Saturday, September 26, 2009

podcast of the week: On The Media on Detroit and the ideology of photographs

This weekend's On the Media has a good piece (see above) on two subjects that i've been thinking a lot about the past few months: Detroit, and the uses and abuses of photographs. I visited the motor city this summer, in order to participate in the Allied Media Conference with a media activist group i work with. It was a great conference, and it is really really really great that the folks who organize it every year continue to hold it in Detroit-- not only does it bring a little bit of money to the economically troubled city, but also it brings a lot of smart people to Detroit, where they can begin to see how the media (and popular mythology) has distorted our national image of that city. There are some fantastic things happening there; i'll just mention two:

1)urban farming. there are a great deal of people devoting a great deal of energy to reclaiming (sometimes illegally) vacant city lots and turning them into public farms, and then distributing fresh produce around the city. this is especially important because there is, according to my sources, not one major grocery store located within the city limits. that plus a not-so-great public transportation infrastructure means that most folks do their grocery shopping at the local liquor store. so this urban farming thing is filling a really giant need. there's lots more to say about that, but i'll just post a photo and let your imagination do some of the gap-filling.

photo: Earthworks Garden, Detroit, Michigan, July 18, 2009, by Rachel Mattson

2)immigrant justice organizing. did you know that Detroit is a border city? It is-- cause remember Canada? It is just a few miles away. And as a result, Detroit's immigrants --especially Latinos-- face an increasingly well-funded policing infrastructure, willing to use semi-legal tactics to rout out undocumented people. I met a whole bunch of people, mostly Latinas, who are trying to counteract the effects of a new cycle of unsavory police tactics. And let me tell you: the activists in Detroit are some pretty awesome folks.

The other reason i'm posting this On the Media segment is because it does a good job of explaining some things about photographs and ideology. i've been spending a lot of time this fall so far thinking about and trying to teach my students to understand the ways in which photographs (and in my case, i'm usually talking about historical photographs) are ideological documents, texts that tell a story-- not transparent representations of reality. and that we have to understand who created them, and for what purpose, before we can begin to understand what story they are telling, and why. the On the Media segment i've linked to above does an interesting job of making this point, in relation to media representations of Detroit, in a really clear way.

which is helpful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Presenting....The Butter Presidents

My friend Nina Callaway found this and showed it to me. It seems like an important statement, but I can't really figure out how to explain just what its an important statement about.

Although if I were to try to approximately describe how this kind of history feels, i'd have to say: kind of gross.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Texas is debating adopting new standards for U.S. history instruction

If you thought the debate over U.S. History Standards ended when Lynn Cheney and friends took on the entire historical profession in the 1990s, then you were wrong. Talking Points Memo reports that Texas is currently discussing revising its standards for U.S. history post-1877, and the very right wing board responsible for writing them is proposing some very disturbing stuff. As TPM notes, "Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to "identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority." No analogous liberal figures or groups are required..." Students will also be required to "describe Ronald Reagan's role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength."

But its worse than that-- its more of the teach this fact, teach that interpretive idea school-- without any discussion of the import of, or methods for teaching, critical thinking and historical analysis. And because Texas is so big, its standards effect what textbook publishers put into ALL their textbooks.

Perhaps now we can abandon textbooks altogether, once and for all?

Here, courtesy of TPM, is the draft of the document itself. Notice the marginal comments made by members of the committee. Also, here is another, very interesting analysis of these proposed standards by the United Farm Workers.