How do online giants such as Facebook and Google deal with problematic content posted to their platforms every minute? They outsource the act of “digital cleaning” to teams of people paid a pittance in countries such as the Philippines, to act as content moderators. It’s these hidden low-paid workers, in giant click farms, that spend long shifts removing posts and deleting accounts. So how do their decisions influence what the billions of people using social media all around the world see and think? What are the policies they are told to enforce? Are the cleaners part of the online world of clever hoaxes and fake news, or are they on the frontline of social media spectacle and furor?
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.
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.
Fuelled by popular personalities on Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, cosmetic surgery is pushing further into the mainstream. Huge numbers of people, predominantly young women, are choosing to alter their appearance as though it’s as simple as buying a new set of clothes. Social-media stars get free procedures in exchange for promoting certain doctors or agencies or products to their audiences. Going on the numbers alone, audiences seem to love this blatantly cacophonous advertising, following their social media stars closely, and taking out huge personal loans to get surgery and “keep up with the Kardashians.” Doctors offering the surgery are even becoming media stars themselves, and it’s redefining the meaning of doctor/patient relations. Underpinning this entire industry, is a business model of targeting women who can barely afford procedures by selling the dream of a dream of a “new you.” Social-media laps it up, and the cycle repeats. But as this investigation shows, when things go wrong, the physical and financial costs are devastating. Doctors left to pick up the pieces are warning that the booming industry is creating a dangerous legacy, and not just to the concept of beauty.
YouTube, owned by Google, has become one of the most powerful online media platforms in the world, fast to be replacing the viewership of television with over 30 billion hours watched per month in 2017. Young people flock to the platform in the hopes of fame and fortune, which comes for a select few, but not all, hence the allure to ‘make it.’ YouTube celebrities are now mainstream celebrities. The result is troves competing to live their lives as monetised open-wounds for the corporate platform, constantly pleading for subscribers, attention and engagement, all at the hands of Google, its secret algorithms, and the screen culture of spectacle, pornography, and targeted advertising. On both sides of the screen, the treadmill is all about keeping the ad dollars constantly rolling. YouTube, YouTubers and You offers a glimpse into this new media and advertising world, pondering how this culture may continue to undermine our future media and informational landscape. What sort of people and world is this culture creating and perpetuating?
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.”
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.
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?
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’s had on contemporary independent journalism.
American Anarchist is the story of The Anarchist Cookbook, and the role it’s played in the life of its author, William Powell. Written as a teenager—and first published at the apex of the counterculture of the 1970s to protest the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War—part manifesto, part bomb-making manual, The Anarchist Cookbook went on to sell over 2 million copies and has been associated with decades of anti-government attacks, abortion clinic bombings, school shootings, and domestic terrorism. Powell, now 65 and haunted by his creation, confronts his work and its consequences. We see how in 1976, 5 years after writing the book, he left the United States, leading an itinerant life and later becoming a teacher for emotionally disturbed children, the same sorts of kids that carried the Columbine High School massacre, the Colorado high school shooting and the 2012 Aurora shooting. American Anarchist is a cautionary tale of youthful rebellion, unforeseen consequences, and a universal story of an older person wrestling with their younger past.
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.
The Empathy Gap investigates how dominant culture bombards young men with sexist and misogynistic messages and argues that these messages not only devalue women but also undercut men’s innate capacity for caring and empathy. The film looks closely at the ways these messages short-circuit men’s ability to empathize with women, respect them as equals, and take feminism seriously, drawing parallels between sexism and racism, spelling out how each is rooted in cultural norms that discourage empathy, and shows how men who break with these norms live happier and healthier lives.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 forestall governmental action in regards to global climate change today.
What do popular television programs like What Not to Wear, The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and The Swan tell us about how to look and feel? What do they tell us about what a good life is supposed to look like? Brand New You explores these questions, and also asks what it means to be an authentic self in an extensively mediated world. It shows how the interventions featured in makeover shows—from weight loss to cosmetic surgery to rearing competitiveness—create, perpetuate and reproduce conventional norms of physical attractiveness and success. By taking a wider social and cultural view, Brand New You also shows how these programs have become tools of rampant individualism, consumerism and inner self-transformation at precisely the same time that collective awareness of social issues has dissipated.
Project Censored explores the inner workings of mainstream media in the United States—a media which is often claimed as a free press in a democratic society. But is this really true? Instead what is revealed is a widespread and systemically entrenched culture of censorship and omission throughout the corporate media, as well as a gripping control over media content by centralised corporate control. Project Censored brings to light stories that have been deliberately suppressed, or at the very least obscured and ‘hollowed-out’ by entertainment values over real news content or discourse. Citing a range of examples and modern mainstream media techniques, Project Censored takes a critical view of this information arrangement that has huge implications for real democracy…
From the courtroom to the lounge room—helped extensively by television and the infamous series “CSI”—forensic science brims with flash and glamour, where cutting-edge technology always reveals the “truth,” and is routinely called on to solve the most difficult criminal cases with ease and “objectivity.” But how reliable is the science behind forensics and its methods as they interface with the legal system? The Real CSI investigates these questions and finds serious flaws in some of the best-known tools of forensics, with systemic inconsistencies in how evidence is presented in the courtroom, along with how the culture of entertainment of this sort can seriously skew a jury’s perceptions. From the sensational murder trial of Casey Anthony, to the FBI’s botched investigation of the Madrid bombing, to capital cases in rural Mississippi of the United States; The Real CSI documents how a field with few standards and unproven science can seriously undermine the concept of justice, and what this means for a future of continued technological escalation…
The legacy of the Bush administration and the so-called “War on Terror” includes a new logic that stretches well beyond the realm of overzealous security agencies, airport security and international relations, and into suppressing public protest; expanded surveillance aimed at entire populations, but especially activists; and mobilising fear for social control. Special police techniques have even been developed and applied in order to specifically suppress dissent and manage protests, especially in the wake of the rising anti-globalisation movements towards the turn of the millennium. Preempting Dissent provides a quick overview of how some of this logic developed, as well as a glimpse of how political protest in the West has been shaped and controlled in the “post-9/11″ years, up to and including the so-called Occupy movement. By provoking a reflection of the implications of the logic of the “War on Terror” and how its applied to stifle political protest, Preempting Dissent aims to lay some of the groundwork to develop more effective resistance tactics.
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?
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?
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…
Ninety percent of American media is controlled by five big, for-profit-conglomerates, creating a media monopoly of informational and social control never before possible. The overwhelming collective power of these firms raises troubling questions about democracy. Using a handful of in-depth cases out of a vast array of examples, speaking with renowned journalists, activists, and others, Shadows of Liberty reveals the hidden machinations of the news media, drawing into focus the vast mechanisms of censorship, cover-ups, and corporate control that have been built up over many decades. Journalists are prevented from pursuing controversial news stories, people are censored for speaking out against abuses of government power, and individual lives are shattered as the arena for public expression has been turned into a vessel for advertising, warmongering and distraction. Will the Internet remain ‘free’, or succumb to the same control by the same handful of powerful, monopolistic corporations—as we see?
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.
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.
The Society of the Spectacle is a film based on the 1967 book of the same name by French political theorist and philosopher, Guy Debord. The work traces the development of modern society, in which Debord argues that authentic social life has been replaced with representations, and that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” This emerges from and gives rise to a pervasive and all encompassing spectacle in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity.” The film weaves the text of the original book with modern-day imagery, illustrating many elements of the spectacle, including that “the spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relation among people, mediated by images.” This makes the material hard to decipher at times, especially with conflicting subtitles between languages: but this is part of Debord’s goal, to “problematise reception” and force the viewer to be active rather than passive. In addition, the words of some of the authors are “détourned” (hijacked) through deliberate misquoting. The result is a foundational work on the concept of the spectacle and its characteristics, to encourage critical thinking, to build and extrapolate critiques to apply to the wider social scale.
Sexy Inc. analyses the hyper-sexualisation of today’s media environment and its noxious effects on young people. Psychologists, teachers and school nurses criticise the unhealthy culture surrounding our children, where marketing and advertising are targeting younger and younger audiences and bombarding them with sexual images…
Obey is a video essay based on the book “Death of the Liberal Class” by author and journalist Chris Hedges. The film charts the rise of corporatocracy and examines the trending possible futures of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, globalisation, staggering inequality and environmental crisis — posing the question, do we resist or obey?
Subconscious War is a video essay exploring the influences of media and the culture of violence on reality, and the cultivation of collective values in society. The film contrasts the writings of Aldous Huxley and Neil Postman’s grim assessments; relating the concepts of works such as ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ to the current cultural influences that foster today—corporate media and indeed media saturation, video games, television, and a pervasive technoculture, for example. What is being created? And what sort of people are being cultivated by this culture? Who benefits?
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…
Climate Of Doubt is an investigation into the growing forces manipulating public opinion on the scientific consensus of impacts to global climate by industrial civilisation. A massive disinformation campaign is growing from the fronts of government and corporate interests to undermine scientific processes and reshape public perceptions. Climate Of Doubt ventures inside these organisations to demonstrate the strong influence of the global politick on maintaining established denial, and ignoring culpability on the issue of anthropogenic climate change.
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.
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…
The Power Principle is a series of films examining the history of the United States and the building of its empire with particular emphasis on the last seventy years of United States foreign policy. The methods that make empire possible are also examined—the politics of fear, the rise of public relations, the ‘Mafia Principle’ and the reoccurring use of fabled enemies, contrasting the Soviet Union and the Cold War alongside the parallels of today with the “War On Terror”. Not only does The Power Principle tie together historical events to revive a common thread, the series may also encourage viewers to reconsider their understanding of historical events and the portrayal of them, showing how those in power play a role in manipulating the collective memory through generations.
When Julian Assange arrived in Sweden in August 2010 he was greeted like a hero. But within weeks there was a warrant out for his arrest and he was being investigated on allegations of rape and sexual misconduct. Today, Assange is cornered in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, arguing he won’t receive justice if he’s taken to Sweden and that authorities in the United States are building a case for his extradition. In Sex Lies And Julian Assange, Andrew Fowler retraces what happened in those crucial weeks while Julian Assange was in Sweden. What was the nature of his relationship with the two women? And what happened with the police and prosecutors?
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.
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…