Every day I’m being erased

I have been witnessing myself being erased at work every single day.

Microagressions. Macroaggressions.

Aggressions are negative feelings that you should not quantify and then compare

between your color and mine.

Being Asian does not mean that my existence is less important than yours.

Being non-American does not mean that you’re entitled to subjugating me to your violence.  Speech violence.  Speech acts.

Back fires.

When to say okay.  It’s not okay.  Stop that.

Stop being you, being me, being us.

“Assumption makes an ass between U and m(e).”

I’m responsible for what you assume of me.

I’m responsible for you being you, me being me.

Knock.  Knock.

Anyone there?



My Own Ambivalence about the “Power” of Digital Storytelling

It is difficult for me to decide whether I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future of digital storytelling.  I decide to stay ambivalent.  I acknowledge the advantage of it being a more accessible channel for everyday people to get their voices out there, while at the same time I wonder if it is sufficient to just get the voice out there.  As Angeline Koh kindly points out in her comments to my post, that digital storytelling is “not just about storyTELLING but about story LISTENING.”  I think what is to follow after we get the voices out is in line with the performative power of these voices—how should we make these voices heard and trigger changes, no matter how insignificant these changes are.  This is why, to me, it is perfectly fine that the digital storytelling is “political”—sometimes they should be more than just personal—and that political take in the digital storytelling should not be the element that alters the sense of “intimacy” of the story.  If all utterances are ultimately performative, as J. L. Austin asserts in How to Do Things with Words, then we should always keep in mind the real cause of all our stories.  Why do we want our voice to be heard?  So that people would understand us more, and there will be more love and care in this world, instead of hatred and rage.

My friend Ned made the following observation on his blog:

it is important, however, as Ginsburg warns to lead with cautious optimism.  It could be argued that giving voice to people is illusionary.  It creates an illusion of a public sphere, an illusion of a place where political action can take place.  As Ginsburg says, “questions of the digital age look different to people struggling to control land and traditions appropriated by now dominant settler societies for as long as five hundred years” (615).  In other words, we must be careful not to champion the voice granted through digital storytelling because it can be used as another form of communicative capitalism—it could be used as a way to steal, oppressed and marginalized groups through the illusion of voice and agency.

And I concur.  I also made some similar suggestion in my discussion of the pros and cons of digital storytelling serving as a new global performing platform.  We should really be wary of why we want to create equal access for everyone to get their own voice out there.  Perhaps, in order to counter that illusion of voice of agency is not to deny the political side of the digital storytelling.

Bryan Alexander voices a more positive view about the future of digital storytelling on his blog.  His optimism is related to how social media (one major site for digital storytelling) is employed for political purposes and social activism.  In this sense, let me return to another response to Angeline’s comment, perhaps one of the conundrums faced by the current digital storytelling is precisely that they are being “too personal,” and perhaps sometimes for changes to occur, a little too political is also necessary?  But as I mentioned earlier, for me the personal is always already political, and there is no shame in admitting that.  So let me end with my own digital storytelling as a response.  What do I want to achieve through my digital storytelling?  What is the politics involved in narrating how much I miss Taiwan?  I have one major goal—to announce that Taiwan is an independent country.  We are not Taipei, China.  We are not a province of China.  In my narration, Taiwan is a country and it is a beautiful country.  That is how I’d like to push my personal story to a political one.  As for how many people will “listen” to my message?  That is not for me to decide, but at least I tried.  That trying is a crucial first step in rendering digital storyTELLING a process of LISTENING, a process of meaning-making and a two-way communication.

You should try, too.

Analysis of DSA and My Own Storylistening

Theoretically, my goal for this section is to perform a meta-analysis of my own digital storytelling, since my project came from a response to what I found lacking in the stories showcased on the DSA websites (even though in the extended YouTube channel that Angeline Koh suggests, the stories could be more diverse, but as the main website construct the preliminary impression of the viewer, I intend to maintain my original response to DSA).  Instead of conducting a detailed analysis of the digital storytelling on the DSA, I will focus on my own digital storytelling piece and see how my story succeeds in or fails to meet the following aspects of my analysis.

  1. “Is it a small-scale story?”
    My digital storytelling is a self-representation by myself.  Different from DSA or Capture Wales, no set guidance was received from a larger institution or group collaboration with any experts.  That being said, this story is a small-scale story both in its endeavor and its audience.  This is also my first try with digital storytelling.  I guess the audience could tell that this is made by an amateur—nothing fancy in this piece, not in the pictures I selected or through the way I delivered my story.  It is five-minute long video, but I feel that is also as far as I could put together for that topic.  The program I used for editing is Windows Mover Maker—a free software available for everyone who has a PC, and the program is very easy to commend.  It is also a small-scale story in terms of its topic, which involves a specific point of view—what Jung-Hsien Lin misses about her hometown.
  2. “Does it speak of everyday culture?”
    I try to portray Taiwan and Taiwanese culture through my digital storytelling.  That is, what I want to achieve through my own story is that it not only tells a story about a specific individual but also about something broader.  In this piece, that “something broader” is the everyday Taiwanese culture that I included.  Why does it matter that people know anything about Taiwan while I am telling my story?  It matters because the everyday Taiwanese culture is intertwined with the identity formation of Jung-Hsien Lin.  The story of Jung-Hsien Lin cannot become “personal” to you, the audience, unless you also know something about Taiwan.  But it is not “anything” about Taiwan; in particular, it is specific things that Jung-Hsien wants her audience to know about Taiwan.  In learning these tiny little details about Taiwan, my audience is concurrently learning about the everyday Taiwanese culture, and more importantly, they are learning about the narrator, me.  Everyday culture is always personal and political.
  3. “Does my story give a voice and how do I take that voice?”
    In my digital storytelling, I endeavor to occupy both positions of giving myself voice and taking that voice (and not sure if this is a successful attempt).  I do not really follow any solid guidelines from any institutions (and even though I produce this piece for my course, Dr. Juhasz gives us maximum freedom in the production), which means that my piece will not be associated with any larger “authoritative” organizations.  I narrate my own story in the way that I want it to be.  I delivery that story in my regular manner of speaking, and I compose my own script without requiring the permission of any instructors or institutions.  I would say that it represents a rather “authentic” voice of mine.  This authenticity should also be attributed to its being small-scale and of everyday culture, as mentioned in the earlier paragraphs.  It is what I claimed to be what I’m missing, and no one could accuse me of “Jung-Hsien Lin is lying because she actually does not miss X, Y, and Z.”  In other words, it becomes a story that only “I” can tell.  So I am giving myself a voice in making this story, and I am also taking that voice by uploading it to YouTube (to make it public).  Now the question is, it is “personal” and “intimate” (according to my statement), but does that guarantee that my story is a “good” story as far as my audience is concerned?
  4. “What about the quality?”
    Now let us talk about the issues of “bad video.”  Since I also uploaded my own digital storytelling to YouTube, it becomes a public work that other people can judge.  According to the glossary in Learning from YouTube by Alexander Juhasz, bad video is defined as “YouTube videos that do not attend to the conventional norms of quality, particularly in relation to form (lighting, framing, costume, make-up, editing, sound recording and mixing, performances, etc.)” while, on the other hand, “Good form is requirement for effective (or at least viewed) public expression of experiences that are not personal” (http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/learningfromyoutube/texteo.php?composite=76&tour=7).  My super amateur video does not really attend to details of picture qualities or sound qualities, and the quality of my sound recording is also not the best.  So I guess, by definition, my video is sort of “bad.” (What?!)  However, since one of the main goals of digital storytelling is to get the diverse individual voices out to the world, it is anticipated that the quality of the video will not always meet the standards of the professional.  Given the nature of my digital storytelling being so personal, is it likely to be exempted from being labeled so directly as “good” or “bad” but replace the label with “interesting” or “boring” instead?  Perhaps my story will be referred to as a “bad” production by the professional or “boring” by the general public.  Thus said, is it enough to just get someone’s voice out there (let’s assume that the voice is at least authentic)?  Furthermore, without being endorsed by any specific institutions or organizations, I also know that “my voice” will soon be lost in the sea of “(bad) videos” on YouTube or on the Internet.  So does it matter that I think it is good?
  5. “Is digital storytelling a new performance space/new platform?”
    It is true that digital storytelling opens up new performances space or platform for self-representations.  The beauty of the space lies in being global and transcultural—this is how people all over the world may come to know about the grandma’s story from Capture Wales or the kid’s story from DSA.  As Barrie Stephenson states in his comments on my previous post, “if the differing style of stories from the UK and Asia may have more to do with the different cultures rather than political constraints.”   While it is beneficial that people from different cultural background can learn to appreciate another culture through digital storytelling, my fear is that people from different cultural background may also misinterpret another culture through these specific, personal as well as political, individual stories.  (For example, if a Taiwanese comes across a digital storytelling that a racist American tells by chance, I hope s/he does not jump to the conclusion that this has more to do with the American culture at large, if there is any.)  Although the future of this new performing space appears highly promising for now, I think we should also be cautious about how the experiences shared or linked in this space do not fall into the trap of exploitation or abusive misuses in the very act of sharing and linking per se.

Continuing the Conversation…

I had to confess that what truly motivated me to do a digital storytelling of my own should be traced back to a previous blog post and the comments I received for this blog post (https://linj12.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/bbc-digital-storytelling/#comments).  In my original post, my intention was merely to compare the different vibes between Digital Storytelling Aisa (DSA) and Capture Wales from BBC websites, especially in terms of how they establish the sense of intimacy and “authority” to their own audience.  My assumption (or/and question) concerning that aspect was whether “the sponsor” affects the tone underlying these digital storytelling.  In that blog post, infelicitously, I stated that BBC was founded by the British government and DSA was “sponsored” by Digital Storytelling US—since on their website it says:

Digital Storytelling Asia is endorsed by

Center for Digital Storytelling

Digistories, UK

And for that specific, “faulty”, observation of mine, I had the honor to receive correction from both Barrie Stephenson, the owner of digistories in the UK and Angelina Koh, the co-founder and co-owner of DSA.  Here is the conversation:

Please may I correct a few factual points in this blog. I am the owner of digistories in the UK and you refer to me as a sponsor of DSA. This is incorrect. I have endorsed the work of DSA – Angelina Koh is a good friend and I spent a week in Singapore as she was starting DSA but I have never been a sponsor.
I was formerly the Executive Producer of BBC Telling Lives, a project similar to BBC Capture Wales but in England. The BBC is not sponsored of funded by the British government. The BBC is independent of the government and operates under a Royal Charter. It is funded by the British public through a licence fee. It is not funded from taxation.
I’m sure you also know that the BBC Capture Wales project was inspired by the work of the Centre for Digital Storytelling in California and Joe Lambert was engaged in the initial training of facilitators in Wales.
Your observation about the influence of politics is interesting but I wonder if the differing style of stories from the UK and Asia may have more to do with the different cultures rather than political constraints. My experience of facilitating workshops in the UK, the US and Singapore is that people everywhere have fascinating personal stories to tell. The main constraint in my workshops would be a bit of guidance from me to save them from revealing too much about their life events to avoid embarrassment when the digital story is shown in public!
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of these points further.
All the best, Barrie Stephenson. digistories.co.uk

Hello Barrie, thanks for pointing that out the incorrect observations I’ve made. I did not intend to “misrepresent” anything in my blog, and I’m just writing down my observation. I’m glad you answered some of the questions I had while I was reading these two different sites. However, as an native Asian myself, I do not really see how the style should be in any way intrinsic to our culture, but rather, I feel it corresponds more to “the Asian Thing” in the eyes of the Westerners. There is no right or wrong, it is just my observation. I’m not even critiquing that DSA does not do a good job in terms of digital storytelling. I’m actually eager to see how the Asian culture could be played out in such media venues and make true Asian voice known to other parts of the world, which was why I chose to pick this site for comparison in my assignment. Again, thank you most sincerely for looking at my blog and make meaningful comments!

Jung-Hsien: I am interested to see how you understand that the institutional frameworks that initiate these digital stories does structure the sensibility and tone of what is produced. Digital Storytelling is typically thought of as sponsored by institutions that teach and support real people gaining access to expressing their stories publicly, but the institutional frame, as well as the technological structure, profoundly affects the “voice” of these pieces of new media. It is really cool that Barrie Stephenson wrote to you, and I think it might be interesting to continue that conversation!

Yes, I was very surprised and excited to see Barrie Stephenson leave a response. I’m thinking about doing a digital storytelling of Asian culture for my final project, and I hope I will be able to get my point across!

Hello Linj, Elaine, Theresa, Sydney, Alex, and Jung-Hsien.

Thank you for picking http://www.digitalstorytellingasia.com as part of your case study.

I am the co-founder and co-owner of Digital Storytelling Asia (DSA). Like Barrie, please allow me to respond to the observations and correct factual errors as well.

(1) Digital Storytelling Asia is an independent social enterprise initiated in Singapore. I stumbled on Digital Storytelling in 2007 when the National Book Development Council of Singapore (http://www.bookcouncil.sg/) invited Denise Atchley (wife of the late Dana Atchley, aka father of digital storytelling) to run the first ever digital storytelling (DS) workshop in Singapore.

I fell in love with DS, got hooked, and never recovered. By 2010, I was crazy enough to leave my secure job after 20+ years to start up DSA. I am passionate about bringing the joy of helping people find their voice through storytelling.

Digital Storytelling is at its beginnings in Asia. Most of the established DS works around the world are found in the USA and the UK (http://digitalstorytellingasia.com/2013/02/25/digital-storytelling-around-the-world/). As a very young DS initiative, I am extremely grateful to my friends and mentors Joe Lambert and Barrie Stephenson who endorsed this vision. They are NOT sponsors of DSA.

(2) The Singapore Memory Project (SMP http://www.singaporememory.sg/) is a national movement to collect stories (not necessary personal) for Singapore. As a Singaporean and Singapore company, DSA supports and partners with SMP by contributing some of the stories created by our participants to the official SMP website. Stories are shared only with the permission of participants. No funding or sponsorship comes from SMP or the government.

(3) Allow me to share my own journey as one of the founders of DSA and how this is shaping the ethos and culture of DSA.

The experiences in my own life shape me: my life as a single woman, daughter, sister, friend, writer, storyteller, social entrepreneur; my stint living away from the familiarity of my own home, country, culture, of being a square peg fitting into a round hole; experiences with losing my loved ones to long drawn illnesses, disappointments, struggles and successes.

The process of telling our stories help bring clarity first and foremost to the storyteller. That is what I personally experienced. DSA workshops are not just about storyTELLING but about story LISTENING. I expect Story Circle (part of the process of creating a digital story at the workshop) to allow the storyteller to find his or her voice. I am conscious not to interfere with that sacred space of the storyteller. My co-facilitators also share this same conviction. This is the culture I want to see in DSA.

(4) Your observations about DSA participants stories (based on the showcasehttp://digitalstorytellingasia.com/showcase/) being “highly ‘political’” is an interesting comment but does not reflect our values and practices.

As a company, DSA not only facilitates workshops but we also take on commissioned projects. Our clients include individuals, companies, as well as government departments. One such project is the Bukit Ho Swee Story (http://digitalstorytellingasia.com/showcase/#singapore) created for a government-backed community centre. This video posted in our showcase may have led you to conclude that the DSA is government run.

You can watch many personal stories created by our participants at DSA’s YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/digitalstoriesasia/videos?view=0). Let me know if you still see political overtones in them!

(5) You may also want to look at journalist Sunanda Asthana’s comment here (http://digitalstorytellingasia.com/2013/03/28/build-bonds-initiate-conversation/).

(6) I hope you each have the opportunity to create your own personal digital story  Cheers and have a great week.

Hi Angeline, thank you so much for willing to take your time to respond to my blog post and correct my errors, like Barrie did. I also really appreciate the other websites and resources you shared here, which will help my construct my own digital storytelling! And yes, I will have the chance to do my own digital storytelling soon, and I hope I could express what I mean by “political” about the stories showcased on DSA website. But as a Cultural Studies major, I also do not think being “political” is such a negative term, but I used it to highlight the contrast between the (seemingly) highly “personal” tone of the stories on Capture Wales and the quiet different “tone” that the stories from DSA (re)present. Perhaps, as Asian storytellers, or as Singaporians, the people who attended the DSA project did have a goal of sharing their culture and stories with a more “international” audiences, which is why the tone sounds more “political” (and this may also be related to the “international” assistance they received, which made them highly aware of the existence of the people different from their own culture), while the Welsh people (from what I read in the book Digital Storytelling) was more concerned about having their “memories” preserved somewhere, which may be the reason why their stories are “comparatively” less political.

Hi Linj.

Thanks for the response. I think I need to further clarify…

Comment: When participants come for a DSA workshop, the only audience I tell them to think about are the ones the participants have in mind.

The agenda is always PERSONAL. Not for anyone or any organisation. There is NO “international” assistance received. There is NO international audience.

Do watch the stories at our YouTube channelhttp://www.youtube.com/user/digitalstoriesasia/videos?view=0. I think it reflects the personal stories that you refer to.

Further clarifications:
I am not sure what you mean by “received help and help workshops under the help of these groups.”

CDS has been around since the 70s and Barrie had been part of digital storytelling since the early 2000s. DSA only started in 2010. CDS and Digistories UK have endorsed DSA. That’s like saying “we approve of what you do, we recommend you, we support you.”

We work independently.

I mean Barrie has been telling digital stories and helping people tell digital stories since the early 2000s. He owns his own company Digistories UK.


After I received the last two comments, I pondered for a while and intentionally opted for not responding immediately.  It was not an act of cowardliness.  As an international student (and English is my third language), sometimes I feel my own inaptness in using English to defend for my own faith, which, in turn, leaves me great frustration and self-doubt.  I decided to produce a piece of digital storytelling myself (since it is a debate about different beliefs of digital storytelling), through which I could use my own voice as a response for what I mean by “personal” and “political,” “intimate” yet “authoritative.”  This is partly the reason why I presented my digital storytelling in the first section of this series of blog posts.  I have chosen to post my story first so that it can be read as a stand-alone blog post or an individual project by itself, instead of being treated as a mere response.  That will be too political and kill the personal side of my story.  Once again, it goes back to how I view digital storytelling should always be personal (a story of Jung-Hsien Lin) and political (Linj12 the blog host’s response to both Barrie and Angelina’s comments) at the same time.  In this second post, I informed my reader of the related stories behind my story because I feel equally curious about how this piece of information would affect the reaction of my audience to my first post.  I am wondering how the second section might influence the “political” aspect of my own digital storytelling, and how that would affect my “voice” in that story (and as for this I could only pray that some of my classmates could be nice enough to post the change in their reception of my digital storytelling).  This is also a game of authority.  The audience could never know how “authentic” a piece of digital storytelling is, and I personally feel that the authority is in the hand of the storyteller, which again explains why digital storytelling is—and should be—an empowering process.

What I meant by “international assistance,” is similar to how BBC received instructions from Joe Lambert (as Barrie pointed out) from California, USA, and how DSA received some “endorsement” from Barrie Stephenson (as Angelina pointed out).  Assistance could come in many different forms, such as the text books that DSA recommended or the workshops and instructors they received, and by no means that I refer to “assistance” in a financial way.  (I was also surprised to realize that the term “assistance” share such a negative connotation.)    Another term I want to “redeem” is the term “political”, which according to Dictionary.com, defined as “the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society, especially those relationships involving authority or power.”  It is true that as Angeline argues, that “all stories are PERSONAL” in digital storytelling, but as long as the process involves “complex relationships of people in society” and concerns itself with “authority or power,” a story can also be political at the same time.  As far as I’m concerned, the term “personal” and “political” should not be regarded as mutually exclusive positions.  In addition, as Angelina mentions that she usually asks her participants of DSA workshops to “think of only the audience they have in mind,” I fail to see why the audience cannot have an “international” audience in mind, especially considering the nature of YouTube itself.  I also find Angeline’s comments on how digital storyTELLING is actually digital storyLISTENING very true.  Yet accordingly, since the telling side is actually directed towards the listening end, doesn’t it also suggest that what makes digital storytelling so powerful is not in how people actually have a voice, but rather, how these voices are being received or heard?  Should this be accurate, why should we be so quick to shy away from embracing the political position in the realm of digital storytelling?

With all these questions in mind, I finally produced a digital storytelling myself in a very amateur way.  Hopefully through my own digital storyTELLING and storyLISTENING, I demonstrate not only properly my personal reflections on the personal and the political, but more importantly, my attempt to show how these two always overlap.

My Own Digital Storytelling

Finally, a digital storytelling of mine.  Before starting my digital storytelling project, my attempt was to incorporate a narrative of “Taiwan” while simultaneously representing a narrative that is unique from my personal perspective as well.  So eventually I came up with this topic: “What do I miss most about Taiwan after two years in the United States?”, which not only signals my current status (that I am currently not in Taiwan but in the US) but also speaks to my “personal history” (that I am from Taiwan).  I decided to tell the story in my native language—Mandarin Chinese—and subtitle the story in English.  During my narration of what I miss about Taiwan, the audience that I had in my was actually two distinct groups: one, other Taiwanese people who also share the same nostalgia about our hometown (the insider group); two, another group of people who are not familiar with Taiwan (outsider group), to whom my narration (or my subtitles or captions, to be exact) will also functions as a very brief introduction.

So basically, in my story there are five “items” that I miss most: my family, food, 7-11, KTV, or certain things that you can do in Taiwan but not (as far as I’ve known of) here in the US, as well as the night markets.  And I also miss the sunshine of my hometown, Kaohsiung, and my small island, Taiwan.  Therefore, the narration in the story is personal, consisting of what “I” miss about Taiwan.  Meanwhile, the narration is also political, as I was envisioning an international audience while making my project, which prompted me to subtitle, or to translate, my own digital storytelling in English.  I was also aware of the fact that something will be lost in translation—this is important, but how so?

Now I assume that you finished watching my digital storytelling on YouTube, let me tell you a big secret (or not at all a secret if you are bilingual in English and Mandarin) behind my digital storytelling project—that the subtitles or captions in the video actually do not match completely to my spoken narration.  In other words, for a viewer who understands only English, you will be getting a more “politically correct” version of my story.  Surprised?  Why?  I attempt to talk directly to my audience who actually understands Mandarin in my own “voice” while share with those who do not only the “bright side” of my story about Taiwan.  How is it political?  In my spoken narration, I did include on purpose some “dirty little secrets” about Taiwan—that it may not always be clean, it could be really crowded etc.  My assumption is that my Taiwanese “friends” would actually understand my reason for doing so was not trying to sabotage the image of Taiwan by bringing up these shortcomings of our country, but they could even share the nostalgia as I listed these dirty little secrets.  It is our country and we love it regardless.  In my English subtitles, however, my purpose of skipping these dirty little secrets was indeed intentionally political (but also visual).  I’d like to show “outsiders” the beautiful side of Taiwan through my digital storytelling—because they would not take shortcomings for a compliment—and thus, subtitling my story in its own logic was the solution that I came up with.  I also want to flesh out my belief: the personal is always the political.

BBC Digital Storytelling

BBC Digital Storytelling

This week we are moving onto “digital storytelling”.  Though we have not yet referred to the phrase in our class, it is by no means any new concept.  We have been dealing with the concept or application of digital storytelling since the first week–that how people tell stories about themselves or the others through the use of new media, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or even Wikipedia (surprise!), and video games etc..

Our assignment this week is to pick one site on Digital Storytelling from the book Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories: Self-representations in New Media and compare it to a site of our own finds.  I pick the BBC production of “Capture Wales” from the book.  I really enjoyed this program, even though I’ve never been to Wales.  The digital stories posted are very personal, very local, and thus making very genuine.  The authors seem to be mostly amateur, from the youth to the elderly.  The topics are really diverse–it can be a anecdotal personal complaints or gratitude, but it can also be a serious discussion of contemporary social issues.  What really attracts me is the sense of intimacy delivered through its sincerity of the tone involved in the storytelling.  Some of the readings from Digital Storytelling discuss the issues of authority and authenticity of these digital storytelling; as they are often told from the first person angle, we tend to grant them the authenticity that is not necessarily valid.  However, I will argue that it is not always so by comparing “Capture Wales” to another digital storytelling site, “Digital Storytelling Asia” (DSA).

<The following part is purely my own observation, which obviously includes several incorrect ones. Thanks to Barrie & Angeline’s responses and comments.  Please also read their responses below.>

DSA is part of the Singapore Memory Project.  If you click on the “showcase” and you will get to the very brief digital storytelling examples from DSA.  Similar to “Capture Wales”, the stories on DSA are also told from the first person point of view.  However, what’s missing from the DSA stories is the sense of intimacy.  I’m not suggesting that the tone is insincere or not genuine, but it feels much less “personal” and more political, even when the topic (family, immigration experience, a child’s dream for the future) are still in the realm of the personal.  The stories are also about a specific individual, but the experience being narrated seems to be more general.  Therefore, it is quite difficult to attribute “authority and authenticity” to the stories on DSA.  And as an Asian myself, I sense a trace of orientalism in the depiction of these “Asian” experiences–children all aspire to be a president when they grow up, males always need to trace back their own “roots” etc. etc..

So, if we put DSA and “Capture Wales” side by side, we seen how distinct the two websites of digital storytelling are.  Their target audience seems different.  I assume that “Capture Wales” are produced by the people of Wales, and also for the people of Wales; on the contrary, DSA is produced by the government of Singapore but for the people outside of its own country.   Another thing I noticed is the sponsors:  BBC is sponsored by the British government, while the DSA is sponsored by Center for Storytelling USA and Digistories UK,  which explains why the stories seem highly “political” rather than being purely personal.  I think the sponsor always speaks to the politics of the program. (Correction: DSA is not sponsored by UK, but DSA received help and help workshops under the help of these groups.) Moreover, the category of the stories being told changes the tone and sense of intimacy as well, which, in turn, influences the perception of the audience/viewer.

In short, “Capture Wales” captures Wales (but it is not for me to say since I’ve never been to Wales and never had a chance to learn too much about it…), whereas DSA politicizes Asia.  Perhaps it is just my own interpretation.  Thoughts, anyone?

Ethnographic Documentary (Assignment #2)

Cosplay + Gender/Racial-bending = Cross-play

This equation  is basically the theme of our ethnographic documentary. There are three members in my group: Elaine, Kelly, and I. The footage was taken during the 2013 WonderCon at Anaheim, California (March 29 ~31, three-day event).  But our topic is not so much about WonderCon but rather, it is about “cosplay.”

As I mentioned earlier in my rough proposal for our ethno/doc project, things like “cosplay” or “comic con” should not at all be new to me. However, after I attended the WonderCon and after interviewing several American cosplayers, I realized that the Western and Asian cosplayers do share different attitudes towards “cosplaying.” However, in our project we focus mainly on the cosplayers in the US.

Why do people cosplay? The answer we got from most of the cosplayers is that “it is fun.” The element of pleasure seem to precede other individual politics. A few mentions about aestheticism (this is a piece of art etc.) of cosplay. Some do it because they have friends or family members who introduce them to the field.

Concerning the recent controversies of gender/racial blending in cosplay (and the controversy of , the perspectives vary slightly from person to person, or, from color to color, so to speak. Their answers are pretty much all in our documentary, so I do not want to let out what is there, but the lack of models/admirable characters seem to be the main issue for both black or female cosplayers.

We end with the question “Does it matter?” in response to our central question about gender or racial crossing cosplay. It is not tautology. We’d like to invite our viewers to think about the question: “What matters most in cosplay?” Is it accuracy? Is it the efforts one puts in? Is it the admiration/attention from others? Or what matters may be whether the cosplayer is having fun.

In Asian countries, such as Japan and Taiwan etc., cosplay is a personal statement. It is always political. We don’t have Halloween, so there was not such a particular day that you could find people all over the nation wearing costumes. The cultural values are also different: we don’t value individuality or creativity as much; rather, we try our best not to stand out but to fit in–“just like everyone else.” That is why cosplay is such a big issue in Asian countries. That is why we don’t call it “wearing costumes” but “cos-play.” It is a “play,” not in the sense of just having fun, but to “display,” to “show,” to put oneself under spotlight (which one shouldn’t) and scrutiny. But here in the US, people share different values of the “self” and it is a surprise for me to find out that cosplay is mostly a “fun” thing to do. The word “play” highlights the element of pleasure in the act.

A side note: We encounter so many different technical problems during the process of editing whereas filming itself went actually smoothly.  We converted our raw footage to so many different formats (avi, wmv, mpeg4) to finally be able to edit it on our laptops.  The weird thing was, some of the formats DID work last time when we were doing our individual project of video essay, so we are still completely clueless why this time the same format failed to be picked up by our own laptop.  It was really frustrating when we had so much great footage but we couldn’t (at that time) do anything about it.  (Also, we have plenty of good interview responses and we had a hard time letting go some of them…)  But my group-mates are awesome to work with–everyone was patient and cooperative, and we all tried to work things out together.  The experience of working in group is really different from working solo.  The process itself–working in group, collecting interviews, conceptualizing the project–exposes me to multi-perspectives and voices.  Most importantly, IT WAS FUN!  This is the best group project that I’ve ever done!

“Film in Ethnographic Research”

Here are two quotes from the Asch in Principles of Visual Anthropology:
1. “Ethnographic analysis is based on data, data that have been selected from the collected information in relation to specific research questions. Texts are one form of data. Film texts could be created by selecting footage from the film record, transcribing all conversation as one would a linguistic text made from a sound recording, and annotating the visual images” (336).
2. “There are at least three kinds of activities such an archive should be supporting: documentation of old footage; use of its facilities and films for research; and use of its facilities to create instructional materials) which would of course require the permission of the authors of any film used” (356).

Also, here’s Timothy Asch’s website “DER Filmmaker”:
which explains how the footage of “The Ax Fight” is being “archived” and saved for future research for other researchers (which is what Asch argues that “documentation of old footage” [356]).

In “The Ax Fight,” we can see how the footage is treated as a “text” itself, which is demonstrated through the fact that there are no subtitles or captions subjectively explaining the scene to its viewer. Also, the clip is one of the Yanomamo series (following another ethnographic film named “The Feast”), this correspond to Asch’s argument that “data that have been selected from the collected information” (336).

Finally, the fact that we are watching it in class together and discuss how the footage supports Asch’s theory of ethnography demonstrates how this footage is used for “archival activities” that “use of its facilities to create instructional materials” (356).

In-Class Interview for Visual Research Methods

Sydney and I are a group for our in-class exercise for Visual Research Methods. The primary focus of our exercise (the interview here) was concerned with how the boundary between “professionality” of filming and issues of authority has shifted (or not) since now most of the people have the access for filming devices (such as phones, i-Pad etc.) as well as hands-on experiences in filming.

Our questions are included in the clip.

As for further written analysis, please refer to Sydney’s blog.

Warrior Marks

Today I attended a class at Pizter College on Feminist documentary in place of my weekly Visual Research Methods class. The instructor (guest speaker) today was Ruti Talmor. The topic/theme for her lecture was about “Feminism in the Third Wold.”

Before the class, students were supposed to finish watching Sara Gomez’s documentary “One Way or Another” and also to have read a couple related articles concerning that documentary.

Ruti stared the class by showing another feminist documentary called “Warrior Marks,” directed by Alice Walker and Pratiba Parmar. It’s a documentary concerning the controversial “tradition/culture” of female genital circumcision.

Then we moved on to discuss in what aspects the two feminist documentaries are different, and to what extent that they are similar to each other.

We talked about “intersectionality,” a term connotes the dynamic of different positionalities involved in Black feminism. From “intersectionality” our discussion segued into the major types of Black feminism: 1) Alice Walker’s Womanism, and 2) Post-colonial/Third World Feminism. Sara Gomez’s documentary belongs to the latter. These two films obviously deal with distinct (social and cultural) gender issues, but it is also to note that they handle the genre of “documentary” differently.

In Walker and Pratibha’s “Warrior Marks,” it seems more “conventional” approaches of documentary are adopted, such as expository (i.e. interviews) and observational techniques. On the contrary, in Gomez’s “One Way or the Other,” a fictional romance is employed to lead the “story-line.” They also diverge in their major feminist concerns and in their alignment with “marginal cultures.”

However, they do share similarities, particularly in their incorporation of the performative/poetic techniques, In “Warrior Marks” it’s through the Black female dancer; in “One Way or Another” it’s through the Black male boxer/signer. I am particularly impressed by the employment of the poetic element in these two documentaries. At first glance, both the signer and the dancer seem to “disrupt” the main narratives. But I think it is also this necessary disruption that complements the narration. Why?

The documentary in general is about “realities.” Whatever is being documented ironically “tells the story of our (or the director’s) perception of the realities.” It is “our realities” that are being shown. At the same tie, it is “stories” that are being told. The disruption of the poetic fills in the breakdown of the symbolic order, shielding us from the traumatic encounter with the Real, while simultaneously maintaining our sense of realities.

That disruption also connects back to Gomez’s inclusion of a fictional relationship as part of her “documentary.” She is critiquing the argument of situating the “absolute truth” and “real” in the genre of documentary. In sabotaging the boundaries between documentary and fiction, Gomez demonstrates the content (of the documentary) through its form. Documentaries document “lives.” Yet, there is no truth or single “real” in life. Does this make “One Way or Another” less “authentic” in its feminist, political goal? What is “one way” and what makes “another”? Perhaps, in Gomez’s construction, one way leads to another. Perhaps, in life/documentaries, one way is another.