Terrorism in Australia: A Legitimate Threat?

Following the New York City terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the subject of national security and counter-terrorism has become increasingly prevalent in western society. In Australia this prevalence has seen significant changes made to the way foreign policy is considered and written, beginning with the first Terrorism White Paper of 2004 (Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004a) . Over the years that have followed new government entities and international agencies have emerged to combat the threat of terrorism and subsequent strategic documents have been developed, most notably in this instance the Counter-Terrorism White Paper of 2010 (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet 2010).

The aim of this essay is to explore and discuss how the threat of terrorism has been portrayed in this Counter-Terrorism White Paper with specific regard to commentary by Chris Michaelsen (2010) who has suggested that in this document the terror threat has been inflated. This will be effectively achieved by; analysing the 2010 Counter-Terrorism White Paper and the effect it has had on Australian foreign policy, exploring the commentary of Michaelsen and the suggestion of a potentially inflated terrorist threat being published and concluding with a brief discussion of the consequences of the securitisation of terrorism with a specific focus on both of these articles. As the Counter-Terrorism White Paper 2010 forms the foundation of this essays analysis from here on terrorism shall be defined as it appears in this document, specifically as; “the use of violence by groups or individuals pursuing political objectives, indiscriminate in attacks and often deliberately targeting civilians and non-combatants seeking to inflict mass casualties” (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet 2010, p. 3). Further to the 2010 Counter-Terrorism White Paper and Michaelsen’s commentary this essay will be supported by key readings from Stevens, Agho, Taylor, Jones, Jacobs, Barr & Raphael (2011), Wolfendale (2007) and Koo (2005) as well as secondary sources which will be cited appropriately throughout.

The Counter-Terrorism White Paper (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet 2010), commissioned by the Rudd Labour government, was designed to build a framework by which the Australian government could increase its preparedness for dealing with and preventing any form of terrorist attack on home soil. The paper frames terrorism as an imminent threat to the Australian populace which must be dealt with by any means necessary and suggests relevant changes to foreign policy as a result. So blunt is this message the paper itself begins with a Prime Minister’s Forward, signed by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, which states simply, “terrorism continues to pose a serious security challenge to Australia” (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet 2010, p. i) The continuation that this article refers to stems from the initial White Paper of 2004 Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia published by the Howard Liberal Coalition (Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004a, para. 2). Subsequently much of the content of the 2010 White Paper attempts to build on the previous ideas of its 2004 counterpart in a more contemporary setting (Michaelsen 2010, p. 19). While similar in parts the 2010 White Paper focuses predominantly on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of terrorism in Australia, rather than addressing the ‘why’ as was covered in the 2004 document (Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004b, para. 8-13).

The most logical way to accept this shift in focus is to think of the 2010 document as an extension of its predecessor, and of the shared stance of the Australian government towards terrorism regardless of party leadership, rather than a completely separate document. Whereas Kevin Rudd’s foreward tells of the immediate threat of terrorism to the average Australian, at the launch of the 2004 effort then Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer addressed the National Press Club and spoke at length about individual threats from Al Qaeda and the Middle East (Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004b, para. 18). In his speech Mr. Downer discussed the evolution of modern terrorism and attempted to demonstrate that it was not what Australia had done that made it a target but rather what Australia stood for (Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004b, para. 9). While the underlying message of both Downer and Rudd was the same in their addresses, highlighting the need for Australia to enhance and strengthen its approach to national security, foreign policy and counter-terrorism, the way in which terrorism was portrayed differed greatly between the two. Given the length of time between these two particular White Papers it must be considered that terrorism itself had changed, both in its severity and forms, with new technologies and terrorist organisations creating different means and methods to attack (Kruglanski & Fishman 2009; Zammit 2015, p. 2). Considering this it is fair to conclude that while the approaches and methods of communication between the two White Papers portrayed terrorism in different ways terrorism itself was different at both times and, regardless of the definition, both parties acted on their responsibility to ensuring the safety and protection of the Australian public.

Based on the development of a national narrative around the subject of terrorism, and the integration of Counter-Terrorism into governmental procedure, the securitisation of the issue by the Rudd Government allowed the common persons perception of terrorism to change. While previously depicted as a random act of violence by an external force traveling to Australia with the specific intention of attacking the nation (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet 2010; Wolfendale 2007, p. 76) the Counter-Terrorism White Paper 2010 moved away from this traditional notion of terrorism with the introduction of threats more closer to home. Homegrown terrorism as it is known, defined as those who are born, raised and educated within the countries they attack (Wilner & Dubouloz 2010, p. 33), was given little attention in Australia prior to this White Papers release, despite arrests and foiled terror attacks planned from within the country’s borders dating back to 2001 (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet 2010, p. ii). Going by the definition of Wilner & Dubouloz the proximity of potential terrorists to their targets should make this the most legitimate and credible threat to Australia.

Despite this, however, there has still been few genuine terrorist attacks to justify the way the homegrown terror threat has been portrayed in the Counter-Terrorism White Paper. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect then for policy makers when considering the approach to take towards terrorism as it exists in a constant state of unpredictability. Had the Australian government chosen to take a more casual approach to the Counter-Terrorism White Paper, and the subsequent policy reformations it sparked, it may have had the potential to encourage terrorists to target Australia and caused widespread fear amongst the public as legitimate security concerns were ignored. Conversely, a casual approach could have also strengthened the public resolve, encouraging members of the public and the wider political sphere to see Australia as a nation which shows no fear in the face of the terror threat (Schmid 2017; Stevens et al. 2011). This example of the subjectivity of the terrorist threat demonstrates the fine line faced by foreign policy makers and the vast array of consequences that they must consider before any action is taken. In the case of the Counter-Terrorism White Paper it is fair to assume that the portrayal of terrorism was carefully developed by the Rudd government to ensure a clear and simple message of safety and solidarity was sent to both its citizens and any would be terrorists that the issue of terrorism in Australia would be treated with the utmost seriousness.

The portrayal of terrorism in the Counter-Terrorism White Paper of 2010 was critiqued heavily by Chris Michaelsen in his 2010 article Terrorism in Australia: An Inflated Threat which critically assessed the Rudd governments document, suggesting through both anecdotal and statistical analysis that the actual threat of terrorism in Australia is almost non-existent. In his paper Michaelsen calculates the chance of an Australian being killed in a terrorist attack on home soil to be 1 in 33,300,000 (Michaelsen 2010, p. 24) some 2,200 times less likely than that same individual being killed in a car accident (Michaelsen 2010, p.24). Michaelsen supports the need for this analysis by questioning government spending, using the aforementioned car accident anecdote as a probe into why money that is spent on counter-terrorism could not be put towards something more prevalent, such as the repair and maintenance of Australian roads. Despite his perceived aversion to the portrayal of the terrorist threat in Australia Michaelsen’s main argument seems to be more focused against what he suggests is frivolous government spending without regard to potentially more pressing issues (Michaelsen 2010, p. 24).

The detailed breakdowns he provides into the investments made by the Australian government on matters of Counter-Terrorism and policy implementation following the recommendations of the Counter-Terrorism White Paper demonstrate a desire for governmental accountability as opposed to a legitimate opposition to the government treating the issue of terrorism as a serious one. Given the complexity of terrorism, and the subjectivity with which it can be viewed by the public, Michaelsen’s beliefs can also be interpreted in a variety of different ways. Idealistically his assertions that the terrorist threat is inflated are correct, given the detail and evidence he provides, however in reality as terrorism by definition is random, unpredictable and indiscriminate in nature its true threat can never truly be measured and, for this reason, can never truly be ignored as its potential to occur continues in perpetuity.

Michaelsen is not the first, and most certainly will not be the last, political commentator to suggest that the threat of terrorism is inflated. Many scholars have explored the securitisation of terrorism as a means to push for policy reform, most notably Wolfendale who made similar assertions to Michaelsen with reference to policy changes and what she calls the counterterrorism rhetoric (2007, p. 76). In Australia, specifically since September 11, 2001, there has been significant foreign policy reforms by both Liberal and Labour government based heavily in counter-terrorism and the interest of national security. The lack of actual terrorist attacks has not stopped the Australian government from investing $16 billion dollars into ASIO, and other government task forces dedicated to combating terrorism (Michaelsen 2010, p. 24; Williams 2017), nor has it change the message to the general public that terrorism in Australia is inevitable. This inevitability has seen the National Terrorism Threat Alert level remain constantly at “probable” for the last 4 years (Australian National Security 2018, para. 7). This threat can be seen as far back as the initial Terrorism White Paper of 2004 which, following the foreign policy reforms after the Tampa incident and refugee crisis of the early 2000’s (McKay, Hall & Lippi 2017), outlined Al Qaeda and Middle Eastern terrorist cells as posing the most significant danger to Australia and one which needed to be addressed (Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004b, para. 18).

Six years on the Counter-Terrorism White Paper of 2010 was then used as a platform for the Rudd Labour government to enact further policy around security, taking the total number of new federal statutes implemented since 2001 past 50 (Williams 2011, para. 1), implementing restrictions around visas and travel and strengthening the nations aviation security (Michaelsen 2010, p. 20-21; Wolfendale 2007, p. 79-80). Understanding these events are significant as despite the passage of time and the different areas of focus there has still yet to be a major terrorist attack occur in Australia. When considering Michaelsen’s claims of inflation in this sense then it seems unlikely that they can be refuted as both Liberal and Labour governments were able to publish similar manifestos, utilising similar political tactics, to ensure policy reform was made on issues of national security and counter-terrorism over a six year period without any acts of terrorism occurring. This does not mean that there exists no legitimate threat from terrorism, with the need for proactivity essential not only to the nation but also to Michaelsen whose questions of inflated threat levels would potentially become instantly redundant if a terrorist attack were to occur. This shows not only the subjectivity of terrorism and its links to national governance but also of the commentary that inevitably follows it.

Based on the analysis presented on both the Counter-Terrorism White Paper 2010 and Michaelsen’s subsequent commentary it is fair to determine that the securitisation of terrorism has become a significant factor in the development and execution of foreign policy in Australian politics. Without discounting the very real and legitimate threat of terrorism that exists to the Australian people, either as a result of Australia’s involvement in international conflicts or due simply to a difference in national values and cultural identity, it can be seen in the evidence presented that the chances of terrorism are significantly lower than they are often portrayed (Koo 2005, para. 13; Michaelsen 2010, p. 23; Michaelsen 2012, p. ; Wolfendale 2007, p. 77). This use of securitisation reinforces the ideas presented by the Copenhagen School who assert that its use in policy making is an effective means for governments to gain larger support on topical issues that may not otherwise be afforded the same attention (Balzacq 2007; Koo 2005, para. 13). In this case the use of securitisation to inflate the threat of terrorism by the Rudd government in their Counter-Terrorism White Paper was an effective means to justify the increased spending and policy reform that followed. This consequence would have been considered when the strategic process was being planned and executed, however, what may not have been anticipated was the eventual actions of political commentators.

By way of questioning the government’s spending, policy reformation and even the securitisation of the issue and portrayal of terrorism Michaelsen was able to publicly protest the legitimacy of the government’s plan and call into question its validity. Ultimately it is the responsibility of any Australian government to maintain a commitment to ensuring the safety and prosperity of the Australian people. If the securitisation of a perceived threat, in this instance terrorism, is deemed to be necessary by the government to preserve the national interest then any consequences resulting from this should have been considered at length when planning. The question then becomes not a one of whether the terrorism threat has been intentionally inflated, but rather, is it ethical for the government to present a threat to the public that they may understand to be less than demonstrated. Had this argument been presented by Michaelsen, as opposed to the argument pertaining to statistics and government spending, the analysis of his opinion of the terror threat may have found a different outcome. However, all things considered, this was not the case and as a result his assertions of an inflated threat can be seen for the most part to be true. Though, once again, it must be stressed that this is not in any way a dismissal of the existence of a terrorist threat.

Life in a Post-September 11 society has seen a rise in the prevalence of the threat of terrorism and the counter-terrorism measures employed by governments to deal with this. The subjective nature of the application of a definition of terrorism means that individuals will never be able to agree entirely what does and does not constitute a significant threat, however, all will be able to agree that the threat exists. Through analysis of the Counter-Terrorism White Paper with specific regard to the commentary by Michaelsen this essay demonstrates this and identifies how any inflation to the terror threat by a government will have been done so with consequences in mind the authorising government feels is in the nation’s best interests. The most important factor when considering the threat of terrorism is not how great the threat is, or how it is perceived to be, but instead ensuring that policy makers are constantly vigilant and plan and prepare to deal with the worst possible scenario, while maintaining hope for the best.

 

References

 Australian National Security 2018, ‘National Terrorism Threat Advisory System’, nationalsecurity.gov.au, viewed 3 June 2018, <https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/securityandyourcommunity/pages/national-terrorism-threat-advisory-system.aspx&gt;

Balzacq, T 2007, ‘The Policy Tools of Securitization: Information Exchange, EU Foreign and Interior Policies’, Journal of Common Market Studies, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 75-100.

Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004a, Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia, foreignminister.gov.au, viewed 3 June 2018, <https://foreignminister.gov.au/releases/2004/fa0102_04.html&gt;

Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade 2004b, Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia, foreignminister.gov.au, viewed 3 June 2018, <https://foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/2004/040715_tt.html&gt;

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010, Counter-Terrorism White Paper, defence.gov.au, viewed 3 June 2018, <https://www.dst.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/basic_pages/documents/counter-terrorism-white-paper.pdf&gt;

Koo, KL 2005, ’Terror Australis: Security, Australia and the ’War on Terror’ Discourse’, Borderlands e-Journal, vol. 4, no. 1.

Kruglanski, A & Fishman, S 2009, ‘Psychological Factors in Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Individual, Group, and, Organisational Levels of Analysis’, Social Issues and Policy Review, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 1-44.

McKay, F, Hall, L & Lippi, K 2017, ‘Compassionate Deterrence: A Howard Government Legacy’, Politics & Policy, vol. 45, np. 2, pp. 169-193.

Michaelsen, C 2010, ‘Terrorism in Australia: An inflated threat’, Security Challenges, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 19-25.

Michaelsen, C 2012, ‘The triviality of terrorism’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 431-449.

Schmid, A 2017, ’Public Opinion Survey Survey Data to Measure Sympathy and Support for Islamist Terrorism: A Look at Muslim Opinions on Al Qaeda and IS’, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, viewed 3 June 2018, < https://icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ICCT-Schmid-Muslim-Opinion-Polls-Jan2017-1.pdf&gt;

Stevens, G, Agho, K, Taylor, M, Jones, AL, Jacobs, J, Barr, M & Raphael, B 2011, ‘Alert but less alarmed: a pooled analysis of terrorism threat perception in Australia’, BMC Public Health, vol. 11, pp. 1-11.

Williams, C 2017, ‘The Australian budget and counterterrorism’, lowyinstitute.org, 9 May, viewed 3 June 2018, <https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australian-budget-and-counterterrorism&gt;

Williams, G 2011, ‘A Decade of Australian Anti-Terror Laws’, Melbourne University Law Review, vol. 35, no. 3.

Wilner, A & Dubouloz, C 2010, ‘Homegrown terrorism and transformative learning: an interdisciplinary approach to understanding radicalization’, Global Change, Peace & Security, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 33-51.

Wolfendale, J 2007, ‘Terrorism, Security, and the Threat of Counterterrorism’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, vol. 30, pp. 75-92.

Zammit, A 2015, ‘Australian foreign fighters: Risks and responses’, lowyinstitute.org, viewed 3 June 2018, <https://www.lowyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/australian-foreign-fighters-risks-and-responses.pdf&gt;

Advertisements

From the Archive: Professional Wrestling for Amateurs – An Introduction

Professional wrestling. Just the mention of those two little words can divide an entire room full of people. Whether it’s right down the middle or all against one nothing seems to divide opinion as much as wrestling. If you are out on the lash with a bunch of lads and someone says, “did you catch the fight last week?” chances are they are not talking about the Intercontinental Championship match on Monday Night Raw. The inspiration for this blog, and the series of posts that will follow in the Introduction to Wrestling series, was inspired by a situation much the same as this one.

Before I start I will go on the record as saying I do not watch as much wrestling as I probably should (or at least think that I should). I keep up to date mostly with dirt sheets and Twitter and I like to think I have my finger on the pulse – though I’m not going to pretend like I’ve heard of your favourite wrestler from the Independent circuit in Guam. The majority of my actual watching is done via the WWE Network, which essentially means I watch NXT once a week and the monthly Pay-Per-Views.

This is where our story begins.

It was sometime during the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania, a brisk Saturday evening, and a handful of friends had called around for drinks. I thought to myself, excellent, we could have a few cans and once the wrestling starts throw it on and have a bit of a laugh. Everything was going to plan; until 10 minutes before the show. Someone looks at me and goes, “Will we have a game of FIFA?” Ordinarily I would jump at the chance to have a few games of PlayStation with someone, especially a visitor in my own home (it would be rude not to), however on this particular occasion I said, “No, I want to watch the wrestling.”

Silence.

Everyone looked around, not really knowing what to say, as I tried to brush it off and get the show on the road. The show started – Roadblock for those of you playing along at home – and as the girls continued to talk amongst themselves, the last man standing (apart from myself) proceeded to grill me.

“Why do you watch this? You know it’s fake, right?”

“Isn’t it a bit gay watching oiled up guys pretend to fight in their underwear?”

“UFC is much better than this shite.”

These were just some of the comments that I remember from that conversation and, while I have been enduring jibes like this since I was about 9 years old, I just couldn’t help myself. I ended up going in to bat for wrestling and its fans everywhere – and that was when it hit me. Is it wrestling that is the problem or is it just a misunderstood art form that people outside of its warming glow don’t understand?

Which brings us here. It was this interaction, for the thousandth time, that was my inspiration to write this piece. Over the coming 5 weeks I intend to go over the wrestling industry in depth, not from the tunnel visioned stand point of a mark – replying angrily to comments on a Facebook post “IT’S STILL REAL TO ME DAMMIT!” – but from a rational and educational stand point. Giving insight and understanding with facts rather than opinions and, hopefully, creating something that will be able to help wrestling fans everywhere. Whether that is by expanding their own knowledge or giving them something to show to their non-wrestling friends the next time one of them says, “You do know that’s fake, right?”


This piece was originally published on May 1st 2016 at http://botchworldorder.wordpress.com

 

An Exploration of Social Gaming: Roleplaying Case Study

The purpose of this case study was to explore social changes in online activities and communities by observing the evolution of the text based social roleplaying game of fantasy wrestling – specifically coinciding the rise of social media culture. This subject was chosen as it is an underrepresented area in the social gaming sphere given that the majority of recognised social games nowadays are heavily backed financially and presented in an interactive environment. Using a series of both academic and non-academic sources it was determined that while this particular social game has been enhanced by social media it is not dictated by it as are many others.


The aim of this essay is to demonstrate an understanding of the social changes associated with online activities, communities, networks and social media publics by conducting a case study on social gaming. Broadly defined as a structured multiplayer activity with contextual rules through which users can engage with one another (O’Neill 2008) social gaming is often characterised, since the rise of new media, as being an embedded interactive experience within a social media platform. This has not always been the case and to narrow the scope of this case study the essay will focus on the progression of one particular style of social gaming – fantasy wrestling, more commonly referred to as “efedding” (a combination of e, as in electronic, and fedding, a contraction of federation) – and explore, with the help of academic and peer reviewed sources, it’s evolution over the last 40 years. The three key academic sources that will be used in the analysis of the chosen case study will include virtual communities and their characteristics (Siapera 2012), the rise of the always-on culture (Boyd 2012) and the introduction of constant social media connection (Wilken & McCosker 2014).

Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) are not always dependent on consoles and fast action in fantasy worlds set in far off galaxies. There are some who still prescribe to the old fashioned methods of text-based interactions. In an easily accessible corner of the Internet an entire universe exists filled with larger than life characters, evil geniuses and heroes who will always come to save the day. It’s not the WWE – the WWE has even gone as far as to send cease and desist notices to some of the creative individuals who borrow from their trademarks and likenesses – it is the world of efedding. Started in the 1980’s by real life wrestling magazines (Merritt n.d.) the grounding of the game has not changed for the best part of 4 decades. Writers create characters, give them personality traits and a level of in ring training, and they are pit against other players. Matches can be decided in a number of ways (a points system, dice rolls, computer simulation) but the most common is roleplaying – or competitive writing. Two (or more) authors publish a piece, which is judged by their peers, and the best piece wins. Much like the real world of professional wrestling the best characters are rewarded with high profile bouts and championships. From humble beginnings with mail order competition the 90’s saw the rise of the Internet and with it the game was able to launch itself into the future. As the popularity of real life wrestling grew, and the stories became increasingly grounded in reality, so too did the world of the efed. Hosting sites such as Invision and ProBoards became the “fedheads” – a common term for the owner of an efederation – best friend and they were able to manage community interaction, distribution of information and keep records all in one place (ICWF 2017). To keep things above board each federation would have a set of rules and guidelines set out by the fedhead on their forum of behaviours that would be tolerated both in and out of character (GEW 2014). Generally the rules are made uniform throughout the many companies in existence, which keeps things easy to understand across the board and makes participating simple from forum to forum. (De Zwart & Humphreys 2014)

As the times changed so to did the prerogative of the competitors. The contests became more about collaboration and story telling as opposed to direct competition and alternatives to roleplaying battles – such as predetermined, or “angle feds” – began to grow in popularity. With the push towards developing interaction many character handlers moved their in character social interactions from lengthy novellas to the 140 character world of Twitter where on any given day at any given time you can find a plethora of fictional wrestlers discussing all things from real life football matches to the results of fictional wrestling shows (AlohaAdamAlpha 2017). The evolution of this game would not have been possible without the mainstream shift in online culture and the rise of social media. The emergence of social media in the roleplaying subculture has allowed participants a new medium in which to express themselves and provides an interesting perspective on the Always-On theory discussed by Boyd (2012). As Boyd explains how individuals who use mobile devices to manage their social media are constantly connected to those in their network, in the example of the case study, In Character Tweeting allows writers and collaborators to connect on a level that was not previously possible – and at a constant. Where as in days gone by writers would have had to arrange for a time or place to get together, in person or through an Instant Messaging service, to flesh out ideas and build stories together now they need only check their mobile device. From creating complex personal lives, friendship circles, annoying habits and anything in between writers are now able to control the lives of their characters down to the most minute of details in 140 characters while simultaneously participating in a global conversation with other likeminded individuals who are choosing to do the same (Waddell & Peng 2014). In doing so these individuals are prescribing to Boyd’s Always-On ideals twofold – both in and out of character.

When examining the manner in which social media is used within this specific community in terms of the theories discussed by Wilken & McCosker (2014) – who raise concerns of diminishing privacy and social media encouraging increasingly public levels of self-disclosure or exposure (Wilken & McCosker 2014, p.292) – its use can be explored on two levels. On one level there is the actual user, working behind their character, in a location that they may or may not choose to disclose. Considering this then, for all the fanciful tools of the GPS, the geo-locational data gathered from their activities is essentially redundant as it bears no relevance to the content of the postings. Geographic information linked to the actions of the account are stored and disclosed to others but their content is false – therefor nullifying them for any further use (Wilken & McCosker 2014, p. 294). On the other hand there is the characters themselves – whose lives are on display for all to see when exploring down the communities rabbit hole – discussing topics/visiting places which are often in different cities, states and even countries to the handler behind the screen. Again this demonstrates how, despite all of the advancements in technology and fanciful ways to interpret data, the data is redundant if the information it reads is not true (Wilken & McCosker 2014).

Looking at the game on a large scale the efed community has grown significantly and prospered with the rise of social media and now allows global collaboration and multi-point contact between all of its members. This is of considerable difference to the single point contact that was initially available in the game between players and a magazine writer or Webmaster. The freedom to communicate allows for more robust and dynamic story telling and also a greater appreciation of peers and peer reviewed content. (Siapera 2012) The game itself is social gaming at its most basic – characterised by regular social interaction (Rheingold 2012) without need for paying subscriptions or substantial financial investment. By meeting these criteria it becomes the perfect medium for social interaction as anybody with a computer and an internet connection can take part – knowledge of wrestling isn’t even essential as there are so many experienced “fedders” willing to help and even specifically designed promotions to develop new talent and train those with no experience (SCCW 2017).

From this case study on fantasy wrestling it can be seen that social media platforms and advertising do not solely define the realm of social gaming. In the context of fantasy wrestling the shift towards the social media network has enhanced the overall experience of the game by allowing players to come together in a state of constancy that was not previously available. This can be seen to differ from most other social games as its dedicated members run it as a solely not for profit community. Considering this it can be declared that ultimately those who are in it define the social gaming sphere and, when those individuals come together to form a digital community, they can use social media rather than letting social media use them.

 

References 

AlohaAdamAlpha 2017, Atlanta Falcons Playoff Discussion, 22 January, viewed 6 February 2017 <https://twitter.com/AlohaAdamAlpha/status/823289830440337408>

Boyd, D 2012, Participating in the Always On Lifestyle, in Mandiberg (ed) The Social Media Reader, NYU Press, pp. 71-76

de Zwart, M & Humphreys, S 2014,’ The Lawless Frontier of Deep Space: Code as Law in EVE Online’, Cultural Studies Review, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 77-99.

ICWF 2017, Impact Championship Wrestling Federation, jcink.net, viewed 6 February 2017, < http://icwf.jcink.net/index.php?&gt;

GEW 2014, The Rules of GEW, invisionfree.com, April 30, viewed 5 February 2017, <http://z11.invisionfree.com/GEW/index.php?showtopic=9227&gt;

Merritt, C n.d., Where Did FW Come From?, fwrestling.com, viewed 3 February 2017, <http://fwrestling.com/whatis/EpEVupFpppUVXRNrTx.shtml>

O’Neill, N 2008, What Exactly Are Social Games?, adweek.com, July 31, viewed 3 February 2017, <http://www.adweek.com/digital/social-games/&gt;

Rheingold, H 2012, Virtual Community, Britannica.com, 2 February, viewed 5 February 2017, <https://www.britannica.com/topic/virtual-community>

SCCW 2017, Sussex County Championship Wrestling, ProBoards.com, viewed 6 February 2017, <http://sccw.boards.net/&gt;

Siapera, E 2012, ‘Socialities and Social Media’, in Introduction to New Media, Sage, London, pp. 191-208.

Waddell, J & Peng, W 2014, ‘Does it matter with whom you slay? The effects of competition, cooperation and relationship type among video game players’, Computers in Human Behaviour, vol. 38, pp. 331-338.

Wilken, R & McCosker, A 2014, ‘Social Selves‘, in Cunningham & Turnbull (eds), The Media & Communications in Australia, Allen and Unwin pp. 291-295.

Pulp Fact-ion: An Exploration of the Auteur Theory (starring Quentin Tarantino)

Even before I started studying film Quentin Tarantino has always been a personal favourite of mine. His attention to detail, both in his film making techniques and in the narrative landscapes (and entire universe) he has created, are unbelievable. So when given the task of writing about the auteur theory  (and with a universal ban on Hitchcock) Tarantino seemed the logical choice. While the theory itself is fairly ambiguous – and for the most part roughly translated from French – I think I managed to make enough sense out of it to put together something coherent and finish off my first year of studies with a bit of style. With that said I give you Pulp Fact-ion: An Exploration of the Auteur Theory (starring Quentin Tarantino)


The aim of this essay is to analyse the usefulness of the auteur theory as a methodology for studying screen texts. This essay will look to explore and discuss the auteur theory, and the strengths and weaknesses therein, before linking these with direct reference to the body of work of Quentin Tarantino. The theory itself has evolved immensely since it was first discussed in France the early 1950’s and has done much to legitimize film as an academic subject. In order to obtain the relevant information regarding the theory it was necessary to research and examine an extensive array of sources – both English and French. The main outcome of interest is to demonstrate an understanding of how the auteur theory has evolved over the years and how it can be applied when defining a filmmaker the like of Quentin Tarantino.

The foundation of the auteur theory, much like the foundation of modern Hollywood cinema, can be traced back to France during the 1950’s. (Hillier 1985) The writers in French film criticism magazine Cahiers du Cinema developed the concept of a ‘film auteur’ – eventually as a means of linking films together by director – citing a use of recurring film techniques and stylistic manipulations between projects as a reflection of the auteurs own influence over the project (Watson, in Nelmes 2012). However the initial article, published by Jean Truffaut in 1954, that would go on to be the basis of the theory was not intended to create a theory or critical framework at all. (Staples 1967) Truffaut, growing tired of a French film industry that was making films for awards rather than to express artistic creativity, attacked the screen-writers of the time and demanded that something should be done to spur a change.

“I cannot believe in the peaceful co-existence of the Tradition of Quality and a cinema of auteurs.” (Staples 1967)

By 1957 the Cahiers writers had developed Truffaut’s ideas into a very basic outline of the auteur theory that is known today. It is worth noting however that an article published in the April of 1957 by Andre Bazin served to remind audiences that the theory had developed from criticism and had never formally been written down (Staples 1967). Bazin would go on to further discuss the auteur theory at length for the remainder of his life and it was from here that it began to develop into the learning that it has since become.

The concept of the auteur was not brought to the attention of the English-speaking world until the 1960’s due largely in part to the publication of Andrew Sarris’ essay “Notes on the Auteur Theory”. (Sarris 1962) In his writing Sarris expanded on the ideals that had been debated by the Cahiers writers in the previous decade and identified his three premises of the auteur theory as;

  • Technical competence
  • Distinguishable personality of the director
  • Interior meaning

With his auteur theory arguing that the director and their choices were the driving force behind a film, similar to an artist or musician, rather than the film itself. It was this interpretation of filmmaking, and the auteur, that would allow film as a medium to become a seriously recognized subject of study. Similarly to his predecessors from Cahiers Sarris would also state that it was not his intention to create a theory and that his article was written in an experimental manner and “not intended as the last word on the subject.” (Sarris 1968)

“Auteurism shifted attention from the “what” (story, theme) to the ‘how’ (style, technique), showing that style itself had persona, ideological and even metaphysical reverberation… It facilitated film’s entry into literature department and played a major role in the academic legitimisation of cinema studies.” (Stam 2000, p. 92)

Auteurism granted film critics a framework by which they could analyse film in a way that had not been possible previously. Cinema had been shown the artistic and academic legitimacy (Watson, in Nelmes 2012) that other art forms, such as music and visual art, had already been afforded for many years before. Critics were able to look past the story and analyse how it was told; reviewing the mise-en-scene and film techniques used by an auteur as opposed to the traditional review of the narrative of the film itself. By doing this both the artistic merits of the film and its maker were evaluated simultaneously. By adhering to the auteur theory when analysing film a critic could now look across a filmmaker’s body of work for stylistic consistencies, thematic preoccupations and a particular worldview (Watson, in Nelmes 2012), identifying the auteur and distinguishing their personality within their works.

While this newfound appreciation for the auteur was of great benefit to the world of cinema it did come at a price. The theory itself, while legitimizing film as an academic medium, was fundamentally flawed in the sense that it was entirely up to the mind of the critic to decide what did and did not fit its framework. What one critic may have deemed to be work of an auteur another may have seen as a metteur-en-scene and as a result the theory has been constantly challenged throughout its history. Ironically the majority of criticisms of the auteur theory have come either from critics themselves or from those involved with the film industry. This suggests that the theory itself is practical, however, it does not always suit the agendas of those who oppose it and is therefore contested.

Another point of contention in the auteur theory, further to the above, is the overall recognition and distinction between directors. While writing for Cahiers Bazin coined the term ‘metteurs-en-scene’ (literally translated as ‘scene setter’) which was used as an allusion the directors who were competent in their filmmaking skills and abilities but did so without a discernable individual style. In a transposition of the beginnings of auteur theory it would be Truffaut expanding on Bazin’s writing when he used the term in his essay ‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’ (Sarris 1962). Unlike Bazin who was using the term descriptively Truffaut would give the metteur-en-scene a derogatory connotation, implying that these directors were inferior, juxtaposing the term against that of the great auteurs. In more modern times, thanks largely in part to Sarris, there is less distinction between the auteur and the metteur-en-scene. Nor is there a prescribed course by which a director must evolve as one or the other. Sarris describes his auteur theory as a “pattern theory in constant flux” (Sarris 1962) declaring that, regardless of the ever-changing definitions, a genuine director can be identified by the patterns that are established after they have produced a number of films and left behind a body of work. It is this definition that allows a filmmaker to operate as an auteur, a metteur-en-scene, or a combination of both at different points throughout their career without being defined by it.

It is for these reasons that the auteur theory is always going to be widely open to interpretation and at the discretion of the critic as to whether or not they deem a filmmaker to be an auteur. Due to this lack of concrete definition filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, who will become the subject of discussion form this point forward, can frequently become the subject of debate as to their merits as a true auteur. While it cannot be disputed that Tarantino has shown all the hallmarks of an auteur, with his use of recurring film techniques and stylistic manipulations, his attention to detail in the mise-en-scene of his films cannot be denied either. Regardless of the critical interpretation of the auteur theory there is no doubt that Tarantino can be called a genuine director with a body of work spanning from Reservoir Dogs (1992) to The Hateful Eight (2016). As noted previously Sarris was of the belief that the genuine director could be identified by the patterns established over such body of work and it is by this admission that a discussion can commence.

Looking at the areas of the auteur theory that have already been raised in this essay it can be argued that Tarantino fits the mould under Sarris’ three premises (Sarris 1962). From a technical standpoint his abilities are more than competent and, as mentioned previously, his recurring use of particular techniques – such as Dutch angles and overtly stylistic violence – are prevalent throughout his body of work. This first premise is, arguably, the least impactful when it comes to discussing the auteur theory as for any director to be successful they must be competent. Tarantino’s body of work starts to come to life when considered for the second and third premises. Unlike the traditional director who works for the studio Tarantino has made his career by expressing himself and marching to the beat of his own drum. Through this desire to create a film from the ground up, using ideas that he may have been holding onto for years (Sordea 2009), his personality is easily distinguishable in his titles. Further to this he has often discussed at length the ‘universe’ in which his films take place (Smith 2016), which demonstrates the effort, and detail he puts in to the creative process – showing the interior meaning that he assigns to each project. While all of the thematic criteria are met in considering Tarantino as an auteur to deny his ability as a metteur-en-scene would be an insult to his ability in creating a mise-en-scene. Many critics believe that Tarantino makes some of the best scenes in modern western cinema (Aalbers 2010). This is a prime example of Sarris’ “pattern theory in constant flux” whereby Tarantino is able to operate with the abilities of a metteur-en-scene while still being considered an auteur.

Another great hallmark of the auteur that is shown by Tarantino is his assimilation into the mainstream education system. The auteur theory was responsible for legitimizing film as an academic medium and it is not uncommon now for Tarantino to be used as an example, often next to the other great auteurs like Hitchcock, when cinema is being studied. Be it the contributions his films have made to modern cinema, or the techniques within them, his personal style and world view is accurately captured and as a result will continue to be relevant for future generations as they continue to study film. This perfectly encapsulates what it is to be an auteur. While interpretations may change, and critical opinions differ, the history books will always remember those auteurs that are written in the history books. For want of a better term, given the great auteurs of the past, Tarantino is somewhat of a ‘modern’ auteur. His individual style hovers between that of a classic auteur and a metteur-en-scene, but remains relevant none the less.

Taking this all into consideration it cannot be stressed enough how important the auteur theory has been to modern cinema and how, from humble beginnings in the magazine pages of 1950’s France, the film industry could be forever changed by an article that was never intended to spark the change that it did. As a point of contention critics will never agree with one another but thanks to Truffaut, Bazin and Sarris they will forever have a guideline by which they can disagree on the auteurs of the past and those that come in the future. Regardless of these opinions there can be no denying that Tarantino has showed throughout his career that he is deserving of the title of an auteur.

 

References

Aalbers, J 2010, Tarantino is a ‘metteur-en-scene’ – the Inglorious Basterds review, WordPress, viewed February 7th 2016,

<https://jasperaalbers.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/inglourious/&gt;

Hillier, J 1985, Cahiers Du Cinéma, the 1950s: Neo-realism, Hollywood, New Wave, Harvard University Press

Nelmes, J 2012, Introduction to film studies, 5th edition, Routledge, London

Sarris, A 1962, ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory’ in L. Braudy & M. Cohen (Eds.), Film theory and criticism: Introductory readings, New York: Oxford University Press.

Sarris, A 1968, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, Perseus Books Group

Smith, J 2016, ‘They all inhabit one universe’: Quentin Tarantino FINALLY confirms all of the characters from his films are connected, Daily Mail, viewed February 7th 2016,

< http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3404845/They-inhabit-one-universe-Quentin-Tarantino-FINALLY-confirms-characters-films-connected.html&gt;

Sordeau, H 2009, Quentin Tarantino talks Inglourious Basterds – RT Interview, RottenTomatoes, viewed February 7th 2016,

< http://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/article/quentin-tarantino-talks-inglourious-basterds-rt-interview/>

Stam, R 2000, Film theory: An introduction, Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Staples, D 1967, The Auteur Theory Reexamined, Cinema Journal vol. 6 (1966-67), pp. 1-7, University of Texas Press

Design Activism: Designers With A Sense of Social Responsibility

The aim of this essay is to explore and discuss design activism as a medium by which contemporary designers undertake projects based on their ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility. Thorpe (2011, p.6) defines design activism as meeting four basic criteria;

  1. It publicly reveals or frames a problem or challenging issue.
  2. It makes a contentious claim for change (it calls for change) based on that problem or issue.
  3. It works on behalf of a neglected, excluded or disadvantaged group.
  4. It disrupts routine practices, or systems of authority, which gives it the characteristics of being unconventional or unorthodox – outside traditional channels of change.

To analyse and effectively discuss the topic of design activism this essay will explore three recent projects – Advance to Zero (Inkahoots, 2016), Vein Care (Bartleet, n.d.) & Digital Birth (Ovland, 2014) – by designers working in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific nations and discuss how design activism has been used to respond to contemporary social problems. This exploration will be supported by various readings, both academic and peer reviewed, including the design activism definition from Defining design as activism (Thorpe, 2011), as well as Design activism: Beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world (Fuad-Luke, 2006), Citizen designer: Perspectives on design responsibility (Heller & Vienne, 2003) and Good: Ethics of Graphic Design (Roberts, 2006) and will seek to provide further insight on the subject of design activists undertaking projects on their sense of ethical responsibility.

The first project selected for analysis in this essay is Advance to Zero; a groundbreaking national initiative of the Australian Alliance to End Homelesness (Inkahoots, 2016). The project focuses around the idea of community, bringing together homeless individuals and families to assist with challenges faced in trying to house people experiencing homelessness (Inkahoots, 2016).

fig1(Advance to Zero, 2016, http://inkahoots.com.au/projects/advance-to-zero/~i-382)

While this summary is only brief it does well to define the Advance to Zero project within Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) criteria. The explicit purpose of the project is to publicly reveal and call for change on the epidemic of homelessness that is currently sweeping Australia (Dow, 2016) and by doing so aid one of the most significantly disadvantaged groups within our society. In doing so the designers are acknowledging their feelings of moral obligation to help the downtrodden in the best way they know how – by designing. McCoy in Heller & Vienne (2003, p. 20) believes that designers can no longer afford to be passive, “Designers must be good citizens and participate tin the shaping of our government and society.” She goes on to issue a rallying cry to all designers to come together with their skills and encourage others to wake up and participate in the bettering of our society. This shows that designers the world over, just like those working on the Advance to Zero project, feel a great ethical responsibility to use their powers to influence change as we progress as a society. The strong, unwavering belief within the design that they can come together anywhere, any time and spur change around the globe (Julier, 2013) cannot be understated. Whether it is to help the homeless as seen with the Advance to Zero project or to push for other societal need like equality or sustainability this shows the power of design activism and the profound impact it can have on society when designers undertake projects based on their ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility.

 A similar project demonstrating elements of activism by design is Vein Care (Bartleet, n.d.) – an educational initiative of Queensland Health to educate both medical professionals and drug users in regards to safe injecting techniques by way of posters, books and information cards (Bartleet, n.d),

fig2(Vein Care, n.d., http://www.brettonbartleet.com/vein-care/)

Similarly to the Advance to Zero project Vein Care can easily be identified by Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) criteria for design activism. The project is designed to minimize risk and injury in those being injected by publicising an issue that has traditionally been seen as taboo. By doing this the project not only calls for change in the literal sense by reducing harm but also by presenting drug use in a new light – depicting drug users as human beings who need help rather than demonising them as a blight on society as other mainstream media often does. This kind of socially active design – whereby designers are fulfilling their own moral obligation (Heller & Vienne, 2003, p. 54) and ethical concerns to create something for the betterment of society is described by Fuad-Luke (2009, p. 78) as being, “…where the focus of the design is society and its transition and/or transformation to a more sustainable way of living, working and producing.” When considered in this way the Vein Care project is very much focused on transitioning society to a more sustainable way of living – not only for those who are suffering from drug addiction, but also those around them and medical practitioners involved in other community programs. By having Bretton Bartleet, a well known design activist who has worked with many not for profit organisations and charities and who believes passionately in the ability of design to empower, excite, challenge and inform (Bartleet, 2016) partner with Queensland Health for the purpose of this project his personal feelings of ethical concern and social responsibility shine through as well as his talents as a designer.

The final project to be discussed in this exploration of design activism is Digital Birth (Ovland 2014) that looks at the sensitive social issues of Online security and children. According to the study attached by Ovland (2014), “84% of Australian children under the age of two have some kind of digital dossier online” – a fact that she brought to the publics attention by placing signs and cordoning off playgrounds (Ovland, 2014)

fig3(Digital Birth, 2014, http://typolitic.com/digital-birth/)

Perhaps the most interesting of the three projects explored in this discussion the project, while conforming with Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) four criteria, stood out particularly for representing children. An incredibly vulnerable, neglected and excluded group when it comes to the discussion of social issues as they are often not aware of what is going on around them or able to fully comprehend. While this project was well received within the community and created great awareness for greater safety for children online the project itself only framed old data word for word in a new, more visually appealing way while being simultaneously confronting (Ovland, 2014). When considering this Roberts (2006, p.92) believes that graphic design is neutral but becomes important by virtue of various things. One of these is the interpretation of the intended audience. Further to the design itself Ovland took her sense of social responsibility one step further and went out to interview some of the parents who had been moved by the project. Parents who had never even thought of what information they were displaying about their children online were determined then to go home and check and make changes to their behaviour (Ovland, 2014). This demonstrates a true to life example of both Thorpe’s (2011, p.6) criteria and Fuad-Luke’s (2009. p.78) belief in socially active design and not only showcases the designers overwhelming sense of social responsibility and ethical concerns for the chosen design but also the powerful impact that design activism can have on the public.

Through critical analysis and discussion of design activism as a medium by which contemporary designers undertake projects based on their ethical concerns and a sense of social responsibility it can be determined that this influence is indeed very strong. Utilising the definition of Thorpe and the readings of Fuad-Luke, Heller & Vienne, Roberts and others, with specific reference to the three projects identified in this essay a clear correlation can be seen between the works and a feeling of social responsibility to help those in need in a manner fitting of a designer. These projects typify the modern design activist and do well to showcase their strong ethics and social awareness while simultaneously being incredible works of art in their own unique way. Specifically these three projects show clear of how, when the appropriate person or group of people target the appropriate project with strong beliefs to match it’s desired outcomes, design activism can be an incredibly powerful tool in inspiring change within our society.

 

References

Books

Fuad-Luke, A. (2009). Design activism: Beautiful strangeness for a sustainable world. London & Sterlin, Virginia, US: Earthscan.

Heller, S. & Vienne, V. (2003). Citizen designer: Perspectives on design responsibility. New York: Alworth Press.

Roberts, L. (2006). Good: Ethics of Graphic Design. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing. (Philosophy – an Interview with Anthony Grayling)

Articles and Online Articles

Dow, A. (2016). ‘Shocking’: Record numbers of homeless people sleeping on Melbourne’s streets. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/shocking-record-numbers-of-homeless-people-sleeping-on-melbournes-streets-20160609-gpf1wk.html

Julier, G. (2013). From Design Culture to Design Activism. Design and Culture. 55(2), 215-236. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.2752/175470813X13638640370814?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Markussen, T. (2013). The disruptive aesthetics of design activism: Enacting design between art and politics. Design Issues. Winter 2013, 29(1), 38-50. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=b303ec5f-bb3a-45b3-8def-c3edbbad4489%40sessionmgr4008&vid=9&hid=4101

Millman, D. (2014, December 15). Justin Ahrens: Design matters, design observer. Retrieved from http://designobserver.com/article.php?id=38699

Rawsthorn, A. (2013, July 15). Expanding the definitions of design. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/arts/design/Expanding-the-Definitions-of-Design.html?ref=alicerawsthorn&_r=0

Rawsthorn, A. (2014, December 4). Fixing stuff, repairing the world. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/arts/design/the-fab-mind-a-tokyo-show-highlights-design-activism.html?_r=0.

Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining design as activism. Design Activism. Retrieved from http://designactivism.net/

Web Pages

Bartleet, B. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.brettonbartleet.com/

Inkahoots. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.inkahoots.com.au/

Ovland, T. (2014). Retrieved  from http://typolitic.com/digital-birth/

From the Archive: Black is the new Black: An exploration of the neo-noir genre

For years Black is the new Black was a term that I threw around in online circles, being the proprietor of both blackisthenewblack.com and .net over the years, as well as my seldom used YouTube channel BlackIsTheNewBlackTV – all of which have been defined by the unique dancing moustache GIF I dreamt up in MS Paint late one night. Somewhere along the way (deep into my first year of study) I was able to find a new meaning for the term; using it as a title for a film genre analysis. So without further ado I present – Black is the new Black: An Exploration of the neo-noir genre.


The aim of this piece is to analyse and discuss the progression of the neo-noir genre as it has evolved over the years. This will be achieved by; analysing the conventions of the neo-noir genre, identifying key periods in the genres history, discussing the recognition the genre receives within the inter textual relay and exploring how the genre has evolved since its beginnings. This analysis will be supported by various readings, both academic and non-academic, and will seek to provide insight of the genre as a whole.

When the neo-noir genre emerged it was still very heavily rooted in the classic Hollywood film noir period of the 1940’s and 50’s. Originally defined by stories about cynical detectives and crooked private investigators with questionable motives, the genre was typified by its dense urban settings and use of low-key chiaroscuro lighting (Schwartz 2005). The typical mise-en-scene of a noir film featured abandoned warehouses; back alleyways shrouded in smoke or fog, and shady office buildings. Another commonly seen convention was the use of unbalanced shots, more commonly referred to as ‘Dutch Angles’, which were designed to give the audience a better understanding of what the character was experiencing or thinking (Schwartz 2005).

One of the most iconic characteristics from noir films, which has carried on into the neo-noir genre and beyond, is the use of overlays and frames within frames to create shadows and obscure the subject of the film. This technique is used to maximize the effect of the chiaroscuro lighting and to subconsciously create doubt in the mind of the audience as to the true motives of the character or characters depicted (Miller 2014). An example of this can be seen in the venetian blind effect (Figure I), a commonly used effect of the noir and neo-noir genres, taken from Chinatown (Polanski 1974) one of the most influential films of the neo-noir genre (Schwartz 2005).

chinatown

Figure I: Venetian blind lighting effect from Polanski’s Chinatown (1974)

As the genre developed its own identity, and the narratives moved beyond the classic detective stories of the great depression, the preconceived notion of what made a noir film changed. Martin (1999) explains that the genre aimed to capture the notion of the American dream gone wrong, depicting characters that felt that they were losing control of what is happening around them, and falling into a society which was unravelling. This can be seen in Taxi Driver (Scorsese 1976); the story of a discharged US Marine turned taxi driver with questionable beliefs and extremely violent tendencies. This film is a perfect example of how neo-noir films can be not only stylistically fragmented, but also thematically (Martin 1999), with complex stories, characters and film techniques used to convey an often deep seated emotional and political awareness. While the setting of Taxi Driver still conformed to the traditional urban noir of its predecessors the narrative was much more politically aware than most. While this had been seen in earlier neo-noir titles, such as The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer 1962), through films like Scorsese’s it would go on to become one of the defining themes of the neo-noir genre throughout the cold war period (1962 – 1979) and beyond.

As the cold war ended, and the 1980’s gave the world the personal computer and the synthesiser, the technological revolution was gathering speed. With it the popularity of the science fiction genre was at its peak – aided largely by the releases of Star Wars (Lucas 1977) and Alien (Scott 1979). This popularity would see one of the first, and arguably the most significant, crossovers of the neo-noir genre Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. Set in a dystopian future the narrative itself was far from the back alley detective stories of classic noir however the film techniques used were still very much apparent. This can be seen in the low-key long shot of the shadowy urban setting (Figure II) and another take on the venetian blind effect (Figure III).

bladerunner

Figure II: Shadowy street scape, Blade Runner (1982)

bladerunner2

Figure III: Venetian blind effect, Blade Runner (1982)

Receiving almost entirely positive reviews and often cited as the best science fiction film of all time (Jha 2004) the success of Blade Runner, coupled with its new take on the neo-noir genre, opened the door for the genre to a whole new audience. While this had a positive flow on effect for future releases it can also be attributed as one of the main reasons that there is now such an ambiguous definition of the genre.

By the beginning of the 90’s the term neo-noir had almost become a tag for films that could not be pigeonholed into any other genre. The rise of the Coen Brothers and their neo-noir inspired dark comedy films – Millers Crossing (1990) and Barton Fink (1991) – saw the common themes of isolation and cynicism moved out of the darkness of the back alley detectives office and into more contemporary settings. The Coen Brothers replaced the isolation of the dead of night with the isolation of winter snow and deep woods. (Miller 2014) This new take on the genre featured heavily in Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs (1992) and subsequent follow up Pulp Fiction (1994). In the spirit of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver the characters in both these films were overtly violent and had their own values and beliefs that they lived by which, since highlighted in Taxi Driver, had become a prominent feature of the neo-noir genre. In similar fashion to the Coen Brothers Tarantino’s films were at times bright and vibrant, with isolation and despair created with clever filming techniques and complex narratives, juxtaposed with dark characters (Figure IV) fitting of the genre.

vicvega

Figure IV: Laidback psychopath Vic Vega, Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Tarantino coupled his brilliantly written characters with method actors who could not only give brilliant performances but were also known to audiences within the genre. Both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction starred Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver) and Steve Buscemi (Millers Crossing, Barton Fink). One of the most common recurring neo-noir conventions used by Tarantino was the use of Dutch Angles (Figure V and VI) and while the Tarantino films that followed would go on to be more artistic and stray from the neo-noir genre there would still elements of his neo-noir roots.

trunk

Figure V: Tarantino’s trunk shot, Reservoir Dogs (1992)

trunk2

Figure VI: An homage to himself, Tarantino’s trunk shot, Pulp Fiction (1994)

With the new millennium came new writers and directors looking to make their mark on the neo-noir genre. At the same time the Hollywood blockbuster had turned its attention to the comic book genre and both Marvel and DC studios were looking to capitalise on the growing market. Bryan Singer (X-Men) and Christopher Nolan (Batman) would go on to produce two of the most successful franchises in modern cinema. While Singer’s X-Men films contained only traces of his neo-noir past (The Usual Suspects 1995) it was Christopher Nolan who would go on to create what many had thought was not possible; a comic book noir fusion in the form of Batman Begins (Ebert 2005). The neo-noir genre was not unknown to Nolan who in 2000 produced Memento, which was met with much critical acclaim (Berardinelli 2001), and it was his desire to tell this kind of dark story that lead him to Warner Brothers in an effort to revive the Batman franchise. The neo-noir elements used by Nolan in Batman Begins (2005) were extremely well utilised, with his depiction of Batman befriending the shadows and using the night not only a salute to the classic noir film of old (Figure VII) but also a much more accurate adaptation of the comic books.

imbatman

Figure VII: Batman emerges from the mist, Batman Begins (2005)

Similar to Nolan’s work the comic book/neo-noir fusion was also prevalent in Sin City (Miller, Rodriguez and Tarantino 2005), which again paid homage to the classic Hollywood noir period, while simultaneously staying true to its violent neo-noir roots. A traditional noir feature that appeared in this film was the heavy use of character narration – a feature that Nolan himself had also used in the aforementioned Memento (2000). While similar in convention the use of narration varied heavily between the two. While Miller’s Sin City was narrated in a traditional manner, aiding the production as a story telling tool, the narration in Nolan’s Memento gave a very biased account as it was coming directly from the main character. This narration was made even more questionable as the character in question was suffering from amnesia throughout the film.

Throughout this progression there has been constant dialogue within the film community surrounding the validity of neo-noir as a genre. While it can be debated to what extent a film conforms to the conventions of neo-noir it cannot be said that the genre does not exist as a whole. The purpose of defining a genre, however loosely it may be, is to give the audience a preconceived idea of what they will be consuming (Nelmes 2012). While this is a widely recognised theory it does not eliminate individuals from making their own judgement and voicing an opinion within the mediasphere. This discussion is furthered by what (Langford 2006) describes as a, “… postmodern preoccupation with generic hybridity (which) relies on a historically unsupported notion of classical genres as far more rigid and secure…” To put this into perspective the classic noir genre was not recognised until sometime after it was popularised (Naremore 2008). This example shows that while the neo-noir genre has been in existence since at least the 1960’s it may be some time before the discussion is finalised – if at all.

Given this ongoing debate regarding the neo-noir genre it is also not uncommon for the term to be applied to films for showing even the slightest use of its conventions. It is not uncommon for directors, both those who have and have not previously been associated with the genre, to have the label applied to their films within the inter-textual relay – though mostly the label is reserved for directors who have previously been associated with the genre. An example of this can be seen in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 release The Departed. While by no means a neo-noir film the use of its conventions (Figure VIII), as well as the appearance of Jack Nicholson (Chinatown 1974), and Scorsese’s noir history it is not uncommon to see the two mentioned together.

departed

Figure VIII: Jack Nicholson has a back alley meeting, The Departed (2006)

The neo-noir genre has developed over the years from a simple extension of the classical noir period to a self-sustained genre in its own right. While the classification of what makes a film neo-noir may not be concrete there is no denying that the genre exists and it is simply a matter of concluding whether a film is neo-noir or simply borrowing aspects from neo-noir. The conventions used are unique, and while they may have been drawn from other aspects of film, they are now definitive of the genre. From the early works of Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese, through to the contemporary works of Christopher Nolan, the genre has progressed a great deal thanks in part to its ability to co-exist with other genres with political motivation and awareness also at the forefront. As long as there is a need for alternative means of storytelling this adaptability and awareness will see that the neo-noir genre will remain a part of the Hollywood film industry for many more years to come.

References

Texts

Martin, R 1999, Mean Streets and Raging Bulls: The legacy of film noir in contemporary American cinema, Scarecrow Press, Maryland

Schwartz, R 2005, Neo-noir: The New Film Noir Style from Psycho to Collateral, Scarecrow Press, Maryland

Nelmes, J 2012, Introduction to film studies, 5th edition, Routledge, London

Langford, B 2006, Film Genre: Hollywood and Beyond, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh

Naremore, J 2008, More Than Night: Film noir in its contexts, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles

Berardinelli, J 2001, Memento, ReelViews.net, viewed January 10th 2016, < http://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/memento&gt;

Jha, A 2004, Scientists vote Blade Runner best sci-fi film of all time, The Guardian, viewed January 10th 2016, <http://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/aug/26/sciencenews.sciencefictionspecial>

Ebert, R 2005, Batman Begins, Rogerebert.com, viewed January 10th 2016, < http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/batman-begins-2005>

Miller, DG 2014, The Elements of Neo-noir, Geekcentricity, viewed January 10th 2016, < http://geekcentricity.com/the-elements-of-neo-noir/>

Films

The Manchurian Candidate 1962, film, United Artists, United States, Directed by John Frankenheimer

Chinatown 1974, film, Paramount Pictures, United States, Directed by Roman Polanski

Taxi Driver 1976, film, Columbia Pictures, United States, Directed by Martin Scorsese

Star Wars 1977, film, 20th Century Fox, United States, Directed by George Lucas

Alien 1979, film, 20th Century Fox, United States, Directed by Ridley Scott

Blade Runner 1982, film, Warner Brothers, United States, Directed by Ridley Scott

Millers Crossing 1990, film, 20th Century Fox, United States, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Barton Fink 1991, film, 20th Century Fox, United States, Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Reservoir Dogs 1992, Miramax Films, United States, Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Pulp Fiction 1994, Miramax Films, United States, Directed by Quentin Tarantino

The Usual Suspects 1995, Spelling Films International, United States, Directed by Bryan Singer

Memento 2000, Newmarket, United States, Directed by Christopher Nolan

Batman Begins 2005, Warner Brothers Pictures, United States, Directed by Christopher Nolan

Sin City 2005, Miramax Films, United States, Directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino

The Departed 2006, Warner Brothers, United States, Directed by Martin Scorsese

Images

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, n.d., image, movpins.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <http://www.movpins.com/big/MV5BMjEzMTQ1NzA5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI2MDUyNw/still-of-jack-nicholson-in-chinatown-(1974)-large-picture.jpg&gt;

Roy Arrives (Bladerunner Screenshot), n.d., image, wordpress.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <https://filmgrab.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/34-roy-arrives1.png>

Bladerunner Screenshot, n.d., image, alfamovie.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <http://www.alfamovie.com/wp-content/uploads/v_p_images/1982/06/64_58_screenshot.jpg&gt;

Vic Vega with milkshake, n.d., image, wordpress.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <https://screensense.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/reservoirdogs.jpg>

Reservoir Dogs Screenshot, n.d., image, blogspot.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rqjBCqs8xR0/T3dOIKFXRFI/AAAAAAAABD4/cI08_bNoMeU/s1600/Reservoir+dogs.png&gt;

Pulp Fiction Screenshot, n.d., image, pinimg.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/73/98/83/73988360fe7605aabc2c1090b4445942.jpg>

Batman in the shadows, n.d., image, bluray.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <http://images3.static-bluray.com/reviews/471_1.jpg>

The Departed Screenshot, n.d., image, moviecomix.com, viewed January 10th 2016 <http://moviecomix.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/The-Departed-2006-Dual-Audio-Hindi-Eng-1080p-BluRay-2.4GB-moviecomix.com3_.png&gt;