Tag Archives: artifice

Whether We'll Weather the Weather Well

I think the best way to go about this is to explain what my project is and then bend it explain how it fits into the framework of the course.  

For my project, I’m “writing” a short story in video.  Another way of writing this would be making a short film/voice collage, but I think the first makes more sense.  The narrative is set in a newsroom on a day when a mysterious fan letter to one of the co-anchors is found and the President is visiting the studio.  The story will be told from a single perspective, but will concern each member of the news team.  The video will be approximately 30 minutes long and use a mix of footage from an “actual” newscast and “actual” commercials.  The text that I write (the story) will be told via voice over and, ideally, by a variety of narrators.  I would also like to “direct” the readers of my text, correcting them and asking them to reread whenever I feel my intervention is warranted.  And, the story will only be told during commercial breaks.  The newscast portion of the video will retain its original audio content.  

Based on this synopsis, my primary interests, as relating to course topics are collaboration, ownership, interactivity and control.  

The collaborative aspects of my project can be found in a few places.  The characters in the story are more-or-less equal in importance, in the eyes of the action of the story; though there is a single narrator, each character seeks to “solve” the mystery of the letter that destabilizes their environment.  The newscast, in general, is also a collaborative effort: team members present individual stories or segments of the “news” and present stories with their team members.  An unseen team of writers, contributing reporters, camera and microphone and TelePrompTer operators, directors and producers work together to create a final product.  Television is a type of collaboration between content producers and advertisers.  The video project composition is a collage, which implies an artist/creator/organizer-driven collaboration of media and artifacts into a single body.   By using multiple readers to tell the story, I’m also seeking to establish a feeling of collaboration in the production and delivery of the narrative.

What of collaboration then?  I’m interesting in exposing the collaborative process, hence the obvious merging of newscast footage with original voiceover during commercial breaks.  The correcting of readers is another attempt at revelation.  I want to reveal (and portray) the newscast as collaborative, as I see the breaking of the artifice of objectivity and of a single, unified message as an act of resistance.  Seeing the news as a collaboration of individuals will hopefully encourage a wide range of non-writing/producing/telling, which I see as a manifestation of the activist spirit and healthy for democracy, discourse and empathic connections between a constantly shifting community.  This utopia is in the mode of Benkler. If the seams of the quilt become visible, the thought goes, the world is recognized as artificial – and therefore able to be constantly recreated in a manner dictated by the desires and needs of individuals.  

Bordando el Manto Terrestre, Remedios Varo [source for images]

In an a/v collage, the question of ownership of the material is inherent.  I am appropriating a newscast and assembling commercials I find interesting or to have a particular relevance to my message and place them into my own context.  With the production of the news by a group of individuals for a network with shareholders and paid advertisers, the question of ownership is likely surprisingly simple – the network owns the product, per contractual language: CopyRight.  Yet, this collaborative work and its process seems to be akin to much of the GNU GPL, LGPL, or OSL programming work.  Is the key difference the profitability of the news, as dictated by advertising revenue?  If so, how does this principle effect the understanding, viewing and bias of the for-profit media?  Does the co-option of an “actual” newscast into a work of fiction destabilize any claims to objectivity through a similar path? 

The myth of true interactivity in games, applications and websites [and the seeming frequent mention of the failures of virtual spaces and networks to allow absolute freedom] is something that has continuously intrigued me throughout many conversations and texts this semester. Whether in relation to interfaces or aesthetic, it seems that digital culture often reinforces the limits of the analog world: physical barriers, aesthetic choices and, for new users especially, the utility of programs and tools intended and sold to make life more efficient.  And these barriers (accessibility) and aesthetic homogenizations (Facebook and similar social networking sites) can be seen as methods of control – they are limits to what is capable, so long as a user does not have a mastery over code, as almost all users do not.  This homogenization is especially apparent to me in the converging relationship between commercial and informative content.  Commercials are often creations of entertainment, mini-narratives that are more product placement than product pitch – cool by association.  Some examples that come to mind are BMW commercials name The Hire [2] directed by Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, David Fincher, Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, Tony Scott, Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez, Joe Carnahan and John Frankenheimer or the current series of Diet Mountain Dew Fact commercials [3] [4].

On the other side of the equation, programming is become more video-bite-sized with the rise and fall and sustained presence of reality television and entertainment news programming, such as E!’s The Daily Ten or, the ultimate example, VH1’s Best Week Ever.  The snippet-sized content flows into commercials almost seamlessly; in the latter example, the repetitive looping nature of the original piece of entertainment culture/celebutant “news” is surrounded, prefaced and followed by an endless loop of commentary from people defined by their occupation as comedians, actors and “television personalities” [isn’t everyone on television a television personality? another loop].  The show advertises what is coming up next several times in a segment, presenting a constant state of anticipation to the next “big” story feature – a rhetorical strategy typically employed as a segue to commercials.  Instead of commercials, however, VH1 gives the viewer more commercial-sized commentary on entertainment news.  I am left unsure of what I am watching is commercial or show.  It seems that everything is a preview for something that never arrives.  [Waiting for Heidi Montag?]  Vertiginous, schizophrenic and surreal are three adjectives that come to mind. 

[Can’t embed video from vh1.com and it appears that Viacom doesn’t like to allow users to post the video they own onto sites not owned by Viacom – and subject to their profitability.  This will get you to the available library of the show, if you’re interested.  Unfortunately, the episodes from 2004 aren’t available, which are the original experiments in editing-on-amphetamines while wearing sound-killing earmuffs.]

In my video project, I am choosing to use video to exhibit the limiting, passive nature of this visual and auditory digital medium.  The viewer clicks play and watches.  In particular, the limited use of voiceover during the commercial breaks forces the viewer to wait through the filler to get to the content – if they choose to continue watching, of course.  Ideally, I’d like to frame the video through a web page to further challenge notions of interactivity via applications and networks.  [This may depend on file size and resolution.]  The telling of the narrative during the commercial breaks is a furthering of m perception of the ambiguity between content and commercial – the content of this fiction takes place exclusively during the commercial.  The interference of the writer with the multiple narrators is another form of control, as well as a representation of interaction between writer and reader – a representation that is an artificial interaction.  



Points of interest:

= the divide between the interface and the machinations of technology. I am preoccupied with ideas of artifice and representations. The idea of windows/desktops/folders (hyperreal models of metaphors?) or point-and-click OS is an interesting instance of my preoccupations. I understand, to some degree, the nature of how the personal computer functions (code, circuitry, data, etc) yet have largely avoided considering my usage of OS as a type of artifice. This “reading” of the user experience questions other “hidden” aspects of my usage, such as the packet-sniffing Chun brings up in her introduction, the fact “that your computer constantly wander without you” (3). Again, these are consequences that I’ve known to be true for some time, to an increasing extent, but have dismissed (or perhaps accepted) out of hand, as I didn’t consider myself to be an individual target of surveillance. This is the result of a panoptic reasoning and of believing that those who might be surveilling are not perfect observers, nor are they able to decipher the unimaginable glut of information to be sifted. Thus, my choice (necessity?) to use was part of

= the utility of paradoxes, which Chun refers to through the fiber optics (26). In my specific case as participant in technology, I think I accept the possibility of surveillance as a matter of practicality – it can make my life more convenient sometimes, while admittedly more complex at others; still, the attraction is there. And, I know I’m talking a lot about surveillance and that is supposedly the hallmark of a discipline society. I’m still looking for a better definition of control – or maybe a more complete one that has an analog for surveillance. Chun’s articulation of the difference does make some sense to me, in that I gather that control incorporates the manipulation of freedom (and liberty, I s’pose) in order for the institutional power structures to achieve an ends that they desire (such as undermining labor unions, in Chun’s example). 

Back to paradoxes: one thing that excites me about Chun’s notion of “the theoretical necessity of using, rather than resolving, paradoxes” is the discarding of Enlightenment notions of objectivity (26). Is it ironic or paradoxical that Chun employs technology, the fruit of science’s labor, to destabilize the foundations of science? It is appropriate, given her clearly stated goal of considering technology and all its imperfections, rather than eliding technology as the pure product of an ideology. Chun’s fiber optics example reminded me of Foucault’s essay “Of Other Spaces” and his discussion of heterotopias. (I felt pleasantly justified by the later usage of heterotopia, as well as an indirect shout out to Foucault’s “What is Enlightenment?” by way of flâneur. Which is also a tidy connection to my statement on objectivity.) 

Another possible avenue I could enjoy exploring, wrt paradoxes and Chun, is Authorship. My entry point is a briefer comment within a brief comment on Benjamin: the computer’s “reading [of the user] as writing elsewhere” on the network (4). My question in response to this is to what degree is the user an “author”, if she doesn’t know what “writing” is being recorded and if the recorder does not know what might be being read and by what audience?

Onwards; maybe backwards and sideways later.

The Importance of Apostrophe

Rainbows End has a lot going on, in several directions, much like the reality it portrays on its pages and between its lines. On the surface, I’m intrigued at Deedee’s notion of SF/Futurist categorization. Having spent a semester in Pete Sands’ Science Fiction, Utopia and Dystopia seminar last spring, I could spend a lot of time waffling and pining of what is and what is not SF/Speculative/Scifi and how that is likely an ultimately useless discussion – an approximation intended to group similar, complex texts into an exact bin for the sake of generalization. (I’m going to avoid the market slant to this conversation, that books need to be labeled to be sold efficiently and without much explanation to the potential customer.) I’d rather spend this time talking about what’s happening in a specific text.

RE‘s discussion on overlays of virtuality/reality could have something to say about an act of defining a text as being “SFnal” or “literary” or whatever label you might want to apply. In a simplification, these multiple visual/auditory/tactile realities complicate the act of simple definition – in this case what is real and what is artificial. In many instances, these boundaries seem artificial. The practical consequence of sming, for instance, is an added method of communication, which can be specifically directed to an receiver, but also intercepted if a wearable is hacked. And while the words in sming are virtual (in the sense that they hang in the air and are only visible through a technological interface), really its just another instance of a language of representation, no different than what you’re reading here and now. The problems (and similarities between book and sming, or poetry and instructions, etc) still exist: you can read what someone has written for you, but it isn’t always clear what they mean. The nuances of language are difficult no matter the delivery system. Add in the essential quality of sming – that your message is silent to others who might occupy the same space – and this complication is reinforced. To sming “well”, the author is to hide any indication that they are communicating at all. No facial expression; no body language; no hand signals. The intended lack of expression during sming causes the entirety of the message (intent, emotion, inflection, tone) to be reduced to text.

I write about this with enthusiasm, as, in my fiction writing, I’m very interested in the ability of language to convey emotion (or any complex message) through artifice, how to acknowledge artifice, and how to transcend artifice. I want my cake and to eat it, too, I suppose. In fact, my “save the world” response from class (which I’ll likely post, now that it’s referenced) deals a bit with these notions.  [I’m also interested in cyborgs, hyperreality, and hybirdization, FWIW).  And RE deals a bit with the transcendence of Gu’s poetry, so I don’t feel too selfish raising this point.

Finally, the collaborative processes in RE raise concerns of praxis for me, mainly what are the social effects of crowdsourcing (thank you, in part, James Surowiecki) and, less important here, the shotgun blast assemblage and x-referencing.  I’m not so hot on database theory, so I’ll proceed with my reflection on the temporary communal authoring of the answer boards.  The fracturing of knowledge quest into simple individual tasks is certainly Taylorist, but its effect go beyond simple productivity.  It is an act of exclusion from knowledge in RE.  The individual affiliate is cut off from the meaning, practical consequence, and application of the knowledge they contribute to form.  And, the receptor of the “answer” is separated from the basic processes of knowledge acquisition.  The result is that the seeker of the answer must trust the individual efforts of incremental knowledge from various affiliates.  I want to be clear that these same issues occur for a student today, for instance, who looks to texts to discern an “answer” to any question, whether the field of study is physical or social science, humanities, mathematics, etc.

Thus, I am less concerned with aspects of accuracy, as I think that terms like “meaning”, “true” and “answer” are subjective and fuzzy.  I am interested in the seeming lack of human interaction that is inherent in the “answer board” – or in hardcore academic research in the library.  As a student sitting in a classroom, I think personal interaction (and there is a physical component, in my mind) is a major part of both learning and forming a community that can resist power structures.  So while the crowdsourcing could be viewed as a form of archipelago anarchism, I think it lacks the important condition of personal community.  That isn’t to say that successful community cannot be reached via virtual or technologically enabled methods; the answer boards, though, seem to lack an actual sense of empathic connection between affiliates, which causes them to be cut off from community (and shared knowledge), rather than enabling them to form personal connections.

I’d also be interested in looking at the overlap of real/virtual spaces in terms of Foucault’s concept of heterotopia and the hybrid nature of Rabbit