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kottke.org posts about Amanda Hess

Reaction GIFs and digital blackface

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2017

In the latest installment of the newish video series Internetting with Amanda Hess, Hess discusses The White Internet’s Love Affair with Digital Blackface. From Teen Vogue, an explanation of digital blackface by Lauren Michelle Jackson:

Adore or despise them, GIFs are integral to the social experience of the Internet. Thanks to a range of buttons, apps, and keyboards, saying “it me” without words is easier than ever. But even a casual observer of GIFing would notice that, as with much of online culture, black people appear at the center of it all. Or images of black people, at least. The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Oprah, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, NBA players, Tiffany Pollard, Kid Fury, and many, many other known and anonymous black likenesses dominate day-to-day feeds, even outside online black communities. Similar to the idea that “Black Vine is simply Vine,” as Jeff Ihaza determined in The Awl, black reaction GIFs have become so widespread that they’ve practically become synonymous with just reaction GIFs.

If you’ve never heard of the term before, “digital blackface” is used to describe various types of minstrel performance that become available in cyberspace. Blackface minstrelsy is a theatrical tradition dating back to the early 19th century, in which performers “blacken” themselves up with costume and behaviors to act as black caricatures. The performances put society’s most racist sensibilities on display and in turn fed them back to audiences to intensify these feelings and disperse them across culture. Many of our most beloved entertainment genres owe at least part of themselves to the minstrel stage, including vaudeville, film, and cartoons. While often associated with Jim Crow-era racism, the tenets of minstrel performance remain alive today in television, movies, music and, in its most advanced iteration, on the Internet.

Video on social media: the return of the silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

At the first movie studio in the US, Thomas Edison filmed cat videos, which are also popular on social media now.

In the NY Times, Amanda Hess writes about the parallels between the type of video that works well on social media these days and silent films from the first part of the last century.

All of that has given rise to a particular kind of video spectacle on social media, one that is able to convey its charms without dialogue, narrative or much additional context. To entertain soundlessly, viral video makers are reanimating some of the same techniques that ruled silent film over 100 years ago. “For coincidental reasons as much as knowing reasons, we’ve seen a rebirth of a very image-forward mode of communication,” said James Leo Cahill, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. Among its hallmarks: a focus on spectacle, shocking images and tricks; the capture of unexpected moments in instantly recognizable scenarios; an interplay between text and image; and a spotlight on baby and animal stars.

The very first short-form cinematic experiments — silent clips that arose even before film evolved into a feature-length narrative form in the early 20th century — have become known as what film scholar Tom Gunning calls the “cinema of attraction,” films that worked by achieving a kind of sensual or physiological effect instead of telling a story.

Created by early filmmakers like the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and the American inventor Thomas Edison, these early movies took cues from the circus and the vaudeville circuit, featuring performers from that world, and were then played at vaudeville shows. Taken together, they formed what Gunning has called an “illogical succession of performances.”

Social media has created a new kind of variety show, where short, unrelated videos cascade down our feeds one after another. If early films were short by necessity — the earliest reels allowed for just seconds of film - modern videos are pared down to suit our attention spans and data plans.

First online handles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2011

From Good, an article by Amanda Hess on The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle.

So how did I choose to define myself in this new world? I booted up my parents’ modem and launched head-first into online forums with an alias inspired by my cat’s name. Later, I spent hours negotiating with AOL’s log-in field, testing out various combinations of Nine Inch Nails lyrics until I found one that hadn’t already been snagged by an equally tortured soul (I was later forced to explain to a college admissions counselor why my e-mail address was ImDrowningIn@aol.com).

My first handle was “derbis”, which is how I thought “debris” was spelled until far later in my schooling than one might expect of a native English speaker. It actually started as a self-imposed nickname IRL…these guys I knew in college DJ’d parties and they all had their DJ names and not wanting to be left out, I picked one for myself. To date, I still have not DJ’d a single event, but the first thing I ever designed was a flyer for a friend’s rave party; I signed it “cybergraphics by derbis” (all lowercase, naturally). It had a lot of fractals on it.

And if you thought that wasn’t sufficiently embarrassing, my AIM name is still “damptrousers”. IIRC, Greg remarked that the phrase “damp pants” was hilarious right around the time I signed up for AIM but “damppants” was taken (?!!) so yeah. (via ★natalie)