The Story Way Back When
In this difficult and trying world, I must be the harbinger of my own success and future. I spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out many things, mainly just what I wanted to see myself doing within the next 2 – 6 years, then the next 10 – 20 etc. It’s a situation I’ve always dreaded throughout my life, not knowing what aspect of the world I could somehow slot myself comfortably into, unsure if such a thing existed at all, and the idea that I’d have to submit to doing and becoming something I hated simply because I had to put food on the table. I’ve always believed that if money was all I wanted out of life I could easily attain it, but it would be it at the cost of leading a meaningless, unproductive and regretful life. The end of my degree looms near and I can already tell that I’m just not going to really suit a normal office job but my options then become stranger, and a lot more difficult.
Growing up in Malaysia’s education system is something I can only describe as being forced through a hellish version of Ken Robinsons factory process, where they attempt to indoctrinate you with nationalist and religiously biased history classes, and force you to memorize giant textbooks of information to regurgitate later, that you’re most likely never going to need ever again outside of school. One of the biggest problems I faced was not being very fluent in the national language Bahasa Melayu resulted in terrible results in all those subjects. Lucky for me science and math was in english and in fact where my deepest interests lays. In fact I had a deep fascination with physics in particular which I still pursue every moment I can today. However in the fourth year of high school students get divided into the ‘art’s and ‘sciences’ and if your grades aren’t all good you automatically get placed in the arts stream, I had to request to be put into the science stream, and I was just told “No, you can’t, you don’t have the results” because only three of my papers – english, math, science – bore good results. This basically ruined my hopes of gaining new and exciting knowledge ever again and I lost all my will entirely in school, and simply resigned myself to the back of classrooms. My only criteria for high school was to pass the final exam (can’t get a job without it), and that I did, only just.
After high school I spent another half a year thinking about what it was I wanted to do, and I had a long standing passion with music, having picked up the piano at a very young age, I wanted to forge a path in that direction, but music isn’t really seen as a productive occupation and was discouraged by all those around me save for a few. In the end taking music course wasn’t really an option so I thought maybe I’ll make games because I spent most of my time playing them, and in the end I settled for a digital animation course at The One Academy. Never having worked hard in school I was totally unprepared the hailstorm of assignments they had in store for me and I hardly lasted a year and failed almost all my subjects every semester and eventually I pulled out of the course and studying for a brief moment until found my feet again in a Mass Communications course at Taylors University, which frankly was the course I heard people were taking when they didn’t know what else to do with their lives.
I often tell people that my time spent and subject studied at Taylors was like an extended version of high school exclusively for those who didn’t make the science stream, where I didn’t learn a single thing. Most (not all) people in my classes just didn’t care to learn things and wanted to have a good time partying and hanging out or causing trouble, I wasn’t any different although my version of trouble was constantly questioning the doctrine pushed onto us by the lecturers. Our assignments weren’t really even that tough. I was able to submit maybe half of my work and still get by which seemed to be the general attitude that was held by many around me, which suited me just fine. After the education system turned it’s back on me, I couldn’t care less about it.
The Story Not So Long Ago
I decided to further my studies into a degree not because I wanted to prolong my time free from an office job, but what I didn’t expect was just how much I was suddenly turned on by what I learnt at RMIT in Melbourne. It’s like the little kid that died inside when he was told he could never study physics just sprang back to life and was fascinated with what he was seeing. What I got wrong was thinking I had learnt nothing, when I had actually realised early on whilst doing my advertising course that I was basically learning how to manipulate people into doing things they don’t even realise, and my initial and immediate reaction to this was repulsion, and I have ever since hated advertising and PR on a moral basis. This was the foundation that sparked my curiosity again at RMIT where I realised that what I had learnt wasn’t inherently an evil thing. What I did learn was that there are people out there who know how to use this knowledge in extremely exploitative ways, and that there those who use the same knowledge to positive ends as well. This really encapsulated me as a mixture of paranoia and desire to learn more about just what little control I had over my decisions as well as to what extent other people are embedded into this life, and lead me to learn how just much how we’ve all become prisoners of a panopticon in our heads.
“any form of coercion requires justification, and most of them are completely unjustified” – Chomsky on totalitarianism
When I started off at RMIT, my contextual studies aspect of the course was in film, but in the following semesters I changed it up to politics and economics as this newfound fascination of the civilized world had gripped my attention gravely. Having next to absolutely no knowledge on any of what was going on, the course materials and concepts were incredibly difficult for me to grasp not because they were particularly difficult concepts, but because there were just simply too many of them. As a result I was completely overwhelmed, but managed to stay barely afloat in this new sea of ideologies and knowledge and what I’ve picked up from it has only inspired me to continue the search for knowledge and answers to problems. What caught my interest the most out of all I went through was thought control in democratic societies but the thing that got me really invested was a 4 part video series by Adam Curtis titled The Century of the Self in which he brings to attention things like the birth of PR as a rebranding of the word ‘propaganda’ by Edward Bernays because it had negative connotations with the Nazi’s. He also talks a lot about the massive amount of psychological information that is used in PR and advertising campaigns to get people to behave irrationally, particularly the psychoanalytical knowledge uncovered by Sigmund Freud (who happened to be Edward Bernays’ uncle). Today the landscape is a little different, and data-mining has been one of the best ways to predict people’s behaviors, and then adjust specific and effective messages to cater individual desires but the objective and end results are the same. A lot of what I picked up after this was from both the documentary and book by Noam Chomsky called Manufacturing Consent and excerpts I had gone through from his other publications. The things he brings to attention which seriously question the role of democracy in the world which promised freedom and solidarity, were a big wake up call or rather a slap in the face for many, including myself, that much of the media we consume is to instill very particular desired behaviors and attributes in us.
The kinds of media I hope to create then will probably make getting work I enjoy a little more difficult in a standard media company as they most likely won’t want someone to craft messages that tell people not to be so quick to buy a product. I don’t really see the purpose in confining myself to a single media platform as trying to tackle problems like these requires all aspects and levels of media, they are a means to an end. I plan on uncovering more methods that can produce these kinds of results and to explore the extent to which these methods can be applied. This endeavour will require knowledge of an enormous avenue of technologies and techniques from media, politics and business to science and religion. As these are all massive avenues of research that people have dedicated their entire lives to I will need to make great effort towards educating myself and figuring out ways to collaborate with people who are already experts in their fields so I can create the most effective and efficient work and methods and this is why I have chosen to work in a scholarly direction. My plan is to spend the next few years fully focused on studying and exploring the wealth of knowledge there is already available. I was able to speak with individuals within the industry and gain invaluable insight into the working world, and to better guide my own path. I still wasn’t 100% convinced about what I was going to do, but after hearing from them I feel more confident in working towards it.
I realised pretty quickly that the people I wanted to speak with the most were the people who had been teaching me in the last three years of my education as they are the ones who have had a direct influence on my desire to learn more. I also sent out queries to several other professionals who already create media for similar ends that I aim to make.
The Story Now
During my last semester in a DJ course, we were privileged to get Graham St John to come and give a lecture on what he does.
“Passion for research led me into a scholarly career, which is not the same as an “academic career”. The latter involves inflated egos, power games, administration and so forth. But don’t get me wrong, there are a great many good people in academia. If you have an interest in research then that is the best start. If you are simply interested stature then that is not a good start.” – Graham
He goes around to all the biggest lifestyle festivals in the world such as Burning Man and writes about the culture surrounding and embedded in them. When I spoke with him, he was quick to point out a difference between scholarly and academic work, the latter being imbued with unnecessary politics and inflated egos and that it’s something I should only consider as long as I’m in it for the research and not the smug sense of narcissism that comes with it. When I asked what he found most difficult, he brought up how important it is to to choose a research area that has wide applications and appeal ~
“That said, often the research interest is not that which you choose, but which chooses you” – Graham
He stressed on how it was important to have my ideas criticised through peers, conferences, reviews etc. which is something I hadn’t really thought about before but quickly made a lot of sense and was also a sentiment shared by most of the academics I had spoken with. I had also spoken with Adrian Miles who lectures at RMIT as he really fascinated me from the first day of class where he talked about decentralization and autonomous systems. What I managed to get from his lectures, was the idea of self driven and self directed work, and learning how to learn, or how to figure out how to figure out how to figure out things. Adrian also enforced the idea that I needed to put my work out there for criticism and recognition. But as I was pretty clueless about what to expect, I did notice that most of my tutors were on their PHD’s as well, which made me wonder if teaching was a necessary component, and it turns out to be entirely optional and not something everyone is capable of. I had also taken liking to Ken Robinson who takes creative approaches to education and talks about lateral thinking in opposition to factory style teaching methods which really fascinated me. I’m still reading into it, but watching his RSA lecture really got me thinking about what I could really be capable of as a human being and to really take being a student to the next level as well as figuring out what it takes to be a good teacher to cultivate the same kinds of creative learning.
“You can be a very good teacher without being the smartest researcher, probably not the other way round.” – Adrian
I was also able to talk with Ed Montano who taught me last semester as well for DJ Dance Cultures, in which we looked into the development, current and potential state of dance music and cultures as well learnt some basics on how to DJ ourselves. My chat with him was possibly one of the most useful where he talked to me in detail the kinds of things I could expect.
“This is my little joke, I think most music academics are failed musicians..” – Ed
I couldn’t help but agree (even though he may have been joking) that this is a sentiment a lot of people in the arts and creative industries feel when they resort to teaching for income instead of their craft and definitely not a trap I want to fall into. Like most of the people I interviewed, getting into academia wasn’t exactly a deliberate decision but one they sort of found themselves in and Ed talked about how even after a PHD you’re still expected to continue researching and writing articles or books, which I personally thought was a great place to be. He went on to talk about creative practice research as opposed to traditional publications, and this was something that really caught my attention as the kinds of work I want to make will depend heavily on if they can have real world applications and results.
“When you do a PHD people think it’s hard. It’s not hard intellectually, it’s hard motivationally, because you usually get a year and half two years into it and you wonder ‘why the fuck am I doing this?’” – Ed
He and Adrian pointed out that my main focus for now should be on applying for an honours and writing a convincing personal statement that proves my interest in researching a particular topic, and should that not pull through to then work towards a Masters Degree.
I was also lucky to get to talk with Tom Heinemann whom is a documentary film maker (who may deny it) makes politically imbued documentaries such as Carbon Crooks which discusses the horrors of the carbon pollution problem.
“Well, I do not see my films as politically motivated. I will leave this up to the viewers to decide that.” – Tom
I was intrigued as to what motivated him to create types of media whose goal is to educate people en masse rather than to deprive or hide knowledge from them. He told me about how he had spent the last twenty years travelling the world and how it was “damn unfair”. He expressed his anti free market views and concerns about income inequality, and how as a result of the work he does, it has become increasingly difficult to get things such as permits to film and release footage without getting into lawsuits. He did mention that it was a monetarily fruitless endeavour
“This “business” is close to zero profits and the only thing that justifies me keep doing what I do, is that I truly believe that I can do a difference.” – Tom
but that wasn’t going to deter him, nor should it anyone who really believes in this cause. He ended by pointing out that he had no affiliations to any particular ideology or school of thought.
“I’m not a political activist or part/member of any ngo or political party or movement. An unbiased, critical journalist cannot be that. End of story” – Tom
The Story That Is Yet To Be
Whilst I’d love to argue that his anti free-market position is certainly a political and biased one in opposition of capitalism, I can see where he’s coming from, which I think is more important. Labels don’t really help solve issues, if anything they just fuel the fire and add more unnecessary layers and confusion to already convoluted problems, ultimately taking away from the actual problems at hand that need solutions. Being unbiased is critical and I aim to make it a point to practice it in as much work as I can to avoid being regarded as an unreliable source of information. I think particularly after these last few weeks, I’ve been able to really solidify my aims and draw out a path I need to take to get where I want to be. It’s not going to be particularly easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. I hope that I can look back on things like this one day and really think to myself that I wasn’t so hopeless after all and that I was fully capable of making truly worthwhile contributions. Always having been a passionate lover of all things scientific, I hope I will be able to create experiments that produce desirable results and perhaps in finding answers, bring rise to new questions worth asking. My journey is far from over, if anything I’m still taking my baby steps, but these are probably the most important steps I will take as they shape what my future will most likely look like. I am both excited and terrified and will have to cultivate my body and mind as best I can to avoid crumbling under the pressures what may come. The future is a dark place and we can only do so much to shape what comes, and I’d rather be prepared and not need to be than be unprepared and caught off guard.
Adrian Miles: Interview took place online via Google Docs on Friday Oct the 2nd 2015
Ed Montano – Interview took place on at RMIT building 9 level 4 Friday Oct the 2nd 2015
Graham St John – Interview took place online via Google Docs on Friday Oct the 8th 2015
Tom Heinemann – Interview took place online via Google Docs on Friday Oct the 1st 2015
Curtis, A. (2015). Century of Self : Happiness Machines. Available at: https://vimeo.com/95699538 [Accessed 6 Oct. 2015].
Noam, C. (2015). Manufacturing Consent. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBhuoUzNQ8c [Accessed 6 Oct. 2015].
TED, (2015). Changing Education Paradigms. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U [Accessed 7 Oct. 2015].