Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Friday, March 14, 2008

(R)Evolution in Environmental Education?

Our dear friend, patent holding inventor and artist manager Colin Filkow, who has been supporting our efforts to bring multi-media tools and music and video production sensibility to ghetto education since his days as a music executive for Priority Records and EMI, got some producer friends of ours to put together this pitch trailer for what we hoped might turn into a Discovery Channel show last season.

While an actual TV program never materialized from the effort, the fact that I found it posted on somebody's site on Youtube underscores how broad-band user-controlled multi-media can make a difference -- as we all know now, in the age of Youtube, you don't have to watch the Discovery Channel or other network shows anymore to learn, for example, about the Zen Electric car shown here.

My German wife hastens to point out, however, that we must always take what we read or see in non-peer reviewed media with a grain for salt -- yes the Zen Electric car is calming and cool, and yes we did travel to Cairo using many types of vehicles, but, she'll tell you " T.H. does NOT speak 6 languages fluently -- his English is great, his Spanish and French adequate, his Arabic and Indonesian functional, but as for his German ... well let's just say he'll even have trouble talking to his newborn son...!".

So das ist wahr, ja gut -- don't trast everizing ju zee on ze jutube.

(And anyway -- note to ze Frau -- "Unser Baby wird mit seinen Haenden sprechen weil ich Ameslan (American Sign Language) gelernt habe, und, wie unsere Freunde Brian und Ashley Transeau es mit ihrer Tochter Kia erfahren haben, koennen wir auf diese Weise viel frueher mit unserem Kind kommunizieren. Und wenn wir wollen, auch mit Schimpansen und Delphinen! Na gut, ich gebe zu, auch diese Saetze sind nur mit Hilfe meiner Frau entstanden... gewusst wie:-)

I do, however, solemnly swear that sometime in the next decade, before my son turns 10, I WILL be fluent in his mother tongue, and the others of the countries we do our work in. I think it was more of a perception of the producers, being Americans and thus surrounded by monolingual citizens, that because I can at least get by in those 6 languages without needing a dictionary, I am, in a sense "fluid" if not "fluent" in "den anderen Sprachen."

In other cases, as in the video Frank DiMassa and I created for the Tree Hugger Video Contest shown below, everything about me is delibrately a big fat greek wedding of a lie: I don't live in a big Sonoma County house with a swimmng pool, I haven't talked with a New York "Sopranos" accent since graduating from Dobbs Ferry High School back in 1980, and I don't got no SUV neither -- in fact I don't gots no car at all (I do, however, have the electric motor for the one I'm gonna build, sitting in a box in the garage).

But part of the power and joy of dramatic multi-media and its ability to impact social change is, to quote Paul Virilio again, "the energy resulting from the effect of varying degrees of speed of movement upon ocular, optical and optico-electronic perceptions -- the state of the art simulation industries put this third form of energy (cinematic energy) into action in the form of a new driving force -- the cinematic machine."

The cinematic machine's energy has been used by propagandists (call them advertisers, politicians, multi-nationals) for a century to shape society, and youtubers are challenging that hegemony today.

As an academic and a scientist I am honor bound to caution everybody about the hype that the simulation industries (call them media outlets, personal or corporate) can create and the misperceptions they can generate. We need peer-review. We need solid references and bibliographic trails. We need statistical data and empirical, testable results. We need proof.
But as an artist and a cinephile I also believe in the importance of not misrepresenting reality, but re-presenting reality -- presenting it again, in a new way, coloring it through honest but subjective filters of personal perception -- how WE personally see others, how WE personally see ourselves, how WE personally see the world.

Like the main character in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", if in our day job we are a simple clerk, but in our night dreams we are a winged hero, who is to say which of these personas is the one that will help us through the crises that befall us when the world goes mad? Which should we bank on?

Irving Goffman's "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" explored the dynamics of our relationship to the outside world, and Eric Berne's books on transactional analysis "Games People Play" and What do you Say After You Say Hello" introduced many of us to the concept of the theatre of the self and how we wear our personalities and personas like T-shirts broadcasting to the world.

With YouTube we have the chance to think about that presentation of self and how we want to represent our attitudes toward "reality" , and for the first time we have at our fingertips (our digits!) the same "digital" tools that big Media used to manipulate those images and perceptions. The power of cinematic energy is now on our PCs.

I think it would be a mistake to limit people concerned with our environment and with social change to strive only to tell "dry" tales of supposed factual integrity. Ever since Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions we have digested the idea that we should mistrust the conclusions of scientific establishments as much as those of any establishment. It is up to every individual, inspired by texts, sounds, images and other third party experiences, to investigate the truth of the representation for themselves.

We must remind ourselves that while "the 'real world' pre-exists and determines representation", that representation does not portray the real world in unmediated fashion.

Annette Kuhn, (related to Thomas Kuhn?) in Alien Zone (p. 53)

"takes issue with the view that the relationship between [these] two terms (the representation and the real) is one of unilinear determination. In critical theory, this position is expressed in certain kinds of attitudes towards the instrumentality of cultural productions; in particular the view that representations may have effects of their own [and] can themselves impinge on the realm of the social.
"For example, the real-representation relation can be regarded as dialectical - interactive and potentially contradictory - rather than simply reflective. Suc a view implies that representation possesses some degree of autonomy, and can thus be active in teh production of the 'real', as well as vice versa. This has implications for our understanding of the nature of meaning, of how processes of signification work in representations. If representations are no longer seen as simply mirroring the real, then the production of meaning can be regarded as an ACTIVITY, and representations understood as systems of meaning. If meanings are produced, then the questions for cultural theory must be: How are they produced, and with what consequences? What, in cultural terms, does signification do?
"In producing meanings, representations may in effect shape our understanding of the world we live in. This is a process of ideology, which in one of its several definitions is understood precisely as a society's representations of itself in and for itself, and the ways in which people both live out and produce those representations. In a divided society, of course , ideologies can be heterogeneous and meanings contested -- and indeed ideology is commonly associated with power and hegemony, which suggests that meaning is never neutral, but always caught up in relations of power. At the same time, though, ideology works to conceal this fact from us. If meaning presents itself as already there, immanent and not constructed, then representation in a way invites us to adopt a reflectionist stance. Ideology, in consequence, rarely proclaims itself as such, but is invisible, naturalized. Unravelling the work of ideology calls first of all for it to be denaturalized."

We do live in a divided society, and the things we post on youtube are not neutral, even when the camera is pointing to a physical object like a solar panel or an electric car. By becoming the framers of reality we are inserting our ideology.

I think, however, that the more people produce media on their PCs and share them, the more real media literacy and a tacit understanding of the process of unravelling the work of ideology will organically take place. When I taught film-making and animation and media literacy back in the early 90's as part of our inner-city program for at-risk youth, as soon as the kids made their first videos they started looking at television in a new way. They would say "hey, we were able to manipulate the viewer using editing, pacing, music and special effects -- how do we know what we seein' on TV ain't done the same way? Man, you can't trust nothin' these days -- hell, if I can use photoshop to change a picture of me and what I was doin' you damn sure know them politicians are doin' the same thing..."

When, instead of being consumers of media, we all become "pro-sumers" (to use Alvin Toffler's excellent term) we will see a real (R)Evolution in Evironmental Education and Practice.
Caveat emptor will always be wise advice.
But "Caveat productor" will be our new caution to those who traditionally controlled the images and narratives we were forced in the past to consume -- there is competition in the market place, and other channels for us to make our discoveries about the world in.

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