Saturday, May 1, 2010

Response to Christie's response to my response to her question?

In regard to your screenshot without blurring out usernames- I’m not sure of the ethical concern at hand here. It’s undoubtedly safer and probably better to just black out the names. However, choosing a username already gives the commenter the option for an alias and consequently anonymity. If a commenter on a fan site elects to display their own name for the world to see, in a way they’re releasing their own privacy. Who knows what purpose someone might utilize information for on the internet? I’m not sure of the exact ethnomusicological protocol in this instance, but I suppose it could go either way ethically depending on how particular someone is.

I suppose consent isn’t so much an issue in the Miller article considering she asked for feedback from the GTA fans. However, sampling is definitely something to take into consideration here. On one hand, she’ll get the most enthusiastic and probably relevant responses from players who care enough to even know where to find these websites, let alone, take the time to follow them and post feedback. On the other hand, this is a very limited audience she’s drawing from in terms of involvement with the game. It being the internet, these subjects could potentially come from far and wide. However, it’s also important to take into consideration those who play GTA in the first place. For someone to have access to the game, he or she is likely of a certain socioeconomic class to be able to afford the system and game, and of a certain social group to hold an interest in participating.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Critical Review #10: Novak 2010

While this article did bring to light some valid and perhaps overlooked points about remediation and the growing popularity of Asian culture in America I don’t know how I felt about the writing style. It was very accessible and easy to read but something about it sounded oddly like a term paper rather than a form of ethnographic study. I suppose this just goes back to the old debate about what qualifies as an ethnography and if it’s possible to even define one in structured terms, but this article seemed like a bit of a stretch.

I did, however find the point about remediation to be very relevant and interesting. In class we’ve been discussing forms of media as pertaining to their reliability and legitimacy as forms of ethnography. This article further discusses the advantages and drawbacks to recreating and evolving a form of entertainment through a new lens. Different forms of media have struck up debates in many genres over the benefits of using one type of form over another, as well as how performances can translate through one medium to the next. This discussion is becoming increasingly prevalent and relevant to many fields of study. In one of my other classes we were recently discussing this as well. While a trend of making movies out of musicals and live performances has been evolving for a while now, a newer form of remediation that’s been occurring is incorporating elements of film or redevising videos into live productions.

One criticism I have on Novak’s thoughts about remediation is it seems kind of obvious and straightforward. Clearly something is going to be rediscovered and transformed through a new element of media. It also seems somewhat obvious that this isn’t always a bad thing, and that the art form is becoming something entirely new rather than just losing elements of the original. Also, whenever a performance is recreated, even if it isn’t being remediated, such as in a revival of a show, it’s generally re-envisioned and changed in numerous ways.

I found the part of this article discussing the Heavenly Ten Stems performances and protest to be especially interesting. From the description of the group it is made out to be incredibly offensive, yet it’s confusing to a get a grasp on the intention of the performers. Kearney insists that the intentions were harmless and simply out of appreciation for the art form, yet they seem to have missed their mark by a lot- One of their questionable decisions being to wear gold face paint. What deems an action to be offensive towards someone? If the intention behind the act is malicious, or is that irrelevant?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Critical Review #9: Titon 1992

I hadn’t really previously considered the personal spins and biases documentary films can perpetuate. It’s true that effects and editing greatly affect one’s perception of what’s going on, even just in terms of quality or legitimacy. This doesn’t completely relate, but I remember when doing video projects in high school how differently the message and impact of a final edited video is than just one that films the action as a whole without any effects. Close-ups and narration really do imply that certain parts of a scene are more important by directing the attention to what the director feels should be emphasized. One can also really distort the truth/reality by cutting scenes and taking pieces out of context in order to frame a desired message.

Titon comments that people tire of talking heads, such as when someone is telling a long story. Is it better to try and keep the audience’s interest and investment or to preserve the purity of watching the person tell the story from beginning to end?

I’m also not sure I entirely understand everything Titon is trying to get across. I was getting a little confused trying to understand what he meant by convention and the best experiences to have. The terms of convention and realism and representation seemed to have very specific meanings and I was having a hard time distinguishing the meaning intended by them.

“In the presence of the camera, professional actors are trained to be natural, whereas non-actors often act.” This sentence really caught my attention. It put a lot of the things I’ve come to realize about both life and performance into words in a very coherent and explicative manner.

One thing that bothered me about the article was how Titon refers to Powerhouse of God, his film, as though the reader has seen it and knows exactly what he’s talking about. Of course the context isn’t imperative to understanding his points, and he does explain most of what’s important, but I still felt while reading that it was implied that I should share this base of knowledge of the film.

When presenting a rhetorical documentary on humans, does it have to feel racist or colonialist? Isn’t there a way to discuss an outside society being observed without it feeling condescending? I feel like I’ve seen documentaries as such on television or in class that aren’t but I’m finding myself unable to recall now. So much of media today has shifted toward some form of “reality” television, whether this reality is actually constructed or not, that learning about or watching other humans without a structured narrative seems to be pretty normal and less condescending.

Also, regarding authority, if professors and so-called experts aren’t presented in their offices in a suit, “donning the mantle of academic authority,” how should they be portrayed in order for viewers to still take them seriously? And when trying to assert a point, shouldn’t a narrator speak with a voice of authority? I suppose it depends on what the goal is. If the goal is simply to present information and then to allow the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions, diminishing one’s authority then makes sense. However, if the objective is to try and convince the viewer to accept the perspective of the narrator, then it’s foolish not to try and assume the most authority they can to try and seem credible.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Challenge Question Collegial Feedback to Christie

Christie makes a good point about Rodney’s candor with Wong and willingness to be so honest regarding his personal taste and history. It’s true that he did possess a level of comfort with Wong so as to facilitate a candidness and openness in his discussion with her that he might not have possessed with someone else. At the same time, he was aware of Wong’s purpose in interviewing him, so that might also have affected his answers if there was any information he was hesitant to disclose to someone outside his close circle of friends. However I probably mostly agree with Christie that Wong was able to draw more out or Rodney than someone else might have been able to. Even just personal side notes and jests of conversation might lead to a point that might otherwise remain unexplored.

Regarding my personal experience in writing this ethnography, I would say that I similarly have had more ease in accessing my group, Badmaash, because of knowing a few people in the group. I was surprised at the warm reception I received from the many members I didn’t know at all previous to my introduction to the group by the co-chair that I do know. Had I no affiliation I wonder if I would have been met with the same response, or if my friendship with this chair as well as a few others in the group put me in a different category and consequently less threatening. While this camaraderie with some of the group members certainly has given me access to more information, it at the same time has made me more wary of the details I remark upon and disclose to the public within my work. I have no negative reflections upon or feelings towards the group, it’s just tricky sometimes to know how certain observations or comment might be received. I would in no way want to offend anyone, whether I knew them or not, but am probably more concerned about the consequence of this with friends whom I care about and plan to continue to have relationships with.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Critical Review #8: Neustadt 2002

Right from the start I find this article fairly easy to follow. It takes an accessible approach of comparing two specific examples of music deemed to be Cuban. While this is more or less a specific case study used to represent the disparity between social perceptions, it provides concrete evidence to the reader in order to illustrate what actually was and what the US contrived Cuban music to be. I find this interesting also because it’s a somewhat scientific approach to this subjective field of music. It accounts for many factors including time and allows us to focus on the specific distinctions between these two albums.

The Buena Vista Social Club was comprised of old musicians; many of which no longer played music prior to the recording. The music was simple and focused on themes of love, Cuban countryside, spirituality, work, and other such topics. Neustadt comments on the effect of these musical choices: “The miraculous return of these elderly soneros playing acoustic music from the ‘good old days’ on the world stage, however, lends this album a pervasive nostalgia when contemplated from outside Cuba.”

I think this idea of forging nostalgia from the outside is so interesting. I have recently discussed this topic with friends that have very strong feelings regarding the idea of nostalgia. They quite adamantly dislike it and feel it fosters this foggy, nonspecific feeling of remembrance that people get stuck in. While I’m not sure of my opinions, the Buena Vista Social Club then furthers this notion of unproductive, muddled emotions that in this case may be more or less misdirected.

The music of Tremendo delirio, on the other hand, contained more complex rhythms that blended more traditional Afrocuban rhythms along with more modern styles of hip-hop and rap. La Charanga Habanera’s music also communicated through the voices of younger, more current musicians and critiqued social and political issues on island. Thus the actual popular Cuban music within its country seems to have been more sophisticated music than it’s given credit for.

I’m not sure I agree with the metaphor of the language of music as compared to musical identity. It appears to me a more apt metaphor would be one hearing a language they don’t know or aren’t familiar with, and then stereotype that language by what they think it sounds like. If an English speaker tried to speak Spanish back to a native speaker of this dialect, even though the English speaker would be communicating their perception of the language, that doesn’t make it Spanish words. So though Neustadt is trying to argue otherwise, it does appear to me that the popular music within Cuba at the time should more accurately be considered Cuban music.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Critical Review #7: Moore 2002 and Manuel 2006

I find it interesting the wide range of varying formats of ethnographies. Moore's starts out explaining the structure of the essay to come, almost an abstract of sort in the introduction. Many of the studies we’ve been reading don’t do this as much and just dive into the material, or maybe start out outlining a personal experience or graphic memory. I find it useful to read essays discussing similar material in different ways such as this as it allows for the reader to use different mental perspectives when approaching the material, in addition to the contrasting messages from the content of the article. Something I also find interesting and am still deciding if it is useful or not is more or less the disclaimer that Moore puts out within the first page. He addresses the sources used and their reliability, rather than only listing them in his bibliography (as he does anyway). This does give the reader more power in terms of critical thinking and his or her responsibility in evaluating the accuracy of the material presented. However, is this the responsibility of the author? Certainly to some degree, but by reminding the reader of these margins of error (which are somewhat implied to be a part of any ethnography) does it also undermine the point the author is trying to make and diminish the strength of their argument? I wonder what the ideal balance is between trying to present a case and make one’s point confidently and relaying the degree of accuracy of one’s research. Because even if the government sources and accounts of the interviewees are biased, doesn’t this in part become part of the truth of what is going on in society? Where does the line of what the truth actually is blur between what people say they feel (for whatever reason) and what they really feel?

I also find it really interesting that some of the best music, or at least popular, well-known music, has come from countries that are culturally oppressed in some way. Such as in Cuba where freedom of speech is limited and the arts are politically controlled, and similarly in the communist Soviet Union back in the days of Prokofiev where a lot of propaganda was commissioned by Stalin. Dictators like him commissioned works that are now considered to be valued for their quality or at the very least are famous/popular. Is it just that the artists find a way to trick the government and find clever ways of expressing their true political feelings within their music? Or is music simply just able to thrive under these conditions for whatever reasons? I suppose since the music was still funded and supported it allows for censored creativity to still be produced successfully.

I wonder for new successful performers in Cuba what comes first sometimes- the chicken or the egg. Whether successful/popular/talented composers gain popularity and then gradually learn to aim their music towards socialist accepted viewpoints, or whether those that are most blatantly and enthusiastically in support of the government are selected and supported by them. Basically, how much does talent factor into the success of Cuban artists? Clearly they have to create enjoyable music to some extent for the consumers to want to listen, but how often are genuinely innovative and perhaps more talented composers overlooked or removed because of their ideology? Do they still find other outlets for their music that are more low profile? Is this not feasible/worth the risk?

Challenge Question Response

The use of the internet in ethnographic studies is a very tricky concept to consider. It seems almost unavoidable and perhaps foolish at this time in society to neglect it as a factor in most music being examined. Unless one is studying a society in which no one has access to the internet, it is going to be a factor that affects the music of any culture, let alone just web based communities. The internet makes it so easy for people to exchange ideas and access information. The information learned may not be accurate or useful, but it is wise to examine what knowledge people are consuming.

In terms of Miller's 2007 article regarding the video game Grand Theft Auto, she used the internet in a number of ways that were beneficial to the study. It was probably useful for her to be able to utilize a wider range of responses and reactions than she has access to in person. However, for posts of uses of fan sites online, one can't further investigate the background of these interviewees and thus don't know their specific cultural context and influences on why they feel that way. One also can't check the accuracy of claims. You dont' know that the people will be who they say they are even if they provide information as to who they are or where they're from. One also doesn't know if people are serious or being honest in their claims. I suppose you never know if people are being honest when they're interviewed or taking surveys, but if they've consented to the study they're probably taking it somewhat seriously and not treating their responses as jokes. On the other hand, because these responses are often anonymous, their feelings and comments might in fact be more upfront and honest rather than when they think their answers might be evaluated or judged.

Another large issue at hand is consent. This is a very important aspect of the ethics of ethnomusicology, as noted in Titon (2002) as well as some other articles. People interviewed at the very least should sign consent forms and have the ability to request a pseudonym or for their identity to remain hidden. This is a tricky line to tread when utilizing testimonies found on the web. On one hand, these thoughts are already published in a public forum and thus would imply their consent for people to read them. On the other hand, the commentary is intended for a very specific purpose and forum where the audience is probably expected to be fairly limited. One probably wouldn't expect his or her thoughts about Grand Theft Auto to be utilized for an ethnographic study. However, no ethnographic method of research is without its flaws and drawbacks. Because computers are so customary nowadays and the internet is such a central way that music is perpetuated, it would be foolish not to use it as a research method. Perhaps some general guidelines and suggestions for use should be established, but I'd say the web communities and ethnographies will become more and more of a necessity and relevant endeavor in both academia and the world beyond.