It is worth questioning whether our warped perceptions of reality are not widely enough realised in today’s era of information[i], and excessive digital consumption. As a young person who has grown up in this era, and an avid user of the Internet. I am extremely interested in not only the representations of reality found in television, film, print, and radio but the info graphs, charts, and statistics found in countless articles, and web pages that are used in place of reality to anchor certain views, and arguments. These representations aren’t necessarily a negative thing, but the more we consume, the more accustomed to perceive these things as reality we are. I want Final Major Project to flag up the somewhat overlooked difference between Statistics and Reality. I have mentioned representations in television, and film as well as an example, but only to back up my main focus on visual statistics.
Numbers and figures themselves are a very powerful tools as they are commonly perceived as very explicit, and definite. This means the images like the bars, or lines in a graph are only a fraction of the persuasion. “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”[ii] is a phrase very commonly known to describe the capability statistics have of implanting bias, and lies into a consumers head, due to the persuasive power that statistics have in arguments, and such. Info-graphics seem to be very present in newspaper and web articles due to their simplicity, attractive use of colour, and their ability to convince. Often, these info-graphics have barely any information attached to them, apart from maybe a small number of percentages, but this small collection of numbers is enough to convince a consumer. It is too common for numbers to be perceived as plain fact.
Statistics simply cannot be entirely correct. A great example of the incorrectness of statistics is found in Darrell Huff’s ‘How to Lie With Statistics’ in the very first chapter. “The average Yaleman, Class of ’24, makes $25,111 a year”[iii] This was a quote from an article written over two decades after the class of 1924 graduated, and there are a lot of factors that could suggest the poor reliability of the figures described in the chapter. The first is that a man could always be lying, and from the sample of the men asked to give their yearly salary figure, some could boast, and some could underestimate. Second of all, Yale would not have been able to get the questionnaire to every single graduate due to loss of addresses, and contact. So the sample is taken from the men who have stayed in contact with Yale, and are active alumni members (have done well and are well respected). Lastly, some of the men not making very much, or have not done as well will probably not want to fill out such a questionnaire, even if they did receive it. So, as you can see such statistics can be entirely biased, unfair, and fabricated, and yet so many of us (me included) will see a graph of statistics, and take assume it is fact instantly. Already the gap between Stats and reality is exceedingly large.
Another very clear, and simple trick can be present in the proportions, and placement of numbers on the Y-Axis. For instance, this example from a web article entitled “How To Lie With Data Visualisation”[iv] presents two graphs that are completely identical in content, but with very different Y-Axis proportions. The difference is shocking, and the one on the left makes it look like the ‘interest rates’ are skyrocketing. Whilst the one on the left displays almost no change in ‘interest’ amount whatsoever.
[iii] Huff, Darrell How To Lie With Statistics 1954 Penguin (1999 Edition)
Statistics Vs Reality - Final Major Project
My project was concerned with expressing the exceptionally overlooked differences between statistics, and reality. This was because of my personal frustration towards our tendency to take any graph, figure, or stat as plain indisputable truth, due to the snowballing amount of information available to us. It has been a very enlightening project, because through my research, and practical work I have learnt to look at such data representations objectively. Rather than assuming all graphs, and charts to be true. The printmaking, drawing and all still images made in the project, have become a physical representation of my contempt toward statistics, as I have taken them so far out of their context that they are contextually irrelevant. Whereas the films I have made (although still are representations, and not reality) show the ‘human’ in the number.
The Statistics Vs Reality eventually developed a physical process, which explains my point entirely, and why the printmaking/filmmaking combination worked. This process shaped my final outcome that is now part of the exhibition. The ‘What Is Abstract Art?’ film captures the more real human experience, sense of reaction, and personality in reality. Then the statistics were collected from the film by extracting the sound waves taken from the ‘uhhms’ and ‘ahhs’ of the struggling volunteers. These sound waves were then turned into intaglio prints, and make up the image displayed in the light box. At first glance you would have no clue what the image in the light box meant, or where it came from, and this is the point I am making. Statistics are not always fact; they are static, stationary, and completely contrasting to the ever-changing state of motion, and experience that lives in reality.
I wanted my project to be made using filmmaking, and printmaking mediums because it would be my last project that would not be exclusively film based. I discovered a real passion for printmaking, and line based drawing this year. So it was important for me to have as much fun with it as possible before going on to do a Filmmaking degree in September. I still think this was the best decision and enjoyed the bizarre combination of the two mediums throughout.
Foundation year has changed the way I see my future practice. For the first time in all my education, and schooling I have realised the presence of my own judgement, and ideas that will take me forward into and beyond university. I start my studies at Kingston University in BA(Hons) Filmmaking as of September this year.
Infiknitty - https://www.facebook.com/infiknitty?fref=ts
The title of my project is The Elements and Displacement Of Humanity. This is the title because i will be looking at the elements of human nature, and the routines/behaviours we all adopt (like i did in my last ‘Elements’ project), and the displacement of humanity found in the static and arguably clinical nature of graphs, charts and other visual representations of data. I work towards having a finished documentary style short film, and a some form of printmaking work, maybe a series of high quality prints. During the project i will also use photography and maybe some drawing as research and means of development.
This was an old still i took for my short promotion project of the film ‘Benny Boy’, which i had to also make up (although never making the film). It came with a full magazine article and was incredibly fun to do.
My own go at Life In A Day
From Ted Bundy to The Zodiac, killers used to scare people and keep them up at night, but at present, books, films and television programs like Dexter and American Psycho are accused of “explicitly and unashamedly glamorizing evil, justifying evil.” If serial killers are the embodiment of evil, why do media institutions feel the need to portray them in a positive manner, and more importantly what effect is this having on audiences?
The pilot episode of Dexter was aired at 10 p.m on October 1st 2006 in the US, the episode drew around 603,000 viewers, and by Nov. 3 its total viewership stood at nearly 2 million viewers per episode[ii], “People seemed fascinated by the moral ambiguity of Dexter.” You can see the glamorization of Dexter taking shape right from the opening titles of the show. A close up shot of a mosquito sucking blood from what looks like an arm zooms out slightly as a hand comes into focus and violently strikes the mosquito, killing it. Soon after, Dexter’s face comes into focus from the background, he looks straight into the camera and smiles cheekily. Through this first 4 seconds of moving image his violent nature and symbiotic relationship with the audience is introduced. Dexter’s narrative voice - which is aimed directly at the audience - is represented. They hear his thoughts and he speaks directly to them throughout the series. We become part of his journey and get a look into his dark side (the killing of the mosquito).
Dexter is glamourized through the rest of the opening titles by the intensity of his morning routine. He flosses, shaves, and even gets a balanced diet. The routine represents him as a very healthy, well-groomed man, and yet through the use of violent signifiers in the mise en scene we are given the knowledge that he is actually a killer. Clinically lit and composed mainly of close ups, the squeezing of an orange and the tying of shoelaces give menacing imagery of violent acts.
Similarly, Mary Haron’s 2000 adaptation of the infamous novel American Psycho[iv] includes Patrick Bateman’s strict morning routine in which the representation is almost exactly the same. Patrick Bateman uses many different soaps, masks, and moisturisers to keep him from looking “older”, and in doing so gives his darker side a mask. This mask is not only metaphorical but a physical object within the sequence, “in the morning if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on an ice pack whilst doing my stomach crunches”.
The constant contrast between light and dark and good and bad is presented through medium and close up shots. In a medium shot he may be seen doing his stomach crunches and exercises with the same bright, almost clinical lighting as seen in the Dexter opening credits, but in American Psycho it falls over his body as if to show it’s muscular near-perfection. In close ups his face holds expressions of severity and danger, for example when his face is reflected in the Les Miserables poster, it is black and creates a shadowed view of Batemans face (behind the mask).
The intertextuality of Les Miserables may also be used as a contrast to Bateman’s emotional state, he has the inability to feel emotion. Les Miserables is known for being a very sad and effecting musical, but Patrick Bateman cannot feel emotion or be miserable and sad.
What is worrying about texts like this is the effect on the audience’s perception of reality. If most of what we learn about serial killers comes from Hollywood, then we might think that all serial killers are like Dexter and Bateman. “Story lines are created to heighten the interest of audiences, rather than to accurately portray serial murder.” These ‘story lines’, are similar from serial killer film to serial killer film, and myths are formed from them. These are some of the myths created by the serial killer codes and conventions of products such as Se7en, American Psycho, and Dexter:
Myth: Serial killers are all dysfunctional loners.
Myth: Serial killers are all white males.
Myth: Serial killers are only motivated by sex.
Myth: Serial killers cannot stop killing.
These myths have become recognisable within film and television regarding serial killers. This may become a danger to the audience’s perception of reality for a vast amount of reasons. If you apply the effects theory to an episode of Dexter and assume the audience is passive, the most basic and logical result would be that the audience would accept Dexter’s moral ambiguity. This only backs up the idea that the media is to blame for the majority of current anti-social behaviour, because in hindsight we would be accepting illegal and ‘sinful’ acts of violence. The writer of the original Dexter novels, Jeff Lindsay, said it was important that Dexter only killed people who according to his code deserved it, like murderers and rapists, “a code that we can all agree with to some extent”. He also said that he wanted Dexter to be likeable, so that readers could catch themselves rooting for a killer. The question is why would he want viewers and audiences to do so? Also, why would Showtime Networks, John Goldwyn Productions[ix] and other producers of the show want to continue to run it if they thought they were “explicitly and unashamedly glamorizing evil, justifying evil”?
One answer may be that there is no solid proof that media violence effects the audience is such a direct way. Guy Cumberbatch, an American psychologist, said that “There are very many non-significant findings. Those that are significant seem unreliable, inconsistent and often flatly contradict other studies. Collectively, it is a dreadful ragbag of evidence.” The findings of which he speaks are the results of tests conducted on the effects of media violence on violent behavior in adults and children. Cumberbatch is quite simply stating that there is yet to be any solid proof that film and other products can affect a person’s behavior.
The glamorization of murder itself has been around for a very long time. In June 1858 Augustus Egg’s past and present paintings were displayed to the public and received shocked responses. It was an allegory of the domestic havoc wreaked by the fallen wife. The second painting in the series entitled ‘misfortune’ depicts a scene of heavy domestic abuse. The woman is begging on the floor with what looks like some bloodstains on her shoulder. She has supposedly had an affair, and is being cast out by her husband. This is not murder but reflects the enjoyment of fictional violence that obviously existed in the Victorian era. “It reinforces a sense of safety, even of pleasure, to know that murder is possible, just not here.”
It could be interpreted that media violence contradicts Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, because we do not require crime and violence in his model. On the other hand it could be that we enjoy glamourized murder because it gives us a sense of safety and belonging; it is not happening to us, and this relaxation gives us pleasure. Jeff Lindsay said he wanted the readers of the Dexter novels to be backing a serial killer, they very much did so (especially the viewers of the TV adaptation). Lindsay wanted people to be backing Dexter so that they would be shocked at their capacity to feel for a killer.
Audiences can Dexter as a diversion from their everyday lives, this diversion is far so far fetched and glamourized that it can make them feel safe, because it is not real. Institutions like ShowTime productions in America have picked up on this and used it to gain mass audiences, murder is entertaining.
On the 2nd of March 2010 The American Broadcasting Company’s Kansas City TV station, KMBC-TV carried out a filmed interview with self-professed serial killer John Hughes. This interview was broadcasted from the prison and offered new continuity into Hughes’ story and trial process. He admitted within this interview to killing 15-20 people and claimed to be the anti-christ. The notion of an actual reporter going into the prison has great value in itself; the threshold of an event like this is massive and a brilliant opportunity to represent the killer in anyway the institution feels it best. They do not glamourize him in anyway, in fact there are frequent close ups of his handcuffs, chains, and slightly crazed looking expressions. All of these represent him negatively. What is interesting is the things he says and how they somewhat echo the muses of glamourized Dexter and Patrick Bateman.
“I’m still missing something, I’ve never found it, whatever it is”[xvii] John Hughes explains that he has felt this way since he was a child. In the first ever episode of Dexter, Dexter Morgan looks down at an empty box of doughnuts and we hear him think, “Just like me – empty inside”.[xviii]
This is not the only time the show Dexter has had somewhat of a connection to a real life serial killer. The Zodiac is a famous and still unidentified serial killer who rose to infamous glory in the 1960s. The killer sent letters to the media made up of symbols that had to be decoded. Within these letters Zodiac taunted the police and claimed to have killed 37 people.
In the second season of Dexter the police find Dexter’s victims and begin the hunt for a new serial killer, completely unaware that the culprit is their partner, a blood spatter analyst who buys everyone doughnuts in the morning and keeps himself to himself. During this investigation Dexter writes a manifesto to his department much like the Zodiac’s letters to the press. As the police still haven’t caught the Zodiac, it is clear to see why journalists and media institutions still have a fascination with the killer; Zodiac reported directly to the newspapers and not to the police, which allowed them to play a bigger part in the investigation. Since 1968 there has been over 10 movies influenced by the Zodiac killer, and many books and television series also about or influenced by him. It is as if the frequency and continuity of the Zodiac news period was like a TV show itself. A good indication of this fascination may be from the influence serial killers have on the media to start with.
“Serial killers, to know them is to love them? So it would seem in terms of the media. Once a new serial killer leaps onto the scene with all his or her grizzly artistry, the names are burned into our brains by the media”. To link this argument back to Dexter and moral ambiguity, you could say the dangerous relation between the Zodiac and the media might have given birth to our ability to make relations with characters like Dexter. By this I don’t mean that readers of San Francisco newspapers in the 60’s liked the Zodiac by any means, but it can be somewhat representative of a symbiosis between the media and serial killers.
Making villains into heroes, the media are bending classical theories like that of Vladimir Propp’s narrative theory and are glamourizing fictional serial killers out of real, not so glamorous ones. It is difficult to believe that this is having a negative effect on entire audiences since they are so fascinated with murder in the first place. It could be said that the Moral Ambiguity of glamourized serial killers play the biggest part in heightening the interest of audiences, and gaining viewership. Audiences will not get behind a villain unless he/she is arguably appealing, this is why institutions glamourize and add likeable features to protagonists like Dexter and Bateman – like their symbiotic relationship with the audience.
Another possible answer to why institutions glamourize serial killers is that audiences find safety, and comfort in the idea that the murder is possible but not present in their lives. They can also use these characters as a short diversion from everyday life before going back to normal; they are not real. It could even be said that this is why the real life Zodiac killer was so infamous. Audiences read the newspapers to find out what happened next; if he killed again, or was found and so on. This kind of readership could have encouraged the killer to carry on, or the killer could have been encouraging the media to write about him/her more. So who is influencing whom; the Zodiac writes a manifesto to the police in the 1960s. Then in 2007 the television programme Dexter, presents its main character doing the same thing. In 2010 a modern ‘real-life’ killer’s speech somewhat echoes that of the thoughts of Dexter Morgan. These thoughts are in relevance to the empty feeling they both seem to possess. There is definite room for speculation as to whether the media is to blame for the exaggeration or shaping of the modern day serial killer as a result of their glamorization in the media? The media has taken inspiration from real killers and then added to it in media products, which has then gone on to be reflected in real life events again, like in John Hughes’ interview.
It is a big circle that seems to revolve around what sells and is most entertaining; everyone is fascinated with serial killers, so why not make money out of it?
The image itself unfortunately lacks the quality of the original images due to the uploading boundaries on tumblr. The moving image though, does capture the essence of the movement narrative i was trying to convey.