More info on the NTEU’s position at RMIT.
I’ve been watching a lot of recently produced ethnographic films, either shot in the Asia-Pacific, or produced by its citizens, in the context of the forthcoming Aperture Film Festival. It has been interesting to note how conservative most of the films are – a very old-fashioned relationship between the ethnographer/filmmaker/anthropologist is acted out with the ‘subject’, who rarely has any dialogue with the film-maker, or any control over the object that s/he is making. Many of these films feel exploitative. The ‘subject’ seems to make the film-maker a gift of her/his life with no gain from the process at all. Furthermore, whether the subject would actually agree with her or his representation is quite unclear. The initial act of generosity is perhaps compounded by the subject’s often apparently limited understanding of the cultural and academic context of ethnographic film. Often filmed in an observational style, dialogue between subject and film-maker is usually poorly represented in the film, if it existed at all. However, there were some notable exceptions.
Whether we’ll be able to sing or not, we’ll be there because you’ve recorded it.
Indian film-makers Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar have made a series of films over the last decades, including Naata (The Bond) (2003), Do Din Ka Mela (A Two-Day Fair) (2009) and So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There) (2011). The last is my favourite, although all are good. A beautifully shot, slow-paced meditation contemporary Sufi culture as it has been handed down and lived as everyday experience among the Jatts of Gujarat. The film makers show the subjects discussing among themselves the reasons to make the film; at times the subjects become the interviewers. In the other films, we watch the subjects viewing the film-makers’ footage. The result is not only a moving and beautiful film, but one in which the subjects appear to take ownership of the project, as they proselytise and philosophise about their place in the world. It’s a hard life, but one tempered by inestimable beauty and a deeply felt religious mythology.
The following two works embrace the participatory principle more explicitly, but in very different ways.
To remember the Khmer Rouge is a painful thing, yet it is an essential step for our country”
Although to a large extent produced by amateurs, the production values do not suffer as a result.
There are many ways to be participatory, and none of the above use social media. My own developing project, Wherever I lay my hat, uses Instagram, Twitter and (hopefully when it is complete) a comment function, to creative a more inclusive project around the theme of living globally.
We want (u) to know (2009) Dir. Ella Pugliese, Nou Va and the people of Thnoi Lok, Cambodia (2011) Www.we-want-u-to-know.com
So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here like there) (2009) Dirs. Anjal Monteiro and K P Jayasankar. Kutch, Gujarat, India (58 mins) http/::likeherelikethere.wordpress.com
Stori Tombuna Dir. Paul Wolffram (2011) (1 hour 29 minutes) http://storitumbuna.wordpress.com/
A lot of professions are asking themselves how they can make their profession tred more lightly on the environment. A few of them – miners, engineers, car-makers, for example – seem more easily able to come up with the principles, although implementing them might leave a lot to be desired. Others – in particular, white-collar professionals – seem to have a harder time even developing the principles. Maybe they think they don’t have to? After all, there’s no smoke-stack arising from the game developer’s offices; there’s no sludge that can be traced back to this blog.
Or is there… Often indirectly, we still contribute to the state of our environment. So let’s start developing a few principles for the media production professions.
Perhaps the most obvious of our profession’s wasteful behaviours is our proclivity to travel. All that fuel, whether aviation or other, and we always have to be there yesterday, so taking the slow boat is never an option. For economic reasons, we’ve witnessed the turn to Skype interviews in mainstream news and current affairs. The drop in quality has been accepted, and we can expect that it will slowly improve. But is there more we can do, apart from virtualising our interviews?
I like the idea of more, and more accessible, libraries of footage. I don’t mean Youtube, and I don’t mean yester-year. I mean professional camera-people making general footage available for a fee to other media professionals. We already have it for stock photography and even, to a lesser extent, for music and foley. So why not footage too?
Unfortunately, this solution might step on the toes of the next one…
File-sharing and archiving
Data centers are responsible for between 1.1 and 1.5 percent of global energy use (compare that to transportation at 25 percent)
So we shouldn’t worry, right? Compared to carting our stuff around in postal vans, the Cloud has got to be better.
We-ell…. According to Richard Matthews, promoting the Cloud as a green alternative for data storage may be another case of “greenwash”:
According to a 2012 report in the New York Times, data centers use 30 billion watts of electricity per year globally and the U.S. is responsible for one-third of that amount (10 billion watts). A Gartner report indicated that the IT industry is responsible for as much greenhouse gas generation as the aviation industry (2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions). Just one of these massive server farms can consume the energy equivalent of 180 000 homes.
Most Cloud service providers don’t use renewable energy (Google leads the way), and while it would be great if we could all carry our own solar-recharging panels with us, it would somewhat diminish the portability of the production gear that we all love so much.
And if you take the cost of transferring data to the Cloud into account – which might be particularly heavy on your device’s battery life (Baliga et al) – as well as the ongoing energy costs in storing it, old-fashioned offline storage (for example, on an external hard-drive) is looking pretty good. Of course, it may not be as conveniant. Or as sexy.
But perhaps we should swear to only store current projects on the Cloud, and archive non-current stuff the old way, on hard drives.
Do you really need the latest bit of gear or the latest version of the software? Our relationship to gear is often fetishistic; based on no other need than looking good or distraction on the airplane (see above). I do have an itch to ‘upgrade’ my iPad – but to be honest, I’m not sure whether the latest iPad will be a life-changer. Mobile phones? Just don’t go there! Software, too – there’s a lot to be said for a little more circumspection. How many times have you ‘upgraded’, only to find that you’d wished you’d stuck with the older version?
‘Upgrade’. It’s all in the terminology. We all fall for it. We fall for the marketing that the tech and software companies push at us. It’s such a macho form of fashion, it doesn’t get critiqued the way that clothing fashion does. But it’s consumption gone wild, and I think we should try to resist … just a bit …
Do you have some other ideas?
Jayant Baliga, et al. “Green Cloud Computing: Balancing Energy in Processing, Storage and Transport.” Proceedings of the IEEE. To be published. DOI:10.1109/JPROC2010.2060451
Glanz, James (September 22, 2012) Power, Pollution and the Internet
Pettey, Christy (April 26, 2007) Gartner Estimates ICT Industry Accounts for 2 Percent of Global CO2 Emissions
Zyga, Lisa (Oct 08, 2010) How energy-efficient is cloud computing?
Check this music video by Cyriak Harris for Bonobo – the aesthetics and ethics of repurposing old stuff seems to have got a shot in the arm in our sustainability-conscious era, but this takes recycling to a whole new level.
What can we say it means, except that humans are repetitive creatures, and somewhat like machines? The percussive soundtrack lends its weight to the mechanical aura of the piece. Toaster production lines, women endlessly folding the same thing, girls on treadmills. Monstrous War-of-the-worlds machinalia stride across a horizon that is implanted with more infrastructure with every stride, but even the feet themselves are comprised of Small Domestic Acts.
Is the retro-ness meant to suggest Things Are No Longer This Way? Maybe Fordism has been relegated to the second world, and we can look down upon this imagery from our post-industrial, post-human heights, with a heady mix of superiority and nostalgia.
Or maybe my meandering thoughts are an example of interpretation gone wild, a la Susan Sontag’s prognostications? Or maybe a warning to be wary of the signifiers that we set up?
Whatever it means, a damn good music video.
Sontag, Susan (1964) Against Interpretation. Penguin Books.
Can kids be categorised so easily? Maybe we all go through the phases identified in this image, by Maurice Wheeler, but it’s hard to predict exactly when. Some days I’m a copy cat or a role player. And hopefully the ‘confident consumer’ doesn’t represent the end point of some sort of consumption-based evolutionary tree. Howabout a delightful ‘confident non-consumer’ up there somewhere?
There’s a lot to be said for categories and stages, so long as they don’t stunt our vision of what our children might be. Woe be it if the media we let them see enshrined such stuntedness.
Not that it’s any worse than it was – but maybe it’s different. Not so long ago, a fairly high proportion of the toddler media was about socialisation – getting them to be good little children / citizens. Socialisation media would end with some sort of thumping, unsubtle moral. Humourless and unimaginative, socialisation media is about stunting imagination and play.
I want the books, TV and apps my daughter plays with to expand her horizons. She doesn’t need more of how to behave well (she gets enough of that from me!).
That doesn’t mean that toddler media can’t teach life skills, it’s all in how those skills get woven in to the narrative. One TV show I’m really loving is Charlie and Lola by Lauren Child. Ostensibly its about the most mundane domestic events – two kids at home, mucking about. But its really about imaginative play and love of learning. The kids look at a book on dinosaurs and they’re suddenly flying on a pterodactyl’s back. They get annoyed with each other, have tantrums, etc. But they also take flight, on many levels.
And it’s not even interactive.
So when it comes to apps, if they’re not performing some sort of jail-break from the mundane and into mind-altering possibilities, I’m wondering what they’re for.
Maybe that’s just me being too grown-up. My toddler loves the apps produced by TocaBoca, we’ve got about 5 now. The first one she loved (before she was two) was about shopping. She gets to play shop keeper and shopper and buys a fanciful bag of groceries. The next one was a tea-party. She’d be both hostess and guests and have a tea party. Then there’s the kitchen one. She gets to cook food for a variety of monsters with bad manners. This one has a little more humour. Finally, and most challenging of all, there’s a free-play 3D building one; 5 different characters have a different trick they can do with building blocks. She’s hasn’t conquered that one yet, but it is by far the most interesting, because basically there’s no script, just a range of possibilities. It stretches her, but increasingly that’s the one she prefers. Unlike books, which she wants me to read to her, she plays the games all by herself.
My daughter also likes some apps that aren’t aimed at toddlers at all. A drawing one; simple music composition one. She’s even experimenting with an animation one. You can do these over and over, they never get old. OK, so little kids read the same books over and over too, but it’s a different experience, I think. More comfort than challenge.
Getting the balance between repetition and imagination seems to be key to building a great app for little kids. It’s a significantly different challenge that that faced by producers of books or TV shows for the same age-group.
So I’m suspicious of apps that enshrine too much narrative into them. Narrative curtails freedom, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to play. Books aren’t play. Nor TV shows. Older media forms enshrine a different type of didacticism, one that can be very heavy-handed if you don’t have the light touch of Charlie and Lola. Games are play. I think we have to distinguish more clearly between experiences. The whole question of interactive ebooks, for example, is not yet decided in my mind. Can they really work? There needs to be rules about it, of that I’m sure.
Image: Engaging Kids online: Maurice Wheeler at TEDx Transmedia 2012
The other day a baby boy was born. Two days later, he was named George. Not a terribly exciting name, except that this baby, because of his parents, was already plugged into a whole range of social, cultural, traditional and ultimately highly privileged contexts, and this one word, George, managed to summarise them all. For George is the name of English kings, and it was this inheritance that this baby boy plugs into, and his name represents.
Some people never have to network.
Most of us don’t have names like ‘Prince George’ that instantly establish not only who we are, but our cultural exchange value.
Nevertheless, we unPrince Georges still have a name. It might not be so instantly recognisable. It might not so easily communicate who we are. It might have cultural resonances that a lot of people won’t recognise – resonances that were important to our namers, but no one else. It may never become hugely famous, but it’s all ours. We can insert it into networks, and hopefully someone somewhere will remember it.
About two weeks ago, in the Indian Ocean, a 10-month-old baby boy died. He drowned, after the leaky boat that was haphazardly transporting him to Australia sunk. They found his little limp body floating in the sea and they fished it out. Maybe they cradled him for a moment, wet, dead, on the deck.
But his name had been gobbled by the cold hungry sea, and they left it to sink.
I heard John Stanhope, the Administrator of Christmas Island, lamenting the nameless baby boy on the radio: how they had his body in the morgue with no name. Worse: even if they had his name, it could not be released, because publicly naming asylum seekers is a dangerous move. That’s the power of names. Cattle don’t get names. If you name your favourite cow, it’s probably not going to the slaughter house.
Into the unmarked grave you go.
In you go, in you go,
where your family will never know.
I guess it’s a lullaby of sorts. Lullabies often have a dark underbelly. Someone, find it a tune.
I’d like to make a guess that they have lullabies in Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and Burma. Singing to young children is hardwired; even queue-jumpers do it. And they name their evil, foolish, queue-jumping babies.
Home Sweet Home, a group on Flickr.
What does home really mean? Some images from flickr, and thoughts for my new ethnographic documentary project, ‘Wherever I lay my hat’.
Home can be quite nebulous, quite abstract, I think – but these images tend to be about things.