I’ve been watching the beautiful TV series Rectify for four seasons now. In Australia it has been programmed late at night on our Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). SBS seems to have extraordinarily good taste in selecting foreign drama series, but they’re not promoted or scheduled that well so many people seem to have no idea about the late-night gems they are missing on this free-to-air service. Fortunately, many such series can also be viewed via SBS On Demand, their wonderful free streaming service.
I’ve really enjoyed Rectify. It progresses at a gentle pace that is very well supported by a strong cast, great acting and writing, brave direction and superb music. The pacing allows us to see the multiple dimensions of the impact of criminal convictions and to see how so many things can change with time. The lack of special effects makes it very very different from most US TV series. I’m not, however, trying to present a review of the series here. Instead I want to just list a series of observations that dawned on me during the wonderful finale to Series 4.
While watching this episode I kept thinking of the many parallels between Rectify and at least two of the crime podcasts I posted about here True Crime Podcasts: Serial S1 (about Adnan Syed and the murder of Hae Min Lee) and Undisclosed S2 (about Joey Watkins and the killing of Isaac Dawkins). Through its key character Daniel and his family, I think that Rectify effectively tells many of the stories about the convictions of both Adnan and Joey that have been covered in so much detail in these podcasts. So here are the parallels that I’ve observed:
- The many people who become “victims” in these cases and how their own lives are changed (adversely).
- The sheer incompetence and bias of so many legal authorities and office holders.
- The fact that “beliefs” can actually change over time as truths are revealed. People can also forgive.
- The conspiracies of the guilty and the lying of so-called “witnesses”.
- The eventual acceptance of their fate (if not their guilt) by the convicted and sometimes by their families. In Rectify, Daniel portrays superbly what I’ve gleaned of both Adnan’s and Joey’s attitude from the two podcasts.
- The patience and determination of the convicted, their families and their legal support teams. The pace of real justice and legal change (like retrials) is very slow.
- The loyalty and belief in innocence of the families of the convicted and some of their friends.
- The bitterness of those wedded to their lies or twisted by their own guilt. Is there actually some Karma in this world?
- The cautious approach to hope by the convicted and their families.
Finally, I would like to add my hope that if Adnan and Joey are innocent, their convictions can be overturned as soon as possible.
I started again with podcasts because my music collection was starting to bore me and I walk just about everywhere listening to either an iPod or something on my phone. I bought a new Alfa recently and my phone automatically connects via Bluetooth, so I try to keep the latest podcasts ready to go for driving too.
I blame Sarah Koenig and Serial (see below). I just could not get enough of it and I’ve enjoyed both seasons released to date. I’m slightly obsessive-compulsive, so after the second season of Serial I needed to find all the podcasts about Serial and that led me to many other true crime podcasts of a similar ilk.
These podcasts are all available in iTunes:
Criminal – one of the major crime podcasts that really got it all going and set a bench-mark in production quality. It is hosted by Phoebe Judge and like her colleagues, she has a background in public radio. This podcast tells stories of “people who’ve done wrong, been wronged or gotten caught somewhere in the middle”. I’m really enjoying it and they now have over 50 episodes online.
Up and Vanished – I’m really enjoying this podcast by young documentary film maker Payne Lindsey. The sound editing is superb and I really enjoy his voice. Payne investigates the unsolved disappearance of Tara Grinstead 11 years ago in a small town in Georgia.
… These Are Their Stories: The Law and Order Podcast – this is devoted to that long running TV series and all its spin-offs – Law & Order. It is presented by Rebecca and Kevin from Crime Writers On and they usually have a special guest for each episode which focuses on an episode of either L&A “original recipe” or one of the franchise varieties, like SVU. All of the episodes I’ve listened to so far have been pretty funny and they deal with all kinds of matters like Lenny Briscoe’s best wise-cracks or Olivia’s acting, make-up or hair styles or the various actors that have been featured as guest stars or long running characters. Very entertaining.
Undisclosed – this one can get very detailed and might be best left until you’ve listened to a few of the others, including Serial as that is what inspired this podcast. It investigates wrongful convictions and the US criminal justice system, sometimes finding new evidence that did not make it to court. In Season 1, the focus was on Adnan Syed from Serial Season 1. In Season 2, which I am just starting now, they look into the conviction of Joey Watkins who is serving a life sentence for the killing of Isaac Dawkins in 2000. This case came to them from the Georgia Innocence Project. His conviction does seem to be unfair on the face of it.
Accused – this is a superb podcast on the unsolved killing of Elizabeth Andes in her Ohio apartment in 1978. Police quickly focus their attention on her boyfriend Robert Young and he was coerced into a confession by local police, but he was acquitted at two successive trials, so did they ignore critically important evidence and also ignore other suspects?
Offshore – presented by reporter Jessica Terrell this is another well-produced and thoughtful podcast that investigates injustice and exposes racial tensions in the underbelly of Hawaii. It tells of the tragic killing of Kollin Elderts by off-duty State Department agent Christopher Deedy and also a killing that happened 80 years earlier when another native Hawaiian, Joseph Kahahawai was brutally murdered by a Navy officer, Lt. Thomas Massie and his eccentric mother-in-law.
SBS True Crime Stories (season Three) – this series was inspired by the Deep Water series including a drama, documentary and online investigation of a series of gay-hate murders in and around Sydney in the late 1980s and 1990s. The podcast focuses on Adelaide’s gay-hate murders that stretch back to the 1970s. It is a very disturbing series.
In The Dark – Most of the podcasts in this listing are about unsolved crimes or wrongful convictions. This podcast was to be about an unsolved child abduction, but just before they started the podcast the abductor and murderer turned himself in and confessed that he was guilty of this crime. So the presenter, Madeleine Baran instead focuses on how law enforcement authorities mishandled this case and how that failure in part led to national anxiety about stranger-danger and sex-offender registries. Really well produced and the tragic tale gets you in on so many levels and from very different perspectives – victims, victims’ families, offenders who have done their time, offenders who are never caught, and law enforcement.
Serial – This is the one that started it all for me. It is hosted by the wonderfully unique Sarah Koenig and produced by Sarah and Julie Snyder. It is so good that this podcast has many podcasts about it (such as Crime Writers On and Undisclosed) and its own thread on Reddit. The first series was about the murder of a young woman, Hae Min Lee in Baltimore by her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, who has been in prison ever since and who has just had his conviction vacated as a result of this podcast. The second series was about a US serviceman, Bowe Bergdahl who wandered off-base in Afghanistan only to be captured by the Taliban and held prisoner in terrible conditions for several years. He was eventually released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, but now faces military charges for desertion and possibly treason. A third series in in the works now. It is one of the most downloaded podcasts ever.
Crime Writers On … – These guys started doing a podcast on the Serial podcast, but now they cover other journalism, crime and crime writing, pop culture (hit shows like The Night Of, Game of Thrones and Stranger Things) and just general junk. They are pretty funny and also review other podcasts, so through them I was encouraged to listen to things like Accused, In The Dark, Phoebe’s Fall, Offshore and Up and Vanished.
Phoebe’s Fall – This is another sad and very brutal tale that I didn’t really want to get hooked on at first. It is well presented and produced and there is something just not right about the circumstances of her death: managing to get herself into a high-rise garbage chute and then plunge 40 metres, feet first down the chute before progressing through the compactor and then bleeding out.
Bowraville – Dan Box from The Australian newspaper investigates the unsolved murders of three children all killed within five months and all living on the same street. Very good journalism and well produced sound. Didn’t want to get hooked but I did and very quickly.
My sincere thanks to all the people making all these podcasts.
I recently read The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly and was taken by his description of the technological forces busy shaping our future. I’ve given a couple of talks based on what I got out of this book and what some of these forces mean for libraries. Below are the slides I used in those talks (you’ll need to download from the pdf link below the image). I’ll progressively add some notes explaining my points.
- Get used to constant change
- Get used to our users or clients creating and making their own things
- Big pointer to personalisation and anticipating user needs – but what are we doing about that in libraries – discovery & services?
- Stop waiting for perfect before releasing new services – people understand that now.
- Do we even notice what has happened when the changes are incremental. Can we do some of that ourselves?
- In an age of robots and self-driving cars, what work will matter for us? How do we add real value?
- There are more pointers here to providing deeper, richer and more personalised services for our clients.
- We need to stop relying on static collection growth and start providing just-in-time services and understand subscriptions better.
- I think UTS ePRESS has already started experimenting with the fluidity of the page, edition, container and format, but maybe we can go even further with things like open peer-review, constant improvement, broader collaboration?
- Maybe understanding how the stages of flowing impact on all media (towards being more open) is a new form of digital literacy.
- Can we look at our libraries as a platform for cultural life within our communities and how do we do that effectively – finding more audiences and giving them a deeper, improved understanding with context for knowledge?
- Using without owning is a concept that actually comes from libraries, but maybe now it is being pushed even further through platform synergy. I guess with things like ILL and Bonus+ we are already there too, but perhaps these things can be massively improved and decentralised even further using new technologies and concepts – shared collections, single platform LMS, rethinking “membership”?
- I guess this relates heavily to #5 for libraries as it talks about more collaboration and then extreme decentralisation – maybe we need to get our act together and start thinking more imaginatively about how we do that.
- Understanding how the “crowd” works and how we can participate in some of those crowd activities may well be increasingly important. Maybe we even become a bit of a hub for some crowd activities or movements?
- Again he talks about the importance of harnessing personalisation to anticipate and meet user needs. I don’t think we have done a great deal yet in libraries to match services offered like those of Netflix and Amazon. We could and we should.
- It also relates to the real experiences we offer our users in library spaces – with real people. This is a layer that will be increasingly appreciated in an age where screening is convenient, but where people still want face-to-face services and physical experiences. I think that the programs we offer in our spaces (training, assistance and curations) need to go much further than what can be gained from page or screen.
- This relates to us in a couple of ways – firstly helping others to understand the complex legal issues and secondly in assisting people to safely use and remix different types of media for all kinds of reasons. I see this as part of the new need for libraries to provide assistance and training in digital literacies (not just information literacies).
- Maybe there is something for us to learn from here in terms of maximising engagement with our programs (we’ve already started doing that at UTS Library with our orientation programs) and in terms of engaging more openly with games as they for part of contemporary culture and literacies.
- The other interesting aspect is the research showing that immersion into VR worlds is helping some people to re-establish neural pathways and connections after injury, so perhaps we need to throw out those awful; static personas and understand that our audiences will increasingly have more fluid identities?
- This seems inevitable already, so again I think we need to be aware of what is happening so that we can help people understand some of the benefits and also how to protect their privacy.
- We are the kings of metadata and as there is more data becoming available every day perhaps where we come in is giving that data context through reliable metadata.
- We must understand that questions are much more powerful than answers and maybe we start to harness them and learn how to use them in libraries? Sure we need to help people find and use data as well, but we also need to see that so many more things are possible now through constant questioning – like why not or how can we?
- There is even more here pointing to massive scale convergence, but we still need to help people negotiate some of the challenges and I think also become advocates for the changes needed to deliver the full potential pf this brave new world.
I think “librarian” now means many different things in contemporary libraries and that outstanding future libraries will be full of a mix of professionally qualified people who bring an increasingly diverse range of skills to libraries. So, who are these additional or relatively new folk and what skills do they bring? Here are my thoughts.
- ICT programming & development skills* – needed to manage repositories of research outputs and data; data archives; discovery interfaces; many large systems peculiar to libraries (e.g. RFID, ASRS, library catalogues, search and discovery layers & so many vendors’ products – databases).
- Legal or para-legal skills** – to advise on the increasingly complex IP and Copyright environment and on the mixing/creation/reuse of licensed material by students and academics.
- UX* – to make sure we get user interfaces and services right and iterating in the right direction.
- New media skills** – to better understand its creation and to assist students and academics with its creation and this will become only more and more important, so that means people comfortable with the creation and editing of sound, film, images, games, online publications, social media, etc.
- New (online) publication skills** – for OERs, ebooks & texts, OA pubs, print-on-demand, etc.
- Design skills* – in-house as they help with all of the above; they also help with the development of a design mindset (as opposed to just plonking “good ideas” on unsuspecting punters).
- Marketing & Comms skills* – in-house as they also help market our services to our community.
- Curators & archivists* – to assist with “special” collection development, exhibitions and the very important cultural aspects of libraries.
- Conservators# – depending on scale and collection needs.
- Data Scientists (or the like) or Analysts, or “Wranglers”** (probably the most apt description) – as I think we will need a few librarians who really do understand this field and who can hold their own in environments with various data gatherers or generators like academics, students and researchers.
* Those we have already at UTS Library.
** Those we are growing or developing in-house.
# Those we don’t have or need here.
Anyone else I’ve missed or badly described?
Here are my thoughts on GLAM sector collaboration and conferences in Australia. Firstly, we should stop having so many library “conferences” every six months. There just isn’t enough interesting, new or relevant material to justify participation.
Maybe we should consider having one major library conference (run by either VALA or ALIA, or both) every second year and on the other years we get the whole GLAM sector together and ALIA, MA, ASA and anyone else (like CAUL, NSLA, etc.) cooperate to run the one Australian GLAM conference. I’ve said this for years and nobody listens. It would be a useful first step in learning from each other, collaborating and maybe even starting to have one united voice for the impact of culture in our society. Who knows, perhaps we could even make major progress on a digital strategy for the whole sector?
I gave a talk to the VALA AGM earlier this week on our Artist-in-Residence Program: the thinking behind it, who has been involved, what has been produced and why we think it is a good thing. Below are the slides I used (29 MB PDF) and in many of the images there are links that take you much deeper into the works created by those artists.
I think my talk was very well summarised in one tweet by @StevenPChang (who is a Senior Research Advisor from La Trobe University Library). He said that I was “lauding the value of intuition, ambiguity, and aesthetics in a world obsessed with metrics and efficiency.” That is exactly what I was trying to do.
Closet Monster was my final film for this festival and so it ended as it began, on a high. It is a wonderfully told queer coming of age story that apparently is based on writer/director Stephen Dunn’s own experience as a teenager.
There is a lot to enjoy in this film. Our hero Oscar, excellently played by the talented-beyond-his-years Connor Jessup, has a pet hamster called Buffy who provides companionship and dispenses wisdom (via the voice of Isabella Rossellini). Oscar’s interactions with Buffy are a delight every single time. Connor Jessup almost seems born to play this role, but I thought the same about his acting in the second series of American Crime. He’s simply brilliant.
Stephen Dunn brings so much imagination to his story telling. He drops magical moments throughout the film to light up the tale and to bring Oscar’s lingering childhood horror to life. And he perfectly balances the emotional core of the film with his amusing and refreshingly different creative style. This could so easily have failed.
It is all so well done. As well, it is beautifully shot in several memorable scenes that serve to underline Oscar’s journey in life, his relationships and his developing sexuality.
I hope that both Stephen Dunn and Connor Jessup keep making films. Talents like theirs keep us going to the cinema.
My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 4+/5 (Most people would think this to be very special.)