Films about manipulation
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is a presentation by John Perkins, based on the book by the same name published by him in 2004. Perkins describes the role: “Economic hit men are highly-paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools included fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, pay-offs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalisation.”
The Revolution Business examines the role of United States intelligence agencies in the recent revolutionary movements such as the Arab Spring and others by the use of “Revolution Consultants.” Of particular interest is a Serbian man Srđa Popović, who formed an organisation called Отпор! (Otpor) which tought “non-violent struggle” in the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia during the 1990s, and which has now gone on to inspire a new generation of activists. However, some political commentators like William Engdahl are convinced that Otpor is financed by the United States and has ties to intelligence agenices, also having dubious funding from sources such as the Rand Corporation, the Department of Defence, as well as various fronts such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the US Institute of Peace and the Ford Foundation—all of which have a long history of collaborating with the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA in destabilising movements and usurping popular uprisings, removing their teeth.
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.
The Power of Big Oil is a three-part series that investigates the decades-long failure to confront the threat of climate change and the role of the fossil fuel industry. The series presents a parade of former oil company scientists, lobbyists, and public relations strategists who lay bare how the biggest petroleum firm in the United States, Exxon, and then the broader petroleum industry globally, moved from attempting to understand the causes of a global heating to a concerted campaign to hide the making of an environmental catastrophe. Over three episodes—Denial, Doubt, Delay—the series documents the corporate cooptation of science, the manipulation of public opinion, and political figureheads that mirror conduct by other industries—from big tobacco to the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Pepsi vs. Coke in The Ice Cold War traces the history of the worldwide struggle for soft drink supremacy by the Coca Cola Company, against the backdrop of World War II. The war was the perfect vehicle for Coca-Cola distribution, including to the Nazis. Bottling plants on front lines were paid for by the US war department. Nixon got Kremlin supremo, Khrushchev, to pose drinking Pepsi, which became the first US product made in the Soviet Union. In 1949, Mao kicked Coca-Cola out of China. President Carter got it back in 1978. In Chile, Pepsi Cola’s boss ran a daily paper which was used by the CIA to help Pinochet’s bloody coup…
In the summer of 1971, Philip Zimbardo, Craig Haney, and Curtis Banks carried out a psychological experiment to test a simple question: What happens when you put ordinary people in positions of power, enabling abuse? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? To explore this, student volunteers were selected and randomly assigned to play the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison at Stanford University. Although the students were mentally healthy and knew they were taking part in an experiment, some guards quickly became sadistic, while prisoners showed signs of acute stress, depression and trauma. After only six days, the planned two-week study was a disaster…
Girl Model offers a glimpse into the hall of mirrors that is the modelling world as it interfaces with other industries and other countries. The film follows Ashley—a deeply ambivalent former-model who is now a scout and scours the Siberian countryside looking for ‘fresh faces’ to send to the Japanese market; and one of her ‘discoveries,’ Nadya, a thirteen year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the centre of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. What entails is the opening of a can of worms that isn’t easily solved in one sitting—a thriving and curiously sinister modelling industry that spans the globe, luring everywhere with pretences of wonder, success and riches. But the realities are harsh. The fashion industry can look glamorous from the outside, but its insides are, at the very least, deceptive and sinister; and the myths run deeply entrenched in the culture, constantly promulgating new, young recruits. This ‘meat market,’ a prelude to sex trafficking, is creepy, ugly, and preys on the young and vulnerable. Can the spell be broken?
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.
Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala. Bombing and war is as American as apple pie. Obama, having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition…
Over half a century, Rupert Murdoch’s rapacious business audacity has built one of the world’s most powerful and ubiquitous media empires. But with revelations of bribery, blackmail, collusion with police and government, wiretapping and other invasions on privacy, the empire seems to be showing cracks. The scandal has prompted criminal investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and also broken open the insular world of the Murdoch family, its news executives, and the vast political elite who court their favour. Murdoch’s Scandal tells the story of the battle over the future of News Corporation and the challenging of the extensive media empire…
A secret illegal project from the 1950s, 60s and 70s called COINTELPRO, represents the state’s strategy to prevent resistance movements and communities from achieving their ends of racial justice, social equality and human rights. The program was mandated by the United States’ FBI, formally inscribing a conspiracy to destroy social movements, as well as mount institutionalised attacks against allies of such movements and other key organisations. Some of the goals were to disrupt, divide, and destroy movements, as well as instilling paranoia, manipulation by surveillance, imprisonment, and even outright murder of key figures of movements and other people. Many of the government’s crimes are still unknown. Through interviews with activists who experienced these abuses first-hand, COINTELPRO 101 opens the door to understanding this history, with the intended audience being the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the 60s and 70s; where illegal surveillance, disruption, and outright murder committed by the government was rampant and rapacious. This film stands to provide an educational introduction to a period of intense repression, to draw many relevant and important lessons for the present and the future of social justice.
Behind the Curve documents the resurgence of believers of a flat Earth, as made popular through YouTube videos. The film is a personal exploration of how people became exposed to flat Earth theories (the YouTube algorithm), and how those ideas were reinforced in an echo chamber of social media, rejecting empirical evidence, at a time of increasing countercultural distrust in authority figures and the epistemology of science. The narrative at the core of the film reveals how the screen bubble can envelop a person’s informational exposure, and change their relationships and perceptions in the real world, where confirmation bias is reinforced, making alternative views threatening, and individualism sacrosanct. Information that is contrary to a deeply held belief then becomes increasingly impossible to accept, especially if it has changed your life and circle of friends. So with empathy and a playful warmth, Behind the Curve becomes a warning light to the importance of honest discourse and critical analysis, falsifiability and dogma, but above all, to empathy and understanding of a person’s desire to create meaning and acceptance in a lonely, fragmented culture.
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.
Child Sex Trade USA travels through the United States to reveal the workings of a pervasive child sex trade, discovering that it is just as easy to ‘buy a child’ in the US as it is in Asia. 300,000 American children have been forced in to the sex industry, as of 2009, in the United States alone. This film presents a much needed analysis of the shocking cultural values that surround child abuse, paedophilia, human trafficking and prostitution; asking big questions of how, why, and what to do about it…
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?
The Secret History of the Credit Card uncovers the deceptive techniques and tactics used by banks and financial corporations to get citizens to take on ever more debt, while earning record profits. Penalty fees, defaulting, changing contracts, increasing rates retrospectively—these are some of the ways credit card companies gouge their users, and increase influence. The film shows how such profitability of credit cards began in the 1980s, when the banking industry successfully eliminated the limit on the interest rate a lender can charge a borrower. This deregulation, coupled with real-time tracking of personal financial information, facilitated the widening availability of credit cards. Despite a growing number of consumer complaints, the ability of state and local governments to investigate the credit card companies has virtually been eliminated, due to companies incessant lobbying and litigation that has created a jurisdictional “turf battle.”
To the movie-going public, Michael Moore is known as a corporate big-wig buster and perhaps the mainstream media’s most vocal opponent of the Republican Party. But what happens when the hunter becomes the hunted? In this film, Canadian creators Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine find out first hand. While originally intending to create a biography of Moore stemming from their own great admiration for his work, the creators find that they have become disenchanted with many of Michael Moore’s ‘tactics’ and the story takes an interesting twist…
This short film uses the history and figure of the Murdoch media empire as a vast invasive machine, to draw parallels to new media machines such as Google that are not only more invasive, but more pervasive than anything the Murdoch media empire has managed. Why are we not more concerned about this?
In Mediastan, an undercover team of journalists drive across central Asia interviewing editors of local media outlets to publish secret US diplomatic cables that were provided to WikiLeaks in 2010. Success is varied. And so, after regrouping with Julian Assange in England, questioning the editor of the Guardian, and obtaining candid footage of the New York Times editor and its publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Mediastan closes by leaving the viewer with an informative first-hand overview of the machinations of mainstream media. By venturing into the minds—and actions—of the people and institutions who shape the news, Mediastan shows the system for what it’s worth, and reveals its true motivations…
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?
Jesus Camp follows several young children as they prepare to attend an event called ‘Kids on Fire,’ a Christian summer camp run by Becky Fischer. Through interviews with Fisher, the children, and others, Jesus Camp illustrates the unswerving belief of the faithful—a housewife and home-schooling mother tells her son that creationism has all the answers; footage from inside the camp shows young children weeping and wailing as they promise to stop their sinning; child after child is driven to tears. These scenes are contrasted with clips from another Christian radio host who is appalled by such happenings. Are these children being brainwashed?
Rebel Without A Pause follows renowned linguist and activist, Noam Chomsky through discussions and talks on various world events such as the invasion of Iraq, the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror. Chomsky also weaves in accounts of media manipulation, social control, and discusses the workings of the politics of fear. The film combines footage from large forums to small interactive discussions on these topics, as well as reflections from others…
Merchants of Doubt looks at the well established Public Relations tactic of saturating the media with shills who present themselves as independent scientific authorities on issues in order to cast doubt in the public mind. The film looks at how this tactic, that was originally developed by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the health risks of smoking, has since come to cloud other issues such as the pervasiveness of toxic chemicals, flame retardants, asbestos, certain pharmaceutical drugs and now, climate change. Using the icon of a magician, Merchants of Doubt explores the analogy between these tactics and the methods used by magicians to distract their audiences from observing how illusions are performed. For example, with the tobacco industry, the shills successfully delayed government regulation until long after the health risks from smoking was unequivocally proven. Likewise with manufacturers of flame retardants, who worked to protect their sales after the toxic effects and pervasiveness of the chemicals were discovered. This is all made analogous to the ongoing use of these very same tactics to stall governmental action in regards to global climate change today.
As one half of the satirical duo, The Rubber Bandits, Blindboy is renown for wearing a plastic bag on his head while dishing out sharp social commentary. In this series, using his unique mix of irreverent commentary, a band of undercover reporters, and playful humour, Blindboy sets out to investigate some of the most important issues of our time.
Two film students set out to explore the psychological and manipulative powers of consumerism by creating an extensive and pervasive advertising campaign for a fake hypermarket. The ads appear on radio, television, billboards; there is a promotional song, an internet site, ads in newspapers, magazines, and flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products are distributed. Will people believe it and show up for the grand opening?
From tiny tots strutting bikini-clad bodies in beauty pageants to companies marketing itty-bitty thongs and padded bras directly to 9-year olds; images of ever-younger sexualised girls pervasively saturate the media landscape. Add to that: ever-younger boys with 24-7 access to hard-core internet porn and the situation permeates every aspect of their lives—from skate parks to the school bus. By the time they’re eighteen, 80 percent of boys are watching porn online. Then add to that smart phones and social networking websites, and kids can not only consume X-rated images, but can now also produce them. Sexting has become a Grade 7 right of passage. Sext Up Kids exposes how growing up in a hyper-sexualized culture hurts everyone. Teens and pre-teens show and tell what they are doing and why they are doing it. Psychologists and social researchers reveal startling new evidence, tracking how the pressure to be sexy is changing teen and sexual behaviour in alarming ways. Parents and educators struggle to help kids navigate puberty in a world where the line between pop culture and porn culture is increasingly blurred. For every parent who thinks, “that’s not my son or daughter,” Sext Up Kids is your wake up call.
Stuxnet is a malicious computer virus, first identified in 2010, that targets industrial computer systems and was responsible for causing substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as spreading across the world. The virus is believed by many experts to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyberweapon, although no organisation or state has officially admitted responsibility. Zero Days covers the phenomenon surrounding the Stuxnet computer virus and the development of the malware software known as “Olympic Games.” It also examines the follow-up cyber-plan entitled ‘Nitro Zeus,’ showing how the United States has opened the Pandora’s Box of cyberwarfare.
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.
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.
A look back on the news events from 2014 reveals a confusing, muddled mess. Things are increasingly chaotic, along with the reporting of the events in the culture of 24-7 rolling news, sound-byte feeds and the Internet. The result, as we see, is not a coherent public understanding of these complex events, but more a profound mass-confusion, with discourse destroyed, which in-turn broods disengagement from the world and further atomises an already divided-and-conquered public. It is this response that is a powerful form of social control, and is by design…
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.”
Most people who know that the mainstream media manipulates stories, manufactures illusions, and exploits fears can realise that the reason is more than just bias or sloppy reporting. Behind The Big News shows the ideological agenda that originates outside the media that defines today’s headlines, using examines of some of the biggest news stories in recent decades to illustrate how this agenda is rigorously promoted and protected.
John Pilger talks about the various mainstream media commonalities of today—censorship by omission, information management, Public Relations and the ‘massaging of information’, as well as the clever distractions such as the election of Obama as a war monger in the land of slavery, alongside figures such as Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard as a false win for so-called ‘feminist ideals.’ Amongst the ongoing wars played by the United States, Britain and Australia, Media And War — Challenging The Consensus is a renewed call to unravel complex propaganda and cut through distractions.
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.
In a quarter of a century, the Amazon corporation has propelled Jeff Bezos from ‘online bookseller’ to technology behemoth. He is the richest man on the planet, and the company he founded is one of the most powerful in the world. This documentary investigates Amazon’s rise to corporate rein, revealing the problematic inside-operations that have the public tethered to its services. Former high-level insiders describe Amazon’s obsessive data-gathering operations, that enable the company to use what it knows about us to shape not only the future of retail, but the workplace and technology in synergy. On both sides of the world, politicians and regulators are tardily beginning to question Amazon’s power. But can the public rein in this corporate empire and break its addiction before even more damage is done to the structure of society and the environment?
The Brain — A Secret History is a series about how various theories and experiments on the human mind over decades have led to profound insights into how the human brain works, but also have involved great cruelty and pose terrible ethical dilemmas. Historical experiments such as severe maternal deprivation, brainwashing and other experiments in mind control such as MKULTRA are covered, along with physical interventions such as the history of electric shock ‘treatment’, behaviour modification, experimental psychology, and the Milgram experiment.
Counter-Intelligence is a 5 part series that explores in-depth, the vast, sprawling and secret National Security State that operates throughout the United States—and indeed the world. The series examines the foundations of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, charting through to the myriad consequences in today’s world where secret intelligence organisations continue to hijack governments, manipulate elections and commit heinous crimes against humanity—all under the cloak of “National Security”. In the wake of the continued revelations of the NSA PRISM program, this series is now more important than ever to provide a solid historical context to the workings of the rapacious and ever-expanding National Security State…
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?
In March 2003 thousands of Australian troops and others were sent to fight a ‘war’ as part of a pre-emptive strike on the sovereign nation of Iraq, a country from whom there was no threat. Two years on, in the wake of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, the Australian military reports its first casualty in the conflict while the American death toll stands at nearly two thousand. This being the a result of an invasion which has all but destroyed a foreign nation and seen millions made homeless, families destroyed, hundreds of thousands of deaths, leaving a legacy of destruction and religious division instilled in its wake. How did the Australian government come to play a part in this terror?
Lifting The Veil explores the historical role of political parties in the United States as the graveyard of social movements, the massive influence of corporate financing in elections, the absurd disparities of wealth, the continuity and escalation of neoconservative policies with the Obama administration, the insufficiency of mere voting as a path to reform, and differing conceptions of democracy itself. Lifting The Veil exposes the vast hypocrisy of the United States government, with a sense of urgency to bring about real systemic social and political change…