I’m Still Chewing on that Over-Branding of DS106 Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about the over-branding conversation that Stephen Downes started on Alan Levine’s blog post I Want You to Make Art (Dammit). Downes did not like the use of ‘DS106’ in propaganda, and called it “over-branded.” After Alan tried to defend the work as students celebrating the class, Downes continued that it was ‘some’ that are over-branding ds106 and ‘didn’t expect you (Alan) to get it.’

I think it was the later comment that lit a fire under a few in ds106, Martha Burtis took particular offense calling that type of commenting, trolling. I as well felt there was more to Downes point that he initially wasn’t willing to discuss. Whether or not it was trolling, and because he has a long standing relationship with Alan, true he shouldn’t have to explain himself but it did seem snide.

The reactions to the over-branding comment regarding ds106 didn’t stay focused in Alan’s blog, as a number of people went on to post new work about it. Giulia Forsythe’s Join the Brand, Martha Burtis’s The Cult of 4LIFE, Alan’s Got Infected, and I couldn’t help myself and made A purely unapologetic piece of ds106 branding. And many others continued along doing the ds106 propaganda assignment.

Downes reacted to the comments and I assume posts as well as ‘hostility.’ Ok being called a troll is a bit hostile, but I’m not so sure that others were at all hostile given the short and somewhat curt description of why ds106 is over-branded. But Downes did finally go into more detail and linked to a post he wrote about the group mentality gone wrong.

And I get it, groups can transform into mobs, can become cults, and people that are part of them behave irrationally. Downes does recognize that groups have a place and have value – they are where you make emotional connections to others, in a family or on a sports team. But they can go to far, and that is a rubicon apparently some in ds106 have crossed – was it just the propaganda posters? Something else?

Downes exhorts in his final comment on Alan’s blog that we must ‘be careful.’ I find this idea particularly alarming because the course is one about creating stories and art. If the community has to be mindful their creations should not cross a line that somehow represents ‘bad group’ activity, ds106 is going to fail.

At a different time, I made art that spoke to ideas of safety and religious iconography. Back then I wasn’t making the effort to narrate the how’s and why’s of my process. About a year before finding ds106, I was working on a project reflecting on old artwork to answer these questions. And one post, “Please Keep Art Safe” I find it appropriate to reference as it speaks to blasphemous art and speech, and how the Supreme Court of the US was asked to rule on a case of blasphemy.

The 1940 Supreme Court agreed unanimously and set a precedent that basically made any previous laws against blasphemy in the US a dead letter.  The 1940 decision explains, that “the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor.” And that in a democracy an individual’s right to resort to exaggeration and vilification are liberties “essential to enlightened opinion.” And under the “shield” of these liberties, “many types of life, character, opinion, and belief can develop unmolested and unobstructed.”

So the line ds106 crossed toward ‘over-branding’ in my mind cannot occur within the creative work of it’s participants. And it would be a fruitless to try and define a line. But if there is group behavior trending toward a ‘mob-mentality’ in the community of ds106, and those actions can be separated from the creativity ethos of the course, I’d like to know what it is.






11 responses to “I’m Still Chewing on that Over-Branding of DS106 Comment”

  1. Alan Levine Avatar

    Thanks for exploring this MIchael, especially in the context of expression in art. I am left with the visual of the ds106 logo draped in a condom.

    It illustrates that its not simple, and that we all bring to this different expectations. As someone “inside” ds106, I see any sensation of inclusion or exclusion as being created by the individual, there are no overt acts of exclusion but am willing to accept that it can *feel* that way. Because a group can become a mob of course does not mean it will, but maybe too, it means that it does not guarantee it wont.

    The fact that we can play this out with the art, in the posters, says a lot to me, in an open space, says much to me. Lines likely will be stepped over, but also stepped back, or just smudged out. I for one just want to make art, of any kind, darnit.

  2. mbransons Avatar

    Prophylactic art indeed! The exploration led me to use Xtranormal for the first time which I loved, so it’s been worth it to me for that reason and more.

    Thanks Alan.

  3. Scott Plunkett Avatar

    Very good read, somehow I had missed most of this “over branding” discussion (even though I did a propaganda poster myself). I tend to agree with you in that the statement ‘be careful’ does not sit too well with me. In a community such as ds106 where creating art is a very large part of the interactions, I think one should almost disregard caution instead of constantly worrying about the things they post. Anyway good write up, thanks for helping me catch up on this!

    1. mbransons Avatar

      Thanks, I would be disappointed if students felt they had to curb their enthusiasm for the class and what make.

  4. Todd Conaway Avatar
    Todd Conaway

    “Make Art Carefully Dammit” I love it! But I won’t do it.

    I played a lot of sports when I was younger. In some, like baseball I was always on the all star team and I was a good player. I was “with the band” and hung out with the right people. In other sports, like football and track I was not so awesome. There were years I was even “second-string” and in those years I was not with hanging out with the in crowd. I may have felt excluded because of my athletic skills. Or because I was a hippie. Who knows.

    What I think I have come to learn, and what I tell my kids who will surely find themselves in the same situation, is that they are the ones who have to do the work to place themselves in the group they want to be a part of. Groups by their very nature are exclusionary, right? And doing this is all very dangerous, even though it has nothing to do with making art. Unless of course living is art? Or like them Balinese say, “We have no art, we do everything as well as we can.”

    Well, I have forgotten what I was talking about. I am on the bus and that is that. Let’s drive.

    1. mbransons Avatar

      Thanks Todd for jumping in. I spent a lot of time on various sports teams growing up and had a similar experience excelling in different ones (good swimmer, bad baseball player). I enjoyed competition tremendously, and pushing myself, but even though I did well in the pool, I didn’t fit in completely socially with that ‘group.’ I’d do all the cheers and enjoy the madness that came with close racing, but that was it.

      But there were failures on my part, as there was hazing on the team. I wouldn’t participate in it (and I was hazed as a freshman), but didn’t stop it either. And it shouldn’t have gone as far as it did. Luckily I never saw someone physically hurt, but a freshman freaked out and told his parents.

      Though I wasn’t ‘in-the-mix,’ as a senior it was considered I should have done something to stop it. I didn’t and was suspended for three weeks. Parents of other seniors freaked out and didn’t think it was fair that their kids should be suspended for doing the same thing that had happened years previously.

      At a meeting with the high school athletic director, the coach, the principal, and the hazed child’s family. The families of the seniors argued that this blemish on their kids’ records would ruin their chances at college. I was just with my mom, the only kid with the single parent. She didn’t complain, nor did I. She didn’t have to get upset and tell me that this was wrong, I knew it. So I said we deserved to be suspended.

      The meeting ended soon after, and ‘my friends,’ seniors I’ve raced with for years, some since eight years-old said I had no right to do that. I should have fought against it.

      All around, definitely family, and team behavior gone wrong.

      And though I agreed to be punished without complaint, it was nothing honorable in that, for I had not done something sooner. I didn’t change the culture of the team, it was that freshman and his parents that made the team confront their own blindness.

      1. Todd Conaway Avatar
        Todd Conaway

        One thing that flows through the ds106 class it a push to be an active and engaged student and to be responsible for what you do. From the personal cyber-structure to the ability to create assignments, the power the students have been given, the responsibility, is something we can all learn from.

        These are all lessons along the way and we will not get them all, but I think that we could all use a good dose of “you must be the change you wish to see” in all our activities.

        I would rather teach a bunch of raving ego-maniacs than a room full of sheep.

        I think?

        1. mbransons Avatar

          Agreed that there are lessons to be learned along the way and the excitement is infectious in my mind, not at all an ‘infection.’

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