Artificial Affect, or: How is Affect Created in Media Production?

Media is arguably un-objective. While networks like Fox News like to harp themselves as “fair and balanced”, the nature of media creation itself is very much a subjective process.

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“Fair and balanced” (*COUGH*)

Most of the media we see today is heavily doctored; footage is assembled in the hopes of conveying a single vision—even in media works that are designed to be “neutral” can go through a fair amount of re-assembling in the efforts of making it “broadcast worthy”. Through the process of assembling and creating media, filmmakers can do a lot to generate affect—and that can be observed in films/theoryMakings like Food, Inc. and Fragments on Machines. Through the use of various editing techniques and video shooting techniques, the filmmakers behind these works of media were able to convey their desired affects.

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This is what media production really looks like.

Affect is a theme of the semester. While I might sound like a broken record, I feel like it is important to talk about the definition of affect. To see how the filmmakers have achieved the creation of affect, it is imperative to talk about what the end product is at mind. Affect, as defined by Theresa Brennan is a response that comes with a “physiological impact”, a feeling tied with the “interaction[s] with other people and a environment” (Brennan 3).

So with “affect” defined, lets get to the techniques that the filmmakers have used to create it.

On simple surface terms, Food, Inc. and Fragments on Machines are both different films. While this may seem like the most obvious statement in the entire paper, the understanding that these works are very different is imperative to understanding how there is no definite way to create “affect”.

Consider Food, Inc. From its heavily stylized opening titles and its fully orchestrated score, Food, Inc. can be seen as a movie deliberately designed for a large audience in mind. Food, Inc. begins in a supermarket—an almost intimate setting, but with the sweeping orchestral music playing behind the video, it seems as if the film itself is implying to the audience that it has a larger scope than suggested. Consider the way that Kenner uses graphic match cuts. In the 2:49 minute mark of the film, were shown a label of a meat product with a picture of a cow standing in a wide field of green grass. Kenner then edits the shot so that the label dissolves out to reveal footage of a real cow farm, showing that the reality of meat production is not as the food labels suggest (2:49 Food Inc.). The use of this graphic match cut to convey a sense of contrast is not unlike the famous “bone-to-spaceship” matchcut used by Kubrick in 2001, a Space Odyssey.

But contrasts aren’t the only tool that Kenner uses. In an attempt to depict food production today as more of an industrial task, Kenner frames his shots so that in industrial settings, his subjects are not the focus of the shot, but rather pieces of a whole. Industrial settings are also shot at a lower angle in an attempt to create an imposing feeling of the settings depicted upon the viewers. Kenner also uses close-ups liberally, particularly in moments that are designed to pull on our heartstrings. There is a scene in the 8:25~8:35 minute mark that consists of newborn chickens being plunged down a slide and getting their wings stamped, Kenner uses this moment to shoot a close-up of a newborn Chicken’s visible anguish (8:25–8:35 Food, Inc.). Kenner also pulls out narrative tricks, as he creates surrogates and characters in every segment of the film that audience members can relate to. These surrogates are depicted in a favorable light, with pleasant music usually playing with the film whenever they are on screen.

To put it in other terms—Kenner’s film is not unlike the narrative driven cinema you see in movie theaters today. His films are conventionally edited, they are designed to engage a audience with a issue that they can relate to that they might not know about. The film pulls also pulls heartstrings, specifically for the purpose of conveying a single affect—that of “sobering reality”. By contrasting the ideas we have about how our food is produced with the reality of how food is actually produced on a large scale, Kenner creates this “sobering reality” for his viewers to ruminate on.

Contrast that with Emma Charles’ Fragments on Machines. Length aside, Fragments on Machines is dramatically different from Food, Inc. As Charles stated in the description of her Vimeo hosted video, her video aims to observe the “evolution of architecture” that “comprise the physical manifestation of the ‘virtual’ world” (Charles). Charles’ affect seems to be that of “realization”, as her video transitions almost seamlessly between architecture and electronic infrastructure; educating viewers that infrastructure dictates architecture.

Charles however, conveys affect through different methods that Kenner does. Charles’ video is devoid of music, there are no characters you can identify with, the closest thing that we have to a surrogate is that of an almost omniscient camera and a narrator. The video plays over diegetic noise and white noise. The sense of discovery is created by the unsettling sense of quiet punctuated by the occasional hints of narration, forcing viewers to pay more attention to the video itself.

So from looking at these 2 works of media, it is possible to see how affect can be created through different production techniques. The lessons we can pick up from looking at these 2 works of visual media could be helpful in the near future. Consider the video project that I have to turn in near the end of the semester. Maybe I could create my affect through audience surrogates, or maybe I can do it through an unsettling sense of quiet. Maybe what I need to do to keep my audiences engaged is a sweeping score. The possibilities are endless.

With that said, my theoryMaking project wouldn’t resemble Food, Inc. or Fragments on Machines in any way. While the end goal is to derive some form of inspiration from the media we looked at in class, the end goal is not to create a imitation, but rather to take elements from it and apply it to our own ecologies. However,  given that the social issue that I’m tackling (immigration) is a human-oriented project, I see myself taking a more Food, Inc. approach to my project, for while the unsettling sense of quiet that Charles uses in Frangments on Machines works for conveying affect in information infrastructure and architecture, this cold approach would probably not work well to depict the infinite complexities and moods of human beings. I anticipate that like Food, Inc. I will probably be using a lot of music, and that I will probably be creating characters that audiences can empathize with for the sake of creating affect.

With all that said, it feels as if the key takeaway from this exercise is not just that media creation is subjective in nature, or that you can create different types of affect through different production techniques. But it is that the affect of your media is what you make of it, audiences will always find a way to interpret your media, and depending on how well you execute your final product—they might leave with different intentions than you did.

Roger out.

Works Cited

Fragments on Machines. Dir. Emma Charles. By Jen Calleja and Richard Phoenix. Perf. Barnaby Kay. Fragments on Machines. Vimeo, 20 June 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <https://vimeo.com/68769316&gt;.

Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Perf. Eric Schlosser. Magnolia Pictures, 2009. DVD.

Brennan, Theresa. “Introduction.” The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004. 1-23. Print.

2001, a Space Odyssey. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, Geoffrey Unsworth, and Ray Lovejoy. Perf. Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, and William Sylvester. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968. DVD.
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~ by Roger Wu on October 19, 2016.

One Response to “Artificial Affect, or: How is Affect Created in Media Production?”

  1. the best thinking — I am very honorable to see your thoughts on affect because it deepens my understanding of the concept. Even further, you have linked the affect to the way of an effective delivery — that affect is no longer a pipeline pathway but interconenctive…

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