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 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.
Growing Up Trans explores how queer theory, now in the mainstream, has come to children—some younger than six years old. For just a generation ago, it was considered only adults who wished to perform opposite gender stereotypes, physically changing their bodies or appearance with drugs, hormones and invasive surgery; but today, many young children are seeking serious and new medical or chemical interventions, at younger and younger ages, in a culture of rampant individualism and post-modernism. Told from the perspective of parents, doctors, but perhaps most revealing of all, the kids themselves, Growing Up Trans reveals a sharp narrative that speaks to the choices and struggles of a new generation of young people, while also illustrating the dynamics of the larger post-modern culture and how its profoundly influenced their lives, bodies, and indeed the existential self.
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.
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…
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.
Diamond Empire is a two-part series that investigates how an advertising slogan invented by Madison Avenue executives in 1948 has come to define some of the most intimate and romantic rituals and ideals of this culture. The films take apart the myth that “diamonds are forever,” exposing how one white South African family, through a process of monopoly and fantasy, managed to exert control over the global flow of diamonds and change the very way this culture projects the notion of courtship, marriage, and love—an achievement all the more stunning given that diamonds are in fact neither scarce nor imperishable. Zeroing in on how the diamond empire managed to convert something valueless into one of the most coveted commodities in history, these films provide a vigorous investigation into how marketing and consumer culture shape not only global trade and economics, but also our very identities.
Spin the Bottle critiques the role that popular culture plays in glamorising excessive drinking and high-risk behaviour, in contrast to the ways alcohol affects the lives of real young men and women in reality. This film decodes the power and influence of seductive media images to show how they shape personal identity when linked to the use of alcohol. Nowhere is this link more apparent than on America’s college campuses. By exploring the party scene, Spin the Bottle also shows the difficulties young people have in navigating a cultural environment saturated with messages about gender and alcohol. Interviews with health professionals provide a clear picture of how drinking impacts student health and academic performance, but it is the students’ own experiences and reflections that tell the real story behind alcohol’s alluring public and cultural image.
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.
The filmmaker questions her sister, herself and others about the dreams and hopes they had growing up as girls in contrast to the reality they now face as women. Interviewees include a former Miss California contestant, a judge, a banker, an electrician, a secretary, and adolescent girls. They talk about childhood, athletics, careers, motherhood, body image, sexual assault and self-esteem. Made nearly 30 years ago, this film documents a growing awareness of issues affecting women. But have things changed today?