Tracing the Internet’s history as a publicly-funded government project in the 1960s, to its full-scale commercialisation today, Digital Disconnect shows how the Internet’s so-called “democratising potential” has been radically compromised by the logic of capitalism, and the unaccountable power of a handful of telecom and tech monopolies. Based on the acclaimed book by media scholar Robert McChesney, the film examines the ongoing attack on the concept of net neutrality by telecom monopolies such as Comcast and Verizon, explores how internet giants like Facebook and Google have amassed huge profits by surreptitiously collecting our personal data and selling it to advertisers, and shows how these monopolies have routinely colluded with the national security state to advance covert mass surveillance programs. We also see how the rise of social media as a leading information source is working to isolate people into ideological information bubbles and elevate propaganda at the expense of real journalism. But while most debates about the Internet focus on issues like the personal impact of Internet-addiction or the rampant data-mining practices of companies like Facebook, Digital Disconnect digs deeper to show how capitalism itself turns the Internet against democracy. The result is an indispensable resource for helping viewers make sense of a technological revolution that has radically transformed virtually aspect of human communication.
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…
Facebook is an enormously powerful corporation, harnessing both the self-disclosed and gleaned personal data of over 2 billion people. Its user-base is larger than the population of any country. The company is all pervasive online, tracking and profiling users and non-users alike. Cracking the Code looks at the insides of this giant machine and how Facebook turns your thoughts and behaviours into profits—whether you like it or not. And it’s not just a one-way transaction either. Cracking the Code also explains how Facebook uses vast troves of web data to manipulate the way you think and feel, as well as act—all in the sole interests of Facebook, masquerading as “community.” What are the social implications of this—when one company basically controls the insights and experiences of the entire online world, with extremely personalised and targeted social and behavioural engineering on a scale never before seen?
The 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.
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.
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?
Ammo for the Info Warrior is a two part series of collections of short films by the Guerrilla News Network (GNN), an independent news organisation with a mission to expose young people to important global news and information free from corporate filters. Each part consists of a selection of 5 to 10 minute videos covering a range of stories, from the violent diamond trade in Sierra Leone; to the PR industry’s manipulation of public opinion; to analysis of IBM and its role in the Holocaust; to CopWatch, a movement of people keeping police accountable; and short slam poetry clips about the business of hip-hop. Ammo for the Info Warrior experiments with format with the aim of being an innovative educational tool to tackle serious socio-political issues for a generation brought up on MTV. It can be a catalyst for discussion and debate, encouraging the viewer to develop skills in critical thinking and analysis.
Generation Wealth is a visual history of the materialistic, image, and celebrity-obsessed culture, explored through the work of photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. Part historical essay, part autobiographical, Greenfield puts the pieces of her life’s work together to reveal the pathologies that have created the richest and most unequal society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging, and sex, Generation Wealth unpacks the global boom-bust economy, the corrupt American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.
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…
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?
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?
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?
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…
Based on the book of the same title by Juliet Schor, The Overspent American scrutinises the form of consumerism ever-pervasive in this current era that is driven by upscale spending and debt; shaped and reinforced by a media system driven by commercial interests. We’re encouraged from all angles to spend money we don’t have, working longer hours than ever before. Illustrated with hundreds of examples, The Overspent American draws attention to both the financial and social costs of this giant consumption machine, where the frivolous and relentless search for “happiness” and identity is espoused by advertising.
The Great Hack is an inside account of the company Cambridge Analytica, which used vast amounts of personal data scraped from portals such as Facebook to manipulate elections throughout India, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States over the past decade. The company, owned by SCL Group—a British firm that has a background in military disinformation campaigns and psychological warfare—came to public attention after the Brexit campaign in the UK, and soon after, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, both closely worked on by Cambridge Analytica and its billionaire backer, Robert Mercer. This resulted in inquires and investigations into both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but the company liquidated, along with its internal documents. Two former employees instead step forward to offer an inside account into the dark world of data mining and personalised propagandising, having some regret for what they have done. The film tracks these characters, as Cambridge Analytica lives on as Emerdata Limited, in the same London office. The Great Hack exemplifies big questions about democracy in the age of targeted information manipulation via the screen, and just how much power over our awareness has been ceded to giant corporations.
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.
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?
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.
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.
How do our families influence our relationship with our own bodies? How does popular culture’s standards of beauty get inside our hearts and heads? In what ways can sport and the drive for fitness actually make us sick rather than healthy? In Beauty Mark, former champion triathlete Diane Israel examines this culture’s unhealthy fixation on thinness, beauty, and physical perfection. She talks candidly about her own struggle with eating disorders and obsessive exercising, confronting her own past to come to terms with this culture’s unhealthy fixation on self-destructive ideals of beauty and competitiveness.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Are we willfully trashing the planet in the pursuit of endless things? What’s the source of the frenetic consumer energy and desire? In a fast-paced tour of the ecological and psychological terrain of consumer culture, Shop ‘Til You Drop challenges the viewer to confront these questions head-on. Taking aim at the high-stress, high-octane pace of materialism, the film moves beneath the seductive surfaces of the commercial world to show how the other side of consumerism is depletion—the slow, steady erosion of not only the natural world, but basic human and community values. Shop ‘Til You Drop contextualises the turbulence of this moment, providing an unflinching critique of the limits of consumerism and the so-called “pursuit of happiness.”