Royal, Nebraska, a video by Toby Lee and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga. Running time: 18 minutes.

Royal is a small town that sits on US 20 in northeastern Nebraska . Three blocks wide and four blocks deep, with a mostly elderly population of about 70, Royal is the type of town that is often passed by, barely noted, on the way to another place. At first glance, abandoned buildings and empty lots, set amidst endless fields of corn and equally endless blue skies, mark Royal as just one of the countless dying towns that dot the landscape of rural Middle America .

A closer look, however, reveals Royal as being more than just a dying town – it is a complex site for the interplay of presence and absence, time and timelessness. Given time, the town’s quiet pace of life emerges, almost unnoticeably, from its still and empty surfaces. A woman methodically digging potatoes out of her garden, a large truck roaring down an otherwise quiet and empty road, the postman delivering mail, empty swings swaying in the wind – through such images of the slow and humble rhythms of daily life, we begin to see the various presences that leave their traces in the town’s empty public spaces; we observe the passage of time materializing from still, timeless images; and we start to understand the beauty and quiet humor of everyday life in this small town.

Royal, Nebraska is an observational short video, both a portrait of a town and a study of how the durational medium of the moving image can articulate the relationship between space and time. Formally experimental, playing with framing and long takes, the video addresses the way in which place and public space can be defined temporally, as well as spatially and socially, and the role of the camera in that process.

SONGHUA, a digital video by J.P. Sniadecki. Running time: 25 minutes.

The Songhua river runs through Harbin , the capital of China ‘s Heilongjiang province, and serves as the city’s main water source. City residents are all raised on the river’s water; thus, they refer to the Songhua as their ” Mother River .” At all hours of the day, people flock to the crowded urban space where Harbin meets the river. City dwellers and rural visitors stroll through Stalin Park , the promenade that runs the 42 km of concrete river embankment. They also descend the steps to the river’s edge where parents bathe their children in the brown water, men in underwear drag nets for minnows, and young couples play cards as they flirt under willow trees. Supporting this flourishing consumer culture are those who make a living on recreation and tourism: vendors sell kites along the sandy banks to youngsters who try their best to keep them aloft; Muslim Uighurs from the other side of the country roast mutton kebabs as Han Chinese bosses collect the profits; and laid-off factory workers peddle colorful windmills with competitive tenacity.

This observational nonfiction video presents the Songhua river and Stalin Park as a sphere of ephemeral sociality. Through exploring the interface between ethnography and aesthetics, Songhua addresses the potential of visual media as a form of research. Moreover, it does not eschew reflexive moments but rather incorporates them to raise questions of representation relevant to the Media Fields conference. These reflexive turns not only feature film-participants referring directly to the filmmaker, but also invite viewers to consider how the video reinvents and shapes the encounter with both social space and social actors. Overall, through long takes of public areas and intimate vignettes of film-participants, the video depicts activities of leisure and labor unfolding in a lively, sometimes gritty, but always complex and revelatory field of inter-subjectivity.

“Scripted: The Creation and Dilation of Media Spaces in Playa Vista,” Daniel Chamberlain (University of Southern California)

This talk considers how intersections of media interfaces and pervasive networks change the way we think about spatial possibilities, advancing the argument that emergent media technologies are reconfiguring the private/public dialectic in favor of a new paradigm of spatiality for the network society – the media space. Hybrid media spaces are created in places that were once thought of as public or private, with different registers of private-ness and public-ness engaged through such factors as physical propinquity, the mode of communication, the variety and types of networks present, and the social practices being performed. Drawn from a dissertation investigating the role of the network in destabilizing longstanding spatial conceptions and the function of media interfaces in augering epistemological shifts in our understanding of the built environment, this talk details the creation and dilations of media spaces in a specific community.

This site for this analysis is Playa Vista, a new urbanism-style live/work/consume community under construction on the west side of Los Angeles. Playa Vista takes quite seriously the prospect of establishing “community” through technology and has embraced emergent media technologies to an unprecedented degree, providing ‘future-proofed’ fiber-optic wiring in every home, a high-tech preview center and on-site technology concierge, a community intranet, the regional headquarters for the Entertainment Arts corporation, and wireless network access throughout the neighborhood and its parks. In this particular constellation, media spaces are a promise luring prospective residents, a practice enabling and delimiting certain lifestyles, a bulwark circumscribing the development of community, and a challenge to familiar notions of private and public space in domestic and neighborhood settings. This talk addresses the actual deployments of networks, interfaces, and media spaces at work in Playa Vista, and interrogates how these terms also function as metaphorical links between technological change and transformations in the built environment.

Medium Cool and the City Street,” Brendan Kredell (Northwestern University)

1968 marked a year of crisis in American cities, for reasons both political and structural. Large-scale shifts that had been developing during the post-war era came into confluence with the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and continuing unrest concerning the war in Vietnam . Months in advance, that summer’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago was anticipated as a boiling point for these tensions, and in that regard the convention did not disappoint.

Haskell Wexler was in Chicago to produce the film that would become Medium Cool (1969). Using it as a jumping-off point, this paper explores the changing ways of thinking about city space in late 1960s America . At stake in Medium Cool is not only the immediate political direction the country would take, but the status of the city in the television era and the relationship between city residents in a postindustrial, increasingly mediated age.

I submit that Medium Cool sits precisely at a moment of conflict in the history of the city. By locating the film at this interstitial moment, we can consider it in the context of a series of contemporaneous tensions: the shift from industrial to postindustrial economies, the notion of cities of “monument” and cities of “movement” (per Reyner Banham), urban decentralization and changes to the built environment in the postwar era.

In particular, this paper focuses on how Medium Cool illuminates the changing conceptions of the city street during this period, changes that can be seen as functions of the aformentioned oppositions. To do so, I read the film against Guy-Ernest Debord’s notions of dérive and détournement in an effort to elucidate what I see as a fundamental distinction in Wexler’s film: the city street as social space versus the city road as a conduit exclusively for automobile traffic.

“Play: Space, Place, The Warriors, the City,” Adam Abrams (University of California, Los Angeles)

In the 27 years since its theatrical release, Walter Hill’s The Warriors has attained the place in popular culture that seems reserved for films associated with youth culture. Referenced and sampled on hip-hop records, an ever-familiar source of film and television parody, perpetually on what remains of the midnight-movie circuit, reenacted by fans, turned into a high-profile videogame and slated for a big-budget theatrical remake, the film seems never to have disappeared from public consciousness. If the film as cult kitsch may seem stranded in a perpetual hyper-stylized future as seen from 1978, it has as well a wholly separate, nearly documentary sheen as a travelogue of the psychogeography of a culturally imagined late ‘70s pre-economic-rebirth New York City .

This paper locates the motivating cause of the film’s cult status in the film’s unique narrativization of space in which events, as Michael Snow and Stephen Heath have reminded us, quite literally “take place.” Offering a branching, bipartite reading which offers two possibilities for reading the space which the warriors’ journey traverses: as urban nightmare and as playground to be conquered. Drawing on sources ranging from Robert Ray to Jane Jacobs and from Yi-Fu Tuan to Mike Davis, this paper attempts to situate the reception history of a provocative film within the nexus created by the alignment of media fields: the cinematic space experienced byspectators and the refracted space of real life as engaged with by fiction.

“I Hear They’re Gonna Put a Hotspot Where You’re Standing: Analyzing the Expansion and Controversies of New Urban Wireless Spaces,” Germaine Halegoua (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

The city has become an amalgam of urban places and digital spaces. The ways in which scholars, planners, governments, residents, and visitors conceive of and move through urban spaces has become greatly informed by the pervasiveness of new media messages and technologies. Wireless networks are an example of one infrastructural shift that is not only changing the way we conduct interactions and exchanges, but also affecting the way we perceive of space. The “hotspot” is no longer exclusively the coffee shop, library, or university campus, but also the New York City park, the Boston airport, or even the entire downtown area of Philadelphia , and the streets of Mountain View , California . These activist, municipal, and corporate developments of wireless networks tend to transform our understanding of these places and have spawned complex debates concerning the meaning of wireless networking technology in urban space, and the meaning of public and private space in general. In this paper, I will engage with debates and discourse, arising from particular case studies, which concern the construction, design, maintenance, and use of urban wireless networks in spaces and places that were formerly unwired or networked in entirely distinct ways. These wireless networks tend to combine and layer spaces in unique configurations, with only some spatial and experiential layers being readily accessed by all, deeming these meshes of electronic and physical space heterotopias of sorts that juxtapose “in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” and exclusionary. I wish to look beyond questions of design and engineering of wireless networks, and toward the power valences carried in and through these networks that re-define the layers of city space and place.

“Converting the Physical into Virtual: Establishing Geographical Boundaries on the Internet,” Alex Ingersoll (University of Colorado , Boulder)

The ability of the Internet to disperse information across national boundaries is unprecedented and is often heralded for it democratizing power. In this paper, I investigate the socio-political effects of what is called “geolocation” technology, which seeks to construct digital boundaries that will potentially contain users within segments of the seemingly boundary-less digital domain. Essentially, Internet programs can use this technology to search the computer user’s unique Internet Protocol address (IP address) to determine where the computer is accessing the online information. This allows a website to attach a specific geographical location to the user who is operating within the virtual space.

There is a profuse amount of effects from this technology that can impinge on an Internet user’s search for information. One such way is by restricting access to the Internet for specific users. Another way is to allow Internet access but provide a filtration process that will determine what content the user will be permitted to receive. A concern is that this boundary-less mass medium will be lost as the distance between virtual and physical space gradually disappears.

This paper examines geolocation technology in light of the recent interactions between China and the Internet. In addition, the European nations of England, Germany, and France have vastly different views of the rule of law, pushing geolocation technology to further divide the world according to varying interests. Despite differences in their socio-political environments, all of these nations share a common interest in establishing boundaries within the digital domain that they hope will align online communication closely along the lines of national borders. This conversion from physical to virtual essentially blocks the transnational flow of information and greatly reduces ever-expanding media spaces.

“Gore Defanged:  Camera Angles, Construction of Space, and Gore’s Marginalization in the Second 2000 Presidential Debate,” Amber Westcott-Baker (New York University)

The 2000 televised Presidential-candidate debates were a pivotal event in that year’s election campaign. Gore was widely believed to be the candidate who would most benefit from the events, but polls at the time (both scientific and non) showed that Bush’s popularity that grew after the debates. One explanation that has been put forward for this apparent paradox is that Bush benefited from lowered expectations while Gore was held to an unfairly high standard. Another potential contributor is the media image of the debates. The presentation and construction of the debates’ images affect how people perceive the candidates in an image-oriented society, and the production aspects of the debate are negotiated by the candidates and highly controlled. I argue that the production aspects of the 2000 debates, such as camera placement and editing, worked in favor of Bush in the second debate, the “talk show” or round-table discussion debate.

Camera placement and the allowable camera movement dictate what kind of individual shots will be created. The editing dictates how those shots relate to one another in the finished, broadcasted product (a live broadcast, in this case). Together, these aspects apportion information about the space and interpersonal dynamics in which the debate is taking place—the television audience has no information about the “reality” of the spatial aspects the debate other than what information is provided by shots and their relationships. Camera placement, editing, and the general construction of space in the second Bush-Gore debate worked to marginalize Gore, making him appear outside the conversation or as if he were avoiding eye contact, while Bush was visually connected to the moderator, making it seem as if theirs was the “primary” dialogue of the round-table discussion, while Gore was the interloper.

“The Green Zone,” Noah Zweig (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Iraq’s so-called “Green Zone”—officially known as the International Zone—is the heavily guarded, four-mile-long government area of closed off streets in central Baghdad where US occupation authorities have lived and worked since 2003 when they took over the area. Also referred to as the “Ultimate Gated Community” and “The Bubble,” the Green Zone is comprised of the Presidential Palace, the Convention Center, the al-Rashid Hotel, villas of Saddam Hussein’s family and former Baath loyalists, the permanent American embassy (unfinished). The Green Zone is defended with coils of razor wire, chain link fences and armed checkpoints. The area is defended by M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees, and machine guns sit atop its high concrete walls. While most Iraqis do not have electricity or running water, the Americans in the Bubble have a relatively comfortable existence. Indeed, some of the things that can be found include swimming pools, bars, discos, gymnasiums, satellite television, movie theaters, down-home food, salsa dancing classes, down-home American cooking (no Iraqi food). The area epitomizes the ineptitude of the ill-fated imperial operation, of which reconstruction is a central part. Rather than reach out to the Iraqis, the Americans have built a small piece of Americana to avoid dealing with the locals. In the first part of the paper, I will, using recent new media concepts, attempt to define this new species of media fields, imperial life in a new media environment. I will focus on the media fields created by this area, which for all intents and purposes is a Little America. I will pay special attention to the blogs and videos created in the Bubble and the hypermediacy they create.

“Pictures Worth a Million Words: The Large Format View of the National Parks,” Mary Nucci (Rutgers University)

Large format films, with their oversized images and emphasis on an experiential vision of the world, are often found located in or adjacent to sites of national recognition. Three eponymously-named large format films–found outside Yellowstone, Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks–present to the visitor and tourist a particular view of the national park for which they are named. Like layer upon layer, these films further construct a sense of what a national park is, as an accretion to the constructed reality of the national park and the national park system. In particular, as each of the films was directed by the same individual, and are part of what can be considered the Grand Tour of American wilderness, the films revision the park system as a whole in a manner that is both complimentary and accumulative, as to see two or more films is to get a singular sense of how the parks must be understood. Questions of national pride as well as of national omission can be asked of these films, by considering how they create the story of the national parks and national park system, as well as elide the aspects of their creation that reconstructs the historical vision of America as a land open and available for the taking for those with vision. Serving as they do as easy introduction to the national parks by virtue of the images that are likely never to be seen from the inside of the car or camper, this presentation will discuss how these films affect the visitor’s concept of the national parks and their place in American culture.

“Animation at the Beach: Narrative, the Stereoscope, and the Origins of Cinema,” James Hodge (University of Chicago)

What is animation and what does it mean to talk about it? These two distinct but related questions bring into focus the ways in which language shapes our ideas of the visual. Analyzing the rhetoric of the stereoscopic image provides insight into this observation, specifically, the apparently inaccurate but persistently made claim that the stereoscopic image pre-figures cinema. The stereoscopic image, of course, differs considerably from conventional cinematic animation found in a Mickey Mouse cartoon. If cinema may be distinguished from other arts by its profound ability to represent movement, then we must consider what constitutes movement. Is movement different from animation? Recalling that early film theorist Jean Epstein theorizes photogénie—for Epstein the very essence of cinema—as most evident in the close-up, in shots with very little movement, we move toward a paradoxical understanding of animation as being most legible as stasis.

Historicizing the stereoscope in terms of late nineteenth-century visual culture and representation, this paper takes up the issue of how nineteenth-century rhetoric of the “life-like-ness” of the stereoscopic image animates specific material practices of viewing images through the parlor stereoscope. Addressing the intermedial matrix of the material and social conditions of experiencing animation, the paper moves toward a historical phenomenology of viewing conditioned by the broader media fields of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially the beach. Figures considered include: Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Joyce, Jean Epstein, Raymond Bellour, Chris Marker, and Michael Taussig.

“Practice in Mediated Space: Toward a Constructivist Media Anthropology,” Robert Peaslee (University of Colorado, Boulder)

This paper calls for a (re)emphasis in site-specific, open-ended investigation of individual experience as a viable and valuable strategy across disciplines of the social sciences and the humanities, especially in the face of ongoing trends toward globality, hybridization, convergence, and destabilization of symbolic and material culture. The paper is particularly interested in applying such methodologies toward investigating the media-tourism complex, a constellation of government, industrial, and personal activity which relies on globally mediated conceptions of place and practice and which represents a dynamic and ever-present field of symbolic and actual capital within which consumers operate and from which “places” emerge. Following Minca & Oakes (2006), who reveal the greatly ambiguous nature of tourist, place, and practice in geographic areas worthy of visitation in the mediated global economy, this paper puts forward the possibility that the in-depth engagement with consumers of place may yield important data not only about personal practice, but also about the nature of places. Thus, “the situatedness of the local is not a site, place or space merely to pin down and capture, but rather a point of reference through which to engage the emergent dimensions of globalization” (Murphy & Kraidy, 2003: 14). In this way, a constructivist approach (Clark, 2004) – which allows the text of the response to intermingle with the context of the respondent, and affords numerous opportunities to reevaluate both the applicability of the research questions as constructed and, more holistically, the place and behavior of the researcher – affords an opportunity to bridge a widely perceived epistemological gap between audience and institutional studies. Qualitative work with individuals whose practice create and maintain myriad processes and realities becomes essential in the consideration of the media “field” created by the worldwide traffic in images and movement.