Dark Days

Last night my partner and I watched the Marc Singer documentary "Dark Days". The name of this film had been stuck in my head since Prof. Grimes had mentioned it in a class long, long ago, in October sometime. I know that this weeks readings focus on online research, which has absolutely nothing to do with this film, but they also discuss ethnography, boundaries and the fact that field sites do not exist in a vacuum.

This film is not a pure ethnographic study and Singer is not an ethnographer, neither claim to be so. But Singer fully immerses himself into a marginalized culture and is able to record his experience. He filmed bits of the lives and thoughts of a group of people that lived in a section of the New York city underground railway system. They built their own homes out of what they could find and had free electricity, but lived mostly in the dark.

These underground dwellings were Singer's main field site, he didn't stray from there much except to occasionally follow his subjects while they looked for food or tried to make money above ground. This culture was so small and unique, and Singer's access so complete and rare that I don't think he had any issues with defining where this project started and stopped. I suppose he could have expanded it to tackle issues like New York's crack problem, or effects of living underground, but he didn't.

Singer was specific in recording only these people (and later on some authorities). He chose to focus on their relationships, their back stories and sometimes their aspirations. He also took a personal interest in their well-being. Singer played a large role in finding a lot of the people actual housing. I suppose this could potentially be seen as similar to action research. Singer wanted to make a change for these people and by researching them and making outsiders aware of their plight, he was able to make a real difference.

Again, I repeat that Marc Singer is not an ethnographer nor claims to be one. But, this documentary really did show his immersion into a completely alien culture, a very bounded and precise culture. He was so immersed that he was able to entirely change the culture forever.

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