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Failure to Watch

Personal compilation of viewing history
**written within larger paper about contemporary art and media consumption, click to read
DIA Beacon, NY 2022
  • When I was in the fifth grade growing up in Mid-City Los Angeles, the internet was still in the Web 1.0 era. It was the late 2000’s. I was really good about doing my homework then. I knew I wanted to finish all my tasks right away so I could have the undisturbed treat of playing on my DS or watching TV. My older brother would always play before doing his work and then get frustrated when it was late, he was tired, and still had to finish. I picked up on that, younger sibling perks. Electronic use was something I earned and chose to engage with on my own terms. 


  • When I was a teen I never had a Vine. I’ve always felt like I missed a part of what it meant to be a teenager in the 2010’s, the humor of copying comedic bits that others put on the internet, and pretending that you made the line up until someone who had also seen the vine called you out. I did have Tumblr though, which I liked because I felt like the creator. It was my more controlled view into subculture, aesthetics, and trying to relate to other young strangers online. I remember the first picture I reposted on my feed was this image of white girl with golden blonde dreads sitting in a sunny patch of grass. I found the visual mesmerizing. I didn’t know what appropriation was.  


  • When I was in high school, an older girl I went to temple with asked me if I wanted to be the advertising manager for our high school’s newspaper. She told me it’s a two-year position and I’ll have to send a few emails every once in a while, but it’s a ‘guaranteed A.’ Somewhere in between the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, after switching schools a few times, I learned how to move through the motions of school success. This opportunity sounded great for doing just that, something to slap on my college application. One year after I took the position, I ran for editor-in-chief. I lost, but I kept writing. I thought I found my calling. 


  • When Trump won the 2016 election, I was asleep on the couch. Watching the news carelessly beforehand, I drifted off before the blue wave crashed unexpectedly far away from shore. Safe from the initial visualization of the called election, I woke up to his first speech on that stage. The shock pushed me right off the couch and straight into bed to continue sleeping, intentionally this time. I always hated watching the news anyway. 


  • When I was a freshman in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took an education course taught by a graduate student I adored. She was studying police violence on Black girls in K-12 schools. We discussed the role of media in class. I thought that media was positive, a tool for change. The conspiracy that the news was fake was the real conspiracy. I thought sharing images and videos of violence had value. We should watch them and share them to understand what happened and make changes. I thought it was creating awareness. She asked me why I thought people had to see Black death to believe it. 


  • When I was a sophomore in college I was elected State News Editor of my student paper. I was grateful for the opportunity to write and share stories, to gain teaching experience from working directly with others. To be in charge and control of the news. Well the local student news. My old internal motivation was off the charts. Like many who are trapped with daily deadlines in windowless basements doing unpaid labor they believe in, I became obsessed. But, becoming increasingly pessimistic with each piece that included the word ‘bipartisanship’ in the headline, when my time in the position was over, it was over. I was burnt out and discouraged. I still wanted to teach though. I always loved to teach. 


  • When I was living in my childhood bedroom at age 21, slowly regressing back into my teenage temper during the summer of the 2020 pandemic, I got sent a text to ‘leave Santa Monica and drive home immediately without stopping.’ My parents were home watching my car, filled with myself and my two best friends, create a barricade between about a hundred lined-up SWAT officers and thousands of protestors on the news. They didn’t want us out, and they said it was the pandemic, but they just didn’t want us out. The news didn’t want us out either, that was obvious by the coverage, or at least my parents' regurgitation of the coverage. I didn’t watch much news anymore. 


  • When we kept going out we knew where to go because of Instagram. We’d find information about gathering in between images and videos of violence. Sometimes the information was within those, but I tried to avoid them. Sometimes the information was after the occasional bikini photo. How could people be so out of touch? I’d unfollow, associating the entire person’s morality to a single image. 


  • When I woke up to a feed of black squares posted by my mostly white following, I didn’t know whether or not I should post one myself. And then, like streaks of light shining through a feed drowned in black, I came across a few stories from Black activists calling for the squares to be taken down. They were a tactic planted by the police to clog feeds, to stop the spread of organizing information. They were ineffective, distracting, not making actual change. With the exception of Black peers, I told everyone I knew to take them down. I got blocked by a non-white friend who told me never to tell him how to post. I was doing what I thought was the appropriate response to the visuals I found. I was never actually sure of my role. I was trying to learn. I was trying to take my time before acting. I’m not sure I could ever be sure. 


  • When I cleaned out the house and found my parents’ old camcorders and point-and-shoot film cameras, I thought about how many wasted images I took without thinking about what I was shooting on my iPhone. How many doubles, hell quadruples, I had of the same view in the same position taking up the space in the elusive iCloud. Trying to capture everything and it was often just nothing. Taking iPhone photos felt like a thoughtless, unconscious reaction to something of interest. The constant stream of capture, looking at the view through only through the phone’s view, posting images and deleting them instantaneously in insecurity. And yet this pointlessness holds so much power. 


  • I never watched the video of George Floyd’s murder. I couldn’t bring myself to and really didn’t want to, but I felt that I didn’t need to watch it to be moved to act, and I think that was what my college professor meant.


  • When Instagram made private stories during the pandemic, we could post about the social events we attended and vacations we went on without fear that anyone who wasn’t doing the same thing would see it. A privately public visual trail of disrespect for community guidelines. Less opportunity to judge an entire morality on a single image. Soon enough it would become socially acceptable to use your ‘real’ story for that content anyway. 


  • When a seventeen-year-old was driven to Wisconsin from Illinois a group of students from Madison drove to Kenosha along with many others to gather in protest of Jacob Blake’s murder. Joseph Rosenbaum. Anthony Huber. Cries of ‘do not stand idly by’ from my holocaust surviving and perished ancestors sound in my ears. Images of Rittenhouse with AR-15’s, with police, with water, with care, with life, flood the internet. I couldn’t watch. I felt fragile. Too sensitive to stay updated. Preoccupied with my own well-being. I deserved to be preoccupied with my well-being. But, I’m not sure if that’s true. I used to think it was radical not to watch, but now I was becoming nervous of possible negligence. Of using that radical lesson as a cop-out to protect my own comfort. 


  • When someone I had never met in real life appeared in one of my dreams I realized I was addicted to Instagram. I never followed influencers until the pandemic and it didn’t seem strange at first. I was drawn to follow accounts for their style, for photography, for beautiful bodies. But after that dream, I realized how much information I knew about these strangers, and even though the information was ‘public’ that felt wrong somehow. I knew their partners, their zodiac signs, their eating habits, the cities they lived in, without any physical evidence of their existence outside of my screen. There was no mutuality to this perception, this relationship. And even if they did follow me back, would that be enough to signify a mutual interest or a mutual connection or even enough for a mutual acknowledgment of existence? Spiraling. I delete Instagram. Well just the application, I can still access it on Safari. But, still, I miss information, communication. I always redownload Instagram. It feels necessary to avoid that feeling of negligence.  


  • When ten people died at Astroworld, crushed, stampeded, suffocated, I could not watch the videos. I read about it, and that consumption felt safer, more controlled. But even reading about it in the capacities I did, I found myself wrecked. I had been in those crowds before, seen people lifted out, felt like something terrible was happening. I didn’t need to learn about it. I think that’s how I felt with Rittenhouse. I had been there, in that protest environment, felt the unsafety of the scene. Do we have to experience violence to understand it, to feel it? Does experiencing something similar mean we don't have to watch? What obligation do we have to watch when we can feel it? What mistake is made by assuming you understand?


  • By the time I tried to find an answer to those questions my feed was different again. Rotating between whatever our conception of normalcy looks like and then rapidly transforming during crisis –– which happened with seemingly more frequency according to the memes of young people who are ‘tired of living through historical events’ while Putin wreaks horror in Ukraine. Vegas trips. Terror. Climate crisis. Brunch dates. Depression spirals. Selfie dump. Love is the message, the message is Death [Film 2016]. 


  • When I taught my first day of class to a group of fifth graders for a fellowship with the Media and Social Change Lab at Teachers College, I tried to gauge what they thought about media. I tried to think about how much media has changed since I was in the fifth grade. Which obviously wasn’t that long ago. They shared how they equated media with social media. They shared that media is something that makes you dumb. That Instagram and Twitter are bad, but their dad says but Facebook is okay. Well it depends on what you’re reading, they add. I learned that they think media is something that people only do for money. That media is something to be afraid of because it's distracting. But, later, that media is a place where you can make others happy by making comments that aren’t hating. That media is a place where you can share what you think about. That media is a place where if you aren’t feeling awesome, you might find someone else who doesn’t feel awesome either, and that’s good. That there’s a community. It’s 2022. We are entering web3.

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