Category Archives: BCM310

Whitewashing Foreign Film

For thousands of years stories have been trade around from generation to generation and between cultures. As stories transcend the cultures they are created within, slight changes occur in order to fit the stories into the new culture. A big contemporary example of this is The United States’ Hollywood, which is often criticised for it’s whitewashing of it’s films. Whitewashing is the making of foreign sourced content with a Caucasian-centric approach. An interesting case is the original 1954 japanese film ‘Gojira’ vs the American remake ‘Godzilla’.

Gojira vs Godzilla

The original Japanese ‘Gojira’ features a giant reptile beast brought about by American nuclear weapon testing and the struggles of the Japanese victims of Gojira’s attacks. The film explores themes of corrupt politics, nuclear warfare and the role and power of science with weaponry. The film is quite well received and is considered a good metaphor for condemning the use of nuclear warfare and as such is somewhat critical of America’s involvement in the development of nuclear weapons. An English dub of this movie was created for American audiences but as well as adding subtitles to some scenes and the occasional dubbing over scenes, multiple ‘American scenes’ were filmed and spliced into the movie to localise it to American audiences.

The problems surrounding the American remake is that the American scenes break the narrative of the original and re-orients the trajectory of themes, effectively cutting a lot of the crucial social and political commentary that made the original so impacting. The inclusion of an American main character, Steve Martin, distances audiences from the plight of the Japanese victims and being an American remake, much of the discourse condemning nuclear warfare and indirectly criticising America’s involvement in the development of nuclear weapons.

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An example of how there seems to be an imagined need for characters that we want to relate to to be of the popular Caucasian variety when it doesn’t matter so much for any other character (In Godzilla, there is an added American main character but Godzilla remains a ‘Japanese’ monster)

It’s Not About Accessibility

A common response to why films are changed so much in translation is that it makes the films more accessible to the local audience. This Huffington post Article by Amanda Scherker demonstrates many cases where stories with foreign source material are strongly Americanised and characters originally of non-white appearance are often being played by white actors. Subtitles and dubbing is often more than enough to localise content, changing important aspects of a film whether it be to defend the integrity of a nation’s military practices or so audiences can relate to the characters and their habits perpetuates the idea of ‘otherness’. As David White say in an interview in B. Couleur magazine, “Unfortunately, the industry is driven by a group of risk averse decision makers who continually make inaccurate assumptions about the abilities of people of color and storylines about their communities and this persists generationally” (White, 2011). White identifies that there is an ideology that suggests we can’t make connections with people who aren’t ‘just like us’. There is a prevalent idea that people of any culture or race than our own is ‘different’ and ‘not one of us’. This can exist in extreme cases with racism and culture avoidance but also in smaller interactions such as thoughts like, “I like Italian food but not Korean food”. Can that truly be the case, that the subject dislikes all food related to the broad culture of a nation? It’s more likely that the subject dislikes a number of foods often identified as originating in Korea.

The End or Just the Beginning?

In a chapter of his book ‘Always on’ titled, iSpy: the end of privacy, Brian Chen suggests that following the rise of social media and the subsequent ease to which we can share personal information en mas and companies can ‘mine’ that information that perhaps privacy doesn’t matter any more. I beg to differ, considering that more and more of our arbitrary personal information is becoming a valued commodity among the companies that surround us, it could be said that privacy is becoming an increasingly prominent aspect to consider in our lives.

We’re All Worth It

According to this quick personal data value calculator, companies would pay roughly $500 for the data profile of a thousand, fairly ordinary people such as myself. Scale this up to the 1.4 billion Facebook users and suddenly data is very valuable. Chen says, “the wide spread enthusiasm for always on interpersonal connections is indisputable proof that people are willing to sacrifice privacy in exchange for services richly tailored to their unique lives” (Chen, 2011), while it is true that people are actively sacrificing privacy in some areas for social media services it’s only some of our personal details we’re simply handing out. Information that previously was not considered so private is becoming the more valuable data about ourselves such as, our shopping habits, travel details and opinions on products and services. It’s these details that we are paying close attention to because of the risk of being profiled by companies that suggest that privacy is more relevant than ever.

But at What Cost?

We have a rough idea of the financial implications of data mining but why is it important that we are aware of what companies know about us? Individual pieces of data on a person aren’t particularly useful but when combined into a profile it can be used to anticipate our wants and behaviours in order to tailor services to unique individuals. For example, consider John, we can tell from his Google check in data that he frequents a specific supermarket near his home, Facebook tells us he is a school student and his loyalty card data shows he often purchases work books and pens but he hasn’t bought any pens in a while. It’s getting close to the beginning of a new school semester and by looking at his profile, we can safely assume John may want to buy pens from his local supermarket, knowing this, John’s local supermarket may lower the price of pens to persuade John to make the purchase. Sounds good, right? John’s data profile allowed his local supermarket to tailor their prices to his needs. On the other hand, John’s local supermarket may also lower the price of work books to persuade him to buy things he doesn’t need and then raise the prices of work books and pens later when his profile suggests he has little demand for new pens but in reality he just lost the new ones he bought.

It’s not that companies may use our data to abuse us but the profiles created from this data are incomplete representations of ourselves and this can cause problems between consumers and companies. On the surface it seems that we are handing out our information and that privacy doesn’t matter or exist any more but so many new aspects of our lives are finding a need for privacy that education on privacy and surveillance is vital to maintaining fair business practices and not allowing societies to develop a culture without any sense of personal privacy.

Chen, B 2011,”iSpy: The end of privacy,” in  Always On, Cambridge MA, Da Capo Pres.

Disclaimer: I do not own this cover image, cover image can be found ‘here’

Pictures of Pain

In 1993, photographer Kevin Carter took a photo of a young, unfortunately malnourished Sudanese child being watched by a vulture. The next year, Carter received the Pulitzer prize for that same photograph, a very coveted award in the journalism industry. Three months later Carter ended his own life. This tragic story highlights an issue in journalism, a sort of images of suffering paradox.

Witnessing Suffering Paradox

In an age where there are so many ways to access news visual media such as; newspapers, magazines, the internet, it’s not uncommon to run into confronting imagery of people at war, under oppressive regime, suffering from famine and other negative situations. On one hand these images are important for raising discourse towards the issues depicted and the contexts in which these issues exist. Alternatively, these images can be said to be exploiting the subjects of the images.

Vulture Watching Starving Child March 1, 1993 Sudan
Vulture Watching Starving Child March 1, 1993 Sudan

Kevin Carter’s Vulture watching a starving child depicts a child in a situation many of us in western countries have ever experienced. Bold pictures such as this one raise discourse around the topic, in this case not only was this picture talked about in the context of the conflict and famine in Sudan but whether the photographer should have taken the photo or not. Carter was criticised for ‘exploiting the young subject of his photo’ by taking a photo of the girl being stacked by a predator instead of helping her. In her article in the ethical limitations of photojournalism, Paula Gortazar looks at four ethics photojournalists need to consider

“· The ethical position in the discourse of their photograph

· The aesthetic representation of such ethical position

· The ethical practice in the production of their photographs

· The way in which their work is displayed and presented to the public.” (Gortazar)

Gortazar concludes that Carter is unethical in all these aspects but it would seem that he is genuine in his intentions because he was clear about the events leading up to and following the photograph which suggests he showed little to no compassion for the girl.

A dilemma exists in that photo journalism plays the important role of showing audiences  situations that we wouldn’t otherwise face but more often than not, at the cost of trivialising the issue when the context of the image or the article it’s attached to creates the wrong kind of discourse or potentially exploiting victims of an issue when an image is used with an agenda.

Other Ways

Alternatives to raising awareness are often being developed such as songs and games. e.g this Sanitation Hackathon project aims to raise awareness on sanitation issues and educate on proper toilet usage. While these approaches may be more engaging (especially games) it’s at an even greater cost of the message. It would seem that photojournalism is a necessity to really portray issues of the world in an easily accessible way.