Issue 6.1, February 1991

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Essay Excerpt

Over the last ten years, indigenous and minority people have been using a variety of media, including film and video, as new vehicles for internal and external communication, for self-determination, and for resistance to outside cultural domination.' The new media forms they are creating are innovations in both filmic representation and social process, expressive of transformations in cultural identities in terms shaped by local and global conditions of the late 20th century. Such alternative "multicultural media" have become both fashionable and more visible in the latter part of the 1980s: museum shows in the United States, the Black Film workshop sector in the United Kingdom, and a Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Australia are just a few examples of this increased interest. Until quite recently, support for and exhibition of such work focused on productions by ethnic minorities, rather than indigenous groups. While many of the issues they contend with are shared concerns, I will focus in this essay on specific dilemmas posed to indigenous people by the introduction of video and television, grounding my discussion in recent developments in Australian Aboriginal media.

Efforts to produce indigenous media worldwide are generally small-scale, low budget and locally based; because of this, their existence is politically and economically fragile, while their significance is largely invisible outside of occasional festivals or circles of specialists. There is very little written on these developments, and what exists comes mostly in the form of newsletters and reports, which are useful, but do not address directly broader theoretical questions regarding how these developments alter understandings of media, politics, and representation. It is particularly surprising that there is so little discussion of such phenomena in contemporary anthropological work, despite the fact that video cassette recorders (VCRs), video cameras, and mass media are now present in even the most remote locales. This is due in part to the theoretical foci anthropologists carry into the field that have not expanded to keep up with such changes. The lack of analysis of such media as both cultural product and social process may also be due to our own culture's enduring positivist belief that the camera provides a "window" on reality, a simple expansion of our powers of observation, as opposed to a creative tool in the service of a new signifying practice.

I want to argue that it is of particular importance, now, that these most contemporary of indigenous forms of self-representation and their creators be considered seriously. They are of critical theoretical and empirical significance for current debates in several fields regarding the politics and poetics of representation, the development of media in Third and Fourth World settings, and the expansion of ethnographic film theory and the canon associated with it (pp. 92-93).

From: Ginsburg, Faye. "Indigenous Media: Faustian Contract or Global Village?" Cultural Anthropology 6.1(1991): 92-112.