Immersive #3: Birds Aren’t Real

Currently, information on the internet spreads at a rapid pace. One small comment on social media can snowball into an entire movement, mobilizing hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people for its cause. However, for every good outcome that arises from the power of internet solidarity, there is an opportunity for misinformation to be spread and acted upon as well. This is the power of conspiracy theories and falsified information.

Conscious of these absurd movements that are able to captivate people into supporting its goals, Peter McIndoe created the Birds Aren’t Real conspiracy to provide a satirical perspective and commentary on conspiracy theories and the spread of misinformation in general.

In the Birds Aren’t Real campaign, it states that the government ordered the execution of all birds from 1959 to 2001 and replaced them with replica surveillance drones, which forms the foundation of the campaign’s “activism” to inform the public that birds aren’t real. This urge to make the public aware of the falsehoods of birds is highlighted in the campaign’s debut video that opens with a supporter shouting, “There’s a birdemic happening! Birds are a myth. They’re an illusion. They’re a lie. Wake up America!” However, while the Birds Aren’t Real campaign runs the risk of gaining true believers as it grows in popularity, the purposeful absurdity of its falsehoods and understanding of its roots as a parody movement in the end gives it the balance between reality and fiction that is needed to prevent serious harm from happening in the future.

Pigeon drone with labeled parts called camera, speaker, cpu, battery, inductive charging coil, microphone, and wireless antenna
Pigeon Drone Diagram

Additionally, because of the campaign’s reliance on the internet for exposure, it’s able to take advantage of insider culture where everyone is “in on the joke” through its usage of popular meme formats and through its merchandise line, which appeals to those who are aesthetically motivated. As a result, having the origins of its satirical purpose be public information to those in the know allows for more people to get involved with the campaign and interact with its lore.

Valentine's message saying roses are red, violets are blue, don't trust the birds, they're watching you.
Valentine’s Message

In the end, the Birds Aren’t Real campaign presents a compelling conspiracy theory that allows for its supporters to treat the movement’s goals as both real and fictional without presenting real harm to societal institutions that seek to do good. Even though the nature of it being a conspiracy that purposefully perpetuates falsehoods still raises ethical concerns about how we should spread information on the internet, I must applaud the Birds Aren’t Real campaign for its clever usage of internet culture to capture the influential power that extreme beliefs have on the public from a satirical perspective. But in the end, I must make note that it is important now more than ever to be aware of how conspiracy theories, satirical or not, can generate skepticism that harms relationships and perspectives towards certain institutions or individuals.

Witness Birds Aren’t Real: HERE

Immersive #2: Scarfolk Council

With the rise in popularity of horror films within the past decade, the desire to witness a new and haunting story for the first time has firmly rooted itself in mainstream consciousness due to the cleverly-crafted mixture of uncertainty and anxiety that keeps its audience on edge and in eager anticipation for the next scare. As a result, the horror genre has rapidly diverged into subcategories to consistently create fresh and frightening experiences across many different forms of media and on many different levels of intensity. One such divergence, occurring in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was the creation of hauntology, which originated from French philosopher Jacques Derrida who coined the phrase in his book Spectres of Marx when describing the tendency of Marxism to haunt Western society. However, hauntology has now evolved into a complicated and overarching term within popular culture to refer to situations in which elements of the past continue to persist in the present.

Thus, it is to no surprise that hauntology has swiftly manifested itself within the aesthetics of the past where anxiety, unease, and scrutiny was most prominent when one considers the eerie detachment that can come from reflecting upon the strange and dystopian-esq structures of the past. Inspired by these surreal memories and the imagery that it generated, writer and designer Richard Littler took it upon himself to create Scarfolk Council, an unsettling satirical blog about a fictional town called Scarfolk in northern England that has found itself trapped in the 1970s.

Poster labeled "gullibility is a disease & an indicator of crime" with a sheep on the cover with censored out eyes
The Gullibility Campaign (1976)

Through the Scarfolk Council blog, Littler used the aesthetics of the 1970s to create historical documents that turned the familiar and ordinary sights of British public information posters, product branding, photographs, and artifacts into a dark and dystopian reality that invoked similarities to the evocative writings of George Orwell. The intentional use of mundane objects from the time period that had long since faded from public memory allowed Littler to create an unnerving atmosphere around his work as viewers attempted to piece together fragments of the past, uncovering an alternate reality that was all too accurate and all too incorrect to be true with its implicative themes of surveillance, occultism, and civil rights and reminder to reread for more information.

 

Poster labeled "Illegal to gather in groups of one*" with a pink person standing behind a police do not cross line
Social-Distancing Laws (1970)

Ultimately, Scarfolk Council is a fictional creation that has cleverly twisted the aesthetics of the past into an alluring and unsettling reality that triggers indescribable emotions from our deepest memories. The expansion of the small town of Scarfolk into several books and an upcoming TV series along with its accidental features in official UK publications indicates the subtle power that unconventional applications of hauntology have over traditional productions within the horror genre. That’s why I believe that Scarfolk Council has successfully mastered the anxiety and unease of horror through its creative re-imagination of the past that draws upon the normalcy of its fake artifacts to tell an eerie and compelling narrative that illuminates concerning realities behind its satirical gaze.

Experience Scarfolk CouncilHERE

Immersive #1: Life In A Day 2020

In a world that’s constantly responding to unexpected events that seek to sow division and reap unrest, the challenge of creating unity and a shared understanding among nations, communities, and families grows exponentially by the day. Nevertheless, in light of all these differences, there is the fundamental experience of life that is shared amongst all of us, generating empathy and compassion to the struggles that each and every one of us faces in hopes of a brighter tomorrow: the beautiful nature of humanity.

However, it is all too often that these nuanced and lived experiences of our day-to-day lives get ignored for larger and louder occurrences in the media and on the internet. Wanting to draw attention back to the intricacies of our daily lives and create unity within an isolated world, filmmaker Kevin Macdonald partnered with Ridley Scott to create Life in a Day 2020, a crowd-sourced documentary that sought to capture the human experience on a global scale.

A sequel to Life in a Day 2010, Life in a Day 2020 was carefully cultivated from over 324,000 video submissions from 192 countries that were all filmed on a single day: July 25th, 2020. The end result was a moving film that brought together our fears, hopes, concerns, and aspirations for the past, present, and future.

In the film, we are first exposed to the night. The chirping of crickets intermixed with the humming of an ensemble creates an intimate tone that is soon expanded upon after the waxing of the moon. A woman gives birth and then another one after that. Together, we welcome the new lives that have been introduced into the world, and we welcome a new day. The narrative soon picks up in pace, tying together short clips of urban and rural life from all across the globe. We gain a sense of cohesiveness from the rawness of the lives that are shown to us. Nothing here is foreign or strange, only human.

“This is my way of projecting my inner self into the world. Most people get stuck with what they see in the mirror every day, but there’s so much more to the universe. We just have to be willing to go beyond what we know,” the narrator remarks as a drone slowly flies away from its operator to capture an entire mountain. And to this point, I must agree. We must learn to embrace exploration and new knowledge in order to recognize the authenticity of all of our experiences.

Given the abundance of rich insights into daily life that were featured within the film, I can only wonder what other stories were left out to be able to cultivate the compelling narrative that is Life in a Day 2020; who weren’t we able to hear from because of the limited capacity of the production team? Because of the technology barrier? Because of the scope of the project? Even with all of these lingering questions at the end of the film, I still believe that Life in a Day 2020 was successful in its endeavor to create an intimate understanding of what it was like to live all across the globe on that single day in the summer of 2020.

Watch Life in a Day 2020: HERE