Monthly Archives: November 2011

Digital Storytelling: Question of Authenticity

Media has allowed a digital participatory culture to emerge into and transform our daily lives. According to “Tales of Mediation: Narrative and Digital Media as Cultural Tools”, written by Ola Erstad and James V. Wertsch, media is used as a medium for “meaning making.” It is a way to perpetuate “participation culture” because it allows just about anyone with access to internet to interact with one another without even knowing an individual’s background (age, gender, race or location).

Public narratives (personal stories) have been given spaces to exist through a multiplicity of websites. Do you remember when Xanga was once one of the most popular blogging sites that people used to write their daily rambles or post pictures showcasing places they’ve been, people they know or things they like? Then, it wasn’t too long until blogging sites like Xanga became “old” and people moved on to even more updated, detailed, and participatory social sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

Now, through the accessibility and affordability of both photo and video cameras, sites like YouTube have become means to tell stories for the the world to see. For me, this new freedom raises questions of a storyteller’s authenticity which leads me to raise an important question.

Does digital storytelling provide a space for people to be more real/authentic or a space that is simply another stage for their performance?

edit// Can anyone be truly authentic? Could it be that we are always performing a version of ourselves? If this is true, is digital media just providing a more obviously visible stage? 

Surely, digital storytellers are redefining their identities in front of the camera. The question is, are they redefining a genuine self or a faux self? For storytellers who strive to be taken seriously, are they displaying their true identity or a desired identity both which they cannot achieve outside of the digital realm?

Let’s contrast three stories—two that use similar informal structures, but has received vastly different responses from viewers and one that has a more traditional digital storytelling structure.

This young lady named Rosmery posted a digital story about how she was physically, emotionally, and mentally abused by her father and sexually abused by her cousin. Flipping through flashcards with hand-written short phrases, she tells her personal story. What is easily noticeable is her constantly changing face in the background. Overall, the comments( found below the video on the original website) proved to be encouraging and supportive, but there are also harsh comments questioning whether or not she is putting on a show with her faux tale.

This young lady’s name is Brittany. She shares her story in the same format as the previous girl—using flashcards. She, too, has her face in the background as she flips through the cards that reveal her story living with her mom who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike, Rosmery, Brittany does not use many facial expressions except for occasional grins. There is incredibly positive feedback on her video. Many viewers commented that she was an inspiration who even led some individuals to cry after watching her video.

This woman”s name is Aurelia. Like Brittany, she admires and loves her mother, but Aurelia shares her mother’s story in a traditional digital storytelling format. It is essentially a slideshow of pictures and some  abstract video footage of her mother and the rest of her family. You can hear Aurelia’s voice narrating the story as a calm soundtrack plays in the background. There is a tone of sincerity in her voice. The music creates a comfortable mood. Pictures add a new level of evidence that brings her story to life more vividly than the other two videos above. It is a beautifully and carefully constructed piece, but interestingly it has not received any feedback/comments.

All of this leads us back to the same question we looked at before, does digital storytelling provide a space for people to be more real/authentic or a space that is simply another stage for their performances? As of now, it looks like it provides spaces for both. So, is this new medium of public narratives harming or benefiting our modern culture? Everyone is left to answer that question for themselves, just as every viewer is left to make the decision for his/herself whether or not they should believe, question or dismiss the storyteller and their story.

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Documentary: “Occupy Movement Update”

Quick Note on Documentaries:

When raw camera footage is sculpted, edited, and stylized it becomes a documentary—in other words, “the creative treatments of actuality.” The purpose of films, in this particular genre, is to raise awareness of a real issue, an event, or an individual/people. This is because documentaries are usually made by artists and/or even activists who have specific goals in mind. To create these films,  it requires grappling through a complex process that is compromised of extensive research, film/editing techniques, and launching a logical, memorable message. And hopefully, in the end these essential elements will unite to form a compelling and cohesive art piece that could circulate, inform and move the hearts of millions of  viewers around the globe.

Process of Creating this Short Documentary:

In the fledgling stages of creating “Occupy Movement Update,” our team wrestled with what aspect of the movement to focus on. There were so many different types of angles we could have chosen, but at the end we unanimously agreed that it would be interesting to concentrate on the popular question that mainstream media repeatedly asks Occupy participants, “What are your demands?”.  This broad question of demands seemed to branch out in a variety of forms. The current complaints voiced through the media is that Occupy needs to present ONE demand, they have are TOO MANY demands, or they have NO demands. We discussed how problematic these questions/comments proved to be because the very questions/comments are testaments to the domination of traditional power ideology that exists in our society.

Besides the difficulty of choosing a concentrated idea, another challenge was to create a film that covers all the essential bases (few of which I mentioned above). Roles were divided for the lack of time (4 weeks). Tim and Tamara were in charge of gathering the raw video footage on site in Downtown L.A., while Katie and I gathered video footage, photos, and quotes from from Youtube and various other websites. The most difficult challenge was to compound everything to create a lucid, influential, and artistic film. At first, editing the collectively gathered research/material felt like trying to make oil and water intermix. We realized that the quotes, clips and photos were not enough to send a clear message, so we framed the film with reflective questions to guide viewers along the entire ride.

So, with all the complications, intricacies and extensive time put into the making of this film, you may ask why we did it.

Let me explain.

For all four of us, to write a conventional paper on the Occupy Movement—focusing on how we could make each small point which would hide under a tightly, constructed thesis—could have been a natural, comfortable way of approaching this issue. Yet, we took on the challenge of translating it into a documentary because the power of seeing real people’s faces and hearing their real voices—with video footage/still images from the movement—brought a new sort of life into the message. A documentary allowed the non-fiction nature of the story/event to be made more real than maybe what text would allow.

So, I leave you with two questions…

Do you see what I see?

Can you hear us?

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