Is technological determinism a valid way of looking at the world?
For those who don’t know, technological determinism is a philosophy that follows the idea that technology’s development follows a preconceived course, a logical progression, advances automatically, effects our way of engaging with the world and is a natural extension of the body. Through this approach to media materialism (which is the way in which we ground our understanding of media technology and its past and future advancement) is an interesting way of looking at the development of technology, as it looks at technology as an appendage, an extension of the human body in order to help humanity, encouraging progress through logic and science.
However technological determinism isn’t the best way of looking at media materialism as we don’t get every piece of the puzzle. There are other philosophies which follow very different ideals, such as social constructivism which says that because we made technology we have the ability to regulate and control how it’s used. It also disagrees with technological determinism in the way that technology advances automatically in an almost uncontrollable way. This theory tends to fall under the more social, cultural and ethical guidelines concerning technology, and many see it as a hindrance to the progress of science as it sparks much debate around progress. Such debate can be seen in most, if not all sci-fi films which caution viewers of the cost of humanity and scientific progress on humanity and the world itself.
Social constructivism outlines the fact that the progress of technology is not a straight line as technological determinism states, but rather a rocky, murky and unpredictable line. It is also a somewhat romanticized view of the world and in this way hinders the logical technological progression, and sometimes abrupt and unethical ways (e.g. sweat shops creating smart phones) of the technological determinists who create progress within society. Hence, both philosophies equalize each other and create a balanced view of the world, but only when they work together as opposed to standing apart at opposite ends of progress.
In this weeks lectorial Dan Binns talked to us about the nature of remixing media and how in todays society it is omnipresent. Remixing has become a part of popuar culture, and one of the ways in which Dan explained the concept of remixing original work to create new work to us, was DJs.
The term DJ comes from the nickname ‘Disc Jockey’ given to those who would play and introduce the songs on the radio. As time progressed the DJs became more proficient at changing songs and eventually developed techniques for smoother transitions between songs. DJs were invited to play music at clubs and private parties, and soon the art took on a life of its own with the invention of the twin turntable system, allowing the seemless transition between tracks, familiarly used in the disco era as pretty much every song had the same base line and therefore created a smooth transition between each song. As technology developed to produce better quality sound for records, DJs quickly adopted it for themselves, and this ‘tradition’ of sorts continues today as our DJs have become something entirely different to a ‘Disc Jockey’, they have become artists in their own right taking inspiration and samples from other artists works to create entirely new pieces of music.
However, in the era of consdtant entertainment and visual stimuli, a new form of ‘Jockey’ has come into popularity – the VJ. “In the 80’s and 90’s, the term “VJ” was popularly considered the video version of radio “Disc Jockeys,” the person who introduced the next song on television.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, as the world of DJing evolved beyond simple curation of music with specializations like scratching, sampling, remixing and the like, so have VJs expanded their set of tools and techniques for live performance and production.
Today someone who is a VJ might appear to be something more akin to a video instrumentalist or visualist, someone who creates and manipulates images in ways similar to how a modern musician works with sound.” (Lublin, 2014)
VJs are artists “capable of bridging the worlds of preproduction, live performance and post production.” (Lublin, 2014). The artistic techniques and effects used by VJs are those reminiscent of and similar to “early film special effects and avant garde video artists from the 60’s and 70’s.” (Lublin, 2014).
Over time just as different remix genres were created in the music industry, different sub-genres of VJing were created as well (Lublin, 2014). Some of the most common sub-genres are:
Sufjan Stevens / Age of Adz in Prospect Park with visuals by CandyStations.
Remixing is the way of the future, creating new from old, unfortunately the ‘old’ does not believe this as it still holds on tightly to its intellectual property rights and copyright agreements, suing remixers left and right for as much cash as possible. When will human kind learn to share instead of hold onto its ‘property’ for dear life?
In this weeks lectorial we looked at institutions. Brian Morris told us that in order for anything to be an institution it has to be some kind of structure within society that contains social, cultural, political and economic relations as well as principles, values and rules which underlie these relations. An institution is also material but not tangible. All of these things, and more, Hollywood definitely is.
Recently Hollywood has had a ‘run in’ with the law, as its discrimination against women in the industry comes under scrutiny. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused Hollywood of gender discrimination through its “‘systematic failure’ to hire female directors.” According to the ACLU, “Fewer women are working as directors today than two decades ago…women represented only 7 percent of directors on the 250 top-grossing movies last year… 2 percentage points lower than in 1998. A recent study commissioned by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film and conducted by researchers at USC shows women have comprised fewer than 5 percent of directors of top films during the past two decades. But about half of film-school students are female. In its letter to the federal equal employment commission… the ACLU writes: ‘Decades have passed and gender disparities remain as stark as they were in the 1970s.'” (Cohen, 2015). These statistics show how far the entertainment industry still has yet to go in terms of reaching equality.
Case in point, the recent ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ press tour showed just how ‘genderist’ Hollywood (and in particular gossip magazines) are, as one reporter decided to swap her prepared questions around and ask Mark Ruffalo the questions she was going to ask Scarlett Johansson:
This just shows how gossip magazines and TV shows perpetauate old fashioned, conservative values that preach self criticism, beauty and perfection for women, through only looking at the surface. With ideals such as these being preached throughout Hollywood it’s no wonder that women have actually come out against feminism, as they are criticised for everything to the point where feminism has been given a really bad name. It has become like a sharp stick. But, just because one end of the stick is sharp and pointy, doesn’t mean the rest of the stick is.
In the past couple of years there have been a lot of developments in the way of equality, such as the UN anouncing the ‘He for She’ campaign (heforshe.org, 2015), a campaign designed to foster solidarity for gender equality between both genders, not just women as it has been percieved as only a women’s battle for so many years (hence the word feminist, in a way). Many developments have also occurred in the feminism debate, with many men coming out in support of feminism like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Gordon-Levitt, 2014) and Joss Whedon (Whedon, 2013), as well as many women coming out against feminism, as evidenced by the creation of the website ‘Women Against Feminism.’
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film released its report on 2014, titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World.” The study looks at “on-screen representations of female characters in the top 100 grossing films every year. In addition to… chronic underrepresentation [and] the prevalence of gender stereotypes… the study also reported on the lack of ethnic diversity among the same media.” (Cipriani, 2015)
Dr. Martha Lauzen who wrote the report stated. “The chronic under-representation of girls and women reveals a kind of arrested development in the mainstream film industry… Women are not a niche audience and they are no more ‘risky’ as filmmakers than men. It is unfortunate that these beliefs continue to limit the industry’s relevance in today’s marketplace.” (Cipriani, 2015)
In Joss Whedon’s speech about the word feminist and equality at the Make Equality Reality event on November 4th 2013, he puts many of these points into perspective and asks the question – why is feminist such a horrible word?:
I personally agree with Whedon; like racism, the fight for equality should be a thing of the past and as the word racist plants a firm line between where we are now and a politically incorrect past, a new word should do the same for gender equality. This is where Whedon poses the idea of the word ‘genderist’ (which apparently already existed on the internet, in particular, urban dictionary), giving the idea that the struggle for equality is behind us. But as Whedon points out at the end of his speech, we will always be fighting. Hopefully, as time goes on and more and more battles are won, we will have to fight less and less.
This week we looked at institutions, and while my group is doing institutions for our final project, I decided to do something a little different than ‘Rupert Murdoch’ and ‘Newscorp’, and instead decided to research marriage, because, as we found out in class, it is in fact a social institution, with many links to media and its own institutions.
As Brian told us in the lecture this week, institutions are “concern[ed] with organising [the] structures of society” , have “social, cultural and political relations” and have “principles, values [and] rules” which underpin them. Marriage has all of these factors.
In oder to become married you need to be “legally wed”, meaning you need to sign a legally binding contract, and to get out of the contract you need to also go through the legal system, hiring lawyers, spending money and splitting all of your assets. These legal structures that underpin the institution of marriage are mainly economic, as, as I said above about breaking that contract during a divorce, it involves splitting assets, meaning a marriage isn’t just the joining of two people, it’s economically joining as well. Hence an economic structure and a contributing factor to how and why marriage is an institution.
The notion of romantic love has somehow been hitched to the institution of marriage, through cultural narratives, a.k.a, the ‘romantic comedy’ or more derogatively known, the ‘chick flick’. These films such as, “Bride Wars” (Winick, 2009) and “What’s Your Number” (Mylod, 2011), perpetuate the social institution of marriage culturally, by emphasising the ideas of romantic love in marriage and that ‘you need a man to be happy’.
Such cultural narratives have a big stand within society, and are created by media institutions such as ‘Fox’ and ‘Disney’. Weddings themselves are often reported on within thw news as a major news piece, such as the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate, or Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, the spectacle of weddings themselves is very appealing to news media, and helps to perpetuate the social institution, as reports like these have become a staple of news reporting.
Marriage is such a large social institution and is only perpetuated by cultures and cultural products. This has created a booming industry which never seems to be out of business, with such extravagant weddings as this:
and celebrity weddings such as Kim Kardashian’s wedding both perpuating the institution further, and becoming an incredibly extravagant experience:
weddings today aren’t just an institution, they are a commodity.
Marriage is also a highly ritualistic and symbolic occasion, with such superstitions as ‘you can’t see the bride in her dress’ and ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’ Also the entire set up of the wedding with the bride in white, being walked down the aisle by her father and the groom standing at the end of the aisle waiting for her. These ritualistic symbols and superstitions contribute to the culture of marriage and therefore contribute to its nature as a social institution.
These ‘traditions’ are also very outdated and although they may seem harmless now, their origins weren’t really:
The question remains, why do these now foundless traditions continue? And more importantly, do weddings need to exist in today’s current social landscape?
Conventions were once a ‘nerdy’ event that not many people attended. Today, they are still ‘nerdy’, but as the subject matter of such conventions becomes the center of popular culture, the number of people attending them has increased dramatically. A very large part of these events and many fans’ engagement with popular culture texts in today’s current pop culture landscape, is the art of ‘cosplay’.
Cosplay, which was coined by Nov Takahashi, a contraction of the English-language words ‘costume’ and ‘play’, began in 1939 “at the First World Science Fiction Convention in New York… Forrest J Ackerman and his friend Myrtle R. Jones appeared in the first S[cience] F[iction] costumes among the 185 attendees. … [Ackerman] was dressed as a rugged looking star pilot, and [Jones] was adorned in a gown recreated from the classic 1933 film Things to Come.” Takashi was said to be inspired by “hall and masquerade costuming at the 1984 Los Angeles SF Worldcon.” when coining the phrase, cosplay. While his reports of it in Japanese science fiction magazines “sparked the Japanese cosplay movement.” (costuming.org, 2005)
Many people don’t know where cosplay originated from, and mistakenly believe that it originated in Japan. This is not the case, Japanese fans of manga and anime heard about what was happening at Worldcon in America in 1984 through Takashi’s reporting, and decided it would be fun to take it up themselves. Takashi did however coin the phrase cosplay.
After the popularity of cosplay in Japan, cosplay began to spread across the world again as anime and manga also gained popularity in western countries, all occurring in the mid-1990’s. This allowed for the reintroduction of cosplay to western countries, hence the re-popularisation of cosplay today.
The idea that all stories have already been created is an idea that has existed for as long as before the bible was first published. The existance of genres and genre conventions placing expectations and therefore limitations upon films within such genres only forces them to be more confined and ‘cliched’ less they cause an uproar. It’s the way the these ideas are used and placed, and the variation of ideas that can give fresh and new life to seemingly tired and old stories such as vampires and zombies, “a constantly overused plot devise” my mum tells me. But with films like, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (Amirpour, 2014), an Iranian vampire western, and “Life After Beth” (Baena, 2014), in which a girl becomes a zombie and her boyfriend tries to deal with her new flesh-eating tendencies. These fresh ideas, to me, prove that there is no such thing as no originality, even if the same basic trajectory exists.
This same basic trajectory, which can be found in most films, is known as ‘the hero’s journey’. The hero’s journey, which can also be called the monomyth, follows 12 basic stages and has 7 basic archetypes which are said to be found in most, if not all stories. This idea was created by the American scholar, Joseph Campbell.
The 12 basic stages of the monomyth are:
THE ORDINARY WORLD
THE CALL TO ADVENTURE
REFUSAL OF THE CALL
MEETING WITH THE MENTOR
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES
THE ROAD BACK
RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR – (Unknown)
Of course, not all stories use all the stages, it depends upon the character of the hero, and whether or not their journey is a difficult task and goes against their character, if they need to go through so much indecision and inner turmoil before they start their journey.
One part of the monomyth follows the idea that each great story includes the same 7 archetypal characters:
This video sums up both the character archetypes and the most fundamnetal stages of the hero’s journey:
There is also a lesser known heroine’s journey by Maureen Murdock. It’s stages are slightly similar, but also have a shocking difference – the emphasis on gender. The stages are:
SEPARATION FROM THE FEMININE
IDENTIFICATION WITH THE MASCULINE & GATHERING OF ALLIES
ROAD OF TRIALS, MEETING OGRES & DRAGONS
FINDING THE BOON OF SUCCESS
AWAKENING TO FEELINGS OF SPIRITUAL ARIDITY: DEATH
INITIATION & DESCENT TO THE GODDESS
URGENT YEARNING TO RECONNECT WITH THE FEMININE
HEALING THE MOTHER/DAUGHTER SPLIT
HEALING THE WOUNDED MASCULINE
INTEGRATION OF MASCULINE & FEMININE, (Unknown)
This journey can be found in some way, shape, or form in films such as “Mulan” (Bancroft and Cook, 1998) and “Brave” (Andrews and chapman, 2012). It is interesting to me how films with female leads seem to have the need for a different model of story telling. However, I don’t think that is quite true anymore. While there will always be stories out there that follow this model, there are also stories breaking this mold and following a stranger more twisted version of the monomyth. Films such as “The Hunger Games” (Ross, 2012) and “Divergent” (Burger, 2014), which are both post-apocolyptic films featuring hardened female leads, and both stories follow the monomyth, not the heroine’s journey. But in saying this, I think it is more the case that both these films are set in a post-apocalyptic future and not the present, so they feel they can show characters who are more hardened due to their situation, regardless of gender, essentially getting rid of classic gender stereotypes because times are too tough to do otherwise.
Pop art, a “new art movement of the 60’s” (teh_manis, 2013) in a way signified the beginning of mass culture, as it was the form in which many artists chose to criticise the new mass mediums in which the cultures and societies around them had become so consumed. It is the presence of criticism that truly alerts us to the presence of a movement, in this case mass culture and consumerism.
The works of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol are two great examples of individuals who took their art and used it in a way to critique this mass movement. Lichtenstein’s work was “heavily influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style.” (teh_manis, 2013) His most famous works are his collection of comic strips, which are “close but not exact copies of panels from other comic books.” (teh_manis, 2013) as exemplified through David Barsalou’s work on “deconstructing” Roy Lichtenstein’s art, as Barsalou puts the pieces together, placing the works from the original comic books that Lichtenstein copied next to Lichtenstein’s own works (Barsalou, 2015). “Instead of using the primary colors of red, yellow and blue; he uses the primary colors of a printer which are yellow, magenta and cyan. He uses think lines, bolder colors than the original, and ben-day dots just like a printer would create on paper.” All of these factors emphasise the idea of remixing and drawing from the original, as in a way pop art was the first remix, creating works from already existent work, but in this case to create a critique of mass culture, unlike today where it has become a staple of mass culture. (teh_manis, 2013)
An example of his work is Drowning Girl (1963), which came from a story from DC Comics’ Secret Hearts #83 (teh_manis, 2013):
An example of the ben-day dots that Lichtenstein used in his works:
When Lichtenstein first published his works, he was met with much criticism as many in the media questioned his originality. “In 1964, Life magazine published an article titled ‘Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?’ Lichtenstein responded to this claim and others with ‘The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content’.” (teh_manis, 2013). The media continued to criticise his works, even asking the question ‘is this art?’. The attention to detail created by hand is no small feat, but it was created for the purpose of critiquing the climate of art and culture at the time and made you contemplate your current situation. By any definition it is art, just as John Cage created the ‘sound of silence’.
Another great example of the pop art movement of the 60’s is Andy Warhol’s work:
The “Campbell’s Soup Cans” painting by Warhol (of which the above is only a segment) references and critiques the mass consumerism and culture of the 60’s.
The works from this new wave movement from the 60’s were vital to the creation of the current mass culture as well as the expression of critical views towards society through art being fostered and continually fostered now,thanks to such artists.
In today’s world everything can be shared instantaneously through social media, making everything more accessible and starting a new wave of entertainment and media sourcing. At the head of that wave are websites such as YouTube and Vimeo, on which artists can freely contribute whatever they create for the viewing pleasure of audiences around the globe. The sheer number of artists present on these websites has created a vast community, some of whom interact and collaborate with each other to produce even better videos than before.
But, there is an organisation that not many have heard of that is utilising this idea of collaboration and taking it to a whole new level. Joseph Gordon-Levitt started his open, collaborative production company ‘HitRECord‘ in 2010 where they started by producing short collaborative films which were screened at film festivals such as the Sundance film festival. As Gordon-Levitt himself puts it, an open, collaberative production company is, “open, meaning anyone can contribute, collaborative meaning we use the internet to work on our projects together, and production company because that’s what we do.”
The first season of HitRECord on TV! won a Primetime Emmy and an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Social TV Experience’. The TV show, through its collaborative and mix of styles is a new version of the variety show in the age of social media. The first episode, ‘RE: the Number One’ was first aired on YouTube before it was aired on television and contained work from 426 contributors:
The show, like most vloggers and bloggers of social media, is also unafraid to tackle vital issues on the headlines of newspapers such as this call out for contributions regarding feminism:
Other topics explored include fantasy, trash, space and money, among others. Even though the other episodes in the list don’t seem to cover topical issues, each episode goes in depth on its topic, exploring every possible avenue it can, such as in the first episode above where they bring light to the honey mushroom, a singular organism that is so large it is destroying every tree that stands in its way in the forest it occupies.
HitRECord is only one of many entities that use community collaboration to create some truly amazing artistic creations, and thanks to the internet and social networking sites, collaborative art works are more and more possible to create, not just within a network of peers, but globally too.
Found Footage by definition is footage that has been rappropriated and redefined for an entirely new and different context. As Tilly Walnes puts it, “there is no end to its newness.” (Walnes, 2015). This much is true, as through this act of remixing and reappropriating, the footage takes on an entirely new meaning and context, in an entirely new film.
Found footage films, such as Bruce Conner’s 1958 “A Movie”, often critique the “mass media’s use of images, narrative codes, and editing conventions, exposing their ideological function and questioning their authority as conveyors of meaning.” (Walnes, 2015). Through this critiquing, such films play an essential role in our current society, as they allow for social commentary to occur through a familiar, accessible and viral means.
The first ever found footage film was Joseph Cornell’s “Rose Hobart” (1936) which “stitched together and slowed down movie reels featuring the eponymous actress and added a blue filter and samba soundtrack.” (Walnes, 2015):
The film ends up being a rather strange and depressingly unique insight into the world of an actress and the seemingly fake emotions and person that is constantly created on screen, the blue emphasising these emotions while the samba soundtrack detracts from this and gives the idea that what she is doing is a pointless dance with not just the audience, but possibly even herself.
The art of utilising found footage to create an entirely new piece of work has become incredibly popular in recent times, as the internet has allowed more and more footage to become available to the average person, hosting sites such as YouTube have become more and more popular allowing people to voice their social criticisms, and editing software is becoming more readily available. All of these factors heavily contribute to the increased popularity of the found footage film, as well as remix films, but one other factor had a great deal of influence as well: the creation of creative commons.
The creative commons is a licensing agreement that allows artists to release their work to the public for free to be used as they see fit, whether that’s an attribution license, meaning their work can be used in anyone else’s work in any way, shape, or form, around the world so long as they are attributed correctly. Or a non-derivative license which means the work cannot be altered in any way or included in any other work, but can be shared as much as you want, for free. Creative commons gives the artists control over their work and it was only created in 2001 (Walnes, 2015). Before creative commons was established the only options for artists publishing on the web was ‘all rights reserved’ or ‘public domain’ (Walnes, 2015).
While many of the advocates for found footage film-making consider it to be a kind of “no-budget folk art” (Walnes, 2015), the art form is gaining considerable popularity, and with the creation of creative commons and the increase in the digitisation of artwork, its popularity will only continue to increase.
For this weeks exploration, I decided to focus on the guest lecture from Liam Ward. Editing is the practice of “deliberately breaking things [in order to]… fill the gaps with meaning” (Ward, 2015).
The most famous breakthrough in the field of editing was through experiments by Lev Kuleshov, a Russian Filmmaker and theorist living in Moscow in the 1920’s. Through his experiments, the best known of which involved re-editing footage of “the expressionless face of actor Ivan Mozzhukhin… alternated with shots of a plate of soup, a young woman, and a little girl in a coffin.” People who took part in this experiment stated that they appreciated “Mozzhukhin’s ability to convey the emotions of hunger, desire, and grief respectively.” Despite the fact that he was expressing the exact same emotion each time:
Such experiments helped Kuleshov to develop his theory of the Kuleshov effect, “The proposition that the meaning of any given film will derive from the juxtaposition of individual shots as a result of the editing process… [and that] audiences understand the meaning of images differently depending on their sequential arrangement.” (Kuhn and Westwell, 2014).
One of the most effective editing techniques is match cutting. A match cut relies on something within one shot directly relating to something within the next shot, leading our brains to automatically create a link between the two. This is mainly done through matching shapes, colours, movement and even the overall composition of a shot. Basically, anything graphically. One of the most prolific and amazing uses of this technique is a Japanese animator by the name of Satoshi Kon, who I actually found out about from one of Aidan Tai Jones’ blog posts. This video essay by Tony Zhou shows just how prolific Kon’s use of this technique is, and how his use has changed the way many other director’s use match cuts and other editing techniques, as is seen through his influence on many other artist’s work:
Match cuts are unfortunately not used very often in mainstream films, but are however very prominent in experimental films and some particular directors, such as Edgar Wright, have adopted the match cut as a part of their signature style.
Another commonly used technique is elliptical editing. Elliptical editing is used throughout most films as it is very rare for a film to take place in ‘real time’. Elliptical editing is a technique used to shorten the length of sequences by removing unnecessary details to the overall story and plot development, such as when characters eat or use the bathroom, pick up objects out of frame and then put them on, or walk up a really tall mountain. By seeing pieces of these sequences our brains automatically piece together what has occurred, creating the important links needed in the narrative. This example from “Batman Begins” (Nolan, 2005) shows this technique:
One technique that often goes unnoticed but for some reason seems a bit strange to the human eye is rear projection, a technique commonly used for driving scenes due to the difficulty of filming subjects in a car from multiple angles while the car is in motion, mainly used in low-budget film-making, TV shows and films throughout the 20’s through to the 60’s. Rear projection works by placing your subjects in front of a screen, which you then project previously recorded footage onto, to give the illusion of motion. Add sound effects and it almost seems realistic. However some silent films in the 1920’s used this technique for different purposes, to create entire worlds of delusion and daydream for their characters, such as in “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (Murnau, 1927):
From 2:29-3:11, Murnau uses rear projection to give us the idea that the Man and the Wife are so enamored with each other that they are separate from reality and so walk into their own. Also, because rear projection is used, it adds to the idea that their environment is disconnected from them somehow as it moves in a different way to the couple.
These are only three techniques that are commonly used in the practice of editing, there are many more to describe and many more, I’m sure, left to discover.
– Ward, Liam. Lectorial Guest Lecture on Editing-24/3/2015
– Kuhn, Annette and Guy Westwell. “A Dictionary of Film Studies.” Entry: “Kuleshov Effect.” Oxford University Press, 2014