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Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate

Virginia Kuhn, Author
Filmic Texts, page 6 of 14

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Digital Argument

Like many in this field, I see a great need to defend the intellectual aspects of work in the digital realm.  In these particular projects, which might be dubbed remix, media stylosMystory, or, as I refer to it, digital argument, it is most useful to talk about types of evidence a project can marshal to make its case. It is precisely this, the varying types of evidence that the form allows, which makes it such a rich possibility for the type of citation and analysis that are conventional academic practices. One of the biggest differences between filmic texts and their print-based counterparts is the inclusion of sound and movement in the former, which can significantly impact the affective response to these pieces. Sound is an area that needs far more research in terms of its scholarly potential. And while the ability of a soundtrack to change the way a piece is viewed is well demonstrated in Ways of Seeing, typically we begin with the images themselves.

Images, and especially moving images, have remained difficult to analyze in any sustained fashion due to technological constraints (e.g. the poor quality static pictures allowed by most book publications), but they are also generally relegated to the domain of emotion and not reason. Moreover, since images seem closer to real experience than do words, they are less amenable to explication by words alone. Analysis, a more rational endeavor sprung from verbal language, is often at odds with the affective. However, as Ron Burnett notes, "most moments of viewing or listening simultaneously interact with daydreams and thought processes,"; therefore,  he concludes, viewers metaphorically "move into images and outside of them" (48). The time is ripe for analyses which make extensive use of both images and explication, those that harness the ability to use images as both a statement and a critique of visually mediated culture.

Arabic Enemy 101 is a project done in response to an initial exercise in IML340 in preparation for the fuller final project. In many ways, this student project which was only a warm up assignment meant to familiarize students with sound and video editing, became a meta level justification for the course itself. Done by Luke Kraman and Simone Andrews, Arabic Enemy 101 visualizes the ways in which images circulate in current culture, both in Hollywood films, as well as in broadcast news coverage. It begins with footage from a 1950's educational film that champions the use of "a new teaching tool: the classroom film," but the students have substituted footage depicting Osama Bin Laden and the smoking twin towers of the World Trade Center after the planes hit on 9/11. Arabic Enemy 101 not only shows the ways in which stereotypes of Muslims circulate, it uses the metonymic aspects which the students identify as most salient to the (reductive) Muslim identity: turbans and beards. They show the way that George W. Bush argued that terrorism was rampant in Muslim countries, but centered attention to Iraq in order to justify the US invasion, while later showing Bush in a friendly pose with Saudi leaders. Using cinematic language, these students actualize the type of "reasoneon" that Gregory Ulmer conceptualizes: it is a way of appropriating the language of entertainment as a rhetorical strategy.
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