Thursday, May 10, 2007

And Now This...

So, I uploaded a video to YouTube for the first time, after having the file transferred to an appropriate format. The name of the video is "And Now This..." and it was prepared in the summer of 2003 as part of the 5th anniversary celebration of the Media Ecology Association.

Since I am posting this here, I thought I would include some details about the circumstances surrounding the video, for the record.

The video was put together by Michael Grabowski, a filmmaker and professor at the College of New Rochelle, and my colleague at Fordham University, Margot Hardenbergh. Michael and Margot generously extended executive producer credits to me, and to Janet Sternberg, but all we did was provide clips and make some suggestions about how to put them together. The video was put together on the fly, at the last minute, so expectations should not be too high.

This all began because I had wanted to organize an event to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Media Ecology Association. The organization came into being when I brought together Casey Man Kong Lum (at William Paterson University) and Thom Gencarelli (at Montclair State University, but about to become the chair of a new communication department at Manhattan College in nearby Riverdale)--the three of us had been talking about the need to do something along these lines for a number of years--along with Sue Barnes (who was my colleague at Fordham at the time, since departed for the Rochester Institute of Technology) for a meeting at Fordham University (we met in the conference room next to my office, up at the Rose Hill Campus--aka da Bronx). Paul Levinson, who had recently joined us at Fordham, was present at the time, so I asked him to join us at the meeting. And so we five became the founding fathers (and mother) of the MEA, which we called into existence on September 4th, 1998.

So, it made sense to me that we celebrate our 5th anniversary at Fordham, and to that end I reserved a room for the event at our more conveniently located Lincoln Center Campus. But I wanted it to be more than just a party, so I spoke with various MEA Board members about what kind of program to arrange. Everyone agreed that the best thing would be having Neil Postman give a talk, Neil being the most prominent media ecologist of that time, not to mention the person who introduced the term "media ecology," and not to mention that many of us had studied with him (this includes the five founders, and Michael and Margot).

And Neil would have done it if he could, he was always doing this sort of thing for his students, but he had been diagnosed with lung cancer the previous year, and wound up in intensive care that summer. Another of our Board members, Douglas Rushkoff, came up with the idea to do a panel discussion on media and religion, so I arranged that program, which included Doug and Paul Levinson, and also two younger academics, Read Mercer Schuchardt and Cheryl Anne Casey, both of who were Neil's advisees. Doug also said he would be in touch with Neil's son Andrew Postman, an old friend of Doug's, and see if Neil was well enough to attend the event. It was not until a few weeks before that he found out that Neil could come, but would not be able to speak, and so we made Neil the guest of honor.

I had already asked Margot and Michael to work up a short video celebrating our anniversary, and when we found out that Neil was coming, I asked that they include a tribute to him. So the video kind of does both at the same time, which may seem awkward, but again we were doing it on the fly. You'll hear Camille Paglia and Marshall McLuhan, and Neil's colleagues Christine Nystrom and Terry Moran, as well as Eric McLuhan, along with a number of clips of Neil, including an extended clip of him explaining what he meant by the term media ecology, which was from the first MEA Convention, held at Fordham in 2000. You'll also see me and several others in the background here and there. And there's music from Media Ecology Unplugged (aka John McDaid and Bill Bly), along with some more famous voices and faces.

So, the event took place on September 4, 2003. Neil was accompanied by his wife Shelley, who is an absolute delight, and his three children, Andy, Mark, and Madeline. Neil was very ill at that point, had a portable oxygen tank with him, but was in good spirits nonetheless.

As MEA President, I was the MC for the event. And since Walter Ong had passed away that August, we began with a memorial for him. Following that, I chaired the Media and Religion panel, which resulted in a lively discussion, and Neil got off a few funny remarks in the course of things (he had a great sense of humor). Then we showed the video, after which I had the other four founders and the MEA Board members join me in a receiving line, and I presented Neil with a plaque honoring him as a media ecologist. He said a few words of thanks, and the audience rose to deliver a thunderous standing ovation (about 100 of us in attendance on a Thursday evening during the first week of classes, it was not widely known how sick Neil was, or there probably would have been ten times as many present). Afterwards, we had wine and cheese, and Neil sat and held court, just like the old days back at NYU, and individually and in small groups, people came over to speak with him. There was a sampling of individuals including colleagues, friends, and students, from the first PhD class in Neil's media ecology program (sadly dismantled now) to the most recent.

There are times when things are set in motion, and the result is magic, magic ecology. This was one of those times. I don't know how it all came together, it just did, and looking back on it, it is hard not to think that there was a higher power at work. At the very least, for most of us, it gave us one last time to see Neil, and in essence to say goodbye.

I've written about this before, on the MEA listserv, and spoken about it at other events, and I feel like I'm repeating myself putting it down here, but it is important to me to remember that moment, to remember what happened. This seems a bit more like a permanent record, and also a way to communicate to others something about that night.

For me, this video can never be completely separated from that context. But for others, the video can be, and is, taken out of its old context, by virtue of now being available on YouTube (and I do hope they allow it to remain), and that is all right too. After all, we did give it the name, "And Now This..."

1 comment:

Dr. Fallon said...


Thanks to your notice on the listserve, I've just seen the video for the first time, just found both MEA's and your MySpace sites, and just found your blog.

What irony life presents us with sometimes! How I would love to have been at the MEA's fifth convention, to have seen this video, to have spoken to Neil. As a life-long Long Islander, I easily could have been there, except I am no longer a Longer Islander or a New Yorker at all. And Brian Cogan has been in his position long enough to no longer be "a younger Dr. Fallon."

Neil was not my mentor, nor my advisor, nor the person with whom I felt most comfortable in the ME program. All three of those would probably be Chris.

But Neil was still very important to me, both academically and personally. Aside from the very broad sort of impact that McLuhan has had not just on me, but on pretty much everyone who has studied communication in the last generation, the two people who have had the most profound impact on my thinking, because of their refusal to remove the issue of values (moral or otherwise) from discussions of technologies and their sociocultural consequences would have to be Ellul and Neil.

Remind me to tell you about a brief conversation Neil and I had at the MEA convention in 2000 when I see you in Mexico.