Feelings about ‘unwatchable’, 10:10 and the wonderful insanity of the Internet
As many of you will know, amongst other things, I’ve been working on a project with Darkfibre to raise awareness of the horror in the Congo, and the links between electronics manufacturers and the weaponised rape that happens there on a daily basis. It’s been an absolutely extraordinary experience, both frustrating and fulfilling in equal measures.
For who have read the various bits and bobs in Marie Claire – the campaign is due to launch at the beginning of February 2011.
In the meantime I thought I’d share a little bit about the campaign and how it relates to the current 10:10 debacle.
The campaign centres around a film, god forbid viral in nature. Anybody who knows me knows I’m as cynical as they come about the whole viral mumble, but in this case I read the script and knew immediately it would spread – whether for the right reasons remains to be seen.
It’s actually an incredibly simple idea: “What if what was happening there was happening here – wouldn’t we do something about it?”
As such it’s a straight transposition of a terrifying number of true stories. In brief, an armed group turn up, rape and murder a family in the Cotswalds.
So now you don’t have to watch it.
It’s an incredibly strong film. It illustrates the humiliation, dehumanisation and desecration that is a part of daily life – if you live in the eastern provinces on the Congo.
Given that I myself have had some misgivings about the film I sent out a rough cut to some close friends and family to ask their opinion on whether the ‘line’ which we are dancing with had been crossed.
One of the ‘best’ was from the girlfriend of a mate, and hope she doesn’t mind me sharing this:
I have watched this as someone who knows little about the making of films, but i am a consumer, a rights lawyer, someone who lobbies for these very same issues and a woman. My first reaction was to be physically sick (and i was)- my second was to say ‘the world needs to see this’.
Public denial is a deeply rooted problem in the educated West – we turn the channel over when adverts show the homeless, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the victims of political and economic unethical practice – people tune into Comic Relief for the funny stuff and make tea when the images of starving children take over the screen… unless you force it, ram it, into peoples lives there will never be the reaction necessary to provoke the awareness that true change needs… It is no longer acceptable to be sugar-coated by a mainstream approach to these issues – when we dress it up in rock concerts and wrist bands… it means nothing to the general population unless they actually see and feel and have a visceral experience … and in 6 long painful uncomfortable minutes Unwatchable achieves this.
The danger is that it is indeed such a controversial way of illustrating the problem that people will relate it merely to their own lives, and fear for their own wives and daughters instead of contextualize it into the ‘show and tell’ it actually is. If this happens the danger may be that the subject will be eclipsed by peoples own private fears and this be talked about and shared for the wrong reasons. it would indeed by tragic if the film was known for sensational value rather than the issues it seeks to expose… but my personal view, and from my experience of lobbying for change through ‘conventional’ methods (which seldom works in the face of media spin and red tape) is that nothing short of horrific, unthinkable, fear and pity inducing images can achieve this. Whether this film is shared with the world or not, the horror in the Congo continues – 200 times a day no less – why the hell shouldn’t we force people to sit uncomfortably for a while – on balance the change and awareness it will provoke will outweigh the shock value of those who are merely morbidly curious about such images.
be brave – someone has to be.
All the feedback has been incredibly useful, even from those who hated it. There was a common theme that if you are going to drag somebody into such a horrible place you need to have all the supporting information there – right there – when they watch it.
Tell me more they said, after they stopped crying or shouting.
I might sound flippant but given I can’t watch the film, or even talk about the reality, without bursting into tears I reckon somebody somewhere will forgive me.
Then along comes the ‘No Pressure’ campaign from 10:10, embedded here.
The campaign genuinely couldn’t have gone more wrong.
They made a film which wasn’t funny, with a message that was so easy to misinterpret, they blew up children for a giggle, then pulled the campaign and apologised inspiring both sides of the argument to denounce the whole thing. You can see some of the feedback here:
Anyway this whole mess has had far reaching repercussions in the Charity/NGO world. Basically nobody is will to take risks now for fear of a major backlash.
Seems to me the trick is to be responsible about what exactly you are releasing so I’ve tried to put together a bit of a plan, outlined below, to avoid the 10:10 turbulence. This was written prior to the launch of their campaign and I guess the question is: Is there any more that we can do?
How do we prevent children from seeing it?
On the Internet it’s simply impossible to stop anybody from seeing anything.
However you can be responsible and there are steps that can be taken to limit exposure.
We are tagging the content as inappropriate for minors. Essentially we are voluntarily black listing it.
It means that it won’t appear in google (or other search engines) if ‘safe search’ is on.
It won’t turn up in any environment that has a ‘net nanny’ system, eg. every school, many work places and anybody who has opted-in at home.
We are creating a player to contain the film which will have age verification at the start (same as alcohol sites, etc). While this doesn’t really stop anyone it does make it perfectly clear what we are trying to.
How do we prevent people to whom it will cause serious upset from seeing it ‘accidentally’?
We want to include BBFC certification up front to make it clear it’s intended for mature audiences.
We have worked hard on the messaging included before the film to make sure that the viewer knows they are going to watch something deeply upsetting; We called the film ‘Unwatchable’ for a reason.
There will be NO mass email mail-outs. There are many lists which have demographic information attached so in theory we could filter out kids, however, what we don’t know is anything more specific about the individuals’ lives eg. The potential for the recipient to have been a victim of sexual violence, so therefore we will rely on a social distribution.
We are also working with a major NGO in the UK to make sure there is a help-line to support those who are affected by viewing.
How do we insure that they can ‘find out more’?
The main purpose of the interactive player is to be able to keep the facts about the Congo with the film at all times.
The extended content is a detailed FAQ about the background of the conflict in the Congo, Conflict Minerals, The Making of… (or more to the point: Why we made it), and ways that people can help and get involved.
We won’t be pushing out the film on its own.
How do we prevent people ‘mashing’ it up / editing out the context?
Realistically we can’t, however we can make it harder.
By embedding the film within our own player we can make it more difficult to get a full copy of the film out.
That being said, anybody who is technically minded will be able to extract it, but hopefully it will be enough to dissuade the casual masher.
However – forewarned is forearmed so if anybody reading this wants to take the film and abuse it so we can learn before launch. Please ping me and I’ll sort you out with a copy.
How do we respond to a backlash?
We are showing as many NGOs and relevant charities as possible, as well as journalists, prior to launch to make them aware and insure they don’t fuel any kind of media hysteria. We want to pre-empt and respond as much as possible. We know there will be a backlash – we can but minimise the damage.
On the net the only thing you can really do is be absolutely open, honest and transparent. Unlike other campaigns there is no opposition here eg. Barring the crazies, nobody is going say that RAPE IS OK, and one would hope that the more rational voices on the net will challenge or simply ignore trolls.
However people will question our methods – the need to shock, the setting – and accuse us of sensationalism. As mentioned above, we have prepared an extensive FAQ (embedded with the film) which aims to address the most obvious lines of attack. The reality is we want to shock, challenge taboos, create noise, but we’re very much aware it is our responsibility to ensure anger, disgust, horror is channelled into useful action.
We will have twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc. manned to answer and discuss the issues and the film.
So have I missed anything? The campaign isn’t launching now till the new year so we have plenty of time to ‘get it right’. And we want to.
I’d really appreciate any and all suggestions of how we can behave as responsibly as possible with this.