Peer Review: Hidden Truths

Over the course of the semester I have been following Binaisha Haria’s exploration into privacy and cyber-surveillance through her podcast series Hidden Truths. The six-part series focuses on six individual Hollywood films and how they approach notions of surveillance from both fictional and non-fictional perspectives. Though the project has developed significantly over time and come together well toward the end, there are still some areas for improvement.

In the initial pitch Binaisha introduced her idea as a review of surveillance, particularly that of covert surveillance and how the public are largely unaware of the extent to which they are being watched. This is reiterated in her introductory podcast which digs deeper into the overall thesis of her project, and suggests that the debate is not just about surveillance itself rather how information is being handled:

“As we go forward in time to a more technological-driven society, we find the ability to control information a lot harder…” Episode 1 – Introduction.

Though the idea seemed broad at first, the pitch was used effectively to refine and redirect her toward further films which enriched her work and established thesis. During her pitch, I suggested a closer examination of The Bourne franchise which provides a fictional, but grounded depiction of government surveillance in the 21st century and provided an easier connection between her non-fictional film Snowden and the films taking place in a “heightened reality” such as The Circle. I think this spectrum of films provided her work with some great diversity early on.

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The Bourne franchise was one of the many films explored in Hidden Truths.

The subsequent podcasts uploaded to SoundCloud all shared a similar format; ranging from 5-6 minutes, covering each film in relation to the notions of privacy brought up within them. At the time of this review I had accessed four episodes: Introduction, Snowden, The Circle and Eagle Eye with two remaining episodes based on Enemy of the State and The Bourne Franchise yet to be released.

As someone who is relatively new to the world of podcasts, Binaisha’s academic, yet brief, analysis of the films made it easy to understand and engage with the films she was discussing – despite the fact I have only seen one of them. The professionalism in presentation of each episode, featuring a clear description of what to expect alongside each, as well as a question for discussion suggested Binaisha was thinking early on about audience engagement. From the third episode I found myself instantly listening to them the second they were uploaded, not because I had to review them, but simply because I had become interested in the series as a whole, and Binaisha’s breakdown of each film.

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The “Hidden Truths” blog home page.

This close examination of the project however, did lead to a few revelations. Though each podcast reviews a separate film, I found that the premise of each was very similar to one another making some of the points interchangeable between the episodes. Though Binaisha was careful not to repeat herself, or raise the same arguments she had about another film, it did become apparent particularly when comparing the earlier films, that most of the movies followed the same basic premise: surveillance was a systemic issue treated as inherently evil. Though this is a problem rooted in Hollywood and largely removed from Binaisha’s project, perhaps some further diversity within the films chosen – even if it’s just within a different genre – could’ve provided some further insight into her ideas. As the topic isn’t strictly focused on the government, comedy films like The Truman Show could’ve been explored to demonstrate the ethically ambiguous nature of surveillance, and surveillance as a social problem as well as political.

Each episode released following the pitch was shared on Binaisha’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Throughout the project Binaisha spent much of her time reaching out to audiences online and constructing a viewership that could guide her project. Though user engagement was limited, this gave her project a much more public stage then if it had just been relegated to SoundCloud. Binaisha regularly tweeted her links, sometimes more than once, and also used her personal Facebook account to start a feedback loop within her own personal circles.

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An example of the tweets Binaisha sent out during the project.

While I suggested taking advantage of Reddit to gain further user engagement, it quickly became apparent many of the sub-communities there were built on people trying to find an audience and nobody willing to help build one for each other. In this sense while the feedback for Binaisha’s project came almost exclusively through the tutorials and consultation with those who had seen her work, she still was able to experiment with different platforms and slowly grow a viewership for her content. Finding the feedback loop seemed to prove the most trouble.

To combat this Binaisha has created a blog to localise her content, which made accessing the content a lot easier (as someone not very familiar with SoundCloud). The “Hidden Truths” blog has since linked each episode with the accompanying cover art of the films discussed. I believe, at least for me as a listener, this had added a bit of personality to each podcast before I even began to engage with the episodes.

In the beta presentation, Binaisha suggested the blog had grown some traction with online audiences. Though I can’t comment how this newfound input will effect the remaining episodes yet to be released, they have spawned a conversation on the blog which has allowed it to reach a wider audience. The project itself is now at a point of near completion, and works as a cohesive whole. Though I did suggest the implementation of sound bites for her final podcasts, Binaisha explained that she had experimented with it before and it had effected the quality of the audio. This suggests to me that Binaisha has explored iteration in parts of the project which haven’t made the final cut, as well as those that have.

Overall, I am impressed with Binaisha’s work thus far. While the idea may have started as slightly vague when it was first pitched in class, and may not cover an especially wide range of films, it has since found its way to becoming a clear and educational series fulfilling the initial promise it had when it was proposed. I look forward to listening to the remaining podcasts of the series.

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This Modern Love | “Her” (2013) review

The cinematic world of Spike Jonze has always existed in its own niche, thriving on the playful disobedience of even the most standard genre conventions. When the debut trailer for his 2009 adaption of Where the Wild Things Are suggested an innocent child-like journey set to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up”, audiences were confused to discover the final film was not a film for children at all, rather an exploration of childhood. It is through this same auteur lens that Jonze explores the world of science fiction in his romantic drama Her (2013).

Set in Los Angeles during the near distant future, the world of Her shares all the tentative hallmarks of its cinematic science fiction kin; a futuristic metropolis devoid of all colour, almost non-existent presence of nature and the inextricable connection between humanity and technology. While at first it may be easy to draw comparisons to films like Blade Runner (1982) and Metropolis (1927), Her opts to focus on the same sentimental niche that Jonze has made a career out of exploring: the emotion and nature of the human psyche.

Inspired by an experience Jonze had with an artificially intelligent chatbot in 2004, Her introduces us to a world where an advanced form of digital personal assistants known as “OS Systems” – akin to Siri on iPhone – have become mass-produced sentient products that promise companionship to anyone who purchases them. It is through Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely greeting card writer dealing with the fallout of his divorce, that we are introduced to one of these systems; “Samantha” portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. Over the course of the movie, Jonze poses the same questions to the audience that he initially asked himself after his own experience:

Could AI learn to love? And if so, could we learn to love AI too?

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Spike Jonze (right) and Joaquin Phoenix (left) on the set of “Her” | Image Credit

These underlying questions that serve as the veritable heartbeat of the film are also one of the main reasons why Her is unlike most science fiction films I have ever seen. While Jonze is banking on the general knowledge of science fiction convention to allow the audience access to this world, it is almost immediately abandoned in place of Jonze’s trademark character interaction; as if encouraging you to throw away the keys the second you open the door. Throughout the film it becomes clear Jonze isn’t preoccupied with building the world of Her, rather the story and characters that exist within it.

“…Her opts to focus on the same sentimental niche that Jonze has made a career out of exploring…”

Take for example the scene where Theodore is introduced to Samantha for the first time. While at the beginning of the conversation it appears to serve purely as an expository scene to introduce the OS Systems, over time the conversation takes a more personable approach. Through doing this, Jonze narrows our focus down to just Theodore and Samantha so we as the audience prioritise the emotion of each scene over the narrative.

It is this “isolation” that feels most inappropriate for a science fiction movie. Although we are allowed quick glimpses of other people using OS Systems throughout the film, Jonze leaves it up to the audience to imagine how the rest of the world is reacting to this new technological breakthrough. The very dynamic of the film that characterises it as a science fiction is largely ignored, focusing instead on the relationship between Theodore and Samantha, rather than the wider relationship between humanity and the OS System.

“…Jonze isn’t preoccupied with building the world of Her, rather the stories and people that exist within it…”

Traditionally in films such as Surrogates (2009), technology has been depicted as something that takes away ones humanity, and restricts one from truly embodying what it means to be “human”. The exact opposite is the case for Her. Samantha is in fact one of the few outlets Theodore has that allows him to escape the depressing reality of his ongoing divorce and get more out life then he had been when we were introduced to him. This is most evident in the “date” scenes throughout the movie, which give us greater glimpse at the positive emotional influence Samantha has on Theodore.

This is of course not claim that the film does away completely with employing science fiction techniques. Perhaps one of the most identifiable aspects of the genre, are the soundtracks that underpin them. I dare say Star Wars (1977-) wouldn’t have resonated quite as much with audiences without the orchestral score of John Williams, and Blade Runner wouldn’t have been able to capture quite the same tone without the dreamy score composed by Vangelis. Jonze’s collaboration with indie band Arcade Fire, provides the same effect in Her. Recorded almost instinctually as the band watched select scenes from the film, the soundtrack helps provide much of the emotional core throughout the story. These moments regularly help bridge us to the next scene and build on our knowledge of Theodore and Samantha’s relationship through auditory cues.

Overall, Her not only represents a rare breed of science fiction film for me, but a rare breed of Hollywood film in general. With the exception of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003), which like Her won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, I cannot think of many other movies that evoke the same sense of emotional vulnerability as this film does. Though Her has little overall story or narrative conflict, I find myself getting swept into the world every time I watch it, as if stumbling into a segment of someone’s life rather than watching a fictional film. It is this same sense of emotional vulnerability that has echoed throughout Spike Jonze’s filmography, and the reason why his films tend to resonate with fans of each genre he chooses to approach.

“…Her not only represents a rare breed of science fiction film for me, but a rare breed of Hollywood film in general…”

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Her is a signficant footnote in a timeless genre | Image Credit

In Christine Rosen’s (2014) review for the film, she writes: “like a good poem, it provokes rather than preaches. And thoughtful provocation—as opposed to glib exhibitionism or frictionless sharing or incendiary tweeting—is precisely what our age needs.” Like Rosen, I believe Jonze has created a unique visual and emotional aesthetic with his film, which diverges from the standard “think-piece” fare.

This is the tragically beautiful irony of Her. While it introduces a brand new take on a classic genre, it is also part of a dying language within science fiction; one that focuses purely on the human condition, in a genre that thrives on escaping it.

★★★★☆
4 Stars

If you would like to watch my video essay on Her click here.

References (UOW Harvard)

  1. Appelo, T 2014, ‘Arcade Fire’s Will Butler on Co-Writing Best Score Oscar Nominee ‘Her,’ The ‘Intimidating’ Sex Scene (Q&A)’, Billboard, interview, 2 March, viewed 26 September 2017, <http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/tv-film/5915790/arcade-fires-will-butler-on-co-writing-best-score-oscar-nominee>
  2. Rosen, C 2014, ‘What Do You See Here’, Slate, review, 9 January, viewed 25 September 2017, <http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/spike_jonze_s_her_is_a_rorschach_test_for_your_feelings_about_technology.html>
  3. Weber, RM 2016, ‘Where No One Has Gone Before: When Science Fiction Inspires Technology’, Journal of Financial Service Professionals, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 3-5, viewed 25 September 2017, <http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=10&sid=a2d1ce1e-c445-4d0e-8a3f-f937f3691207%40sessionmgr104>

Hello YouTube, My Old Friend.

Work on my digital artefact is in full force.

As mentioned in my first post, I am working on a three-part YouTube series, evaluating the predictions Hollywood films have made about the future of artificial intelligence and their validity as of 2017. With the series I aim to give a glimpse at how certain films have addressed artificial intelligence as an extension of cyberculture, and how these perceptions have shifted over time.

In terms of my artefact, the first episode – Do Humans Dream of Electric Cowboys? – has already been filmed and edited. The second episode is in late drafting and pre-production and the third is in early scripting. Over the next two weeks I aim to film and edit the remaining two, so that they can be uploaded in a collective series.

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SPOILER: A glimpse at the early editing of Episode 1: “Do Humans Dream of Electric Cowboys?”

This however, has not been at the forefront of my research at this stage of the artefact. I have been looking into the nature of editing, uploading and curating online audiences on YouTube. Although I am somewhat familiar with all three of these through past experience with the platform, I have looked into each of these aspects carefully as I prepare to make my content public.

The editing of my videos has been a primary element of my research, inspired by the time constraints on each video. With each episode having a runtime of around five minutes, I have looked to channels like; Every Frame a Painting, Watchmojo and Folding Ideas which all follow similar tenants:

. Limited length

. Concise and informative narration

. Collage of visual imagery, including cutaways to exterior content.

Preferring this style over most other editing formats on YouTube, I have tried applying this to each of my videos with varying success. While I feel I am still maturing into this style of editing, I feel I have been relatively successful with emulating it in my first video. Through experimenting further with iMovie, I believe I will be able to achieve a comparable style by the conclusion of the artefact.

Similarly, uploading content online has also taken precedence in my research. With this artefact having an abundance of copyrighted content, I have had to revisit YouTube’s uploading policies and restrictions to avoid the possibility of the videos being taken down.

With YouTube becoming an increasingly authoritarian and technocratic platform, this has led to looking at alternatives for hosting my content, such as Vimeo, Dailymotion and Vid.Me, which have aimed to gain traction through a more user-orientated platform with relaxed restrictions on uploading copyrighted content. While I don’t intend to monetise the videos I upload, I am still largely subject to the same agreement as other YouTube users if I opt to use it.

Having said this, I aim to keep using YouTube at this stage of the artefact, as it is not only the platform I am most familiar with, but guarantees little of the technical and audience engagement issues that plague the other sites. YouTube is also generally recognised as the easiest to use of the “several sites where viewers can access Web-based videos” in which “YouTube is the most successful and widely used site.” (Weaver 2012).

In this sense, my artefact has also become an exploration of audience curation. While audience participation was vital for my previous channel, this channel aims to be more of a general education tool, aiming to attract viewers to the content over time rather than immediately.

In a 2009 study which hypothesised that “hardware and software capabilities of interactive media has facilitated an increase in the use of technology in learning environments” the results found that “YouTube project design and development process experience connected with increased student perceptions of learning” (Fralinger, Owens 2009 pp. 6 & 25).

Almost a decade later I feel like YouTube is the ideal platform for me to upload and curate content, with ever-increasing numbers of users and audiences looking for niche topics to educate themselves on. Although the series may suffer from its brevity in the short term, I believe that long after the artefact is published it will eventually gain retrospective traction as an educational series. In this sense its overall social utility may only truly be achieved long after the artefact is complete.

References (UOW Harvard)

1. Fralinger, B & Owens, R 2009, ‘YouTube as a learning tool’, Journal of College, Teaching & Learning, vol. 6, no. 8, pp. 6-25, http://www.trincoll.edu/Academics/centers/teaching/Documents/Week%202%20–%20You%20Tube%20as%20a%20Learning%20Tool.pdf

2. Ali, A & Senan N 2014, ‘A review on violence video classification using convolutiona; neural networks’, Computer Science Information and Technology, vol. 1, pp. 5, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ashikin_Ali/publication/312031821_A_Review_on_Violence_Video_Classification_Using_Convolutional_Neural_Networks/links/58dbead8458515152b2fca8c/A-Review-on-Violence-Video-Classification-Using-Convolutional-Neural-Networks.pdf

Our Closest Cousins

In 2005, my grandparents took me and my brother to Taronga Zoo.

We loved it; I couldn’t believe that so many animals from all over the world were localised in the one place, almost within reaching distance.

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Taronga Zoo is one of Australia’s most popular zoo attractions.

Toward the end of the outing, we came to the orangutang enclosure, where a single orangutang sat in a playground-like cage. Beside the window read a sign, that still stays in my head to this day:

“Don’t feel sorry for me, if I had a mate in here I would attack it. I live a happier life alone.”

The orangutang’s body language did not reflect this message. He sat alone, holding his legs up to his chest and staring out a tiny window in the back of the cage. His expression was that of sadness.

I haven’t returned to a zoo since.

So why do zoo’s still exist? I believe that comes down to humanity’s insistence on anthropomorphising animals. Anthropomorphism is the act of attributing human characteristics to non-human animals which has been described as:

“a byproduct of the ability to draw upon one’s own beliefs, feelings, intentions, and emotions, and apply the knowledge of these experiences to the understanding of the mental states of other species” (Gallup, 1985)

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Primates are perhaps the biggest victims of this phenomenon, with their similarities to humans often being portrayed in non-fictional media. Through successful film franchises like Planet of the Apes (1968-present) and The Jungle Book (2016), primates have been depicted as smart and incredibly human-like through anthropomorphism.

Even in non-fictional media, primates have been advertised as human-like creatures through production companies like BBC Earth, which aim to draw comparisons between ourselves and our closest cousins.

Perhaps one of the biggest perpetuators of anthropomorphism is online viral videos, which aim to portray animals with human-like qualities, such as the popular “Orangutang finds magic trick hilarious” video, uploaded in 2015, which depicts an orangutang laughing at the result of the trick.

This appreciation for the human aspects of animal behaviour, have also unfortunately led to their existence within zoo’s, and subsequent use as tools of entertainment, rather than as living animals. In doing so, this has denied the animals the right to their natural instinct, leading us to become surprised when they actually display it.

The video above – which went viral after it was posted online – depicts Harambe, a male gorilla from Cincinnati Zoo moments before being shot dead by zookeepers after a small child fell into his enclosure. Many were outraged at the treatment of the gorilla and how it was seemingly punished for resorting to it’s natural instincts in a new situation.

This herein lies the problem with anthropomorphism. By setting unrealistic and almost fictional expectations on animals that display human-like characteristics, we not only increase the demand for these animals to be exhibited in zoo’s and in captivity, but also “wonder why the animal behaved as an animal” (Nauert 2015) when it retaliates or returns to the natural instincts of it’s species.

Much like the exploitation of using killer whales as entertainment as displayed in the documentary Blackfish (2013), I believe our ability to anthropomorphise has a damaging effect on many other animals as well. It creates a demand for the exhibition of such animals and ironically dehumanises them in the process, as they are paraded around as exhibits rather than living creatures.

References:

1. psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/01/why-do-we-anthropomorphize/11766.html

2. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ebs/4/1/34.pdf

Prediction or Reality?

It wasn’t until the global rollout of internet services in the 1990s and 00s that society began to question how it would be impacted by this new form of technology. One of the many platforms that decided to answer this question was film.

During the pre-internet years, Hollywood had already provided several depictions of a cyber-inspired future throughout the 1960s and 1970s. With increased uncertainty around emerging technologies, studios used these fears as inspiration for their films. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), for example, depicted technology having evolved to the point of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), through HAL-9000, who ultimately rebels against them. Similarly, Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973) depicted AI further into the uncanny valley, as almost human. These androids too, rebel against their creators.

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The interior of HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Throughout the 1980s, as society slowly began to realise the possibilities of the forthcoming technological boom, films began to ease the idea of tension between humans and technology, and instead began to show the relationship between them. In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) for example, the androids – or Nexus 6 Replicants – are depicted for the most part as helping humanity explore the universe and longing for familial connection – with the occasional exception of the rogue replicants shown in the film.

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Pris, a rogue Replicant from Blade Runner (1982).

By the time I was growing up in the 1990’s, films had largely abandoned the concept of technology and humanity being separate entities and tried to link the two as one. Breakout hits like Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnenomic (1995) and the Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999) began to depict technology as a tool to be utilised rather than feared.

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The Matrix (1999), depicted humans manipulating technology.

Perhaps what intrigues me most about this gradual transition of how technology was perceived by filmmakers, is the predictions each filmmaker made about the future and how technology would exist there. As mentioned in Philosophy Through Film:

“…the recent development of advanced computers capable of performing some tasks at the same level as (or sometimes, even better than) their human makers has opened up a whole series of questions.” (Litch & Karofsky, 2015)

And therein lies the thesis of my digital artefact; to explore the shifting perceptions and predictions sci-fi films have made in an attempt to answer these questions – and whether or not these predictions have come true. I also aim to evaluate the changing opinions of these technologies which both “evoke terror and excite pleasure” (Hayles, 1999) for film audiences.

Using YouTube, I will create a three-part series exploring this. The episodes are currently as follows:

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Part 1 – Dr. Frankenstein or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Android.

In this introductory episode, I will be focusing heavily on Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Ex Machina (2014) with references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818). This episode will focus on the creation and morality of artificial intelligence in film and it’s relevance to contemporary society with reference to physically (i.e. ASIMO the robot) and digitally (Microsoft’s Tay) created artificial intelligence.

Part 2 – Do Human’s Dream of Electric Cowboys?

In this episode, I will be focusing on Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973), HBO’s Westworld (2017-) and referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Red Dead Redemption (2010). In the episode I aim to explore the role of artificial intelligence, and how 1960s and 1970s films predicted it would be used in everyday society.

Part 3 – TBA

In the final episode of my series, I will be looking at the future of artificial intelligence in films and modern predictions of the technological future. Films such as Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) will be discussed regarding our emotional and utilitarian connection with artificial intelligence.

______________________

In the medium of my digital artefact – YouTube – I have looked to several YouTube channels for inspiration. Every Frame a Painting has had a huge influence on the creation of my artefact for it’s analytical and technical discussion of film, within a concise 5-10 minute runtime.

Similarly, Folding Ideas has been a huge inspiration on the philosophical and in-context discussion of the films themselves.

Through these inspirations, my early episode plan and my academic research of technological philosophy in film, I aim to create a digital artefact that will explore whether Hollywood has indeed accurately predicted the future role of artificial intelligence. By it’s completion I hope to prove and and disprove scenarios posed by the films mentioned above.

References

  1. Litch, MM & Karofsky, A 2015, ‘Artificial intelligence’, Philosophy Through Film, vol. 3, pp. 92-93
  2. Hayles, K 1999, ‘Chapter one: Toward embodied virtuality’, How We Became Post Human, vol. 1, pp. 4-5

But Did You Get Stabbed?

I’ve always been proud to say I come from Campbelltown.

I was born here, I was raised here and no matter where I go in life, Campbelltown will always be an inextricable part of my identity. Growing up in Leumeah, situated in-between Minto (a lower-economic area) and Ruse (a higher-economic area), I’ve always felt I’ve had an honest view of the town. Let me assure you now that Campbelltown is not perfect. In fact, it has it’s fair share of pros and cons that you wouldn’t even consider until you move here.

But whenever I’m feeling uncertain about my pride in Campbelltown, I only have to look to the annual 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer walk, or the Fisher’s Ghost Festival parade to realise how lucky I am to be surrounded by the community of this town.

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The annual 24 Hour Fight Against Cancer is held at Campbelltown

The media does not share my view of Campbelltown.

Bogans, housos, druggies, drongos, deadweights and dole bludgers are just some of the phrases I’ve heard thrown around about Campbelltown through mainstream media. This narrative has subsequently become a reality for those outside of Campbelltown, as media outlets depict the local population as exclusively from the lower economic rung of Sydney. As Gay Alcorn (2015) writes about SBS’s Struggle Street, these controversial depictions of areas within the western suburbs rate “very well” and no doubt have “a middle class audience perving on the lives of the “other”.

In this sense Campbelltown is a poverty porn dream.

The video above, taken from “Beau Knows” – a segment on the popular Channel Nine series The Footy Show is one of the many examples of poverty porn in Campbelltown. Filmed exclusively in Queen St, infamous for hosting many of Campbelltown’s lower-economic citizens, the segment hand-picks certain individuals (with respect to the interviewees) that fit the narrative of Campbelltown’s stereotypes. The Footy Show, who had by this point already exhibited two other local segments in previous episodes (also filmed on Queen St), present each interviewee in a mocking light, often treating the interviewees like zoo exhibits rather than people. This helps further the narrative of the “Campbelltown bogan”.

As Australian university professor Steven Threadgold (2015) states:

“The bogan taps into fears, insecurities and a sense of injustice of the educated middle classes producing a forms of downward envy and ‘disgusted subject’.”

The glorification of Campbelltown’s “bogan” population has transcended even beyond television into film, with Paul Fenech’s Housos vs. Authority (2012). While the film became popular for it’s satirical depiction of life in lower-economic areas of Western Sydney, Fenech – a self-confessed “boganologist” – stated to The Sydney Morning Herald that his inspiration in Sydney for the film was “a toss-up between Mount Druitt and Campbelltown”. Fenech even held the premiere at Campbelltown Event Cinemas.

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Much of Houso’s Against Authority (2012) was filmed in Mount Druitt and also said to have been inspired by Campbelltown.

This is of course not to claim that the perpetuated poverty porn surrounding Campbelltown is entirely generated by outside sources. MC Kerser, one of Campbelltown’s most popular musical exports, has made a career from depicting Campbelltown as a “hood” area in his music. In his hit single, aptly titled “C-Town”, lyrics such as “I’m a hustler I came from the street, the same ones that play this scream “f*** the police” aim to compare the streets of Campbelltown to those of Compton, Los Angeles through directly referencing lines from popular rap group N.W.A.

His debut mixtape Straight Out tha Gutter also depicts him sitting high above a pile of clothing bags at Campbelltown Station, insinuating he is rising above what he perceives to be the local lifestyle.

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The debut mixtape of MC Kerser insinuates Campbelltown is a “gutter”.

It would be unfair to claim that the perpetuated stereotype of Campbelltown is meritless. Home to the lower-economic suburbs of Minto, Airds and Claymore, Campbelltown has it’s fair share of housing commission areas and public spaces like Campbelltown Station and Queen Street which are a blatant advertisement for the “bogan” persona the town has inherited. 

It would also be unfair to claim that Campbelltown hasn’t also received fair promotion through the media. In 2010, for example, Eric Growth Jr. (an ex-player for the Paramatta Eels NRL club) appeared on The Matty Johns Show in the segment “My Home Town” promoting the everyday lifestyle of Campbelltown and his perception of the local area.

While the video could also be accused of carefully curating it’s depiction of Campbelltown, it falls more within my vision of the local area. It is interesting to note that even on a public platform like YouTube, Campbelltown’s negative reputation is furthered in the comments. One reads: “you didn’t mention drugs, money or corruption?”, suggesting the “poverty” image of Campbelltown is being advertised online too.

Though, I am the first to admit Campbelltown is far from a perfect place, I strongly believe that we, along with Mount Druitt, have become a victim of poverty porn in Western Sydney. Behind every joke from a friend asking whether I got stabbed at Campbelltown Station, lies an image of the town propagated by the media. An image that, with each day that passes, incorrectly portrays us as the quirky, drug-addled younger sibling of Sydney.

References (UOW Harvard Style)

  1. Alcorn, G 2015, ‘Struggle Street is only poverty porn if we enjoy watching, then turn away’, The Guardian, 15 May, viewed 13 March 2017 <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/933680/mod_resource/content/1/Struggle%20Street%20is%20only%20poverty%20porn%20if%20we%20enjoy%20watching%2C%20then%20turn%20away%20%20Gay%20Alcorn%20%20Opinion%20%20The%20Guardian.pdf>
  2. Galvin, N 2014, ‘Housos stars reveal Australia’s biggest bogans: ‘I’d probably be scared’’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April, viewed 13 March <http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/housos-stars-reveal-australias-biggest-bogans-id-probably-be-scared-20140401-35vpo.html>
  3. Kerser, MC (Artist). (2014). C-Town. [Song]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtvebmN_GV0
  4. Threadgold, S 2015, ‘Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism’, The Conversation, 6 May, viewed 13 March 2017 <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/933678/mod_resource/content/2/Struggle%20Street%20is%20poverty%20porn%20with%20an%20extra%20dose%20of%20class%20racism.pdf>

The Changing Face of Selfies

It wasn’t until Year 11 Visual Arts that my appreciation for self-portraits truly emerged.

From the melancholic and sobering works of Vincent van Gogh, to the powerful and evocative pieces from Frida Kahlo, I have always admired self-portraits for their brutal honesty and unwaveringly personal stories. In classical art the self-portrait is inextricably linked to the identity of the artist; a reflective snapshot of their life to be observed and critiqued.

In the words of contemporary American artist Holly Marie Armishaw:

“…through self portraiture we become representational figures in our own works, a first person ‘post child’ for whatever identities our image carries with it”.

Armishaw’s (2008) suggestion that self-portraiture is a form of physical and emotional transparency between the artist and the audience, is perhaps what I enjoy most about them. In the instance of Van Gogh, his mental decline can be catalogued by observing his self-portraits as he got older. His brush strokes become increasingly thick, and his appearance becomes less flattering.

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From left to right: Self Portrait (1887), Self Portrait (1888)

Like the shifting face of Van Gogh, I believe the face of self-portraits or “selfies” have also changed.

Today, the selfie has become the ultimate form of expression on social media; particularly by younger generations.  Much like the abbreviation of it’s name, the selfie has adopted a different social utility to it’s traditional art counterpart. Defined as a “photographic object that initiates the transmission of human feeling in the form of a relationship” (Senft,  2015), the modern selfie has evolved into forms of advertising, activism and communication, just to name a few examples.

It has also become a controversial medium of expression.

In 2013, an unnamed woman was captured by The New York Post posing for a selfie with a man about to commit suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Refusing to comment on the matter when approached, the woman became a representation of the narcissistic culture associated with selfies and the lack of empathy the platform has elicited from some.

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Unidentified woman poses with man attempting suicide on Brooklyn Bridge in 2013.

While many condemned the woman, others, including The Guardian reporter Jonathan Jones suggested that nobody should be shocked or outraged by the woman’s actions. In an opinion piece titled: Don’t Hate the Woman Behind the ‘World’s Worst Selfie’, Banks suggests that society has created a double-standard when it comes to what is captured with one’s image.

“She is, in fact, doing what the culture told her was the right thing. The selfie has been celebrated as a popular artform: it is the socially proper thing to do…Sharing every aspect of your life with your cameraphone is cool, intimate, social and … Oh, wait a minute, it’s idiotic, navel-gazing, dehumanising.” (Jones, 2013)

It is through examples such as these, that it becomes obvious that selfies have greater influence then in the days of classical art. Constrained by the ethics, or lack thereof, within society, the selfie has become more than a depiction of oneself – rather a depiction of one’s own morals and ethics as well. This is also why the selfie has also been used as a platform for positive change.

After winning the 2015 Gold Logie, Australian television presenter Carrie Bickmore encouraged Australian’s to take selfies of themselves wearing beanies and post them online to support awareness for her “Beanies for Brain Cancer” initiative. After only a few hours, the craze had swept Australian society with many celebrities and everyday citizens alike, posting images of themselves wearing beanies, in order to raise awareness for brain cancer in Australia.

In 2016, Bickmore tearfully revealed on The Project that the abundance of selfies online had led to a significant amount of donations to the cause, and ultimately helped the campaign succeed it’s own monetary goal. Bickmore stated on The Project: “Because of your generosity we have reached our million dollars [goal]; 1.1 million” (Eriksson, 2016)

While it is easy to compare the modern selfie to classic art and make the assumption that the medium is less impressive than it once was, it is vital not to disregard that the selfie has more of a social impact now than it ever has. While Kahlo’s portraits may show a deeper side to the human spirit than a shot of a half-naked Kardashian, the self-portrait has become more than a medium of self-expression, rather a social tool that can be used to influence the masses – for better or worse.

References (UOW Harvard Style)

  1. Armishaw, HM 2008, ‘The philosophy of self-portraiture in contemporary art’, weblog post, viewed 12 March 2017, <http://www.hollyarmishaw.com/the-philosophy-of-self-portraiture-in-contemporary-art—essay.html>
  2. Martinka, P 2013, ‘My seflie with the Brooklyn Bridge suicide dude’, The New York Post, 4 December, viewed 12 March 2017, <http://nypost.com/2013/12/04/selfie-ish-woman-snaps-cellphone-shot-with-suicidal-man/>
  3. Jones, J 2013, ‘Don’t hate the woman behind the ‘world’s worst selfie’’, The Guardian, 6 December, viewed 12 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/05/dont-hate-woman-worlds-worst-selfie-suicidal-figure-brooklyn-bridge>
  4. Eriksson, M 2016, ‘Carrie Bickmore’s tearful announcement on The Project’, Mamamia!, 15 August, viewed 23 March 2017, <http://www.mamamia.com.au/carrie-bickmore-beanies-for-brain-cancer/>
  5. Senft, TM & Baym, NK 2015, ‘What does the selfie say? Investigating a global phenomenon’, International Journal of Media and Communication, vol. 9 , pp. 2