YouTube, owned by Google, has become one of the most powerful online media platforms in the world, fast to be replacing the viewership of television with over 30 billion hours watched per month in 2017. Young people flock to the platform in the hopes of fame and fortune, which comes for a select few, but not all, hence the allure to ‘make it.’ YouTube celebrities are now mainstream celebrities. The result is troves competing to live their lives as monetised open-wounds for the corporate platform, constantly pleading for subscribers, attention and engagement, all at the hands of Google, its secret algorithms, and the screen culture of spectacle, pornography, and targeted advertising. On both sides of the screen, the treadmill is all about keeping the ad dollars constantly rolling. YouTube, YouTubers and You offers a glimpse into this new media and advertising world, pondering how this culture may continue to undermine our future media and informational landscape. What sort of people and world is this culture creating and perpetuating?
We live in a world of screens. The average adult spends the majority of their waking hours in front of some sort of screen or device. We’re enthralled, we’re addicted to these machines. How did we get here? Who benefits? What are the cumulative impacts on people, society and the environment? What may come next if this culture is left unchecked, to its end trajectory, and is that what we want? Stare Into The Lights My Pretties investigates these questions with an urge to return to the real physical world, to form a critical view of technological escalation driven rapacious and pervasive corporate interest. Covering themes of addiction, privacy, surveillance, information manipulation, behaviour modification and social control, the film lays the foundations as to why we may feel like we’re sleeprunning into some dystopian nightmare with the machines at the helm. Because we are, if we don’t seriously avert our eyes to stop this culture from destroying what is left of the real world.
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?
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?
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.
This short video explores how the online world has overwhelmingly become the popular outlet for public rage by briefly illustrating some of the many stories of everyday people which have suddenly become public enemy number one under the most misunderstood of circumstances and trivial narratives. With the web acting like a giant echo-chamber, amplifying false stories and feeding on the pent-up aggression of the audience watching the spectacle, The Outrage Machine shows how these systems froth the mob mentality into a hideous mess, as a good example of where the spectacle goes and how its intensity has to keep ratcheting up in order maintain the audience attention, in a culture of dwindling attention spans, distraction and triviality.
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.
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.
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.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is not just another celebratory biographical film about the life of a business man that many around the world grieved in 2011. It’s a full rounded critical examination into the fundamentals of a person revered as an iconoclast, a barbed-tongued tyrant, a business sociopath. The real Steve Jobs is revealed like this through candid interviews from those who had close relationships with him at different stages of his life, including the mother of his child, Lisa, that Jobs refused he had, but named a computer after instead. The film also takes us through the evocative essence of the brand of Apple Computers which has captured the population like zombies, and asks the question: What is the legacy of this industry, and the truth of this kind of person that the culture celebrates so much, completely ignoring the darkness?
One generation from now, most people in the United States will have spent more time in the virtual world than in the natural world. New media technologies have changed lives in countless ways. Streams of information now appears in a click. Overseas friends are contactable in an instant. Engulfing video games and streams of endless entertainment to stimulate the senses, dazzle the mind and pander to the acculturated desire to be in control. Even grandma loves Wii. But what are people missing when they’re behind screens? How is it already impacting our children, our society, and the planet? At a time when people are at screens more than they are outside, Play Again explores the challenge in dealing with the addiction and returning to the real world…
In 2010, the death of a three-month-old baby in South Korea named Sarang (translated as Love) became an international news story—the parents had neglected her to play an online fantasy game. She died primarily of malnutrition. But instead of merely condemning the parents, Love Child takes a different approach by looking at some issues that led to the parents addiction and how their child became oblivious to them. The film then expands to view the way South Korea’s standing as a world leader in Internet technologies has adversely affected its society, speaking also globally, where the virtual world now trumps the real world for many millions of people, with extreme consequences.
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, amongst the ravaging of war, the United States has been secretly deploying drones to carry out assassinations throughout the Middle East. The drones are increasingly piloted by the likes of young computer gamers groomed by screen culture and computer games of war, where in many cases, the Pentagon is directly involved in the creation of such games as recruitment tools, actively working to lure young people proficient with technology into the new era of the military-industrial-complex. Drone unravels this complex phenomenon while travelling to places such as Waziristan, where innocent civilians, including children and rescue workers are routinely secretly killed, where families and communities ravaged by the drone strikes search for understanding, accountability and adjustment to the daily horrors. The film also takes a look at the young people sitting behind the screens of the new war machines, half a world away, that actually pull the trigger, asking what kind of world is being built in the rise of seemingly endless and lucrative war driven by technological escalation.
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?
The Hacker Wars explores the strange duality of the modern-day computer-hacker as a mischievous provocateur, but also in some cases, societal activists with underlying political fervour, serious or not. The film explores this by profiling some of the renowned characters that have tickled the secretive inner workings of corporations and government agencies for various reasons—ranging from the nefarious and narcissistic, to the political and scandalous. Some do it for the lulz, others do it to prove a point, and others still do it to speak truth to corrupt power. In any event, many have faced severe punishments as a result. Weaving through this, The Hacker Wars touches on issues of whistleblowing, social justice and power relations, in a time where computer technologies represent extreme power and control. But for whom? And what? This poses the question in deciphering the personalities of the hackers themselves. Are they troublemakers driven solely by a need to instigate havoc and chaos? Or are they in part activists with good intentions?
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?
We live in an absolutely saturated media environment of images that span ‘real’ and fake—whether it’s newspaper and tabloid photos, journalism itself, art and culture, or the human body. Images claim to be hardly distinguishable from the originals, while the virtual world is increasingly becoming ‘seamless’ in the real world. Kids today see a Clown Fish but instead impose their imagery of Finding Nemo. People interact with machines more than they do living beings. The narratives imposed by this technological and media culture are fast seeking to entirely replace the real world with a simulation of it. So what does that mean for the truth? The Industry of Fake explores the shifting boundaries and inequality in journalism and in art, as well as providing a basis to question this culture’s fascination with simulacra—a process of mimicry mediated by images that represents the real thing, but is not the real thing. What does it mean if we value our projections or stories about the thing as opposed to the thing in-and-of itself? What does this mean in the real world if we come to value our simulations or representations as more authentic things as opposed to copies or toxic mimics?
In 2002, quietly and behind closed doors, the Internet giant Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a privatised giant global library, containing every book in existence. Not only this, but they claimed they had an even greater purpose—to create a higher form of intelligence, something that HG Wells had predicted in his 1937 essay “World Brain”. Working with the world’s most prestigious libraries, Google was said to be reinventing the limits of copyright in the name of free access to anyone, anywhere. But what can possibly be wrong with this picture? As Google and the World Brain reveals, a whole lot…
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.
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.
Web Junkie travels to China, the first country in the world where Internet addiction has been classified as a clinical disorder. The film focuses on the methods used to treat young people, which reveal a surreal mix of prison, hospital, and military operations, with a dose of group therapy thrown in for good measure. We also see the cultural and emotional effects of Internet addiction in China’s society of hyper-competitiveness, which speaks to the dominant culture worldwide. Web Junkie exposes the virtual world in a country—and indeed world—of disparity, where health officials have no idea how to cope with a younger generation that finds World of Warcraft more exciting and supposedly more “real” than their own lives.
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.
Truth in Numbers? Everything, According to Wikipedia explores the cultural implications and background of one of the most visited and referenced sites on the Internet. What is the role and impact of Wikipedia in the archiving of information and the preservation of culture? What will it leave behind? This film examines the unfolding legacy by weaving multiple perspectives about the impact of Wikipedia and provoking a deeper conversation on how knowledge is formed and what future generations will learn about history and the world…
Using the analogy of a Panopticon, this film looks at how technology and the convergence of vast data stores together are fuelling one of the most comprehensive attacks on privacy ever before seen. How is modern society being defined by such rapid changes? Where are we heading? By travelling to Germany to show how such attacks have been the basis for past dictatorships, Panopticon asks: Even if you have nothing to hide, do you have nothing to fear? What does privacy mean for you? When precisely does the surveillance state begin? What is your threshold? With a focus on the Netherlands, Panopticon offers a comprehensive analysis challenging the current herd-mentality and apathy about privacy in the modern world.
The Society of the Spectacle is a film based on the 1967 book of the same name by French political theorist and philosopher, Guy Debord. The work traces the development of modern society, in which Debord argues that authentic social life has been replaced with representations, and that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” This emerges from and gives rise to a pervasive and all encompassing spectacle in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity.” The film weaves the text of the original book with modern-day imagery, illustrating many elements of the spectacle, including that “the spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relation among people, mediated by images.” This makes the material hard to decipher at times, especially with conflicting subtitles between languages: but this is part of Debord’s goal, to “problematise reception” and force the viewer to be active rather than passive. In addition, the words of some of the authors are “détourned” (hijacked) through deliberate misquoting. The result is a foundational work on the concept of the spectacle and its characteristics, to encourage critical thinking, to build and extrapolate critiques to apply to the wider social scale.
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.
The Net explores the back-story of Ted Kaczynski (the infamous ‘Unabomber’) as a prism to the often unexamined side of the history of the Internet. The film combines travelogue and investigative journalism to trace contrasting counter-cultural responses to the so-called ‘cybernetic’ revolution of the 1970s. For some whom resist the pervasive systems of digital technology, the Unabomber can come to symbolise an ultimate figure of refusal. But for those that embrace the technologies, as did and do the champions of so-called ‘media art’, such as Marshall McLuhan, Nam June Paik and Stewart Brand, the promises of worldwide networking and instantaneous communication outweigh any and all of the concerns. The Net links these multiple nodes of cultural and political history, analogous to the Internet itself. Circling through themes of utopianism, anarchism, terrorism, the CIA, LSD, MKULTRA, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, The Net exposes the conspiracies and upheavals, secrets and cover-ups as part of the forgotten subversive history of the Internet.
High Tech, Low Life follows the journey of two Chinese bloggers who travel their country chronicling under-reported news and social issues stories. Using laptops, mobile phones, and digital cameras, both develop skills for reporting while learning to navigate China’s continually evolving censorship regime and the risks of political persecution. The film follows 57-year-old ‘Tiger Temple,’ who earns the title of China’s first “citizen reporter” after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder; and 27-year-old ‘Zola’ who recognises the opportunity to be famous by reporting on sensitive news throughout China. From the perspective of vastly different generations, both personalities must reconcile an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey from veggie-farmer to Internet celebrity; and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past, both provide a portrait of China and of the wider questions facing news-reporting in the age of the Internet.
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.
Neuroscientist Professor Susan Greenfield says today’s developing brain is being worryingly reshaped by excessive visual stimulation — the effect of a culture driven by screens. Biotechnology, nanotechnology, even the internet are all impacting on our brains and could be heralding future generations with different abilities, agendas and even ways of thinking. Her prediction is that we might be standing on the brink of a cataclysmic mind-makeover never before seen…
Google or Wikipedia? Those of us who search online are getting referred more and more to Wikipedia. For the past two years, this free online “encyclopaedia of the people” has been topping the lists of the world’s most popular websites. But do we really know what we’re using? The Truth According To Wikipedia plunges into the story behind Wikipedia and explores the powerful world of ‘Web 2.0’ — Is it a revolution, or pure hype?
Within a single generation, digital media, the Internet and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialise and even conduct war. But is technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? Is our constantly-wired-world causing us to lose as much as we’ve apparently gained? In Digital Nation, Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin explore what it means to be human in a 21st-century digital world…
Based on the comprehensive work of media scholar George Gerbner, The Mean World Syndrome takes aim at the for-profit media system that thrives on violence, stereotypes, and the cultivation of anxiety. The film takes us through how the more television people watch, the more likely they are to tend to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place, while being insecure and afraid of others. We see how these media-induced fears and anxieties provide fertile ground for intolerance, extremism, and a paranoid style of politics that threatens basic social values. The result is an accessible introduction to debates about media violence and more broadly, the effects of the media system. This film is a powerful tool for helping to make sense of the increasingly intense and fractious political climate of today.
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?
With its motto “Don’t be evil,” Google claims it has the best intentions. But there are also claims that Google is slowly turning into Big Brother, keeping track of users and continuously making decisions about the information it provides. Will Google turn out to be the new Library of Alexandria, serving as the great collector that brings the world’s information to supposedly everyone, as it claims? Or is it more like a monopolistic, Ministry-Of-Truth-type corporation that challenges the very freedom of information by its stronghold over internet data?
The average child in the United States spends 40+ hours per week consuming media—the equivalent of a full-time job. This means that by the time children born today turn 30, they will have spent an entire decade of their lives in front of a screen. Remote Control examines the implications of this unprecedented level of exposure by showing the media habits of two families and supplementing their personal insights with interviews from media experts and educators. Revealed is the centrality of media in our lives and far-reaching effects that we are only beginning to understand, as well as ways we might begin to help our children live a life instead of watching one.
At the time of making this film, the year 2000, computer games represented a $6 billion a year industry, and one out of every ten households in the United States owned a Sony Playstation—numbers that have no-doubt since skyrocketed. Back then, children played an average of ten hours per week—a stat also since to have increased today—and yet, despite capturing the attention of millions of these kids, video games remain one of the least scrutinized cultural industries. Game Over seeks to address this fastest growing segment of the media, through engaging questions of gender, race and violence. Game Over offers a much needed dialogue about the complex and controversial topic of video game violence, and is designed to encourage viewers to think critically about the games they play.
By addressing the question of violence and the media from a number of different angles, The Killing Screens presents a comprehensive view on how to think about the effects of the media environment in new and complex ways. In contrast to the relatively simplistic behaviourist model, that “media violence causes real-world violence,” renowned media scholar and researcher George Gerbner shows us how to think about the psychological, political, social, and developmental impacts of growing up and living within a cultural environment of pervasive violent imagery and narratives. What are some of the impacts of this culture and what can be done about it?