Feminist. Media. Criticism. Is. (Part 1)

December 10, 2012
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Feminist Media CriticismEarlier this year I was invited to participate in the opening plenary session for the twentieth-anniversary Console-ing Passions conference.  In the weeks leading up to the conference, I struggled to write up some thoughts about the past, present, and future of feminist media criticism, the plenary topic.  I was at a loss on how to comment efficiently and eloquently on this long and productive history in the few minutes allotted me, not to mention how to inspire and energize the conference attendees so that we might carry this work forward in productive new ways.

But eventually I reconnected with my muse, and the words flowed. I hope what follows below and in tomorrow’s post helps readers to understand better why folks like me do what we do.  If you’re a student working on research papers right now, I hope this inspires you to foreground the larger political stakes of your scholarship and thereby to connect your projects to the longer history of critical media studies.  Thanks to the Antenna staff for their enthusiasm and for providing another opportunity to share the spirit.


For Console-ing Passions, on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.

I’ve changed the direction of my plenary talk a bit from when I first started writing it, but I think you’ll like this version better.

I was going to talk about some of the major transformations in feminist media criticism over the past two decades that Console-ing Passions has been in existence, including:

1) changes in feminist politics, especially the rise of third wave and third world feminisms; 2) transformations in feminist epistemology as a result of the development and diffusion of poststructuralist theory, postcolonialist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and theories of postfeminism; 3) the emergence and growth of new areas of feminist media research, including fan studies, Internet studies, industry studies, game studies, and girls’ studies; 4) the expansion of publishing venues for our scholarship, not only via the Feminist Media Studies journal, but also various online ventures, like Antenna; and 5) the broad growth of feminist media criticism outside the academy, especially as a result of the zine revolution in the 1990s and the blogging revolution of the past decade.

I was also going to talk about three of the challenges facing our field that I think deserve much more attention, particularly: 1) the privileging of a presentist perspective and myopic focus on contemporary media, combined with the devaluation of historical research; 2) the decreased attention to independent media, despite the so-called rise of participatory culture and an increase in production studies; and 3) (which is related to the other two) the de-radicalization of media studies with the rise of various subfields seemingly resistant to analyses of power.

And I was going to wrap up all that with a plea to all of you to pay more attention to the totally out of whack gender imbalance in college training programs for film and TV production, which I see as one of the highest priorities for feminist media scholars and activists today.

But, I changed my mind.  As I was writing all that, I thought: “Wow, this seems pretty boring to me, and most of this is already probably evident to the folks participating in a Console-ing Passions conference.”  So, I asked myself: “What do I really want people at this conference to take away from my talk?  What would I like to hear?  How might I be more inspiring?  After all, when the hell will I be asked to do this again?  Shouldn’t I seize this as an opportunity to be provocative?”

And the bad-ass, scabby-kneed, chukka-boot-wearing, kick-ball-loving little Mary Celeste deep inside me—the one that is about 7 and fearless, because she doesn’t give a shit what people say about her—that little girl-me raised her fist and shouted loudly, “YES! YES! YES!”

So, shortly after this, I got a migraine (probably from working on this plenary talk and my panel paper at the same time – not advised).  But in the midst of skull-crushing pain, I still heard the younger me.  I heard her loud and clear.  She wouldn’t shut up.

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  I want to be inspirational.  I want to put my money where my mouth is.  I want to present myself as an activist and not just an academic.  I want to channel all the fierce and fiery women who have motivated me to be a feminist and a feminist media scholar.  I want to pay homage to all their blood, sweat, and tears.  I want to acknowledge them and their work, and I want to pay it forward.  I want you to feel energized.  I want to do what I can in the few minutes I have up here to help keep this thing—feminist media studies—going for as long as it’s needed.  I want to be the feminist media scholar I want to see in the world.

So, I turned up the volume on my headphones (after the migraine had passed, of course), and I let the percussive beats, driving rhythms, and fist-thrusting lyrics of Wild Flag, Bikini Kill, L7, the Gossip, and Patti Smith wash over me.  In other words, I tapped into the vein of feminist media production that most inspires me—women’s punk—and, on fire and dancing in my seat, I came up with this: A manifesta for feminist media scholars.  Props to Kathleen Hanna and riot grrrls everywhere.

Click here for part 2: my manifesta for feminist media criticism.

(Image credit: Kara Passey, 2012)


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