Digital Story: Dee’s Story to Model Outreach in the Community

In creating my digital story I used a personal narrative of my memories of my aunt’s illness and how I experienced the confusion of coming to terms with her diagnosis as HIV positive. I believe personal narratives such as this are missing from outreach efforts that have aimed to target the Black community in order to bring awareness of the high rates within the community.

This personal narrative is very important in establishing significance or relevance to a community that still may not see HIV/AIDS as a true threat to themselves, but it also can confront the shame and silence surrounding the disease.

Sharing stories about how family members, friends, and loved ones are impacted by the illness can be the start of a conversation that must be started. Major national campaigns that have started to confront the unique challenges of HIV/AIDS awareness within Black communities should implement a digital story approach to start the dialogue. One of the largest obstacles in spreading awareness is shame, but there is also the belief that mainstream campaigns are largely aimed at other populations reinforcing the notion that the message is not relevant within our communities. The digital story can confront both of these obstacles in order to show how this issue not only pertains to those who are young, single, or outside of their race or community.

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Digital Storytelling Project

For the digital storytelling project I wanted to do a personal narrative of my experience coming to terms with my aunt’s death. I am still in the writing and image gathering stage, so I am deciding on what aspects of the story to focus on. I am unsure on whether I will focus on her sudden illness, lack of diagnosis for the 8 months she was symptomatic, and our family trying to come to terms with her death as a result of AIDS.

I do not know whether I will focus on her illness and the months that we were unsure of why her health was deteriorating. I may also focus on her death and the way in which my family choose to describe her illness to others and the shame  I witnessed surrounding HIV/AIDS. I may choose to focus on my aunt’s life rather than the conditions of her death.

As I began writing and gathering pictures I thought about the moments that had a huge impact in my life and I may choose to focus on my relationship with her as a mother figure to highlight the positive meaningful experiences. I believe it will become more clear as I progress with my ideas.

Digital Humanities and Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling follows a strict rubric of how stories should be organized and Lambert makes it clear that certain forms of social media and Youtube fail to meet the criteria in order to be defined as digital stories. This strict adherence to form and structure contrasts with the concept of digital humanities. Digital humanities aim to be inclusive and broaden the understanding of what constitutes digital humanities seen by the debate surrounding alt-ac positions being categorized as within digital humanities.

Although the two are distinct, they share many of the same goals of collaboration and redefining the common practices whether in media or academia. Both of these fields note the transformations in society that are shaping our understanding of the digital. Lambert questions, “As we look five or ten years ahead, we recognize the word digital has less and less meaning…So if everything is digital, is Digital Storytelling a less-and-less useful idea?” (Lambert 138). Lambert notes the ways in which digital storytelling are linked to historical methods of storytelling in oral traditions, but digital storytelling is a more recent transformation built upon this history. In “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism” Dave Parry also describes the way in which the digital has become inseparable from our society. Parry states, “There is no studying of the humanities separate from the digital. To study the humanities (or any kind of socially relevant, engaged-in-the-present object of inquiry) necessitates a realization that the world is now digital…the idea of studying itself is altered by the existence of the digital” (Gold 436).

Digital storytelling and digital humanities acknowledge how the digital is now mainstream and a part of our daily lives, but within different contexts. Digital humanities seek to note the transformation of society in order to create better approaches to scholarship and understand the ways in which the structure of academia should be challenged. Digital storytelling has a similar narrative in striving to challenge the way in which media is produced and who is depicted, but because of the way our society is now digital there are several other forms that challenge this narrative and I believe that even more will emerge.

In Bethany Nowviskie’s blog post titled “What do Girls Dig?” she states, “A little attention to audience and rhetoric can go a long way toward making applications and results of digital methods seem comprehensible, inspiring, and potentially transformative” (Gold 240). Even though this was said in regards to the digital humanities it may apply to both subjects. Accessibility is crucial to have the largest impact, this is something digital storytelling is very active in addressing and is a prominent debate within digital humanities. Both are seeking to challenge dominant narratives in order to give voice to others with the potential to have a very significant impact in transforming the accepted forms of media or scholarship.

Syrian Protests & “Sky Blue Car”: Two Depictions of Freedom Fighters

This video shows footage of a Freedom fighters protest in Toronto.

In comparing this video to the “Sky Blue Car” digital story it does not fit into the common images shown of Syria. The images of warfare have become widely disseminated through the media and are familiar to viewers at home. In the digital story these images were absent. In “Sky Blue Car” she focused on her memories of political prisons and repression to explain how she has become a freedom fighter and in the activist video they rely on signage and chants.

Without the narrative and just looking at the footage of the protestors I did not feel the same emotionally investment because it is a faceless collective goal that is not given the same context. The structure, narrative, and personal voice in the digital story gave a better understanding or context of the struggle to the viewer.

In the absence of violent images in both of these videos there is a strong personal narrative that evokes emotion through its message of hope. As activists they are fighting for a better world. In both videos the messages are powerful and clear due to signage, chants, and narration. These methods may evoke different emotions from the viewers.

Stories for Change: The Sky Blue Car

The video above is from the Stories for Change website

In looking at websites that engage in digital storytelling in some way I was interested in Silence Speaks and Stories for Change. Both emphasize the need to connect digital storytelling to promoting social change and see themselves as instruments to create a transformation in society. Silence Speaks describes its mission to, “support the telling and witnessing of stories that all too often remain unspoken and unheard”.

Silence Speaks is a project of the Center for Digital Storytelling and focuses on human rights. The project is global collecting stories from around the globe from narratives centered on overcoming sexual abuse, the issues around HIV transmission, and global gender issues. Silence speaks emphasizes the therapeutic effect of creating digital stories in understanding how to cope with trauma.

Stories for Change focuses on providing the tools for people to facilitate workshops and understand how to approach digital storytelling in a way that promotes social change. The space was created in order to share the approaches facilitators have used to better understand how to best implement lessons to inspire action.

These sources are similar in promoting the ability for digital storytelling to create change and are heavily focused on implementing their strategies on a global scale. Silence Speaks focuses more on confronting memories of trauma to create solidarity and Stories for Change is more centered around inciting action.

Roger Sandall’s “Matters of Fact”

In Roger Sandall’s “Matters of Fact” Sandall argues that reality graphics are viewed as facsimiles are not only records that are significant for comprehension, but are seen as a form of evidence that is irrefutable. For these reality graphics to be seen as facsimiles there must be a “tacit assumption that is asked, if given an opportunity to comment, the agents portrayed would themselves confirm and corroborate the meanings, the understandings, and the interpretations” (466). In this way Sandall believes that the subjectivity of those who are being portrayed (the subjects) can act as a legitimizing force for the end product. Sandall notes the conflict that may arise between the intrinsic meaning of what is being captured on film and the extrinsic purposes of the film’s creation. When this divide is realized by the viewer the piece is viewed as distant from reality as in the case of the KGB film about the prison camp. This conflict between the viewpoints of the subjects and of the filmmaker or reception of the film complicate the concept of the the “objective graphic” through making it rely on a “subjective confirmation” (465).

This films need confirmation or rely on this tacit assumptions with the subjects because do not engage in the creative treatment used within documentary. To understand the importance of the way in which the material presented must follow these guidelines Sandall uses the example of a scene from Maasai Women by the anthropologist Melissa llewelyn-Davies, which contains a highly edited view of a female circumcision. The scene cuts and does not show the actual procedure and cuts in moments of her informant saying that the girl is happy getting the procedure, but the emotions of the girls during the procedure are edited from the final product. Sandall describes, “in the event, however,nothing is shown, the screams are silenced, and the narrator pours a syrup of generalizing sociological interpretation over a whole episode” (469). The interpretation of the filmmaker is placed above the participants and the subjects viewpoints are noticeably erased.

Miss Representation: Countless Images, No Solutions

Miss Representation (2011) is a film created by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, an actress and activist, aimed at challenging the media’s representation of women in order to counter the negative effects seen in the inability of women to strive for and attain leadership positions in the United States. The film aspires to make a connection between politics, leadership, and the prevailing images of women perpetuated through the media. Women are objectified in the media, that is a point of view few would argue against and the film does not need to prove that these negative images exist, yet the film is compromised mostly of these images intercut with interviews and talking points. Society places emphasis on appearance, women as sexual objects, and media that is framed through the male gaze, it appears that the film is perpetuating these problems by flooding viewers with these images. What are the images or forms of representation that can empower women? Even though the film aims to empower women to defy the limited opportunities presented to them through the media, the film itself does not include empowering images or scenes with women except for a brief montage. The film left me with more questions about how to effectively promote female leadership without being reductionist. The essentialist notion of woman does not unite women with a common message, but rather further marginalizes underrepresented groups. There are misogynistic images in all forms of media seen by millions of people every single day instead of focusing on replaying these commonly seen images the film could have discussed solutions by showing the positive imagery that is available in a plea to create more of this positive representation.