At a packed followthethings.com 2013 award ceremony last night at the University of Exeter (entirely made from Lego), actor Daniel Radcliffe presented the awards.
Date: 11 November 2013, 4-6pm
Venue: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Streatham Court, Lecture Room C.
Setting the scene: journalism, activism & ‘Primark on the rack’
Our audience: curious & expert students
& Carry Somers
Talking about our site with students at Bath Spa University this week, I wanted to show the most literal (and chilling) example of the ‘follow the things’ genre. It’s the only example we have come across which follows something as it’s being made, shipped, and used: telling the story of a thing’s life from the perspective of the thing itself, from its ‘point of view’, like a ‘shoot-em-up’ video game. It’s the ‘Life of a bullet’, the opening scene from the 2005 movie ‘Lord of War’.
Life of a bullet
Revisiting this opening scene, we made a new Lego re-creation today using the decommissioned AK47 bullet that we bought as a necklace from an E-Bay seller in Canada. We initially bought it to take the product photo on this example’s followthethings.com page, but it’s still sitting in our office, with our Lego, so…
How can we use images to tell the stories we want to tell – an avoid repeating the ones we don’t? (Platform 2012).
We were very happy to see that Set 11 of Lego’s Minifigures included a new Grandma figure with a cat and shopping bag. We purchased our Grandma at the Thomas Moore store in Exeter, where staff can tell you what’s in each packet just by feeling it.
We know that photos of Cats and Lego are among the most shared on social media. We want more people to know about our site and what it’s all about. ‘Flo the Cat’ is helping us to do this.
These are the first ‘What the cat brought home’ photos that we added to Flo’s flickr set today. They point towards our page on Anna Chen’s 2010 Radio 4 investigation China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum. Let us know what you think and, maybe, buy yourself a cat and bag and take some other ‘Flo the cat’ photos for us to publish.
If you haven’t seen Nunzilla wound up and in action, watch this short video:
And here’s what this radio show did with her:
“[The Nunzilla Conundrum] takes the example of British designed, Chinese-made ironic novelty gifts … and expands it into an illuminating discussion of the cultural differences between the two nations, with Chinese production line workers hard-pressed to describe what it is they’re making while British designers are oh-so keen to deconstruct the joke” (Naughton 2010, np).
See our page for more.
Over the course of the 2013-4 academic year, we’re following seven school teachers and they use and adapt followthething.com in their classrooms in England. Our second post is by Natalie Batten. She reflects on how she encouraged her students to use our site last year to help compare and contrast multinational corporations. This year, she will be using one of our new game-based teaching resources to encourage her students to better appreciate corporations’ diverse policies regarding workers’ rights and monitoring.
I covered a similar topic to the one discussed in Oprah’s #followtheteachers blog post – that of globalisation and multinational companies. This scheme, however, was implemented for AS Level Geography students (studying the OCR exam syllabus). This highlights the versatility of followthethings.com site as a resource for a variety of student ages, even when covering the same topic area. For example, while Oprah used the site to introduce globalisation at Year 7, I used it at A level to consolidate pupils’ prior learning and provide them with examples and case studies for their exams.
The pupils were not familiar with the site, so time was incorporated into the scheme of work for them to explore it. They really liked the layout and navigation of the site and its recognisable format – like other online stores such as Amazon – which made the site personal to them and their interests.
The different forms of data presentation on the site (eg. film reviews, travel journals, newspaper articles and Lego re-creations) provided opportunities for differentiation with more able pupils challenging themselves through interpretation of more abstract research sources. In particular, some used the Ford Car Seat page – based on a 2006 film called ‘Made in Dagenham’ – to explore social and historical geographical topics such as feminism and women’s rights. This was important as it allowed pupils to ‘find the geography’ and make synoptic links to other geographical topics during their MNC research task.
An extension to a task like this could be to incorporate followthethings.com’s new teaching resource – Ethical Trade Trump Cards as a way to compare and contrast global MNCs on categories such as worker’s rights, policies and monitoring in an exciting and familiar game for pupils.
Both they and myself as a trainee teacher took a lot of positives away from this activity and I will certainly be using followthethings.com in my future teaching for this and other topics.
In this post, I want to briefly set out ways in which High School Geography teachers in the USA (and elsewhere) could use our site with their students. Why? Totally by coincidence. We’re visiting the Watson Institute at Brown University this week. Across the hall, a conference for High School Geography teachers is taking place that’s organised via Brown’s Choices program. When they found out that we were here and have been working this year on our classroom project – creating resources for UK school Geography teachers – I was asked to talk about this just before dinner today (for 10 minutes). This is the blog post that I’ll be showing on screen, combining what we’ve already done and what’s coming next in the followthethings.com project.
1. the main idea
This is explained in the short paper circulated at the conference. This was published in a journal produced by the Geographical Association – the professional association of Geography teachers in the UK – for High School Geography students and their teachers. The paper begins:
Many of us pay little or no attention to where the things in our lives come from. We may be concerned about factory conditions in other parts of the world, but not feel any direct sense of connec- tion with the people working there. ‘Made in…’ labels and ingredient infor- mation don’t tell us much about these connections and relationships. But they can be starting points for ‘geographi- cal detective work’ (Hartwick, 2000). This can allow teachers and students to piece together their understanding of commodities and their complex geographies, and provoke classroom discussion about the impacts of con- sumers’ decisions, which inevitably draw upon the key geographical concepts including:
globalisation – uneven development – interdependence – scale and connection –
proximity and distance – relational thinking – identity responsibility
This paper includes examples of student ‘follow it yourself’ research on socks, chewing gum and an iPod. You can download it here.
2. the website
This is the spoof online shopping site that opened in 2011. It contains over 60 examples of films, art work, and activism that aims to show consumers who makes our stuff, and to encourage us to discuss the rights and wrongs of globalisation and international trade. Each example has been thoroughly researched, and that research is showcased here. There are also examples of original student work, including the 3 examples in the paper quoted above. Please click the image to get to the site and browse…
3. the missions
The site isn’t made for teachers and their students. It’s made for anyone and everyone who makes this kind of work, or wants to teach with this kind of work. But its core ideas and content fits into the UK High School Geography curriculum in many ways. So we’re now working with Geography teachers and teacher-educators to develop and publish ideas and teaching resources for schools. The first of these was a series of missions on the Guerilla Geography site Mission:Explore. Its Explorers do missions, earn points and can win badges.
We have a series of six missions focused on the reusable followthethings.com shopping bags that we had made in China and are now giving away free to anyone who wants one (see our site’s Shopping Bag page here). The links for the missions are here (you don’t have to do the missions, some teachers just borrow and adapt the ideas):
These are the postcards that one trainee teacher asked her students to write based on Mission 3:
— followthethings.com (@followthethings) April 3, 2013
4. our classroom page
This is what we’re working in at the moment with educational consultant and soon-to-be-a-Geography-Teacher-again Alan Parkinson (see his excellent Living Geography blog here). We’re pooling resources in a soon-to-be published ‘classroom page’, which includes this searchable map (draft copy below).
5. get in touch!
We researched a 2009 BBC Panorama documentary ‘Primark on the rack’ for followthethings.com. This was a documentary exposing Primark for producing its notoriously cheap clothes in Indian sweatshops. It contained a 45 second scene in which child labourers were filmed checking that sequins were firmly attached to its sequined tops. Primark claimed that this scene had been ‘faked’ and made a concerted effort to discredit the whole film, with mixed success (detailed on our site here).
As with many of our pages, we made a few scenes in Lego, uploaded them to a flickr set, and embedded them. Today, we added a couple of new scenes to our ‘Primark on the rack’ set, to bring the story up to date.
These scenes are intended to highlight a theme that cuts across a number of examples of followthethings filmmaking on our site: corporations responding to sweatshop, worker health and environmental destruction exposures by employing public relations and/or legal teams to ‘prove’ that key scenes – and, by implication, whole films – are ‘faked’. This is, for example, how Primark responded to the BBC documentary in 2009, how Dole responded to Fredrik Gertten’s documentary ‘Bananas!*’ in 2009 (link), and how Chevron responded to Joe Berlinger’s documentary ‘Crude: the real price of oil’ in 2009 (link).
This past week has seen relentless TV news footage and newspaper column inches devoted to the Savar Rana garment factory collapse. Journalists have told unfolding stories of dramatic rescue efforts and the shocking numbers of people who made Primark, Joe Fresh, Matalan, Mango, Benneton, Bon Marche and other branded clothes being found dead in the wreckage of their workplace or missing, presumed dead.
NGOs and others are putting pressure on these clothing brands to respond appropriately to this disaster by properly compensating its victims and their families, by signing agreements that they’d been reluctant to sign before, and by putting into place more comprehensive auditing practices so that what they agree to is more likely to be done in the future.
This pressure continues to be applied, and companies are responding. On Monday, for example, the BBC reported that Primark had released a statement saying that it ‘accepts all its responsibilities in this disaster’ (Source: BBC 2013 link). ALL of them. We shall see.
This is not a single documentary with a named director, whose work can be ‘discredited’ with the right PR and legal teams in place. This is ‘Primark on the rack 2013’. Click the photos to get to the whole 6 scene set.
Postscript: why Lego?
We’ve been inspired by Lego re-creations that we found online of hidden scenes from the ‘War on Terror’. They had been made and posted online in 2009 by an artist/blogger called Legofesto (see her flickr sets here). She argued that:
‘By using toys, I hope the viewer will linger longer over the image and think again about what is actually being depicted or described, in a visual language that is recognised by us all: LEGO. … The incongruity between the immoral and horrific acts and events depicted and the smiley-faced children’s toy create a tension’ (legofesto in Time Magazine 2009 link).
By photographing re-creations and publishing them online, she argues:
‘I want to keep the debate going. To keep it in people’s minds, to remind us of our atrocities because the media has moved on and they don’t want to dwell on the tactics [of the ‘War on Terror’]. … People are using Legofesto to talk about torture and state violence’ (legofesto in Carling 2009 link).
We want our Lego re-creations to help keep trade (in)justice debates going, to keep them in people’s minds, etc. in a similar way.
Yes. A story appeared in Gizmodo today saying that, 55 years ago, Lego bricks were first patented. We are interested not only in their origins, but also in their powers…
For the most part, Lego is one of the great levelers in the toy world: kids love it, adults get excited about it, and you can build practically anything you like out of it. While most wholesome family fun turns out boring or desperate, Lego transcends age and gender and makes everyone want to play.
Here at followthethings.com, we use Lego for our own means,re-creating scenes from ‘follow the things’ examples showcased on our site, posting them on Flickr and hoping that they will generate interest in our site. See a sample from our Flickr set in the right hand column of our blog.
What the Gizmodo article includes is one of Lego’s earliest commercials, in German, illustrating its playful, leveling effects… Enjoy!
After the first talk about our Lego re-creations of scenes from followthethings.com pages (photographed and posted online in our Flickr set here) and after a discussion on Twitter about the beginnings of this genre of political re-creation in Lego (legofesto’s blog and Flickr sets Legoing scenes from the ‘War on Terror’ are extremely important here), we were asked yesterday what was the earliest Lego re-creation to be photographed/filmed for an online audience.
One suggestion was a scene in the 1979 Monty Python film ‘Life of Brian’. We investigated. It wasn’t the ‘Life of Brian’, but the 1975 film ‘Monty Python & the Holy Grail’. There wasn’t actually a Lego scene in the film. But one of its scenes was re-created in Lego by animation company ‘Spite your face’ for disc 2 of the film’s DVD released in 2001. This scene was posted on YouTube in May 2006 and has been watched almost 2.5 million times.
It’s worth watching this with the scene it re-creates. It’s also worth reading about how this came about and how Lego re-creations can be done well.
Tip: see if you can watch them both at the same time, synch them. The Lego re-creation is frame by frame and uses the original unedited soundtrack.
There’s a blog post explaining why and how this was made here, but let’s pick out some important points:
The origins of the idea
The deal with the Python film started when either Terry Gilliam or John Goldstone (not sure which) found this great Japanese website where the guy had made a bunch of LEGO models of scenes from Holy Grail. They saw that, and approached LEGO for the possibility of doing an animation in the same vein, for the Holy Grail DVD. At the time, Spite Your Face were already in negotiations with LEGO to do some other animations, and the project just fell into our hands. So basically, we scored the deal off the back of this Japanese guy’s hard work. …
Choosing a scene to re-create
The first stage in the process was deciding which scene from the film to recreate. There was a lot of discussion about it, but for us, the Camalot sequence was the only real option. The original film is very textural and visualy rich, but it’s also essentialy a series of sketches and talking heads, not at all suited to dynamic animation – and that visceral quality is almost impossible to translate using smooth plastic blocks. All the ‘action’ scenes in Holy Grail operate on two basic principles, (a) that fake limbs are funny and (b) so is copious amounts of gore. Again, not something that works in plastic, or that LEGO would particularly allow. The Camalot sequence on the other hand, is not only lively, but has a logical beginning and end point that makes it work as a self contained movie. …
Breaking it down
We began to break down the sequence, watching it over and over, and turning it into a storyboard. We found to our delight that much of the original sequence consists of repeated footage or a return to the same three or four shots. This helped us in terms of budget and schedule because it meant we could make similar use of loops and repetition, though I really shouldn’t be telling you this stuff. We also began to break down the geography of the location, so as to build an accurate set. The DVD has a featurette about the original locations, which when we eventualy saw it, verified most of our assumptions about the geography. We even used the same trick of redressing the same ‘alcove’ to be two different parts of the room (one with the minstrels, one with the choir singers). … Finally we constructed ‘likenesses’ of the characters using a mix of existing lego-men parts, and hand-printed labels based on the tunics in the movie. …
What Lego fans wanted to know
[We] get lots of mail from hard-core LEGO fans who want to know exactly which parts we used for the characters. We generally like to ignore those sort of questions, but some answers are provided in our on-site FAQ. [unfortunately this link is now dead].
So, what do we know of the Japanese Lego maker who re-created the scenes that inspired this DVD extra? That’s research for another day, but here’s what was said about his re-creations in a November 2000 ‘Web watch’ column in The Guardian (link)
A very special kind of inspiration must drive someone to recreate scenes from films or famous album covers out of Lego. Let’s just be thankful that those special people – in this case, some Japanese men – also put their creations on the web (seewww.geocities.co.jp/Hollywood/9060/english.html). Lego cinema scenes include The Matrix, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and the entire Star Wars trilogy, while album covers include The Prodigy, Nirvana, Korn and the Beatle’s Abbey Road.
If you know more than we do, please add a comment to this post…
[PS if you want to find out more about our Lego work, what we made, and what we learned from the process, see Tara Woodyer’s blog post about her visit to our LegoLab this summer]