FMS85C Week 10: The Reality of Family Film, Documentary and Truth

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The idea of the family film, documentary, and its repercussions on its subjects and creators is something that we still see exist in today’s society. The documentary is a notable feat as it guides audiences through an observation of one subject’s life, moving from one state to another. As John Stuart Katz explains in his article, “Family Film: Ethical Implications for Consent” in the book Image Ethics in the Digital Age, “In the making of many family films, the filmmakers decide what significant and life-changing actions their subjects should take, convince their subjects to act, and then film the resulting actions” (327). Yet, in this simple gesture lies a slightly troublesome truth where filmmakers can often manipulate a subject, influencing them to act in one way that is not entirely genuine to their character, thus defeating the purpose of a genuine documentary of someone’s life. Today’s TV shows almost takes a similar stance.

When watching reality TV shows such as The Bachelor or The Voice, it is oftentimes difficult to distinguish what information one should believe and not believe. As TV tends to naturally make people and situations seem more glamorous or cliché than they actually are, the “reality” of reality TV shows is put into question.

As Katz explains in article, “Wohl [filmmaker of Best Boy and Best Man] intervened not only to change his subjects’ lives, but also to secure the most dramatic scenes and make the most interesting films he could” (336). It is a bit disturbing to realize that, in the pure intention to create a microscopic look of one’s true life, a filmmaker can step in to put his/her own “finishing” or “creative touches” on one’s life to make a subject appear to his/her own liking. In this way, subjects are often molded into specific images that the media portrays them as.

Celebrities often deal with this problem a lot, such as the young Disney stars and starlets (Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Lindsay Lohan, etc.) who start working in the industry at such a young age, only to realize they are being molded into these “cookie-cutter,” “perfect” images that are almost impossible or entirely irrelevant for them to become or simply even be. Katz further writes that in doing so, [filmmakers] changed the experiences of those [they are] filming” (336), thus explaining that the images filmmakers tend to put on subjects’ lives also transcends into their real lives, disturbing their own experiences in the industry as fans and audiences begin to perceive someone differently. This concept becomes entirely troublesome as ideas are put onto a subject, which may consume his/her own life as he/she is 1) molded into something else, 2) unsure of who he/she is, or 3) is influenced by the media in possibly negative ways.

As Miley Cyrus’ Disney-channel career started at just the ripe age of 12-years-old, she signed up for the Hannah Montana show with her father alongside her in the 5-year journey. In this way, it has affected her relations with her family as she had personally worked with her father on the show for the entire duration of it. Although mostly a positive factor, there are some things that the audience was manipulated into believing about the two, as they themselves were molded to act in another way off-screen to appear just like their characters on-the-screen. While they themselves may or may not entirely be just like the characters we see them portray on the Disney show, that manipulation and idea of being under the public eye during this entire process naturally alters their perception and attitude going into the production of the show, as they know someone is watching them–and they ought to behave in a particular way. Genuine or not.

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