Saturday, April 9, 2011

Listening Diary 1

I felt that David Isay’s documentaries,Ghetto Life 101 and Remorse, opened a new world for me concerning the role of documentaries in journalism. A radio documentarian once said, "Journalists help citizens reach the air, to tell of their lives…Somewhere between the din of the Internet and the drone of corporate media is a place for voices, testifying on their own behalf" (Allison, 2001:17). David Isay achieved ‘poetry on the margins’ where the stories shared represent the underdogs, the voices not often heard.

I felt that the radio diaries technique was definitely not of a very high standard. This however, is understandable considering the background of the documentary. One cannot expect the two boys to produce technically sound recordings considering they do not have access to a studio nor do they have any experience with this type of work. With regard to the flow of the documentary, I felt that it was well rounded and gave a complete vie of the lives of the two youths. It was interesting to listen to every aspect of their lives from the trip to school to bus rides and family disputes. The sound of knocking on doors and classroom environments is very effective in creating an audio picture; one imagines the scene even though one may never have visited Brooklyn.

The advantages of these documentaries are quite obvious in the sense that people are allowed to tell their stories and formulate views of their lives by themselves. This means that the representations are objective in terms of their own subjective ideas and experiences – there are no lies here, this how they live. However, the disadvantages stem from this formula as well. The teenagers produced a documentary that showed an America not viewed in mainstream media but they simply reproduced stereotypes previously identified in news. In Ghetto Life 101 one father was presumed dead, the other an alcoholic, one mother had a mental illness and a sister became a mother at 15. These are assumptions we make of life in downtown New York due to the images and stories we receive from numerous media sources. The documentaries simply heightened the idea that "racial and class inequalities result from personal rather than systemic deficiencies".

Despite the arguments raised by writers such as Mathew Ehrlich, I agree with this form of journalism due to the fact that the youths were educated and given an opportunity to make something of the difficult conditions that would have engulfed their lives had Isay not arrived with his recorder. This documentary also gave an eyewitness account from an insider’s perspective, something Isay himself would not have been able to achieve on his own. The boys’ relationships with the people around them as well as their environmental awareness allowed them to ask questions about murder and drugs which would have been offensive had an outsider posed them. I feel that radio documentaries are the most valid source of profile work and definitely create a broader scope from which to interpret someone or something.

Listening Diary 2

The documentaries following the events of 16 June 1976 seem to have different target audiences which results in different points of view. These two radio documentaries differ in that ABC Ulwazi’s June 16 comments on the events of the tragic historical event from the perspective of little known individuals, most of whom were a part of the Soweto Uprisings, while Joe Richman’s Mandela Diaries includes well-known voices who describe the day’s proceedings from an almost external point of view. The latter documentary seems to have a foreign audience in mind where the narrators and subjects explain the reasoning for as well as the aftermath of the youth march in a way that leaves out the real essence of the historical moment. ABC Ulwazi on the otherhand used people who were once standing amongst the bloodshed shared in the heartache from the ground – they may not be well known to the target audience, but their viewpoint is nontheless one which ordinary South Africans can identify with.

ABC Ulwazi takes an interpretivist stance to the social research by means of conducting interviews on a personal level. The journalist sees the individual as a subject influenced by their social surroundings and experiences. It is these very experiences that the documentary aims to make available to the audience perhaps with the hope of further utilising the tragedy to raise awareness and envoke a sense of national pride regarding the struggles we have overcome. Richman’s documentary looks at the event rhough critical traditionalist eyes and examines the subjects from an objective, neutral stand-point. The reason for this may lie in the fact that the target audience has no previous interpretation of the event because their position outside of the country means that the struggle was never part of their social experience or ideology.

I prefer ABC Ulwazi’s June 16 due to the personal experiences the narrators share. I feel that they were extremely comfortable speaking to the documentarist resulting in a truth we may never have heard before. By placing the audience on the streets on that day, we realise the effect the shootings had on the youth of that time resulting in a re-evaluation of what we have previously been told. As a young person born near the end of the Apartheid regime’s rule, I have only really been exposed to factual evidence surrounding the historical event. My view was thus, almost completely objective, however, after listening to ABC Ulwazi’s documentary, I now feel something towards the children who partook.

According to my own philosophy surrounding journalism as a whole, journalists accept the function of imparting information on their public audiences. Therefore, because documentaries fall under the category of journalism, their role within the information framework is much the same. Both these documentaries provide an account of 16 June 1976 and both put forward information that can be utilised by the public, wherever this public may be situated. The two documentaries differ in their approaches to knowledge processing and take into account the different audiences they are targeting, but both fulfill the journalistic role of providing knowledge, either to a previously naïve audience or to an audience with a pre-formed opinion.

Listening Diary 3

Gary Covino produced a documentary called Zoon Black Magic Radio and Jim Willet produced one called Witness to an Execution, both of which fall under the expository documentary mode outlined by Bill Nichols. He also describes a poetic mode of documentary which are illustrated through Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song produced by Dmae Roberts as well as View from a Bridge by John Hockenberry. I will use these four documentaries as a framework to discuss the differences between Nichols’ two modes; both of which will assist me in placing my own documentary into a mode.

Nichols explains the expository mode as one which is found within a rhetorical domain, where a statement is made and the documentarist finds sources who are able to substantiate these claims. The poetic mode, on the other hand, does not argue for a reality which can be considered objective, but rather examines the subjective reality of individuals. Another characteristic that allows for this mode to be differentiated from the others is its descriptive nature and poetic tone.

Zoom Black Magic Radio follows a pirate station run by Mbana Katanko in Springfield, Illinois. The station is broadcast from Katanko’s living room and provides political commentary as well as opinion on social justice in the United States. There were many attempts to shut the station down but they had all been unsuccessful until this time. The documentary, just like the station itself, is expository due to the arguments that are made as well as the inclusion of Katanko’s voice to further fuel the documentary’s focus. The documentary takes the listener on an audio journey where Covino “shows” his audience a history of pirate radio stations as well as the evidence needed to substantiate it. This format is very similar to news reports where the reporter will provide details and use interviews to back add validity to the piece.

Willet’s documentary, Witness to an Execution is also an expository form of audio production and examines the Texan execution system. The documentarist utilises numerous voices of those involved in the process in order to give a real sense of what execution entails for the executioners. The documentary argues that the experience is traumatic and Willet, who is also the narrator, questions whether people really understand what the executioners go through. There are explicit statements which lead up to a story about Fred Allen, a part of the team that tie down the inmates before the process begins. He resigned from his job due to a mental breakdown and the use of other voices explaining the hardships they experience as executioners further substantiates the problem Willet is outlining. The audience is left with an understanding of the toll the executions take on those involved; exactly what Willet tried to get across.

Roberts’ documentary, Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song, is about growing up with her mother and a trip to Taiwan the two of them took. Because of the personal nature of this documentary, it can be considered subjective and thus part of the poetic mode of documentaries. There are many instances whether rhythm and repetitions are made, adding to the poetic expression Roberts adopts. She does not argue for a specific point but rather offers audience members a view on her relationship with her mother.

In A View from a Bridge the audience is also offered a subjective view of living with a disability. The characters go about everyday tasks such as crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and the documentary can be considered poetic because it includes rhythmic pieces such as the sound of the wheelchair moving over the road as well as recording where a blind skier’s instructions are almost sung out by the instructor. Another poetic aspect to the piece is Hockenberry’s narration which is extremely descriptive and adds to the notion of “showing and not telling”.

From these documentaries I have begun to understand that my own documentary, A Life and Death Situation, will need to be less poetic in its form due to the fact that I will be speaking about an extremely serious topic. If I were to include sing-song narration and musical beats to everything as A View from a Bridge did, I think it would come across as though I was mocking the idea of death. Although I include subjective views of the topic, I will not have a completely poetic documentary. I feel like I would be arguing the fact that perhaps death is not something which should be feared, but rather something that should be accepted as a reality and fought against by everyone. I would be able to substantiate this argument (although it is subjective) through other people’s experiences.