May 1: a show of hands

a show of hands

A year ago, the immigration reform movement swept through city centers across the United States in an historic series of marches. Over a million workers and their families took to the streets. This year a second wave of marches has been planned (May Day 2007 aka The Great American Boycott II). Although media outlets frequently focused on Latin American immigrants, the rallies invited all immigrants and their supporters to make their presence known, and many answered the call. After attending that march and being swept in the currents of political change, I began a show of hands.

a show of hands

Culminating in the May 1, 2006 marches, a show of hands is an adaptive hypertext written on Literatronica (or Literatronic), a system developed by Colombian doctoral candidate (FSU) Juan B. Gutierrez. Although the piece is in-progress, I wanted to take this moment to present its early manifestation in commemoration of the marches that inspired it.

The icon of a show of hands is a photomosaic (there are currently two in the piece), featuring images of the hands of the marchers as well as of those of other people I encountered through Los Angeles at the time. The photomosaics also act as navigational maps, leading to the various storyheads in the tale. The reader chooses from the hands.

The hands could not be reduced or flattened to an iconic Brown Power fist. While at the march, I snapped pictures of hands, waving flags, raising banners, cradling cell phones, and aiming cameras. Marches often become a single image in the newspaper, members dissolve into a solitary stream. However, the vision, this showing of hands could not have been predicted, and the hands themselves, in all their activities and difference, good not have been imagined. And this is the age of multiple media as this Flickr set from the Chicago march attests.

The photomosaics bring together these photographs to form the broader image of this moment. Of course, due to the gaps inherent in mosaics, the image requires the viewer to complete it, to integrate the pieces, to recognize the larger pattern in what might be called gestalt.

Adaptive hypertext meets telenovela

Though the paths ultimately flow into the streets of downtown LA on that fateful day, a show of hands is about more than just the march. It would be an abuse of story, in my opinion, to turn any tale into some political tract with dialogue. Stories present an opportunity to consider motivation and history. The bulk of the scenes present vignettes or snapshots from the lives of the sisters de la Palma and their family members.

A show moves away from the experimental structure of the new novel towards the more familiar and popular form of telenovelas and melodramas, structures that support simultaneous plot development.

As Literatronica the system makes hypertext accessible to a broader array of readers, the narrative draws upon the everyday, a melodrama, a telanovela. This form of melodrama, shamelessly popular, disjoint, serialized, and very urban in its structure offers itself to be the genre of community. It is the form of multiple people whose paths intersect and cross, whose lines of flight whirl around and weave together the streets of the city. And what more appropriate form for Los Angeles, a city of immigrants, a city of stories, a city where melodrama reigns supreme on television and film screens and in all of our dreams. a show of hands is a tale of a powerful sisters and the bonds that they share. Their own political activation is so rooted in their lives, their families, and their city.

It is a story of coming together, a meeting of the minds and bodies and souls depicted through hands. And in this piece, the reader gets to join but does not have to believe in that event. Readers will surely trace the paths there and back. By adding the hypertextual to the exhibit, the artists acknowledge the crucial role of technology in creating this moment, whether through the MySpace pages of high school students or the cell phones carried by the marchers. Here, then, is the adaptive technology in the ring of computers, the walls becoming waves, radiating out, broadcasting the signal to those who traverse, trace, and form the network.

The adaptive hypertext system, Literatronica, allows readers to pursue the various narrative threads as they wish, while ensuring that they will always encounter the entire story. Rather than Choose Your Own Adventure, a show of hands is Collect Our Own History. As the sisters activate and mobilize, becoming involved in the march, so to does the reader actively collect their stories, perhaps taking the path of least resistance, flowing into the story, perhaps not.

Future showings of hands:

I plan to read from a show of hands for the first time at the ELO conference at MITH in May, just a day the anniversary of the first march. The next step will be to translate the text into Spanish.

Last month, I had the opportunity to adapt an excerpt from a show of hands to the stage and plan to further pursue such an adaptation in the future, combining the interactive system with actors and audience.

As a show of hands is still in its early stages, I encourage readers to explore it and to send their feedback. Remember to register for Literatronica (even just as a guest) so the system can best adapt to your reading habits.
Literatronica is available to authors who are interested in developing their own literary hypertexts. Readers can see a list of the current selections at the site. Contact Gutierrez for more information.

2 Responses to “May 1: a show of hands”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

    I love Show of Hands. I was quite moved by the experience and I’m thrilled to hear you did a stage adaptation. Would be great if it was filmed?…

  2. 2 Mark Marino

    Thank you for your words on “a show of hands,” Christy.

    Filming would be interesting, especially because then a film version could be built similar to the current text version.

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