Sooo the next 2 and a half years of Media will be studio based. These are project based which is exciting to me because I like having something practical to do. Theory is awesome, but it’s kind of one of those balance things: too much of one without the other, too much oversaturation of either one, is completely exhausting on every level.

It’ll be made up of (technically) 5 assessments, going from PB1 to PB4B, over fourteen weeks. I’m hoping that in comparison to this semester it won’t be as emotionally or psychologically draining. Then again, since it will involve a lot of practical work and group work, it could sap the last drops of life from me.

Recap SEM 1

In semester 1, we have been covering:

  • Practices
  • Professionalism
  • Theory
  • Technical practices

Over this semester, I want in particular to put more practice into the professional aspects of this course. This includes my desire to find work attachments, which could give me opportunities that will contribute to my professional career.

Theoretical studies in communications are something that I am incredibly interested in pursuing further. I want to do more studies involving human psychology and sociology, because the ideas and studies in these subjects  interest me deeply.

My Take on Timothy Treadwell

In Cinema, we watched Grizzly Man, a documentary about a man named Timothy Treadwell who was obsessed with bears and nature. Watching excerpts from his own videos through the documentary, I (and I believe many other members of the audience) was struck by his peculiar nature and deep obsession with the wilderness, particularly his apparent nonchalance when faced with enormous, unpredictable and powerful adult grizzly bears. For the most part, I think that Treadwell was a nutter, and kept thinking to myself, ‘he’s insane, he’s mad, maybe he is simply not well,’ and my mind was drawn back to yesterday’s lectorial on media institutions and Michel Foucault’s studies of how abnormal behaviour is perceived and treated in society.

Firstly, what made Timothy Treadwell ‘abnormal?’ I would say, from watching Grizzly Man, that it would be his unusual accent and mannerisms. At a first glance, he seemed effeminate which made his character distinctive and out of the ordinary, particularly in the wilds of Alaska.

Secondly, his unusualness came from his deep passionate confessions of love and admiration for bears. In a social context, most people may say they respect bears when brought up in conversation; but he publicly preached about them. Furthermore, his character implied that his love for the beasts made him naïve to their wild, powerful and deadly nature. He said so himself, without much concern, that he was at risk of bodily or fatal harm, and yet he persevered and stayed within the vicinity of bears. Why would a sane person risk their lives and safety for the sake of studying and ‘protecting’ such dangerous creatures? This, I believe, is what would help classify Treadwell in society as a ‘weirdo,’ a ‘nut,’ ‘delusional’ or ‘crazy.’

Treadwell was a fascinating character and is fascinating to observe, because he is a brilliant example of someone in contemporary society who is, in his own way, mentally unwell. He has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and voluntarily stopped taking antidepressants without the clearance of a doctor and I believe these are grounds for someone who is troubled; not necessarily mentally ill, but confused and unwell. If we were to examine him through the lens of Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation, we would engage in a sociological study of the relationship between Treadwell as an individual and society on a larger scale. In the documentary itself, his friends and acquaintances recounted him as unusual, troubled and, to some degree, worrying or even frightening in his obsession. Even Treadwell’s relationship with the audience while watching the documentary would be an interesting one to study. For one thing, how would we, as an audience of this somewhat biased a perception of a documentary, express our opinions of Treadwell in a social situation with friends or in a discussion in Cinema? That’s something that intrigues me, because I definitely have opinions of Treadwell that I want to clarify for myself.

My Take on Michel Foucalt’s Institutions

In today’s lectorial, we had a discussion about institutions and variations on them in society. Essentially, an institution is a man-made construct concerned with structures of society. This can be anything from ‘marriage’ or ‘divorce’ as social institutions, or media institutions such as the ABC News, HBO or community media channels.

What stuck with me most after the lectorial was philosopher, historian, social theorist and literary critic Michel Foulcalt’s ideas of relationships between society and individuals. In his 1961 book Madness and Civilisation, Foucalt explores the institution of mental asylums from the Renaissance (1500s AD) up to the contemporary society of his time in the late 1950s-early 60s.

In his book, he explored the societal implications of what constituted as ‘mad’ or ‘sane,’ and the way that society dealt with ‘mad’ people. His study became an exploration of what was considered ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ according to social values. In summary, he maintained that unlike inthe Renaissance, when those deemed ‘mad’ were believed to be on a cosmically higher level than others in society, in the Classical Age (17th to 18th/19th century), those considered mad were simply thrown into asylums out of the way with other undesirables for the protection of society.

Moving further on to his contemporary era, the modern era, he asserted in his findings that while there were attempts being made to ‘cure’ these people in institutions under the guidance of medical doctors, there was on one level a great contrast in power between patients and doctors and on another level an inherited social value from the Classical Age that those who were ‘mad’ were undesirables to be hidden away for society’s protection.

Foucalt’s study on mental asylums as institutions through history are important factors of my studies because it highlights the central significance that sociology, society and society’s values have in media and communications. What I got out of this lectorial revolving around institutions, elements of sociology and Michel Foucalt’s case studies was the sense that institutions are an immensely important construct and organisation of structures in society.

Basic Comms 101 by Me

In my New Media New Asia class, for a group assessment task, my group pitched an idea for an app that would incentify taking public transport in China to reduce congestion and air pollution.

Essentially, in big cities in China such as Beijing or Shanghai, public transport is not utilised the same way as somewhere like Melbourne, because there is a more prominent culture of hierarchy and status for the Chinese, and one way of showing off status is by owning a car. Thus, logically, it makes sense that people in China are more interested in showing off the fact that they have a car than waiting an hour for a bus.

The feedback that we got from our tutor for this pitch was that we should reconsider how to approach the issue. What we wanted ultimately from this app was to change the behaviour of people in China; and this, to me, has become a key factor in the philosophy and aims of media/communication practitioners.

Behavioural change through our app, as our tutor suggested, would be based around Acculturation (Merriam Webster definition: cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture). In a sense, this app would be aimed at 18-30 year olds in China, students and young professionals, in the hopes of normalising use of public transport for their generation and future generations.

Behavioural change in communications is vital to communications now that I think about it more closely. Raising awareness, as enlightened to me in my earlier classes, is not actually that important on its own. Raising awareness doesn’t do anything on its own. When David Attenborough released his documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in December 2015, sure he wanted awareness of the environment’s vulnerability to be raised. But what the producers, writers and Attenborough ultimately strived for in the making of the documentary was to change the behaviour of those who watched it in a way that would benefit the environment’s health.

So now, after this enlightening class, I intend to go forth in my media career with a better understanding of what my intentions are: do I want to tell a story, show off some pretty pictures, or do I want to encourage a change in behaviour?

My Take on Medium Theory

For our PB4, my group has been given the subject of Technology and Mediums, and we seek to explore the evolution of cameras and photography since the beginning of the 20th century and its place within society as a media form. Relative to our topic of Mediums, I read through Meyrowitz’s reading regarding Medium  Theory.

To start off with, Medium Theory is the study of the distinctions between mediated forms (audio, print, text, visual, etc.) on social, psychological and physical levels. The simplest summary of the definition of Medium Theory in my opinion can be found in a quote by Marshall McLuhan, a literature scholar: ‘The medium is the message’ (1960s). The meaning behind this quote is that social influences that arise out of the media are influential not because of the message that is decoded, but because of the medium’s effect on recipients.

Distinctions made between different medium forms include the degree of verisimilitude ( ‘the appearance or semblance of truth[reality]”), the degree of human intervention and interaction required of varying mediums, and the degree to which a medium can be distributed or received simultaneously to many people in many locations at once.

Something that interested me in this reading was the history of medium theory being dated back to Socrates in ancient Greece. Now, first and foremost, I am someone who admires Socrates; my favourite quote by him is ‘All I know is that I know nothing,’ and it really feels relevant to my brain at this point of the year. Anyway, he argued that writing had negative effects on the mind; he believed that we literally no longer needed to use our brains to remember things because we could write it all down. This interests me in regard to the subject of mediums and medium theory because I see it as a fitting and humbling show of the beginnings of communication media studies, way before media was even a thing. Additionally, I find it ironic that Socrates thought writing was bad for you because if he was zapped across time to the present day, imagine his reactions to phones, tablets, laptops, smartboards, printing presses, etc.


My Take on Burgin’s ‘Looking at Photographs’

From this week’s reading, Looking at Photographs by Victor Burgin, I got out two major ideas concerning the relationship between people and photography.

Firstly, there was a clear emphasis on the significance of subject and subjectivity. There is a lot of distinguishing between the ‘other’ and the ‘self,’ between the subjects being represented and the viewing subject. Secondly, there were many mentions in the text of how there is a ‘visual language’ in photography and imagery, a sense of there being a semiotic nature to it full of language and symbols.

My interpretation of the reading has led me to understand that these two factors are intertwined and interdependent.

The reading explored how, at a certain age, infants become self-aware; they are able to recognise themselves as a self in the mirror, and can distinguish separate beings as others. This is a trait believed to be unique to humans, and also elephants and dolphins. A product of this self-awareness is, as Burgin argues, the ability to reject reality and indulge the imagination; this becomes significant in the semiotic nature of photography.

This self-awareness gives way to encoding and decoding visual cues based on individual subjectivity. When someone observes a photograph in an album or a gallery, they view or recognise the subjects based on their own experiences and understandings that are unique to them only.

How this connects to the semiotic visual language of photography is that the human mind understands photography on a subjective level, and additionally on a unanimously cognitive level. For instance, Burgin summarised that the reason why composition is important and aesthetically pleasing is because it lets the viewer ‘prolong their imaginary command of the point of view.’

Essentially, on a cognitive level, the rules of composition in photography allow the human mind to become more invested in the subject and reject their reality for the sake of the representation. This is the same for all humans; we unanimously receive and decode representations using the same cognitive formula that is recognised in photographic and cinematic composition.

On a subjective level, our experiences, made more unique due to our self-awareness, shape how we experience the world and absorb visual language, and influence how our imagination runs and shapes our ‘frame of mind’ in which photography is remembered.

The visual language of photography is, as I understand it, a complex intertwining of the cognitive and psychological aspects of the human mind. Our ‘point of view’ or ‘frame of mind’ is a melded combination of how human reception of visual cues occurs and how our self-aware natures allow us to reject reality and substitute our own imagination, whether we are the author of a text or a receiver.

Distance between the Audience and the Mediated Subject

In one of our more recent readings for Media 1, I was initially taken aback by the sheer deepness and abstractness of this extract on Perspective and Social Distance. It took me a minute to notice that what was being discussed was essentially how perspective in a piece of media reflects, literally and figuratively, the distances between the audience addressed and the subject being represented.

That may seem a little confusing at first, so let’s try a better interpretation:

Let’s say you’re watching an ad on TV for the upcoming footy season. Any particularly exclusive shots you see of significant individual players may look at them from a slight low-angle, and depict them at full length in the frame which would place them a couple of meters away from the camera/the audience. This positioning of the player in this manner subtly suggests that their significance makes them superior to the audience; they are tall, powerful, and untouchable, far from our screens; at the same time, they are essentially framed so that the audience wants to be on their level, and join them on that platform several meters from the camera where there is apparent glory. That is the essential gist that I got from Perspective and Social Distance.

The reading looked closer at this idea of perspective by referring to its modern roots in the Renaissance era, spanning roughly from the 1500s-1600s. As I am fond to say the least of art, particularly classical art, this exploration clarified what the reading meant by ‘perspective’ in a tangible sense. A sense of hierarchy within artistic and mediated texts clarified for me how there is a distance both literal and figurative between an audience and a subject. In the foreground of a photograph for instance, there are the things considered most accessible to the audience; perhaps normal people, everyday objects, items, pets and animals. The further towards the background of the photo you go, subjects represented would be the ones difficult to attain for an audience; perhaps a representation of fame, fortune, glory, etc.

Aspect to Aspect – Western vs Eastern Storytelling at Play

In Week 1, we were sent a reading in Media1 in the form of a graphic novel by Scott McCloud, exploring human perception in the media that we consume daily. I was reminded of this reading last week in our Media1 workshop and went back to it after we were sent out in groups to film content for a short film haiku. The constraints of the content we shot were that there was to be no focus on individuals, and no camera movement.

I was reminded in this moment of a method of storytelling I had learned about originally from a YouTube personality called Nerdwriter1; it is called Action to Action, and another is called Aspect to Aspect. In Scott McCloud’s Blood in the Gutter, Action to Action is shown as a storytelling method that allows a reader or audience to fill in the gaps, or gutter, between panels and frames. Nerdwriter1 analyses this deeper as a storytelling method for a society or culture that is very goal oriented; for example, in American comic books, Action to Action may be used to tell the narrative of a superhero intending to save the world, knocking down one bad guy at a time.

Conversely, Aspect to Aspect, as explored by McCloud, renders the concept of time unimportant, or even non-existent. Each frame shows aspects that allow the mind and the eye to wander, evoking an idea, emotion or setting. Nerdwriter1 has taken this a step further, and suggests that, particularly in an eastern culture or society, such as Japan, there is less emphasis on getting to a particular place or attaining a particular goal than the notion of allowing the mind to wander within a moment in time. Nerdwriter1 suggests that Aspect to Aspect can be utilised to evoke in an audience or reader a sense of simply existing in a moment. The YouTuber supports his theory through his video essay on the Japanese sci-fi thriller Ghost in the Shell, alluding to a series of shots in the intermission of the film that takes on this sense of being present in a moment, absent from time and time’s constraints.

Back to my original point about the haiku short films we were collecting content for. While I am not sure if Brian Morris was intending for us to rediscover the theory of Aspect-to-Aspect, I found it interesting that we had the goals of creating a filmic haiku (a Japanese form of poetry) and were using a method of filmmaking that is closely linked to a storytelling method used predominantly in Japanese film, narrative, literature and graphic novels. Emphasis on the landscape, setting and context was made clear to us, which is highly similar to the way that Ghost in the Shell conveys a mood and place through similar emphasis to its production design and landscapes.

LINK: Nerdwriter1’s video essay alludes to McCloud’d readings on Action vs Aspect in the first 3 mins

Out with the Old, In with the New

With communication medias and technology changing at such a vast and rapid pace, it is interesting to consider how we are changing the ways that we communicate. I am most interested in how we communicate depending on our contexts, whether we may be doing so a personally gratifying sense, or in a professional environment.

When tasked in my New Media, New Asia class to brainstorm in groups what communication is and what forms it takes, we looked at two basic categories: personal use of technologies and media, and professional use.

In a professional sense, whether you are contacting employers, engaging in business, commerce or politics, or even just contacting a professor or teacher, we found that you are more likely to use traditional means of communicating. This includes emails, faxing, verbal telephone calls or even handwritten letters. Conversely, more personal means of communication involve text messaging and a wide range of social media platforms. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp and even dating apps such as Tinder, Scissr or Grindr.

What I gathered from these examples is that presently, leading figures such as CEOs, world leaders and the judiciary, as well as teachers, shop owners and various practitioners, are predominantly of an older generation accustomed to a handful of communication methods. Within a few years, that may change. These are figures of a generation predating the mentally stimulating world of 21st century communication technologies; thus, it is far more appealing for them to be approached for things that are formal or professional with formal and traditional methods of communicating. An employer of an office-based job is highly unlikely to hire someone who only communicates with them via texting or Facebook Messenger.

Furthermore, as I myself am a member of Generation Z, I find that I am more comfortable using informal methods of communicating, which often don’t involve any verbal conversation; even now, businesses and organisations are adapting to the rapidly changing world of communication media, with apps and websites being developed such as LinkedIn. I theorise that in the years to come, the formalities of present day communication in a professional sense will relax, and give way to a more informal and casual style of communicating.