Meaningful Media Now

Pasted image at 2016_07_11 03_29 PM

As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office often includes TV Series and Documentaries that mirror past and present, sentimental TV specials, and media trends that affect us. Read on to see the meaningful media and cultural phenomenons HI staff has been talking about in June:

  1. Featured Analysis: The People vs. O.J. Simpson and O.J.: Made in America 
  2. Zika Virus, the Olympics and Agenda Setting
  3. Shark Week
  4. The Evolution of Broadcast Censorship

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Meaningful Media Now

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As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office often includes TV series and movies that made us think, podcasts that moved us, or video games we are addicted to. Read on to see the meaningful media HI staff has been talking about in March:

  1. Featuring: Hamilton – History in the Limelight
  2. Freakonomics
  3. Horace and Pete
  4. House of Cards
  5. League of Legends
  6. *Honorable Mention: That Dragon, Cancer and Thank You For Playing

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The healthcare face-off: Sicko and How to Survive a Plague side by side

Every film conveys information. The manner in which that information is conveyed determines the style of the movie. (Friedman et. al.)

At HI we bring together numerous quantitative and qualitative methods to compare films within and across social issues. We gather engagement data such as a film’s presence on social media, the critical reception around it, press coverage, mentions in congress, and overall viewership numbers to explore a single film and/or compare it with other films. To fully understand a film’s social impact, however, it’s crucial to take each individual ripple of this engagement into account. This means that, in addition to these high level metrics, it’s also important to zoom in on to the micro-level perspective of a film’s narrative structure and the viewer’s experience of it. In a recent HI Media Club, we held a staff discussion to brainstorm about the narrative structure of social issue documentaries and how these might relate to issue comprehension.

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HI Media Club: Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock

Blue Clock

At the Harmony Institute, we take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the impact of entertainment media. In our quest to understand and measure impact, narratives and the way in which they are constructed play a large role in our research endeavors. In order to enhance our studies, we have been holding our own Media Club, during which we choose one or more pieces of media, usually a film or a book, to read or watch and discuss. We recently read the first chapter of Douglas Rushkoff’s latest book, Present Shock.

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My Sky is Falling: Envision 2013 Recap

Senior Creative Technologist, Clint Beharry, discusses participant engagement data

In collaboration with storyteller Lance Weiler, creative director Atley Loughridge, and Reboot Stories, HI is working to develop a framework for creating and evaluating data-driven stories. Our most recent project, a work of participatory theater entitled My Sky is Falling, premiered at Envision 2013 on April 11 in New York City. My Sky is Falling (MSiF) uses an immersive science fiction narrative to explore the social issues surrounding US foster care as experienced by former foster care child and writer/director, Lydia Joyner. The experience was well-received by conference attendees, which included documentary filmmakers, representatives from the United Nations, and members of the Independent Filmmaker Project, who hosted the event. Envision 2013 concluded with a keynote presentation by Lance Weiler and a discussion of participant’s engagement data by HI’s Creative Technologist, Clint Beharry.

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My Sky is Falling: Testing the principles of data-driven storytelling


On Thursday, April 11, HI researchers will collaborate with Lance Weiler and Reboot Stories to produce an immersive and participatory narrative experience at Envision 2013, an annual event hosted by both the Independent Filmmaker Project and the United Nations Department of Public Information. The partnership brings together experts from the UN and NGOs with creative storytellers, filmmakers, and new media artists to develop new platforms for addressing social issues.

For HI, these emerging platforms present new opportunities to study how participants interact with social issue narratives. In the immersive narrative, My Sky is Falling (MSiF), participants explore a theatrical, narrative world. The story centers on the issue of the foster care system in the United States using science fiction metaphors. To understand the impact of this compelling and informative story, HI researches will analyze real-time user engagement data, which is collected as participants move through the experience wearing an Affectiva Q Sensor. This physiological data will be mapped against an evaluation framework that assesses changes in audience comprehension, attitude, and response. Our goal is to merge creative design with data science to measure the influence of innovative narratives on contemporary social issues.

The MSiF experience was initially created as a final project for the Columbia University graduate film course, Building Storyworlds for the 21st Century, in the Fall 2012 semester. Along with the Reboot team and other creative technologists, HI researchers helped the students to create the narrative by analyzing data from classroom exercises as well as designing frameworks for data collection and measurement of the final project.

MSiF will also run at the upcoming conference, DIY Days on April 27. Data and analysis from both events will be posted here.

A Promised Land or a Gasland?


In a recent post on The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall writes, “Fiction teaches us facts about the world, influences our morals, and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behavior.”

Gottschall continues, “When we read non-fiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical.  But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard.” In other words, when audiences are exposed to a controversial argument, they are more likely to agree with the fictional presentation than the non-fictional one. HI researchers are interested in testing this theory.

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Zero Dark Thirty: How does entertainment affect American attitudes on torture?

Still from "Zero Dark Thirty"

If you haven’t heard of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, chances are you will during awards season. Zero Dark Thirty is a thriller that chronicles the long hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Like any film based on historical events, much has been made of its authenticity and accuracy, although Bigelow stresses that the film is a fictionalized dramatization, not a documentary. Her stance hasn’t stopped harsh criticism from both sides of the political aisle. The left has suggested that the film endorses torture. Republicans have similarly questioned the film’s representation of the facts, while others wonder if the film helped President Obama’s reelection campaign. Critics have overwhelmingly praised the film as a taut action movie, full of moral ambiguity.

While the controversy is fascinating, at HI we would rather look deeper to understand the influence of this film, even before its theatrical release. Zero Dark Thirty is only the latest in a series of movies and television shows that have depicted torture for American audiences. The film’s accuracy and judgments about its aesthetic qualities are important, but it also affects society at large. What are the effects of Zero Dark Thirty and similar narrative media on American attitudes on torture?

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Using narrative to persuade and motivate


Platforms for storytelling are continuously expanding as activists and marketers alike recognize the persuasive power of narrative. Institutions and groups invested in social action are increasingly turning to narrative to convey their messages and inspire change.

Yet, a basic question often remains—what makes narrative so compelling? Within a persuasive narrative, what aspects motivate an audience to action? Here at HI, we continuously ponder these questions and think critically about how scientific research can provide answers. Through rigorous research, we’ve compiled several tips for creating a compelling narrative that will both engage an audience and encourage them to act.

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