The Illusionists examines how global advertising firms, mass media, and the beauty, fashion, and cosmetic-surgery industries have together colonised the way people all around the world define beauty and see themselves. Taking us from Harvard to the halls of the Louvre, from a cosmetic surgeon’s office in Beirut to the heart of Tokyo’s Electric Town, The Illusionists shows how these industries saturate our lives with narrow, Westernised, consumer-driven images of so-called beauty that show little to no respect for biological realities or cultural differences. Featuring voices from prominent sociologists, magazine editors, scientists, artists, and activists, The Illusionists documents a truly global phenomenon, with hegemonic results.
Every day, billions of people are unwittingly taking part in what is the largest most comprehensive psychological experiment ever conducted. The old marketing and advertising world using billboards, advertisements and TV commercials to persuade us, has been comprehensively augmented by an entirely new field of “user experience architects” and “online persuasion agents.” These forces are given tremendous power from the proliferation of digital technologies. So how do these powerful forces ensure that we fill our online shopping carts to the brim, or stay on websites as long as possible? Or vote for a particular candidate? What Makes You Click examines how these prolific entities collectively and individually use, shape, and manipulate our experiences via an online world, not just when it comes to buying things, but also with regards to our free time and political perspectives. The manipulation has become so good that these powerful controllers, former Google employees among them, are themselves arguing for the introduction of an ethical code. What does it mean when the grand conductors of these huge experiments themselves are asking for their power, influence and possibilities to be restricted?
No Measure of Health profiles Kyle Magee, an anti-advertising activist from Melbourne, Australia, who for the past 10 years has been going out into public spaces and covering over for-profit advertising in various ways. The film is a snapshot of his latest approach, which is to black-out advertising panels in protest of the way the media system, which is funded by advertising, is dominated by for-profit interests that have taken over public spaces and discourse. Kyle’s view is that real democracy requires a democratic media system, not one funded and controlled by the rich. As this film follows Kyle on a regular day of action, he reflects on fatherhood, democracy, what drives the protest, and his struggle with depression, as we learn that “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Facebook is an enormously powerful corporation, harnessing both the self-disclosed and gleaned personal data of over 2 billion people. Its user-base is larger than the population of any country. The company is all pervasive online, tracking and profiling users and non-users alike. Cracking the Code looks at the insides of this giant machine and how Facebook turns your thoughts and behaviours into profits—whether you like it or not. And it’s not just a one-way transaction either. Cracking the Code also explains how Facebook uses vast troves of web data to manipulate the way you think and feel, as well as act—all in the sole interests of Facebook, masquerading as “community.” What are the social implications of this—when one company basically controls the insights and experiences of the entire online world, with extremely personalised and targeted social and behavioural engineering on a scale never before seen?
The Empathy Gap investigates how dominant culture bombards young men with sexist and misogynistic messages and argues that these messages not only devalue women but also undercut men’s innate capacity for caring and empathy. The film looks closely at the ways these messages short-circuit men’s ability to empathize with women, respect them as equals, and take feminism seriously, drawing parallels between sexism and racism, spelling out how each is rooted in cultural norms that discourage empathy, and shows how men who break with these norms live happier and healthier lives.
In 1960, NBC aired what is widely considered to be the first reality television show in American broadcast history. Billing itself as a new kind of visual reporting, the show was called Story of a Family, and it purported to document the day-to-day lives of the 10-member Robertson family of Amarillo, Texas. While the show has long since faded from public memory, media scholars and television historians have long recognised its significance as a precursor to the “unscripted programming” that dominates television today. TV Family draws on this history by interviewing several of the children featured in Story of a Family, to offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how the show was made, and what it means to shape culture. Weaving personal anecdotes with commentary from historians and scholars, TV Family reveals the story of how the show’s producers carefully choreographed the way they wanted the family to appear to the American public—all in the name of “authenticity.” The result is an eye-opening look at one of television’s earliest successes in shaping the reality of family life in commercially viable ways.
The Mask You Live In unpacks how this culture’s narrow and harmful definition of masculinity effects boys, young men; girls and women; and society in general in myriad ways, as our children struggle to stay true to themselves when confronted by this culture. Pressured by their peer group, heavily influenced by a barrage of media messages, and even their very own parents and other adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from and suppress their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence, control and manipulation. These traits and stereotypes closely interconnect with problems of race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men as the culture expects and perpetuates. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of how these issues intersect, and what we can do about it.
In Requiem for the American Dream, renowned intellectual figure Noam Chomsky deliberates on the defining characteristics of our time—the colossal concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few and fewer, with the rise of a rapacious individualism and complete collapse of class consciousness. Chomsky does this by discussing some of the key principles that have brought this culture to the pinnacle of historically unprecedented inequality by tracing a half century of policies designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority, while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. The film serves to provide insights into how we got here, and culminates as a reminder that these problems are not inevitable. Once we remember those who came before and those who will come after, we see that we can, and should, fight back.
By examining the people and practices of the media and entertainment industries, The Fourth Estate illuminates not only specific incidences of corruption by press groups, but how the wider model of mainstream journalism itself as a for-profit entity has a huge amount to answer for in terms of democracy and the state of politics throughout the world. Filmed over two years throughout the UK on no budget, the filmmakers profile journalists, organisers and critics of industrial media practices, stemming from the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 which was set up to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandals of the Murdoch media empire. While the phone hacking scandal illuminated the depth and breadth of the culture of British journalism, the media’s focus at the time quickly diverted from a brief period of self-examination, back to business as usual. This film instead continues the analysis by looking at the larger implications of a for-profit media model and its connections to ideology, entertainment, and hence the resulting political framework that’s in crisis.
Consumer capitalism dominates the economy, politics, and culture of our age, despite a growing trove of research showing that it is a failed system. In this illustrated presentation, media scholar Justin Lewis makes a compelling case that capitalism can no longer deliver on its myth of the dream and its promise to enhance the quality of life. He argues that changing direction will require changing our media system and our cultural environment, as capitalism has become economically and environmentally unsustainable. This presentation explores how the media and information industries make it difficult to envision other forms of life by limiting critical thinking and keeping us locked in a cycle of consumption, and shows us that change will only be possible if we take culture seriously and transform the very way we organise our media and communications systems.
Merchants of Doubt looks at the well established Public Relations tactic of saturating the media with shills who present themselves as independent scientific authorities on issues in order to cast doubt in the public mind. The film looks at how this tactic, that was originally developed by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the health risks of smoking, has since come to cloud other issues such as the pervasiveness of toxic chemicals, flame retardants, asbestos, certain pharmaceutical drugs and now, climate change. Using the icon of a magician, Merchants of Doubt explores the analogy between these tactics and the methods used by magicians to distract their audiences from observing how illusions are performed. For example, with the tobacco industry, the shills successfully delayed government regulation until long after the health risks from smoking was unequivocally proven. Likewise with manufacturers of flame retardants, who worked to protect their sales after the toxic effects and pervasiveness of the chemicals were discovered. This is all made analogous to the ongoing use of these very same tactics to forestall governmental action in regards to global climate change today.
What do popular television programs like What Not to Wear, The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and The Swan tell us about how to look and feel? What do they tell us about what a good life is supposed to look like? Brand New You explores these questions, and also asks what it means to be an authentic self in an extensively mediated world. It shows how the interventions featured in makeover shows—from weight loss to cosmetic surgery to rearing competitiveness—create, perpetuate and reproduce conventional norms of physical attractiveness and success. By taking a wider social and cultural view, Brand New You also shows how these programs have become tools of rampant individualism, consumerism and inner self-transformation at precisely the same time that collective awareness of social issues has dissipated.
Girl Model offers a glimpse into the hall of mirrors that is the modelling world as it interfaces with other industries and other countries. The film follows Ashley—a deeply ambivalent former-model who is now a scout and scours the Siberian countryside looking for ‘fresh faces’ to send to the Japanese market; and one of her ‘discoveries,’ Nadya, a thirteen year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the centre of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. What entails is the opening of a can of worms that isn’t easily solved in one sitting—a thriving and curiously sinister modelling industry that spans the globe, luring everywhere with pretences of wonder, success and riches. But the realities are harsh. The fashion industry can look glamorous from the outside, but its insides are, at the very least, deceptive and sinister; and the myths run deeply entrenched in the culture, constantly promulgating new, young recruits. This ‘meat market,’ a prelude to sex trafficking, is creepy, ugly, and preys on the young and vulnerable. Can the spell be broken?
Instafame is an exploration of a teenager’s relationship with the concepts of success and fame through the lens of the screen, exemplified by the popular photo-sharing website ‘Instagram.’ The short film speaks volumes about this specific aspect of screen culture in that the notions of celebrity are self-reinforced in the closed-loop of the ‘social networking’ environment which is itself a purpose-built, commercially-mediated experience. So what happens to the notions of identity, friendship, personality and so on; in this space, and in the wider culture?
Social media networks purport the ability to interact with culture—talking directly to artists, celebrities, movies, brands, and even one another—in ways never before possible. But is this real empowerment? Or do marketing companies still hold the upper hand, as before? Generation Like explores how the perennial quest for identity and connection is usurped in the pervasive game of cat-and-mouse by vast corporate power in the extensive machine for consumerism that is now the online environment. The audience becomes the marketer; buzz is subtly controlled and manipulated by and from real-time behavioural insights; and the content generated is sold back to the audience in the name of participation. But does the audience even think they’re being used? Do they care? Or does the perceived chance to be the ‘next big star’ make it all worth it?
Admit it—you don’t really read the endless pages of terms and conditions connected to every website you visit or phone call that you make do you? Of course not. But every day billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, your friends and family, your finances, and your secrets—precisely because of this; and are not only selling the information to the highest bidder, but freely sharing it with the government. And you agreed to all of it. With plenty of recent real-world examples, Terms And Conditions May Apply covers just a little of what governments and corporations are legally taking from Internet users every day—turning the future of both privacy and civil liberties into serious question. From whistleblowers and investigative journalists to zombie fan clubs and Egyptian dissidents, this film demonstrates how all of us online have incrementally opted-in to a real-time surveillance state, click by click.
Arguing that advertising not only sells things, but also ideas about the world, The Codes of Gender examines the commercial culture’s inability to let go of reactionary gender representations. Presenter Sut Jhally’s starting point is the breakthrough work of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, whose 1959 book The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life prefigured the growing field of performance studies. Jhally applies Goffman’s analysis of the body in print advertising to hundreds of print ads today, uncovering an astonishing pattern of regressive and destructive gender codes. By looking beyond advertising as a medium that simply sells products, and beyond analyses of gender that tend to focus on either biology or objectification, The Codes of Gender offers important insights into the social construction of masculinity and femininity, the relationship between gender and power, and the everyday performance of cultural norms.
Obey is a video essay based on the book “Death of the Liberal Class” by author and journalist Chris Hedges. The film charts the rise of corporatocracy and examines the trending possible futures of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, globalisation, staggering inequality and environmental crisis — posing the question, do we resist or obey?
Esc & Ctrl is an online series of short documentary films where journalist and filmmaker Jon Ronson explores some aspects of screen culture and the Internet. By exemplifying the concepts of control of information and the screen culture’s reactions to publishing, censorship, viral videos, media attention and manipulation; a small set of stories weave together to pose bigger questions around democracy and open communication in the age of the computers and a corporately mediated virtual world.
Over the past three decades, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled for children and tripled for adolescents, and a startling 70% of adults are now obese or overweight. The result has been a widening epidemic of obesity-related health problems. But while discussions about this crisis tend to focus solely on the need for individual responsibility and more exercise, Feeding Frenzy turns its focus squarely on the responsibility of the processed food industry and the outmoded government policies it benefits from. It lays bare how government subsidies designed to feed the hungry during the Great Depression have enabled the food industry to flood the market with a rising tide of cheap, addictive, high calorie food products, and offers an engrossing look at the tactics of the multi billion-dollar advertising industry that makes sure that everyone keeps consuming.
The huge and complex problems of today often instil doubt and fear that everything is futile. Yet by analysing how the power of media, schooling and parenting have moulded us, #ReGENERATION helps us start to comprehend what we must change—both as a generation and as a culture. We see how the average family spends at least four hours a day in front of the TV. Internet and video games are not included in this figure. So guess what is shaping us? This film examines the corporate forces that deeply influence all of us, but particularly the young, providing insights into how the politics of apathy is perpetuated, and how we can turn this around into activism, if and when we are willing.
Culture Jam documents a movement against advertising and the repurposing of commercial messages by following pranksters and subversive artists as they hijack, subvert and reclaim corporate media space in the battle of public ‘mind-share’ dominated by the consumer culture. Stopping in San Francisco, New York’s Times Square and other parts of the United States, Culture Jam documents some jamming in action—armed with everything from DIY anti-ad stickers, custom neon, to the art of performance and guerilla film screenings—to illustrate just some of what people can do to push back against the saturation of commercial media messages in public space.
Two film students set out to explore the psychological and manipulative powers of consumerism by creating an extensive and pervasive advertising campaign for a fake hypermarket. The ads appear on radio, television, billboards; there is a promotional song, an internet site, ads in newspapers, magazines, and flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products are distributed. Will people believe it and show up for the grand opening?
By examining the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that now sells kids and their parents everything from junk food and violent video games to bogus educational products and the family car, Consuming Kids presents the explosive growth of child marketing in the wake of deregulation, showing how youth marketers have used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology and neuroscience to transform children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer ‘demographics’ in the world…
Each year, legions of ad people, copywriters, market researchers, pollsters, consultants, and even linguists spend billions of dollars and millions of hours trying to determine how to persuade consumers what to buy, whom to trust, and what to think. Increasingly, these techniques are migrating to the high-stakes arena of politics, shaping policy and influencing how Americans choose their leaders. In The Persuaders, renowned media scholar Douglas Rushkoff explores how the cultures of marketing and advertising have come to influence not only what we buy, but also how we view ourselves and the world around us. The Persuaders draws on a range of experts and observers of the advertising and marketing world, to examine how, in the words of one on-camera commentator, “the principal of democracy yields to the practice of demography,” as highly customised messages are targeted to individuals using technology and fine-tuned social engineering techniques.
They spend their days sifting through reams of market research data. They conduct endless surveys and focus groups. They comb the streets, the schools and the malls, hot on the trail of the “next big thing” that will snare the attention of their prey — a market segment worth an estimated $150 billion a year. They are the merchants of cool: creators and sellers of ‘popular culture’ who have made teenagers the hottest consumer demographic…
Featuring George Bush’s famous “go-shopping-speech” calling for a war against terrorism that deters the nation from the fear of consumption; Castro responding with hymns to the anti-consumerist, advertising-free island of Cuba; Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer preaching that the computer will give us peace on earth, and “bring people together rather than isolate them”; while Adbuster Kalle Lasn warns that advertising pollutes us mentally, that over-consumption is unsustainable, that we are running out of oil and this will cause a global economic collapse…
Author and activist Jean Kilbourne analyses the depiction of women in advertising and media by decoding a large array of print and television ads. What is revealed is a torrent of stereotypes; sexist and misogynistic images and messages; laying bare a world of frighteningly thin women in positions of subservience; collectively, the restrictive code of femininity that works to undermine girls and women in the real world. By examining these messages, Killing Us Softly asks us to take advertising seriously, and to think critically about its relationship to sexism, eating disorders, violence against women, popular culture, and contemporary politics.
20 years on from the invention of the World Wide Web, The Virtual Revolution explores how the Internet is reshaping almost every aspect of our lives. But what is really going on behind this reshaping? The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, believed his invention would remain an open frontier that nobody could own, and that it would take power from the few and give it to the many. So how do these utopian claims stand up to today?
How do our families influence our relationship with our own bodies? How does popular culture’s standards of beauty get inside our hearts and heads? In what ways can sport and the drive for fitness actually make us sick rather than healthy? In Beauty Mark, former champion triathlete Diane Israel examines this culture’s unhealthy fixation on thinness, beauty, and physical perfection. She talks candidly about her own struggle with eating disorders and obsessive exercising, confronting her own past to come to terms with this culture’s unhealthy fixation on self-destructive ideals of beauty and competitiveness.
Filmmaker Darryl Roberts goes on a five year journey to examine this culture’s burgeoning obsession with physical beauty and perfection, showing how increasingly unattainable images contribute to the rise in low self-esteem, body dismorphia, and eating disorders for young women and girls who also happen to be the beauty industry’s largest consumers. In almost 40,000 media messages a year, young people are being told that unless you look like supermodels and rock stars, you’re not good enough for anyone. In 2004 alone, people across the United States spent $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery. America the Beautiful explores why these people are spending so much money to cover up their discontent that is mainly driven by advertising. What are the true costs of this culture’s obsession with youth, plastic notions of beauty, and impossibly slender physiques? Who actually benefits from this high-priced journey towards a fake ideal, and does it justify an entire nation’s psychosis?
Pepsi vs. Coke in The Ice Cold War traces the history of the worldwide struggle for soft drink supremacy by the Coca Cola Company, against the backdrop of World War II. The war was the perfect vehicle for Coca-Cola distribution, including to the Nazis. Bottling plants on front lines were paid for by the US war department. Nixon got Kremlin supremo, Khrushchev, to pose drinking Pepsi, which became the first US product made in the Soviet Union. In 1949, Mao kicked Coca-Cola out of China. President Carter got it back in 1978. In Chile, Pepsi Cola’s boss ran a daily paper which was used by the CIA to help Pinochet’s bloody coup…
From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. This is by design. The Story of Stuff serves as an introduction to the underside of the current world of mass production and consumption, exposing the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues — shedding the light on the hidden processes behind our modern world. How can we create a more sustainable and just economy?
In the age of the brand, logos are everywhere. But why do some of the world’s best-known brands find themselves at the end of spray paint cans and the targets of anti-corporate campaigns? No Logo, based on the best-selling book by Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein, reveals the reasons behind the backlash against the increasing economic and cultural reach of multinational companies. Analysing how brands like Nike, The Gap, and Tommy Hilfiger became revered symbols worldwide, Klein argues that globalisation is a process whereby corporations discovered that profits lay not in making products (outsourced to low-wage workers in developing countries), but in creating branded identities people adopt in their lifestyles. Using hundreds of media examples, No Logo shows how the commercial takeover of public space, the restriction of ‘choice’, and replacement of real jobs with temporary work — the dynamics of corporate globalisation — impact everyone, everywhere…
Generation M looks at misogyny and sexism in mainstream media, exploring how negative definitions of femininity and hateful attitudes toward women get constructed and perpetuated throughout popular culture. The film tracks this across a broad and disturbing range of media phenomena: from the hyper-sexualization of commercial products aimed at girls, to the explosion of violence against women in video games aimed at boys; from the hysterical sexist rants of popular hip-hop artists and talk-radio shock-jocks, to the continually harsh, patronizing caricature of women found in virtually every area of media. Generation M posits the consequences of misogyny in all of its forms, showing that when we devalue more than half the population based on gender, we harm everyone—boys and men, women and girls alike.
To many in both business and government, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power is truly moved into the hands of the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How is the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interest?
While advertising is clearly a visible component of the corporate system, perhaps even more important and pervasive is the often-invisible partner—the public relations industry. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You illuminates this hidden sphere of the corporatocracy, examining the way in which the management of public discourse has become central to how society has been usurped and is controlled by political and economic elites. The film tracks the development of the PR industry from its early efforts to win popular support for World War I, to the role of crisis management in controlling damage to the corporate image, while analysing the tools PR people use to manipulate public perceptions.