Watching in the dark: The experience of film with strangers

As I wait for the lights to dim, a question pops into my head: Why do we enjoy watching a film with strangers in total darkness? Is it to experience shared emotions of what is happening on the screen? Is it that we like the idea that, by watching a film at the cinema with others, we identify a need, shared with those particular strangers, to escape from reality for 2 hours. Just as I started writing these questions to remember for my blog, the lights turned to utter darkness and the film began, as the theatre suddenly turned quiet…

Image From: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/2015/07/gift_ver3.jpg
Image From: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/2015/07/gift_ver3.jpg

The film I saw on that day was “The Gift”, which is a suspenseful stalker thriller starring and directed by Australia’s very own Joel Edgerton. In my opinion, thrillers and horror films are the best to see in theatres with a group of people, either friends or strangers. In this case, I decided to attend on my own. Before deciding to go, I considered the three constraints identified by Swedish geographer Torsten Hagerstrand, which could affect my decision:

Capability: The physical limits to get there

Authority: Are you permitted to be there

Coupling: Can you make it there in time

Hagerstrand’s research, which resulted in the identification of the three constraints, was to explore the physical and psychological limitations that prevent people from acting without restraint. For me, my closest theatre is a 5 minute train ride away, so capability was no issue. As for authority, my father gave me money the night before (broke life 😦 ) so that’s was no problem. Could I make it in time? Absolutely I could. So Hagerstrand’s three constraints did not affect m decision in any way and therefore was able to take part in quite an interesting communal cinematic experience.

The minute the lights went down, everyone in the theatre had an unspoken agreement that talking is now forbidden. Everyone was keen to find out how the film was going to turn out. In the end, the film proved to be fantastic, and was particularly interesting to see with complete strangers. There were a few moments in the film, where everything goes quiet and everyone (including me) is on the edge of their seat. Then, suddenly, something or someone appears, along with a sharp and loud noise. This scare tactic is commonly referred to as a ‘jump scare’ and once everyone umps from their seat in fright, the whole theatre began to laugh over the fact that they had just felt terrified. It was a terrific experience, as well as a terrific film. However, movie theatres are facing a major threat in the form of a little business called Netflix…

The main reason behind Netflix’s success is simply convenience. There is a large amount of choice and it is available at any time at the comfort of your home. However, the main reason why movie theatres are struggling to compete with services such as Netflix is not down to convenience. It is simply down to the continual rise in cost of movie tickets. For example, the local Event Cinemas theatre in the Shire (where I live) charges me almost $20 each time I see a film. Personally, I prefer going to the cinema because it gives me the sense of community and comfort. Yet, it is hard for someone like me, who is a university student, to continue to fork out $20 each time I want to see a film. So it is little surprise that services such as Netflix, which currently has more than 1 million users in Australia, are succeeding and that movie theatre attendance is starting to decrease.

References:

Bulbeck, P 2015, ‘Netflix reaches 1m users in Australia’, The Hollywood Reporter website, viewed 28th August 2015, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/netflix-reaches-1m-users-australia-804697

Maddox, G 2014, ‘Cinema ticket prices have just topped $20 in Sydney, with Melbourne soon to follow. Could this be a psychological tipping point?’, Sydney Morning Herald website, viewed 28th August 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/movie-tickets-hit-epic-levels-as-they-cross-20-barrier-20140404-363bw.html

Screen Australia, Audiovisual Markets Audiences, accessed 28th August 2015, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/audiencescinemaattend.aspx

Ethnographic Research and Reality Television

When the term ‘ethnographic research’ was first properly described to me, the first thing that came to my mind was the brilliant 1998 film “The Truman Show” which, for those who haven’t seen it, revolves around a man who’s life is broadcast around the world 24/7 as a reality show. The film acts as a satire of the way reality television exploits contestants and encourages voyeurism from its audience.  Which begs three questions:  a) Is reality television a form of ethnographic research? b) Is reality television damaging and exploiting the contestants and finally c) is the consumption of reality television voyeurism on our part?

Truman-InCaseIDontSeeYa-GIF

Let’s start with ethnographic research: What exactly does it mean? Ethnographic research principally entails observing certain individuals within their surroundings. Now, to answer the first question: Is reality television a form of ethnographic research? The answer is yes but it is more of a collaborative ethnography, which is mainly effective in analysing a group of individuals in a particular culture or environment.  The popular and often controversial ‘Big Brother’ is a prime example of reality television which demonstrates characteristics of collaborative ethnography, in that the show revolves on a set of contestants who are forced to live in a house together and complete a variety of challenges. Essentially, the show is an extension of the idea conveyed in the 1998 satire “The Truman Show”, which sees the protagonist discover that his whole life is just a reality television  show. And now that we live in a social media era, we (as an audience) are able to comment on what is happening on the show as they are watching it. This, in fact, is another example of how reality television, is a form of both collaborative ethnography and ethnographic research.

Now that we have established that reality television is technically  form of ethnographic research, let’s explore the two major issues that face reality television: a) the psychological damage and exploitation of contestants and b) the perverse nature behind reality television. The psychological damage of being analysed and exploited is an issue which is not often discussed, in regards to reality television. Whenever we watch reality television shows, such as ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Biggest Loser’, we are often the audience for an individual’s emotional or physical humiliation and as an audience we take this for granted, without considering the damaging effects that that they have on the contestants. Furthermore, contestants can’t talk about their true experiences after being on shows because producers have them locked in to  a tight contract that forces secrecy. In their book “Shooting People”, Brenton and Cohen (2003, pg.109) compare shows such as ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Survivor’ to the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, due to “the cultivation of group dynamics over time”. So by consuming these forms of ‘entertainment’, what does that say about society? That we take enjoyment out of seeing the mental breakdowns and humiliation of people on television. Which leads my next point regarding the perverse nature of reality television. The consumption of reality television is, without a doubt, a form of voyeurism which is borderline perverse, particularly the show ‘Big Brother’. ‘Big Brother’ shows us almost everything that the contestant does (even sleeping!). Very little privacy is given to contestants on these sorts of programs and although the contestants have consented to being filmed constantly for ‘entertainment’, is it really necessary to film people sleeping? Furthermore, what does it say about the audience who, instead of living their own lives, take time out during the day to watch others live out theirs, in what often is nothing more than a prestigious prison. Buchanan (2001, pg.4) that the only reason why audiences don’t feel guilty of their voyeuristic behaviour is because of the series of games and challenges implemented into the show by the producers, in order to mask the clearly unethical nature of the entertainment they are producing.

So to recap, reality television is without a doubt a form of both ethnographic research and collaborative ethnography. But whether it contributes positively to society  remains to be seen…

References

Brenton, S., & Cohen, R. (2003). Shooting people: adventures in reality TV. London:

Buchanan, I. 2001, ‘Enjoying ‘reality TV”, Australian Humanities Review, no. 22, pp. 1-8.

Throwback to the Television Craze

Living in a world of constant technological change, we tend to forget how revolutionary the rise of coloured-television programming was in the mid 60’s. The introduction of televisions in many household’s significantly changed the media landscape, as well as the way entertainment was consumed. Of course, because of the emergence of Netflix & various on-demand services, as well as the ease of access to television, our generation never fully experienced the idea of television as a communal experience. Having three televisions, a laptop and a Netflix subscription, I almost never watch a programme or film with my family anymore (except perhaps on Christmas Day). In defence of communal television consumption, I do miss the years when every Saturday night at 7:30 , my family and I, without fail, would gather in the lounge room to watch the latest episode of ‘Doctor Who’. However, despite that experience, I decided it would be much more interesting to ask my father about his first experiences with the television.

My father, Olivier Andre Clement, was born in Paris in 1959 and was raised in his Grandmother’s house. During my conversation with him,  he established that his Grandmother owned a television for as long as he could remember. However, he also acknowledged that because, at first, there was only one television channel at the time, his family would often gather and listen to radio broadcasts, rather than television.  When his family did watch television, it would often be during dinner as the T.V. , in his grandmother’s  house, was located in the dining room. Most of the time, it was the news that the family would watch, although he does mention one of the first shows he watched from 1965 called “Belphégore ” which revolved a ghost haunting the Louvre museum in Paris. The program was particularly frightening to my dad, especially the ghostly figure itself, which he described as having a “long, black cloak”. Although , he did admit that he was very easily frightened as a child. Later on in the conversation, I asked him where he sees television in the next 10 years and whether watching television will still be a collective thing. His response to the question was almost identical to the one I would have made. My father believes that television will no longer be a communal experience, principally because with all the technology available, an individual can choose what they want to watch whenever and the enormous amount of variety in content means that audiences are much more picky in what they wish to consume.

So, in writing this and having discussed with my father about the communal experience that was television, I’m rather sad to say that a television audience no longer consists of many, but rather of just one.

Introduction Post- My place in the media

My place in the media. It’s a difficult area to identify. But I am going to try. First of all, for those new to my blog, my name is Max Clement and I am a 2nd year student in a double degree of Media and Communications & International studies. In my past experiences in Media and Communications, one thing has become incredibly clear: The Media landscape is vast and constantly changing

Having a personal interest in film, by blogging about that particular subject, it allows me to almost instantly connect with an audience from around the world in a matter of minutes. This form of networking is also made easier through #hashtags. These concepts 10-20 years ago, were non-existent and the media was still evolving and developing. But today, these features are integral to help us discover who we are in the Media landscape.

Image 1

So, where is my place in the media? To be honest, I still don’t know. I’m still a confused and slightly lost uni student, who is still looking for direction and purpose. But studying BCM240 makes me hell excited to find out where it is I am heading and where exactly my place in the media is.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑