Films by Sut Jhally
The Great White Hoax contextualises the current day politicking in the United States, with a primary focus on Donald Trump’s race-baiting 2016 campaign for president. The film also widens scope however to show how Trump’s charged rhetoric fits into a long-standing historical pattern in politics in the United States, offering a stunning survey of how racism and racial scapegoating have shaped American politics for centuries. The film becomes a solid resource for a basis on race relations, white privilege, the intersectionality of race, class, and gender identities, presidential politics, and political propaganda in the age of “social media.”
Ten years on from his previous film, Advertising & the End of the World, renowned media scholar Sut Jhally follows up by exploring the since-escalating devastating personal and environmental fallouts of advertising and the near-totalising commercial culture. The film tracks the emergence of the advertising industry in the early 20th century to the full-scale commercialisation of the culture today, identifying the myth running throughout all of advertising: the idea that corporate brands and consumer goods are the keys to human happiness and fulfilment. We see how this powerful narrative, backed by billions of dollars a year and propagated by clever manipulative minds, has blinded us to the catastrophic costs of ever-accelerating rates of consumption. The result is a powerful film that unpacks fundamental issues surrounding commercialism, media culture, social well-being, environmental degradation, and the dichotomy between capitalism and democracy.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
It is said that young people are apparently doing away with the old ways of romance and dating, and going straight for sex, and that it’s this rise of hookup culture on college campuses especially, that is highlighted as the process of changing some of our most basic assumptions about heterosexual sex and gender. But for all the speculation, there’s been little beyond anecdotal proof to back any of these claims up. Understanding Hookup Culture is a presentation by Paula England, a researcher in the sociology of gender, that aims to clarify what’s actually going on. England traverses a wealth of data to begin to chart whether the phenomenon of hook-up culture represents some kind of fundamental change, or whether we’re simply seeing age-old gender patterns dressed up in new social forms.
For more than three decades, transnational corporations have been busy buying up what used to be thought of and known as unbuyable—forests, oceans, public broadcast airwaves, important intellectual and cultural works. Before their commodification, these commons were recognised as things in common to all people, for the benefit of all people. In This Land is Our Land, author David Bollier confronts the free-market extremism of our age to show how commercial interests have been undermining the public interest for years, and how it’s become so normalised that we don’t even notice it anymore. By revealing the commons within the tradition of community engagement and the free exchange of ideas and information, This Land is Our Land shows how a bold new international movement is trying to reclaim the commons for the public good by modelling practical alternatives to the restrictive monopoly powers of corporate elites.
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.
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.
What stories do contemporary music videos tell about girls, women, boys, men, sexuality and gender? What are the cultural values portrayed? And from whose perspective? Dreamworlds encourages viewers to consider how these narratives shape individual and cultural attitudes about sexuality. Illustrated with hundreds of examples, the film accounts both the continuing influence of music videos and how popular culture generally filters the identities of young men and women through a narrow and dangerous set of myths about sexuality and gender; asking viewers to re-look at the images that have been normalised and meanings taken for granted throughout popular culture…
In 1998, university professor Kembrew McLeod successfully trademarked the phrase “freedom of expression” as an experiment of startling comment on the way that intellectual property law restricts creativity and expression of ideas. This film explores the battles being waged in courts, classrooms, museums, film studios, and the Internet over control of cultural commons. Based on McLeod’s book of the same title, Freedom of Expression charts the many successful attempts to push back this assault by overzealous copyright holders.
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.
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People analyses how the storytelling of the West has crafted and perpetuated a false stereotypical image of Arabs and Arab culture since the early days of American silent cinema, up to the present with the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. The film shows how the persistence of these stories over time has served to powerfully naturalise and perpetuate prejudice toward Arabs, Arab culture and the Middle East in general, and how this in turn also serves to reinforce the harmful narratives of dominant culture which dehumanise Arabs as a people and negate the visceral political acts carried out against them by the West for decades. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these caricatures unexamined, Reel Bad Arabs challenges viewers to recognise the urgent need for counter-narratives to do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people, to share the truth about the stories of their lives and their history.
Class Dismissed examines the role of television in the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect with class, offering a more complex reading of television’s often one-dimensional representations. The patterns inherent in the depictions of working class people are as either clowns or social deviants, stereotypical portrayals that reinforce the myth of meritocracy and have systemic social implications. By citing plenty of examples from today’s sitcoms, reality shows, police dramas, and daytime talk shows, Class Dismissed links television’s portrayals to negative cultural attitudes and public policies that directly affect the lives of working class people. A new media must be envisioned and created.
Hijacking Catastrophe examines the evidence that neoconservatives used the September 11, 2001 attacks to usher in a new doctrine of expanding American power through military force under the guise of a “war on terror” and that the doctrine — known as the Project for the New American Century — had been laid out prior to 9/11 by its authors, which include Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush and Dan Quayle…
By providing a striking comparison of U.S. and international media coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, Peace, Propaganda and The Promised Land zeros in on how structural distortions in U.S. media coverage have reinforced false perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how, through the use of language, framing and the context of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza remains hidden in the news media…
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…
If a key indicator of the health of a democracy is the state of its media, the United States is in deep trouble. In Rich Media, Poor Democracy, renowned media experts Robert McChesney and Mark Crispin Miller explore how the façade of a diverse mainstream media is in fact a system characterised by a handful of powerful corporations which leads to homogenisation and centralisation. Through numerous examples, we see how journalism has been compromised by business power and how conglomerates such as Disney, Sony, Viacom, News Corp, and AOL Time Warner produce a system of news that is high on sensationalism and low on information. This film suggests that unless citizen activism can reclaim the commons, this corporate system will be characterised by a rich media spectacle and an ever impoverished democracy.
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.
It has been 30 years since Title IX legislation granted women equal playing time, but the male-dominated world of sports journalism has yet to catch up with the law. Coverage of women’s sport lags far behind men’s, and focuses on female athletes femininity and sexuality over their achievements on the court and field. While female athleticism challenges the narrative of gender roles, women athletes continue to be depicted in traditional roles that reaffirm their femininity as wives and mothers or sex objects. By comparison, male athletes are framed according to heroic masculine ideals that honour courage, strength, and endurance. Playing Unfair is the first video to critically examine the post-Title IX media landscape in terms of the representation of female athletes, using numerous media examples to catalyse debate among women and men, athletes and non-athletes, about the meaning of images in a world transformed by the presence of women in sport.
Mainstream media regularly uses public opinion polls in the reporting of news and political analytics. But how do media outlets report polls and to what end? In this interview, author and academic Justin Lewis demonstrates the way in which polling data is used by the media to not just reflect what populations supposedly think, but instead to construct public opinion itself.
Behind the Screens explores how Hollywood movies have largely become vehicles for the ulterior motives of advertising and marketing by the studios and media owners, rather than genuine storytelling or simple entertainment in their own right. By showing examples from popular movies such as Wayne’s World, Forrest Gump, The Lion King, Summer of Sam, and Toy Story, this documentary demonstrates how this trend toward hypercommercialism—through product placement, tie-ins, merchandising and cross-promotions—comes to define the modern movie. What are the problems with this, as well as the cultural and social impacts? Combined with analysis from film scholars, critics, political economists, and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Behind the Screens presents accessible arguments to these questions.
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.
Tough Guise — Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity examines the relationship between the images pervasive in popular culture, and the construction of so-called masculine identities from them.
Produced twenty years ago, and even several years before the rise of Fox News, The Myth of the Liberal Media is possibly relevant now more than ever. The film dissects how news content gets shaped within a narrow and ultimately conservative institutional framework that marginalises other perspectives, filtering news events through a lens that serves power. Featuring scholarly analysis from Justin Lewis, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, The Myth of the Liberal Media asks: If you want to understand the way a system works, you look at its institutional structure. How it is organised, how it is controlled, how it is funded. The documentary examines the relationship advertising has in funding the media, and how this sets agendas, as well as exploring certain narratives that are propagated through a number of case studies that reveal how these mechanisms ultimately serve power instead of public interest.
Everybody who has survived adolescence knows what a scary, tumultuous, exciting time it is. But if we use memories of our experiences to guide our understanding of what today’s girls are living through, we make a serious mistake. Girls are living in a new world. Reviving Ophelia is a call from Dr. Mary Pipher, a psychologist who has worked with teenagers for more than a decade. She finds that in spite of the women’s movement, which has empowered adult women in some ways, teenage girls today are having a harder time than ever before because of higher levels of violence and sexism in the culture. The current crises of adolescence—frequent suicide attempts, dropping out of school and running away from home, teenage pregnancies in unprecedented numbers, and an epidemic of eating disorders—are caused not so much by “dysfunctional families” or incorrect messages from parents as by our media-saturated, image-obsessed culture.
Through exploring deep questions about the way mainstream media is organised and perpetuated in concert with technological development, media expert George Gerbner delivers a solid indictment of the way the so-called “information superhighway” is now being constructed. Following on from his solid work looking at the impacts of television on society, Gerbner turns to examining emerging technologies like V-chip and the way they interface with globalisation. This film urges the viewer to struggle for democratic principles in this emerging technoculture.
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?
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…
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?
By the early 1990s, solid research and overwhelming evidence had prompted a growing awareness of the epidemic nature of date rape, especially on college campuses. But, starting in 1993, the media used the anecdotal comments of one young woman, Katie Roiphe, to undermine efforts to stop this continuing crime against women. How did this happen?