Jay Hamilton. “Dilemmas of ‘Media’: The Case of Alternative/Activist Media.” Accepted for presentation at the “What is Media?” conference, Portland, Oregon, April 14-16.
Abstract: Despite its seeming stability and obviousness, the term “media” deserves critical scrutiny. To critique “media,” this paper historicizes the use of “media” by focusing on the case of alternative/activist media, which presents the dilemmas of “media” in particularly high relief. As posed by “media,” the key criteria for distinguishing the alternative from the mainstream emerged as what kind of machine was used to send messages, or what kind of messages were created. However inadequate these criteria were at the time (and they were), the analytical and practical map produced by “media” has been called into question even more starkly by the advent over the past two decades or so of consumer-grade digital production and distribution as well as the more extensive hybridization of commercial and popular cultural production. By contrast, an historicized conception of practice is in many ways more useful for grasping and specifying varieties and their implications.