The first word:
by Julia Lesage
Rarely do I write an introduction to an issue, but this issue of Jump Cut exceeds my expectations for fascinating, sophisticated essays that make a contribution to the field of media studies itself. So here I am reorganizing the table of contents according to my own intellectual interests, which in fact influence the kinds of essays I would like to see more of in Jump Cut.
First of all, as you see, there are three large special sections, very different in methodology and emphasis. The first, Marxism and Media Studies, edited by Michael Litwack, Beth Capper, and Christoper Robé was two years in the making, and its editors and authors worked together to craft polished essays that continue Jump Cut’s Left focus in new and theoretically varied ways.
The second, Latin American Feminist Film and Visual Art Collectives, edited by Lorena Cervera, Sonia Kerfa and Elizabeth Ramírez-Soto, is an internationally-based multi-lingual endeavor that moved from its origins as an online conference to the publication of these essays. From the beginning, the project has been conducted in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. It exemplifies decolonizing scholarly publication, but whole process also indicates some of the extra effort and cost, especially of translation, that this commitment entails.
The third special section, “Gender and Sexuality in South Asian Media,” is edited by Sonal Vij. She has collected a group of highly varied essays from a range of sources and from writers residing in South Asia and abroad. Our goal in planning this section was to place a focus on the social conditions defining gender in the region, explore the resistance to narrow and repressive gender formations, and also consider the very depiction of “body.”
I am fascinated how some key topics in media studies are particularly well developed in this issue. Whole intellectual areas are treated in complex new ways. These include the following, which I will describe in more detail below: cinematic and material space, gender and sexuality, archives and media history, new theory, activist media, the political avant-garde, and new perspectives on Hollywood film.
Cinematic and material space: I have a special interest in social space and media space because I taught video production for many years, including teaching spatial composition. Theoretically in media studies, spatial composition takes on new valences because of global environmental crises as well as efforts within academia to decolonize intellectual life and teaching. Furthermore, in political struggles all over the world, space is the locus of both oppression and protest. Essays here that take up the larger political issues related to spatial exploitation/representation include these:
Gender and sexuality: As always, Jump Cut welcomes essays that explore media’s use of and relation to gender and sexuality, especially when the writers have a new perspective to offer. A number of approaches stand out in this issue. The first approach relates to pornography and porn studies in a very specific way. I and an a University of Oregon colleague, Peter Alilunas, helped place Chuck Kleinhans’ large pornography research collection in the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the University of Toronto. Also at the Bonham Centre is the large pornography collection of Jump Cut senior editor, Thomas Waugh. Three interviews here are ones that Daniel Laurin, curator of the Kleinhans collection, did as oral history. These are with Julia Lesage, Peter Alilunas, and Thomas Waugh on their personal background and their perspectives on pornography. I suspect that for those of you who know one of us, that may be the first thing you read.
Second, within the special section on Gender and Sexuality in South Asian Media, a number of rhetorical approaches particularly interest me. Some authors trace the use of the actor’s body, including casting and costuming, at the same time that they pay close attention to the body in the mise-en-scene, especially when discussing feature films. This approach is found as
Other authors in that special section on gender focus on television studies from both a national and international perspective. Because worldwide streaming has changed the international mix of daily TV offerings in many countries, I think this is a rich area for study right now, especially in a transcultural context. Here
Queer media, viewership, and theory: South Asian queer topics are also taken up in the Special Section, with Kamran Qureshi offering an exploration of intersex characters in Indian cinema and R. Raj Rao looking at two of the first Indian features to depict lesbian characters as protagonists. Focusing more on the United States, incorporating a theoretical perspective, and also emphasizing queer reception, three of our authors make a case for queer structures of desire, both within cinematic texts and within viewers. Kevin John Bozelka, reviewing The Oxford Handbook of Queer Cinema, finds that many of the essays in the collection posit wishful perceptions as a crucial component within queer media scholarship. Amplifying this kind of assertion, Joshua Bastian Cole offers a reading of the film Swiss Army Man, and Nicole Morse offers one of the documentary Paris Is Burning and the TV series Pose to posit a transgender gaze, indicating the need to theoretically account for how subcultural groups gain pleasure from dominant media.
Another vital area for film studies now is reimagining how the archive functions, how it might be assembled, and how it might be used. Both the special sections, Latin American Film and Visual Arts Collectives and Marxism and Media Studies have an historical component, looking at the complexities of how we trace the past of neglected or oppressed groups. In fact, many people’s history, outlook, and social processes have long been documented in skewed ways, if documented at all. Drawing on Latin American research, Karol Valderrama-Burgos reviews three books on three foundational women filmmakers’ work and careers: Maria Luisa Bemberg, Valeria Sarmiento, and Lucrecia Martel. Looking away from auteurs and toward feminist process, Elena Oroz describes “Cocina de imágenes,” the first large gathering of Latin American women media makers in Mexico City in 1987. She does so in the context of other important large-scale “encuentros” of Latin American feminists. (Note: I myself attended Cocina and audiotaped the workshops and did interviews. In 2020 I had all that material digitized and made available on Dropbox.)
The section on Marxism and Media Studies draws on archives of different kinds.
Book reviews and theory: Of particular interest to me in this issue are the book reviews and other discussions of media and cultural theory. The books themselves are rife with theoretical insights, and the reviews’ authors skillfully articulate the authors’ premises. Furthermore, especially when dealing with cultural specificity, the books’ editors have made a significant effort to expand their chapter authorship beyond the United States and Europe. For example, the editors’ introduction to the Marxism and Media Studies special section, plus the book reviews by Matthew Ellis and Jordan Kinder comprise an extremely sophisticated theoretical discussion of contemporary Left film theory.
Other books reviewed provide an exemplar of how to decolonize academic publication, both from their use of a wide range of international sources and their alternative cultural perspectives. These include book reviews which take up a closer look at media cultures in various parts of the world by Jaimie J. Zhao, Daniel Freed, María Mercedes Vázquez Vázquez, and Leticia Berrizbeitia Añez.
In addition, a unique addition to film theory is the articulation of a new genre, the process genre, by Salomé Skiversky; her book of that name is reviewed by Sam Smucker.
Also with this issue we have initiated an in-depth discussion of the theory of dance on screen, partly in the context of the Gender and Sexuality in South Asian section, with a book review by Rutuja Deshmukh and an essay on Bollywood dance by Paromita Vohra. In this area we are especially pleased to publish an edited transcript of an interdisciplinary roundtable about screen dance, featuring both media and dance scholars. As with the discussion of cinematic space and its relation to geographic space, much has yet to be done on theorizing the media re-presentation of the body in space, especially in historical and intercultural terms.
Activism and the collective process: The special section on Latin America Feminist Film and Visual Art Collectives places an emphasis on alerting us to continental media activism, with Isabel Seguí writing on a feminist collective in Peru, Lita Rubiano Tamayo on work in the Colombian Andes and Amazon, and Marina Calvalcanti Tedesco on the International Women’s Film Project. In particular, we are pleased to present the writings of LASTESIS group explaining their theory of performance. LASTESIS is a Chilean group renowned for the worldwide re-enactment of their performance “Un violador en tu camino” (A Rapist in Your Path), introduced here by Elizabeth Ramírez-Soto. Finally, in this context, Victor Wallis reviews a book covering the work of media activism today from around the world: Insurgent Media from the Front: A Media Activism Reader, which is especially useful for the way the groups explain their process.
The political avant garde: Activist media has long relied on the documentary as a genre, but I am equally committed to the efforts of the political avant-garde to find new forms to express previously unarticulated visions and concepts, needed for the process of social and perceptual change. Scattered throughout the issue, but taken together these essay offer a theoretically sophisticated look at experiments in cultural production aimed at a social need:
Hollywood: Finally three essays on Hollywood film show very different but original ways to approach this topic.