I opted out of typing music listings and attending sociology class Friday in favor of checking out the conference taking place on the University of Cincinnati’s campus: Pop Praxis: Social Justice & the Media. With discussion topics like, “Disco Stick: Lady Gaga and the Phallus” and a keynote speech from Bitch Magazine’s own Andi Zeisler, I was stoked for an enlightening day of stimulating pop culture discussion.
The conference was the result of a collection of papers, presentations and workshops submitted by speakers ranging from undergrads to professors to alumni from a number of universities. Submissions were required to regard "pop culture as it relates to feminism, race, disability or queer theory, class, consumption, and all forms of political activism or cultural production."
It was an honor for the university to welcome Andi Zeisler, co-founder and editorial/creative director of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture. She wasted no time launching into a pointed discussion about the importance of feminism today, despite the general public’s tendency to assume that the movement is past and irrelevant.
“Any media needs to make money,” Zeisler pointed out, “and the quickest and surest way to do that is to sell out women.”
In short, while addressing the frustrating roadblocks today’s feminist advocates face, Zeisler commended technology and blogging as new ways to comment on the media and bring important issues to public attention, keeping intelligent discussion going that might not have been able to take place before.
Zeisler said Bitch’s goal is to help people think about pop culture in a more critical way, so it makes sense that the speakers in the sessions that followed did exactly that.
While the main event was arguably Zeisler's speech, the presentations and workshops were fun and eye opening.
During the first session, Sarah Mitchell called out Winnie of The Wonder Years for her textbooks that attempt to make math “sexy” for middle school girls in “Postfeminist Math Barbie: Danica McKellar’s Provocative Education Advocacy.” Lee Serbin also pointed out the shaky, back-and-forth stance Tina Fey’s character holds between feminism and postfeminism in 30 Rock during her discussion, “30 Rock and Feminism in Flux.”
Some women in the media, however, aren’t so bad to look up to. One presenter discussed how Lady Gaga rocked the phallus on the cover of Q Magazine as a response to the public’s accusation that she’s packing a package. While still technically enforcing the belief that a penis equates power, her gender-bending humor puts sexists in their place.
A strong argument was also made for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Admittedly, she was skinny and blonde, but more importantly, she overcame that image to kick vampire ass. The slayer was decidedly deemed a pretty solid female role model for something popularized by mainstream television.
Feminism wasn’t the only topic of the day, however. One student discussed Batman as an extreme representation of hypermasculinity who tends to equate violence with being a man. That, and maybe steroid use after all the bulk the superhero’s acquired over the years.
During the same session, another speaker addressed the somewhat androgynous image of the emo kid. This speaker deserves props for researching something so fickle in the world of teenage cliques. She concluded that, while the emo subculture allows for somewhat of a break from that Batman-inspired masculinity, only the white boys of suburbia seem to make up this social group.
While it was impossible for me to make it to each presentation, at the end of the day, the message was clear: People need to be careful about what they consume.
There are no clear answers. Watching a Lady Gaga video over 30 Rock isn’t necessarily going to be more empowering, and children who prefer Batman to Chris Carrabba aren’t doomed to a life of violence. The important thing Pop Praxis stressed is that the discussion remains open and that we, as responsible consumers of popular culture, keep a critical eye on it.
Adam Lytle is the co-founder of Ragged Productions, a new collaborative video production company staffed by former and current Electronic Media students from UC's CCM. The company, made up of directors, designers, animators and editors, creates professional grade videos on the cheap. Just another example of emerging creativity in the Queen City, Lytle answers some basic questions about who Ragged Productions is, what they do and why they're important.
Me: What is Ragged Productions?
Ragged Productions: Ragged Productions is an independent video production company. It is an outlet for a collective of creatives and was established to make video a reality for anyone who wants one, but could not normally afford it. It all started with the 48 Hour film festival. I had just finished school and wanted to kind of take everything I had learned in school and apply it to one project. We talked the idea up with friends and coworkers from all different backgrounds and pulled together a full crew. We had so much fun that everyone stayed together and started working on a variety of other projects.
Me: Who is Ragged Productions?
RP: I founded Ragged with my friend Joey Deady. I am the Producer, he acts as Creative Director. We work with a bunch of talented people like Doug Horton, Andy Young, Brett Banks, Stephen Young, Chelsea Pathoff, Danny Rust and Dan Diazcun. Everyone brings their own strengths to the table and fills a role. We are all either alumni or students from the University of Cincinnati's Electronic Media Division. Most of us interned at Lightborne for a period of time. A few of us are freelance video professionals in town.
Me: What projects have you made/what projects are you working on?
RP: We are trying to stay busy. We just finished a video for the Buffalo Killers about a month ago. We are getting ready to shoot one for the Lions Rampant. This week, we are doing some work for A Small Group, a community activist group in town. On top of that, we are prepping to film our first short at the end of October. Having so many talented people involved allows us to have our fingers in a lot of pies at once.
Me: Is Ragged Productions only interested in music videos?
RP: Music videos are fun, there are really no rules that need to be followed. I like making them because I am a big music fan and I feel like a lot of local bands deserve to have a music video that they can shop to bloggers. The reality is, commercial work is what pays. So we have started doing that work as well. It helps when it comes time to buy new gear.
Me: What is the future for Ragged Productions?
RP: The future is unknown. Right now we are focused on doing the work. If the work is there, and its of high quality, the audience will follow. We might even get to do something like a Bootsy Collins video. That would be a treat.
Me: Do you guys have a favorite movie?
RP: If I took a poll it would probably be Blue Velvet. I don't know. David Lynch really knows how to create a mood.
Me: What are your influences?
RP: Everyone we meet and work with. This whole thing is a learning process. When I am out doing freelance work, I am always asking the older guys questions. They probably think I am annoying, but I respect them and the knowledge they posses.
Me: Who are your idols?
RP: Stan Brakhage. Michel Gondry, Project Mill. Pitchfork.tv, whoever invented youtube.
Me: What do you think about the phrase, "Kill your television?"
RP: Isn't that a song title? It should be. I say, go ahead. There's nothing on. I no longer have cable. Everything is moving towards the Web. I know people love their sitcoms, but I feel like they affect my thinking capacity.
Me: Why are you located in Cincinnati and why haven't you moved anywhere else?
RP: Cincinnati is flying under the radar right now and I think things are changing. There are a lot of young people making great music, great art, and genuinely making a difference in their communities. The way I look at it, everyone wants to move to Brooklyn because "thats where it's at," but they move there and they just get absorbed. Brooklyn defines them, they don't define it. Cincinnati is trying to figure itself out. It will become what we make it. When it all goes down, I want to be able to say I told you so.
Ragged's video for the Buffalo Killers and "Let It Ride:"
A disclaimer: Adam may or may not be my ex-boyfriend, but the fact that we don't like each other that much anymore makes my support of his project all the more sincere.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Cincinnati is a cool city. Despite popular belief, there's a whole crop of young adults out there getting involved in their community and doing creative things. One of these groups is PROJECTMILL. What is PROJECTMILL? The answer, my friend, is many things, including the host of Dance_MF, the monthly dance party at the Northside Tavern. And, it just so happens, Dance_MF is coming up this Saturday (Oct. 4). So start doing your squat thrusts, deep lunges or whatever you do to limber up for a danctastic night, and read this little Q&A with Projector Mandy Levy...
MZ: What is PROJECTMILL and who is involved? What roles do they play?
MANDY LEVY: That’s a lot of questions for the price of one! PROJECTMILL is people helping people do cool things. It is—ideally—a network of artists and creatives who are constantly “on call” and willing to lend their talent, ideas, advice, equipment, know-how, critiques, time and enthusiasm to any PROJECTMILL creation. It started at the beginning of the year with just me, Pete Ohs, and Josh Mattie, and has already branched out to a strong sampling of 15 or more “projectors” (that’s what we call ourselves) from Cincinnati, LA, New York, and Chicago, all masters of different creative domains. We have writers, video people, graphic designers, fashion designers, classic artists, animators, musicians, comedians, DJs, actors, even chefs… I think that’s the bulk of it. A nice variety to boot!
MZ: What is the goal or mission of PROJECTMILL?
MANDY LEVY: A kick in the pants, really. It’s about being productive and staying productive by surrounding yourself with productivity.
MZ: This sort of goes along with the above question, but why did you start PROJECTMILL?
MANDY LEVY: We like the idea of team creativity, and were inspired by the impressive artistic community in Cincinnati. If a rising tide lifts all boats, then an institution like PROJECTMILL could help all the awesome people involved to stay motivated and find success.
MZ: What else does PROJECTMILL do besides Dance_MF?
MANDY LEVY: Our inaugural project was going down to South by Southwest with WOXY and creating video content for all their twenty-something lounge acts for the week. We also became an Emmy Award-winning production company this summer, when American Rhapsody, a video Pete and I made, won a Midwestern Regional Emmy for the Advanced Media category. And later this month, we’re putting on a live radio play for the opening night of a spoken word exhibit at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington.
MZ: What inspired you guys to start Dance_MF? What do you feel the response has been?
MANDY LEVY: Last New Year’s Eve, Bad Veins played to a packed house at Northside Tavern, and afterwards they (and a bunch of other friends and future-projectors) proceeded to take over the DJ booth and curate a crazy night of dancing with abandon. It made everyone realize how much we missed Girls and Boys, and how much the cool young people of Cincinnati needed a dance night again. “Bring Dancey Back” was the title on our proposal to the Tavern. But DMF is so much more than just music and dancing. It’s an art installation. Each month boasts a different theme, expanded upon exponentially with various elements of décor, video content, dancer-interaction, and extra-added bonuses (like Razzlebear). The response has been awesome. We’ve gotten a great crowd in both nights so far, and people seem eager to dance and participate in everything that’s offered to them, whether it be following along with the giant '80s workout video projected on the wall, writing obscenities on an overhead projector, or asking Razzlebear to pose for pictures. It’s been really fun.
MZ: Why do you think it's important for young adults in Cincinnati to be more involved with what goes on in their city- creatively, entertainment-wise, etc.? How does PROJECTMILL strive to inspire others to become more involved?
MANDY LEVY: Cincinnati, first of all, is an awesome city. I’m a relative newbie here—I’m from Chicago and I lived in LA before this, and I’m telling you, this place is the best of the three. It’s so undiscovered and unappreciated outside of our little Mason-Dixon bubble, and the only way to put it on the map in the way it deserves is to build it up with our own devotion. We have to make it an outlet for awesomeness. Already this year (or maybe it was last year), Cincinnati was mentioned in Spin magazine as the next big music city—and it’s true! We have incredible music coming out of this place! So it’s the little things like that. Cincinnati needs its young adult community—which, let’s be honest, is the most important gauge for coolness and modern relevance—to produce, participate and promote like there’s no tomorrow. And like I said, PROJECTMILL is meant to be a kick in the pants. People who want to be involved are encouraged to be, and we want to encourage people to be involved. Collaboration swings both ways.
MZ: What are your plans for the future?
MANDY LEVY: We want to make a feature film. Between all of us, we can tackle every part that goes into it. We can write it, direct it, shoot it, star in it, edit it, market it… It’s a big job with a lot of moving parts, but it seems like it should be the ultimate destiny of PROJECTMILL. It makes sense. Want to help?
MZ: Who is DJing Dance_MF this time?
MANDY LEVY: This month’s lineup of DJ-projectors includes: Derek Ruch aka Indian Giver, Matt Luken, Kevin Bayer, Yusef Quotah, Josh Mattie and Bill Rich.
MZ: Your thoughts and feelings on living in Cincinnati? What's good? What's bad?
MANDY LEVY: Cincinnati, again, is awesome. Pete and I recently moved to Over-the-Rhine, and we’re obsessed with the area. It’s got so much to offer, so much potential. The history, the architecture… oh, it makes me weak in the knees! We’ve become so passionate about the Downtown Renaissance; maybe someday we can use PROJECTMILL as a political platform and speak at city council meetings! So that’s good… And the other good thing, again, is just the breed of people. There is an overwhelming wealth of talent here, and it’s so inspiring, but the best part is that these uber-cool and talented people are also Midwestern. So they’re normal. (Sorry LA). The thing that saddens me about Cincinnati, though, is the fact that not everyone has “city spirit.” People prefer to ignore OTR, rather than help it get back on its feet again. They prefer to assume ours is a lame city, rather than explore and discover all the great things it has to offer in all the neighborhoods they’ve never heard of. It’s the wrong attitude. We can’t expect anyone else to swoon for Cincinnati if we don’t love it first.
MZ: Do you guys have a slogan or like words to live by?
MANDY LEVY: “Collective Creativity.” And also, “Knee Socks or No Socks!”