Miriamne Ara Krummel
The Medieval Postcolonial Jew, In and Out of Time
Louisiana State University Press, 2021
Reviewed by Ali Gunnells
In their introduction to Remediating Region, Caison, Rountree, and Hinrichsen identify two assumptions that their collection complicates: that new media forms foster greater human connection and that such connections will render localized, regional space obsolete. Situated at the intersection of new media and Southern studies, the essays in this collection seek to uncover why and how regionality endures across new media forms. Caison, Rountree, and Hinrichsen term this phenomenon ‘regional remediation,’ defining it as a methodology that refuses the old/new binary of region and media in order to understand both as dynamic processes continually enacting upon one another. In particular, this collection identifies the US South as an example of how media reinforces regionalization through an interaction with myths, stereotypes, and other narratives of particular geographic spaces. In doing so, the collection demonstrates how regionalization is accompanied by and reinforced through multiple, often contradictory, narratives. In the case of the US South, this collection considers how the South is simultaneously othered as a site of fetishized traditions and as a site of backwardness and deviance. Divided into three sections, the collection examines several key themes: the false divide between ‘old’ and ‘new’ technologies, the relationship between consumption and media platforms, and the formation of individual and community identities via digital methods.
The first section, “NOTHING NEW HERE: On the Long History of New Media,” raises concerns about the ways that the word ‘new’ creates false historical divisions. As Gina Caison states in her introduction to this section, “[‘New’] effaces histories. It establishes a temporality for cultural narratives often ready to distinguish themselves from what came before.” The essays in this section therefore seek to understand how both new media and new Souths actually demonstrate connections to their predecessors. Sherita Johnson’s “‘Pictures and Progress’: Being ‘Black’ and ‘Southern’ in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries” focuses on Frederick Douglass’s use of photography to undermine the whiteness associated with being Southern. In considering how Douglass utilizes fugitive photography to present a counternarrative of enslaved Black bodies, Johnson draws connections to the present-day use of digital platforms to craft online identities. Following Johnson’s essay is David Davis’s “Since Time: S-Town and the Problem of Southern Temporality,” which posits podcasting as a repurposed new media format of oral storytelling. Furthermore, Davis reveals how this ‘new’ form of storytelling is still mired in tropes that paint the US South as a distinct, backwards region. The first section concludes with Paul Fess’s “Nineteenth-Century Sacred Harp Singing as New Media Practice.” Fess demonstrates how sacred harp singing has come to signal a communal southern folk culture despite its global reach. Similar to Davis’s essay, Fess reveals how sacred harp singing is caught in a paradox as it simultaneously signals cultural change while it is associated with historically ingrained notions of race and class in the US South.
The second section, “FROM PLANTATION TO PLATFORM: Capitalism and the Extractive Economy of Contemporary New Media,” draws connections between digital capitalism and earlier exploitative practices. In other words, these essays explore the potential of digital platforms to commodify people, places, and cultures. The first two essays in this section examine the commodification of wealth and whiteness on digital platforms. Margaret McGehee’s “‘It’s a State of Mind’: The Online Merch-ing of Whiteness” focuses on online stores and digital zines that replicate elite white identity through offering up a version of commodified ‘southerness.’ On the other hand, Alexandra Chiasson’s “#PlantationWedding: Fantasy and Forgetting on Instagram” examines how new media technologies sustain white supremacy as an economic principle. Chiasson explores how plantation weddings posted on Instagram erase undesirable histories while promoting wealth and whiteness. The second set of essays in this section explore embodied relationships with technology. Jae Sharpe’s “‘We Are Mere Gardeners in the Ruins:’ Kentucky Route Zero and Modeling Collaborative Human Dignity in the Information Age” demonstrates how the video game Kentucky Route Zero critically examines stereotypes of Appalachian life via an immersive gaming experience. This section concludes with Jenni Lightweis-Goff’s “GIS South: Louisiana in the Lost and Found,” which explores how capitalistic ventures such as navigational technologies create the illusion of static, mapped spaces.
The final section of this collection, “IN FORMATION: Mediating Identity through Space and Place,” explores the intertwined relationship between emergent media and identity formation. The first three essays in this section focus specifically on the role of interactive and social media in constructing identity. Leigh Edward’s “Digital Souths in Interactive Music Videos: Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Media Convergence” examines how digital interactive country music videos represent the type of new media practice that project particular versions of the US South. Next up is Austin Svedjan’s “Cultivating/Contesting Identities: The Intersection of New Media and Rural Southern Queerness,” which cautions that we must keep in mind the connections between online and offline identities, as these false divisions reinforce the notion that one cannot be queer and Southern. Sam McCracken’s “Y’all Use Y’all Unironically Now, ‘But Y’all Aren’t Ready to Have that Conversation’: Race, Region, and Mimetic Twang on Twitter” traces how Twitter users perform a distanced ‘blaccent’ through the use of terms such as ‘y’all,’ which recenters whiteness on a platform that was built on the affective labor of Black users. The final essay of both this section and the collection is Jean-Luc Pierite’s “áriyas𐐩ma of Bits and Atoms: A Tunica-Biloxi Revitalization Movement Powered by Digital Fabrication.” Throughout the essay, Pierite challenges the perception that digital tools and processes are inaccessible to Indigenous peoples. Pierite rebuffs this perception through an examination of fabrication laboratories, known as “fab labs,” dispersed throughout the Tunica-Biloxi communities in Louisiana and Texas. He identifies “fab labs” as one example of digital technologies can be utilized to promote cultural sustainability and sovereignty by providing a distributed network that supports social and economic development for Indigenous communities.
Overall, this collection of essays offers a wide array of topics for scholars working in Southern and/or new media studies. Taken together, these essays clearly demonstrate the ongoing, evolving relationship between media and region. While all of the essays offer a thoughtful approach to this topic, those that address the role of capitalism in remediating region provide a particularly insightful critique. McGehee’s examination of commodified southerness in online stores and zines and Chiasson’s study of plantation weddings on Instagram both raise timely concerns regarding the ways that new media simultaneously reify the US South as a distinct region while erasing uncomfortable histories. Furthermore, the collection ends on a particularly intriguing note with Pierite’s essay on “fab labs.” While many of the essays identify how new media others the US South, Pierite offers an example of how we might imagine a future in which new media is utilized to promote cultural sustainability. In other words, Pierite’s essay provides a critical perspective for this collection, addressing how future scholars and community members alike can revitalize Southern communities via new media. Taken together, these essays offer a unique and necessary approach to their fields.