Ambient XXX: The Porn Screen as Infrastructure of Looking, Sexuality and Power in Public Space
Ryan Bowles
University of California, Santa Barbara

My paper considers the “ambient porn screen” as site of infrastructure practice. Through consideration of a diverse group of public sites where porn viewing takes place, I am able to map out the various ways in which looking, sexuality, and power both interact in and alter public spaces. Porn in public space has the potential to take an oft-unnoticed apparatus and transform it into a site of audience practice, debate, struggle, and meaning making. The ambient porn screen is indeed a site with multiple functions and varied effects. In some spaces, such as the gay bar, the ambient porn screen can be integrated into the ambience and rhythm of the space, serving to facilitate an establishment’s mood and texture. In others, such as the library and the airplane, the screen is a point of rupture, a pathway through which porn—an uninvited guest that must be controlled and turned away—is able to seep. The ambient porn screen is a site of anxiety, yet also, and contrastingly, a site of pleasure and community. Moving from televisions in the gay bar to computers in the library to 3G mobile devices and laptops on the airplane, what this study of the ambient porn screen makes clear is that porn viewing in public space is a practice that defies generalization. Rather, it serves as a model for analyzing differences in looking practices, resulting ebbs and flows in regulation, and the complications that inevitably arise as more and more of our looking takes place on mobile devices.

Digital Liquidity: Blu-Ray Menu Screens and Porous Media
Clint Froehlich
University of Chicago

Central to several branches of applied science – mechanics, engineering, material science, etc. – porous media describes materials in a solid state defined by an interwoven system of pores that are penetrable by liquid material. As a theoretical configuration of unique materiality, we can metaphorize the concept of porous media as a tool for understanding media writ large. Digital media and its structure of overlay becomes a porous space; the matrix (frame) of the digital material is permeated by additive, fluid, and often interactive information.

As André Bazin’s conception of cinematic ontology is increasingly threatened by the proliferation of new media forms, new theories have emerged to declare the aesthetic and experiential stakes for cinema and other representational mediums after an age that formulated their seeming impenetrability. The underlying navigational infrastructure of high-definition Blu-Ray Disc (BD) presents a new question. What happens when the cinematic ‘text’ becomes merely the frame of a porous medium? BD, through the addition of multiple digital layers, organically blends the traditional DVD menu with the central cinematic object (the ‘main attraction’). While DVD has long offered ‘Easter Egg’ and ‘in-movie’ experiences in addition to crude functionalities by which viewers can warp the image, BD takes a giant step towards the synergistic dream of cinema as the sponge of home entertainment. The menu, the navigational threshold of the digital media object, is now an overlay on the film, penetrating the invisible pores of a once-unyielding medium.

Technologies available to average consumers change with dizzying rapidity. As a result, these inquiries often ask more questions than they answer, in fear of untimely theoretical irrelevance. With this pitfall in mind, I hope to use this paper to interrogate the applicability of the notion of porous materiality to new forms of cinematic delivery and experience. The central concern of this paper is the way in which the interconnected and fluid digital layers of BD transfigure the cinematic text into a porous medium, and how this affects the everyday perception of film. This parallels the de-mystification of screen space engendered by other electronic media forms.

Bollywood Infrastructure in an Era of Digital Transnationalism
Ajay Gehlawat
Sonoma State University

Even as Bollywood films have captured the all-India market, they have also been increasingly distributed beyond the subcontinent, reaching audiences in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia. I would like to examine how their formatting increasingly displays, like a well-marked passport, imprints of these journeys. Manjunath Pendakur has noted the rise of DVD technology in the mid-1990s, as well as how this affected the distribution of Bollywood films, claiming that between 1998 and 2001, “the demand for DVDs of Indian movies grew rapidly and Indian distributors expanded their inventory from 15-20 titles to 15,000 titles.” Furthermore, Bollywood DVDs are multizone, that is, formatted to play in all regions, and also come formatted with multiple subtitling and audio options. In these ways, the DVD format, as utilized by Bollywood, serves as an effective metonym for globalization. This is not simply due to its intrinsically transnational infrastructure but, more precisely, because of how Bollywood distributors have taken advantage of this infrastructure, making Bollywood films literally accessible to multiple audiences around the world.

My paper will explore how this transnational infrastructure allows for alternate forms of cinematic engagement, with DVD formatting allowing viewers to jump to and skip through the various “chapters” of the film. In the case of Bollywood, this reworking of the normative approach to film-viewing is further engendered by the inclusion of song menus, allowing viewers to immediately jump to specific song and dance sequences. I will examine how such an altered infrastructure (multizone, multilingual, multi-menu) ruptures a monolithic reading of Bollywood cinema, even as it simultaneously throws into question who “owns” the (circulating, digitally formatted) Bollywood film, particularly in the twenty-first century.

What Is the Dominant? Rewiring the World Picture
Zeynep Gürsel
University of Michigan

This paper investigates the infrastructures and routines that allow for a wire service to “dispatch” news about events and to visually “cover the world” for publications in the rest of the world. Initially I describe how Agence France Presse’s photo service is structured to produce and circulate over a thousand photographs every day. What happens to a wire service when the wire itself is obsolete? I highlight how success for a wire service has gone from being dependent on time to being dependent on geography.

This paper is structured around the question asked by the CEO every morning : “Qu’est-ce que c’est le dominant?” [What is the dominant?] to emphasize that each news story appears because another is erased and to explore the hierarchies that determine what will dominate. This paper is based on fieldwork at AFP in 2004.

String Theory, French Horns, and the Infrastructure of “Cyberspace”
Tom Henthorne and Lee Transue
Pace University

This paper explores the ways in which string theory and concomitant thought on multidimensionality can provide infrastructure for cyberspace. Cyberspace, like physical space, can be understood to curl in upon itself so that a structure cannot easily be discerned from within even though its effects can be; accordingly, means of of imagining multidimensionality drawn from the physical sciences such as the French horn metaphor employed by Brian Greene may be useful in creating infrastructure for cyberspace just as the desktop metaphor popularized by Apple Computers provides structure for representations on computer screens. Indeed, as we shall demonstrate, string theory metaphors may enable information theorists to move beyond conventional three- and four- dimensional models of cyberspace so that its potential can be more fully utilized. In addition to detailing how the French horn metaphor might provide a useful infrastructure for cyberspace, this paper discusses the potential utility of other metaphors, including those involving hyperspace, fabrics, and polyhedrons.

Studio Libraries
Eric Hoyt
University of Southern California

What is the infrastructure that empowers a major Hollywood studio? Theater holdings and contracted star talent were crucial infrastructures in the classical period. Conglomerate synergy and powerful distribution operations are essential to today’s Hollywood studios. Yet I want to argue that a crucial component of studio infrastructure emerged between the classical and contemporary incarnations of the American motion picture industry, a dynamic piece of infrastructure that is understudied yet inherently impacts all who write about film—the studio library. I use the word “library” the way Hollywood studios employ it, describing the massive collections of films they own that have already gone through the roughly seven-year period of first cycle exploitation. Warner Bros., Universal, MGM, and Sony all own libraries of over 4,000 films that typically usher in annual revenues of over $500 million to each studio with relatively few costs involved. These lucrative libraries offer a comparative advantage and significant barrier of entry against any new company breaking into the studio business. However, studio libraries are not simply corporate infrastructure—these libraries themselves rely on historically changing legal, economic, and technological infrastructures. I examine the historic changes in media that have added value to these libraries (TV syndication, VHS, DVD, and now digital delivery) as well related changes to the law (particularly, the 1976 Federal Copyright Act’s provisions for lengthened protection and automatic copyright renewal). I conclude by addressing what these studio libraries mean for the preservation and public access of Hollywood films, which are in turn essential infrastructures for the study of American cinema. Drawing from the fields of political economy and law, this paper uses the concept of infrastructure as an entry point into the dynamic relationships between media, institutions, and society.

Point of Sale: The Magazine Newsstand as Socio-semiotic Infrastructure
Mehita Iqani
London School of Economics and Political Science

This paper seeks to address a question raised by call for abstracts of the Media Fields: Infrastructures conference: What are infrastructures of media? One of them is, arguably, that space common to the everyday lives of citizen-consumers of the global north: the newsstand. Drawing on the research and analysis conducted for my PhD, this paper will seek to paint a picture of the archetypal newsstand, framed in the context of a project that seeks to explore the ways in which discourses of consumerism are mediated through magazine covers. The paper is based upon two central premises: firstly, that consumerism is a hegemonic force that shapes everyday spaces and therefore practices within those spaces; secondly, that an attempt to write thick descriptions of such spaces can contribute to an understanding of the (infra)structures that make consumer culture so effective. The paper opens with a brief overview of the core theoretical framework informing the study, as well as a summary of the methodologies employed to gather and analyse data. Then it presents a description of the spatial structures and practices of the newsstand. This includes an exploration of the visual, textual and textural elements of the spaces, as well as an account of the ways in which consumers engage with those spaces. Next, it theorises these practices in the context of a dialectical tension central to consumer culture aesthetics: that between materiality and simulation. It proceeds by characterising the newsstand as a socio-semiotic space that operates between “sight” and “site”, and so generic, interchangeable and standardised that it could in fact be considered infrastructural. The relevance of this to a broader understanding of consumer magazines as well as consumer culture in general is elaborated as a conclusion.

Intersections of Infrastructure and Security: The Case of the Border Roads Organisation
Ateya Khorakiwala
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A couple of weeks ago an article in the Hindustan Times reported the difficulty of building roads in areas infested by insurgent ‘extremist groups.’ The construction of roads in these difficult regions was entrusted to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The BRO was formed in 1960 in lieu of India unpreparedness against the Chinese incursion along the northern border of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The border along which the Chinese entered into the country was inaccessible, making it impossible for the army to defend national territory. To rephrase this in terms of the nation state, the illegibility of the region became a threat to national sovereignty. The country needed roads. Since its inception, its function of building roads in ‘sensitive’ regions has expanded and now the organization that was meant to be temporary has grown to include the building of hospitals and bridges and amongst other state sponsored infrastructure.

The transformation of the BRO from a temporary organization of military engineers who built roads in distant unknown parts that looked and sounded barely ‘Indian’ to a state of the art construction wing of the government that builds roads in any part of the country facing disturbances has occurred in the context of two parallel trends. The first is a focused investment of funds into road transport infrastructure, and the second is the increasing nationalist rhetoric of a pan Indian identity.

This paper asks the question as to what really, in this case, infrastructure is: is the road itself or the architecture of the organization that deployed the road. The organization, whose prosthesis is then the road itself, is a device of national security against both internal and external dissent. While plotting the transformation of this organization within the context of the changing nation, this paper attempts to trace the problematic questions of how the nation-state has conceptualized infrastructure and Public Works in the context of sovereignty and the maintenance of territorial integrity. What is the nature of roads as prosthesis to the nation-state as objects hat tackle insurgents by over-riding the political problem of violence with a technological solution of infrastructure? How does infrastructure intervene within a political problem? These are the questions that this paper will attempt.

The Ecstasy of Alienation: Infrastructures of Feeling and the Spatial Struggles of Cultural Production
Clayton Rosati
Bowling Green State University

This paper develops the concept, “infrastructures of feeling” by looking at the spatial organization of infrastructure and “affective” labor in the production of media culture. While the expansion of mass media penetration internationally has in many ways “freed” forms of cultural expression from their geographic confines, it has simultaneously consolidated and enclosed those places and infrastructures where such expressions are produced and engaged. Contrary to most studies of media culture, which often emphasize the consumption of texts and symbols or the impact of such images on particular places, this paper shows the production of media culture as a fundamentally geographic struggle, revolving around the production of particular landscapes and infrastructures of feeling and how those are in turn productive. Using MTV’s, “Total Request Live,” as a case study, the paper draws on ethnographic observations of the show’s production and semi-structured interviews of its creative staff to present media as a field of struggle over the geography of cultural production. This research reveals how the structural tension between public expansion and private consolidation manifests everyday, as hundreds and often thousands of teens gather outside of MTV’s Mid-Town Studio to jockey for a brief chance to occupy one such space of cultural production, or at very least to catch a glimpse of a celebrity. The New York Police Department and private security guards regulate the enclosure and thus, authority of this media landscape. This paper explains the relationship between this struggle and its representation in broadcast. It is the tense geography between the places of cultural production and consumption that allows media such as television to be a potent force in contemporary political economy.

Mobile Media: Combining Infrastructures of Database and Connectivity… and Narrative?
Scott Ruston
University of California, Los Angeles

Paul Levinson observes that the cell phone is the medium that most resembles the human brain in its multimodal capability, networked processing, as well as size and portability. I would like to suggest that this connection between the human brain and the combination of mobile phone infrastructure and capability correspond in more than this metaphorical and ontological sense: they overlap in a cognitive manner as well. By this, I mean that one of the key methods that the human brain makes sense of the world around it is through narrative. If we accept Levinson’s assertion that the mobile phone parallels the human brain (at least metaphorically, if not in strict bio-technological terms), how does the database infrastructure and networked connection infrastructure of the mobile phone medium participate in the construction of narratives and the process of understanding?

The mobile phone, with its combination of database infrastructure, portability and ubiquity fundamentally alters our opportunities for engagement with narrative and opens up possibilities for immersive and interactive narrative. I suggest that the mobile medium offers the capacity for unique narrative forms; forms that productively combine these infrastructural elements into artistic and/or educational works that engage with the instability of place, disconnection from history and similar markers of contemporary culture. In so doing, these mobile narratives achieve new avenues of participation and social connection; combine both sensory and imaginative immersion; and create new modes of agency in activating place as a zone of lived experience and narrative as mode of meaning production.

In this paper, I will explore a number of mobile games, location-based projects and story-based projects in order to ascertain how the mobile medium remediates the telephone (an infrastructure of connectivity), the computer (an infrastructure of the database) and story (the infrastructure of the narrative).

Mediating Mobilities at the Call Center
Athena Tan
University of California, Santa Barbara

Over the past decade, the transnational call center industry has been celebrated and critiqued in both popular media and academia as a phenomenon that epitomizes neoliberal globalization. In this paper, I situate the call center at the intersection of global and local “hard” and “soft” infrastructures (e.g. transnational telephone networks and “global English,” respectively) and thus within a field of overlapping, and often contradictory or uneven, material and virtual spatial relations and practices. I probe the mediated mobilities that are enacted by, at, and around the call center by analyzing three documentary representations of call center operations in India: the films Bombay Calling (dir. Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal, 2006) and Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night (dir. Sonali Gulati, 2005), and “Outsourcing,” an episode of the reality television series 30 Days (2005). I argue that these documentaries mediate and thus render visible the elusive geographies and subjectivities of distance and proximity brought about by transnational media infrastructures. Through audiovisual representations of call center agents’ multiple mobilities, Bombay Calling, Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night, and 30 Days: Outsourcing capture the nuanced ways in which such infrastructures produce, channel, and deflect local and global aspirations at and around the call center.

In-forming Aesthetic Infrastructures: Remediating Money and Theory
Chris Vasantkumar
Hamilton College

In my proposed paper, I suggest that there is a productive consonance between material infrastructures as, as AbdouMaliq Simone puts it, “modes of provisioning and articulation” and particular theoretical and aesthetic apparatuses of “the universal” devoted in Anna Tsing’s words, “to form[ing] bridges, roads, channels of circulation [into which k]nowledge gained from particular experience percolates.” I argue for the utility of supplementing a focus on infrastructure in the material sense (pipes, spigots and dual carriageways) with an attention to the infrastructural frameworks (in the Timothy Mitchell sense) that both condition and render possible the circulation of standard currencies and social theory. Specifically, I juxtapose Eric Helleiner’s account of the formation of national standard currencies in 19th century Europe and America and anthropology’s forgetting of this history on the one hand with Paul Rabinow’s famous discussion of philosophy’s ability to make friends across time and space in Anthropos Today. I approach both as examples of emergent aesthetic infrastructures. Following Riles and Strathern in treating the aesthetic as dealing with “the persuasiveness of form, the elicitation of a sense of appropriateness” rather than as it has been employed “within the parameters of a Kantian debate over the nature of beauty,” I pay special attention to the formation of particular forms of persuasiveness, of plausibility. In my proposed paper, I employ a term from the world professional wrestling, keyfabe, as a key analytic to highlight the contingent emergence of particular modes of eliciting senses of appropriateness that both in-form and are infrastructural to the circulation of monetary and theoretical currencies. In both instances, I am particularly interested in what William Mazzarella has called processes of “immediation” in which the active forgetting of the historicity of aesthetic infrastructures becomes key to their effective functioning.

Porn in the Valley: Mom-and-Pops Video Store Distribution of Adult-Materials in Reseda, Winnetka and Canoga Park
Steven Witkowski
University of California, Santa Barbara

The goal of this presentation is to understand porn in the San Fernando Valley by reversing the syntax of current discourses. Instead of continuing the ongoing dialogue of “Porn Valley”, this work will analyze infrastructures of Valley porn. More specifically, this will be an attempt to map where and how Valley porn is distributed within some of its regions. This requires going down from hillside filming sites and towards denser, more diverse basins where multi-family units house predominately working-class to lower-middle class Mexican and Salvadoran Americans, immigrants and other non-whites. Looking away from the quasi-Hollywood porn players in Woodland Hills and Chatsworth allows us to pay attention to the porn that is rented and sold in cities like Winnetka and Canoga Park. By analyzing discrete, family-run video stores, evidence was collected that challenges stereotypes on Porn Valley and the adverse “secondary effects” that adult businesses supposedly have on their communities. What is found are unique media (both adult and non-adult) dissemination sites that encompass and are supported by their neighboring communities. Families and solitary adult-film renters share stores that divide their themes and genres in careful, deliberate ways. Through describing and analyzing these spaces and places, porn and the Valley–and not just Porn Valley–can be better understood.

Ciné Woulé, Ciné en Progrès: The Cultural Infrastructure of French Caribbean Cinema
Meredith Wright
University of Texas at Austin

Lacking major funding, strong support for international distribution, and advanced technical expertise and equipment, filmmakers operating in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Haiti face numerous obstacles in the development of their projects. Despite these challenges, the number of local, regional, and international film-related cultural initiatives has risen over the last decade. Ciné Woulé, for instance, is an itinerant cinema program developed by Jean-Paul Césaire (grandson of famed intellectual Aimé Césaire). Since 1998, Césaire has travelled throughout Guadeloupe, projecting films on a large inflatable screen to local residents. The St. Barth’s Film Festival and Montreal International Haitian Film Festival have become increasingly successful over the last few years as well, attracting French Caribbean filmmakers and allowing them to gain desperately needed exposure. In our recent interview, Guadeloupean filmmaker Jean-Claude Barny indicated that he will screen his film Nèg Mawon (2005) at the NOLA Human Rights film festival this spring.

As part of the broader project to assess social and cultural practices as media infrastructure, this paper seeks to examine these such practices as they specifically relate to French Caribbean cinema. This paper will therefore present and attempt to determine the impact of the growing media infrastructure in the French Caribbean. What does this cultural infrastructure signal as far as the French Caribbean film industry is concerned? Because of this new, more dynamic environment, are we able to convincingly confirm that French Caribbean filmmakers have begun to exert a verifiable international influence on their field? Or, does the industry remain, as Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé surmised in 1992, “forever in obscurity”?