Monday, March 26, 2007

Modeling Media Ecology (updated)

In a previous post, I mentioned Robert K. Blechman, who writes a blog called A Model Media Ecologist. Like myself, Bob is a graduate of the Media Ecology Doctoral Program at New York University, founded by Neil Postman (sadly, both Neil and the program are no longer with us). By the time I began the program in 1980, Bob was already legendary. Back in the 1970s, the program had a very experimental and exploratory character, and producing a media project was one of the requirements. For most of that decade, Postman was associated with the educational reform movement that began in the 60s, with its arguments for change and increased relevance (in media ecology terms this meant transforming curriculum and pedagogy to better reflect the new media environment), and he was associated with the counterculture and known for being co-author of Teaching as a Subversive Activity (with Charlie Weingartner). By the time I got to NYU, Postman had shifted his position to one much more critical of media and technology, and had abandoned the media project requirement. While I don't feel as if I missed out on anything, it truly would have been a shame if he had changed the curriculum earlier, and Bob Blechman had not produced the brilliant music video (from a time before there were such things as music videos) entitled, A Model Media Ecologist (naturally), which reflects the media ecology curriculum of that time. I believe it was recorded on 3/4 inch Sony U-matic, and once every decade or so it would be played at one of Neil's in-house media ecology conferences that he organized as retreats for his graduate students. It was only a few years ago that Bob got it transferred to digital video, and a few of us have had the good fortune to have copies. But now Bob has uploaded it to YouTube so that all can enjoy it. While there has been some degradation of video quality over the years, and yes it's in living black and white which many of the young folk just find difficult to deal with perceptually, but the sheer exuberance and brilliance more than makes up for any technical problems.

Update: After posting on the MEA listserv that Bob's video was available on YouTube, his response included the following, which serves as an emendation to what I wrote above:

Under the tutelage of professors Neil Postman, Terry Moran and Christine Nystrom, it was the practice in the 1970's at New York University's Program in Media Ecology Conferences for each doctoral class to pick one member to deliver a "State of the Class" address. (Archivists alert! I still have some of the original material from these conferences as well as materials handed out in class by Postman, Moran, Nystrom and others.) At the fall 1976 conference my "Class of 1977" decided to do something different. I had access to a Sony Betamax 1/2-inch, reel to reel, black and white recorder and a camera, and so instead of one class member giving a 30 minute address, each of us in the Class of '77 prepared up to five minutes on video tape of our own personal metaphor for "What is Media Ecology?" "A Model Media Ecologist" was my contribution. (I have the complete video of the Class of '77 if anyone is interested.) I sang it to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan's "A Modern Major General." You'll notice there is no mention of personal computers (the Macintosh was just a gleam in Steve Job's eye), nor CD's, DVD's, nor even video discs. That's an IBM Selectric in front of me. On the shelves behind me is the complete LP collection of NYU's Loeb Student Center. (Younger list members can query older ones for a description of what an LP was.) These were primitive times and we were all pioneers!

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