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Adipat Virdi

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Can Storytelling Stop Honor Crimes?

Posted: 08/31/2012 3:23 pm

Honor Killing: "The killing of a relative, especially a girl or woman, who is perceived to have brought dishonour to the family."

Transmedia Storytelling: "...The technique of telling a... story... across multiple platforms and
formats using current digital technologies. ... It involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a Transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other."

Modern-day London, with its cosmopolitan culture and open values, embraces cultural diversity and openness to those from other parts of the world. Under this veil of acceptance, however, lies a dark secret -- the government is at breaking point with having to control the continued rise in honor-based crimes across the capital. Focusing in on the 17,000 cases of these crimes reported every year, London forms a localized base for what is a global issue.

How can we stop this? The main problem is where to start. Who would be offended? What is the best (read: politically correct) way of tackling this issue? Currently the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) funds the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) to go and "rescue" back British Nationals -- typically girls between the ages of 11 and 19 -- who have been kidnapped by their own families to be forced into marriages against their will.

When the girls are brought back they have no family, no resources or any real support network that allows them to rebuild their lives in a healthy and meaningful way. So another question needs to be asked: With no real support structure available, should the girls be rescued in the first place? The answer, surely, lies in whether the ability to choose your own choices is something that should be seen as a human right. In the opinion of this author -- this is categorically a right that should be afforded every human being and every effort should be made to stop honor crimes. But how can more be done?

In this media-saturated age there is a paradigm shift whereby a "story" experience has shifted from a linear narrative experienced in one medium to a "theme-based ecology" where multiple platforms allow the audience to engage with the content, and each other, so are to become "content influencers" rather than just "content consumers." In a sense, story becomes software and allows for engagement to allow audiences to become active participants in a storyworld with various "touchpoints" into all aspects of the narrative, locations and characters and, thus, have an impact in the real world.

With this in mind, Project Searching is a Storyworld that has been created to use this new form of storytelling to find out about honor crimes and this "forbidden" way of life as well as a being a mechanism for creating change and to see if storytelling can really help to stop honor crimes. The story experience is not set up to create propaganda or to activate a response but as a piece that provides food for thought and creates a better understanding of what the underlying issues are.

So the storyworld has been engineered from the inside out -- i.e., with the theme and purpose as central design elements across many different experiences (film, TV, documentary and so on) but something that will engage, educate and also create a sense of active participation beyond the story experiences themselves.

In short: Where an audience consumed content in a passive way, the dawn of social media has meant that the audience is empowered to interact with the content and the ideas presented and take action. Media content, thus, becomes pervasive and could be used as a powerful tool to engender social action on a global scale.

A central story is still needed that can tie all of the various elements together. Project Searching is based around a family torn apart by differing values, cultures and religious pressure and deals with these issues from both an eastern and western perspective. The idea is to use the central narrative as a way to explore what happens within the family that is going through with the honor crime and how this is perceived and dealt with by people outside of those communities and with different ideals.

The project sits on four points of interaction for the audience. On one axis, it is as much about telling the story of a family and the plight of the "victims" of these crimes as it is to represent the perpetrator's perspective is how "honor" drives a sense of guilt and responsibility to take actions that are seen as non-negotiable.

The family in the story is Sikh and grew up together in London. Their parents were brought up in India and East Africa and their perceptions of identity are poles apart. Wanting what they think is best for their daughter, the family arranges for her to get married to a distant relative in India. The daughter rebels and forces the family to make a hard decision where the choice is either to save face and abide by their cultural values or to save their daughter and be shunned from the community.

The other axis of engagement is to show the differing attitudes and ideals that exist in the East and West. The western perspective involves the currently operational DSS (Diplomatic Snatch Squad) and their involvement in rescuing back British Nationals from anywhere around the world. Their job is to help these innocent girls and the storyworld explores this in how they deal with the cases that come in. With these cases, the team is forced to face questions of morality, ethics and personal redemption. The key theme is: True identity comes from within.

In summary, in order to create engagement the project encompasses various narrative strands that range from localized community projects, through a social benefit ARG (Alternate Reality Game) that puts the audience in the role of one of the protagonists and allows the real world engagement of the culture and people throughout the experience. The project will culminate in a feature film, novel and documentary that charts the history of honour crimes and thus follows the stories of both victims and perpetrators to ascertain what the notion of "honor" really means.

Can storytelling eradicate honor crimes? Yes! With the shift is the way social media empowers
people and levels the playing field in the way issues can be shared and acted upon (e.g., the Occupy Movement), using storytelling in this way to create change is not only possible but necessary is initiating a process of change through knowledge and action rather than ignorance and reaction.

The intention is to create a long-term and curative response rather than a short-term, preventative one by integrating all the parts of the storyworld into a powerful whole that has an effect beyond the experience itself.

 

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