Counter-fate Goods? Finding Clarity in the Autoethnographic Methodology

In my previous blog post, I introduced my BCM320 peers and readers of the subject blog to my chosen topic for my individual digital artifact: An autoethnographic study on the fake designer goods market in Asia. To reiterate the concept of autoethnographyEllis et al (2011) explains that ‘Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience‘ [emphasis added].

The Ellis reading outlines the many different forms of autoethnography. Upon reflecting on what I wrote in my previous blog post regarding the personal experience and further research I wish to engage with, I have come to the conclusion that a ‘layered account‘ is the autoethnographic form that is most suited to allow me to fulfil the aims of my chosen project. Ellis et al describes layered accounts as those that ‘often focus on the author’s experience alongside data, abstract analysis, and relevant literature.’ As the personal experience component of this project, I mentioned in my previous blog that I was going to purchase a fake designer good from China with the idea being to live-tweet the process of doing so from the first step of purchasing the product all the way to the last step of the product being delivered to my door step. Since my first blog post, I have done just that – I purchased a pair of “Ray Ban” Wayfarer style sunglasses from China on eBay for $1.85 (including delivery, what a bargain!) and have been recounting this journey on Twitter in a live-tweet thread.

So, why did I decide to focus on China? I recounted an anecdote from Thailand in my previous post after all, so why not go with that instead? Well, in my initial research that I mentioned in my previous blog I discovered that China is known as the ‘main source of knock-off and pirated products sold around the world.’ From this, I made the decision to look specifically at China and narrow my study to one area so as to not make my topic too broad, whilst still having a plethora of information to immerse myself in as there is lots of material available on the fake designer goods market and its relationship with China. In fact, ‘on average, 20 percent of all consumer products in the Chinese market are counterfeit.

Furthermore, autoethnography requires the researcher to ‘retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies‘ that come to the fore from being immersed in a culture or possessing a particular cultural identity.  Although my personal experience in Thailand with fake designer goods is what sparked my interest in researching the topic, an interesting memory from my childhood surfaced. When my brother and I were kids, we had this fascination with looking at various household items and trying to find the label of where they were made. It was like solving a puzzle or finding the treasure. I can honestly say that probably 90% of the time we found ‘Made in China’ plastered somewhere on what we were looking at. Wall (2008) states that ‘Autoethnography begins with a personal story’ and this is one personal story that has obviously stuck with me. It is ‘remembered moments‘ like this that assist in triggering ideas and a thirst to obtain more knowledge on particular topics. Utilising my ‘own feelings and experiences’ (Anderson 2006, p. 384) alongside data collection and further research is what the layered account methodology is all about and I feel as though this is what I am accomplishing so far.

Wall (2008) further states that ‘personal experience can be the foundation for further sociological understanding’ and based off my experience so far, I am inclined to agree; since undertaking this project I have had many further epiphanies other than the initial light-bulb moments I have previously mentioned. I will now briefly touch on one of these below before I embrace more research of my chosen topic to fulfil all the related areas I wish to become more knowledgeable about.

I mentioned in my first post that I wish to look at the idea of intellectual property rights possibly being infringed by the production of fake designer goods. When I ordered my knock-off Ray Bans off eBay – and before conducting a little more research – I really thought harder about this. I came to the conclusion that fake designer goods essentially involves the thievery of trademarks because in reproducing brand names and logos, they pass false items off as that particular luxury brand. This is quite alarming to think about. Thievery is a criminal activity with harsh penalties, but before actually considering this, I never really regarded purchasing fake luxury items as a form of stealing. Even as a law student who has studied intellectual property law as a subject, I have never given this much thought. Have I essentially committed a crime here by spending $1.85 on fake sunglasses? Could it be that China’s ideology surrounding counterfeit luxury goods is different because of the culture’s contrasting ‘relational practices, common values and beliefs‘?

I look forward to completing more research on this topic and layering my personal experience with further analysis to fulfil the overall aims of my project, whilst having further epiphanies sparked along the way. Engaging with the Ellis reading has allowed me to better understand the autoethnographic form I am following, as well as increasing my understanding of the autoethnographic process as a whole.

References

  • Anderson, L 2006, ‘Analytic Autoethnography’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 373-395.
  • Other sources have been linked throughout.

 

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Fake It Til You Make It – The Fake Designer Goods Market in Asia (Individual DA)

Come, come, Miss. I show you, I show you.

Throwback to my first trip to Thailand in 2012 when my bag broke whilst I was walking down the street. Suddenly, a Nepalese man emerged from the shadows – and by “shadows” I mean one of the many open store fronts,  but just let me be dramatic for a second – and was ushering me down a weird back alley out of the public eye. I think I definitely would have refused to follow him if my dad wasn’t accompanying me and reassured me that it was all fine. Seemed dodgy, but okay…

We walked through rubbish-lined concrete paths as the overpowering stench of durian on steroids lingered in the air. The man led us through a few hidden doors and then pulled out a huge set of keys in front of a final locked door. He opened it swiftly.

The air-conditioning enticed me in. Rows and rows of “designer” handbags lined the walls. Labelled as “genuine fakes” (ha!), one “Louis Vuitton” bag was priced approximately AUD$20. Okay, cool, I’ll take one…or two!

designer-goods

Designer goods. Source.

Flash forward to this week in class as I was attempting to generate ideas for my individual digital artifact. I had a lightbulb moment of the above-mentioned Thailand memory from 2012 and thought, I should look at the fake designer goods market in Asia. To gage a better idea of the difference between fake goods and the real deal, I actually looked up genuine Louis Vuitton handbags and was shocked to find out that the price can be upwards of AUD$7,000. WOAH.

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Accurate representation of my face when I found this out. Source.

So, I have my field site. Now, how am I going to collect my data? To really engage with auto-ethnography, I have to use my ‘own feelings and experiences’ (Anderson 2006, p. 384) in data collection. Making myself the centre of this project, I am going to use eBay to purchase a fake designer good from China (honestly, it will probably be a knock-off version of designer sunglasses because I actually need a new pair and I assume they will be cheaper than a handbag). I will use screenshots and live tweeting to update the #BCM320 Twitter tag with how my experience is progressing (i.e. tracking my order, delivery etc.). I will endeavour to also post photos of the received product and compare it to the real thing.

In terms of broader research on the topic, I think it would prove to be a valuable experience to look into intellectual property laws in China and the stringency of the enforcement process when breaching intellectual property rights. Producing fake designer goods seems to be a common practice in China with the country being the ‘main source of knock-off and pirated products sold around the world‘ so it would be interesting to find out the actual value of intellectual property in China.

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As you can see, China is the main producer of fake designer goods. Source.

I would also like to dive into international trade in my research and perhaps consider restrictions when importing/ exporting fake designer goods. It may also be interesting for me to contemplate prosecution for intellectual property breaches in comparing China to Australia, for example. Having a comparison in my research would bring out commonalities and differences and allow me to evaluate the effectiveness of laws from different countries and better understand my chosen topic. It is my prediction that my data collection and further research process will ultimately lead to important auto-ethnographic epiphanies which ‘are made possible by being part of a culture‘ (Ellis et al 2011) and will enable me to engage with – and take away new valuable knowledge from – another culture.

To finalise my digital artifact, I will have to present my findings. I am thinking of including my gathered data and research into either a Prezi or a blog/ podcast combo.  I’ve never done a podcast before so this might be a worthwhile new experience. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

References:

  • Anderson, L 2006, ‘Analytic Autoethnography’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 373-395.
  • Ellis, C, Adams, TE, & Bochner, AP 2011, ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed 30 July 2018, <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>.
  • Other sources have been linked throughout.

 

 

 

 

Australia and Co-Productions: Looking to the Future

The term “co-production” refers to a screen project that has materialised as a result of a Treaty or a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and one of its 12 partner countries that has obtained approval as an “official” co-produced work by each country’s “Competent Authority.” In Australia, the recognised Competent Authority is Screen Australia. Kantilaftis (2014) explains that such agreements help to ‘standardise how productions can be jointly developed, financed, produced, and then distributed in each territory, while complying with the laws of both countries.’

In 2014, Screen Australia introduced its International Co-Production Program Guidelines, which effectively outlines the aims and purpose of co-productions. Essentially, this program is used as an initiative to build relationships and encourage film production between Australian filmmakers and filmmakers from the partner countries.

Co-productions have a multitude of benefits attached for recognition of Australian screen content on a global scale. Significantly, co-productions do not need to meet the ‘significant Australian content‘ test (SAC test) imposed by Screen Australia to prove their eligibility for the Producer Offset outlined in Division 376 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 i.e. a tax rebate to subsidise content production and expenditure.

To give some deeper context, for solely Australian screen content (i.e. non co-produced projects), the SAC test has increasingly made it difficult for content to break through Australia’s boundaries and trickle into international markets. The ‘significant Australian content‘ requirement is plagued with ambiguity and vagueness, and whether solely Australian-produced screen content meets this requirement is at the discretion of Screen Australia. ‘What is Australian content?’ seems like an easy question to answer, however when deeply considered it becomes challenging in light of present-day Australia incorporating an array of cultures, as opposed to a single national identity. Although, past Screen Australia funded films have seen films that incorporate vast landscapes (e.g. Wolf Creek (2005)) and white suburban families (e.g. The Castle (1997)) pass the SAC test. If this is anything to go by, having to adhere to this requirement restricts the freedom and creativity of screen content producers who may wish to showcase broader ideas. As a result, funding becomes limited and thus, high quality solely-Australian films cannot be made.

As co-produced screen content does not need to meet the SAC test because ‘by definition it is considered to be an ‘Australian film’, this allows for access to a greater pool of resources including finance and creativity. The project is considered national of all the countries involved and thus content producers become eligible to apply for all of the relevant monetary incentives from each country. This means there is a larger audience reach which leads to the prospect of greater international success.

It is simple enough to list the benefits of co-productions, but is this the way forward for the Australian screen industry to succeed on a global scale? One could form the view that co-productions are highly beneficial in allowing screen content producers to be able to explore a greater range of themes and genres. Co-productions are certainly a way to bypass the stringent SAC test. Yecies (2009) is of the opinion that co-productions can be ‘unproductive and impractical‘ (p. 5) due to the complexity of legal agreements having to follow more than one set of rules. However, if countries want to work together they will find a way to work together no matter the perceived difficulties. Success with co-productions is about choosing the right country to partner with, for example, Singapore is said to be an ‘attractive‘ choice to co-produce with because ‘it is the broadcast hub in Asia‘ (Wong 2014, p. 3).

To conclude, co-productions could definitely be a way for Australian screen content to succeed in the international market. From the reasons listed above, it seems as though co-productions could potentially be a more sustainable practice moving forward, especially considering the greater access to creative and financial resources and not having to meet the SAC test to be eligible for funding.

Eurovision and the Spread of Ideologies Across Borders

The Eurovision Song Contest is an international singing competition held annually,  predominately between European Broadcasting Union member countries. The countries that participate in the competition submit their own original song and perform this song live. Each country is involved in the voting process (a point-based system) and the winner is determined by who has the most points at the end. Australia has competed in the competition since 2015, with our very own Guy Sebastian performing ‘Tonight Again’:

Eurovision is known as everyone’s favourite night of glitz and glamour (Robinson 2017), with themes of peace and love regularly shining through, so much so that these themes are somewhat seen as comical. Eurovision essentially allows participating countries to demonstrate their culture through song and dance in their live performance with the assistance of vivid lighting and dramatic costuming. This year, the Eurovision Song Contest drew in approximately 186 million viewers worldwide, an astronomical number making this iconic event the biggest live music event in the world.

Having such a huge audience from all over the world, many countries use Eurovision as an opportunity to draw attention to various current worldly issues. In fact, many past performances have had controversial political undertones which have been instrumental in spreading ideologies across borders. Robinson (2017) explains that ‘Eurovision has always been as much about geopolitical drama as it has been about music.’

A couple of examples will now be discussed. It is common knowledge that ‘the contest creates unity through music and celebrating diversity,’ especially in relation to showcasing LGBTQI+ talent and bringing awareness to issues surrounding those who identify as part of this community.

In 2014, Eurovision was won by Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst with her incredible performance of ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’:

This performance was met with criticism from conservatives in Russia, who – Edgar (2014) explains – were of the belief that Conchita’s lifestyle was ‘inapplicable for Russians‘ and she was subjecting Russian children to a ‘hotbed of sodomy‘. Russian President Vladimir Putin also negatively commented that Conchita was ‘putting her lifestyle up on show.

How does Conchita react to negativity? With a fierce confidence in herself and making herself known as a positive icon and role model for the LGBTQI+ community. When Graham Norton asked Conchita if people found her beard confusing, she responded ‘I tried to fit in and I changed myself to be part of the game. And then I realised…I create the game.’

The next example is from Lisbon this year in the form of Irish singer Ryan O’Shaughnessy‘s performance of ‘Together’:

The above performance features two male dancers enacting a same-sex love story.  Although subtle, China’s Eurovision broadcaster, Mango TV, refused to show this performance because content that ‘exaggerates dark side of society‘ is banned throughout the country. This is despite homosexuality being de-criminalised in China over 20 years ago. The European Broadcasting Union responded by barring China from airing the contest, saying ‘we will therefore immediately be terminating our partnership with the broadcaster and they will not be permitted to broadcast the second Semi-Final or the Grand Final.’

Ultimately, with respect to what Eurovision teaches us about the spread of ideologies across borders, the above examples show us that Eurovision participants will always find a way draw on current social issues affecting the world. This is not at all a bad thing as it creates awareness for societal issues at present time and paves a way for change. It also teaches us that there will always be groups of people who censor content because they do not share the same values. Unfortunately, this is just the way the world works.

 

*while you’re here, my friend Anita is an avid Euro-visionary and runs her own website. Check it out and give her a follow if you have a spare minute to stay up to date with all things Eurovision.*

Reality Television Formats: Transcending Borders One Program At a Time

Hill (2015) explains that ‘Reality television is a container for a range of diverse programmes, series, formats and events in which elements of documentary, talent shows, gameshows, talkshows, soap operas, melodramas and sports mix together to produce sub-genres’ (p. 8). Essentially, real-life people are followed by cameras (Frisby 2013) to create hours upon hours of entertainment for audiences.

As a television format, reality TV has the grand ability to transcend borders around the world. The term ‘format’ relates to the idea that already branded programs (e.g. Big Brother and the Idol franchise) can be remade and locally varied in different countries with local contenders from each country forming part of the program’s content.

Heather McIntosh (2014) identifies that reality TV as a growing phenomenon can provide ‘a rich set of discourses for exploring the global intersections of cultures and media.’ Reality TV as a genre and a television format effectively links the global and the local because of its ability to be adapted internationally but also keep cultural elements of each country it exists in. Audiences are thus able to understand what is happening in different cultural context because they know the basic premise of the show, despite maybe not understanding the language or smaller cultural touches. For example, the Idol franchise has existed in 50+ countries worldwide and although audiences may no be able to fully understand the languages being spoken, the singing competition is a familiar format. A ‘translocal perspective’ can thus be developed (Darling-Wolf 2014).

The ability for reality TV to transcend borders occurs for a number of reasons. Firstly, reality TV in an existing format is cheap to produce in the sense that it is much cheaper to locally adapt a show that is already in existence than to create a whole new show from scratch. For example, locally adapting Big Brother – where contestants live in a house together and cameras follow their behaviour for a few months whilst they periodically nominate each other to be evicted from the house – would be easier to locally adapt than having to think of entirely new concepts and ideas within local television markets. Darling-Wolf (2014) explains that Dutch company Endemol (who coincidentally created Big Brother) illustrates this as it ‘indicates that the low production cost of reality TV formats has allowed smaller players to start competing on the global market at a level previously unattainable to them.’ Frisby (2013) states that reality TV programs ‘are cheap to produce and, if they fail to draw ratings, they quickly can be flushed away and replaced with something else,’ indicating that smaller local markets can adapt formats with ease as there is less risk associated with reality TV than with bigger locally produced scripted productions.

Darling-Wolf (2014) also explains on a deeper level that ‘selling more “culturally neutral” formats has eroded the relative economic advantage of powerful countries with the capital to develop extensive production facilities supported by a vast national market.’ Essentially, reality TV formats are so diverse and easy to adapt that this can decrease the need for programs that adhere to the notion of ‘cultural proximity,’ which is an idea explained by Ksiazek and Webster (2008) as ‘the intuitively appealing notion that people will gravitate toward media from their own culture.’ For example, Sex and the City was popular in America as a scripted drama but its format may not be able to transcend into more conservative cultures.

Reality TV also uses “ordinary people” instead of the paid actors that exist on scripted television shows. This allows the audience to feel comfortable watching people who are  essentially “just like them.” This idea can be loosely tied into Kernberg’s Theory of Narcissism which analyses self-esteem regulation with respect to levels of self-adoration. When we see people who we feel are just like us it makes us feel better about ourselves and thus we feel we are good enough.

In conclusion, modern media audiences find comfort in seeing people on screen who they can relate to. The reasons explained above for reality TV’s ability to transcend borders are what make it so appealing to modern audiences in the modern media environment. Audiences love feeling involved and included in communities around the world from the comfort of their own home because reality TV formats are similar across different cultures and easy to understand despite barriers like language.

Reference list:

  • Hill, A 2015, ‘Reality TV’, in Key Ideas In Media and Cultural Studies, Routledge, New York, pp. 1-23.
  • Other sources have been linked throughout this post.

Akira Things

When I was in year 7, I began learning Japanese. It was the only language my school offered at the time and before I got to year 8 the Japanese teacher had left so the subject was placed on hiatus for a little while. The only things I really remember are how to introduce myself – ‘watashi no namae wa Taylor desu‘ (‘My name is Taylor’), and that ‘ninjin‘ means ‘carrot.’

Consequently, the only other anime feature film I had ever seen before watching Akira (1988) this week in class was Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001). Spirited Away is a fairly light-hearted and somewhat comical fantasy where the main character, Chihiro, must free herself and her parents from being stuck in the spirit world after her parents are turned into pigs. The animation is bright and full of colour and the orchestral score gives off dreamy vibes and is pleasant to listen to.

My expectations of Akira, having never seen it before and lacking knowledge about its content, were that it would be similar in nature to Spirited Away. Boy, was I wrong! I can confidently say that I was completely shocked watching Akira – the mass bloodshed and violence was quite disturbing and very realistic for an animated film. I even winced a few times and nearly yelled at the screen when an innocent dog was unnecessarily shot through the head about 5 minutes in.

 

Ellis et al (2011) explains that ‘When researchers do autoethnography, they retrospectively and selectively write about epiphanies that stem from, or are made possible by, being part of a culture and/or by possessing a particular cultural identity.’ Using this autoethnographic process, I was able to draw on one specific revelation I had whilst watching Akira:

 

 

There are evident parallels between Tetsuo in Akira and Eleven from Stranger Things in the way that these two characters were both slaves of science and heavily experimented on throughout their childhood due to their apparent telekinetic powers. Abraham Riesman (2016) articulates some further connections between the two texts quite nicely:

The character of Eleven feels like a kind of mashup of a few figures from the story: her diminutive size and angelic face recall the apocalyptically powerful title character; her frightened demeanor and aggressive pursuit suggest Takashi, the first superpowered character we encounter; her centrality to the story and quest to figure out life as a teenager make her seem like anguished co-protagonist Tetsuo. Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner feels a lot like a more placid version of Colonel Shikishima.

 

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Tetsuo (left) and Eleven (right). Source

I also stumbled upon the below YouTube video after class which I thought was extremely interesting. It uses animation from Akira with Stranger Things voiceovers to create the ultimate Akira Things mash-up. It confirms the incredible similarities between these two texts and works amazingly well.

 

In conclusion, this week’s screening and live-tweeting really allowed me to engage more with the autoethnographic process and by divulging my relationship with anima pre-Akira, I was able to drawn on personal experience to assist my understanding of the film and abandon my pre-conceived ideas about anime – not all anime is like Spirited Away, who would have thought? Finally, being able to compare Akira with Stranger Things made Akira a whole lot easier to interpret which is what autoethnography is all about.

Reference List:

 

 

Gojira (1954) – An Autoethographic Encounter With the Beast

Ellis et al (2011) explains that ‘Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience.

Watching Gojira (1954) involved my engagement in the autoethnographic process. Unfortunately, I was absent during the screening due to travelling, however I made sure to catch up on the film over the weekend once home. I would first like to provide you with some information about my own background to enable understanding of my personal experience. You see, my father is from a town called Catania on the east coast of Sicily, and my mother is as Australian as they come – born and bred in a little town called Forbes in country New South Wales. This meant that I never really had any Asian media influence growing up apart from watching Digimon and Yu Gi Oh! with my twin brother each morning on Toasted TV. It is also safe to say that the closest thing I ever saw that resembled Godzilla was Reptar from the Rugrats.

Reptar

Reptar. Source.

From my understanding of the film, having the Gojira monster leave a path of destruction metaphorically resembles the effects of the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. If we as the audience place ourselves in the time period of when this film was released (Post-World War II), it is clear to see how the film’s aim was to depict the real devastation that would have been felt by the people of Japan at the time. My paternal grandfather was conscripted into the Italian army at 20 years old and from the limited stories I heard growing up (limited due to his preference not to talk about it), it was a pretty rough situation to be in – thus, I can only imagine the dramatic effects something like the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings had on Japanese society.

As far as live-tweeting goes, I’m a little unashamed to say I have live-tweeted an episode or two of The Bachelor in my time. Although unable to live-tweet this screening in class myself, I appreciated that the understanding of the film shone through the insightful tweets of others present during the class. Here are some examples:

During my uni-break I travelled to Budapest and it was there that I visited a place called the Hospital in the Rock, a hospital created in underground caverns during World War II which was used to treat soldiers and civilians. It is now a museum and it has one room showcasing photos and videos of the overwhelming and harrowing effects of Hiroshima. Absolutely unbelievable. It certainly stuck with me and I thought about it the whole time I was watching Gojira and this allowed feelings of both sympathy and empathy to arise.

Despite Godzilla becoming an icon in popular culture with a still-active international franchise (Godzilla: King of the Monsters coming in 2019), the 1954 classic still assists viewers with becoming aware of the real world issues of the time. This was a fantastic way to kick off BCM320 and provided a stellar introduction to the meaning and process of autoethnography.

Reference List: