We’re highlighting a couple articles coming from friends today, including a superb piece on photography by John Schell, an article on misogyny in the gaming industry by Elizabeth Tobey, and an article on the Slender Man murder and how much media is or isn’t to blame by folklorist Joseph Laycock.
But first, we’re required to include a David Bowie song in every Thursday’s Child article. It’s in the charter or something. Given our subjects of fashion photography, gender dynamics, and the folkore of memes, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than Floria Sigismondi’s weird, Tilda Swinton-inhabited music video for Bowie’s “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”
Now, on with the show:
CO-ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Terrance Malick’s Darkest Film
When I write a review, I’m limited to 700 words. My responsibilities are to translate the experience of watching a particular movie and to clarify in what ways it’s valuable. The bulk of the work is in my editing.
When I write a film essay, there’s no limit save the reader’s attention span. My responsibilities vary because the bulk of the work is in the research. It’s like a science experiment – you start with the seed of a theory or message and then you learn everything you can. Either the research proves out or you’re proven wrong. Either way, you’ve got an article.
Nowhere is the bulk of the work in the writing – that’s the fun part, that’s the part that you can’t get onto a page fast enough. You can sense when someone needs to write, absolutely needs it like breathing, and when someone is obligated to write. When someone needs to write, you’ll put everything else to the side and read them for pages. You want to know where their emotional journey as a writer takes you. When someone is obligated to write, you’ll look at three paragraphs as an eternity that deserves skimming at best. Research sits awkwardly; the seams in their editing are apparent.
Rob Turner needs to write about To the Wonder. It seeps through every word of his article. His research is considerable, yet hidden. His structure is exacting, yet elegant. That’s how you translate the experience of a film – you hide all the work behind it but the passion, the awe of being a witness to it. If that’s what Malick can achieve as a director in To the Wonder, that’s what a writer who needs to write can achieve in writing about it. Rob Turner does just that.
Anti-Strobism and Using Natural Light in Photography
I know we have some photographers and models who read here, and John Schell’s article is an absolute must-read for them. Natural styles of shooting are often overlooked in film, and that’s doubly true in photography. There’s some superb advice here on how to shoot with natural light and play with over- and under-exposures. We’re used to everything being overly strobed and photoshopped and little details being blended out in fashion photography, whereas natural light brings out dimples, smile lines, and other imperfections.
We’re becoming somewhat resistant to excessively perfected photos, at least insofar as fashion photography goes. (Landscape, nature, and commercial photography are frustratingly different stories.) The imperfections that are so regularly hidden from us are what people remember best and most appreciate about each others’ appearances. They can make a photograph recapture a ‘day in the life’ feeling instead of a day in the studio feeling. They bring back a warmth and glow that glamor and fashion photography have lately abandoned in favor of antiseptic tones and clean lines.
Ditching strobes and learning to shoot naturally is a big step in the right direction. For another example of this, I do prefer the natural light style of Holly Parker, a photographer and the model in many of John’s shots. Look to Holly’s work for color composition, framing, focus, and very smart use of focal points. She’s got a cinematographer’s eye for composition. Look to John’s work for how he uses shadow, exposure, contrast/blow-outs, and especially implied motion. His work is more classically commercial.
Thanks to Holly Parker for pointing this article out.
Sexism and Misogyny in Gaming
I know a few folks who work in the video games industry. Both women and men I know assert it’s their dream job, but for women it usually comes with a hesitation and a caveat about the online community. And by caveat I mean quoting threats of death and rape they receive on a weekly basis.
Elizabeth gives several examples from her own experience in the industry, as well as suggestions for how the community needs to change. Because of the inherently online nature of many games and their platforms, I believe what’s taught and reinforced about women through that medium has a far greater effect on youth culture than what’s taught even on film or television.
For the kind of response women in this industry regularly have to put up with, look no further than the first post in response to Elizabeth’s article, from anonymous poster Blah Blah: “Genders will never be equal, a woman could only take this viewpoint. Women have what most men want, a wet hole. Equal, so no more ladies nights, we won’t pay for your dinner on a date, you can open the door for us. Etc. You’re a woman that is employed as a public relations person…do you really think you’d have gotten that first job if you didn’t have boobs?”
I don’t know, Blah Blah, but plenty of men magically get jobs in the industry without having breasts. Also, ladies’ nights are not a treat for women, they’re an advertising plug for bars looking to drum up more business. Also also, try splitting the check if you can’t pay for dinner without expectations attached. Also also also, try buying a friend dinner with no expectations outside of having a nice dinner with someone. Also also also also, I’d like to suggest the mind-blowing notion that holding the door open for someone does not automatically mean they owe you sex. Controversial, I know. Five alsos in a row: try holding the door open for everyone who needs it, and not just the people you want to sleep with. Six alsos in a row: someone buy Blah Blah a copy of Strunk & White; I had to correct the punctuation while quoting him and I can’t be around for him all the time; I might accidentally hold the door open for him, and then he’d owe me sex.
Thanks to Elizabeth Tobey for letting us know about the article.
Media Algorithms and Bad Reporting
I once saw a program titled Top 10 Deadliest Things About Volcanoes. I thought to myself, “I’m pretty sure number 1 is going to be volcanoes.” It was actually a decent program about the history of volcanic eruptions and their effects at different eras in our history, but the countdown approach was simply one made to entice viewers – “I can only think of 5 deadly things about volcanoes; I wonder what the others will be,” that sort of crap.
We have a sense that attention spans are shorter and that it’s everyone else’s fault but a writer’s or publisher’s. It’s the effect of technology, it’s the effect of movies, it’s the effect of 37 hours of TV a day. Yes, it is. That doesn’t change anything.
It’s still the responsibility of the writer to capture that attention span and the responsibility of the publisher to prize it. The poetry community whines that it’s all but extinct save for a few intellectual circles while the organizations that define what poetry is reject slam and hip-hop as too commercial and performance-based. The literary community holds up drama while acting as if genre and young adult fiction – which still sells like hotcakes – is beneath it. Conversely, the studio system shoves money down the throat of genre fiction – a $200 million movie that makes $300 million will get sequels, while repeatedly making $20 million narratives that make $100 million (see Steven Soderbergh) will get a director run out of the system.
The point is that people are still interested in those things that demand our attention. Yes, technology’s to blame for the deficit in our attention spans, but so are the poetry and literary communities, studios, and publishers that are too afraid to demand their readers’ and viewers’ attention. Those communities and companies have as much of a hand in training readers and viewers how to read and watch as any technology does. If we don’t make demands of readers and invest in good reporting and good writing, then we’re just training those readers to reject us in a generation’s time.
There’s a reason people are coming to this site and others like it. It’s not the presentation; lord knows I need to clean that up. It’s because we have high standards for our articles and, honestly, for our readers, too. I’ll make top 10 lists here and there, but only if the list has a good reason to highlight something more important than a subjective ranking that’s likely to change tomorrow. I can’t even highlight others’ articles without writing commentaries that are just as long as the article. Readers have read, shared, and argued (oh god, have they argued) Russ’s and Vanessa’s work because people still want to think and be challenged when they read and they watch and they listen.
The only thing we teach readers by dumbing ourselves down is to learn to ignore us. The less you demand of your readers, the less they value you. And you cannot demand something of your readers unless you demand something of your writers first. That means prizing the ability to write, and that starts with publishers and publications both online and off.
“’Slender Man’ Murder Attempt Wasn’t Media or Madness”
And finally, concluding with a consideration of the power of media in contrast to the power of community. How much is one to blame for violence versus the other?
I remember thinking after Columbine that, while those kids listened to Marilyn Manson and played Doom, neither of those things taught them Hitler’s birthday. Someone around them taught them that, and taught them that violence was a viable way of celebrating it.
The difference now is that community isn’t as immediate as it was even 15 years back. We’ve seen this with the Slender Man attempted murder, and we saw it two weeks ago in Isla Vista – your primary community may be an online one, and what you’re taught there isn’t as easy to monitor or put in context. As Laycock writes, it has nothing to do with an inability to differentiate reality from the internet – that’s a myth, and children are perfectly capable of that differentiation. Let’s not evolve a new Twinkie Defense.
It has everything to do with community, education, and social environment, three things that are now often conveyed through a less immediate and answerable medium than we’ve learned to deal with at this point. But read Joe’s article – he elucidates these and other ideas in far greater detail.
Thanks to Joseph Laycock for letting us know about the article.