In a previous blog post about Flickr and Facebook, I came to terms with the fact that these social networking sites can be a form of digital storytelling. For my final project, I decided to delve deeper into this line of thinking and specifically explore the possibilities of a Facebook message thread as a form of digital storytelling.

David Brake (2008) states the following in regard to social networking sites like Facebook:

“…the ‘rules’ of what counts as digital storytelling are often clearly defined, certain forms and content are clearly encouraged, and there is generally a status differential between the owners/facilitators and those whose stories are to be told. On social networking sites and most other online spaces for self-related texts, the  constraints and influences tend to be less clear” (p. 287)

The storytelling on Facebook tends to be fragmented, and sometimes nonsensical. Stories are continuously changing and grow as time continues, unlike the stories presented using other methods (e.g. video essay) which are expressed and left alone in an archive of digital stories. Because the self-produced material put on Facebook by its users is copious and and presented in unorganized bursts, it can be difficult to determine what counts as storytelling and what does not.

In my project, I argue that a Facebook message thread, as used by the members of the thread analyzed, is a method of digital storytelling. In the thread, a community of women express their identities, recall life events, and analyze their interactions with the characters in their lives. In doing so, they have created an archive of stories over a semester time period. Although the grammar and punctuation is horrible and the stories (for the most part) are somewhat frivolous in a larger world context, these stories play a role in shaping the identities of these women and the message thread provides a space for interpreting events and solidifying their community. In a narrative of co-production and participation, the messages present a “multitude  of ongoing, often ad-hoc and haphazard everyday narratives” (Drotner, 2008, p. 63) that are common in digital storytelling.

This final project pushes the boundaries of a traditional academic paper by living online. The women in the thread utilized multimodality in their storytelling, as is common in digital storytelling. Allowing my project to live in an online space allows for the reader of the paper to explore the posted links and immerse themselves in the exchange of information in same way that the members of the thread were able to do. Without the ability to click on these links and explore the pictures and articles presented by the messenger, the stories being told are not received as they were intended.

In order to further push the boundaries of a traditional academic paper, I decided to make the main text of this “paper” the messages from the Facebook thread. This was inspired Bethany Nowviskie’s blog post, which was published in Debates in the Digital Humanities (2008) as a piece of scholarly work. In this chapter of the book, Nowviskie makes her argument by inserting large blocks of tweets. Although one might think that this would detract from the substance of her post, it actually adds to her rhetoric. It makes sense that in talking about the Digital Humanities she presents (in the best way she can on paper) a piece of something digital. My hope is that by making the Facebook message thread the center of my text with annotation off to the side, a true sense of the storytelling in this space is captured and adds a sort of un-voiced support (even though voiced here) for my argument that the thread is digital storytelling.

 

Works Cited in Post and in Paper

Brake, D. (2008). Shaping the ‘me’ in MySpace: The framing of profiles on a social network site. In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (285-300). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Drotner, K. (2008).Boundaries and bridges:Digital storytelling in education studies and media studies.In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (61-84). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Erstad, O. & Silseth, K. (2008). Agency in digital storytelling: Challenging the educational context. In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (213-233). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc

Erstad, O. & Wertsch, J. V. (2008).Tales of mediation: Narrative and digital media as cultural tools. In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (21-40). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Friedlander, L. (2008). Narrative strategies in a digital age: Authorship and authority. In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (177-196). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Kaare, B. H. & Lundby, K. (2008). Mediatized lives: Autobiography and assumed authenticity in storytelling.In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (105-122). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Lundby, K. (2008). Introduction: Digital storytelling, mediatized stories. In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (1-20). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Nowviskie, B. (2012). What do girls dig?. In M. K. Gold, Debates in the digital humanities (235-240). Minneapolis: Univerisity of Minnesota Press.

Thumim, N. (2008).’It’s good for them to know my story’: Cultural mediation as tension. In K. Lundby (Eds.), Digital storytelling, mediated stories: Self representation in new media (85-104). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

 

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For this assignment, we were asked to identify one of Faye Ginsburg’s main arguments in “Rethinking the Digital Age”, find a piece of digital storytelling which exemplifies the argument, and write a blog post about it all. My group consisted of Ned, Pablo, and Sarina. Ned was nice enough to post the fruits of our collective labor on his blog, here.

For my final project, I’m required to do something on digital storytelling. I have decided to explore the idea of a Facebook message thread as a form of digital story telling. So far, I’ve downloaded an archive of all of my Facebook information, message threads included, and have figured out how to make analytic comments on the side bar of the message text.

The next step of this process is figuring out how to get all of this into an online space. My professor suggested I use CommentPress, which is a really cool program where multiple people can comment on a blog text paragraph by paragraph. Unfortunately, to use this program I would have to download WordPress to my computer, and since I’m not technologically savvy  I’d want to use a webhost, which costs money. I tried a free trial, but couldn’t get it to work, so nixing that idea. My next idea is to try and upload the pdf as a url..try this (please note that the content is not representative of the final project). Hopefully this will work!

Digital Humanities has afforded us the ability to learn, apply new knowledge, and share new knowledge in different ways. For example, without the new technological tools introduced and created through digital humanities, I would be unable to do the things I do in the video below, and the video below would not exist. The video below is a digital story (admittedly not a good one- I only had about 20 minutes to come up with the idea for this in-class assignment, record the video, and write everything). It shows my experiences (and frustrations) with viewing and listening to the media for one of my class projects in Windows 8 before I download this fantastic free media tool called VLC Media Player. VLC Media Player (specifically for Windows 8) was created after people complained a lot about the fact that they couldn’t view media (academic or otherwise) using the new Windows 8 system. Without DH, the presentation for my class (the one I am talking about in the video) would have zero digital components and would not include the recording of the interview we did with the woman from the nonprofit.

ImageImage

When I first heard the term digital storytelling, all I could think about was documentaries. Documentaries tell stories, they are digital….digital storytelling. Little did I know about the vastness of digital storytelling. The term is inclusive of not just more formal forms of mediatized storytelling, like documentary and academic blogs, but also includes much more informal modes of representation, like Youtube, Facebook, and Flickr. As Kristen Drotner in Ch. 4 of “Digital Storytelling: Mediatized Stories: Self-representations in New Media” (2008) states, digital storytelling “covers the multitude of on-going, often ad hoc and haphazard everyday narratives that people give shape to through their appropriation of portable devices and online services like blogs, wikis and social filesharing and networking site like Flickr, Facebook, and YouTube” (p.63).

I had no idea that every time I posted something on Facebook I was engaged in storytelling. I should have known, though. Like many people on Facebook, I am careful to present my best self and include in my profile only the most interesting happenings in my life. I try to portray myself in a light that is flattering; I want to be seen as intelligent and in control of my life. In this way, I am picking and choosing the parts of my life that I want to narrate to an audience- my Facebook friends. They see who I want them to see. I take part in “redefining the self according to [my] own narrative” (p. 34).

With this in mind, I took another look at my Facebook. What did I find? A story. Especially with the newer time-line feature, the presence of a chronological story of my life is extremely obvious. If I scroll to the end of my timeline, I see myself as a high school student, hanging out with acquaintances on a trip to Greece. But there is a lack of  high school age photos outside that context– suggesting that I didn’t have lots of close friends (or didn’t take and upload enough pictures). As I scroll through the later years, I can see hundreds of pictures of me and my college friends at a variety of functions, fundraisers, and social outings. Apparently, I blossomed in college. Not only did I make great friends and try exciting things, I became political, as shown by the plethora of posted liberal video clips and links to feminist articles. Scrolling even further up the line, I can see, based on my status updates and the decrease in number of pictures, that I had a tough senior year and often felt overwhelmed by the amount of homework and future-life decision making. But then- I got into grad school! So many congratulatory comments on my wall after I made the giddy announcement via status update. Even further down the timeline, I can tell I’ve made friends in grad school and am settling into my new SoCal life.

My ongoing story as portrayed on Facebook is a generally happy one filled with the usual Western, white, middle class girl/woman’s experience. I have consciously chosen to release the mostly positive details of my life to my Facebook friends audience, and what they see is a fairly happy narrative without all the actual life bumps that occur.

Flickr is similar to Facebook in many ways- it is a place of digital storytelling via pictures, comments, tags, and pinpointed locations. The only major difference is it’s level of popularity and the lack of the ability to portray your story through YouTube clips and article links. But the idea is the same- present your story to the world through a variety of pictures and typed blurbs.However, unlike Facebook, Flickr overtly recognizes itself as a place for digital storytelling. When you start a tour of the site, the first page advertises Flickr as a place to “tell a story with your photo”. This can be done, they say, by “organiz[ing] and display[ing] your photos the way you want”. Although Flickr focuses mainly on the posting of pictures, unlike Facebook, like Facebook it requires each user to choose how and to whom they want to show which parts of their lives. As the author and narrator of your own photos, you get to formulate your own story, whether or not it is a realistic or comprehensive representation of your non-digital life.

After many ideas and much collaboration, a group of fellow students (Pablo, Theresa, Sarina, and Monica) and I created the documentary below. We titled it Reflections on the Intersections of Feminism. As you will see in the documentary, this project was an exploration of how the different characteristics of our identity form our ideas of feminism and, in turn, how we act on our feminism. We used the quote by Gloria  Anzaldua as the framework for our documentary because we thought it perfectly encompassed the message we were trying to convey.

Making this documentary was a process. Many of my group members have already written about the collaboration element. We were not originally a group of 5. We all had different ideas about what we wanted in our documentary, but we joined forced on the precept that we all had interests in common- activism, feminism, and identity. Although formulating a plan of action beyond these keywords was challenging, the final documentary came together well, including each of our interests. We worked well together, each taking turns filming and introducing our own ideas for additions to enhance the documentary. It’s not easy to make a documentary with so many people- only one person can work the editing program yet everyone needs to be able to give input. However, Sarina Raby did an excellent job of taking the editing reigns and being sure to address everyone’s concerns and ideas.

Making this documentary was not only an exercise in collaboration, it was also a little bit of a journey of self-exploration. In the video, we include multiple viewpoints (those of ourselves as students, and those of a professor and a stepfather) in an attempt to capture multiple facets of identity- age, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, class, etc. The inclusion of all these voices increase the salience of my own positionality and made think about how my idea and experience of feminism are so impacted by the intersections of my identity. I also learned a lot about myself in the process of filming the conversations we had between the member in our group. It’s not every day that someone asks you how you became a feminist. Generally, it’s just posed as a yes or no question and those who identity with your answer have an intrinsic understanding of the general reasons for claiming or not claiming a feminist identity. It was interesting to have to voice in a coherent explanation how I arrived at my feminism.

I’m happy with the outcome and even happier about the fact that I got to work with a great group of people in creating the documentary. This experience was much more pleasant than my video essay making process, and I have my group members to thank.

“Ethnographic analysis is based on data, data that have been selected from the collected information in relation to specific research questions. Texts are one form of data. Film texts could be created by selecting footage from the film record, transcribing all conversation as one would a linguistic text made from a sound recording, and annotating the visual images” (Principles of Visual Anthropology, p. 336)

“There are at least three kinds of activities such an archive should be supporting: documentation of old footage; use of facilities and films for research; and use of its facilities to create instructional material.” (Principles of Visual Anthropology, p. 356)

Both of these quotes from Timothy Asch support the idea that ethnographic film, like written text, is a form of academic data. This data, he argues, should exist and be available to academics through an archive in order to be used to its full potential. An example of such an archive is the DER, found here- http://www.der.org/films/filmmakers/timothy-asch.html

We can apply Asch’s arguments to his own work, The Ax Fight. After watching the clip below, you can see that there is no voice over for the duration of the fight; the footage itself is treated as the data, like a text. The data present within The Ax Fight is available to be viewed multiple times by multiple academics for original interpretation and analysis in the Documentary Educational Resources (DER) databse.

Today for class, we read chapters from the book Documentary: Witness and Self-Revelation. Within the reading, John Ellis asserts that the viewers of documentaries and documentaries themselves have changed. One of the reasons for this shift, he argues, is that the technology used to make documentaries is no longer just available to a specific academic sector. Specifically, almost everyone has access to cameras or some sort of filming device. This begs the questions- Who is an authority of film? Who is a professional? Who considers themselves professional? Does authority and professionalism come from access?

As part of the discussion surrounding the text, my classmates and I paired off to explore these questions (and others presented throughout the reading) in a quick video and writing assignment. Jung-Hsien, a fellow student, and I quickly left the classroom to go in search of someone to interview regarding use of and authority in filming. Upon retrospection, it’s interesting that we shied away from possible interviewees that were “weird looking” because we assumed they wouldn’t have much to add to our inquiry. We decided it was important to note this behavior here because within it we were making our own assumptions about authority and who has the ability to provide intelligent feedback.

In the video, posted on Jung-Hsien’s blog, Jung-Hsien and I ended up interviewing a few of our classmates to test the assertion that the nature and access to filming has changed. We also explore the issue of what makes a professional filmer and who can be a professional.  As you will be able to see in the video, when considering these questions, the idea of getting paid and producing something of worth play into what it means to be professional, or an authority on filming. Despite the fact that both of the interviewed students have access to and use filming devices comfortably, neither of them consider themselves professional. This suggests that there is more to being an authority than having access to devices and information.

Another thing Jung-Hsien and I noted while doing our quick in-class assignment was that we were positioning ourselves as film authorities within the assignment. We were operating the camera and asking questions of our classmates as though we had some expertise in filming as well as the topic of what it means to be a professional film maker. If a person were to view the video interview without knowing our background, they might reasonably assume that we know something more than the interviewed about the topic we are addressing. In reality, though, our classmates read the same book and were part of the same class discussion, so we were no more authorities than they were.

Warrio Marks

Last week, I attended an undergraduate class on feminist documentary in lieu of attending Visual Research Methods. During class, we watched a film called Warrior Marks in which Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar explore the meaning, origin, traditions, and consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM). In the documentary, Walker and Parmar argue that although excision and infibulation are most often performed by women, FGM is patriarchy’s attempt to control female sexuality and to keep them in a child-like state. Through interviews with the women who perform FGM, women who encourage FGM for their own children, victims of FGM, and those who have escaped the practice, Walker and Parmar show the war that is positioned against women. However, they do not argue for victimizing those who suffer FGM. Rather, they posit the wounds as warrior marks. Walker and Parmer argue that women can draw on their strength and fight back, even after they have been subjected to FGM.

While I wholeheartedly stand behind these ideas, I am less sure about Alice Walker’s comparison of her own eye injury to the injuries of those who have undergone FGM. When Walker was a child, her parents gave her brothers guns. One of her brothers aimed at Walker and hit her in the eye.  To Walker, it was apparent that the injury was purposeful, but despite its severity, her parents quickly ignored it. She calls her eye injury a patriarchal wound. Like FGM, she argues, her visual mutilation is a result of inequalities. Walker states that everyone else “is making merry” and leaves those with patriarchal wounds (FGM or otherwise) to heal and cry in isolation. I agree that Walker’s eye injury is a patriarchal wound, so to speak. It was purposefully inflicted on her by an older, larger brother by a gun that was given only to her male siblings because such a toy was not appropriate for girls. However, I don’t think Alice Walker can fully relate to the women and girls who endure FGM for a few reasons.

  1. Walker’s eye injury is not an injury systematically inflicted on most girls in order to suppress their womanhood and maintain their oppression.
  2. Even though her blindness remains, Walker had the ability later in life to remove the scar tissue on her eye and restore a normal appearance. She does not have to endure daily physical pain like that associated with FGM.
  3. Her injury has not taken away her sexual functioning, nor has her ability to be an autonomous sexual being been mutilated
  4. Although she had a poor childhood, she had the privilege of attending college and making her way into a position of power as a widely recognized feminist activist in the United States. The girls and women who undergo FGM are not in this position. They differ in education and class and may not have the opportunity, as Walker has, to have their voices heard and their patriarchal wounds recognized.

I’m not trying to say that Alice Walker’s injury is insignificant and that the parallels she draws between her own injury and those who are subjected to FGM are unwarranted. Rather, I’m trying to point out the issues that Walker seems to miss in her documentary. Poetically, it makes perfect sense to equate her patriarchal injury with that of those who suffer FGM. However, I think it is important to recognize the differences in intent and consequences of both injuries as well as the differences in education and class position of the injured women.

For my next class project, I will need to make a documentary. Thankfully I won’t be flying solo for this experience and will, instead, be partnering with one or more of my classmates to collaboratively create something (hopefully) interesting and thought provoking. That being said, as a result of talking with a close friend about stereotypically masculine and feminine career paths and recalling my use of feminist terminology in my video essay (specifically “gendered division of labor”), I think it would be fun to do a documentary on people who work in fields that are typically dominated by members of the opposite sex. For example, in my documentary I could include coverage on women in construction or in masculine academic areas (like physics), I could also include coverage on men in nursing or teaching.

In my (currently hypothetical) documentary, I would present the stories of these people through interview. I would ask them questions like the following:

  • What are some challenges you might face on a daily basis because of your gender in your workplace?
  • What are some advantages you have experienced on a daily basis because of your gender in your workplace
  • How are your responsibilities similar or different from those of your coworkers of the opposite sex with the same job title?
  • Do you enjoy your job? Why or why not?
  • What are some assumptions that your find other people make about you based on your job? Good or bad?

The goal of these questions would be to explore how the gendered division of labor plays out in the workplace and how gender norms can influence people’s lives at an institutional level as well as interpersonal level.

In addition to interview responses of individuals in jobs which are stereotypically for members of the opposite sex, I would ideally include interspersed commentary by academic authorities (from Women’s and Gender Studies departments at 5Cs). The purpose of this commentary would be to provide an academic framework within which the viewer of the documentary could process and analyze the experiences of the interviewed workers.

For those of you in my VRM class-  Any additional ideas? Would you be willing to work with me on this topic, or one similar?

 

 
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