Studies in documentary film

i-docs: hate this name, it makes it sound like an Apple product. I much prefer just Interactive Documentaries. I like the broad nature of the definition. It should be broad. The word documentary is ambiguous and the word interactive is ambiguous.

Conversation: this is a weird way to think about it as it implies two subjects, the media and the person interacting with it. Both subjects are highly complex and conversation relies on language and signs, and we know that this can often be temperamental.

Participative documentaries: this is an interesting idea and I’d love to see how it can be utilised on a small and realistic scale when making a documentary.

LOVE the Experiential mode: This is such an interesting idea, loved the idea of people recording a message at a particular place and other participators who visited the space then listened to the message. This is a strange kind of documentary, documenting human experiences, which might be considered insignificant in comparison to documentation of history. But the idea is very obviously interactive.




Some notes on narratives from the Banston and Stafford reading:

Joesph Campbell studied the myths of different cultures and proposed that certain ambiguous archetypes were central to myth across all cultures and societies.

Vladmir Propp created eight character archetypes which he believed all characters from heroic folktales would fit into (hero, villain, donor, helper, princess, father, dispatcher, false hero), thirty-one events which move the plot. His was a very old fashioned and basic methodology, quite sexist too. Although it was the literature he studied that was sexist, not exactly the work.

Tzvetan Todorov had the idea that all stories began with an equilibrium, a peace, and then this was upset by something before returning to a different equilibrium.

Barthes‘ ideas were more complicated, he pointed out the “enigma code”, where little puzzles are set up throughout the story to prolong the ending in a pleasurable way. This isn’t always pleasurable though, and sometimes I feel like people do this unnecessarily in films just to stretch it out, or that it moves to blatantly from one puzzle to the next like a deliberate chain that almost insults the audience with its simplicity.

Syntagmatic relations– the structural order that a narrative follows

Syntagm– an element that follows another in a particular sequence

Paradigm– a class of ideas or objects

Levi-Strauss pointed out that narratives are binary, there are two conflicting sides. And I thought he only made jeans.

The stuff covering narrative was quite basic, covering sensical revelations, first/third person voice etc. I did like the point about how in short narratives, like ads, narrative can be established by certain signs, appearance of characters, setting, etc. The product will often be Propp’s ‘hero’ in this case.

Photography can use narrative in the way that the power in the photograph lies in what the viewer is lead to believe may have just happened or may be about to happen. In this way it has a story.

Cinema is time based, more being told and shown than anything.

Radio is also time based, but is quite dynamic and limited at the same time.

Institutional and industrial demands are kind of like the protocols of the internet. They are developed by the creators and users of the media, and are limited by technological advancements and also the format of the media being used.

Closed narrative ends, like a film or a novel with no sequel. Characters have a hierarchy, there are fewer characters, time and events are particular to and in the story, time is compressed, the same audience is assumed to watch from beginning to end, music and visual image is elaborate.

Open narrative continues, like television shows. Are more casual, as if it could go on forever, no end drawing nearer and no conclusions to expect or be drawn to, more characters naturalistically represented, characters are not hierarchical but come in and out of prominence as needed by the plot, characters can shift narrative role, time often is like real world time, the time makes broad references and is not particular to one period, each episode has to try and address both new and old watchers, more simple and less music, often has many storylines.

Some movies also follow an almost non-linear narrative path that echoes the non-linear narrative paths of computer use. This can be to advertise other products that the viewer could turn to in order to extend and manipulate the narrative but also in movies such as Sliding Doors where it is a tool to develop a complex story.

Reflective writing practice

After a brief but badly needed two weeks off from uni after finishing summer school, I’m now back to normal classes.

One of my first readings is on self reflection, something that has been pushed in several of my classes at RMIT. I understand the purpose of it and how it can help me in future, my only issue with the technique is that it is time consuming. When I’m done with something I generally have so much else on that I’d prefer to finish it, sigh with relief and then move onto the next thing rather than spending precious moments evaluating. I do suppose that assessing my work and thought process is valuable in itself though and if I become better at the practice it might become effective and worthwhile for the time that I put in.

Considering this blog is where I base most of my academic reflection, the reading was very relevant to this blog and how I can better use my time and words to the fullest advantage. In the reading it was called “cognitive housekeeping” and I like that term. Basically it can be thought of as sorting out my thoughts on any particular topic, ideally organising and extending the thought process.

I did note a few techniques that would be particularly useful for learning based on everyday thoughts and events, and also in study when I need direction:

  • Acknowledge the assumptions that I have made about people or events
  • Challenge familiar situations and ideologies
  • Tell someone about a situation and then let them ask basic questions about it, and see if there is anything simple that you overlooked
  • Listen to the views of others and remember that people don’t always share the same views as you
  • View things from a longer term context


Actor-Network Theory

ANT has been developped by students of science and technology and their claim is that it is utterly impossible to understand what holds the society together without reinjecting in its fabric the facts manufactured by natural and social sciences and the artefacts designed by engineers. As a second approximation, ANT is thus the claim that the only way to achieve this reinjection of the things into our understanding of the social fabrics is through a network-like ontology and social theory.

Quote from the reading here

Actor-network theory has been mentioned a few times in class, generally with the association that it was a complex oncoming topic that would be difficult to understand, but one which would usefully be related to the topics which we have already covered.

The definition above, from the reading, was the best that i could grasp but the concept is still one that I’m having trouble understanding.

I do agree with certain aspects of ANT according to the reading.

I agree that objects and theories should be included in networks.

I do believe there should be nothing in the connections but the connections themselves.

I do not see how understanding these networks helps to understand the world better or to make life easier at all.

Yes it eliminates the concept of distance as connections cannot be measured by length, but what does this accomplish?

And as for eliminating scale, I disagree. All networks seem to me to be bigger or smaller depending on the amount of nodes in the network. How do networks in ANT differ?

These are things which I will have to explore in the workshop tomorrow morning.

Live narrating my reading

I personally find readings intolerably boring, so in order to make it more interesting for myself I’m going to live blog it. Kind of. What I’ll do is read the thing and take breaks to comment on the content as I read.

For the first few sentences into the Galloway Protocol reading I just didn’t know what the guy was talking about. Then ‘Boom’. Got it. He’s wondering how there is still a power play in a network that is “decentralised”. Which I’m assuming means a network that doesn’t have a central power. LIKE THE INTERNET, BAM! I’m thinking that this is going to lead to a discussion of how power is spread out over the nodes in the network.

Ok so he’s not just talking about the internet, he’s talking about society as a whole and how some of the power has shifted from “factories”-capitalisation, the “sovereign”-the government and the “prison”-laws, onto digital technologies.

I hope I’m getting this right, it would be really embarrassing to be live blogging my thought process if it was an incorrect interpretation.

Cool yep I think I’m on the right track. So basically if you look back into history you’ll see that power was enforced through violence. Then as you travel along to the modern era more civilised and procedural procedures are used to control people’s behaviour. New technologies assist in the whole thing.

Ok now he’s finally mentioned the internet. It’s the big one. The big new technology that has created a huge shift in control.

Well that’s interesting, apparently the Internet was intentionally created as a result of the Cold War to have no central power so that if attacked the whole thing wouldn’t come to pieces. I kinda thought the whole, no-central-power thing would be an accident. So they intentionally broke up information into packets and invented a way to send them somewhere and reassemble. Cool.

What is “BSD”? Sounds like a weird sexual fetish. Nope they don’t explain that, next.

Ok this is just a history of the development of the internet, not bothering to write on this anymore. Now the internet is really big. Done.

At the centre of the internet lies protocols, by the Request For Commons. I did not know this. Where are these protocols and who writes them? Is this like the global constitution for the internet or like a big manual saying that if you press A, B will happen?

Holy Crap! There is an Internet Engineering Task Force! The modern day equivalent of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen! Literally people that try to protect and guide users of the internet on a peaceful and ethical path into the future.

HTML and CSS are protocols, so it is more of a manual than a constitution.

Oh god, I’m not even a quarter of the way through. I’m skimming.

Protocols on the internet are all about etiquette and coding. They determine how the internet will progress and which technologies that are developed will be implemented and used by the masses. Kinda like real world governing but technology.

Voluntary regulation. I like that. The thing about the internet though is that a lot of people volunteer not to regulate protocol and instead go around it with their hacking brains and use the power to their advantage. How does that come into it?

New technologies no longer come from one hierarchal control point, but this guy doesn’t believe that this means that control is disappearing altogether.

Oh noooo he’s talking about IPs and DNSs now. Those are my topics. I need a break.

Miley Cyrus, Charles Manson and Rich get Richer

Overall, I found the reading, Rich get Richer, boring, repetitive and more technical than it aught to have been. Barbarasi spent a lot of words reiterating that: 1, networks grow (apparently this was some sort of revelation), and 2, the nodes of the network have a power structure.

What is this supposed to teach us? It is obvious from observation that networks grow. Even Charles Manson’s cult started with a few members or nodes, then attracted a few more, then a few more, a few died in mass suicide incidents and somehow, due to this preferential attachment of international interest they are replaced by more new members.

It is the same in all networks. I’m struggling to think of a network that doesn’t grow and evolve in a number of ways, except unsuccessful networks or those that once grew and are now waning.

The power structure of these is a little more interesting than the rather unsurprising nature of network growth. Online in the modern world, preferential attachment is a huge power play between the big corporations on the net battling for clicks, and the occasional little guy who manages to get an adorable video of his cat doing something hilarious. These days big corporations will pay some little guy and his cat to do something adorable and hilarious, just to get page views. And the more views that guy gets, the more new nodes are created that link to that node, and his brand becomes more popular and the rest of his nodes become more linked to as well.

It’s like high school all over again. Vying for schoolyard popularity on the big bad net. Using hashtags, commenting on popular sites, talking up the big topics on Twitter, all these things are examples of people fighting to work their way up in the unendingly massive network of power play that is the internet.

How can we use this knowledge of preferential attachment and power laws in order to get to the top of our desired network hubs? That’s the important question here, and the one that everyone is trying to get to the bottom of. Understanding the problem with Barbarasi’s scientific explanation of power plays changes my view of the game but I always knew the game was there.

At the moment rising to the top of a networking hub is pinnacle to the ongoing development of any kind of online presence, and it is what most money making endeavors and ambitious creative projects and hopeful writers/photographers/Youtube sensations aspire to. In order to be well known, you need to be well known online.

So, how do you get there? How do you rise to the top. If you want to follow Barbarasi’s equations, get in early. Create something that a lot of other people are going to want to link to. In his examples he stated that a new node will automatically and naturally be attached to two other nodes, manually attach it to more. This would be known as spamming. Something that Barbarasi doesn’t account for. He talks about quantity but what about quality. He completely neglects to mention that the quality, content and originality of the link is going to be the reason that new nodes are created in relation to it.

That’s where Miley Cyrus is a genius at creating online hype. Over the past year she rose to the top of online power play. Countless Tweets, Facebook statuses, news articles, opinionated blog posts and snide Youtube comments were posted about Miley Cyrus-both negative and positive nodes. Either way her name sky rocketed to the top of the online network by being the topic of countless nodes.

This is one method of self promotion online, creating controversy, and perhaps one that is only suited to a person hoping to sell records through a wild and unconforming image.

For creating a well known professional online presense, the answer would be to create original and relevant industry content, and as Barbarasi’s findings teach us, post it fast and link it to the source of interest early to boost the preferential attachment to your nodes. (Nodes is a terrible word, online texts would be a much better way to put it in this context.) The amount of links attached to your online texts would then cause your personal and professional brand’s status to climb the online power ladder.


The word, hypertext, before I learned its meaning, sounded to me as if I was in a spacecraft, flying past words and sentences at the speed of light.

It turns out I was kind of right. In my imagination I was navigating the ship around space and through the networks of words. Coincidentally in a very similar way to how people surfing the internet navigate their way through links on pages to new find and absorb and filter new texts.

That’s how we surf the web. It isn’t linear, everything is connected. Every person’s path through the web is different.

This is a fantastic way to learn. In fact, I remember being very young and Googling Roy Lichtenstein, from there I was linked to pop art, from there I discovered Andy Warhol. From his biography I was linked to Edie Sedgwick, where I was linked to Poor Little Rich Girl on Youtube, where I was linked to a trailer for the 90s movie Clueless. It was an interesting path and it perhaps didn’t land in the most educational place, but until Youtube it is a good demonstration of learning through hypertext pathways. I still remember a lot about Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, pop art, Edie Sedgwick, that black and white ‘art-house’ film, Poor Little Rich Girl.

This is a little superstitious, but I believe that because the brain is made of billions of tiny connections -synapses- making connections is the best way to learn. Connections between our experiences and old and new knowledge.

I’ve really just covered my personal connection with hypertext rather than really focusing on the reading. For a really, really good summary of the reading on hypertext check out Li-Wen’s blog here.

On design fiction- my first impression

So, design fiction. Who knew that was a thing?

I’ve contemplated what the future will look like, both online and off. What new things will exist, how will they impact the world and how will it all impact me-particularly in the work force?

I mean, the iPhone didn’t exist until just seven years ago and look at us now!

I really think it’s interesting that, as Matthew Ward pointed out in this article,  everything that we create now, is not for now. It is for the future. The plans that we have for our ideas are all fictional, until they either do or don’t come into reality. If an idea actualises, it will be seen, read and used in the future; and will have implications, however small, on other work for years to come.

It makes sense to fictionalise a world in which our idea lives and breathes. To prepare. To adapt in advance. To better the idea for the future before it even exists in the present.

Design fiction has a lot of benefits. By moving from reality into a fictional narrative, new realms and possibilities are unleashed. As Ward says:

“By focussing on the speculative and fictional, design is no longer constrained by the practical reality of todays material and economic restrictions.”

There’s also the fact that with design fiction we can predict and prepare for the success or failure of an idea.

For me, personally, I think it’s important to design a fictional industry in order to prepare for it. The industry that I have always planned to work in is advertising, but the ad industry has changed profoundly since I fell in love with it and will continue to change as I prepare myself to (hopefully) enter into the field.

Design fiction could be a way of preparing myself for a rapidly changing industry, to be ready for everything because I’ve fictionalised the changing world in advance. Design fiction could also play a part enhancing my ideas while I study and learn.

And just check out this design fiction from the other reading.

It is taking a product that doesn’t exist yet, but may very soon, and is already looking at how it could work and the impact it could have on our lives. Very cool.