To the audience watching the film “ Stranger With a Camera,” many wonder to what extent does the filmmaker, Elizabeth Barret’s personal connection to the town lead to a bias in the film? Filmmakers and paparazzi have a large amount of power because of their ability to simply alter the stories they publish. Did Barret alter the truth of what happened between Hugh O’Connor and Hobart Ison? This fact plays a key role in Elizabeth Barret’s film Stranger with a Camera and allows the question to arise.
Since most people take in the media with a grain of salt because the media never provides the full truth, then to what extent would the filmmakers in “Stranger with a Camera” have been able to document the stories of Hobart Ison and Hugh O’Conner and also the poverty in Appalachia without portraying a Bias? Although it may be easy to assume a bias knowing Elizabeth Barret’s personal connection to the town, in Stranger with a Camera, Barret did an excellent job at exploring the multiple perspectives of the situation in the film while keeping her views open-ended.
Barret decided to include herself in the film because she was able to personally understand what was going on in the town as well as relate to the filmmaker’s dilemmas. “Stranger with a Camera” portrays a poor community in the coal-mining heart of Appalachia that attracted mass media attention that turned Appalachia into an icon in the nation’s War on Poverty. The area was analyzed thru the different cultures and how each culture collided with another. But how the town and cultures were being depicted angered many locals.
There was a situation where a picture of a child was published and it gave the impression he was consuming dirt because he wasn’t fed properly. This angered the locals because everyone knew the child was actually fed properly and the media was portraying lies about the town. The town’s people were furiously angered because they knew that the stories they saw published about their community were not being portrayed truthfully and certain characteristics were being left out.
When creating the film, Elizabeth Barret explored questions such as; what is the difference between how people see their home and how others represent it? As a storyteller, what are your responsibilities? Is it the filmmaker’s job to just tell what they see or give an analytical perspective? In Clifford Geertz excerpt “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man” Geertz gives an effort to make the point that the concept of culture is the definition of man. In the essay, Geertz criticizes the popular analogy of a man and his culture as a form of an onion.
Geertz gives several problems with this analogy, the most important the lack of true human and second that such universals cannot be attached to biological, psychological, or social organizations (Geertz, 38). So how does Geertz arguments relate to Elizabeth Barret’s approach in “Stranger With a Camera? ” Elizabeth Barret displays how the media only cover events they want the public to see. If the eyes behind the camera feel the need to exaggerate or alter what they see through the lens, then they have the frightening capability of doing so.
Barret’s approach answers the previous questioned on how things are being depicted are viewed by different audiences and Geertz arguments supports the social consequences of the two cultures collided because Geertz argues that such universals cannot be attached to social organizations, which we see from the two different cultures in the town. When it comes to the media, the consumer is typically told a stretched out and twisted version of the truth. Audiences must learn to question to what extent the material we view is believable and become comfortable with the ambivalence that comes with the media’s stories.
Along with almost everyone else, most people can personally relate to this as viewers. Growing up in a world that consists and communicates mainly through the media, one must grow up to understand that the pictures and the articles we read, are most likely not telling us the full truth. People must develop a sense of ambivalence towards the material we see in the media. The media challenges viewers to decide if what they are viewing is true of false. In Greetz excerpt, he states that culture is the central ingredient in what makes us human rather than a later added addition (Geertz, 47).
We can use this claim by Geertz to analyze Elizabeth Barret’s connection to the town and its culture and how she used to portray the film. Barret lived closely to where the filmmakers were working so she was able to relate to how the local’s felt when they saw their community being dishonestly reflected in the media. Some locals were optimistic at first that the media attention would bring change or help to their town. While most others were enraged by the attention they were receiving and how their community was falsely being portrayed to the rest of the world.
Barret found that the films being made of the people in Appalachia were insulting because they strictly focused on making the poor people look poorer as opposed to emphasizing the wealth of who these people were. Because of this she was able to understand where Hobert Ison’s indignation came from. Barret’s film is all about the media manipulating what they photograph therefore it makes sense in Barret’s her choice to include her own filmmaking perspectives because it gave the film a more believable aspect.
Barret analyzes the conflicting perspectives from the filmmakers and the locals. Specifically, Barret displays Hugh O’Conner, the filmmaker’s intentions verses Hobert Ison, the landowner’s rage. O’Conner was very much a people person who traveled frequently. Hobert was a hunter and a good carpenter who was well respected in his town. However he was very proud of his land and did not appreciate anyone messing with it, which was exactly what O’Conner and the filmmakers did. After there had already been quite some attention brought to the town, most of the residents there were irate.
Anyone who saw their home or community in the media shone in a light that they knew to be fallacious would be as well. Eventually this led to Hobert shooting and killing O’Conner with his gun because O’Conner was shooting Hobert with his camera. A quote from the film that was said by Colin Low who is part of the National Film Board of Canada said, “A camera is like a gun, it’s threatening”. The filmmakers were using their “guns” on Hobert’s land and in response he fired his gun back at them. The camera is an invasive and exploitive device.
Hobert had felt invaded and threatened by the multiple cameras in his town while the filmmakers where merely doing their job to cover a story. Barret conducted multiple interviews analyzing the perspectives from O’Conner’s daughter and other filmmakers, along with the locals from the town who knew Hobert. She displayed that as the filmmakers may have been intrusive, their only task that they were attempting to accomplish was to cover a story. Hubert was undoubtedly wrong to take O’Conner’s life but pertaining to the situation however, his actions were considered understandable.
Barret was successfully able to display the multiple perspectives from the story while keeping the overall perspective of the film open-ended. Barret did not forcibly set out to show the viewer why her opinionated views were right. Her main goal was simply to cover and analyze the entirety of each perspective of the situation through her film. She successfully accomplished this goal because she was able to keep the opinions open-ended and develop multiple questions for the viewer. “Stranger with a Camera” tells a story about a fatal shooting and viewers analyze what led Hobart Ison to shoot Hugh O’Connor?
A quote from Cifford Geertz’s excerpt says, culture provides the link between what men are intrinsically capable of becoming and what they actually, one by one, in fact become (Geertz, 52). We can use this quote to analyze why Hobart Ison decided to shoot Hugh O’Connor and the aftermath of the shooting. After Hobert had fired his gun he came to be considered a hero in that small town. Hobert was only sentenced to ten years in prison but was paroled after only one. This is strange because criminals typically serve a much more severe punishment after taking another’s life.
The film stated how it was almost impossible to find a suitable jury because Hobert’s whole community rallied behind him even though he had shot someone. If someone’s life is taken out of an enraged act that draws attention to an obvious issue, then should his or her punishment be any less? Barret portrays how both sides, the filmmakers and Hobert, were pushing their limits. Barret vividly demonstrated what happens when those generic borders are pushed. The filmmakers were pushing the Hobert’s property line along with the integrity of the town. In return, Hobert definitely was pushing the boundaries of the law when he pulled that trigger.
What Hobert did was wrong but in the context he got off with a rather fair punishment. Hobert knew that what the filmmakers were doing was wrong and although he had an aggressive way of dealing with it, brought attention the how bad the occurring issue was. While some may still believe Barret’s connection to the town led to a bias portrayal, Barret gives multiple angles to every story and did a respectable job at explaining the many varying sides of this one. Barret was able to capture this aspect in her film because she leaves us to question what the responsibilities of anyone who takes images of others and puts them to their own uses are.