Week 4 — Allyson Woodard

While exploring the tactical media for this week I kept thinking about a comment I once heard in a fiction writing class. We were talking about how to keep our writing from sounding preachy, and the professor said (to paraphrase) that you basically have to choose: you can have overtly political writing, or you can have character-based writing, but very rarely can you combine the two without the protagonist seeming like a transparent (and not convincing) pawn. She urged us, essentially, to focus on story and trust that our politics would emerge as a byproduct.

I don’t think she was arguing that politics should be banished from fiction, but that we often fall into the trap of caring so deeply about our message that it blinds us to whether we’re still telling a good story. I was considering this advice as I looked through both Rothenberg and Singer’s projects, because they’re clearly talented at balancing both. Particularly in Rothenberg’s case, however, I wondered if my professor’s advice might have something to do with why I connected with some of her pieces more than others. For example: I so wish that I could see the Garden of Virtual Kinship in person. I think there is a very compelling tension to the idea, and that the use of actual living organisms turns statistics into a story. Will the plants live or die? How can we save the ones that are doomed? On the other hand, I found myself almost bored with Secret of Eternal Levitation. The concept was fabulous, the message important, and the programming very well done, but I got the sense early in the explanatory video that I already knew what was going to happen (and I was right…which was distinctly anticlimactic). In this case, I think message may have overpowered story–I felt myself sitting through the video not out of emotional interest, but obligation.

For the same reason, I also LOVED Singer’s Zapped! I immediately had questions: when do I encounter RFID devices? How have I not noticed them before? Where can I order one of those devices so I can start paying better attention? The questions and the tension draw us into her piece, and at least for myself, they made me want to become a participant.

So, I guess I’m in the camp that it’s perfectly possible to tell a political story. It may be a bit more difficult, but I think you just have to keep a close eye on the foundations of storytelling.

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2 comments to Week 4 — Allyson Woodard

  • kblack7@uoregon.edu

    Allyson,

    The balance of a political agenda and storytelling was something that was also in the back of my mind throughout my search into these transmedia artists. However, I think that maybe ( in this case in particular) there needed to be some sort of political agenda or message that they were sending to their audiences through their multimedia projects. Would they have been able to showcase it in exhibits and bring a following otherwise? If their message were purely to entertain visitors, would it have quite an impact on people?

  • dereky@uoregon.edu

    Allyson,
    I think artists have always had an agenda infused in their work. It may not necessarily be defined as a political one, but art can be subject to interpretation at times. It has become trendy at times to be able to “shock” people by bringing subject matter to mass audiences. Ansel Adams created compositions of beautiful places in the West that motivated the U.S. government to preserve the places as national parks. I’m not too sure he had much more of an agenda than to capture the beauty of these places in photographs, even though he was commissioned by the government to document these places.

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