A Clever Label (“ACL”) is a VR documentary about the influence of the Australian Christian Lobby on Australian politics particularly on LGBTQI issues. It combines a personal story with an interactive room-scale VR experience to examine multiple sides of the topic.
This new kind of documentary will use VR and other interactive media to spotlight how beliefs and demographic surveys are reshaped on several sides of the debate in attempts to gain influence. It also explores how ideas and data are manipulated by lobbyists to try to get legislation passed -- even (or especially) when that legislation runs counter to popular opinion.
The experience is distributed in an open interactive and immersive digital format. We aim to engage a wide audience in the broader equality debate through innovative presentation of public data.
We hope this new model for data storytelling will also be taken up by other documentary makers, media producers and educators. As we see this model being used in educational settings we are designing storytelling building blocks (or widgets) that could be readily portable to mainstream technology platforms.
A Clever Label is hosted by artist and director Michela Ledwidge - a trans woman in a long-term lesbian relationship, legally married in the UK 15 years ago and also registered on the UK same-sex registry.
The project aims to give marriage equality advocates an ongoing resource. Its first components include a hosted documentary and an interactive room-scale VR experience. Both elements contribute to the debate around civil liberties and the difficulties faced by marginalised smaller groups in a representative democracy.
The project involves the creation of a sustainable data library that can be used by researchers and academics in other contexts.
The host of the documentary looks at the alt-right’s obsession with defining “the other” and the damage homophobia causes to the whole of society - particularly when both LGBTI and anti-gay advocates use the same terms: “harm”, “respect”, “love” in opposing ways.
There have been many media reports around the influence of the Christian Right in Australian politics though traditional (non-interactive) media has to-date struggled to show us the full picture. We are collating a huge library of material and re-presenting it as interactive multimedia to make it useful and attractive for the broader community.
The timing is right to do this with VR. While there is certainly a novelty factor in interactive documentary formats (because some of the technologies are still in early adopter stages), the core user experience concepts of interactive media are well-accepted in the mainstream thanks to smart devices, apps and game consoles. The possibilities for VR are exciting. We believe VR can be a powerful tool for investigative journalism, data visualisation and, above all, connecting people.
Aims & Objectives
The aims of this project are to
Distribute an interactive documentary experience that is highly engaging. As it can be remixed to support contrasting viewpoints it will demonstrate through action that statistics are not truth on their own.
Produce an accessible piece of investigative journalism about data collected during the Australian marriage equality debate. It exposes how a very vocal minority has unrepresentative influence on the media, politics and the national conversation. It will also expose some of the lesser-known connections between a small cluster of Australian politicians and their peers within global christian right networks.
Explore the concepts of filter-bubbles: surrounding ourselves with people and contextualised content we already agree with.
We shine a spotlight on how Australian conservative politicians have quietly refined the model of the US religious right to work in the Australian context over two decades - mostly behind closed doors. The project adds to the conversation on the strengths and weaknesses of our representative democracy. Two big questions come out of the research - 1) Why has marriage equality been so hard to legislate for when polls show marriage equality has mainstream support both in parliament and in the wider community?
2) How does irrational fear of minorities (e.g. homophobia) impact the workings of government of a diverse society? The links between Australia’s political system, religion and business, let alone the global networks, are not always easy to follow. This project will hopefully provide an opportunity for people to explore the data and context of the marriage equality debate in a meaningful way and draw their own conclusions.
Impact will be measured through
Analytics of views, downloads, and user behavior within the interactive experience
Social media engagement
Through varied partnerships A Clever Label will be used as a resource beyond its life as the original documentary experience. We have close ties to several Sydney academic institutions as well as LGBTI organisations. We will invite various groups to explore the data and contribute to its analysis and data visualisation - e.g. the UTS Connected Intelligence Centre | Master of Data Science.
The first phase of the outreach is a private crowdfunding phase to build a core group of supporters and allies. This is to ensure there is sufficient due diligence and preparation for any vexatious claims. The Australian Christian Lobby has a new fighting fund - the Human Rights Law Alliance - which it plans to use to control debate and influence legislation.
The innovative approach to making this project -- including experiments with various VR and 3D technologies and techniques -- will also be documented in a ‘making-of’ series of articles and videos. These materials will add to a VR documentary-making resource for story-tellers, documentary producers and technologists interested in the new forms, as well as showing mainstream audiences behind the scenes.
The subject matter and overall tone of this project may seem to make incompatible with the current mainstream LGBTQI campaign for marriage equality (running with a message of peace and love). However, behind the scenes, we have allies within most of the activist groups (even some of the conservative groups) and the project is clearly linked to the broader political struggle. We are encouraged by the tacit support shown to-date. Many LGBTQI community members (especially queers) are not interested in marriage per-se but want to understand the underlying reasons for the status quo on marriage and why marriage equality hasn’t been legislated.
The project timescale has been engineered so that the broader community of marriage equality advocates can contribute (e.g. vox pops) and support the toolkit and the documentary in the crowdfunding phase. While a plebiscite on marriage equality now appears unlikely, it is not dead in the water.
We believe the project will have strong appeal to international audiences of both (or either) the topic and documentary techniques explored in A Clever Label.
There is so little Australian VR content (as the technology is only now emerging into the mainstream) that this project stands a good chance of getting global attention at festivals and via online distribution channels.
Mod will stage pop-up activations and be present at events using our touring VR rig. Initial exposure will be through creative and technology events - e.g. meetups where VR experiences are showcased.
We will use social media to post regular content and teasers, start conversations and build support.
Many LGBTQI community members feel less than empowered by the marriage equality debate - we aim to provide some tools as a catalyst for change.