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Alliance for Community Media Keynote July 10, 1999, Cincinnati, Ohio

Aufderheide, Patricia.

Wide Angle, Volume 21, Number 2, March 1999, pp. 126-135 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/wan.1999.0013

For additional information about this article
http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/wan/summary/v021/21.2aufderheide.html

Access Provided by New York University at 07/15/12 11:58PM GMT

PAT HAS GOT IT RIGHT. IN ADDRESSING A PREVIOUS NATIONAL PAT STRETCHES OUR CONCEPT OF WHAT ACCESS CAN AND SHOULD ASSAULTS ON OUR TERRITORY BY COMMERCIAL GIANTS AND LOCAL POLITICIANS HAVE KEPT SO MANY OF US ON THE DEFENSIVE THAT WE HAVE FAILED TO REALIZE WHAT NEW POWERS WE HAVE AT HAND WITH THE INTERNET AND INTERACTIVITY. Photo by Phillip Pratt. HER WORDS TO THE NATIONAL GATHERING OF THE FOR COMMUNITY ALLIANCE MEDIA. DO. LIKE PARKER ASSEMBLY. PROVE HER TO BE AS WISE ABOUT WHAT PUBLIC ACCESS Fig. 1973. New York University. watching video playback of work. —GEORGE STONEY 126 . NOT EVEN IN THE EARLIEST DAYS OF TRIAL-AND-ERROR RECORDING WITH CRUDE SUBSTANDARD BLACK AND WHITE VIDEO IN THE BASEMENTS OF MOMAND-POP CABLE SYSTEMS WERE WE CONTENT THAT OUR SIGNALS WERE GOING NO FURTHER THAN THE FRANCHISE LINES. 1. George Stoney with early training class at the Alternate Media Center. PAT REMINDS US BY FINDING AMONG OUR OWN MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS EXAMPLES OF INNOVATION THAT SHOULD INSPIRE US ALL. WHAT PAT DOES HERE IS TO CHALLENGE US TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF THOSE MEANS. EVEN THEN WE “BICYCLED” OUR TAPES AROUND THE COUNTRY.” TODAY WE HAVE THE TECHNICAL MEANS TO JUST WHAT DREAMED ABOUT. HERE REPRINTED. AND EQUALLY PLAINSPOKEN. PAT’S DEFINITION OF “COMMUNITY” IS ONE I EMBRACE WHOLEHEARTEDLY. OF I RECALL QUITE CLEARLY THAT AT THE FIRST NATIONAL GATHERING PIONEERS BACK IN PUBLIC ACCESS 1977 WE AGREED OUR EFFORTS WERE “A REHEARSAL FOR THE TIME WHEN WE CAN SPEAK WITHOUT CONCERN FOR THE ARTIFICIAL LIMITATIONS OF MUNICIPAL JURISDICTIONS. IS ALL ABOUT AS THE VENERABLE EVERETT PARKER. DREAMING OF A TIME WHEN THERE WOULD BE A BETTER WAY.

Patricia Aufderheide is a professor in the School of Communication at American University. to assume the challenge of helping to inhabit the frontier region of television: noncommercial space. 1999. The reason I think of you as the heroes of everyday life is that you have decided. 2 1 © PATRICIA A UFDERHEIDE NO.Alliance for Community Media Keynote July 10. why are we subscribing to cable?” It would save me having to say it every time. yeah.” and “I’ll take the zoning commission. 126-135. even when none of the hardware will cooperate. I’d like the last click of the clicker to be a little recorded announcement that says. 127 . Most of us think we know what “television” is: it’s commercial TV. for whatever demented reason of your own. in its general outlines. Ohio by Patricia Aufderheide Thank you for the opportunity to speak today to some of the people I take as my personal heroes. 2 (MARCH 1999). But really: it’s an important and guaranteed-to-be-unappreciated thing to create noncommercial television. Cincinnati. people who are carving out real opportunities for real people every single day. I’d rather do the local cricket match. and it’s so predictable. “Honey. “Oh thanks. You have looked at one of the most powerful engines of capitalist accumulation in history and said. and the guy with the hygiene problem too. Her publications include Communications Policy and the Public Interest: The Telecommunications Act of 1996. Oh.” Just thought I would let you know that I’m not totally romanticizing the task here. WIDE ANGLE V O L . that at least in my house. pp.

it won’t be thanks to any of the major players. at least in its infrastructure. people have 128 . imaginative public domains out there.But the fact is that more people than ever before are subscribing to cable. But it will look and feel much more like mass media than it needs to. of the power of networking—especially to harvest as much data as they can from all of us—at the same time as they do their best to minimize the advantage to us of the same power. of limiting consumer choice. than about mass media. with Internet-based communication. and here’s a big surprise. for their purposes. of creating enough monopoly power to allow them to relax into their profits. the old way of aggregating audiences for advertisers. of dueling paradigms. because the paradigm that we’ve all been waiting to change for so long finally is changing. as we stand on the so-called cyberfrontier. not just be used by them. That there will be creatively cultivated public places in media. If there are open spaces. the collection points. with linked technologies. They understand the power of networking and they don’t want other people to have it. and everybody’s doing land grabs. They love the benefits of old media—the gatekeeping. of confusion and disorder. and old media versus new media—all that stuff—is coming to an end. As you know. controlled by a few major corporate actors. even if the big players succeed in narrowing our options. public domains. And they are about to find out that they don’t really know what “television” is anymore. and you will not be astonished to hear me mention the cable company and the phone company. the period of great uncertainty. It will be a communications universe that is much more about networking. That future will be. there will be electronic. and to use the new possibilities. The Telecom Act [of 1996] for better and for worse created enough of a regulatory structure for us to see dimly into the near future. The biggest actors will be doing their best to take advantage. With interactive TV. Still. they are facing the challenge of playing the game a little differently. public conversations. Why? Because they’re not stupid. That people are given the chance to be respected. You are a big part of our hope that.

even to develop alternative communications networks. a Microsoft presence. He said that in the emerging media universe. who produces avant-garde TV and who was talking to me about the problems of programming now. They’re still not quite sure how they’re going to do that. to confront or to escape. a Disney presence. “At the end of the day. you have to fill out a form giving them some information on your travel habits. when the big actors in media just divided the captive audience. Getting an audience: that’ll be the challenge. it’s all about data collection. than they ever have had. no matter what they will eventually grow there. So now. wins. to discover or to exclude. an NBC presence. and so on. They’re going to try on at least two fronts: keeping you on their farm. About the farm part: They talk earnestly about “branding”— establishing a presence that people trust and turn to. and making you the milk cows. the game is cultivating and grooming and shaping and creating something that the old guys call audience and that you call community. and when the providers of plain-vanilla phone service rented everybody the same black box. They are also very serious about building databases.” This is much harder for them than before.” the marketing manager for Virgin Atlantic said. They’re serious about using every new communications resource to shore up the existing mental real estate they’ve got. To sign up for the cute little mini-shows. attended a meeting that included Disney folks. and they want and need to colonize more. Kathryn Montgomery from Center for Media Education.more opportunities to select or deselect. When she asked how they were using the information they collect from the little kids 129 . but they know that it takes a lot more than recycling programming and blasting it out into the void. the one basic rule will be simple: “Whoever gets the audience. Virgin Atlantic has an Austin Powers icon that you toggle on to play a trivia game. I have a brilliant friend. The other day another friend of mine. And that’s the milk cow part. Neil Seiling. I was amused to read in last week’s Advertising Age that marketers are designing cute little icons that people with state-of-the-art computers and Internet access can click on to get trivia games and mini-shows.

“Oh we aren’t using that data. for me. the rep said something like. 130 . with international ties being made to other labor organizations. And this conference has been full of inspiring ways in which ACM folks are and have been doing just that. Kentucky. labor-oriented public affairs provides viewers with another. that permit international labor organizations to find out more about U. and is fearlessly tinkering with it to see what works and what doesn’t.” Storing it. I think that you guys have a solid institutional base of experience that gives us much better models than an Austin Powers travel toggle-show or a Disney marketing database for what you can do with sophisticated. California. perspective. Just as interesting. Great. interactive communications. now a national and even sometimes international show. we’re just storing it. is as much about nurturing relationships that permit competing unions to talk to one another. where the access cable people and the community computing people joined forces to shape interactive electoral coverage. so that Davis citizens asked the questions they needed answers to and got substantial news coverage too—even on the ultimate horse-race night. which has nurtured and sheltered a growing public space for labor issues. I don’t think any of the big players knows what they’ll do with the information they’re archiving. as it is about getting labor perspectives into the wider Chicago community. MWG is creating a virtual gallery opening that creates another open.-based labor. to be used differently as people grow up and business strategies change. the election itself. I look at Covington. too infrequently heard.who access their website. But they’re planning ahead. And where an enterprising multicultural group of young people learned to talk to each other as they made a video that framed cross-cultural issues for a community. So the idea is to build lifelong profiles.S. that encourage union members to perceive media as an important resource. I look at CAN TV in Chicago. public. The success story. Unions that might not have thought of using media before become users of the access space. where the Media Working Group (MWG) helped teach artists from throughout the region how to use new technologies. Labor Beat. I look at Davis. electronic space.

wellproduced entertainment by our commercial culture. from all of commercial TV. The coming challenge will be creatively shaping uses. as Bill Gates puts it. To do what you can do well. Now. I do believe that it’s never been easier to use the various technologies —phone. levels of production sophistication. not about the technology. amazing. is that it’s about what kinds of human relationships you want to facilitate versus what kinds of human relationships are fostered by marketing folks. when the equipment is down or downright defunct. helping to cultivate imaginations that have been stunted by years of learning. but the kind of television that only exists as a feature of living community. Internet. in fact. it is about the technology. The difference with you. You may not always be get-me-the-duct-tape tech wizards. I know that on an average day. much less about how our complex equipment works than we did a decade ago. I also think that there’s never been so much space to fill. labor issues. Rather. and some of them show a huge amount of creativity poured into commercial entertainment. I would say it’s the most astonishing concentration of human creativity ever in the history of the world. But take a moment to imagine our near future. incredibly fecund popular culture that has given us classic movies like The Wizard of Oz and Steven Spielberg’s neglected classic The Empire of the Sun and great TV like The Sopranos (anyone here get HBO?) and musicians like Ry Cooder and —well. I’d like to just spend a couple of minutes on that notion of stunted imagination. wireless. building links.Elections. because what I mean by stunted is the ability to imagine a range of uses. cable TV. often done in teams where ideas cook together. Everybody will have their own list but nobody. grassroots arts—that’s not just what commercial TV doesn’t do well. I’m using my list. Because throughout the ACM community. styles. I don’t mean that people aren’t being offered captivating. of course. you don’t have to learn to reject the awesome. wants to throw away their VCR and junk their CD collection and I 131 . Even today we need to know much. so many places to go today. computers—and that it’s getting easier day by day. not even here. you’ve figured out what many terrified people in commercial TV are just beginning to grasp: it’s about facilitating human relationships. it may seem that. never to dream of alternatives. And many of them really are entertaining.

God help us if it’s all about the little Budweiser frogs. most particularly the stuntedimagination problem. And there are huge cultural hurdles to overcome. It has great advantages. It is a technologically intense. In many ways. is encouraging people to be able to imagine communications not just as a fount of entertainment. There are big technical hurdles to overcome. let’s face it. open-to-everybody kind of thing. but terrible disadvantages too. when you go home from an access center. but because the way it grew up. the part of our lives that we share by force of circumstances and that we inhabit best when it’s maintained. Put another way. good or bad. And I mean community not as a smug haven from heartless consumerism. What you’re good at. television as a mass medium is not the most natural. the most user-friendly medium for grassroots communication and community building. so many useful civic and community services were among the pioneering applications. I mean community in the sense that our great philosopher John Dewey used the word public. I mean community as the shared space where differences are negotiated and common problems are solved. cute as they are and good as they are for the Anheuser-Busch family and stockholders. a chunk of consensus behind a picket fence. resource hog of a medium. they just get worse with obsolescence. and they don’t go away. I mean the unglamourous but absolutely necessary business of a civilized democracy.know that many of you. 132 . and want something besides that? Communications is after all the vehicle by which we understand what’s important in the world and for ourselves. It was a rare example of communications that had a highly visible early life as a noncommercial. and what we need more of. are watching a favorite show that’s a product of this extremely vigorous marketplace. in part with the tools of communication. not just because of what the technology permits. the Internet has been a tremendous gift to us in that endeavor. but as a tool for community in its most democratic aspect. this is the fact that every new trainee “knows” what television is when they walk in the door. a cozy little precolor Pleasantville. But shouldn’t people be able to imagine. The interactive era is also a terrific boon to those of us who care about creating civic culture because.

Because however expensive telecom technologies are. and it’s not going to be any cheaper than it ever was to address it just because we have new technological opportunities. although that’s a part of it. but sustained resources. They don’t expect the sewers to be maintained out of sheer love of common plumbing. And that all takes money. the most expensive thing in this whole equation is the cultivation of human creativity and connection. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to discover how many people around you don’t have a clue about what they would like to do with their new opportunities. and community purposes. Access started in an era of generous but careless social welfare liberalism. You have the names and numbers of the nonprofit community groups. It’s the way they’ve gotten many decent taxpayers to dismiss a core part of a civilized society—as if they expected anything else in their social lives to run well if there were no investment in it. grassroots arts. community networking. That’s an old problem for anyone who’s worked on democratic communications issues. It’s an old problem. which we in the arts used to call the “ceremonial CETA” because it helped to start 133 . or the highway signs to be crafted by a volunteer committee of sign lovers. Remember the CETA program. community communication takes not just skill and work and love. And you are the people who’ve got the experience in how to do that. political relationships can be groomed. You know how to drive the cable company and the city council crazy until they do what they should. people can learn from their mistakes. it’s going to be that much easier to free up imaginations to use the technologies that are becoming easier to use for noncommercial. It’s about community organizing in the most basic sense. top-down TV set and more like a computer screen or a video conference call. leaders can find each other. You have the beginnings of the social imagination to inhabit electronic public domains.As the TV set starts to look and act less like a traditional. We’ve lived through a terrible transition. we’re not confused about why we have it. And it’s about investing in people over the course of a life cycle. so that institutional memories can be built up. One of the things that makes me maddest in the whole access story is how easy it has been for conservatives to argue that culture doesn’t need subsidy. Community TV. That’s not just about training. civic.

and it’s still so little for such a vast. So 134 . As they do so. seventeen million from the Department of Commerce’s TIIAP [later TOP]. Those companies have been permitted to get very big so that they can take very big risks. It’s far too little. the California Public Utilities Commission required that the new merged company invest in shrinking the digital divide. was funded by Microsoft and AT&T among others. The Open Studio arts project for instance. These are promising precedents. because the dollar figures are only in the millions. there are many. In Ohio. Look at what happened in California. And sometimes they have. because they show what can happen when community-based organizations work on and with government agencies to harness the energy of the new era in telecom. they need to be made to invest in the future of the society that will need their services. do-good demonstration projects by large communications companies looking both for good publicity and some smart new ideas on how to design the new networked universe. for community initiatives. when Pacific Telesis and SBC merged. the Public Utilities Commission also succeeded in extracting funds from merged companies. Ameritech and SBC.so many arts programs for people who were living in voluntary poverty? As that era declined. Those are great examples. And of course. in which very big and powerful companies are taking on challenging new business arrangements and offering untested services. and there are several decimal points more of investing to do in community networking. We are now. Federal officials have also earmarked teensy tiny packets of money—ten million dollars from the Department of Education. all living in a more sober era. Thanks to more than a hundred community groups working together. post-Telecom Act. rich country. They are also chastening examples. access weathered a brutal period of vulgar and also sophisticated assaults on anything that would impede the “greed is good” philosophy. many small. such as widespread broadband access. We are in terrible trouble in this country if we think that small demonstration projects can make up for systematic deprivation.

with the citizenry as social investors in this adventure. we have resources that are all the more worth investing in because they address needs that will never ever be answered efficiently. 135 . I don’t mean just the good people of the Alliance for Community Media. we have answers. You need to stop being my unsung heroes. to help shape civic and public domains. democratic future. The mega-corporations that were the winners after the Telecom Act are ferociously working to shape that environment in their favor.let me recap my main points here: The networked environment offers more potential than ever before to actually do what we say access can do: make communications a tool of democratic community. or appropriately in the marketplace. effectively. And when I say we. People in organizations in every community need to make these arguments for the funds to cultivate a truly civil society. It’s too damn hard. at this moment. You have unique tools and experience. Let’s go for being pioneers of the newest public domains. We need to show them that we have approaches. We need to challenge our legislators and regulators at every level to see subsidies for culture and noncommercial communication as a critical investment in a civilized. But there is no free lunch.