The Social

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The Social – “a place to put all our feelings”

Marion Hampton, Head of the SEN unit at Lambeth Academy (LA), enthusiastically advocates media production specifically for those children struggling within the mainstream curriculum. She preferred not to be recorded whilst being interviewed and so I made notes on her comments and observations. It is important to point out at this stage that there were three main LA SEN participants on the film project – Simon, Paul and Stephen. Paul and Stephen had low-functioning autism and whilst it would have been a fascinating study to have exclusively focused on their particular engagement with media production, it is beyond the scope of this account to do diligent service to such a much-needed area of research.

I have however included in my film clip a short exchange with Paul whilst the others were editing, which offers a glimpse of their different levels of sophistication and engagement. See @ 5:12 mins > 7:19 mins. One thing I would highlight is Paul’s obsession with Hitchcock; he would routinely bring his paperback of Hitchcock synopses to the Wednesday sessions and allude to them over the weeks, never missing an opportunity for lengthy plot discussions with any new adult. This was sometimes tricky to negotiate because of Paul’s speech impediment, but it represented an enjoyable social moment for Paul, who found the universality of Hitchcock a useful communicative point of access. In fact he would much rather talk about Hitchcock or the TV drama ‘Waterloo Road’ than concentrate on any of the stages in the film-making process, which is an interesting comment on the scope for social learning inherent in all aspects of moving image literacy.

My discussion with Marion centered on Simon and his progress from when he first arrived in her unit to the present. In his primary years he had behavioural problems with fits of temper and anti-social tendencies which ultimately resulted in permanent exclusion. Interestingly, from an audio recorded interview I conducted with him within the unit, he is happy to talk about ‘the then and the now’ and looks back at himself as a different person who used to lose his temper but can now control it. Marion is convinced that sustained involvement with creative media projects has given him both a sense of belonging and a voice – an alternative means of self-expression that may otherwise have remained dormant.

I have chosen to concentrate on Simon in this social section of the data analysis for if ever there was an ambassador for the social aspects of learning, it is he. Although perhaps less articulate and less vocal than the LNS boys, his contribution to the group dynamic was always upbeat and fun. We see this in his decision to interpret one of the film exercises as a comedy routine with appropriately comic sound effects and music. See the last of the four Youtube clips listed here – whereas the LNS boys chose to work with the tropes of more serious thriller/mystery genres. He can also be seen playfully mucking around with the other boys ‘on set’ in between shoots, but would remain on task and focused when required. See photo with Simon on the right, checking out Bob setting up a football trick shot. See @ 00:15 secs.  His enhanced sense of sociability is also witnessed on his course evaluation sheet for Lambeth City Learning Centre.

Simon’s answers often reflect the social benefits of his involvement with the project and with the LNS boys. I asked him about his initial expectations:

Int: So what did you feel was going to happen?

I avoid the use of the word think in favour of feel as I think it is less challenging phraseology and more likely to produce rich commentary, especially at the beginning of an interview when he may have been feeling ill at ease.

Simon: I didn’t think there was gonna be another school there. So when I saw another school, I thought like…ooh, who are these people? So I got kind of shy when I saw them…

Int: Mm

Simon: I don’t like … like …. talking to people I don’t know.

… which is gratifying to hear in the context of a one-to-one interview with a Year 9 boy in an ethnographic study – I appear to have gained his trust. This apparent lack of confidence does however remain ambiguous as later in the interview, simon_lambeth_interview.mp3 @ 26 mins, (Email me for access to this full audio interview) he claims he would have the confidence to approach an outdoor film crew and ask what was going on. An indication that by the end of the film making process his confidence may have “grown” substantially. Indeed he finished my sentence for me when I asked him about it here: simon_lambeth_interview.mp3 @ 26:35 mins. (Email me for access to this full audio interview).

Int: But would you say things have changed now on that score?

Simon: Yeah, I think we’re mates now.

Simon appreciates being part of a group and it could be that he felt quite isolated within the Lambeth contingent because some of the others peeled off and lost interest. However, Simon successfully positioned himself in the group and maintained good relations with LNS and the boys from Lambeth with ASD.

Int: …. Er, what would you say are any other things that have changed, do you think, in that time?

Simon: Erm, I dunno …. Just the way I feel about that…

Int: Yeah

Simon: Like, it’s like, cos some people, like, Nathan and them people, Victor, they came for a couple of weeks and they stopped cos they thought it was boring.

Simon distinguishes himself from them people and is proud of his staying power. He mentions at various points the amount of sustained effort that is required to produce something of value. This suggests that his work with Marion in previous film projects has lain firm foundations as regards what can be gained from high levels of commitment and engagement.

Int: Right, yeah

Simon: But I’m interested in like all the stuff about it, like the practical stuff

A recurrent theme in media production is indeed the allure of the practical stuff, the pleasing latitude for hands-on craftwork. Sennett’s breakdown of the forces at work whilst crafting an artifact belies the utilitarian associations of ‘manual labour’ and ‘working with your hands’. Moreover, Merleau Ponty in his 1964 observations on painting, poetically exalts hand-eye co-ordination; formulations which can equally be transposed to the art of editing, as referenced  by Furstenau and Mackenzie (2009):

“‘ The eye is an instrument that moves itself, a means which invents its own ends; it is that which has been moved by some impact of the world, which it then restores to the visible through the offices of an agile hand.’ “ (2009:18)

Int: Would you say that you bring in any of your own experience, from your own life into it?

Furstenau and MacKenzie discuss the impact of the video editor through which “eye plus hand restores something to the visible and audible world.” (2009:19), so how empowering would it be if that something to restore could be sourced from your own experience. A chance to re-work and re-present raw, personal, unfiltered and unmediated experience.

Simon: … I liked to fight, liked to fight

Int: You like to fight or you liked to fight?

Simon: I liked

Int: You liked, past tense. Well you mentioned that actually… it was brought up on the football pitch, when we were doing the fight scene and you mentioned that you used to like fighting. Erm, so… you don’t … you’re not interested in that any more or..

I hesitate because I’m not sure how much he’s prepared to talk about this.

Simon: I haven’t had a fight in ages.

Int: Great!

Simon: Cos I’ve learned how to control my temper now.

Simon’s phraseology suggests that the potential for fighting will always be there, it’s a question of control. Indeed control and focus are fundamental to producing successful media texts – a dimension of film-making to which Simon surrenders himself willingly. Many of the LNS boys took more coaxing in this respect when it came to editing.

Int: Ah, interesting… and do you think there might have been periods over the past few months where you might have, I don’t know, somehow brought that experience into this process?

Simon: Kind of like.. er.. giving the… information like how someone gets angry, angry about what someone else is saying .. or what their actions are.

The boys made a film exploring ‘small man syndrome’: the sad, loner who seeks to join and be accepted by a group of footballing friends and gets frustrated and aggressive in the process. During filming, Emma tried to elicit how exactly the fight scene might commence. Knowing his background I glanced at Simon and gestured with my head that he might have something to contribute; he then physically stepped forward, disclosed to everyone how his fighting experience had led to exclusion and offered advice on how this scene might be choreographed.

Simon was able to de-centre and assertively direct both dialogue and action in the capacity of an expert adviser; his identity and his past behaviour had been positively recast in an instant. The scene re-enacted what previously, in real life, would have been fraught and chaotic.

Int: Yeah, you offered some suggestions, didn’t you, about how that might work, yeah, so er, it’s quite good, I think, isn’t it to bring your own stuff to the table, as it were.

Simon: everyone in the group has different views .. and like, they bring different stuff, so like, it’s a place to put all our feelings into one little film.

With democratic awareness, Simon again makes reference to the group and the value of everyone’s individual contributions. He is explicitly sensitive to film as a unique place to collaboratively articulate their feelings. This motif recalls Bourdieu’s notion of “habitus”, the territory where objective structures and subjective agency tussle to make meaning and also where pedagogy, as Burn argues (drawing on Buckingham and Sefton-Green), can be positioned as “a mediating force” (2009:11).

Int: Yeah. You’re absolutely right, and that makes it… what does that make it?

Simon: Group work

Int: Yeah, group work. I think that’s the other thing about film-making isn’t  it? It involves lots of people doing different things, erm… students and adults. What do you think about our group… as a group?

Simon: Erm, which group? It’s like we only met a couple of months ago but it’s like we’ve known each other for a couple of years now. It feels weird.

Group work has a ring of ‘school-speak’ about it and it may well be that he has picked this up in his regular Wednesday afternoon sessions off-timetable in Marion’s unit. Learning collaboratively without recourse to hierarchical grouping allows Simon’s sociability to emerge and despite its weirdness he seems to appreciate a sense of abnormal intensity. I watched Simon interacting with younger children in the LA SEN unit one morning and it is clear he enjoys his mentor status. He remains a shining example of what can be achieved with access to sustained media production practices, always bearing in mind that his anger has not necessarily been ‘cured’ but is being managed in an ongoing fashion.

Int: It’s that every week thing, isn’t it? I know it’s great that you’ve come every week, cos you don’t have to do you?

Simon: I don’t have to, but I just enjoy it.

Of the Paris trip:

Simon: My mum said can we come and I went ‘No!’, (laughs) I went “No!” this is my time!

Int: This is your what?

Simon: This is my time!

Int: Your time, well exactly, this is your special thing.

Going to Paris was always a significant draw for Simon. It was the first thing he mentioned at the beginning of the interview and we resumed the topic at the end. The above snippet indicates how empowered Simon feels over his film time. He exhibits a heightened sense of ownership in terms of time and place; the fact that Paris is one of those places raises aspirations and introduces an exciting cultural dimension for all the boys… and adults.

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