Thursday, November 18, 2010

Documentary Analysis- Super Size Me!

My favorite documentary is without a doubt the film "Super Size Me", which is directed, narrated, starred, and written by Morgan Spurlock. It was this film that served as the impetus for his tv show "30 Days", in which Morgan Spurlock goes under some sort of lifestyle change for 30 days to create some sort of comment on that lifestyle based on his experience with it, as well as to give viewers an experience and understanding of that lifestyle. For example, in one episode, Morgan and his wife decide to live as lower class, blue collar workers for 30 days, living in a small apartment and only working a certain amount of hours of week to receive minimum wage.
In "Super Size Me", Morgan Spurlock is upset by a recent judicial court decision that states that there is not enough proof that eating fast food can negatively impact one's health. Therefore, Morgan decides to uncover the dangers of fast food consumption, by deciding to only eat at McDonald's for 30 days. He gives himself some rules for the experiment. He is required to eat every meal and snack from McDonald's and if he is offered a "Super Size" option, he is required to take it. Despite discouraging opinions from doctors and his wife regarding the experiment, he ultimately decides to go through with it. The documentary thus displays his experience through a video diary of almost every day of this 30 day experiment.
Here's a clip of the beginning of the film:

This documentary is an easy to understand persuasive film with a strong message. The message is obvious: Eating fast food everyday will cause major health issues. In a narrative film, the filmmakers manifest their message within the rhetoric of film technique and metaphors in the plot. However, documentary filmmakers, while they do still use the rhetoric of film technique to convey their message, the content of their films are blatantly obvious depictions of their message. In the case of "Super Size Me", Morgan is manifesting his message that "eating fast food everyday will cause major health issues" by engaging himself in an experiment where he eats fast food everyday.
The intended audience of this film are the typical consumers of fast food: middle and lower class urbanites. Morgan thus uses rhetoric that these classes can most identify with in order to be most successful in his persuasion. The film employs the use of visual depictions of printed items such as maps, quotes, documents, pictures, advertisements and charts as his primary source material. In addition, he features clips of his experience in lower/middle class environments such as schools, shopping malls, stores and urban areas.
This film is extremely successful in persuading viewers of its message. Not only are Morgan's sources persuasive, but the fact that he is actively engaged in an experiment to support his message is extremely persuasive. In this way, Morgan is not only showing viewers written proof for his argument, but displays his own experienced proof which is the most valuable and persuasive piece of information.

Lesson Plan:
Show the students "Super Size Me" during a whole class period. Not only is it an excellent example of documentary filmmaking, but its content is very important for students to understand. The entire film may not be able to be screened in one class period, but at least the students will get out enough of the film during an hour.
During the next class period, assign each student a partner to discuss these questions within the partner groups:
1. Based on this film, how would you define a documentary? How is the filmmaking style different from narrative films?
2. What is the message of the film?
3. Is this film effective in displaying its message?
4. What are some techniques that the film uses to show its message?
5. Is it possible that the documentary has a bias within it? How might this effect the filmmaking?
6. Did the film persuade you to think differently about eating at McDonald's?

Once the students seem to have discussed all of the questions, bring the class back together as a group to discuss the answers. Go around the each partner group and have them talk to the class about what they talked about for that question.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Local TV News Analysis

I flipped through the channels at 9:00 PM on the TV at my girlfriend's apartment at Northstar, and I found a local news show produced by WGN. I assumed that this was a local Minneapolis news show, so I began logging it. After about 5 minutes, I realized that it was Chicago local news. At first I thought I would have to start all over with a new station, but I figured that most local news sources must have similar trends, and Chicago is relatively close to Minnesota, so I continued to log the show. If anything, I figured it might be an interesting counter-point to local Minneapolis news. Here's what I saw on the hour long show:

9:00- Top Story: Murder/rape crime
9:03- Soldier honored locally
9:03- Murder case in which bond was denied
9:04- Local fire
9:04- City elections- candidacy discussion
9:04- Public school deficit $700 Million
9:05- CTA naming rights possible in the future (such as "Taco Bell Station")
Interviews- around downtown Chicago:
2 possibly homosexual males
2 college students
Asian male
Latino woman
9:08- Poll: text in opinion regarding the naming rights.
9:08- COMING UP: Bed bugs, Navy Pier makeover.
9:12- Office bed bugs:
Clip from a spanish news station
Interview with an exterminator (gross teeth)
Disgusting image of bed bugs bites on an arm
Interview with AFSCME Spokesperson
Quote on screen from source
9:16- COMING UP: Protest turns violent, Missile?
9:18- Protest in London- against boosting college tuition-
Video of people with fire, etc.
9:19- Bomb found on plane
9:19- Stranded cruise ship- bad conditions
Voice on phone
9:20- Vapor trail- not a rocket- must have been from plane
9:21- Tomorrow's Tribune: Girls sports lawsuit
9:21- New vision for Navy Pier- hotel, concert venue, etc
9:22- Giant blue eye art piece closed
9:22- COMING UP: Scared straight images on cigarettes, Harry Potter
COMMERCIAL BREAK- local lottery
9:25- National Lincoln Memorial (Veterans Day tomorrow)-
Video of cemetery with TAPS playing in background
Interview with director
9:30- Weather banter
9:31- Weather
9:36- COMING UP: Texting Teens!
9:39- Medical Watch- scare tactic of gross pictures on cigarette cases.
9:40- Texting leads to more sex and drugs!
9:40- Kids sense stress- parents should talk to kids about it.
9:41- COMING UP: Harry Potter, sports.
9:44- Weather
9:46- Harry Potter- interview with Daniel Radcliff- with WGN National interviewer.
9:48- COMING UP: Football, basketball, sports!
9:51- Poll results from text-in poll
9:51- Sports
9:55- Anchors say goodnight and thanks for watching.
9:55- Photos of the day- Photo Montage
10:00- END

Time Devoted To:
News: 22 Minutes:
(Crime news: 6 Minutes
Political news: 6 Minutes
Veterans Day news: 6 Minutes
Scares news (bombs/missiles): 4 Minutes)
Weather: 8 minutes
Sports: 4 minutes
Consumer/Health/Entertainment: 9 minutes
Ads: 18 minutes

My experience:
Overall, I kept getting sensing that it was constantly over-sensationalistic and I found myself saying, "Wow, this is ridiculous".
Obviously, before I watched the news show, I figured that the majority of the time spend would be with advertisements and sensationalistic news stories. I figured that the top story would be a horrendous crime- it was a murder/rape crime of a 3 year old girl.
I did not think there would actually be a legitimate amount of time spent on "scare stories"- news in which there was a event that could have been a real scare, but ended up not being so. One of these was absolutely ridiculous- It was a story about a person who filmed a vapor stream that he saw in the sky that he thought was a missile. The news anchors said that in reality, this was most likely just a vapor stream from an airplane (OBVIOUSLY!!!).
Another absolutely ridiculous story was about teen texting. The anchors said that there was a recent study, which claimed that the more teens text, the more likely they are to have sex and do drugs (OH MY GOD- REALLY?! THAT IS ABSOLUTELY PREPOSTEROUS! YOU CAN'T GET ANYMORE SENSATIONALISTIC THAN THAT!). It was very upsetting for me to see that the news would actually say that story.
Finally, I can't believe (well, I guess I can believe unfortunately), that Harry Potter qualifies as legitimate news, and a story that was talked about for a large portion in the show to get the viewers excited about it. It was a 2 minute interview with Daniel Radcliff. Wow, okay, great news. Thanks WGN.
I apologize for the informal descriptions of my feelings regarding this news show, however, I just feel so strongly about its absolute ridiculousness.
The visual techniques of the news show reiterates the extreme sensationalist quality of the news stories. They tried to show the most extreme depictions. In the bed bugs story they showed an exaggerated, disgusting image of the arm FULL of bed bug bites. In the protest story, they showed the most extreme looking individuals with the most extreme items in their hands- flames, weapons, etc. They refuse to show protesters simply holding up signs, not being directly violent. At the same time, when interviewing people to be shown during stories, they tried to show a wide variety of individuals from minorities: In the CTA naming rights story, they interviewed Asians, Latinos, and people that fit the stereotypes of homosexuals. They chose these people to give off the impression that they are getting a lot of different people to speak about their story. While doing so, they are just reinforcing stereotypes of these minority groups.
Over all, the news show was quite upsetting to me and it was extremely sensationalistic and contained stories that are only present to incite a certain emotion.

Teaching Activity:
1. Begin by showing a few clips from the film "V For Vendetta".
Here's an example clip from the film!
2. Discuss how news media is made:
Where they get their stories- the government, companies with press kits, ETC.
The impact from advertisers on news stories.
3. Brainstorm a list of the types of news stories seen on the news (Crime news, politics, health, entertainment, sports, weather, etc).
4. Have the students guess how long each of these stories are usually allotted during a show.
5. Show the students a half-hour news show (skipped through advertisements).
6. Discuss with the students what they see:
Crime everywhere! (Scary World Fear), exaggerations, dramatic, etc.
7. Introduce the students to the term Sensationalism.
Homework Assignment!
8. Split up the class into 4 groups.
Two of the groups will create a 10 minute news show that is a representation of an extremely sensationalistic news source.
The students are required to make a script of the news stories, what the anchors say, etc. However, if they wish to actually film the show, it will be welcomed with extra credit.
The other two groups will create a 10 minute news show that is a representation of an equal, fair, objective as possible- news show.

The groups will present their shows at the next class. Have the class discuss what they see and the relationship between the two types- what is good/bad about each one.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Genre Analysis: Utopian/Distopian-Science Fiction

I will be analyzing one of my favorite genres: Science Fiction, but more specifically- Utopia/Distopia. These media texts look at the near future and discuss its society in terms of its perfection or lack thereof.
I love this genre mostly for its escapist qualities. It always fascinates me to ponder the future and the impact of developing aspects of current society on those future depictions of society. In other words, most of these narratives discuss the role of technology as both benefiting and harming society (creating either a utopia or distopia).
Some of these films include: I Robot, Surrogates, Minority Report, Blade Runner, (The Matrix), (12 Monkeys), etc.

Here's the Trailer for I, Robot:

Prototypical features:

The technology (Usually robots, machines, technologically altered humans, etc.)
Cop/Detective/Some type of Investigative Agent (Or uniquely intelligent human)
Police Chief (or other Judicial type boss) to give assignment to main character
Female love interest (usually an ex-wife, or troubled relationship with female)
Creator/Owner of the technology (usually antagonist in some way)
Innocent bystanders (the world at large)

The birthplace of the technology (The Robotics Corporation for example)
Extremely urbanized Down Town areas, saturated with advertisements
A rural or non-urbanized area free of mainstream technologies.
Futuristic, Post-Modern architecture and lighting.

Here's an example of futuristic transportation (and a special effects fight scene) from I, Robot:

Here's an example from the film Minority Report of a mall saturated with advertisements:

Robots/Robotics (Or derivative- Replicant for example)
"The Three Laws of Robotics"

Storyline Features:
Typical Problem: Usually a murder involved with the technology; the technology becomes unruly; protagonist uncovers negative secret of the technological system; protagonist attempts to stop the technology from further harming humanity or invading humanity, and topples the whole societal system involved with the technology.
Who solves the problem: some sort of investigative agent or uniquely intelligent individual.
With what means: using their investigative skills, physical and intellectual intelligence and usually lots of guns.
Towards what end: To prove the ineffectiveness of the current societal system using advanced technology.
Reflected assumptions: "We live in a technology saturated world".
Who solves the problem: Always be questioning society and technology.
What means/tools: Always challenge authority and if you are not satisfied with an answer- investigate deeper.
Themes: "If we continue to be too reliant on technology, we will turn into a humanless-society."
"Advanced technology in general is harmful to society."

Here's the link to my powerpoint on googledocs!

Critical Analysis:
This genre of narrative communicates an ironic and confusing discussion of technology. The main theme of this genre is that our continued reliance on technology will force us into a human-less world is negated during the course of most of these films or other media texts. In order to put an end to the harmful technology, the protagonist ironically needs to use technology. For example, in most of these films, the main characters use guns or other military technologies, transportation technologies, computer technologies, etc. to destroy the advanced technology that is threatening society. Therefore, the theme of these narratives are thus confusing. If we are supposed to not be saturated with technology, then why do we have to use it, just in case? In this way, these narratives support a reliance on technology, as well as negate that.

Lesson plan: Discussion of Science Fiction vs. Fantasy:
Begin by having the class brainstorm classic films from the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. They will most likely list Star Wars as a Science Fiction and Lord of the Rings as a Fantasy.
Then, show the class short clips from Star Wars and Lord of The Rings.
Then ask them, "What genre is Star Wars?"
The students will most likely respond: "Science Fiction, of course!"
Then respond: "Nope, contrary to popular belief, based on the traditional characteristics of genres, Star Wars is actually a fantasy, set in a futuristic world. 'Wait, that doesn't make sense! I thought science fiction was anything set in the future!'"
Then explain the differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Science Fiction: Emphasis on imagined science and technology- issues with, future of , inventive technologies and science, etc. The key aspect of science fiction is that the narratives COULD happen based on our current technology and laws of nature. Therefore, much of science fiction does take place in futuristic settings, but definitely does not need to.
Fantasy: Imagined worlds using magic and other supernatural powers and phenomena. Often involves the hero journey coming into their own person through depredations and initiations. Often involves binary communities of good versus evil.
The main difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is the issue of realism. Science Fiction is POSSIBLE, while fantasy is totally imagined and IMPOSSIBLE to actually occur in our universe.
THEREFORE: Star Wars is actually fantasy: It is an imagined universe with a supernatural phenomena of "The Force" and the Jedi's versus the Dark Side (good versus evil binary). Finally, Luke Skywalker is the typical hero/journey character.