Self-reflexive online documentation in the films Catfish, Four eyed monsters and We live in public

Pietersen, Greta (2016-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: It is widely held that the documentary mode of filmmaking is a subjective endeavor. Bill Nichols identifies an unspoken contract between the viewer and the filmmaker, that what is seen is to be believed. Often, when it comes to documentary films, viewers neglect to acknowledge how the filmmaker goes about in selectively interpreting “reality” for an audience. Bertolt Brecht believed that it is the encoder's responsibility to make the viewer aware of construction processes in a given representation. In this way a critical involvement with the material is ignited and consequently the viewer distances herself emotionally from the representation. Self-reflexive modes of filmmaking foreground the subjective nature of film by highlighting the process of construction. The viewer is thus prevented from suspending her disbelief, and prompted to decode the material actively. These signifiers of reflexivity can be indicated by the overt involvement of the filmmaker and the inclusion of filmic equipment. The presence of the camera is often obvious in reflexive representations, and the viewer becomes acutely aware of how it might influence authentic behavior of the subject filmed. The viewer is therefore not always able to see how a subject might react in her natural environment. The camera essentially represents the presence of an observing other. The documentaries to be discussed in this thesis all investigate subjects against a backdrop of social and interactive media. On these online platforms individuals are faced with the presence of gazing others who might interact or just voyeuristically observe. Here the subject internalizes the gaze and acts according to how she imagines the desire of the gazing other. The various social networking platforms documented in these films provide the individual with an environment in which she can construct and re-construct an image of self until she attains what she imagines is considered as ideal. A flexible form of narration is thus born due to the technical features characteristic of such online environments. The self might always go back and adapt and further manage/manipulate her image of self as she feels persistently surveyed by a community of gazing equals. Here there exists no gazing hierarchy: everyone is visible to everyone all the time, making selective self-fashioning and subsequent self-documentation challenging. The film and computer screens in which the self sees a reflection of her constructed self becomes something of a mirror: when the self witnesses her own reflection in this screen/mirror, she is faced with psychological processes of self-contextualizing. She must attempt to live up to that which she believes is desired by her societal Other. The self, forever aware of the ubiquitous gazing others in these environments, is always adjusting her concept of self accordingly. Her constant re-adjustment of her mediated self in such environments serves as a form of self-documentation also orientated towards the imagined perception of an other. My thesis surveys the representational politics of the process of producing a filmic documentation of these processes of online self-documentation.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die dokumentêre film medium word dikwels aanskou as ʼn subjektiewe genre. Bill Nichols glo dat daar ʼn spesiale verhouding tussen die skepper van ʼn film en die kyker bestaan: die kyker aanvaar dikwels bloot die inhoud wat vir haar voorgestel en namens haar geïnterpreteer word sonder om die skeppingsproses daaragter te bevraagteken.Volgens Bertolt Brecht is dit die skepper se verantwoordelikheid om ʼn kritiese betrokkenheid by die gehoor te ontlont en emosionele verbintenis met die materiaal te verbreek. Die self-refleksiewe voorstellingsmodus maak die kyker bewus van die subjektiewe aard van film deur dat dit konstruksie prosesse blootstel wat op sy beurt die kyker aanmoedig om die materiaal intellektueel te aanskou. Sulke refleksiewe elemente kan aangedui word deur die blatante gebruik van die teenwoordige filmmaker en filmiese toerusting. Die soms duidelike teenwoordigheid van die kamera in self-refleksiewe dokumentêre voorstellings skep ʼn bewussein onder die kyker dat die subjek se optrede voor die kamera dikwels minder outentiek is as wat dit sou wees in die subjek se natuurlike omgewing. Basies, dui die kamera daarop dat ʼn kykende ander bestaan. Die dokumentêre wat ek gaan bespreek in hierdie tesis speel almal af teen ʼn milieu van sosiale interaktiewe media. In sulke virtuele omgewings word die individu gekonfronteer met ander teenwoordige interaktiewe lidmate of selfs voyeuristiese toeskouers. Die subjek kan beïnvloed word in sulke omgewings deur die teenwwordigheid van ʼn ander. Sy internaliseer die blik van ʼn kykende ander en tree op volgens hoe sy haar voorstel die ander begeer. Die verskeie sosiale netwerk platvorms wat ondersoek word in hierdie dokumentêre skep ʼn omgewing vir die individu waar sy ʼn idee van die self kan vorm en weer hervorm. Hierdie proses kan voortgesit word totdat sy die beeld bereik van wat sy haar verbeel ideaal is. Die tegniese implementeeie aan sulke virtuele omgewings skep die potensiaal vir buigsame narratiewe prosesse. Die self is daartoe instaat om keer op keer haar eie geskepte beeld van die self te manipuleer en aan te pas soos wat sy konstant dopgehou word in ʼn omgewing waar gemeenskaplikke waarneming die norm is. In dié omgewing bestaan daar nie ʼn hiërargie onder die verskeie kykers nie: almal is daartoe instaat om na almal te kyk. Dit kompliseer selektiewe self-skepping en gevolglike self-dokumentasie aangesien die self voel sy word konstant dopgehou. Die rekenaar/filmiese skerm waarin die self haar eie refleksie gewaar dien as ʼn tipe spieël:wanneer die self haar eie refleksie gewaar in hierdie skerm/spieël, word sy gekonfronteer met psigologiese prosesse van self-konteksualisering. Die self, alewig bewus van die alomteenwoordige kykende ander in hierdie omgewings, moet probeer om te voldoen aan wat sy haar verbeel ideaal is volgens ʼn ander.Die individu se konstante aanpassing van haar virtuele self in sulke omgewings dien as self-dokumentasie wat gerig is op die voorgestelde persepsie van ʼn ander. My tesis aanskou die filmiese voorstelling van verskeie dokumentêre wat handel oor aanlyn self-dokumentasie.

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