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.
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.
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.
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.