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Constructed Realism and The Death of Objectivity // Pt. 2: Weaponize Realism

August 17, 2017



A neo-realistic presentation of a father’s journey to save his job, The Bicycle Thieves (1948) manufactures and executes realism flawlessly. Understanding the scale of control necessary to facilitate realistic non-fiction is exposed during the infamous “Rain Scene.” In the middle of a bazaar, the father and son are suddenly caught off guard by a pouring rain, forcing all to take cover. What results is one of the most well executed naturalistic responses a rainstorm. Looking beyond the frame at the actual god-like control exerted over the environment, action, responses, of all involved turns the concept of naturalism on its head. Maintaining throughout the film, a feeling of “DIY” or “Home Video” filmmaking contrasts the high cost of $133,000, deftly highlighting the dichotomies at play throughout crafting realism. Managing hundreds of gallons of water pumping into the air, tens of non-professional actors, extras and props, ADR replacing on-set dialogue are a few specific tools which contribute to an unflappable sense of watching reality unfold. Each element when contrasted with the presentation requires absolute control and very little room for any actual natural incidents to occur. 65 years later and what was initially a rarity has become almost mainstream, engulfing all mediums. [1]

Building off the past, todays media further blurs lines of reality and fantasy and the consequences of realism’s prominence is beginning to bleed into the real world.  Cranking the dial to 11 at the turn of the millennium, The Blair Witch (1999) turned realism in filmmaking upside down. Viral and mysterious marketing of missing teens (the actors), mixed with the “found-footage” camping trip structure, obliterated the walls between reality and cinema. Over the next 5 years as new media avenues like Vice, The Daily Show, YouTube analysis, Facebook posts, learned that when portrayed “authentically” compared to “traditional[i]” outlets (NYT, WSJ, CNN), opinions could overrule facts in a discussion of reality. Capitalizing on the found-footage film technique, The Sacrament (2013) is a phenomenal mimic based on real source material: structured after Vice News Documentaries and based on the Jones Town cult massacre of 1978. Utilizing the techniques of on-site documentary, a fully realized jungle village, and the constant journalistic structure make the film nearly impossible to distinguish from a real Documentary[2]. This degree of art imitating life can be a massive boon towards relating narratives with audiences, but could just as easily be directed at disinformation. As the technology around cultivating realism has changed and improved, “native advertising” and other methods of sponsored content have begun to damage almost every medium’s credibility[3].

This approach to film realism-and it is, perhaps, the most basic theoretical understanding of film realism- is rooted in the view that photographic images, unlike paintings or line drawings, are indexical signs: they are causally or existentially connected to their referents.[4]


Weaponizing realism to misrepresent the world or misinform the public, circles back to the root of media creation- intentionality. The medium of photography in comparison to all others created the socially accepted idea of “indexical” signs, or as equally authentic as seeing the event live. When pictures began to move, the attempt to cultivate journalistic credibility and ratings led a transition to television- showing the facts instead of merely describing them. As narrative filmmaking’s toolbox for realism has increased, the benefits have trickled down throughout all mediums[5]. Realism as a methodology is only going to become make it more difficult to parse the fictional from the real stories and if “alternative facts” are the current state of audience-media relationships then a world completely absent of general objective reality is a natural extension[6]. With ever-increasing capabilities to camouflage fiction as reality, the need for a media literate audience is needed now more than ever.




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


[2] Stephen Prince, True Lies: Perceptual Realism, Digital Images, and Film Theory, FILM QUART, Vol. 49 No. 3, Spring, 1996; (pp. 27-37) DOI: 10.2307/121346


[3] 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


[4] Stephen Prince, True Lies: Perceptual Realism, Digital Images, and Film Theory, FILM QUART, Vol. 49 No. 3, Spring, 1996; (pp. 27-37) DOI: 10.2307/1213468


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


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






[i] Less opinionated more facts- ideally

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