حیات - Stories on Hold

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an exploration on ways to find meaning and explore consciousness by creating a more inclusive media archive
This paper investigates the reason and consequences of lack of diversity in storytelling and suggests ways to fix it by focusing on animation as the most effective storytelling medium.

The lack of diversity in the most powerful and inspiring medium of the humans bears destructive consequences. Countries that have no strong media presence are under the mercy of how dominant media displays them. Valuable cultures, traditions, rituals that have been developed in ancient societies that serves as inspiration and to assist people in defining their purpose is being othered and marginalized by what dominant media defines and displays them as.

The more your presence becomes othered and marginalized the less you believe in the validity of your perspective in seeing the world. This causes a systematic lack of self-esteem where your possibility of reaching self-actualization becomes less possible. You get less control over your behavior and reaction which creates behavioral errors and makes you even more vulnerable to exclusion. I research the human consciousness through neuropsychology and culture to understand the narrow and biased information we uphold about the world and our own capacities to stress the importance of producing a more inclusive media archive that challenges our structure of thoughts.

Introduction

My parents were surprised when I continued watching animated films and series after reaching an age where they would expect me to develop other interests. I enjoyed watching animation to an extent where my first love is even a fictional character. When I was a child, the animations on screen were subtitled, but I couldn’t read yet. So, along with Turkish at home and Dutch at school I had learned English from watching animation. My parents took pride in having a child who mumbled three different languages. My family moved around a lot and I was a very shy child, my tool to make friends in new schools was by drawing cartoon characters for my classmates to impress them. It wasn’t until I went to high school that I landed in an environment where my classmates wouldn’t be interested in cartoon characters anymore, so I left that as a tool to bond and just became an ordinary teenager. The first three years of high school was very dissatisfying for me until I got a classmate that introduced me to a new wave of Japanese animations online that were available to be seen with English subtitles. I went home to watch the first episode of Death Note (Tetsuro Araki, 2006-7) on YouTube and it was the first time for me to see an animation with such elevated aesthetics and visuals, it was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was visually so incredible, and the story was unlike anything I had ever watched that it compensated the way Japanese sounded to me, a language which I had never heard. I couldn’t distinguish a sound from one another but by the end of the series I could sing along to the intro music, differentiate words from each other and developed an interest to the culture, I wanted more. The story was about An intelligent high school student goes on a secret crusade to eliminate criminals from the world after discovering a notebook capable of killing anyone whose name is written into it. (imdb) The discoveries that followed Death Note has led me to go back to drawing, it wasn’t only the fascination towards the aesthetics of the animations that I watched, but also the narratives that were different from what I consumed on Dutch TV which were dominantly American. The idea of a young person in power of adjusting the justice system like in Death Note just opened up doors of questions and possibilities.

The older I got, the more I understood how complicated the world around me was and how language plays a big role in that. Having a diverse cultural background, I was an outsider everywhere I went to. I was Turkish in the Netherlands and European in Turkey. Growing up with multiple languages has also earned me praise but made me half a person in every language I spoke. This created situations where I would feel extremely uncomfortable to speak up because I would not have the self esteem to represent myself well. This became especially more of a problem when tension towards people with a migrant background or Muslim belief would elevate with the ongoing and amplifying political conflicts related to the Middle East.

Consuming stories from the Japanese narrative had shaped me significantly, it was the story structures from Japanese productions that gave me a better understanding of how I could become more of a person that I would be more comfortable being. The heroines of the animations I watched were not people for whom the universe would adjust according to their desires, the stories were always about a mutual give and take which I discovered to be a common story structure in Japanese animation. I received the guidance in life from animation that I lacked at my home and in school. The realization that animation is such a powerful tool in influencing people’s behavior has brought me to this point today where I stand in a position of pursuing a career in making animated films myself. Listening to people’s stories and being able to create empathy is what provokes curiosity, it is when we can establish bonds of mutual understanding that we can step up to build self-esteem and reach our individual potentials (Maslow, 1987, p. 64).

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

As someone who has also benefitted a lot from Middle Eastern philosophy and Islamic culture I can’t identify myself with the way my heritage and belief are represented and branded on dominant media and how this evolves into violent behavior towards these people in daily life. I’m a living breathing proof for myself that the representation is unjust, so it became my drive to investigate how representation vs. discrimination works.

Scientific racism is something that ‘justifies’ the psyche of the oppressor and the bystanders, when we realize that differences are social and not biological we share responsibilities in understanding each other without disregarding one another. to stress on the importance of telling stories of diverse backgrounds and disciplines and to break down the layers of artificial structures to oppress one another I’d like the explain the importance of the stories that has been kept on hold.

I will explain the way human conscious and subconscious works as a mechanism by investigating reality through the perspective of neuropsychology and how culture influences our perception of ourselves and the world around us. This way I’d like to convince the importance of the effect of diversity in storytelling and why animation is one of the most effective tools in that.


The Self - What you see is what you get

SELF.I

The experience of the self is divided in neuroscience and psychology in the following categories:

Bodily self: The owning and being of a body in which you are in sync with the physiological needs of the body as a self-sustaining organism. (i.e. feeling hungry, feeling sleepy, feeling energetic etc.)

Perspectival self: experiencing the world from a first-person view. (i.e. in front of me, behind me etc.)

Volitional self: The intention of agency and wants, needs, urges and desires. (i.e. I want to be, I don’t want to be etc.)

In higher levels we have:

Narrative self: The narrative self is where the ‘I’ starts because you become a distinctive person over time, it’s the story of ourselves built from memories associated with bodily, perspectival and volitional experiences. (i.e. My name is xx and I am born and raised in xx I am xx years old and am friends with xx my hobbies are xx etc.)

Social self: the self through the perception of others and how I am experienced through other minds and thoughts. (i.e. am I popular? Am I loved? Am I criticized? Etc.) (Anil Seth, 2016)

Despite the clear distinctive categories that explain an aspect of self we don’t go through life by living theme separately, we experience all of our aspects of selves as a whole and it is the balance between those aspects that create a healthy and maybe even happy human being. The measurement of the balance of these aspects of the selves are highly subjective and personal however external circumstances which is a reality to all are elements that play a crucial role in the perception of a human being and their sense of self.

SELF.II

All sciences are in effort to understand the world in which we live in and to make it more comprehensible. Throughout the centuries we have developed a wide range of methodologies that examine the world from specific perspectives. How we give meaning (perception) to the information we receive (senses) is depending on several elements because we have a number of layers of experienced selves.

Neuroscientist Anil Seth (Ted, 2017) explains in his talk that our own consciousness is all we have that differentiates us of being objects, it is through our consciousness that we experience the world and a sense of self. Throughout our sense of self, we experience feelings of joy and suffering. There are many discussions and questions about the self, some philosophers even argue that the self does not exist (Thomas Metzinger, 2003). Without the self and all its experiences there is no use in any of the efforts in meaning making, in case of my profession as a storyteller I find this too reductant and therefor will focus on a more qualitative approach towards this subject. Anil Seth explains that there are two forms of consciousness. One is the world around us with its multi layered experiences and the other is the specific experience of being who you are, the self. Our brains are triggered by sensory information (taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch) through which our consciousness works. It is in constant effort of trying to grasp of what is out there in the world based on prior expectations and beliefs. Sensation is useful and essential for survival, we can protect ourselves from being hurt by removing ourselves from danger which we depict through our senses. It is also the process of detecting existence of the world around us. (John Krantz, 2013, p.1.6). We are highly dependent on our sensory experiences to make sense of the things around us by depending on the languages of communication and our instincts in detecting safe/unsafe. Yet we confuse the important distinction between sensation and perception. Sense is quite objective, it is perception that is subjective, because, if seeing is believing is everything we see and hear the truth?

The shape in which we think

Sensation and perception are interwoven to each other, just like our senses of self. We always experience the world through our sense of self and therefor find it normal that we experience the things the way they are. Our faith in our senses delay us from the fundamental questions such as why we experience things the way we do. Thomas Metzinger does explain an insightful perspective about the self being an ongoing property where we have a sense of ownership over our inner selves in relationship to the outside world and that our sense of selves are very context sensitive and fluid and thus can be manipulated.

Our unquestioned faith in our senses and the fine line between what is sense and what is perceptive is also the reason for arrogance, we experience the world always through our sense of self and thus will always assume that we are the center of the universe unless critically challenged to think otherwise. Just like David Foster Wallace cites in his commencement speech

“: The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.. .. blind certainty – a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up”

According to Anil Seth, we are all hallucinating all the time and perception is a controlled hallucination where the brain’s predictions about the meaning concerning the received sensory experiences is what we consider ‘reality’, in fact, reality is us agreeing on what we see. The act of speech is for example the act of transmitting thought by sounds which we make with our mouths by hissing and puffing, those actions create air vibrations in the air. Those air vibrations hit the eardrums of the receiver. What follows is the brain taking those vibration from the eardrums and translating them to thoughts (Lera Boroditsky, 2017). So even though quantitative research allows us to understand the ways in which we interact and communicate it is still qualitative research that explores the meaning and significance of a situation. Qualitative research concerns itself with all things in motion, never set and always changing depending on the participants and ongoing change in circumstances.

Senses are self-evident, the act of absorbing and imitating the communicative skills to survive is also something which is self-evident because we need to be able to communicate our needs. Conscious experience is an integrated reality (Thomas Metzinger, 2013) meanings regulate our volitional and narrative selves and these set the rules and norms in which our social life is ordered and governed in. Meaning in which we construct reality out of is always partially understood (Stuart Hall, Representation,p.4) Having a brain and having a nervous system from which your brain senses the world is self-evident but the meaning and perception you give to all of these senses are absolutely not hardwired in us like our height, skin color or family members. The meaning we give to the sensorial experience is entirely dependent on our belief template and narrative self-experiences which consist out of social values such as financial status, climate experience, the culture or society group we belong to. We do automatically absorb the language of the culture we are born into, but we do that to be able to function. The history of a language depends on years of evolution that contributed to that tool of meaning making which again differentiates from area to area. So, the exact same thing in the world can mean absolutely two different things to different individuals. In the past Europe would be governed by the narrative of the Christian religion, Sundays in church were the portion of narrative that guided people through life. Maybe that was even their only portion of a narrative and was the sustaining of life something that took enough time to occupy the mind and prevent it from asking questions about systems and why god was a man for example. But the industrial revelation and the automation of so many things have changed everything. Today, as soon as we are awake we begin to consume stories. Population has grown, nearly all of us own social media where we ‘construct’ our identities, we get breaking news on daily basis. I am primarily fascinated by witnessing my nieces watching animation on tablets and phones. Today we have more utilities and access to material that investigates what it means to be a human being today but maybe we have so much of it that our brains just got immune to those senses.

Culture - How you see is what you get

“Culture internally is concerned with the production and exchange of meanings which we can access through language. So, language serves as a representational system." - Stuart Hall, 1997

Sciences have developed methods to guarantee outcome in quantitative methods. These experiments have helped humanity in understanding the way our bodies work or our planet and universe. The most reliable source towards meaning making or the experience of the self is culture.

“Culture is used to refer to whatever is distinctive about the ‘way of life’ of a people, community, nation or social group’. Culture is concerned with the production and exchange of meanings ‘the giving and taking’ of meaning between the members of a society or group. To say that two people belong to the same culture is to say that they interpret the world in roughly the same ways and can express themselves, their thoughts and feelings about the world, in ways which will be understood by each other. Thus, culture depends on its participants interpreting meaningfully what is happening around them, and ‘making sense’ of the world in broadly similar ways.” - Stuart Hall, Representation, p.2

This proves that stories do not materialize from a void but grow out of materials already available in history and human experience. There are about 7000 different languages around the world and they all differ from each other in sounds, structures and vocabularies (Lera Boroditsky, 2017). This means we have 7000 different cognitive realms and ways of experiencing the exchange of meaning. If language is a way of transmitting knowledge about experiences than that could mean that depending on the language you speak you can construct reality. for example, in the English language, we have the word nostalgia which translates to the experience of yearning to a past which you cannot retrieve. The Japanese version of the word nostalgia is Natsukashii 懐かしい which translates to the experience of looking back to the past with an appreciation for having that memory. The experience is more like that of the word ‘reminiscence’ but both nostalgia and reminiscence translate to ‘natsukashii’ in Japanese. They have no word fır yearning to go back to the past because the Japanese culture didn’t feel the need to verbalize such a feeling. Another example is that in Turkish you talk about the other as ‘o’, it is a way of referring to another person but without the revealing of their gender. There is no he or she in Turkish and no gender nouns towards object this also changes the experience of the perception of the material realm. These might be details which are self evident for the users making them unaware of that distinction but research by Dr.Lera Boroditsky as presented in her talk shows that the language you use guide the things you pay attention to in life. “language guides our reasonings around events.”

Another very critical point she makes towards the end of her talk is that everything we know about the human mind is based on studies of American/ English speaking undergraduates at universities and this means that it excludes all other human beings and what their contribution could be towards the understanding of the human mind. She correctly points out that our knowledge is narrow and biased. Linguistic diversity is not only about understanding the way how people live around the world it is also an opportunity for ourselves to question why we think the way we do.

The Influencer

Groups of people that have no strong media presence are under the mercy of how dominant media displays them. Valuable cultures, traditions, rituals that have been developed in ancient societies to assist people in defining their purpose is being othered and marginalized by what dominant media defines and displays them as. The danger with normalizing the de-humanized state in which people are being portrayed is to allow them suffering at the hand of ill intentioned groups in power. We have no immediate contact with the senses and are thus depending on how they are represented to us.

‘The notion about bringing civilization to primitive or barbaric peoples, the disturbingly familiar ideas about flogging or death or extended punishment being required when ‘they’ misbehaved or became rebellious, because ‘they’ mainly understood force or violence best; ‘they’ were not like ‘us’, and for that reason deserved to be ruled. -Edward Said, Culture And Imperialism, p.xiii

Everything we create we do so with the urge to translate our subjective experiences into the physical world which will make it possible for others to see, analyze and agree or disagree on (Brigit Bundesen, 2018). We are kidding ourselves when we produce work within the world of art and design with an ‘objective’ positioning assuming it to be ‘universal’ or ‘neutral’ (Ruben Pater, 2016). When we investigate what ‘objective’ or ‘universal’ means internally, how legit is it to even have that as a standard or ideal.

It is the governing perceptive from the collective agency that lingers in the mind of humans to classify fellow human being and to practice behavior upon them which will be a part of the narrative selves. This bares great consequential risks. Unfortunately, because we are driven with the force of survival we can behave in a very ugly way to our fellow human beings and surroundings. Just look at the news or history books; war, genocide, rape, slavery, torture, exploitation are all things that have happened and still linger amongst us. All the acts of violence committed out of disagreement on what reality should be. We classify people based on gender, race, sexual orientation and religion. We build these social constructions and agree on it. We punish and reward people as a result of these social constructions. We become aware of being an ‘other’ when we don’t share the characteristics to make us privileged.

“The arbitrary-set system is filled with socially constructed and highly salient groups based on characteristics such as clan, ethnicity, estate, nation, race, caste, social class, religious sect, regional groups, or any other socially relevant group distinction that the human imagination is capable of constructing” -Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, p. 33

Dr.Brigit Bundesen describes the state of suffering as a consequence of communication. Humans are very vulnerable in the face of a story, especially at infancy. The reason why we are so vulnerable towards stories is because stories are equipment for living (Kenneth Burke, 1974). As children we learn language because we need to be able to function and vocalize our needs, that is how our selves develops (Birgit Bundesen, 2018). What falls under language is not limited to the linguistic one, although we are accustomed to use that as the primary way of self-expression, we learn from infancy on a multitude of languages which we actively use. A habit is always difficult to explain in intellectual terms, because it feels so natural and self-evident.(Ien Ang, 1982)

“Once the public has decided to accept something as an interesting fact, it becomes almost impossible to get the acceptance rescinded. The persistent interestingness and symbolic usefulness overrides any lack of factuality.” -Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Great Eskimo I I Vocabulary Hoax I and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language, 1991

If the only representation we receive from the other is through the media coverage than we face the danger of being immersed in an unquestioned version of a single story (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2009). The Northern hemisphere is the area which is in control of influence, so powerful that it distributes a spectrum of stories of itself. We need more heroes of color that come from all sort of different places from the world because the metropolises are a micro representation of the diversity in the whole world. Social attitudes change, and makers must gain more awareness of this and have to be able to display stories that represents the richness in diversity. To keep on a tradition of celebrating one type of heroine and one type of antagonists is not storytelling, it is an act of upholding stereotypes. Children especially must be able to watch suitable role models on screen, they need to know that they matter. Kids now can operate a tablet sooner than they learn to walk and they watch everything. It is in infancy where we really place down our fundamental ways of perception. It takes more effort to un-learn false narratives and stereotypes because we’ll be blinded as adults unless harshly confronted with our narrative selves. Inclusive representation in animation is absolutely crucial.

I.Film

There is a persistent impulse in our culture that finds professions or practices which show material result as the only ones that are worthy of respect. ‘only through imagination, which is always subjective, is objective reality assimilated: a life without imagination does not exist.’(Ien Ang, Watching Dallas). My fascination towards cinema has made me an empathetic person, I experienced that the mundane language of words fails to express subjective experiences but by distancing ourselves from our own identity and watching a character go through hardships on the screen we can learn from them and establish a better understanding of what we go through. Thanks to film, we can travel beyond the border of our own imagination and physical realms. We don’t question all the languages which we use such as traffic signs or letters, they serve their purpose and will remain unquestioned unless they cause an error, like a traffic accident, than we will start questioning the function and if it fulfills its purpose. Poetics which are founded in the art of storytelling are the opposite of functional linguistic tools. They serve as a mirror towards our conscious and subconscious self where we are confronted with the weight and nuance of life and are made to think. We are drawn to each other’s stories to learn about how others cope with the weight of existence and death.

An even more powerful and truer form of storytelling is animation. Animation does not rely on the existing world with its governing rules of physics. When creating animation, you create an entire altered cosmology of existence. You fill up a blank space with meaning and purpose, the creator will be continuously confronted with the question ‘what if?’

“The motive is always psychological; the artist must have something to communicate, for mastery over form is not his goal, but rather the adapting of the form to inner significance. That is beautiful which is produced by inner need, which springs from the soul” -Kandinsky

With the craft of storytelling we can challenge the perception of stereotypes by offering a more layered representation including the diversity it deserves. It is especially a critical tool because the visual language of animation is something so popular with very young audiences. An age where the subconscious is being shaped and the basic perceptions are being formed that will be carried around for the rest of their lives. This will have influence on their ways of perceiving themselves and the other in a way that can contribute to their self-esteem and ability to contribute to their surroundings. Instead of creating a media archive that induces the need for consumption and where the archetypes are being reduced to stereotypes it should become a tool of poetics that will always provoke thought.

“the art of story is the dominant cultural force in the world, and the art of film is the dominant medium of this grand enterprise.” -Robert McKee, Story, p.15

Conclusion

“to tell the truth, in a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility” -Robert Mckee

All of our experiences are coming from the mechanisms of predictive perception that stem from the basic drive to stay alive, we know it will all end for us one day and therefore we seek meaning and purpose in our time here and maybe even a time after that. Thanks to the alternative narratology that I was introduced to during my high school years I could break free from my superficial positioning. Maybe universality and objectivity can become possible in a far future where we have developed ourselves towards equal circumstances but if we keep feeding our younger generations with a tradition of stereotypes we won’t be able to reach that ideal equality. Today it feels meaningless to pursue ambitions that do not benefit to humanize back all the ‘others’ which have been de-humanized and normalized through systematic racism and discrimination to uphold power structures. Critical awareness about the self and breaking free of default certainties can only be challenged by the influence of the stories of the other. We can bond through sharing knowledge and create an understanding on the consequences of our actions.

Outside of the dominant white narrative structure which we are used to consume there is an entire world filled with significant amounts of alternative communicative languages beyond that of the spoken and written word that serve as a tool of self-expression and bonding. History is an inexhaustible source of story material. Everything, everywhere and everyone has a history. By examining the culture of a community, you learn about their values and distinctive characteristics that have evolved throughout their history and values are the soul of storytelling. We need to visualize these stories to create a more inclusive animation industry. The only thing which is universal is death, we all know that we are going to die and a self-actualized human being is the one that can use their creative skills to benefit their influence zone. Whether it is your country, your city, a classmate or a sibling we have this ability of communication which we can use to benefit each other instead of oppressing one another.

My research gave me a much-needed insight as I was always on a mission to reach objectivity or a universal positioning which I thought I would definitely be able to attain through the lens of sciences. Of course, I haven’t found it, we can only examine what we perceive and hope that what we find leads to another discovery. Consciousness is an experience and not a tangible thing, over analyzing this creates existential dizziness. The realization that our media whether in the face of news or entertainment is not an overall or universal representation of what is out there in the world will help us strip down the artificial tools of oppression that allows human suffering. I understand that by making our similarities more evident instead of our socially constructed differences, we can strive to create a society with more inclusion and awareness of the other in an appreciative way. This is why it is crucial to tell the stories that have been kept on hold.



References:

Ang, Ien. Watching Dallas, SUA Amsterdam, 1982

Bundesen, Birgit. Conversation with psychiatrist Birgit Bundesen with Jakob Jakobsen. March 2018. by Hopital Prison University Radio https://soundcloud.com/hospitalprisonuniversityradio/conversation-with-psychiatrist-birgit-bundesen-march-2018, 2018

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974

Burke, Kenneth. The Literary Review of Kenneth Burke, Parlor Press, 2010

Boroditsky, Lera. How Language Shapes The Way We Think, 2017

Death Note, Tv Series, https://www.imdb.com/title/ tt0877057/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1, 2006-2007

Hall, Stuart. Representation, Sage Publications Ltd, 2013

Kadinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications, 1977

Kirsch, Adam. Should Literature be Considered Useful? 2014 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/books/review/ should-literature-be-considered-useful.html

Krantz, John. Experiencing Sensation and Perception, https://psych.hanover.edu/classes/sensation/chapters/ Chapter%201.pdf, 2013

McKee, Robert. Story, Methuen 2014

Metzinger, Thomas. Being No One. The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity. MIT Press, 2003

Metzinger, Thomas. The Transparant Avatar in Your Brain. TEDxBarcelona, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZsDDseI5QI

Pullum K. Geoffrey. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language, 1991 http://users.utu.fi/freder/Pullum-Eskimo-VocabHoax.pdf

Pater, Ruben. The Politics of Design, BIS publishers, 2016 Said, Edward. Culture And Imperialism, Random House, 2014

Seth, Anil. Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality, TED, 2017

Seth, Anil. The Science of Selfhood, 2016 https://neurobanter.com/2016/05/09/the-science-ofselfhood/

Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (1999).

Wallace, Foster David. Commencement speech to Kenyon College, 2005 https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI


Teaser for my animated short 'Hayat', which tells the tale of a sultan that sees a dream that gave him signs about the death of his daughter. He does everything within his power to prevent that from happening.

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