With distractions like personality, appearance and speech style, making objective sense of the 2008 presidential race can be a daunting task. But rather than blame pundits or personal biases, one group is using this problem as a platform to raise vital questions about media and the limitations of its current formatting.
Sosolimited is an audiovisual trio based out of Cambridge, Mass. Eric Gunther, Justin Manor and John Rothenberg met as undergraduates at M.I.T. and now collaborate on media remixes. Their latest project is a live, reformatted broadcast of the presidential debates, titled “ReConstitution 2008.” On a three-city tour of Boston, New York and Washington, the group will perform Oct. 15 at the Corcoran Art Gallery.
In ReConstitution, Sosolimited seeks to uncover hidden biases and information within the presidential debates, concerning both the individual’s reception and representation.
“While you watch TV, there are so many layers – not just on the screen but layers in your head. All of these biases that have developed from watching TV since you were five years old,” Gunther said. “And I think those are just inherent limitations and boundaries that are hard to break out of.”
Manor expanded: “In some ways, the limitations are the things that most people consider the good things about the television broadcast, like the overproduction or the crisp, clear picture. But that’s not always an accurate representation of the scene. Part of what we’re trying to do is to voice these concerns and give people an opportunity to view TV in a different way.”
Sosolimited samples audio, video and closed captioning and transforms them into a new arrangement. During one scene, which they described as resembling a hunter’s trophy room, the trio takes snapshots of the candidate’s faces throughout the debate and put them on display. They then take those images and manipulate them into a collage.
The group cycles through these presentations “much like a band plays a set list,” said Manor. They often refer to earlier key moments to expose underlying content that viewers might otherwise miss, such as patterns in speech and physical movements.
Manor offered an example. “One of the things that we look at is how much they talk about themselves versus their opponent versus the voters.”
The project organizes much of its information in the form of statistics, but Sosolimited is careful to refrain from overemphasizing the significance of any one set of data.
“We’re not trying to make people walk away with a sound conclusion of what it means that John McCain or Barack Obama used the word ‘spending’ 30 times,” said Manor. “It’s more like, because we’re presenting this information at the same time as the information comes out of the candidates’ mouths. We’re trying to get people to listen to what (Obama and McCain) are saying in a different way, to guide their attention in the speech that’s happening.”
Manor was quick to warn that this information may be a little bit dangerous. “If you went there to worship either candidate … you may come away unhappy.”