2005. Popcorn litters the floor of a Batman Begins session. The murmuring of patrons gradually fades out into the lobby.
“Ready to go?”, dad shouts over Hans Zimmer’s thundering score.
I wasn’t. For the first time ever it had clicked in my head that cinema wasn’t just a form of entertainment, it was it’s own world. People dedicated their lives to these visions. It felt like a language I always knew existed but finally understood.
These “epiphanies” – described as “remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life” (Bochner & Ellis 1992), are essential to auto-ethnographic research. In the simplest terms when these autobiographical details of one’s life are compared to ethnographical information of a similar or opposing cultural context, the resulting research “illustrate facets of cultural experience” by familiarising both “insiders and outsiders” (Ellis et all 2011) with cultural characteristics. Overall providing an account of social science borne out of the researcher’s results.
For me, film is inextricably connected to auto-ethnographic methodology. Filmmakers re-contextualise their personal and cultural contexts, to provide the audience with a intimate glimpse at their personal beliefs and values through the story and characters. Through doing this they are able to transcend cultural boundaries, while still presenting a uniquely personal product.
A prime example of this is Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation.
Though the film explores the alienation and subsequent familiarisation of Japanese society through the central characters of Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), the film is ultimately a manifestation of Coppola’s own personal feelings of being lost during her twenties. In technical terms, the ethnographer injecting autobiographical information into the research to give it a personal resonance.
Autobiography: Bob is confronted with an image of himself on a billboard, surrounded by the alien streets of Tokyo. Represents Coppola’s western context in eastern. Metaphorically representing the potential for one context to meet another, or potential for an individual to become a part of a culture.
Ethnography: Charlotte physically explores “traditional” Japan. Reference to Coppola’s attempts to connect with the culture, ultimately existing as a passive participant who quite literally observes it from afar. Represents the “process” of researchers during their investigations.
Auto-ethnography (Product): Bob and Charlotte, though never quite connecting with Tokyo, ultimately appreciate the culture that surrounds them and ultimately their place within it. Coppola coming to peace with being the outsider.
I believe this demonstrates auto-ethnography methodology in it’s purest and most literal form; as “both process and product” (Ellis et al 2011), but largely one of observation. Auto-ethnography is engaging with one’s own familiarities and then contrasting and comparing it to the unfamiliar to give your initial contextual framework greater definition, while having grown appreciation for the “other”.
DIGC330 has already provided this shift for me, through the screenings of Gojira (1954) and Akira (1988). While previously I felt my knowledge of film was comprehensive, these films have totally shattered my understanding of the medium. They have demonstrated that there is more to the genre then Hollywood, and by extension more than the culturally-exclusive framework I had been approaching film through.
I feel like that nine-year-old kid all over again, discovering film for the first time, my entire language being challenged. Yet this is the ideal birthing ground for auto-ethnographic research.
- Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1, viewed 10th August 2017, http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095
- Lost in Translation 2003, motion picture, Focus Features, directed by Sofia Coppola.