Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sense not Censorship 1 - Film

Back in November I attended the Annual Network event of the Bradford City of Film organisation held at The National Media Museum. We spent a pleasant hour catching up with the various projects and events that had taken place during the previous twelve months, and networked over coffee and biscuits in the foyer of the fabulous Pictureville Cinema.

After the break we reconvened in themed groups to discuss how each specific area might approach the next year or so. The groups included local businesses, tourist and hospitality and heritage services and, the group I was in, education and training. Some of the discussion was the around the logistics of learning about and through film. With the cost of digital camera equipment and editing software coming down considerably, most schools now have the kit to make their own films and use them as learning tools. In an increasingly visual and technology driven society this seems like a good thing. And no doubt it could be. But there was a slightly awkward silence when I mentioned that I thought what needed including in any level of education about film, from primary to PhD, was the moral and ethical aspects.
What prompted me to make this observation was a comment by someone else in the group who worked at a local primary school. She noted that children were now coming to school more 'film literate' than they were able to read or write. So great an influence on their young lives were TV and DVD that the children were more comfortable (and indeed more able) discussing their experiences using visual and filmic references. I hadn't really thought about this before but it certainly got my attention.
Film and the moving image, be it animation, television or computer generated, has enormous power and influence over people. Cinema propaganda was used by all sides during the Second World War to instil fear or national pride in their citizens. TV was said to be the new family hearth during the 60s and 70s, with 'must watch' programmes regularly pulling in audiences of 20 million plus. The satellite revolution that began in the late 1980s and has exploded into a multi-million making, multi-channel maze in the last few years has proffered more choice of viewing than we could ever desire. The technology around plasma and LCD screens and services such as BBC i-Player have revolutionised the way we watch and engage with the moving image.
Anyone who goes to the cinema knows that film is an immersive experience (even if they don't quite understand the concept) and with bigger screens, 3D, and surround sound, the experience is even more of a sensory overload. Even on the average domestic TV set with a 42inch screen the viewer can be affected. Imagine the effect on a child. The complexity of the imagery used nowadays coupled with the speed of the editing combined with increasingly sophisticated and augmented sound has the potential to do untold damage to the developing brain. So, we must all act responsibly; parents, teachers, film-makers.
I am not advocating censorship - this is not about curtailing creative freedom or stifling speech. I just think that we should be conscious in our decisions, and take time to consider any implications. If film literacy is to be taught in schools then a moral and ethical aspect is essential. If you understand the power of the moving image then you are better equipped to deal with it. The codes of genre, the politics of representation, and the rules of narrative structure should be discussed. This is not to take away the 'magic' of cinema, nor to diminish its artistic merit. Rather it is to make sense of what we are presented with (not only as children but as adults too) and to enjoy it from a secure base of consciousness.

Image and logo (c) Bradford City of Film

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Who is really responsible?

The recent violent protests against the Government's policy on University tuition fees and other aspects of student finance have divided opinion. For some, the sight of students protesting on the streets of the capital is a welcome sign that, at last, the younger generation have engaged with politics. For others, the protests are an indication that society is on the verge of collapse.
Of course, neither view is entirely correct. Images of criminal damage being caused, violent clashes between police and demonstrators, and (especially it seems) the attack on the car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall have been beamed all over the world polarising opinion. Once again, one particular image will dominate the front pages and news bulletins whilst the more complex story goes under-reported. And many people will call for tough sentences to be handed down to the culprits when they are arrested - and such a high profile incident will almost guarantee a series of arrests. How many of those people demanding such justice will ask the question of who is and was actually responsible for the behaviour witnessed recently?
The uncomfortable answer is that we are all responsible. It is too easy to accuse others, to point the finger and apportion blame. It is satisfying to be able to claim the moral high ground and watch someone else take the wrap. The truth of the matter is that we have failed in our duty to nurture and teach our young people in such a way as to make them conscious of and responsible for their own actions. We parents, teachers, older relatives and siblings, in short society as a whole have allowed this situation to occur. If we do not act swiftly to address then we shall be reaping a bitter harvest for some time to come.
Young people today are constantly bombarded with conflicting information; the media and advertising selling them an unobtainable dream of success without effort, rights without responsibility, and the ideal figure. Instead of asking them what they want or, more importantly, what they need we simply tell them what they should have. Young people have precious few opportunities to express their feelings or concerns, and lack the ability to do so in a coherent and cogent manner. Rather we feed them a hybrid diet of hyperbole and 'newspeak'; bite-sized chunks of information sensationalised and packaged to give maximum impact with minimum content.
Instead of listening to young people we ignore them, preferring them to plug themselves into technology that isolates them from others and promotes the self above all else. We provide them with an unlimited cyberworld where anything is possible to be experienced vicariously but do not provide them with real places to go to meet and interact with one another in a safe, secure environment. We feed them images of darkness, misery and horror (without context or explanation) and make ourselves feel better by telling ourselves that it is what they want. We sexualise virtually every product and service in order to make them consume more and then criticise and condemn teenage parents.
Reality TV - an oxymoron in itself - promotes the ideals of fame and wealth without work. When someone who was unsuccessful in one TV competition can win another one and become a millionaire by eating insects, what kind of aspiration do we set up in our young people? The X Factor perpetuates the myth that whatever your level of talent you will get your fifteen minutes of fame. What it does not show is the level of dedication and practice that it takes to be successful. When we have a host of so-called 'celebrities' who are famous simply for being famous it is no wonder that our young people will play up to a camera. Acts such as those seen at the Cenotaph are as much about getting seen on TV as they are about actual protest.
This brings us back to the student protests. The core issue is the tuition fee rise that will inevitably go ahead, and the impact of them on those from low income households. Many people feel that this is a direct attack on the poorer members of society - a method of social engineering to maintain a status quo and make Higher Education the preserve of the wealthy or well-connected. People are very angry about this but they lack an adequate means of expressing it. They don't trust the political system; after all what faith can you have in a system whereby the Government do not represent the opinions of the majority and the supposed leaders of that Government lack all moral fibre and the courage of their convictions?
So we may look upon the recent protests with disgust, we may condemn those few idiots who acted in criminal and violent ways, and we may call for swift and serious retribution for those acts, but we must also take the time to ask ourselves, honestly, who is really responsible?