Write a blog post and see if you can figure out how to embed a flickr set into your blog post. Write about the reason why you selected those photos. Write about the story you are trying to say with any of them.
Along with the minimal effort it took to personalize what was already a very personal Flickr account for me – I changed a couple of photo names and descriptions, before ultimately renaming my account after myself – this was actually one of my easier tasks to date, as important as it was, because it allowed me to show everything I’ve done, to a logical extent, in this class so far. The story I’m telling is, basically, my life story. This is a tale of someone who wants to fit in, and wants to be remembered, both for all the right reasons, despite his lack of social skills, mostly due to living with Asperger’s Syndrome his entire life, getting in his way, more often than not. He’s lived a pretty good life, all things considered, and as much as his dialogue tends to be out of this world, he does everything that he can to stay down to earth.
One important part of this week’s checklist was to listen in on “three” separate episodes of This American Life, Radiolab, or The Truth, and try to identify how effective the use of audio was for telling these specific stories, with one episode of The Truth consisting of three sketches of our choosing. Given our playlists, I chose “Getting Away With It,” from This American Life; “Ghost Stories,” from Radiolab; and three sketches from The Truth, which you’ll hear about later.
Throughout the events of “Getting Away With It,” the anecdotes feel like intimate conversations, disguised as on-location interviews. As the narrator, Glass is talking about the situation itself, not from his own, personal perspective, but from a neutral corner, wherein both he and the person he’s interviewing share the spotlight.
After Glass has his moments of reflection, the co-narrator has theirs, and vice versa. While this is going on, the background noise gives off the feel of actually being there as the story unfolds; the sound of an airplane, in mid-flight, makes you sympathize with the Knee Defender user, as he explains his situation to the stewardess in the most awkward fashion you can imagine.
At the conclusion of the prologue story, Glass brings up the recurring theme of that week’s stories, as people don’t just want to get away with something, but they also want to make it so that no one judges them for what they did. “If we can get away with something completely, with no one ever knowing, nobody judging us, and, just as important, nobody really hurt, we give it a shot,” he said.
The main stories are told exclusively by the co-narrator, again from a neutral corner, telling Glass and the listeners everything they recall about their respective stories, as if it had just occurred. The choice of background music ensures the audience pays attention to what’s going on, despite some cases where it doesn’t fit the given situation; a story about a trucker smuggling marijuana to keep his family out of debt features “Wild West” music for one scene, about said trucker’s wife and son making sure the local customs office was closed, to prevent the father from being fined further.
As for “Ghost Stories,” things take a turn for the eccentric. While the opening to This American Life reveals the call letters of the show’s parent station in a straightforward manner – Ira directly announces the introduction of each episode by saying, “From WBEZ Chicago, it’s This American Life…” – Radiolab‘s intro splices several sound bytes together, to make it sound like multiple people are saying the same thing: “You’re listening to Radiolab, from WNYC, and NPR.”
Another difference between This American Life and Radiolab is that Glass eases you into the experience, by showing you one story out of the many to follow, while the co-hosts of Radiolab cut to the chase, and tell you what to expect that week. This episode, as the title explains, is “a whole hour about ghosts,” and the possessions and hauntings associated with them, or caused by them.
The audio, when it does show up, fits the scenes more coherently in “Ghost Stories,” from cues introducing Jad Abumrad’s guests, to background music and sound effects allowing listeners to visualize a given scene, as it takes place. Several moments of silence, save for Jad and the guest’s dialogue with each other, take place, with the only exceptions being several bits of audio editing, to further emphasize key points of the current story; an echo effect temporarily amplifies the voices of both Abumrad and Mary Roach, as they tell the tale of Thomas Lynn Bradford’s quest to confirm that there is, in fact, an afterlife.
The sound effects, when they don’t tell the story directly, are there to set the atmosphere of a given scene in a Radiolab story, whereas This American Life lets the story sell itself, providing background noise when necessary. From time to time, several seconds of dead air emphasize moments of suspense, making you feel like you’re hearing this story while huddled around a campfire after dark.
In a case of reading between the lines, another cut of the opening segment features not only a promo for the encore presentation of a “Cast Party” event involving several other WNYC shows, including Radiolab, but another advertisement, starring Abumrad himself, promoting a sponsor for that week’s broadcast, while the episode, in its entirety, only aired the “Cast Party” encore promo. Instead of using foley artists to provide the sound effects, the bonus ad was recorded outdoors, uncut and unedited, while construction equipment and wind could be heard in the background; Abumrad even points this out, in a show of humanity, before going into the promo proper.
My final selections for the evening were three sketches from The Truth: “Third Party,” “The Modern Prometheus,” and “The Death of Poe.” These radio dramas, marketed as “movies for your ears,” can be summed up as a modern-day equivalent of anthology shows like The Outer Limits, Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone; each episode contains a separate story, intended to show the world from a lesser-known, and much more imaginative, perspective.
Compared to Radiolab‘s use of sound effects when the best reactions possible can be brought out of the audience, and This American Life taking a down-to-earth approach to sound editing, making any situation feel like something a listener might have some day, the layering of sounds in episodes of The Truth makes you feel like you’re right there, in the middle of a given scene. In “Third Party,” the opening minutes are spent in Mike Coleman’s campaign office, with a series of typewriters playing in the background, during Coleman’s talk with two FBI agents, a sound effect used repeatedly throughout the episode; this, combined with the suspenseful music that plays as the conversation gets creepier, provide not only a feeling of realism for the characters, and the world they live in, but an aura of dread for listeners to pick up, as well, knowing that Coleman could very well be the next victim of a serial killer, intent on preserving what he believes to be the order of a two-party system.
“The Modern Prometheus,” on the other hand, capitalizes on the Citizens United decision of 2010 by literally giving a random corporate computer sentience, in a similar vein as HAL 9000, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to the bloodless body count. Any two specific scenes in this story are interwoven with a series of election-themed attack ads, “paid for” by the fictional Healthcare United, which represents all the political action groups founded in the wake of Citizens United, to say nothing of the “Obamacare” scandals that were dominating the news a few years ago.
To prove how serious “Obamacare” was at the time, the opening ad, sounding like something straight out of a Fox News telecast, uses a piano riff that sounds like the theme to John Carpenter’s Halloween, a well-timed use of the Headless Horseman’s laugh from Walt Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and a thunderstorm sound effect at the conclusion, complete with gusts of wind, for good measure; the acting of the announcer, specifically, fits the Fox News archetypes – he has a smug personality, a smarmy tone of voice, and thinks he knows everything, when he most likely doesn’t – perfectly, to the point that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between him and an actual tabloid news announcer.
As for what’s going on behind the scenes, the personality provided by each character’s respective voice actor, gives off an illusion of bearing witness to everything that occurs, and being powerless to stop any of it. This feeling is strengthened as things get increasingly scandalous for everyone that gets caught in the proverbial crosshairs, up to, and including, Elizabeth, the HAL stand-in for this story, activating the fire alarm in self-defense after her creator threatens to unplug her, further connecting this story to 2001, while also distancing the two from each other, in the process.
Both in the ads and in the actual story, the layering of sounds and music in each scene is methodically paced. The reason for this is twofold: to add to the realism of the situation, as much of a fantasy as stories like this tend to be, but most of all, to make you feel like this is either currently happening, or might actually happen someday, especially given how advanced technology has become in the past few decades alone.
This brings us to a very special episode of The Truth, and my final review subject for this evening: “The Death of Poe,” previously based on Matthew Mercier’s real-life short story, “Poe and I,” about Mercier’s time as the caretaker of Edgar Allan Poe’s final estate before his death, wondering how the author of The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue spent his last days. Given how crazy the first two stories were, from both an auditory and an atmospherical aesthetic, the last one, suffice it to say, wasn’t going to let up on those feelings of fear and terror any time soon; while the scenes leading up to anyone’s death is going to have a hint of tragedy to them, the voice actors added a comedic tint to the affair, from time to time, namely Edgar’s initial run-in with a female representative of the Whig Party, and how he becomes increasingly obsessed with killing the oversized rats in her estate, even as he’s being forced to vote for the Whigs, under penalty of death, despite being under the heavy influence of opium, as the story brings up at one point.
For this episode, the production staff decided to re-air Mercier’s original short story, from start to finish, while editing their own dialogue over the original lines from the story, as if it were an original tale made specifically for the show; the episode even begins with a cold open, similar to the one from “It’s a Good Life,” an episode of The Twilight Zone, while still keeping its focus on the story it wants to tell. The end result is basically a scene from an episode of Radiolab, if it leaned less towards science-fiction, and more towards horror; the “Man in Purple’s” warning that he would “raise up the spirit of Poe” is rather jarring when it’s first shoved into Mercier’s original narration, fitting for the state of shock such an announcement would likely make in real life.
The story uses the right amount of sound editing to keep up the illusion of bearing witness to any given scene, be it in a bar, or Edgar’s old estate, but makes sure that this can also fit in as something from This American Life, as Mercier’s short story is performed in the same, up-close manner as Ira Glass and his guests tend to do on air, flashbacks and all; there’s as much of a focus on Edgar’s brief opium addiction, and subsequent Election Day cooping, as there is the caretaker reacting to the Man in Purple’s story of how Poe died, as well as when a giant rat invaded Edgar’s old estate on his watch. Ultimately, the mixture of the two makes this experience even more worthwhile when you first hear it, as it’s a bonafide example of the truth being stranger than fiction.
Overall, these episodes and sketches show me a myriad of ways that a story can be told without visual aids; whether I do so with the direct, human approach of Ira Glass, the bizarre, attention-grabbing methods of Jad Abumrad and company, or the slow-burning, heart-pounding means of the cast and crew of The Truth, is all up to me in the end. I don’t have to worry about what identity I’ll take to the big stage just yet, but now that I see the world of radio with new eyes, I’ll make sure not to take it, or any medium I use to get my points across, for granted.
My last official project for the week is to choose at least one work from a previous participant of DS106, and describe how it falls under the “digital story” banner. My nomination is the short film, “3,000 Miles in 30 Seconds(ish)” by Emily S. May. In all sincerity, I like this because of how it feels like a tourism ad, but doesn’t outright spoil the entirety of the trip. The song chosen for the film sounds like a commercial jingle, and by focusing on the road ahead, and not the local monuments, it provides us with a feeling that a stay that long should be seen to be believed. It feels like a digital story because it speaks of a woman’s want to see the world, and although she doesn’t tell us the whole story, she gives us just enough for us to fill in the blanks for ourselves, without too much trouble along the way.
Another advantage of this particular video was its use of subtlety to get its message across. While the real-life backstory of the film mentions a point of despair in Miss May’s life, had you presented the movie to someone with no previous knowledge of her woes, they would suspect that she was someone who liked to go sight-seeing, and was taking her audience along for the ride with her stop-motion photo collection. You see, the thing about storytelling, as Kurt Vonnegut pointed out in my last entry, is that not all stories have to be bad for long. Some can have a bad ending, but not everything has to be bad all the time.
As I’ve previously implied, a good digital storyteller has to be willing to exaggerate life, in order to prove their point. In this case, it’s the fact that we’re traveling 2,800 miles, from New Jersey to California, in approximately twenty-five seconds. Given how fast you have to speed up the slideshow, to actually make the week-long trip feel that quick, that’s no easy task. It does make sense, considering everything Miss May had been through in New York, but I digress.
While it does work well on its own, for the visual aesthetic, it’s actually stronger if it were a part of a larger story arc. In this case, I’m referring to Miss May’s road to recovery as a whole, given that the aforementioned troubles she went through in New York City included, according to her, “a job I hated that kept me in the office way past my bedtime, a commute I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and a severely broken heart.” If anything, seeing new sights might be what someone needs to cheer up after an extended bout of depression, like what Miss May had. Overall, I hope she’s made peace with her past life, and I hope she does well in her new one.
The late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., is one of the most provocative authors in modern literary history for a reason. By combining surrealist science-fiction with biting social satire, he changed the face of the written word for decades to come. Nowadays, you can’t even think of the great literary works of the 20th century, without including the likes of Harrison Bergeron, Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five. To Vonnegut himself, however, none of these novels and short stories represented his greatest personal triumph, and that’s where this assignment comes in.
In his essay collections, Palm Sunday and A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut talks about an anthropology thesis he wrote, in which he says that the collective high and low points of the main character’s development, in any given story, could be placed on a graph, in order to better explain exactly how this chain of events takes shape. The lynchpin of Vonnegut’s argument was the Cinderella story, which, to him, was “the most popular story in our civilization,” to the point that “every time it’s retold, somebody makes another million dollars.” One of the more defining examples of this, in my opinion, was the 1984 movie, The Karate Kid, starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel, and the late Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. Miyagi. That’s because, according to Vonnegut’s thesis, Daniel LaRusso’s journey, from Cobra Kai bait to karate master, follows the Cinderella template perfectly.
For those of you who want to follow along, the full story sounds like this:
(-) 1. Daniel and his mother move from Newark, New Jersey, to California.
(+) 2. Daniel meets the apartment’s handyman, and befriends Ali…
(-) 3. …leading to a series of violent altercations with a gang of bullies, led by Johnny, Ali’s ex-boyfriend.
(+) 4. The handyman, Mr. Miyagi, comes to Daniel’s aid following another of Johnny’s gang’s attacks.
(+) 5. Following a meeting between Miyagi and the sensei of Johnny’s dojo, Daniel is entered into a karate tournament against Johnny and his “Cobra Kai” classmates.
(-) 6. As it happens, however, Mr. Miyagi’s training regimen primarily consists of common household chores, which “Daniel-san” outright compares to slavery.
(+) 7. Things start to improve between teacher and student, when Mr. Miyagi reveals that Daniel is improving his muscle memory through these chores, which allows him to learn more defensive techniques for the tourney.
(+) 8. Miyagi’s karate lessons also help turn Daniel’s home life around, including his friendship with Ali.
(+) 9. Daniel makes it to the semi-final round of the tourney…
(-) 10. …before his opponent, a “Cobra Kai” student, is told to injure him, leading to a disqualification.
(+) 11. Daniel decides to finish the tournament on one good leg…
(-) 12. …as Johnny gets the order, from his own sensei, to, quote, “sweep the leg.”
(+) 13. Daniel uses the “Crane” kick to defeat Johnny, win the tournament, and stop the bullying once and for all.
(+) 14. The movie ends with Johnny himself giving Daniel the trophy, out of new-found respect for “Daniel-san.”
All in all, I actually agree with Vonnegut’s theory, regarding how stories take shape. It provides realistic perspectives on the events of specific stories, and shows where, and when, things get better, or worse, for the main characters. Admittedly, the happy ending loses its relevance after audiences become old enough to know better, and not just because it’s been overused. Vonnegut, though, believed the Cinderella story should stand alongside “man-in-hole” and “boy-meets-girl” stories, because, although all three are cherished literary archetypes, only one of them was popular enough to stand the test of time, as long as it has.
As for what I consider to be a digital story, my vote goes to Zachary Weiner and Joshua Burner’s review of “Hearts and Hooves Day,” a second-season episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The review proper mixes scenes of live-action footage, stop-motion animation, and computer-generated models. The sound and music cues fit the situations accordingly, the narration makes sense, given the reviewers’ expertise, and the final product doesn’t leave anyone confused about what’s going on. It’s a straightforward comedy, about taking simple misunderstandings to their most logical extremes, seeing the error of your ways, and, of course, making sure you do the right thing the second time around.
THE FOLLOWING IS WRITTEN IN THE STYLE OF RADIO DEAD AIR‘S NASH BOZARD.
One of the major advantages of technology is that it has made life more convenient, especially for the socially awkward among us who find it hard to make friends through more traditional methods. Unfortunately, even something as simple as auditory aid can be made all the more complicated, once the human element – by which I mean, willful ignorance – is introduced.
From the inappropriately named town of Manassas, Virginia, comes the other thing you think of when you hear the word, “rear-ender.”
Samantha Winslow, 23, having just gotten her license returned to her following a suspension for driving under the influence, told her boyfriend and fellow college student, Matthew de la Cruz, to take the wheel for her, so she could flash herself, for old times’ sake. Of course, there was only one problem: Matthew had yet to pass his own driver’s license test.
The end result was equally as academic: a multi-car pile-up on Route 3 ensued, complete with Samantha smashing through the windshield of her car, leading to several thousand dollars’ worth of repairs to be made, both to the other wrecked vehicles, as well as Samantha’s own busted headlight.
Police at the scene go on to note that nobody died as a result of the crash, but that is the only positive thing of note in this story.
What in the wonderful world of Disney is wrong with you, lady?
You let someone, without a learner’s permit, much less an actual license, drive for you so you could take a selfie! Have you never considered waiting, until after you returned home, to start bragging to your Facebook friends about your newly-reclaimed license?
To me, storytelling is the exaggeration of life, to prove a point. Regardless of the methods used, it seems that storytelling is meant to be as nonsensical as possible, provided the message is still clear enough in the end for the audience to understand. It also seems that, no matter how old they become over the years, the only way for readers to pay attention to the morals provided by the author, inadvertent or otherwise, is for the story to be over-the-top and zany.
For example, children’s stories, like Aesop’s fables, taught younger readers and listeners valuable lessons about life, and the importance of using common sense to solve your problems, instead of jumping to conclusions. They mostly did this by using talking animals, to represent the kind of people who would best fit in each situation. The lion gets himself caught in a net, and needs the help of a mouse, that he almost ate earlier, to escape. The tortoise turned down all of the potential distractions, leading to him winning the race, over the easily-swayed hare.
Young adult novels, on the other hand, especially in the last decade or so, are geared towards a more “complex” market, while still keeping the simplicity of Aesop’s fables. A troubled teenager helps one misunderstood outsider, if not several of them, see the error of their ways, ultimately by any means necessary, and be rewarded for it with their dreams come true. While the best-sellers of today may look like poorly-developed wish fulfillment, at best, the whimsy of Golden Books and Reading Rainbow are still there. Most of these modern franchises, like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games, are just as guilty of Disneyesque fantasy fare as anything else that children used to learn to read, back when they were young.
Telling a good story all comes back to taking any event, real or fictional, and making it your own, so long as the lesson is learned. Comic book icon Stan Lee created the X-Men franchise as a morality play on oppressed minorities, in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, with the intent of empowering them to be better than what many people still perceived them to be at the time. While Rocky Marciano is the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history, Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, is still considered to be the “Greatest of All Time,” because he told a believable story, of a gifted fighter’s rise to power, and fall from grace, throughout his active boxing career. Everyone is the writer of their own story, but no one’s going to read it unless something of value, and of substance, can be found when you read between the lines.
This does not change when the advent of digital storytelling comes in. If life is like a movie at times, then the modern storyteller has the potential to literally make a moving picture. Once the footage is edited on YouTube, and the soundtrack is provided by SoundCloud, you can premiere your new film on Vimeo, and promote it on Twitter, with a poster you uploaded on Flickr. However, while technology does simplify the job in the short run, and more effective in the long run, the way that stories are told hasn’t even gotten a facelift from this turn of events. While the images on the screen vary between sites, the opportunity continues to exist, and persist, for all kinds of media to show far more than what we normally see and hear, but the story that links everything together still has to be told. We can feel like we’re at the exact location that a story unfolded, hearing the witnesses call for help, seeing the worst possible things occur before our very eyes, but the story itself still has to be told. Even then, the audiences still won’t buy it if the message is incomprehensible enough to drag the production down. If anything, digital storytelling is like those special edition re-releases of popular films from decades ago. The film stock has been remastered, but the story, and its goal, stay the same.