Will Hood is the creative mind behind the innovative new audio documentary series, The Glass Bead Game, funded in part by the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. A Sussex alum and a seasoned documentary film maker, Will gives an overview of the motivations behind, and vision for, this ground-breaking new series:
In all honesty I think I’ve always struggled with telling the truth…
The idea for The Glass Bead Game podcast series came from an amalgamation of my professional life with a decision to undertake an MA in Anthropology at the University of Sussex. The challenging and revelatory nature of the course led me to think more about the similarities between ethnography and the type of documentaries I had always aspired to make.
Anthropology as a discipline has a tradition of methodology known as ‘participant observation’, the central conceit being that you can learn more about a culture from being inside it and subjectively looking out – than you can from objectively studying it from a distance.
Owing primarily to it’s sometimes embarrassing colonial past, this approach raises all sorts of messy questions about the true motivations behind the labeling of people and behaviours. Even more so, ethnography can often say more about the values and priorities of the observer than any objective ‘truths’ about those being observed.
Documentary, although largely understood to be observational and often presented as impartial, is in reality, highly constructed. Real life drama, although perhaps genuinely happening to the subject, is often scripted to the degree that the ‘conflict’ is story-boarded and from the hundreds of hours filmed, 58 mins (if it’s a TV hour) is selected against a criteria that directors and producers find most meaningful/insightful about their subjects life.
The Glass Bead Game is interested in the documentary medium and its promise of a ‘true’ story. I’m intrigued by the messy and ‘difficult to label’ experiences of people as they attempt to make sense of social issues that have produced a great deal of academic research.
An audio-only format allows me to spend time with contributors in a way that facilitates honest dialog about contradictory positions without the pressure for them to perform in front of cameras, lights and large crews of people.
Likewise an interview with an academic can at its best be a glimpse of where that discipline and/or academic has arrived at through their extensive research. Often disciplines such as IR and economics have very different understandings of the same issue (Climate policy in Episode 2).
The varying expertise in framing the important questions (offered by the International Relations, History, Psychology departments) is essential in understanding the breath of the debate possible (such as in Secrecy and the States of Surveillance in the upcoming Episode 3).
The podcast series is still finding its feet as a format but I do believe in it’s exciting untapped potential to meaningfully explore academic research through the prism of real people’s lives.
Have I solved the problem of telling a true story? Absolutely not. I’m editing down 40mins from hours of conversations for each episode. I’m cutting and pasting orders of conversations and encouraging an emotional response through music and sound design. I also have my own agenda. I’m fascinated by certain things, not so much by others. My relationship with the interviewee will undoubtable be completely different from the one which you may have had.
What’s more, above all, I’m aware that I need to tell a story well and make it entertaining or I can’t hope to attract an audience – in which case I would fail to achieve a communication of any sort.
The truth is that you may wish to experience the podcast as a simple radio documentary and it is my hope that you can.
If however you are interested (as I am) in the complex connections between academic disciplines and the contradictions of people as they grapple with big social issues then the Glass Bead Game website is an online resource where you can explore these interests further.
However, as I struggle, fail and (hopefully) achieve moments of a ‘true’ story through these audio vignettes of complex social connections, I hope you will be inspired to think about these subjects in a different way; that you will have made a connection with the academics that have dedicated the hours of their life to being expertly informed about these subjects.
I also hope that you get a glimpse of a real human condition in the context of big subjects like climate change, economic crisis and privacy that are so often over simplified by the press and stereotyped by the interests of corporate media.
Will Hood (2.02.2016)
Episodes 1 ‘Syriza, A Love Story’
Episode 2 part 1 ‘Indigenous Oil’ Feat. David Attenborough
Episode 2 part 2 ‘Direct Action’ Feat David Attenborough and Naomi Klein
Episode 3 ‘Privacy and States Of Surveillance;’ (coming soon)
can be found at http://www.theglassbeadgame.co.uk/archive/
Will Hood completed his MA in Anthropology at the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex in 2015. He is a producer, film maker and founding member of Animal Monday. Will is the brains behind, creator and voice of The Glass Bead Game.