have just met.
a young, idealistic woman, likes TV and her phone and the way they connect people.
a pragmatic bike messenger, fears that digitally-altered reality, purveyed by media companies, diminishes his life.
Their beliefs and nascent attraction are put to the test when they and four other strangers inexplicably
find themselves to be characters in the movie Nothing In A Rectangle Is True.
The movie's scene structure prevents
from connecting and discovering more about each other. Meanwhile
a world-wizened older man, regrets mistakes he's made in life:
he vows to live the rest of it more directly. This proves hard to do inside a movie.
The characters, who also include a middle aged housewife,
a media-savvy young boy and a matter-of-fact Thai student,
end up on a green-screen special effects stage well stocked with media equipment.
They experiment with storytelling by making this movie.
As both media-makers and characters, they arrange revealing interviews with real life media wizards,
net hackers, app entrepreneurs, scientists, filmmakers, philosophers and other tricksters,
including film director
and cyborg anthropologist
to substantiate their differing beliefs about digital life, media, truth and reality.
Technology has increasingly wedged itself between us and reality:
we now experience each other and much of our world through the narrow bandwidth of digital media.
find that the personalized stories told on our screens are fragmenting our society into a constellation
of micro-communities organized around the self, which subverts the marketplace of ideas and makes
working together for change impossible.
thinks that they should relax and wonders what it means when
won't return her texts.
Rectangle's characters gain insights but not solutions from the experts that they interview.
attempting to get closer, struggle to overcome ideology, media illusion, delusion and,
perhaps most bothersome, the relentless pace of film narrative.
searches for authentic experience and a way to escape the boundaries of the screen.
In the process, they challenge the audience's perception of mediated and actual reality.
Kiss Reality Goodbye
Nothing in a Rectangle Is True is a fast-paced, entertaining romp through life in digitized culture,
inspired equally by
It is a unique blend of documentary and fiction that attempts to change society by challenging the increasingly
fictional center of it.
Rectangle's characters ask the questions we should all be asking:
Are virtual relationships real?
Does gadget augmentation make us more cyborg and less human?
What are we giving up when we view our lives and each other increasingly through media?
Does knowing more about each other foster world citizenship and increase the peace?
Are we more or less free when we live in a mediated world?
Ironically, Nothing In A Rectangle Is True is itself a movie and is therefore not true.
This leaves the viewer holding the bag, responsible for his or her own ideas and questions about
media, truth, culture and, to some extent, life itself.
About The Filmmaker
has a deep practical knowledge of the media after more than thirty years behind and beside the camera.
He has been backstage at the culture carnival and knows how media is used to manipulate and construct reality.
An inveterate observer of culture,
has discussed mediated culture with people around the world for more than a dozen years.
He's found a growing awareness and concern, particularly among young people,
who suspect that the virtual life they've inherited isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
needs to make this movie to atone for his sins:
he has photographed media training as politicians and CEOs learn to spin messages in order to exercise power over people.
He has constructed “reality” while filming reality shows and
“news” while making video news releases.
Watching gifted practitioners such as
Barack Obama, Don
sees the craft behind the art, as they lead millions of people by telling stories,
for better and for worse.
Viewing all of this through the lens of humanism and social justice,
would like to help people understand how media works,
how it assimilates them and uses them to gain corporate power and capital.
would like to help people to be less at the affect of media and thus more free.
Approach, Structure and Style
Rectangle gives its characters a job to do: understanding how media works and proving or disproving
the problem of mediated life – from inside a movie. This forces
to focus on their conflict about media and reality, when what they want is to get to know each other better.
This awkward love story positions essential human frailty and desire against the modern pursuit
of digitally-augmented reality.
it is episodic, ostensibly didactic and its story is told simply –
smooth movements or static camera, plain lighting, long takes, little cutting.
Much of the story takes place in three types of segments:
A green-screen special effects stage:
Rectangle's characters mess around with film making equipment,
making this film and being made by it.
The characters give imaginative and concise lessons in digital media methods and secrets that are normally
hidden by professionals.
These are heavily stylized and say as much about the characters as they do about the media.
To support their beliefs about mediated life, the characters go on location to film classic documentary
clips with noted experts and scholars.
The movie is mischievous:
it frequently provides the characters and audience with a reality and then, with a stroke of movie magic,
pulls the rug out from under everyone. This causes the audience, as well as
to experience the falseness of media constructions.
Initially a believer in media and its connectivity,
comes to find that these connections aren't necessarily authentic and that media stories,
while potentially moving, can't be true.
Her journey will lead the audience to doubt the mediation of their own lives.
Every social issue is understood or misunderstood, resolved or perpetuated through media.
We believe the structure of life itself is changing, with virtualized, fictional life slowly replacing real life.
Digital media is personal: algorithms craft individual experiences for us.
For example, our
results for the same query are all different.
Our digital “me” boxes create differing fictional worlds that divide us into exclusive groups.
This makes working together for social justice very difficult.
Witness, say, the abstracted, low turnout 2012 presidential election or the divides between
[red state/blue state, urban/rural, 99%/1%, and so on] people.
Mediated life tends to benefit the few, who control the media, to the detriment of everyone else.
Rectangle attempts to teach people how the media works on them so they can be more free of it.
The Denial of the Real
Life lived on computers and televisions is indirect life, mediated,
as if you were watching life through the camera on your phone instead of experiencing it with your physical senses.
When you post on your
wall, you are digitizing a small part of your life, telling a story about it, making it smaller.
However, you and your
audience proceed as though that reduced copy of that bit of your life, that story, is real.
Mediated reality is moderated by someone else (in this example,
leaving you less free. Nothing in a Rectangle Is True, which challenges this constructed reality,
is a gift of freedom from philosophical
In our postmodern culture, mediations of life range from stories about life and people on TV or the web,
to the compulsion to enjoy a concert by recording it on your phone, to eating processed food,
to thinking about real people as metaphors for fictional characters.
For more than ten years,
has been noting trends and filming segments for the movie that show the seductive, even insidious,
effects of living, as the contemporary French philosopher
wrote, “sheltered by signs, in the denial of the real”
We are losing the ability to relate to the world and to each other except through a secondhand cultural
life dispensed to us by the media. We organize this subset around ourselves (my music, politics, celebrities,
shows), confusing choice with freedom and further shrinking our world.
The architect and mathematician
believes people see reality in terms of
mechanics, assuming everything is a machine.
“With the onset of the 20th-century mechanistic world-picture, clear understanding about value went
out of the world,” he writes
In this world, we see each other's significance as objects, not the shining reality of each other.
In this world, as
says, “nothing matters.”
Reality is disappearing
the average American watches approximately 5 hours of TV at home daily, 98% of it on a traditional television.
In addition, according to the 2009 report
131 million of them watch about 3 hours of video online and 13.4 million watch about 3 1⁄2 hours
of mobile video.
Cultivation theory research in 2005 by
University of Pennsylvania
shows that those who spend more time watching television are more likely to perceive the real world in ways
that reflect the most common and recurrent messages of the television world.
In a 2009 study,
Erika Pontius, Missouri Western State University
concludes that “because television is so common among Americans,
it is nearly impossible to judge the impact that it has on viewers.
Both the participants and the experimenters are usually pre-exposed to so much television that it is hard
to establish a base of comparison for an unaltered perceived reality.
More often than not, the representations of social reality on television are not true to objective reality.”
Is reality possible?
believed that postmodernism has led us to a disassociation from reality that he called hyperreality
(post reality; an inability to distinguish reality from a constructed world).
describes a “precession of simulacra”
or succession of the types of copies of things;
these are stages that society has gone through in recent years, as technology and culture feed back on
each other and culture remodels itself through the latest technology.
Each new type of copy leads us further away from real experience. The simulacra that
refers to are the significations of culture that construct perceived reality.
In our current, media-saturated, hyperreal stage of this precession,
the elements of our lives tend to be copies of copies, with no relationship to any reality whatsoever.
suggests that we consume reality through signs of signs, with events,
meaning and history no longer being produced from shifting, contradictory real experience,
but produced as artifacts of media. “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it.”
Reality, he suggests, is not possible in this mediated culture.
One thing is obvious: unmediated life is real. Less mediated life is more real.
The self-evident world beneath the signs and symbols of digital culture is still there.
A ground of being exists, one more luminous, magical and powerful than any indirect experience of it.
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.” –
Philip K. Dick
questioned reality. Generation X achieved freedom from reality by, for example,
abstracting people into avatars on personal digital devices and turning the
online yearbook into
a foundation of everyone's social life today.
icon and radio personality
says in our film, “In the Sixties the thing was to turn on, tune in and drop out.
Nowadays what's needed is to turn off, tune out and drop in.”
We are seeing people's hunger for value, and the real ground beneath us in many different places:
from the provenance movement in which people want to know exactly where their food is coming from and how
it was handled, to the popularity of bluegrass music people make themselves,
to the Occupy movement in which people are trying to bring the economy back to human scale and find new
relations to each other.
as the generation born after 1980 are called, are questioning unreality;
they seem to have a need for authenticity. According to the
Pew Research Center, Millennials
admire their elders' work ethic, moral values and respect for others; the study suggests that
view older people has having a more authentic life
Perhaps they are trying to catch up: the 2011
Donor Survey revealed that 85 percent of
are motivated to donate by a compelling mission or cause
Most data on
appears to be from marketers, who have proclaimed authenticity to be a chief way to sell things to
a marketing agency, polled 62% of
as saying that “being true to yourself” was most inherently influential in life
study finds that
rely on social interaction to determine what is authentic,
and prefer to buy products that support causes they believe in or have an authentic quality.
People yearn for reality because they don't feel free.
Those who experience reality directly are free.
If we discover reality to be more than a playground of objects made expressly for us,
then we are free to move in a world of objects unencumbered by meanings and references provided to us by
digital culture. We are able to see the simple beauty of the real world.
Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (SAGE Publications Ltd., 1998) (Amazon)
Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Life (CES Publishing, 2001) (Amazon)
The Cross Platform Report – Q4 2011. Rep. The Nielsen Company, 2011. Web.
TV Internet and Mobile Usage In US Keeps Increasing Says Nielsen. Rep. The Nielsen Company, 2009. Web.
Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (2002). “Growing up with television: The cultivation perspective” in M. Morgan (Ed.), Against the mainstream: The selected works of George Gerbner (pp.193-213). New York: Peter Lang.
Pontius, Erika S. “The Impact of Reality Television on Viewers' Perception of Reality.” National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse. Missouri Western State University, 2009.
Philip K. Dick, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later”, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon (Doubleday, 1985) (Amazon)
“Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” Pew Social Demographic Trends RSS. Pew Research Center, 24 Feb. 2010. Web.
Feldmann, Derrick, and Ted Grossnickle, eds. Millennial Donors Report 2011. Rep. The Millennial Impact, 2011. Web.
Jeff Fromm, Celeste Lindell, and Lainie Decker. American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation. Rep. Barkley, 2011. Web.