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.
Adrift is a short film that explores the phenomenon of space junk, where human-made objects launched into space and are now defunct orbit the Earth literally as garbage. The film makes visible some of the immediate impacts and dangers of the technological escalation of this culture, where old satellites, spent rocket stages, and other items orbit the Earth, only to collide with one another at high velocities, generating smaller fragments that collide with other items, and so on. The end point is a cascading complex of junk that engulfs the entire space around the Earth. Adrift aims to make this phenomenon visible, putting a big question mark against the claims made by many futurists and technologists that future space colonisation would even be possible, if only it were a tenable or sensible idea in the first place…
Do Not Resist documents, from the perspective of the police, their view of the social unrest following the shooting and killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, 2014, against a backdrop of the routine and escalating use of military tactics and high-powered weaponry by local police forces throughout the United States in the past two decades. Military equipment deployed throughout the Middle East returns home to be used against the citizenry. Local police recruitment and training is awash in military commandments backed by views of escalating ‘righteous’ violence and sadism. Meanwhile curfews are imposed, along with frivolous drug raids and incessant racial profiling. The voices of concerned citizens ignored. What is the cultural and technological trajectory here?
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?
HyperNormalisation wades through the culmination of forces that have driven this culture into mass uncertainty, confusion, spectacle and simulation. Where events keep happening that seem crazy, inexplicable and out of control—from Donald Trump to Brexit, to the War in Syria, mass immigration, extreme disparity in wealth, and increasing bomb attacks in the West—this film shows a basis to not only why these chaotic events are happening, but also why we, as well as those in power, may not understand them. We have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. And because it is reflected all around us, ubiquitous, we accept it as normal. This epic narrative of how we got here spans over 40 years, with an extraordinary cast of characters—the Assad dynasty, Donald Trump, Henry Kissinger, Patti Smith, early performance artists in New York, President Putin, Japanese gangsters, suicide bombers, Colonel Gaddafi and the Internet. HyperNormalisation weaves these historical narratives back together to show how today’s fake and hollow world was created and is sustained. This shows that a new kind of resistance must be imagined and actioned, as well as an unprecedented reawakening in a time where it matters like never before.
How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change travels the globe, from New York City to the Marshall Islands and China, to meet with people who are committed to reversing the tide of global warming. The film examines the intricately woven forces that threaten the stability of the climate and the lives of the world’s inhabitants.
The premise of The Age of Loneliness is of how our communities and indeed lives have been completely subsumed by capitalism, leaving us alone in tiny units, solitary. Screen culture and technology is often blamed, but this is more an extension of a larger problem. The Age of Loneliness is exacerbated by this culture making us feel like we have no purpose. How many of us know our neighbours? How many of us even know the land where we live? How has this been destroyed, usurped? What of the nuclear family? With single parents in numbers like never before and families spanning across the globe, all of this poses much larger questions about paternity and the dominant model of relationships. Consumerism and commodification also plays a central role—make note of the screens, computers, TVs and dating websites in the life of the lonely. What’s the common thread here? The Age of Loneliness is a film that spans generations, and can function as a call for all of us to reconnect with each other and the places we live for real. To turn away from the spectacle and instead build a better world, with purpose, meaning, friends and real community.
In 2013, seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life. She had been gang-raped a year and a half earlier by her classmates and labeled a “slut” as a result. Despite transferring schools many times, she could not escape constant online harassment and in-person bullying. But Rehtaeh’s story is horribly not the only one like this to make headlines in recent years. Why is the sexual shaming of girls and women, especially sexual assault victims, still so prevalent throughout this culture? UnSlut tackles this question through a series of conversations with those who have experienced sexual shaming and how it manifests, while also offering immediate and long-term goals for personal and institutional change.
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.
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons; or that dancing around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Why are these “solutions” not sufficient? But most importantly, what can be done instead to actually stop the murder of the planet?
What do you get when you combine the culture of screens with the society of the spectacle, pervasive individualism with its rampant loneliness, in a media environment awash in a culture of pornography, instant gratification and self-interested sexual impetuousness? An insight into the question could be perhaps explained through The Secret World of Tinder. Tinder is an ‘app’ for ‘smartphones’ that displays profile pictures of people that are near the phone. When couples are matched, they can text each other. Many call it “the sex button” and the app indeed has a reputation in the world of online dating. This short TV documentary attempts to explore what it means in today’s culture mediated by technology, as seen through the Tinder app, providing insights into the way some people think and feel about sex and relationships in the age of the technocracy.
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.
Travelling across North America, DamNation investigates the growing change in national attitude from strange pride in big dams as domineering engineering projects, to the growing truthful awareness that dams have always been the great killers of rivers, wildlife, the salmon, the forests, coastlines, watersheds. Life is bound to water and health of rivers, and now, dam removal in many forms—including Monkey Wrenching—is reclaiming that life and spreading. Where dams come down, rivers come back, allowing the salmon to return after decades of being concreted out. By making firsthand unexpected discoveries moving through rivers and the landscapes altered by dams, DamNation presents a much-needed metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature; to respect, and be humbled. With over two million dams in North America alone—75,000 of them over six feet tall—there’s much work to be done. Let’s get to it.
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.
Earth at Risk documents the first conference of the same name convened in 2011 by featured thinkers and activists who are willing to ask the hardest questions about the seriousness of the situation facing life on the planet today. Each speaker presents an impassioned critique of the dominant culture, together building an unassailable case that we need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. Each offers their ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement—one that can actually match the scale of the problem. To fight back and win. Literally, the whole world is at stake.
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?
This film explores what affect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.” Josh Harris—often called the “Andy Warhol of the Web”—founded a website during the infamous dot-com boom of the 1990s which was the world’s first Internet television network. This concept was way ahead of its time, before broadband, but would go on to become commonplace in the years to come. Using this platform, a vision of that future was also exemplified at the time—an underground bunker in New York City where over 100 people lived together completely on camera, non-stop and unedited for 30 days over the millennium. The irony in which this speaks to future events doesn’t end there though. As the experiment and the film shows, We Live In Public serves as a powerful analogy for the Internet as it’s now known today and the price we pay for living in its ‘public,’ showing just what the costs of willingly trading privacy and sanity for a constant voracious audience, attention, the pursuit of the cult of celebrity—but above all, the mimic of real human connection mediated by technology—can be.
Fascism Inc. examines a series of historical events to compile a view of the past, the present and the future of fascism and its relation to the economic interests of each era—including the current era. The film travels from Mussolini’s Italy, to Greece under the Nazi occupation; the civil war and the dictatorship; and from Hitler’s Germany to the modern European and Greek fascism. Following on from the foundations of earlier films such as Debtocracy and Catastroika which described the causes of the debt crisis, the impact of the austerity measures, the erosion of democracy and the sell-out of the country’s assets; Fascism Inc. aspires to continue to motivate anti-fascist resistance movements across Europe, and the world.
All over the world, species are going extinct at an extraordinary rate—currently around 250 per day—a scale never before seen. Call of Life investigates the growing threat to Earth’s life support systems from this unprecedented loss of biodiversity by exploring the causes, scope, and potential effects of this mass extinction. The film also looks beyond the immediate causes of the crisis to consider how our cultural and economic systems, along with deep-seated psychological and behavioral patterns, have allowed this situation to develop and be reinforced, and even determine our response to it. Call of Life tells the story of a crisis not only of nature, but also of human nature; a crisis more threatening than anything human beings have ever faced…
For many years, there has been widespread speculation, but very little consensus, about the relationship between violent video games and violence in the real world. Joystick Warriors draws on the insights of media scholars, military analysts, combat veterans, and gamers themselves, to examine the latest research on the issue. By setting its sights on the wildly popular genre of first-person shooter games, Joystick Warriors exploring how the immersive experience these games offer link up with the larger stories this culture tells about violence, militarism, guns, and manhood. It also examines the gaming industry’s longstanding working relationship with the United States military and the arms industry, showing how the games themselves work to sanitise, glamorise, and normalise violence while cultivating regressive attitudes and ideas about masculinity and militarism.
Subconscious War is a video essay exploring the influences of media and the culture of violence on reality, and the cultivation of collective values in society. The film contrasts the writings of Aldous Huxley and Neil Postman’s grim assessments; relating the concepts of works such as ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ to the current cultural influences that foster today—corporate media and indeed media saturation, video games, television, and a pervasive technoculture, for example. What is being created? And what sort of people are being cultivated by this culture? Who benefits?
Television has colonised human storytelling—not only has creating and passing on culture been usurped by television and corporate media, today dominant culture is television and corporate media. The Electronic Storyteller outlines these changes and shows the cumulative impacts that television and mass media has on the way we think about ourselves and how we construct views of the world around us. With a focus on the stories of gender, class, and race, The Electronic Storyteller delivers an analytical framework to understand the pervasive forces behind what is at stake in the new world of saturated media and controlled imagery…
For the past 40 years, the war on drugs has resulted in more than 45 million arrests, one trillion dollars in government spending, and the arrival of the United States as the world’s largest jailer with almost 2.3 million individuals incarcerated. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available than ever. Filmed across the country, The House I Live In provides the experience firsthand of those on the front lines—from the dealer to the grieving mother, the narcotics officer to the senator, the inmate to the federal judge—and offers a penetrating look at the profound human rights implications of the so-called war on drugs.
Based on interviews conducted with hundreds of young women, Flirting With Danger examines how the wider culture’s frequently contradictory messages about pleasure, danger, agency, and victimisation enter into women’s most intimate relationships. The result is a candid and nuanced look at how women are forced to grapple with deeply ambivalent cultural attitudes about sexuality and relationships. These interviews are essential viewing for tackling the problematic issues surrounding consent, coercion and sexual violence throughout the culture.
Rape Myths on Trial is a provocative presentation by a career criminal prosecutor and advocate for victims of sexual violence, Anne Munch. She examines how cultural attitudes shape the outcomes of rape and sexual assault cases by drawing on years of experience prosecuting sex crimes, showing how rape cases often turn on the involvement of an “unnamed conspirator” — the often-unexamined complex of myths and stories we tell ourselves as a culture about sex, gender, power, and responsibility. By using examples from real cases, and harrowing evidence from actual emergency calls, Munch reveals how these assumptions that juries bring into the courtroom often stack the odds against victims, and at the same time challenges us to think critically about how our own assumptions might unintentionally reinforce victim-blaming. The result is a stunning look inside the criminal justice system and an incisive analysis of this culture’s warped views of women’s sexuality and rights as human beings.
The myth that humans are superior to all other life forms is a fundamental and unquestioned premise of dominant culture. It is an old historical idea, rooted in colonialism, and is deeply embedded in religion and science. It is one of the root causes for the destruction of the natural world, animal cruelty, war, the extinction of species and other immense problems. The Superior Human? challenges this arrogant and self-destructive ideology; unwinds the myths, using examples and common sense.
The dominant culture measures itself by the speed of “progress.” But what if this so-called progress is actually driving the physical world towards full-force collapse? Surviving Progress shows how past civilisations were destroyed by progress traps—alluring technologies and belief systems that serve immediate needs, but ransom the future. As the total destruction of the environment accelerates and those in power cling to their power ever more tightly in denial, can this globally-entwined civilisation escape a final, catastrophic progress trap?
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.
The Purity Myth takes a look at the resurgence of a movement of abstinence, brought about by a powerful alliance of religious ideologues, right-wing politicians, conservative media pundits and policy intellectuals who have been exploiting irrational fears about women’s sexuality. From daddy-daughter “purity balls,” taxpayer-funded abstinence-only curricula, and political attacks on ‘Planned Parenthood,’ to recent attempts by legislators to de-fund women’s reproductive healthcare and narrow the legal definition of rape, The Purity Myth identifies the single false assumption underlying this huge push: that the worth of a woman depends on what she does—or does not do—sexually. This film also argues that the health and well-being of women is too important to be left to figureheads bent on vilifying feminism and undermining women’s autonomy.
By planting a variety of fake celebrity-related stories in the UK media and having tabloid newspapers accept them without corroboration or evidence, Starsuckers navigates through the shams and deceit involved in creating a pernicious celebrity culture, uncovering the real reasons behind the addiction to fame and the corporations and individuals who profit from it.
All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is a series of films about how this culture itself has been colonised by the machines it has has built. The series explores and connects together some of the myriad ways in which the emergence of cybernetics—a mechanistic perspective of the natural world that particularly emerged in the 1970s along with emerging computer technologies—intersects with various historical events and visa-versa. The series variously details the interplay between the mechanistic perspective and the catastrophic consequences it has in the real world.
By examining the modern culture of industrial civilisation and the persistent widespread violence and environmental exploitation it requires, END:CIV details the resulting epidemic of poisoned landscapes and shell-shocked nations, while further delving into the history of resistance and the prospect of fighting back against such abuse. Detailed is an overview of the environmental movement analogous with the historical whitewashings of the supposedly ‘pacifist’ social struggles in India with Gandhi and Martin Luther King in the United States; the rise of greenwashing and the fallacy that all can be repaired by personal consumer choices. Based in part on ‘Endgame,’ the best-selling book by Derrick Jensen, END:CIV asks: If your homeland was invaded by aliens who cut down the trees, poisoned the water, the air, contaminated the food supply and occupied the land by force, would you fight back?
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…
What if you live in the most destructive culture ever to exist? What if that culture refuses to change? What do you do about it? Derrick Jensen, the author of Endgame responds to these imperative questions and details how industrial civilisation and the persistent and widespread violence it requires is ultimately unsustainable—and what to do about it. Jensen weaves together history, philosophy, environmentalism, economics, literature and psychology to produce a powerful argument that demands attention…
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.
Did you know that the legal system recognises a corporation as a person? What kind of ‘person’ is it then? What would happen if it sat down with a psychologist to discuss its behaviour and attitude towards society and the environment? Explored through specific examples, this film shows how and why the modern-day corporation has rapaciously pressed itself into the dominant institution of our time, posing big questions about what must be done if we want a equitable and sustainable world. What must we do when corporations are psychopaths?
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?
Poisoned Waters investigates some of the root causes of what we see worldwide with ecological collapse, dead-zones and pollution effecting oceans, rivers and watersheds. With a focus on major waterways in the United States such as the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, the film follows the culmination of decades of evidence that today’s systemic and growing environmental collapse comes not only from the toxic activities of industry, agriculture and massive suburban development; but also from the permeated satiety of chemicals in prolific consumer products such as face-creams, deodorants, prescription medicines and household cleaners. This is a startling reminder of the compounding threat facing our world and the need to act imperatively.