Hell in a Hand-basket: Media Materialism and the Anthropocene

Today Dan Binns talked to us about media materialism and the anthropocene.

Media materialism is a way of looking at and grounding our understanding of media technology (Binns, 2015). It forces us to look back at media technologies and realises that even though technology may seem brilliant and futuristic, it is only an enabler for what we are physically able to do, that is the’cloud’ isn’t really a cloud, it is created physically and grounded somewhere, just as the internet and YouTube aren’t all floating in hyperspace, but really have an actual physical location. Media materialism seeks to show that technologies have a realistic foundation.

There are two distinct schools of thought within media materialism: technological determinism and social constructivism. Technological determinism relies upon the ideas that technology has a preconceived course, a logical progression, that technology advances automatically and that technology effects our way of interacting with the world, even to the extent of being a natural extension of our bodies (Binns, 2015). Dziga Vertov took this concept one step further and created films around the concept that the camera was his eye and body, such as “The Man with a Movie Camera” (Vertov, 1929):

Social constructivism on the other hand believes that since humanity created technology we have the ability to control how its used and regulated, that no matter how radical the technology becomes we’ll still have the ability to control it (Binns, 2015). Social constructivism however presents many other ideas, such as the issue of ethics in the creation of technology and the idea that the production of technology is not a straight line, but rather a rocky, murky, unpredictable one, which many see as a hindrance to the progress of such technologies (Binns, 2015).

It is also accused of producing a rather romanticised version of the world, as many texts demonstrate a clear criticism of our creation of such advanced technologies that, even though we created them, have clearly grown out of our grasp, such as “I, Robot” (Proyas, 2004), and even as far back as “Metropolis” (Lang, 1927), both of which depict an A.I. entity created by humankind, that soon spirals out of control to endanger humanity. All of this occurring in the 197 years since Frankenstein was first published (Binns, 2015). Since then the lines between man and machine are constantly becoming more and more blurred as science fiction explores the very real possibility of humanity getting ‘too big for their breeches’.

One particular text which Dan showed us and I found very interesting was a short film created by Quantic Dream called “Kara”, what was originally supposed to be a beta for a game turned into a 7 minute short film about the concept and reality of constructing A.I robots in the visage and mind of humans:

This then brought up the holocene, the age in which we are now, characterised by the heating of the planet, the rise of human supremacy, the dis-allowance of a natural reset (the ice age had a natural reset) due to technology programming itself into the natural chemistry of the planet (Binns, 2015). However, McKenzie Wark believes that we have now entered a new age – the anthropocene, the age of the human. Wark also believes that in this new age since we’re “going to hell in a hand-basket”, it should force new ways of looking at the world, creating new non-hypocritical theories and ways of sorting through problems (Binns, 2015). Hopefully, this new age of the anthropocene will bring about a new way of looking at media mateialism and technology itself that will help steer humanity towards a much brighter future.

– Binns, Daniel. Week 12 Lectorial. May 26th 2015.

The Remix and the Glitch: Breaking Things Since 1930(ish)

“There is no such thing as an original idea.” – Dan Binns. As Dan told us this (again), it didn’t feel very reassuring/inspirational, but as he continued to speak and said that it’s how we “deliver [content] in new and interesting ways [that matters]”, it did start to feel a little inspirational, especially when one of the readings this week was this:

Everything is a Remix Part 2 by Kirby Ferguson.

‘Kill Bill’ (Tarantino, 2003) has so many different references in it, but uses all of them in such a unique way. It is so interesting to uncover the inspiration behind a piece like Kill Bill, especially to find out that so many different pieces worked together to create the one entirely different and iconic film. And that is what the topic of remixing is all about, creating the new from the already existent.

Remixing started around 1929 when the use of synchronous sound in film was popularised. Remixing was popularly used by surrealism, post-cubism and dadaism, not in the same way we know it today, but in the way that they deconstructed footage of objects and people and then edited it in a way so that it created a general theme, such as ‘Ballet Mecanique’ (Leger, 1924), which uses close ups of regular household objects and people, then edits the footage and combines it with sound in such a way that the people seem to be mechanical:

Dan explained the evolution of remix to us through the creation of the DJ (which I will explore in a further post along with the newly created VJ), showing us a documentary on song remixes and one particular DJ, Girl Talk. Girl Talk’s song ‘This is the Remix’ uses 34 tracks:

This immense use of track sampling shows how an original piece of art can be created from already existant works. Other examples of remix art that have come about in recent years are pop art (signifies a society/era with familiarity which is then subverted in strange, unique and ironic ways):


– Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Drowning Girl’

and glitch art (which breaks the rules of the original form in which the art took place, exploiting a something ‘wrong’ to create something completely different):


Dan spoke to us about many different scholars, including Walter Benjamin, a German scholar whose works originated from the Frankfurt school at Gurter University. His most influential piece (in terms of current ideas on remixing), is ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, an analysis of how mechanical reproduction (as opposed to man-made manual reproductions) detract from the uniqueness and authority of the original, as well as lack the “aura” of the original (Benjamin, 1936).

Benjamin’s theories on how reproducing something changes the original product, changes the authenticity of the original product (as it lacks the environment of the original product), as well as how forms of reproduction, such as film, have become a form of art, all contribute in a way to the current views of remix in society. Benjamin goes on to say that film itself is “the most powerful agent” of the “contemporary mass movements”, that its “social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage.” (Benjamin, 1936)

I think that Benjamin clearly did not foresee the incredible uniqueness and diversity of expression that has come from film and photography, even programming. Although, I can understand his point of view, as in today’s culture the number of people using a pen and paper as opposed to a laptop is dwindling, and pretty soon art will have taken on an entirely new technological form, and hence a new culture.

Benjamin also brings up the concept of distance, that is a mechanical reproduction does not have sufficient distance in its appearance or structure to be unique to the original in the way a manually recreated piece would. Distance is also brought up in another way by Benjamin, as he speaks of a “detachment” created by the mechanical reproduction, that separates you from the original. This is where Benjamin theorises the idea of the “aura”. The aura to Benjamin is little more than a feeling but, when in the presence of the original, you can feel its aura, due to its history, authenticity and authority as an object, whereas the mechanical reproduction is cut off from this aura as it does not have these same qualities, is not unique and is one of many as opposed to one (Benjamin, 1936).

A physical work of art, such as a painting is planted in a specific time and place, so is more able to have an aura.However, I do feel that there is an element of the aura that Benjamin did not account for in terms of reproductions, as when we watch a film or TV show for the first time in a unique setting, we remember that feeling of that first time watching it, and I know personally that I have tried in vain innumerable times to recreate that atmosphere and hence aura, of that first time watching that film, but as Benjamin says, it’s never the same as the original. In this way, I feel that ‘the original’ could just as easily be transposed to the first viewing.

I also feel that if you own a technological reproduction, such as a poster or a book, and it goes through some wear and tear alongside you, you feel a strong connection to the object and the object gains its own aura and authenticity through a shared history with you. Through these examples, it is to say that Benjamin’s theories of aura and work with all kinds of reproductions, they are just different kinds of auras, as everything has a different aura.

However, what I feel Benjamin is trying to say is that the mechanical reproduction will never be the same as the real physical thing, as it doesn’t have the same history, authenticity or authority, and therefore aura as the original. Quite like how in this day and age social media tries to copy human interaction but miserably fails, as text-text communication just isn’t the same as face-face, as it creates a level of separation between the original and the reproduction that just isn’t surpassable.

Benjamin’s theories on technological reproduction effect our current views on remixing, as they force us to question the originality of such works, and yet Benjamin himself also says that works that are reproduced manually (by hand/man-made) have a uniqueness that machine reproductions don’t. in this way, current remix culture carries with it its own uniqueness and aura, depending on the degree of separation from the original product, as Benjamin puts it.

Eduardo Navas also created his own theory, ‘Remix Theory’ which is based around the web 2.0 and introduction of the cut, copy and paste tools within pretty much every software application available. Navas theorises that the invention and inclusion of such tools in basic sound and video editing programs allowed for the remix to enter the mainstream pop culture. Navas also theorises that through the inclusion of such short cuts and the developments of such technologies “new forms of cultural production that question standard commercial practice” are created (Navas, 2010). Through Navas’ theories we can surmise that in today’s culture, with the ever growing popularity of remixes and mashups, that as Benjamin was concerned with upholding the authority and purity of the original, we are paving the way for a society that thrives on remixing the already existent into something new and unique with its own aura entirely.

Dan summed up his lecture by emphasising the fact that all of these amazing art works wouldn’t be possible without previously made work, and even though they do use someone else’s work, they are also building upon that work and creating something entirely new. Like found footage, it is being used for a different purpose out of context. However, as we all know, copyright infringement law does not see it the same way.

– Binns, Daniel. Lectorial Week 11. May 19th 2015.

– Benjamin, Walter. ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. 1936. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

– Navas, Eduardo. ‘Regressive and reflexive mashups in sampling culture, 2010 Revision.’ August 13, 2010. Remix Theory. Available at: http://remixtheory.net/?p=444


Today Brian Morris talked to us about institutions.

The term institution is originally from sociology and is concerned with organising structures that make up society. An institution has to have social, cultural, political and economic relations, and principles, values and rules that inform and underpin these relations. An institution is material, but it is not tangible (Morris, 2015), think of Google and how it is both a material company but has now somehow become a verb, as we all frequently say, “just Google it”. This shows how Google has become a cultural and social entity as well as a company, therefore it is an institution.

Another institution is marriage. Brian asked us about how we thought Marriage counted as a social institution, and we all came up with a long list (which I thought warranted a blog post to explore more, which I will upload a little later).

Media institutions are enduring which produces limitations as they have a status quo to uphold, a reputation which doesn’t allow any breathing room for new creations and developments to occur. They also, regulate and structure activities, are ‘collectivist’, develop working practices, employees and people associated are expected to share values as the public is aware of their status, audiences are also created by institutions and their content. Institutions and their public status develops trust between the audience and the institution as the audience understands the general message of the institution. This trust is however being infringed upon quite frequently as of late, with recent developments over the years such as the News of the World phone hacking scandal and the cash for comments scandal on the radio in 1999. (Morris, 2015)

We then split up into groups for an exercise and researched a media institution out of the four: Facebook, Google, NewsCorp and Community Media. My group looked at Google, and we found that Google’s reach over multiple platforms and technologies shows the power such institutions have over pop culture and societal development. Through this activity we also noticed that many of these institutions, through their quest for money and profit, have gained a monopoly over the market, especially NewsCorp in both Australia and England.

Institutions, especially those which are omnipresent within the media, have a great deal of power and influence through their control of services and products within the market place. Through controlling basic mediums and media-related commodities, media institutions are able to shape social discourse.

– Morris, Brian. Week 10 Lectorial. May 12th 2015.


Today Brian Morris talked to us about audience.

Audiences are often categorised in different ways. Such as ‘demographics’ (as in age brackets, e.g. 18-25) which concern businesses such as advertisers, commercial broadcasters, production houses, individual houses and program makers, government policy makers, social scientists/psychologists and cultural theorists to name a few. Over the years there have been changing conceptions around audience as broadcasting has changed to narrowcasting and citizens have become consumers. This has caused changes in TV institutions, the technology behind production, distribution and consumption, and audience practices (Morris, 2015).

When TV was first established in Australia, many were concerned about its effect on the individual and it was focused towards the ‘suburban housewife’, the key audience for television when it all began. Now, audiences and the content they like to watch have fractured and splintered into so many different niche areas, with different aesthetic sensibilities, and different needs to be advertised and catered towards.

The broadcast audience is public, that is to say that it is one person (a presenter) to many. Often this presenter, such as Oprah Winfrey or Ellen Degeneres, can create a sort of social glue and a community around their audience creating a virtual public sphere.

In the public sphere, who do media creators address? Many debates have arisen around talk show hosts and their heavily feminised views, as well as their concerns with previously taboo subjects.

Many media-oriented institutions use the idea of mass culture and mass audiences, but as R. Williams put it in ‘Culture and Society’ (1963), “there are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.”

– Morris, Brian. Lectorial Week 9. May 5th 2015.


Today’s lectorial was all about narrative. Dan Binns told us how everything is story/story is everything, especially to humanity, who seek to create stories and meaning from everything around them.

Narrative is any retelling of any sequence of events and heavily involves the principle of causality; a logical progression from one event to another (cause and effect). Causality allows for character development which takes time within the narrative and presents the audience with a number of situations with which the character can respond, but only within a limited range of responses according to the characters traits. A character won’t do something you want them to just for the sake of a happy ending or plot, they are in fact their own little person with internal conflicts and choices, and if for some reason they did choose to do something ‘out of character’, you as an audience member wouldn’t be very happy. That is why good writing creates clashes between traits so a character must choose between them and the audience is left in suspense. Plot is the chronological sequence of events in a narrative and involves a key character carrying out action, the action, and recipient’s of the plot’s action. And of course the resolution, which does not have to have a recipient in order to receive the response (Binns, 2015).

Now that the basics are over with, Dan told us the first rule of storytelling: nothing is original. Just as it is in adaptation and genre films, it is how the filmmaker creates the world with a different and unique perspective, allowing them to subvert expectations and put a new and different twist on conventions, that truly makes narrative films interesting and unique.

Dan also explored the concept of non-narrative. These are visual explorations within the medium itself that see if it is possible to do away with the narrative entirely. Most things, if not everything has a narrative. Even if the story is not explicit, we as humans rely upon our understanding of story telling principles to understand their lack of story (Binns, 2015).

Non-narrative films possess no obvious causality, no character development, no clear diegetic plot-line, no clear linear events tying scenes together, graphic matches to make art not story, lack of cohesion, lack of conclusion/sense of closure, no character motivation, and the use of people as props not characters (Binns, 2015).

whereas narrative films contain people (or anthropomorphic creatures) as central characters in order to create a connection with the audience, how they arrived at the situation/backstory (context), thematic connections (patterns of representation), often different places creating a journey, parallel events, and a title which gives the film causality and the character motivation (Binns, 2015).

– Binns, Daniel. Lectorial Week 8. Apr. 28th 2015.


Today Brian Morris talked to us about our final assignment, a group assignment, as well as one of the subject matters for said assignment: texts.

When talking about a ‘text’ one can speak of anything so long as it falls under the definition of a “material trace that [is] left [for] the practice of sense-making. The only empirical evidence we have of how other people make sense of the world.” (Morris, 2015). When analysing texts one can respond in two different ways; the effects tradition in communication studies which focuses on the effect that particular text has on its audience, and an idea that emerged from structuralism post WW2 (mid 20th century) against a particular idea of culture. This ‘interpretive tradition’ focused more on the meaning which the audience gleans from texts and the idea of popular culture texts, creating the broader structuralist movement known as semiotics.

Semiotics, as developed upon by Noam Chomsky, is denoted by ‘signs’ which have two parts, the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the audio/visual stimuli that triggers the signified, which is the mental connection that we associate  with that stimulus. For example, if you see this image:

curious dog


the first mental connection (or denotation (litreral/first meaning) you make is that the creature in the photo is a dog. The second mental connection you may make (or connotation (cultural/second meaning) is that the dog is curious, or has heard some kind of noise/seen something to make it react in such a way.

Codes are also associated with these ‘signs’, as they are conventions operating in relation to the stimuli (in this case a photograph). Such codes can be formal such as technical codes (shot scale, focus, etc.), composition (are the objects close together or spread out/in clusters?), genre (e.g. a family photo has basic conventions representing togetherness and a strong bond). There are also social/ideological codes, such as family, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, class, age and nationality.

Texts, and the study of texts is essential to our growth and understanding of society, as through texts we can glean information about social values and discourses. For instance, through the use of semiotics we can develop our understanding of how meanings are created in a society through signs, and codes and conventions, all represented through the stimulus.

Jasmine Roth also spoke to us about the affordances of sound, which was very interesting as she spoke to us about how “the sense of hearing cannot be turned off at will.. We are continually absorbing and filtering the landscape… the ears only protection is an elaborate psychological mechanism for filtering out.” (Roth, 2015)

These ideas led  the intimate and immersive nature of sound and further develop the idea of tuning in and out of the soundscape through a perspective of hierarchized sounds that fit into three categories: figure/signal (focus/interest), ground (setting/context (not aware they are listening too) and field (background/ambient space(heard but not listened to). (Roth, 2015)

It was very interesting to listen in depth to the values and mechanisms of soundscapes, to discover that it is a “representation of a place or an environment that can be heard rather than… seen. [It is] an environment of sound.” (Roth, 2015) I feel knowing these small details about sound and its affordances will help me to utilise sound as a craft better in the future.

– Morris, Brian. Week 7 Lectorial. Apr. 21st 2015.

– Roth, Jasmine. Week 7 Lectorial. Apr. 21st 2015.

Media is a Form of Research: Collaboration

Today Amy Saunders and Rachel Wilson spoke to us about research and collaboration respectively.

Amy, the liason librarian for our program, spoke to us about how to properly use the resources at our disposal through the library, such as how to search properly, the databases available to us and how to know if your article is scholarly or not. It’s surprising how much you don’t know about this type of thing until you look a little closer.

Rachel talked to us about collaboration and the value and need for successful collaboration within the industry, all in time for our big group assignment. She gave us a lot of valuable information about how to structure our group work and meetings to ensure fairness and strong collaboration within the group, such as writing minutes for every meeting convened, and different ways to diffuse bad situations, involving sharing ideas and solving problems when they arise.

Found Footage: The Art of the Portrait

Today in our lectorial Brian Morris talked to us about found footage for our forthcoming project; a portrait of someone we know consisting of a significant portion of found footage. Found footage is “pre-existing footage appropriated by a filmmaker and used in a way that was not originally intended”(Morris, 2015). The earliest examples come from avant-garde experimental films in the 1920’s which were then revived in the 1950’s during the new wave of American cinema (Morris, 2015).

Found footage has a constantly evolving meaning which depends upon the context of the film within which it is placed and the cultural and social context of the time, as this is where audiences draw meanings from the text. A good example of this is Bruce Conner’s ‘A Movie’ as it utilizes various pieces of found footage to satirize and criticize film-making:

We were then an Adam Curtis documentary trailer, as Curtis is notorious for his ability to mix mediums, that is found footage, captured footage, text, sound and photos to create a very distinct and clear message:

We were also shown many examples of portraits which gave us some good ideas of the basic conventions of the portrait genre. All of these examples combined to create a great overall image of what to do and how to create this ‘found footage portrait’. Now all that is needed is the subject.

We took some time to brainstorm some people who we thought would be interesting to do a portrait of and the one person that really stuck out for me was my dad because of his creative genius, love of 3D printing and amazing skills with a computer. Now all that’s left to do is to get dad to sign a release form and the project is off and running.

– (Morris, 2015), Brian Morris Lectorial.

The World is Random, So Why not Create a Meaning for it all

Adrian Miles seems to be one of the most provocative and intriguing people you will ever meet, especially while at uni. He was a guest lecturer in today’s lectorial and he told us all, all of us with our young, absorbent, spongy brains, how stories are something that are uniquely human, and how we constantly search for the meaning of things, as opposed to seeing what things actually are.

He told us many things. How we’ve been taught to believe that thinking is privileged, so if you think of something you’ve basically done it already. That we think we’re on top of the food chain, when that is simply preposterous. How we have this notion of “I think, therefore I am”, so we separate our brains from our bodies, when in reality they are in concert with each other, they are one and the same. All this and more he told us, and it was the most provocative talk you will ever hear, because you sit there and listen and you think ‘but that’s not right’, and then you sit there some more and realise, ‘but wait, it is right’. And then you do something amazing, that was the whole point of him talking in front of you in the first place, you start to think about it in your own way and start to contribute unique thoughts to the conversation as you realise that the world is not the size of the fish pond it was back in high school. It’s an ocean of possibility (as you can see, still working on the originality part).

After Adrian spoke to us about meaning and how it’s all in our heads, Liam Ward spoke to us about editing. This was very interesting to me, as I find I struggle to consistently edit with meaning and purpose. Liam told us about how the human brain creates meaning when there’s a sudden cut from one shot to another, using that one shot from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Kubrick, 1968) that everyone uses (but is still a brilliant example):

Liam started his talk by saying that editing is “deliberately breaking and fragmenting things”, allowing us to fill the gaps with meaning and ask why these gaps exist in the first place.

Liam showed us the Kuleshov effect:

This emphasises that we discern the meaning of one image from the images surrounding it, not just the image itself. Liam emphasised this point by showing us all a photo of Joffrey Baratheon from the “Game of Thrones” (Benioff and Weiss, 2011-):




And then placing it next to photos of Christopher Pine:

chris pine bad 3


And then this photo next to the photo of Joffrey:

chris pine bad 2


By placing each of these photos of Christopher Pine next to Joffrey, (yes we all did laugh a lot) it produces a link between the boy king and the politician, as it shows them both with a similar pose, gesture and facial expression, and then it removes that link by showing that Pine doesn’t approve of Joffrey, for whatever reason (probably the same reason as the rest of us). These links also produce emotional reactions in the audience. If your audience is a bunch of uni students, who are probably leaning towards the left politically, finding out that Christopher Pine disapproves of Joffrey like we do, probably produces a reaction somewhere along the lines of unsettling, as even people who are more right wing politically disapprove of Joffrey, emphasising how horrific a ruler he is in the world of “Game of Thrones” (2011-).

– Benioff, David and D.B. Weiss. “Game of Thrones.” 2011- Present

Pushing Boundaries: Entering Other Worlds

Today in our lectorial we had 2 guest lecturers, Anne Lennox and Kyla Brettle.

Anne came to talk to us, in brief about copyright in Australia and other countries. It was interesting to find out how our work is automatically protected here in Australia, but in America, there are unfortunately a large number of hoops to go through before a work can be copyrighted. Listening to Anne gave me a much greater appreciation for Australian legislation (in some areas) and allowed me to understand the impact copyright can have on my work. I found it interesting that under ‘fair dealing’, it’s ok to use copyrighted work so long as it’s for research and study, criticism and review, reporting news, and parody and satire.

Kyla came to talk to us about her experiences in the industry, which seem to have evolved through non-fiction, going from documentary film, to radio documentary, and various forms of journalism in between. I found it very interesting listening to Kyla talk about all of her amazing experiences, which never would have happened, had she not decided to poke at the boundaries she saw herself within. Not just the amazing people and situations she told us about constantly observing, but also the courage to transition from the widely used and distributed medium of the film documentary to the radio documentary, a lesser known, yet equally, if not more powerful medium. Listening to examples of Kyla’s work was quite amazing, as I found it even more overpowering than a film documentary, as the imagery is left entirely up to you and your own mind, your own relative experiences, to fill the gaps, allowing a strangely personal bond to occur.

Kyla talked about how difficult and worthwhile it is to stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone and how rewarding it can be to see things unfold that you normally would never experience on a purely observational level. She spoke about how difficult it was for her to do these things but how worthwhile it was in the long run and all the amazing things she’s been able to do throughout her career.

I feel like I myself am at a stage where I could go the path that Kyla has, pushing not just the social boundaries of our society through her observations, but pushing the boundaries within herself. Or I could go the other way and choose to take no physical action, instead staying in the artificial world known as the internet. I feel as though I am at a turning point. And what better place to turn around and change then at university. And hey, why not blog about it too.