the need for negotiation with labor. If the Republican decision to change the name of the federal Committee on Education and Labor to the Education and the Workforce Committee wasn’t a telling enough indicator of things to come, we’re seeing a sea change in how workers are regarded and what rights they are – or here, are not – accorded.

As a result, since Monday, thousands have been taking to the streets in Madison (and elsewhere in the state). Monday began with a focused protest about UW specifically, with protesters delivering valentines to the distinctly unlovable Scott Walker and talking about the effects to the university. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday saw progressively more protesters both surround and fill the capitol building in Madison, and today promises more of the same. Teachers have called in sick, resulting in schools closing, and infusing the protester ranks with a large number of teachers and students. Thursday saw a university teach out, as will today. Even the firefighters and police unions – who have been exempt from the bill (a nice reward for their endorsement of Walker in the recent elections) – have turned out in force. Despite the best efforts of Fox News to paint the protests as “union hate rallies,” they have been almost entirely peaceful, filled with upset people, for sure, but not “angry” mobs. And yesterday, to add to the intrigue, the state’s Democratic senators first left the Capitol to deny the Republicans the quorum they needed to vote on the bill, and then left the state to avoid being hauled back by the Sergeant at Arms, whose jurisdiction does not extend to hotels in Rockford, IL.

Needless to say, this is weighing heavily on all of our minds. It’s hard to think about much else. We hope to offer various perspectives and reports from the protests here in the coming hours and days, and I offer this post simply as a placeholder till those other posts arrive.


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