Not sure how many have been following the LonelyGirl15 story…I’ve been catching snippets here and there…but Danah Boyd has the lowdown on yet another example of what’s happening on the Web that we educators might want to get our brains around. To really break it down, it’s a story of the power of digital storytelling, the potential of publishing and audience, the amazing collaborative energy that connectedness allows for, and the changing literacies that all of us are being challenged with.
The short story is this. Videos by lonleygirl15 started appearing on YouTube this summer featuring a teenage girl that made perfectly wholesome videos in her bedroom about her day to day life unbeknownst to her overly religious parents. The most recent installment is here, and on the surface, it’s pretty tame (though occasionally brilliant) stuff, I’d say. But obviously, there are thousands of people who found it quite engaging, until some started digging into the “realness” of this reality video. Turns out, it wasn’t real at all, and as Danah reports, “LonelyGirl15 is crafted by a group of filmmakers as an art project.”
But it is more than that. First, it’s an example of what we can all begin to challenge our students to do…create, imagine, tell stories in new ways. When you look at the video, this is not something that would take more than a day or two to learn how to do and execute even for the novice. The thinking and writing behind this is within our and our students’ reach as well.
Second, this is about audience, and how easy it is nowadays to publish. This isn’t news to those who have been immersed in the edblogosphere, but I’m trying to imagine the buzz these “filmmakers” were getting from seeing the attention their work was getting. Did it push them? Motivate them to get better, to hone their craft? Pretty sure it did. Wouldn’t it be cool for our students to feel that?
Third, the work of the audience to expose the story behind the story is a powerful example of the wealth of networks in a connected world. I’m not working in isolation in my efforts to find the truth, and the collaborative potential that we now have is amazing. And that’s not the only way that the audience has gone from passive to active. Thousands of viewers have posted their own videos mocking, analyzing, augmenting, and rewriting the adventures of lonleygirl15. I love this quote from the New York Magazine coverage:
And presto: Just like that, Lonelygirlâ€™s tale goes from Web-based melodrama or viral-Âmarketing trickery toward something like a brand-new art form. Itâ€™s the birth of WikiTV: a television show created by a broad community of participants and built not of sequential, hour-long episodes, but of two-Âminute interconnected parcels. The story line is both linear (will Daniel get the girl?) and expansive (enter the Mirrored Cowboy!), and anyone can join in. I, for example, could don a tuxedo and eye patch, and post a video claiming that the Cowboyâ€™s a double agent. Then someone could post a video refuting me, now known as the Dapper Pirate.
WikiTV…what a concept.
Fourth, from a literacy standpoint, can we say that students who write only in the context of words on the page and read without an editor’s eye, who don’t or can’t partake in the production or writing of different types of texts, the publishing of those texts to wide audiences, and the active reading of those texts for authenticity are literate in this world?
I’m guessing most will slough this off because, as Danah rightly points out, we really, really don’t like this uncertainty.
Regardless, it’s super cool that people are using new media to create narratives. They are telling their story, truth or fiction. Of course, this makes many people very uncomfortable. They want blogs and YouTube and MySpace to be Real with a capital R. Or they want it to be complete play. Yet, what’s happening is both and neither. People are certainly playing but even those who are creating “reality” are still engaged in an act of performance. They are writing themselves into being for others to interpret and the digital bodies that emerge often confound those who are doing the interpretation.
What’s most important about any of this to me is to stay checked in to this most excellent gray, not black-or-white moment in time. To really try to understand the tensions that frame the discomfort. I love the disruptiveness of this, maybe too much. But I think there’s part of me that feels the more the better, the more the quicker we get to wherever it is we need to get to.