As a media maker I often wonder what you think of my work. In some ways, such queries are a hopeless hiding-to-nothing: the opportunities for direct feedback are rare, the possibility that I will misinterpret you are high, and what desire or ability do I have to change my work, even if I do understand your misinterpretation?
And yet, you are my ghost; I am haunted by your presence.
I decided to carry out an experimental project to try to understand our relationship. One strategy was to test out your interpretation of a very short piece of media.
The media in question consists of a 15 second extract of then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott answering an interview question. Mr Abbott pauses before answering. You can view the extract on Youtube at the 5:35 – 5:48 minute mark – and I strongly advise you to leap ahead to those all-important seconds if you want to experience the pause yourself:
I asked respondents to tell me their reaction(1). Here are some:
Polly on the run. He’s wondering what he has told his ministers to say – whether he will contradict them or they will contradict him.
ME: That word ‘Polly’. A sympathetic term. The Canberra Press Gallery uses it. I’m thinking that this person might be a Journalist. Checking for coherence is what Journalists do. Why does that matter? It does and it doesn’t. It’s your profession to commentate on politics. You have different motivations – but for all that, your opinion is just as valid as any other. Should my assumptions about who you are flavor my interpretation of what you are saying?
Respondent 4: Abbott leaves the surface for a brief moment; checks to see if there is anything, any intuitive intelligence, emergent from his depths; stumbles on the discovery that there are no depths to be had; returns to the surface none the wiser.
ME: I like these metaphors. It’s an interesting way of making Abbott’s thought processes visual. Does this respondent always think in such a visual way?
I don’t really feel anything – I’m waiting for what he says. Not because I’ll take every word as true, but because I expect all politicians to pause regardless of the honest of their responses. I also don’t think Abbott’s thought process here affects his ‘political future’ – we already knew he wasn’t taking action, and most planned to vote for him anyway. My reaction is that I’m sick of analyzing his character – attack the policies and not the person. He’s not a President.
ME: An unexpected response. Now I’m defensive. I am playing the man and not the message? This respondent is talking about me as much as she’s talking about the media moment … but I want to outside the media! S/he is thinking about the wrong things!
- He was thinking how he could not look like an idiot or be rude to “Andrew”;
-My reaction is that he was taking a deep breath in a form of a sigh … how do I answer this diplomatically when really he just wants to ‘yell’ that everyone else is just wrong about climate change;
-My reaction is that he is an idiot and slimy but that is motivated by my strong held political beliefs
ME: An angry person with strong politics. Wait a minute, I know this handwriting. Of course, I know she thinks like this. Maybe she knows I’ll recognize her handwriting. Maybe she knows that I know who she is, and she’s saying these things because she knows I know.
He is pausing because he needs to marshall his thoughts before responding to a contentious question. I think he is trying to work out the best way to communicate his skepticism about climate change without putting off too many voters. The pause has connotations of insincerity for me in this context but this may be due to my own anti-Abbott bias.
ME: This response echoes my view. Did I do something to encourage this response? Does saying this under-estimate your ability to think outside of my manipulations?
A practice of disconnection, putting emotive quality what has been conveyed by questioners aside … regathering
Giving space to allow everylay – re-entry of structure of opinions he knows.
Ultimately there is no room for conversation for listening, only surviving with your core messages intact.
Me: I can’t read your writing. What is ‘everylay”? But more – what does your writing itself say? What damage am I doing to you by typing it? I should print the poetic original, your pauses and spaces –
What have I learned? Tentatively:
- often we don’t even acknowledge the things we understand in the media; interpretation can be quite subconscious;
- we bring a lot of contextual information to interpretation
- interpretation is expressed in language, and cannot be divorced from that language
- it may also have a materiality
- I don’t understand all your interpretations, and
- I never will.
(1) This project has RMIT Ethics Committee approval (DSC CHEAN B Project 0000015696-09/13)