Annotated Series of GIFs
University of California, Los Angeles
Citation: Paredes, Veronica. “Annotated Series of GIFs.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.e01
Abstract: This article describes an assignment titled “Annotated Series of GIFs” or a “GIF Essay,” designed for a graduate seminar/workshop focused on issues in electronic culture in the field of cinema and media studies.
Keywords: new media studies, habit, ideological state apparatus, bleeding edge of obsolescence, GIF essay, media annotation.
For this new media studies assignment, students are asked to create an essay that brings together a collection of about 5 to 7 GIF animations and written annotations in essay form. The essay’s GIFs can be of the student’s own making, or can be selected from existing GIFs. The assignment has flexible parameters, setting a wide range for word count from 250 minimum to 600 maximum.
This assignment reviews material from this course’s first module, dedicated to the theme of HABIT. In the first three weeks of a ten week term, habit is explored through readings from Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Donna Haraway, Natasha Dow Schüll, Louis Althusser, and screenings of feature films and new media artworks listed in the following “accompanying readings and screenings” section.
Guiding options included in the prompt:
- Visualization of technology and/or computational interfaces in The Matrix (recommended references Wendy Hui Kyong Chun on cyberspace; Donna Haraway on boundaries; Livia Monnet on shape-shifting across dimension).
- Alienation, anxiety, exposure, addiction and social media in Eighth Grade (reference Wendy Hui Kyong Chun reading and/ or Natasha Dow Schüll reading).
- Emotion and affect in user interfaces and artificial intelligence (reference Natasha Dow Schüll reading).
- Open topic related to themes and readings in the HABIT module.
Evaluation of the assignment is based on the essay’s integration of GIFs and annotations to create a coherent whole, but short, piece. This does not necessarily have to take the form of an argument, for instance, some students tended toward thematic meditations.
The “Annotated Series of GIFs” assignment was created for a small graduate seminar titled “Issues in Electronic Culture” that I taught for the first time in Winter 2019, and for which I will offer again in Fall 2019. Narrowing the topic, the syllabus for my first iteration of the course was called “Experiments in Habit, Space, Collaboration.” The registrar description of the course defines it as a “critical studies seminar with major hands-on laboratory component that explores the impact of new digital technologies on contemporary culture and aesthetics.” Assignments for the course culminated in a collectively built Scalar project, and built on lessons learned throughout the quarter with two hands-on assignments. This essay, along with an orchestrated screen recording prompt, prepared students to experiment with expressive forms that join cinema studies methods and contemporary visual vernaculars and logics.
Most of the ten students in the class were from the UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media, with two from outside departments (Architecture & Urban Design and Asian Languages & Cultures). Coming from different backgrounds, the student contributions to the GIF assignment demonstrated a diversity of approaches to cinematic and new media texts, ranging from journalistic to poetic, from analytical to expressive. The prompt was inspired by the call for proposals sent out for this very issue and by Mark C. Marino’s Buzzfeed and Medium posts. I also considered the GIF essay format an opportunity for students to recognize themselves as practitioners of digital media research and scholarship.
In-Class Time, Training Needed
Ideally at least three workshop-type sessions (of around 60 minutes each) would be devoted to preparing students for this assignment. Suggested sessions include the following: 1) a session to discuss examples of “scholarly” internet vernacular -- both in writing style and visual style; and if assignment encourages students to create their own GIFs, 2) a workshop on working with video files -- if appropriate, how to find plugins to download videos from internet browsers, how to rip physical media, and how to edit and export short clips from longer video files; 3) a workshop covering different methods of creating GIFs -- using GIPHY and using Photoshop. I suggest creating step-by-step guides students can refer to while in class or when working on the assignment on their own.
You may also need to provide resources for how to embed GIFs into a Google Doc and how to share a Google Doc and change its permissions.
Suggestions for Scaffolding Exercises and Accompanying Readings & Screenings
Building on workshop suggestions, scaffolding exercises would cover three stages: 1) discussion of the GIF essay form by reading and analyzing an example, and talking through key investments of scholarship that engages new media popular culture; 2) creating a set of GIFs together in a workshop; 3) sharing GIF essays amongst students for a peer review period.
This assignment covers the first three weeks of material for a course titled “Issues in Electronic Culture.” Especially relevant course readings and screenings include:
- Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” (1971): 127-186
- Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “Orienting the Future” in Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (2006): 171-245
- Selection from Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (2016)
- Selection from Natasha Dow Schüll, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (2012)
- Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” (1985)
- Jessica Marie Johnson & Kismet Nuñez, “Alter Egos and Infinite Literacies, Part III: How to Build a Real Gyrl in 3 Easy Steps,” The Black Scholar: Journal of Black Studies and Research, Volume 45, Issue 4: On the Future of Black Feminism (2015)
- Livia Monnet, “Towards the feminine sublime, or the story of 'a twinkling monad, shape-shifting across dimension': intermediality, fantasy and special effects in cyberpunk film and animation,” Japan Forum 14, no 2 (2002): 225-268
- Lisa Nakamura, “Race in the Construct, or the Construction of Race: New Media and Old Identities in ‘The Matrix’” in Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices (2003)
- Nicolas Nova, Katherine Miyake, Walton Chiu, Nancy Kwon, Curious Rituals Gestural Interaction in the Digital Everyday (2012)
- The Matrix (Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, 1999, USA; 150 min)
- Her (Spike Jonze, 2013, USA)
- Online video: “Young Women Sitting and Standing and Talking and Stuff (No, No, No)” (Sondra Perry, 2015) https://vimeo.com/126987977
- Online video: “Touching Software (House of Cards)” (Ben Grosser, 2016, USA; 5 min) https://vimeo.com/177787622
- “Now He’s Out in Public and Everyone Can See” (Natalie Bookchin, 2017, USA; 24 min)
- Online video: “Mass Ornament” documentation video (Natalie Bookchin, 2009, USA; 8 min) https://vimeo.com/5403546
- Whose Streets? (Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, 2017, USA; 90 min)
- Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018, USA)
- Be aware that some students will require guidance and assistance with each step of creating a multimodal project. For example, when first teaching this assignment, I neglected to realize students would need help figuring out how to embed a GIF in a Google Doc. There are a lot of hidden steps that need to be clearly outlined.
- Have discussions about the style and tone you desire for this assignment. If you have a diverse set of students, their interpretations will vary significantly.
- Include a peer review period into the assignment timeline, along with a publication opportunity ideally. I did not do this the first time and regretted it. This is an assignment that should be shared and revised early in the term. This process can aid in building a sense of community and collaboration amongst students.
- How to Make A GIF at GIPHY Support
- How to Create animated GIFs on Adobe Help (using Photoshop)
- “Ideological State Apparatuses in ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ (2011)”
- “7 Things You Should Know About Miquela @lilmiquela”
- “This Year, I’m Learning to Love My Robot Overlords, and Maybe You Should Too”
Pitfalls and Pro-tips
Tools and Tutorials
Sample Student Work
Following the prompt for this assignment, I include three sample student essays. In the first, Kate Kennelly uses custom GIFs to skillfully weave together analysis of a well-known essay from Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser and an exploration of the Black Mirror episode called “Fifteen Million Merits” (2011). Kennelly combines GIFs and reading citations from these two sources in a wholly original Althusserian reading of the popular dystopian science fiction series. In the second, Zizi Li revisits her essay in the format of the listicle in order to provide clues and (perhaps more importantly) provoke questions about the confounding influencer phenomenon of Lil Miquela. In the last, Aubrey Bauer virtuosically modifies the assignment topic option of “visualization of technology and/or computational interfaces in The Matrix” by focusing on how the film depicts the collapse of infrastructure and landscape in the film.
- While not a list of animated gifs, this folder of stills of computer interfaces may be helpful for finding these visualizations – (especially files MTRX1001.jpg to MTRX1055.jpg).
- “BuzzAdemia Now: A Journal for Buzzy Like-Reviewed Scholarship” https://medium.com/buzzademia-now and markcmarino’s BuzzFeed Community Posts https://www.buzzfeed.com/markcmarino.