Remediating reality: tracing social trauma as entertainment

Hughes, David
Theunissen, Petra
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Master of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis explores the nature of the latent dynamics integral to visual narratives employed as mediational means (Wertsch, 2001) within the context of ‘classic’ contemporary socio-cinematic discourse. Ultimately, the focus of this enquiry falls on the genre know as docudrama, a form which commonly promotes the narrative as being ‘based upon a true story’ where, more specifically, two New Zealand narratives are approached as a representational binary of filmmaking methods and issues with respect to the fabrication of an enduring identity. Given the film-maker’s role is, fundamentally, the remediation of historical psycho-social minutiae into socio-cinematic artefacts, this study seeks to trace film-makers’ endeavours to authentically represent socially significant events and themes. Assuming the film-maker’s every best intention, of focal concern are the latent social dynamics and how narratives inevitably mutate and are compromised during the film production process - a process that, at worst, appears as the calculated practice of remediating history where it is then eulogised as a common, palatable heritage. In addressing issues of historic remediation in cinematic production, Rosenstone (1995) prompts the consideration the film-maker’s apparent motivation and whether that is to ‘enlighten’ - to seek to confirm, promote and imprint indelible markers of a collective identity. Or whether the intent is to ‘simply’ entertain a targeted cohort; to stylistically filter, defuse and display the more marginal or frivolous foibles of the human condition - where such an approach might simply afford relief or ‘escape’ from the wider realities enveloping those within the cinema precinct. Both are scenarios where those ‘within’ may regard the manifold ecologies ‘beyond’ nurture outlier, if not alien, forms of existence; where ‘within’ these are projected in a benign and less threatening form that can be vicariously neutered. ix This study draws upon Bakhtin’s (1981) chronotopes and uses this concept to encapsulate the function of social and cinematic remediation. To that end, this work regards the chronotope as a unique space-time entity that, within a socio-cinematic narrative is contingent upon identifying and understanding the dynamics within three social sites: (1) that of the historical event, (2) the cinematic remediation (production) of that event, and (3) a singular site of audience engagement. This latter site is the instance of a single screening of the film before a targeted audience. With this approach, it is not simply the way the historical event is recognised as having been remediating, of primary concern is how the film is employed as an (in)authentic mediational means - a tool of social engineering - where the film, as an artefact becomes a selective social memory that ultimately corrodes the authenticity of the realities of yore. Within this thesis, these dimensions are perceived to be those latent psycho-situational energies inducted and infused via the vicarious exchange to the (individual) audience. This is to elementally regard a film as a social fabrication designed to induce a primal, if consensual, interaction; that as an artefact is has a predetermined function to initially imbue a calculated vicarious response then, subsequently, reaffirm some conservational notion of the incumbent social ecology. To that end this study seeks to unbundle some of the conduits of mutual-meaning making and enquire as to who the makers of these docudramas - specifically remediating significant social traumas - might be primarily serving.

Cinematic chronotope , Bakhtin , Selective remembering , Social mythology
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