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Constructed Realism and The Death of Objectivity // Pt. 1: Origins

Two central points are necessary to understand how the practice of realism in cinema was created, fostered and improved upon endlessly:

  1. Realism is achieved through God-like control over the media’s creation,

  2. There is no such thing as truly realistic media due to intention.

The diametric opposites of creating cinematic realism are founded in paradox. How does complete control create the illusion of natural reality? How do we re-define realism and objectivity in documentary/Journalistic mediums considering intentionality? How does this impact audience’s relationship to factual realism and narrative realism? Realism in non-fiction forms is achieved through the illusion that what is on screen successfully suspends our disbelief to a point where boundaries between reality and fiction blur. Factual realism or news / documentary based media are built upon the premise of sharing and showing exactly what happened, how, and why as accurate evidence.

This is from Noah (2015) and holy god look at that set up... could you manage all those details?

Key to understanding the parodic nature behind both uses of realism is recognizing artistic / presentational intention. Authorship is a necessary evil in storytelling where, no matter how good the intention is, existence remains subjective. Deliberate attempts to portray reality from an interpretation serves to highlight the constructed representation of realism. Without intention, no one would press record because that decision inherently holds bias- it is of interest to the artist’s portrayal of reality. Relative objectivity is the best any artist can hope to achieve, not including machine learned pieces, because living, experiencing, and growing creates a presupposition of reality[1]. While media creation increasingly becomes democratized in capabilities, the ability to self-identify the veracity of media must grow proportionately[2]. If audiences are flooded with both non-fiction and fiction without the skillset to differentiate between the two, any societal objective truths melt into the chaos of “alternative facts” and “fake news.”

Since the mid-20th century, the ethic of public service in U.S. journalism has been a revered professional standard, whereby journalists ideally functioned as “watchdogs” protecting the public from government and corporate abuses. Yet this ideal has been eroded in recent decades for reasons related to the changing economics of the news industry and major transformations in U.S. culture and politics[3]

Constructed realism would be a more accurate term to referencing media aesthetics, recognizing no moral judgement is inherent in this visual methodology. As any other tool, how it is used is what defines morality behind intention. Without understanding why a piece was made, the realistic nature used to connect with an audience remains suspect to the objectivity of subject matter. Two examples that convey these principals differently, The Bicycle Thieves (1948), and The Sacrifice (2013), both utilize the invisible omnipotence of cinematic direction to effectively dissolve the barriers between reality and fantasy. The fallout of this ever-evolving method leaves behind generations of audience members who are not trained to look for, understand, or then judge the presented reality as factual or fictitious.[4]

In 2015 realism has certainly become more streamlined - but still looking at the crowds, the lights, the sound, director, camera, grips... Can you spot them all?

[1] Mesfin Awoke Bekalu, Presupposition in news discourse, DOI: 10.1177/0957926506060248, Discourse Society 2006; 17; 147

[2] Marchi, R. (2012). With Facebook, Blogs, and Fake News, Teens Reject Journalistic "Objectivity." Journal of Communication Inquiry, 36(3), pp.246-262.

[3] IBID

[4] Colin MacCabe, Theory and Film: Principles of Realism and Pleasure, Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, Leo Braudy, Film theory and criticism: introductory readings, 1992, Oxford University Press, New York, 4th ed,0195063988

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