Representing reality

Representing reality
Contents and media
What is reality?
Materialist notions of reality
Subjectivist notions of reality
A unique, external, physical universe
A purely imaginary concept projected from
consciousness with either no physical referent or
an unknowable one
Interactivist notions of reality
Posits reality as a collision between an only
partially knowable physical external world and
the mental constructs that give it meaning
Our culture accepts a materialist vision
of reality
While we may not have a perfect notion
of reality, it is based on mistakes we
make in recognizing the true nature of
Though human ability to understand/
perceive is limited,
“The Truth is Out There”
Media provide words, icons, pictures,
etc. that ‘stand in’ for features of the
‘real world’
The veracity or validity of the
representations is judged according to
their ‘reflection’ of those real things
they are supposed to represent
But what if the representation is itself what is
real and there is no ‘thing’ it represents?
What if there is a physical thing but it has no
meaning until it is represented, that is,
worked on by consciousness so that it
becomes something?
Does reality become something different if
our sense organs change?
What reality does a media
text represent?
The ‘real world’ as it is
Real time, geography with unreal characters
and events
A plausible imaginary world and characters
A fantasy world with plausible characters
A fantasy world with fantastic characters
Concepts that do not fit our notions of
people and places
Two concepts of ‘realism’
The relative veracity of the story with
regard to its representation of a
materialist reality
A set of conventions in the production
of a text that influence the awareness
of the audience member of the
process of narrative construction
Realism is not always seen
as a good thing
On occasion, the attempt is made to
present the story as fantasy
Want a sort of magical feeling
Want the audience to experience the
narrative as pure escape
Could want the natural and mundane
world to be seen as fantastic
Media artists often go to great
effort to make their texts realistic
Hire historians, cops, members of
Special effects
Features of the presentation
that affect its ‘realism’
Technical quality
Characteristics of the medium
Modalities of perception: Sound, video,
motion, linguistic, etc.
The Reelization of Reality
“The drive behind the need to create a strong
perceptual reality, particularly in referentially unreal
productions, is difficult to pin down. Charles and
Mirella Affron discuss what they term the ‘Reality
Effect’—a notion of perceptual reality which asserts
that sets must look real enough that people who
have been to the actual location they replicate
might think the films were shot on location.”
“vast majority of feature films” seek reality effect
“Speaking historically of several movies about New
York, they suggest that in these films the narrative
‘would have suffered drastically’ had the sets not
seemed true to life.”
Jurassic Park drew upon both visual
references and plot elements the audience
would be familiar with. The dinosaurs
weren’t just the same size and color as the
viewers might have expected from their
childhood trips to museums, but had their
computer-generated skin (designed after
everyday lizards’) carefully mapped to
interact with their computer-generated
muscles and bones. To breed further
familiarity with the audience’s experience
with actual animals, the dinosaurs ran and
moved in patterns carefully copied from
real-life quadrupeds.
The visuals were not the only element
to benefit from perceived reality cues:
Spielberg said, ‘The credibility of the
premise—that dinosaurs could come
back to life through cloning of the DNA
of fossil mosquitos trapped in amber—
is what allowed the movie to be made.’
Jim Cameron
“In T2 and Jurassic Park, computer
animation was being used to solve a realworld photographic problem, and so the
audience didn’t question the reality of the
images. Film is inherently kind of not real,
and the films that succeed best are the ones
that start by creating a world or characters
or whatever that say: this is real, this is real,
this is real--and they keep coming at you
every moment the actors are working, and
every bit of production design is trying to
underline in red that it’s real.”
Technology and realism
“Virtual reality will prove to be a more compelling
fantasy world than Nintendo--but even so, the real
power of the Head-Mounted Display is that it can
help you perceive the real world in ways that were
previously impossible. To see the invisible, to travel
at the speed of light, to shrink yourself into
microscopic worlds, to relive experiences--these are
the powers that the head-mounted display offers
you. Though it sounds like science fiction today,
tomorrow it will seem as commonplace as talking
on the telephone.”
Are ‘natural’ and ‘real’ the
The ‘real’ in realistic presentation has as much to
do with culturally learned expectations as with
capture of ‘true’ or ‘natural’ action, objects, etc.
Color, sound effects, etc. may need to be enhanced in
order to generate a ‘realistic’ representation
Time is often distorted (compressed) to make it more
compatible with audience expectations as well as to work
with the story
Actually, ‘natural’ presentation (start the camera
and walk away) often is experienced as ‘less real’
than doctored
It is often hard to hear dialogue, etc. because of ambient
Realist presentations
Representation is supposed to ‘stand in’ for
the actual events and objects
The work of representation is hidden from
That is, you should not be aware of all the
technology, decision-making, etc. that went
into telling the story—it should seem as
though you are a fly on the wall actually
watching real events unfold.
“Judith Mayne points out that “the
cinema depends upon an
unquestioned relationship between
image and the real, as the novel
depends upon a similar relationship
between language and the real.””
Features of realist
Third-person narration
Narrator/audience omniscience
Camera work edited to be unobtrusive
Actors, etc. never directly address
“Fourth wall”
Treatment of actions as displaying
certainty—no discussion of likelihood,
probability, etc.
Hall’s dimensions of ‘reality’
Alice Hall studied college students’
evaluations of the realism of media texts
Focus groups
Identified 6 “means of evaluating the realism
of media texts”
Emotional involvement
Narrative consistency
Perceptual persuasiveness
Beliefs about the impact
of media realism
Enhances audience involvement
Emotional connection with characters
Increases learning
Increases enjoyment
Increases effect
Attitude change