Chris will not be attending the cinema this week

roxy-cinemaAs a sixteen-year-old I worked as a dental nurse in Nowra. The surgery is opposite the old Roxy theatre, where it wasn’t unusual for me to be seen the four or five times a week. I had a Granton card which knocked the extravagant price of six dollars, down to four dollars per session. Clocking off work at five o’clock meant I was just in time for the 5:10 session of whatever was playing. Courtesy of being brought up an only child, I never feared going to the movies alone. The cinema was pink and grotesque, decked out with fibreglass Roman statues of decadent gods that would not approve of the tastelessly distributed Rococo and Art Deco details in the plaster work. There was a candy bar downstairs that did not overcharge for their wares.

Years later when I moved to Sydney and found myself at my grandparents house in the western-suburbs of Sydney, my movie fetish continued.  My favourite thing was to grab some hot food, sneak it into the cinema and watch some movie that I had heard nothing about.  I was always pleasantly surprised.  I never got caught, always managing to take my feet off the seats and hide my food whenever an usher checked the aisles (an activity I haven’t seen in a long time). There was a Roxy cinema in Parramatta that had the same gawdy decorative style as the Roxy in Nowra and the uncomfortable vinyl seats and wooden floors.

My grandmother, who was also a movie buff even tried to share secrets about how to get more bang for your buck. “You know what you should do, when you finish watching one movie, you just go inside another cinema, they won’t notice.” She even tried to convince me that in senior citizen week I should dress up as an old woman, so I could see as many movies as I wanted for free.

These days the movie experience seems to be quite similar with some interesting developments. Hot food can be taken into the cinema (legally). Seats are becoming more luxurious and comfy. Some cinemas have converted seats to lazy-boy style recliners. Cinema as an event is on the rise. Events like Moonlight Cinema, Chicks at the Flicks and other interactive movie experiences are breaking down the traditional cinemascape and creating a space that is more liquid and user focused. With sensory theatre experiences on offer—for a price.

This week our task was to go to the cinema, which sounds simple, but as it quite often turns out was beyond my capabilities within this time frame. My efforts to get to the cinema in the last week read like an omage to Hägerstrand. Swedish geographer ‘Hägerstrand’s time-geographic concepts relate to how and why individuals, in one or more populations, link to each other and move (or are moved) between places which are the cornerstones of transport research.’Ellegård and Svedin (2012, p.20)

So Hagerstrand’s theorem in practice, and in relation to my planned excursion to the movies relates as follows:

1.Can I get there? = no I cannot

2. Can I correlate times? = no I could not

3. Can I get in? = if I could have, I would have

The truth is before having children I was an avid movie goer. I would always choose the cinema over viewing at home. One of those freaky people who like to go to see random movies by themselves, I was sneaking in hot food before you were allowed to (even butter chicken, which is NOT a good idea).

But my efforts to go to the cinema this week were dashed.

Why couldn’t I get there?

I have classes four days a week, most days only getting home in enough time to pick up my children from school. As a single parent, I am the only one who is available to pick my children up from school. Then, there was a birthday party all day Saturday which was adorable, but inconvenient. But there was cake, which justified all inconvenience caused.

Sunday’s excuse is I was extremely ill with flu/asthma, going to the movies would just be plain rude (coughing through the movie is another ‘no’)

Is it about time?

ABSOLUTELY. With not enough time available between returning from university and picking up the children I was unable to visit the cinema.

Authorisation

While my usual barrier in this category is money, this week it was not. I could have taken my children to the movies with me, but there was nothing that we hadn’t seen that was for children, therefore, classification became an authority barrier.

So instead, I sat on a Sunday, on my messy bed, folding the clothes I just took off the line,  wiping my nose & pitching the dirty tissues at the bamboo bin in the corner of my room. My cinematic experience was being provided by my laptop stationed on the corner of my bed. I was pressing pause every time I went to put something in the drawer in the next room. Netflix is my ever obliging box office, it is always open and never judges me when I fall asleep. It even holds my place when my kids interrupt me convinced that I MUST come to the lounge room and watch their latest dance concoction. You see, real life is so much better than what’s on the screen.

References

Ellegård, K and Swedin, U, 2012, ‘Torsten Hägerstrand’s time-geography as the cradle of the activity approach in transport geography’,Journal of Transport Geography,
vol.23, p.p. 17-25

 

“More of everything!”

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‘More of Everything!’ Seinfield, Sony Pictures 1990

My first interviewee was my ex-partner. So whilst sitting at McDonalds, while he spent ‘quality’ time with our children I thought I’d multitask, and interrogate his current relationship with the networked home.

Me:  How is your home connected to the internet?

Him: What’s it called? Wi-fi

Me: Is it NBN?

Him: I don’t know. I guess its broadband — I think.

And we continued much like that. Unless you’ve been on the phone to Telstra recently, I don’t think your internet connection elicits your passion. Let me diverge…  maybe I just explain it better.

When internet came in (1993/1994) we lived in a small studio apartment in Bondi Junction. It used to be his bachelor pad, but when I returned from overseas and moved in (because I was homeless) and  never got around to leaving. We were both dancers, he taught classes and was quite a well-known Hip Hop choreographer. We both danced professionally. I worked in offices during the daytime and had always done personal computing at the office (in my lunchtime of course). We didn’t even have a computer at home, just two mobile phone, a heavy grey 32cm TV and an impressive collection of discmen.

An ‘opportunity’ came our way, when a guy we knew with a gambling problem came to my partner with a laptop to sell. It was big, it was heavy and it wasn’t his — but we bought it anyway.

It was around the time the stolen laptop came to live on our dining table (that was never used for dining) that dial-up-internet came to town. I’d sit there while the card modem in the computer sounded the dial tone. It was SLOW… even compared to my work places it was slow, but it was something.  For a dance business it was an incredible tool and it was free! A great way to access people and for them to access us.  Not a whole lot of stuff was done through the computer as not many other businesses utilised it, particularly within Australia.

Music was a major way it affected us. In the 1990’s and before, accessing Hip Hop music in Australia was next to impossible. The only way we got it was through small alley-way music import shops where albums were priced at $30-$40 per CD. A lot of people made money out of making mixed tape compilations that were dealt like drugs from under the counter. Now, the arrival of the internet and file sharing made it possible for people like us to have the latest off the street of New York down to our phone line in Bondi in around six hours after the download started.

Fashion was made possible as we ordered shoes and baseball caps for American prices which at that time were significantly lower than Australian.

Family from overseas was brought that much closer as the cost of sitting on an international phone call was reduced to almost nothing as email became a tool of common use.

Flash-forward to today and my ex-partner tells me the networked home is offering more of the same. As artists and sole business owners we never left our work anyway, so the connectivity in the home is just an expression of that. He lives away from all of his children, so my children, old enough now to have their own devices, are able to Facetime their father giving them the experience of a relationship with him that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

He said, “the internet gives me more informed but less connected.” Personally I think his connected world is just another expression of his self.

In an article in The Journal of Sociology called’ Enacting virtual connections between work and home’, findings were published on a research project that found that despite hypotheses by other scholars on the ability of the internet and technology to destroy the boundaries of work and home, most people were still keeping these boundaries despite having internet access at both work and home.

‘there is no evidence of family to work spillover resulting from the use of the Internet for personal purposes while at work. We found that employees are using the Internet for personal purposes during the workday (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays) to a greater extent than using the Internet for work purposes during non-work times. However, this private use during work time is not proving to be problematic for users. Once again, it would seem that these users are able to manage the technology such that its technical capability to permeate the temporal division between work and home is controlled.’ Wajcman, Rose, Brown & Bittman (2010, p.p. 271)
This type of research is no doubt a good indicator of a standard person, but for dancers, writers and other people who are obsessive in the craft, it gives us the ability to become more of ourselves, indulge our obsessions…and never leave our desks.
Reference:
Wajcman, J. Rose, E. Brown, J.E. and Bittman, M 2010, ‘Enacting virtual connections between work and home’, Journal of Sociology, vol.46, no.3, p.p.257-275

The Story of Us

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(Credit: Ghislain and Marie David de Lossy, CU, Group of friends watching television in living room, Saint Ferme, Gironde, France, Getty Images 2016)

Flicking through the pages of blogs with respect to our elders and their memory of television, the theme is clear. Although the interviews were about television, the answers revealed stories of people and the rituals they create that involve the television.

“My father would sit in his arm chair with a beer in his hand, and my mother would sit in the armchair next to him, with a chocolate bar and Pepsi in each of hers [hands].”(Amy, 2016)

“My mums first memories of watching TV at home was being in her lounge room at night time sitting on the floor next to her sister watching a show like the Brady Bunch.”(Irving, T 2016)

“So, me and my brother were only allowed to watch maybe 2 hours of TV a day total. Of course we never did this, I have some great memories of waking up super early some mornings and sneaking the TV on so I could watch some more. I would also sneak into the kitchen and grab a tub of milo and eat it straight from the tin while I watched my favourite cartoons.” (Moses, N 2016)

Again and again the research of the humble students of BCM240 unwittingly points at  communal behaviour. Human beings, acting out similar scenes in separate houses that center around family interaction and joint experience (with a strong emphasis on food).

So how effective is using memory and interview as a research technique. As a form quantitative research I don’t think memory is very reliable. Even in my own interview, my subject remembered watching the Lawrence Welk Show as a child. However, when I researched the dates of the Lawrence Welk Show, I found that by the time it aired the subject would have been in his late teens.  I suspect that had I come armed with a list of shows that were on TV at the time of his childhood, his oral recount would have changed quite drastically, but it would have been led by myself and may have influenced authenticity of the memory.

Even with my critic of using memory as research, I think it is not without value. While not being relied upon for the hard data of any issue, an oral recount can communicate quite accurately the ritual, ceremony and emotional connection that coloured the landscape around the television. Hard data is rarely able to capture this landscape and dynamic that possibly only lives in people’s personal stories. As identified by Nick Couldry in ‘Social Semiotics’,

The proposed new paradigm is disarmingly simple: it treats media as the
open set of practices relating to, or oriented around, media. (Couldry, N 2004)
The memories described by our interviewees and the experience of remembering are examples of what happens around media. To capture more meaningful data we would have to have spent a great amount of time with the participant and recorded a detailed account of the surrounding circumstances that contributed and shaped their personal stories. As discussed in the Elizabeth Loftus TED talk (above), memory is unreliable and requires independent corroboration.

The brief experience did bring meaning to the term collective ethnography. A process where through collaboration with the participant we drew out an oral picture of a culture, space, time, experience and memory all revolving around the television.  The study become more meaningful to me when we reciprocate by creating contrast and comparing similarities to our own experience. Also, by researching the culture of the time and acknowledging how what was happening in the greater world impacted peoples viewing and ritualistic behaviours.

 

My Reflection on Screen

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Publicity photo of Freeman Gosden as Amos and Charles Correll as Andy from the radio program Amos ‘n’ Andy CBS

As I talk to my subject who shall be named Steve, though it’s not his name, we are both transported to some other place. Steve is in a place constructed by the skeins of memory, me, in the place constructed by his words and my mental Rolodex of 1950 media cliche’s.

 

The topic under recollection is television (TV). Steve grew up in 1950’s mid-west America in the small town of Jamestown Ohio. Steve was born in 1953 and is African-American and lower class, facts that all affect his memory’s construct.

The television was a solid structure, cased in brown wood and too heavy to move alone. The image it showed was black and white. The TV was placed in the corner of the room, with two lounges facing each other in the center of the room, the preference being given to people rather than the wooden box. It was a comfortable room that never saw plastic covers.

Steve was the only child of a single mother, who wasn’t always home. So his relationship with the TV became that of babysitter, teacher and companion.  As a boy, he was usually alone with the TV, watching Howdy Doody  or whatever else was on, since the choice was limited. Sometimes there was an uncle or his mother sitting with him, in his one bedroom house, in the sparsely populated town.  Steve remembers imitating the actors on the TV.  One time he was watching a crime show, the man was wearing a hat. Not having a hat of his own, Steve found the top of a coffee tin in the garbage and repurposed it with the milliner’s savvy of a five-year-old. The man on the TV shot his accomplice, when asked why he killed the man, he remarked “he was bleeding too much”. It was later while mimicking the show that Steve cut himself on his coffee-tin lid-hat. His mother returned to the house to find her child [Steve] cowering with fear under the bed, should his mother kill him for bleeding too much.  I laughed at hearing this as my own children have often had trouble distinguishing reality from the drama playing itself out on the screen.

When describing the shows he watched, time became elastic as he jumped from time period to time period, the shows all melting together like a surrealist landscape or the wardrobe of my eighth grade maths teacher who refused to give up her crocheted antique-pink dress. I prodded him about what shows he remembered. Where there any black people on TV? Nah, Nah there weren’t. And then there was a moment ‘Oh yeah! I remember! The Laurence Welk Show!’ Steve’s energy escalated and he sat up straight on his McDonalds’ stool. ‘There was that one guy on the Laurence Welk Show, the tap dancer.’ He described how the house would be full of people not really paying attention to the TV that was playing in the corner, someone would say ‘That brother’s on the TV again’, and everyone would stop what they were doing and come into the room and watch the one person who looked like them, Arthur Duncan.

The cultural space that TV filled was so aptly described in this one example. Television existed in Steve’s space, but is also was a re-enforcement of the oppression that existed outside the home, breaking down boundaries in what would have previously been a culturally exclusive space inside the home. In this context Steve exemplified how even though television was welcomed into homes as early as he remembers, in 1964 black people in America were still dropping everything to watch themselves on screen. Such discussions open the door for research on the construction and destruction of identities through television.