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.
There are billions of people increasingly glued to ‘smartphones’ and consumed by the seemingly endless spectacle of ‘social media.’ But why? Reporter Hilary Andersson seeks to answer this question by tracking down insiders who reveal how social-media companies have deliberately developed habit-forming technology to get people addicted. Former Facebook manager, Sandy Parakilas, tells us the “goal is to addict you and then sell your time.” Likewise, Leah Pearlman, the co-creator of the renowned ‘Like’ button, warns of the dangers of social-media addiction. Through these voices, and many others, Andersson shows how behavioural science is profoundly used by tech companies to keep people endlessly checking their phones, to the end of huge profits.
Benny Hinn may be the most popular personality in the Christian world today. Thousands pack arenas to see him ‘heal’ the sick and the afflicted. Tens of thousands more watch his daily television program. Millions of dollars are donated every year to his ministry, none of which he says goes to him personally. But, what about those miracles? And where does all that money go?
John Pilger talks at a public forum in Sydney about the recent revelations of WikiLeaks and the importance of leaked information in exposing the lies and machinations of Public Relations in mainstream media and political rhetoric. Pilger demonstrates the parallels with the plight of Julian Assange and the treatment of David Hicks through the United States legal system, and also explains using recent leaked documents why state power sees investigative journalists and others as a major threat to the established order…
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.
Informant follows the story of Brandon Darby—a radical-left activist turned FBI informant through a series of events starting with community support work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the Republican National Convention in 2008. Brandon ends up turning fellow activists to the FBI for making Molotov cocktails in circumstances described by fellow activists as entrapment. So what happened? Did Brandon manipulate fellow activists into doing things they didn’t want to do, or were some activists simply not engaging in a full analysis of the effectiveness of their strategies and tactics? In any event, was turning over activists to the FBI the right thing to do, even when nobody was hurt?
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?
Monsanto corporation seems to be stopping at nothing: Controlling corn, wheat, soy beans, canola, mustard, okra, bringe oil, rice, cauliflower… Once they have established the norm, they aim to claim all these seeds as their intellectual property, royalties will be collected and enforced by patent law. If Monsanto controls seed, they control food and they know it. It’s strategic. It can be more devastating than bombs, it can be more powerful than guns. This is their way to control the populations of the world, and as The World According to Monsanto reveals, it’s governments in the cross-hairs also.
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.
The Facebook Dilemma aims to open an in-depth investigation into the impact Facebook has had on privacy and democracy in the United States and throughout the world, by revealing how the decisions made by the company as it sought increased wealth and new users, transformed it into a vast surveillance machine, a media company, and a ‘hidden hand’ in elections and political discourse. Drawing on original interviews from those inside the company, this two part series catalogues some of the ignored warning signs, both inside and outside the company, of Facebook’s negative impact, growing from Zuckerberg’s dorm-room project and into a powerful global empire.
Could a media system, controlled by a few global corporations with the ability to overwhelm all competing voices, be able to turn lies into truth? This documentary examines the relationship between the media, corporations, and government. In a country where the top 1% control 90% of the wealth, the film argues that the media system is nothing but a subsidiary of the corporate world. Have we entered an Orwellian world of doublespeak where outright lies can pass for the truth?
Militainment Inc. examines how news coverage of war in the United States has come to resemble Hollywood film, video games, and reality television in its portrayal of war as entertainment. Using a range of media examples—from news anchors’ idolatry of military machinery to the impact of government propaganda on war reporting—Militainment Inc. asks: How has war taken its place as a spectacle of entertainment? And how does presenting war as entertainment affect the ability of the population to evaluate the real human costs of this culture’s military-industrial-complex?
Sugar Coated investigates a once secret public relations campaign, dating back to the 1970s, where the sugar industry deflected threats to its multi-billion dollar empire from scientific research emerging implicating processed sugar with adverse health effects. In order to continue sweetening the world’s food supply, thus securing continued profits, the sugar industry turned to the very same deceptions and tactics lifted from the tobacco industry. Using big sugar’s own internal documents on this strategy, Sugar Coated reveals the well-oiled tricks of the trade to confuse the public about what is really driving the global pandemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Will we be fooled again?
While corporations and governments continue to disseminate globalisation and the rapacious drive for consolidation of corporate power, people around the world are pushing back to reinstate local communities. Groups are coming together to rebuild human scale, local and ecological economies based on a new paradigm of localisation and sustainability. The Economics Of Happiness documents these shifts and shows how these communities have reclaimed their autonomy…
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.
Cornered in the tiny building of the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom for half a decade, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his team are undeterred, continuing to release troves of important documents, even as the personal legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the very organisation he leads and fracture the movement it inspired. Filmmaker Laura Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study of the forces that crescendo with a high-stakes election year in the United States and its controversial aftermath. In a world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a nuanced and curious portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. How much of your own life are you willing to risk?
If one steps back and looks at what freedom actually means in the West today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom. The United States and its empire self-describe fighting the Cold War for “individual freedom,” yet it is still something that the leaders of our so-called democracies continually promise to give us. Abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to force “freedom” on to other people has led to more than just bloody mayhem, and this, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain and elsewhere. In response, the government has dismantled long-standing laws that were designed to protect individual freedom and civil liberties.
The Internet’s Own Boy is a biographical documentary of the programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who died at age 26. From his help in the development of the basic Internet protocol RSS at age 14, to the co-founding of the social network website Reddit in 2006, Swartz becomes disillusioned with the grooming of academia to the corporate life presented to him, and turns instead to work on issues of sociology, civic awareness and activism. It then becomes Swartz’s work in social justice issues and political organising, combined with an open and sharing approach to information access that ensnares him in a two year legal battle, in which authorities seek to make an example of him and the work. The battle sadly ends with Swartz taking his own life. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to the political system, civil liberties and human relationships.
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.
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…
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…
Peter Francis, a former undercover police spy turned conscientious whistleblower, breaks ranks by speaking to the media after becoming troubled by the unaccountable culture of secret police operations throughout the United Kingdom targeting peace activists for decades. Tactics included undercover police officers having sexual relationships with activists, even going as far as commonly having children with the women they were spying on. Undercover agents also often assumed the identities of dead children in order to have “solid cover stories.” We also see how undercover police were asked to look for intelligence that could be used to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and their campaign. The Lawrence family both speak of their shock at hearing about that the police did this to them. This short investigation opens a flood of questions about the secret history of covert police operations, and indeed the future of them in the context of the sprawling surveillance state of today.
Did you know that the legal system recognises a corporation as a person? What kind of ‘person’ is it then? What would happen if it sat down with a psychologist to discuss its behaviour and attitude towards society and the environment? Explored through specific examples, this film shows how and why the modern-day corporation has rapaciously pressed itself into the dominant institution of our time, posing big questions about what must be done if we want a equitable and sustainable world. What must we do when corporations are psychopaths?
Crazy Rulers of the World is a series that investigates what happens when chiefs of the United States intelligence agencies and the army began believing in very strange things. With first-hand access to the leading characters in the story, filmmaker Jon Ronson examines the extraordinary and bizarre national secrets at the core of the war on terror.
InRealLife asks: What exactly is the Internet and what is it doing to our children? Taking us on a journey ranging from the bedrooms of British teenagers to the explosive world of Silicon Valley, filmmaker Beeban Kidron suggests that rather than the promise of free and open connectivity, young people are increasingly ensnared in a commercial world. And as this is explained, InRealLife asks if we can afford to stand by while our children, trapped in their 24/7 connectivity, are being outsourced to the web.
Pretty Slick reveals the untold story of BP’s coverup following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion is known as one of the largest environmental catastrophes in the history of the United States, but what is not well-known is that BP, along with government approval, used toxic chemicals to sink the oil in the water rather than clean it up, using a controversial chemical dispersant called Corexit. Because of this, it is estimated that approximately 75% of the oil, or over 150 million gallons, is still unaccounted for. When filmmaker James Fox learned of this, he began a three year investigation to find out about the dispersant use and its coverup. Pretty Slick reveals how public safety and environmental health took a backseat to restoring the economy, and along the way exposes the collusion between big oil and the United States government in these happenings.
How does one sell a war? This was a question that weighed heavy on the minds of those in the United States government long before the invasion even started. Operation Saddam: America’s Propaganda Battle takes a look at the marketing of war -– a cocktail of distortion, lies and forgeries -– as shown by former secret service agent Ray McGovern, American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and best-selling author John MacArthur, presenting the individual stages of the propaganda battle, by which American, British and other governments sought to justify the second invasion of Iraq…
Once relegated to the margins of society, pornography is now the most pervasive and visible aspect of popular culture, assuming an unprecedented role in media as its content becomes more harsh and extreme, racist and abusive. This eye-opening and disturbing film moves beyond frivolous “liberal versus conservative” debate and tackles the real issues surrounding pornography by placing the voices of performers themselves, producers and critics directly alongside the observations of women and men as they candidly discuss the role porn has played in shaping their sexual imaginations and relationships. The Price Of Pleasure reveals a nuanced portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, freedom and responsibility have become extremely twisted by popular culture, usurping the most intimate area of our lives.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief profiles eight former-members of the cult of Scientology, leading to a series of revelations of the history of systematic abuse, manipulation, and betrayal in the organisation by Scientology officials and celebrity figures. The film highlights the origins of Scientology, from its roots in the mind of founder L. Ron Hubbard and successor David Miscavige, to its rise in popularity in Hollywood and beyond. The result is a record of great harm, paranoia, abuse, the vast accumulation of wealth, and a lust for power and control.
All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Legacy of I.F. Stone looks at an array of award-winning filmmakers who subscribed to I. F. Stone’s newsletter in their teens, revealing a new wave of independent, investigative, adversarial journalists following in Stone’s footsteps. Reflecting on his work during the era of McCarthyism, a chorus of independent journalists also reflect on today where giant media conglomerates are reluctant to investigate or criticise government policies—particularly on defence, security and intelligence issues. With government deception rampant, and intrusion of state surveillance into our private lives never before more egregious, independent journalists tell their story of being inspired by the iconoclastic Stone, whose fearless, independent reporting from 1953 to 1971 filled a tiny 4-page newsletter. Stone is little known today, but All Governments Lie reveals the profound influence he had on contemporary independent journalism.