For a number of months, I have been generating codified narrative from films, fairytales, paintings, court cases, and news events. Codified narrative might be described as a tokenized rendition of the underlying content. There are many ways to do a rendering. Imagine asking 100,000 people to write a story based on the same general details such as scenery, major events, and specific outcomes. To the extent there are commonalities in the resulting storylines, I would say that "social construction" is likely relevant. How is it possible to ascertain level of commonality? One can make use of tags (symbols or tokens). Codified narrative makes it possible to evaluate stories using tags; this is something that I can do systematically. In recent blogs, I discussed the use of symbols in general terms to handle narrative as a body of code. In this blog, I will be focusing on the idea of capturing personas or embodied constructs from codified narrative. This undertaking isn't that much different from using codified narrative more broadly, except that steps are taken to enable the delineation of specific characters - for example, a serial killer or terrorist.

I have chosen for this discussion a type of character that I call "The Jackal" - based on Jake Gyllenhaal's performance of Lou Bloom in "Nightcrawler" (Bold Films 2013). My definition of a jackal is as follows: an outcast who emerges to exploit the society responsible for his or her alienation. The tags for the character are shown below. The profile for the jackal is made up of both assailant-specific and circumstantial features. A perusal of the tags should show that not all aspects of this character are straightforward; or at least, my interpretation of the character isn't. Within a narrative, it is important to differentiate between the characters. But apart from this, it is necessary to "explain" the characters. The "differentiation" between characters from a storytelling standpoint has to be distinguished from their "explanation" on a conceptual level. Their "explanation" might fall outside the narrative in a fictional story.

Tag Breakdown of "The Jackal" Character

# Modelled after the Lou Bloom character
# in "Nightcrawler" (Bold Films 2013)

# Assailant-specific features

# Circumstantial features

The tags beginning with "as" such as <as.jinxed_disabled> are assailant-specific - in that nobody except a particular assailant should be associated. The other tags are merely circumstantial - being associated with the story but no specific character. Notice that only half of the tags are assailant-specific. Many of the tags use fairly routine terms. This means that the involvement of a jackal can be anticipated even if a situation lacks assailant tags: e.g. the character would be suggested (as a possibility by the database system) if there is a social outcast that possesses certain obsessive compulsive traits showing a willingness to exploit innocent people. A fully articulated jackal however requires that the assailant tags be relevant.

Arriving at the Character

In order to construct a character, I sometimes start by deleting unrelated code from the data file. As a result, I create a bit of microcosm for the specific character. Stated a little differently, I make a smaller version of the story dedicated to the character. I call this miniature story a radix fabula (Latin for root story). From a root, different narrative perspectives can emerge. After establishing a radix - for those that have read my other blogs on codified narrative - it becomes possible to search for stories on the database containing aspects of the same character. Before checking for narratives containing the jackal, I tested for the "scent" of the radix (its attribution profile).

Delusional=25 Gamble=50 Jackal=100 Lie=25 Outcast=15 Promotion=14

I found that the attribution profile for the jackal's radix can be used to locate Nightcrawler on the database as shown on the image below. Nightcrawler is the 100 percent match. At this moment, the next most similar entry at 83 percent is "Maleficent" (Disney 2014), a story of the sorceress responsible for the curse on Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent was physically mutilated and deprived of her happiness; in turn, she cast a shadow over the entire kingdom. Coming in at 67 percent is "The Girl Without Hands," a fairytale written by the Brothers Grimm. This fairytale is about a girl who had her hands chopped off by her father! This girl, after being abandoned by her family and later separated from her husband, had to fend for herself while raising a child. The fairytale has no assailant-specific features. But there are a number of circumstantial similarities that might give rise to a jackal-like character. A jackal is driven by passion that might be the result of ambition, vindictiveness, or some other motivator.

Rationale Behind the Jackal

Rather than explain each tag, I will just give an idea of the general theory behind them. I use the tag <as.jackal_wolf> when there is clearly a jackal character. A jackal is an opportunist. A wolf on the other hand is a hunter. So great is a jackal's opportunism that it becomes indistinguishable from a hunter. As evidence of this opportunism, there is the exploitation of innocent people and the use of power advantages if any are available to the point of unethical conduct and even bullying. I consider the Bloom character a social outcast disenfranchised from basic opportunities such as employment. During the movie, he transforms into a rather radical individual driven by ambition becoming rather pathological - albeit with hints of greatness. My tags for the Jackal concentrate on this struggle against alienation and finding a place in society - or "imposing" one's place over society. In order to "explain" Bloom, I considered things that people do in response to being pushed from society - things done in an effort to feel empowered. I wonder if readers can guess the nature of my source based on some of the assailant tags.


In the tags, I use words like "hexed," "jinxed," and "cursed." I decided to make use of the apparent symbolism in spells against curses. I find it an interesting subject, actually, the extent to which spells, voodoo, and other rituals of enchantment offer guidance on how people might deal with disempowerment. Gyllenhaal's Bloom character did not partake in spells. I am saying that the embodied jackal responded in a manner to disenfranchisement that might be conceptualized in relation to rituals of desperation. A number of monsters from myth and folklore share pathologies with the jackal. For example, vampires, werewolves, and zombies make victims of people; but they are also victims of others. A vampire bites another vampire both as food and to propagate. It could be argued that the search for empowerment has been an important aspect of human identity; and perhaps the elements should now be codified for proper study. The jackal rises like a phoenix from the fires of rejection and despair, unleashing destruction first at the fringe then gradually into the heart of society.

I recall a recent story of a baby bison being cast out (made an outcast) of its herd after its contact with humans. It started to exhibit a desire to interact with humans. The calf was abandoned by the herd despite the likelihood of death because it smelled like human and was found to be "possessed" by humans. What if the poor calf could speak? "Alas, I am cursed. I have been condemned by my own people. I have been labeled dirty." I suggest that a jackal responds to this situation through the use of "reflection" - mirroring society and sometimes shining a spotlight on its most vile and violent attributes. Also possible is "redirection" - causing the animosity of the herd to move to a different target.

Embodiment More Generally

I sometimes think that there is a big difference between what I call narrative and how it is normally perceived. For me, characters are extremely important components. And yes, customers are characters. Employees are characters. Do organizations have jackals? Any employee who leaves his or her company to start a similar business fits the part. Not all jackals are pathological, of course. Making use of data to recognize embodiment is an important exercise particularly when data tends to slide into a disembodied pool of facts and figures. Managers think they manage people. It might still be true in some situations. But perhaps more than a few of them today are focused on the stats that people generate. Arguably, managers now mostly manage numbers. By studying characters through their embodiment, I suggest that it is possible to know where they belong or might emerge. Without embodiment, society and the individuals within it are manifested in data only at the most superficial.

When discussing the "paths" that people take, I suppose that one might attempt to examine their decisions in a literal sense, trying to ascertain what decisions led to what specific outcomes. On the other hands, paths can be found in the transformation of the self - from one character to the next. These transformations occur to all sorts of character types including even superheroes . . . such as Batman and Ironman. Paths can lead to metamorphosis - the transition from one cross-section of narrative tags to another - revealing all sorts of future storylines. Data embodiment is an interesting way to think about terrorism - not in terms of terror that they do but rather the terrorists they are. It is possible study how their character profiles interact with different storylines. Many directions for research become more accessible through embodiment.

Field Study

When I moved to Toronto in the 1970s, I settled in an area known as "Riverdale." Although I recently left Riverdale, I still follow the news. I find it curious to read about shootings, stabbings, and dismemberment in Riverdale. Although I think that data science holds a lot of promise, in certain respects some of its proponents have jumped ahead of what can actually be accomplished. For example, in the case of Riverdale, how in "specific terms" can the problem of crime in the community be addressed? Is it reasonable to expect some sort of calculation or algorithm to prevent crime when this is something that is barely understood on a community level? I have therefore decided to consider collecting two forms of data using Riverdale as a case example: 1) quantitative data; and 2) narrative code for the purpose of examining aspects of embodiment. I think there is some but perhaps not a great deal of quantitative data relating to this geographic area. Narrative code is a separate issue completely. There should be no problems generating codified narrative.

The question really is how one's "presence" should give rise to data and invoke different forms of embodiment. I would say that this is a fairly . . . unusual way of thinking about research. Yet when it comes to the actual mitigation of crime, it could be argued that the embodied experience is perhaps the most relevant. There simply hasn't been a method of codification that allows embodiment to be systematically interpreted by computer. For example, where might a person hide in order to evade detection during certain times of the day and year? Behavioural reconstruction requires a great deal of physical data. Now, if police investigations resulted in an accumulation of narrative code rather than mere "data," this intellectual capital would over time be a great asset. I hardy think that a single person passively "thinking about the possibilities" would make much a difference. So for me this is more of a diversion to help further the coding system. I hope to determine the extent to which narrative code can extend the nature of the problem solving compared to quantitative data alone.

I will be mining the Toronto Police databases - homicide cold cases since this is public - not necessarily screening out data but certainly focusing on database entries involving addresses in the Riverdale area. It seems the cases reach as far back as 1959. My intention isn't really to solve case but better understand the way case data can be retained for long periods of time to support systematic analysis - i.e. where computers are perpetually trying to solve cases as new information is added. There is a rationale here that is related to simulation testing: a radix can be matched with a setting; but the absence of a radix does not greatly alter the case attributes. It means that one cannot "find" a person by studying case attributes per se. (It is not enough just to study "a case" in simple terms.) Instead, it is necessary to assert that person's radix. (A computer can determine if I am likely to go to a library, but it cannot necessarily say from the codified narrative pertaining to the library that I have visited.) I expect this to be a study of the interaction between embodiment and the environment - not crime and crime scenes.  I have always been much more interested in what brought about the events.

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Tags: characters, community, embodiment, environmental, forensics, geography, homicides, investigations, mining, narratives, More…pathology, police, scene, systems


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