Discovery is a process in which beliefs and expectations are challenged. This process is often involves a great deal of emotional labour, as seen in Ivan Mahoney’s documentary series “Go Back to Where You Came From”, Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” and ABC’s “Family Footsteps”. In ‘Go Back’, the participants are put through a series of emotionally and physically draining situations, as their views on asylum seekers are challenged by experiencing the refugee journey first hand. ‘Family Footsteps’ sends a woman back to the country of her cultural heritage in order to rediscover her family’s history and identity, while ‘Heart of Darkness’ similarly employs a physical journey as Marlow travels down the Congo River, learning about himself, the darkness of man and the horrors of colonialism along the way.
Discovery can be an experience charged with emotions. In the opening sequence of ‘Go Back’, the participants’ harsh views are revealed through excerpts of interviews. Raye, a farmer and social worker, scathingly states that “I don’t think it’s right that they come here and demand all this freedom.” This high modality language exemplifies the intensity of her negative feelings towards asylum seekers. However, this statement is juxtaposed with file footage of a detention centre surrounded by high fences and barbed wire. This positions Raye as uninformed and shows the audience the hypocrisy of this statement. Similarly, Raye also states that her thoughts after an asylum seeker boat sank were “serves the bastards right”, once again revealing through expletives her high emotional investment in this issue. Raye’s journey is defined by her emotional connection with the people she meets along the way, as Raye is the maternal figure of the group. Her introductory statements are juxtaposed against Raye’s later rhetorical questions during a close up shot “I had no idea it was so bad… how can you live with that?” exemplifying the emotional rollercoaster of her physical discovery. It is through this cultural discovery that they connect with their compassion and are able to transform their attitudes and perceptions of themselves and others.
‘Go Back’ presents the ramifications of the discoveries made by the participants as they venture into unfamiliar worlds. The ramifications of Raquel’s process of emotional discovery lead her
to alter dramatically her perspective of refugees and asylum seekers. At first, she is steadfast in her dehumanising view of refugees. She is characterised as the young and uneducated perspective in the series, and in her introductory interview she proudly declares “I guess I am a bit racist” and “I just don’t like Africans”. This is exemplified in Episode One when she meets the Masudi family. Her discomfort is evident in a number of close-ups and mid-shots showing her responses and body language in the company of the refugees from central Africa.
Later, she sees them as individuals with whom she can empathise.
‘Family Footsteps’ parallels ‘Go Back’ in terms of format – both documentary series’ consist of a reverse journey to discover cultural understanding. ‘Family Footsteps’ however sees Australian artist Joanna returning to the country and culture with which she has ties – Armenia. The show’s opening scenes introduce Joanna and her family, showing her lifestyle as typically Australian. The family’s history is detailed through interviews and close-up shots of Joanna and her father, while the voice over contextualises this by providing an overview of relevant Armenian history. These establishing shots are used to contrast Joanna’s experiences in Armenia, as she discovers a different way of life and understanding of her background. This documentary illustrates the importance of discovery in drawing together the strands of family history and bringing about an understanding of one’s identity.
‘Heart of Darkness’ takes a once unusual stance on the practice of imperialism. While Europe comforted itself with its claims colonialism was a philanthropic mission, this novella reveals parts of the darkness that were hidden. At first Marlow is unchallenged in his white colonial perspective, however as his journey begins he discovers the cruelty of the colonialist powers. As he arrives at the Station, Marlow sees “six black men…their joints were like knots on a rope, and each one wore a collar around his neck.” This use of simile exemplifies the mistreatment of the native Congolese. Marlow is unsettled by his discovery of this brutality, and Conrad’s juxtaposition of the “white starched collars of the Accountant” and “the great demoralisation of the land” clearly exhibits this point. Another disturbing discovery for Marlow is that of the innate darkness of man. Conrad suggests that within every individual lies a darkness, a capability for savagery, but the structure of society provides a veneer with which to protect humanity from themselves. However, without the restraints of society there is no social limit on brutality, as symbolised in the text by the characterisation of Kurtz. When Marlow begins his journey to find Kurtz, it is with the impression that he is an upstanding man. Kurtz is the Company’s most successful ivory agent, a symbol of European greed. As Marlow arrives however he discovers Kurtz has been consumed by his greed and turned to savagery. Kurtz’s early comment that “the Station is a beacon for all things good” is juxtaposed with his angry note to “Exterminate all the brutes!” Marlow’s discovery of Kurtz’s state and the true nature of colonialism lead him to question the very foundations of his own identity. Through this journey his beliefs about the mission of colonialism and the hearts of men have been fiercely challenged.