youth sounds

a view from their first year:


for whom/in what ways does it matter that youth media production is a spreading phenomenon?

should we be seeking ways to increase the awareness of youth produced media? to disseminate it more widely? what are the consequences of doing so? what are the consquences if we do not?


storying his/herstories

this is the headline i saw when i logged onto cnn.com this morning: "Civil Rights Icon Rosa Parks dies at 92"

it's been almost 50 years to the day since her rise to historic fame as one of the public faces of the civil rights movement. as we approach the anniversary of ms. parks' instance of holding her ground on a public bus, i'm moved to ask what has happened to the movement? before giving in to my cynical side, i turn to youth and the rich storying that young people are engaging across a variety of modalities.

among these multimodal texts is this one: the children of birmingham

in this piece of animated storytelling, produced and created by youth iving in baltimore, a young woman's voice talks about the historical relevance of birmingham, al, and specifically about the role that children and youth played in the protests against segregation. the participants in this project were 10-14 years old and created this text as part of a summer program called kids on the hill.

consider their text within the broader narrative of civil rights in this country, and ask who has been telling the stories? their images, animation, story, and voice - complete with an occasional chorus of "we shall overcome" sung by the narrator - adds a new and intergenerational layers to the interview segments available in the online resource gallery of the birmingham civil rights institute.

bringing together reflections of the past with present interpretations makes possible a path to different futures. at least that's what young people who are busy making movies, telling tales, and demanding their voices be heard would have us believe. the promise of youth media to me lies in both the medium and the message. and the legacy of ms. parks is not dead.


adult producers of adolescent texts

i've been thinking more and more about who produces the images of youth that we see on television, on videos, in the newspaper, in literary texts, and in the movies (and elsewhere) and am more confused than before. confused by the motivation for some of the portrayals that are circulating, in particular. in the tv and youth course that i'm teaching this semester, someone made the following comment in response to the point that youth ought to be more engaged in how they are represented: "who would want to do that?" this person was referring to the related point that simple characters and flattened representations are what sell to the public at large.

following this discussion, i recalled the show "you can't do that on television" that aired in the early 80s on nickelodeon. i am struck by the memories of adolescent sketch comedy, green slime, and forgetful dialogue. yet i was hooked on this show, as i was to reading and re-reading nancy drew novels, the stack of enid blyton books given to me by my older cousin who grew up in london, and listening to old lp records (including elvis and audio recordings of the "six million dollar man") on my record player. as i recall this pastiche of not-very-critical texts that made up much of my childhood and adolescence, i wonder how i arrived here; that is, a stance of ongoing, critical inquiry.

while writing a paper for a course in grad school, i took to heart what bell hooks (1994) wrote about her relationship with critical thought and theory and noted that while the texts i consumed remained fairly uncritical, the texts i produced - namely, my journals, poetry, and the enacted performance of being - made attempts at raising questions, challenging existing cultural scripts and performing different identities. but what if i had met june jordan's words as a teenager? or written back to the musings of adrienne rich? would i have come into a critical consciousness earlier? and if so, what would have been different?

when i hear some adults talk about youth today i wonder if we expect too little of youth as we assume that they need to be taught how to be critical? that is, what if assumed that youth are developing a critical consciousness in various aspects of their lives? would we ask different questions in our literature, social studies, mathematics classes? would the space of education shift more toward the possibility of with? how would the scripts of youth be different if adults took seriously the notion that youth are collaborators in the pursuit of a more just, and socially conscious world?


visualizing beauty and heartbreak

the girls and boys featured in born into brothels captivated me from the opening menu of the dvd. there is little doubt about the imagination, enthusiasm, and life that each child explores and exudes with their photographic journeys, sometimes to the chagrin and disdain of their families and surrounding communities. the power dynamics involved in taking someone's picture are complicated when the photographer is a child and the photographed is an adult; these dynamics are made further complex when the adult doesn't want to be documented in any way.

despite the moving stories and lives, i'm not sure how to respond to a dilemma that resonates with my work, as well: what happens when the project is completed? the filmmakers, zana briski and ross kauffman, have returned and done future photography workshop with increasing numbers of children living and growing up in calcutta. but the bigger question looms: what is the possibility of art to be a catalyst for social change? and from whom does art expect change?

i may return to this film for in a few posts - this images and stories will stay with me and will have to marinate for a while...


napoleon dynamite... and the representation of youth

i just spent an hour crafting a response to the movie that i finally watched after being told to do so by friends and occasional strangers for some time now... and then lost the entire post... idiot!

as i watched, i laughed, i winced, i shook my head, i pushed away images that crept into consciousness of certain individuals from my past, i shifted in my seat when i saw glimpses of something too familiar, and i remained awed by the power of the "lack of arm movement" maneuver used in television and movies to indicate some form of social awkwardness. (case in point: the seinfeld episode when raquel welch fails to swing her arms when she walks)

what i found it difficult to do was "break my eye open," like the character of claire tries to do in six feet under. like a good movie watcher, i brought to this experience the expected frames of normal and not, of awkward and not; i gave in to the moviemakers' manipulation of viewer discomfort for what seems out of the ordinary, which is often made manifest in laughter. deb, an eventual friend of napoleon's, makes and vends handicrafts that she makes herself, as well as takes "glamour shots" as an amateur photographer in her basement. pedro, newly arrived from mexico, becomes napoleon's "best friend" within minutes and brings to the cast an optimistic truthfulness which eventually earns him the title of class president (thanks, in part, to a solo dance number performed by napoleon).

for those who haven't seen the movie, i'm not spoiling it for you - definitely rent it. but as you do, consider these questions:
- how do we learn to see differently?
- what is the impact of youth-focused movies on the general public's perception of and response to youth?
- why do most of us understand this as a movie about overcoming social displacement?

would it be too bizarre to produce a movie in which deb, for example, is who she is and does what she does without feeling the urge to project a future as a photo journalist? that is, why do movies about youth either indict or romanticize youth? (with a few exceptions...) perhaps these are the clouded dichotomized memories adults are left with about their adolescence... i wonder what youth would/do say about their lives as they are happening...

if we encourage youth to be more reflective, aware, critical, and thoughtful in their lives as young people, will they grow up to make movies that continue the dichotomy? or will we have more texture in future articulations about youth?