Archive | November, 2011

Digital Storytelling

9 Nov

I have never been a great orator.  I can remember being aware, at a very young age, that my off-the-cuff vocal expressions never quite relayed the thoughts I had as accurately as I wished they could.  My aunt has repeatedly reminded me that I was quite introverted, and painfully shy, up until I began attending school and learned how to read and write. “After that,” she affectionately expresses, “we couldn’t get you to stop talking to save a life.”  I did turn into quite the little chatterbox at that point.  And I think the reason for this developmental shift can be explained, somewhat, by my exposure to new forms of expression.  Learning to write (not just ABC’s) was, for me, like being set free.  I had to go through a process, I learned, to arrive at my desired result.  Jotting down ideas, writing out questions, researching and taking notes, outlining and then writing each sentence and paragraph in a manner that was simultaneously artistic and mathematical.  I fell in love with this process because I was able to feel pride in something that I had produced, and I could talk about it with ease.

I was in high-school when typing papers replaced the expectation of writing them by hand.  I remember feeling resistant to this, in part because I had worked so hard to develop a superior command of handwriting. But, I rode the wave as technological advancement ushered in a new era of thoughtful expression.  While handwriting gave papers a personal touch, typing papers offered a sense of authority and professionalism to any project upon it’s completion.  I enjoyed feeling as though I was a little bit closer to mastering this form of self-expression.

In college, I was forced to step up my game, going through several drafts and combing through each one with a fine-tooth comb before feeling satisfied enough to present my work confidently.  But at that time, I was again slipping behind my peers who were incorporating powerpoint presentations into their class presentations.  So, I hopped on board and began doing the same.  Using this form of media seemed to help convey, more clearly, the ideas and perspectives my papers addressed.  Peers engaged with me more during class presentations that had included a powerpoint, seeming much more alert and enthused than they did when I merely discussed a topic without incorporating any form of media.

What I did in college is now being done by high school, and even by some middle school students.  As a graduate student, I find I am still being pushed to constantly experiment with and incorporate new, emergent forms of media in my work.  I’ve created a blog, produced videos, and have come to not only accept, but to also understand and advocate for the importance of utilizing various media in academia.

I do find that there exists an interesting difference between my most recent forms of media incorporation and those that came before.  When I was younger, access to computers, specific software programs, and even the internet was much more limited.  So my leaps forward were inspired by a desire to “catch up to” the professional academic elite.  But, creating an academic blog and producing academic video essays is more like a professional adoption of a public (and therefore, typically non-professional) medium.  Whereas before, professionals were utilizing the latest forms of media (ie: powerpoint back in the day) before the general public had  access, now, professionals are adopting popular public modes of media, building a case for the professional utility of these modes.

With the relatively recent media developments (widespread access to web cams and sites like YouTube) we have witnessed the emergence of digital storytelling. People all over the world can share their own stories with the general public without having to plow through all the red-tape (to which so many academics and professionals have become accustomed).  As a graduate student embarking on an academic examination of digital storytelling, I’m curious as to the legitimacy of my claim to this space, this outlet, given its development in the setting of the public domain.  Am I, as a result of my social location, in some way potentially producing less (or more) authentic projects?  Does my academic background inhibit my ability to be as forthcoming as some of the more-seasoned digital storytellers?  Are my criticisms of authentic digital stories and their authors/producers relevant?  By offering criticisms, am I in some way attempting to professionalize a typically personal medium?  If so, is this permissible?

In attempting to understand exactly what constitutes digital storytelling, I have examined multiple YouTube videos.  I was somewhat disappointed to discover that some of these videos, while appearing to be authentic, were actually fictitious executions of talented (or not so talented) actors attempting to achieve some level of notoriety, to garner a large public following.  For example, the two videos below initially had me fooled (but apparently not enough to prevent me from pursuing my doubts as to their authenticity):

I was able to find a better, more authentic example (as ensured by the minimal view count), but this was a bit more professional than what I was looking for (and while I had access to some more relevant examples, I did not feel entirely comfortable using them in this post (regardless of the fact that they have obviously chosen to make their videos public) as they belong to my students and/or friends/peers.

Raging Against the Machine

7 Nov

George Orwell’s famed novel 1984 is one of my favorite mandatory reads from high school.  I have always found it difficult to recall specific quotes from classic novels off-hand.  But one quote from this book has never been far from the front of my mind (perhaps for its persistent relevance, perhaps not):  “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”  Rage Against the Machine helped to reveal the relevance these words had in the contemporary state affairs with their song “Testify,” in which one word, “now,” was incorporated after the words “past” and “present,” effectively emphasizing the frightening parallels between a fictional totalitarian state and a functioning “democratic” government. I remember watching RATM in the news when I was in high school (2000).  While filming a music video in Manhattan for their song “Sleep Now In The Fire,” RATM managed to shut down Wall Street for half a day by occupying the area around the NYSE.  I remember my parents rolling their eyes as I tried to suppress my reaction to what I had just witnessed.  While my parents perceived these musicians as uneducated and dangerous, I thought RATM was inspiring and clever, and I found it refreshing to be exposed to American citizens critiquing American capitalism.

Presently, with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I am again witnessing a form of political dissent similar to that displayed by RATM more than a decade ago. When I first heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement, I had little faith that the initial demonstration would last more than a few days.  But I did experience a feeling similar to that which I had experienced in high school.  It was refreshing to see people taking an active interest in the state of affairs.  As the movement continues to last, and spread throughout the country (and world), I spend more and more time reading and talking about OWS.   I have found that the most interesting conversations concerning the movement focus on criticisms OWS has received in the media.  When I asked what people thought about the movement, one individual replied, “I think all of those people are idiots.  I mean, seriously.  Take a basic economics class before you go spouting off on how to solve problems with the unequal distribution of wealth.”  This individual was about to receive her MBA, so I wasn’t too shocked by her stringently conveyed objections.  But even people I assume to be supportive of OWS have become increasingly bothered by the lack of clear and concise demands.

Maybe my background in political science and protest politics contributed to my supportive stance on the movement.   I could not help but to hear the phrase “Let them eat cake,” playing in my mind repeatedly as I witnessed more examples of upper-class extravagance in the face of such widespread middle and lower-class suffering.  I saw so many parallels to the French Revolution (the state’s financial crisis, the upper class resistance to taxation and the impotence of the monarch to enforce this, the struggles of the lower class and the failure of the state to effectively assist this class–the largest in the country).  I can understand now more than ever how the political, economic and social unrest of that time came to a boiling point resulting in violence.

I found myself debating with friends and colleagues whether a list of demands was even necessary for OWS.  Isn’t a relatively peaceful demonstration on such a large-scale enough? I guess I viewed OWS as an effective visual representation of the systemic failure of the current political/economic system.

When the opportunity to work on a documentary examining OWS emerged, I jumped at the chance to be involved and to hopefully gain a deeper understanding of the movement in the process.  Since documentary is a medium that allows for some artistic/poetic license, while simultaneously maintaining a position of authority and legitimacy, it seemed a perfect means to address so many of the criticisms and questions concerning OWS.  More specifically, I was excited at the prospect of producing media that could address the issue of “demands.”  Admittedly, I had found it difficult to explain (in words alone) why it was that I felt a list of demands would be superfluous at best (and detrimental at worst), to the ‘success,’ (for lack of a better term) of OWS.

During the production process, my group members and I agreed that addressing the issue of “demands” was a central concern.  As supporters and/or participants of OWS, we wanted to create a piece that would present an internal point of view responding to the mainstream media’s critiques and their persistent demand for demands.  Using raw footage and news clips, and asking questions we had in our own voices, we were able to do so.  What I enjoyed most during the production process was our tactic of utilizing mainstream media footage originally intended to critique or undermine OWS to effectively bolster the legitimacy of our supportive stance on the movement.