A Clear Channel Trailer

Context

A Clear Channel:  (Minute 0.00- 0.01 )

Part I, is a short documentary (18:16 minutes) about the complexity of communicating about race relations in America, especially as these themes played themselves out in 1967-1968. Throughout, we feature local instances of activism, whereby African American students on a recently desegregated campus attempted to enact change through the circulation of discourse about race and racism. In Part I, we offer two case studies of local African American student activists who attempted to “go public” (see Warner) with ongoing racial injustices. Part II (currently in development) will feature a third case study, this one a university-community partnership that formed in 1973.

The first case study involves John Carlos, former ETSU student and member of the ETSU track team best known for his participation in the silent protest with sprinter Tommie Smith atop the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The year before Carlos attempted to “go public” with the persistence of racism and injustice across the globe, he had attempted to do the same in the local context under discussion. Thus, after exploring the complexities of communication in 1968, we turn our attention to the global demonstration for social justice that occurred at the Mexico City Olympics in October 1968 and, next, to the more local demonstrations in which Carlos was involved just one year earlier.

The second case study focuses on former ETSU student Joe Tave and his involvement in the formation of the Afro-American Student Society of East Texas (ASSET) on the night of MLK’s assassination in April 1968, especially their “Declaration of Rights” (also in April 1968), which likewise called attention to the persistence of racism in this local context. ASSET’s “Declaration of Rights” and related work were able to force a series of significant changes at ETSU, which we narrate in the final section of “A Clear Channel: Part I.”

The third case study appears in A Clear Channel: Part II, currently in development and available to the public soon. In it, we focus on former ETSU student McArthur Evans and his involvement in the formation of the Norris Community Club (NCC) in 1973, a university-community partnership designed to call attention to the racial injustices experienced by local citizens in Norris, the historically segregated neighborhood (see Carter, “A Clear Channel”).

In each case, the activists involved help illustrate the ways in which, as Michael Warner insists, “One doesn’t ‘go public’ simply as an act of will – neither by writing, nor by having an opinion. The context of publicness must be available, allowing these actions to count in a public way, to be transformative.”

Bibliography 

  • Carter, Shannon . “A Clear Channel: Circulating Resistance in a Rural University Town.” Community Literacy Journal 7.2 Fall 2012.

  • Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Southern Illinois UP, 2005. Print.

  • Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Zone Books, 2005.

A Clear Channel:  (Minute 0.01-0.02 )

The notion of “noise” plays a significant role in our analysis of communication across difference in 1968, especially as it draws forward international discourse on segregation/desegregation debates.

A Clear Channel:  (Minute 0.02-0.05 )

A core text throughout our remix is the Charles and Ray Eames’ instructional film A Communications Primer (1953), a rich, influential film based loosely on Claude E. Shannon’s seminal article “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” (1948), especially as extended by Warren Weaver in their The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949). We are particularly interested in working with and against the way Shannon and Weaver’s model defines “noise” in human communication. According to this model, a message is transmitted by the sender and travels along a communication channel to a receiver that then translates the signal and delivers it to the desired destination.

Claude E. Shannon, a mathematician, was primarily concerned with the technical aspects of “noise” — a key concern for engineers attempting to transfer information through the wire-based and broadcasting systems dominating communication technologies at the time. Noise affected the transfer of one’s voice over telephone lines, especially long distance, as well as the distance traveled by a radio wave, which may be blocked by the physical landscape, the limits of the equipment available for transfer or the receiving apparatus, or any other such factor, including competing signals. Taken literally, noise simply refers to any outside force that acts on the transmitted signal in ways that disrupt its ability to reach the receiver intact.

Yet Weaver’s contributions to Shannon’s theory of communication, as well as Eameses’ A Communications Primer upon which it is loosely based, helped extend this notion of “noise” to human communication. In short, human communication is likewise challenged by noise. It is utterly unavoidable but not altogether undesirable. In “The Aesthetics of Noise” (2002), Torben Sangild offers a particularly useful discussion of noise’s etymology:

What is noise?

Etymologically, the term “noise” in different Western languages (stØj, bruit, Geräusch, larm etc.) refers to states of aggression, alarm and tension and to powerful sound phenomena in nature such as storm, thunder and the roaring sea. It is worth noting in particular that the word “noise” comes from Greek nausea, referring not only to the roaring sea, but also to seasickness, and that the German Geräusch is derived from rauschen (the sough of the wind), related to Rausch (ecstasy, intoxication), thus pointing towards some of the aesthetic, bodily effects of noise in music.

Taken literally, noise simply refers to any outside force that acts on the transmitted signal in ways that disrupt its ability to reach the receiver intact. It is utterly unavoidable but not altogether undesirable.

 Bibliography

·  Sangild, Torben. “The Aesthetics of Noise.” UbuWeb Papers. Datanom. 2002. Web. July 31, 2012.

·  Shannon, Claude E. “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.” The Bell System Technical Journal 27.July-October (1948): 379-423;623-656. Bell Labs. Alcatel-Lucent, 1948. Web. 2012.

A Clear Channel:  (Minute 0.05-0.07 )

Throughout the remix, however, our notion of “noise” refers to more than the unintentional disruption of desired communication. Noise can be used rhetorically or intentionally, with good will and a social justice imperative. Borrowing from Weaver and Shannon’s 1948/9 work, Shannon (Carter) explores this intentional, rhetorical use of noise elsewhere. The current remix and the surrounding scholarly annotations focus less on the rhetorical use of noise and instead build from Joseph Nechvatal’s notion of “noise art,” which he describes “as that art which precludes established significance by replacing the assumption of conclusive meaning with one of vital excess” (Introduction). Excess most certainly characterizes any attempts to communicate about social justice in 1968. It is this very excess that we attempt to “immerse” ourselves and our viewers in to better understand the communication challenges and possibilities at the time. To evoke Krista Ratcliffe’s articulation of what she calls “rhetorical listening,” we might productively assert that “noise” likewise challenges our ability to listen to one another — at all, but certainly rhetorically.

* * *

To listen rhetorically is to negotiate. We begin our remix with a general introduction to the global events surrounding the local activism that is our focus, introducing the notion of “listening” during a particularly complex period in our recent history: 1968. We suggest throughout that “noise” complicated the desired communication and enabled the establishment of new channels necessary for that communication (see Carter; Carter and Dent). On some levels, very little true communication took place. Yet it seems that on far more significant levels, communication about race and racism had never been more present than it was during those difficult months of 1968.  Inasmuch as we were able to “negotiate our always evolving standpoints, our identities, with the always evolving standpoints of others” (Ratcliffe 34), the communication that occurred across the nation enabled future negotiations across difference in unprecedented ways.

Our remix offers two local examples of those very negotiations — in Part I, the establishment of the local activist group ASSET (Afro-American Students Society of East Texas) in 1968, and the unprecedented changes ASSET accomplished in a few short years, and (in Part II), the establishment of NCC (Norris Community Club) in 1973, a partnership between African American students and local citizens on behalf of Norris, the historically segregated neighborhood in town. In a few short years, they, too, would accomplish unprecedented change that drew upon the elements of rhetorical listening and established local publics as Michael Warner would define them through the circulation of texts.

Indeed noise enabled the circulation of discourse that established counterpublics necessary for meaningful communication about difference. In other words, noise made rhetorical listening difficult but noise also made rhetorical listening possible.

Bibliography

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