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.
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.
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.
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 (most of whom work for one of six giant companies) 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. What’s this manipulation all about?
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 founding father 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 today? Have the possibilities of the technology been constrained purposefully by corporations and distorted by government?
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…
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.
What Would Jesus Buy is an examination of consumerism with a specific focus on Christmas in America. The film follows culture jamming outfit ‘Reverend Billy’ from the Church of Stop Shopping and the gospel choir which embark on a cross-country mission to “save Christmas from the Shopocalypse”. Also discussed on the way are related issues such as the role sweatshops play in America’s ‘Big-Box’ shopping culture. From the humble beginnings of preaching at his portable pulpit on New York City subways, to having a ‘congregation’ of thousands, Bill Talen (Rev. Billy) has inspired not just a ‘church’, but a national culture jamming movement…
Walmart is an iconic American company, known worldwide for selling cheap retail goods. While economists and global marketers call Walmart a success, there are many stories of mistreatment of employees, and a general feeling of mistrust and discontent among the businesses it has destroyed, such as local community stores. Walmart — High Cost Of Low Prices highlights that it is worth being aware of the labour, social and corporate governance practices of companies that you do business with…
Several lawsuits have been brought against McDonald’s corporation in that they are knowingly selling food that is unhealthy. Some of the court decisions have stated that consumers would have a claim if they could prove that eating the food every day for every meal is dangerous. So with that, Super Size Me follows film-maker Morgan Spurlock conducting the experiment — he eats only McDonald’s for thirty days, three meals a day, and if asked to super size a meal, he has to say yes. By the end of the thirty days, he will have eaten every single menu item at least once. The film documents the drastic effect on Spurlock’s health, while exploring the fast food industry’s corporate influence, advertising and how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit…
Big Bucks, Big Pharma looks at the varied insidious methods of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to manipulate—and in some instances create—psychological conditions for profit. Focusing on the advertising for psychotropic drugs, the film demonstrates the ways in which pharmaceutical marketing glamorises and normalises the use of prescription medication, and how this works in tandem with promotion and delivery by doctors. These practices combine to shape how both patients and doctors understand and relate to mental and physical health, as well as treatment. Ultimately, Big Bucks, Big Pharma challenges the viewer to ask important questions about the consequences of a society relying on a for-profit industry for collective health and well-being.
The Disney Company’s massive success in the 20th century is based on creating an image of innocence, magic and fun for kids. Its animated films in particular are almost universally lauded as wholesome family entertainment, enjoying massive popularity among children and endorsement from parents and teachers around the world. This film takes a close look at Disney, to analyse the world these films create for kids and the stories they tell and propagate; contextualised by the cultural pedagogy of Disney’s conglomerate mass-media control and vast corporate power. Including interviews with social commentators, media scholars, child psychologists, kindergarten teachers, multicultural educators, college students and children, Mickey Mouse Monopoly provokes audiences to confront assumptions about an institution that is virtually synonymous with childhood pleasure.
Focusing directly on the world of commercial images, Advertising and the End of The World asks some basic questions about the cultural messages emanating from advertising: Do these messages deliver what they claim—happiness and satisfaction? Can we think about our collective as well as our private interests? And, can we think long-term as well as short-term?
In the Himalayas of India, Ladakh is landscape of sustainable living where traditional culture has prospered, virtually free of crime and pollution. Though as western culture colonises the area, centuries of ecological balance and social harmony are eroding. Ancient Futures reviews the dangers of western culture and prompts a challenge to re-examine what it means by “progress.”