“Where the Hell is Matt” and Narrativity

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Com 597, Digital Media
Tags: , , , , ,

“Where the Hell is Matt” is a short video series by Matt Harding that takes a look at locales around the world and features people of all different races, cultures, demographics, etc. coming together in a somewhat organized dance. In relation to the work of Marie-Laure Ryan, author of Narratives and Digital Media there are many factors in Matt’s videos that make them effective narratives.

Ryan states that a narrative is a sign with a signifier or discourse. Now typically when we think of discourse we think of some sort of dialog, conversation, or really any use of actual language – but in her book Ryan states that the signifier can manifest in many different ways, including that of gestures performed by featured characters. In Matt’s videos these gestures are expressed through dance. The cultural differences among his audiences would make typical, language-confining dialog ineffective, therefore his story is illustrated through mimetic or dramatic narration that is universally comprehendible.

Ryan also states that true narrative consists of a setting populated by characters who are participating in events. In her definition of narrative these scenarios must go through a change. Matt fulfills this definition by selecting locations around the world for his setting(s). While the videos typically start off with him (the main character) dancing alone, the narrative soon changes to incorporate other characters joining in on the dance, which, in turn, adds to the plot. The change occurs when the different locations are sequenced together as the dance groups get larger and larger. It illustrates the notion of a common ground among individuals all around the world – after all, we all love to dance.

Finally, “Where the Hell is Matt” is an effective narrative (by Ryan’s theory) because it is “thematically unified and logically coherent.” If the videos didn’t always start off the same (Matt dancing alone) the change that occurs when others join in wouldn’t be nearly as effective, and the sequencing of the different scenes or locations just wouldn’t work. Even though he may be filming on the other side of the world, Matt recognizes that temporal order is meaningful in conveying his message because the cause and effect are always the same in his narrative. He goes somewhere to dance, and then finds others to dance with him. The plot of bringing people together is so simple, and yet in my opinion, brilliantly illustrated in these short clips of song and dance.

  1. sara1beth says:

    Good points! While Ryan seems to prefer language to convey narrative, the fact that dance is more universally recognized may actually make it a more effective medium in this case. You seemed to find more coherence/plot in the dance clips then I did–I kept wondering about the meaning (who is this guy? what’s the point?). But I do not think a crystal-clear and shared interpretation is at all necessary for narrativity.

  2. Eric Burgess says:

    A very in-depth analysis! Like Jim’s post, you point out the fact that Matt brings in the locals to his video and that because dancing is universal – it become a universal way of communicating. It just happened that the end result was one great story told to show us that cultures around the world aren’t really all that different – despite the language barriers.

  3. Derek Walker says:

    I enjoyed your thoughts on the sequencing of Matts video, how he uses “temporal order” to tell his story. If he just started out with bunches of people dancing with him, the meaning would be lost. If he continued to dance by himself, the meaning would never develop and the audience would be lost. The introduction of more and more characters as the video progresses really is the key to how the story unfolds. Excellent post! I had to watch the video again after reading it.

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