Green Media: How media makes meaning.

How do sounds, images, words, text make meaning?

  • In context. For example:
    • The sound “No” by itself has no meaning. It needs context or multiple contexts: for example.
      • The English language.
      • A situation, a child is about to run into a busy road, No!
      • A sentence, “There is no point in arguing.”
      • The context can make “No!” a scream of fear or an expression of laughing delight. So although I think humans know when no means no, we can also tell when it doesn’t.
  • By reference. Look at the first 12 seconds of Gasland by Josh Fox. WATCH it at least TWICE.
    • You see:
      • the logo for HBO Documentary
      • the logo for WOW films with an aeroplane behind it
  • What are the references with which you interpret these seconds? WATCH the first 5 seconds
    • Text – “HBO” – reference to a media company with a certain reputation, known for good TV drama, a little bit risk taking, but very solidly mainstream.
    • Text – “Documentary” – reference to a genre, non-fiction, serious combined with that HBO edginess
    • Color Black – connotes seriousness here I think, in other contexts could be mystery, evil, danger. What do the highlights signify?
    • Movement – the text comes in fractured and jagged and  makes a whole – speaks to how documentaries are assembled (?), labor of assembling information to craft a whole
    • Movement – the zoom of the letters is a little shaky and then they drift to the right – think about why this might be ?
  • FAQ: Isn’t it possible to over-interpret media?
    • My short answer is no. And especially no when we are talking short forms, logos and adverts that are made by big companies with a lot of money – the producers think about how everything in every frame makes meaning.
    • We could analyze those five seconds a lot more exhaustively, timing, font, sound etc. etc. But don’t worry we are not going to analyze the whole movie second by second! But we will do the next bit.
  • What are the references in seconds 6-11. WATCH them repeatedly.
    • Text – WOW – for many the most immediate reference will be World of Warcraft, I also thought of the Workers of the World and the Wobblies, a radical labor union founded in 1905 in Chicago. I think there are connotations in this choice of company name to both left wing and activist politics, and to popular media forms.
    • Text – International – again my thought processes go towards the left and the famous song of the socialist movement, the Internationale – here on Youtube (excuse please the ad!)
    • Image – something like a gas pipe/exhaust pipe silhouetted on the left –  referring to extractive industries, fossil fuels, gas pipelines
    • Image – airplane taking off –  referring to our collective use of fossil fuels, for business, pleasure – I think our collective responsibility is implied and will be contrasted with the lives of the people we will see in the film who are trashed by our collective demand for oil and gas.
    • Color – I will leave that one to you.
    • Movement – the shot jerks, jitters and slides (more analysis of this stylistic choice below)
  • Summary – context and reference create meaning
    • reference made by connotation, color-matching, juxtaposition, lateral thinking, opposition etc etc.
    • reference is made to the many systems of common knowledge in which we float
      • popular culture
      • science
      • politics
      • psychology
      • cultural norms
      • etc. etc. etc.
    • reference includes our knowledge about color, style and media itself

Take a short break

What is a documentary?

  • Like all media, documentary has a historical context and it is a genre that changes over time.
  • Some Current Norms of Documentary are:
    • Non-fiction
    • Adherence to journalistic norms of representing truth/facts
      • voice of authority
    • Informational/Objective
    • Reveals world/situation that most do not have access to
    • Avenue for showing injustice and thereby influencing opinion
  • Some major debates for Documentary
    • How/Can truth be represented?
    • How can other people’s (or animal’s) lives really be represented?
    • Whose authority is that voice of authority?

Gasland as Documentary – some of Josh Fox’s choices

  • WATCH from second 11 -second 32, repeatedly
    • you see/hear:
      • The background contrasts the natural beauty of mountains with polluting gas works.
      • Fox backs into shot wearing gas-mask and playing a banjo.
      • VO is his voice saying he has always had a lot of faith in people, that we won’t “succumb to frenzy or rage or greed …”
      • Lo fi cinematography
  • In this section –  before we even get to the  title  – we already see Fox’s choices about the kind of documentary this is and major themes: so analyzing  the points above in order.
  • The background contrast sets the major themes of the movie
    • natural beauty versus man-made devastation.
    • devastation impacts human health.
    • gas-mask connotes pollution and war – this is a fight.
  • Includes Self in Documentary
    • he is a participant/observer – not outside this situation
    • he is taking the position that it is more ethical to make clear your own position with regard to an issue than to pretend to be objective
  • Where is the Voice of Authority in the film?
    • “I have a lot of faith in people …”: as it develops the story comes not from experts but people on the ground – Fox is one of these people
      • includes two women experts (rather disheveled!)
    • contrasts the voices of these people with traditional voice of authority: clean and tidy government and corporate men in suits who do seem to  “succumb to frenzy or rage or greed …”
    • see list at the end of the experts and big corporations that would not speak to him
    • see moments all through of people in authority not speaking to him
    • underscores doubt in the objective voice of authority
  • Style: Shaky camera, much out of focus, low res, wandering about, fast cuts, jerking pans
    • more traditional documentaries may use a God’s eyeview, high resolution cinematograhy to underscore their objectivity and authority
    • Fox’s camera style connotes youtube videos of real events caught by any means possible – appealing to a different kind of street-level authority and authenticity.
    • Cinemotography is factured, uncertain, disturbing, broken  – as is the story he is telling and the people who are telling it – one interviewee says, don’t make it pretty.
    • WATCH  at 1 hour 38 minutes to the end, slower and steadier images here – why?