Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World is a six-part series that explores how modern society has arrived to the strange place it is today. The series traverses themes of love, power, money, corruption, the ghosts of empire, the history of China, opium and opioids, the strange roots of modern conspiracy theories, and the history of Artificial Intelligence and surveillance. The series deals with the rise of individualism and populism throughout history, and the failures of a wide range of resistance movements throughout time and various countries, pointing to how revolution has been subsumed in various ways by spectacle and culture, because of the way power has been forgotten or given away.
After Truth is about the growing proliferation of modern disinformation, where almost anybody with a computer and social media access can have a powerful platform without oversight, influencing the information experiences of billions of people. The melting pot is catalysed by Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, and other websites that spread disinformation to huge audiences with a profit incentive, competing to capture everyone’s attention. After Truth asks the question about where all this is heading, by exemplifying events such as Jade Helm, Seth Rich, and Pizzagate, but also profiling some major and minor personalities involved in spreading disinformation, conspiracy theories, fear, and uncertainty. With an empire in collapse, and physical reality being increasingly replaced by popular postmodern theories of “there is only subjective truth,” this film not only presents the challenge of returning to what is real, but the task of stopping disinformation from continuing to divide, confuse, distract, and destroy.
The Social Dilemma brings together former product directors and designers of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pintrest, Twitter, and so on, to reflect on their creations and face questions about the age of addiction, information manipulation, and algorithmic social control they’ve ushered in. The creators speak openly about how they themselves took part in this co-optation of society, either naively or with malignant indifference, by designing websites in such a way to influence and manipulate billions of people for corporate interests by using deep psychological and addictive triggers in the human mind. Detailed explanations about how this can play out in the real world are illustrated through dramatisations, which are also expanded upon by experts in psychology, technology, and social studies. The result is a sobering call for emergency damage control, to undo the massive harm that technology companies have unleashed on society unrestrained for the past several decades, at a time of rapid social unravelling.
A Thousand Cuts is a timely film about modern-day journalism and freedom of the press inside the Philippines where the political space has been usurped by social media disinformation campaigns, celebrity propaganda spectacle, and direct organised political violence. The film comes as the world awaits the verdict of the case against of Maria Ressa, the CEO and founder of the news network Rappler, who has been vocal about holding president Rodrigo Duterte accountable for his government’s much-criticised and violent “war on drugs.” In what is a salient trend of our time, A Thousand Cuts examines the disinformation campaigns and the crackdown on the media, while journalists Maria Ressa and her team place the tools of their trade—and their freedom—on the line in defence of truth and democracy.
McCarthy chronicles the rise and fall of Joseph McCarthy, the United States senator who came to power after a stunning victory in an election that no one thought he could win. Once in office, he declared that there was a vast conspiracy threatening the United States—not emanating from a rival superpower, but from within. Then, without restraint or oversight, he conducted a vast crusade against those he accused of being “enemies of the state,” a chilling campaign marked by groundless accusations, bullying, intimidation, grandiose showmanship, and cruel victimisation. With lawyer Roy Cohn at his side, McCarthy belittled critics, spinning a web of lies and distortions while spreading fear and confusion. After years in the headlines, he was brought down by his own excesses and overreach.
Marion Stokes was secretly recording television twenty-four hours a day for thirty years. It started in 1979 with the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle, and ended in 2012 while the Sandy Hook massacre played on television as Marion passed away. In between, Marion recorded on 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, lies, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows, advertising—all of which deeply show how television has shaped the world of today. Remarkably prescient, Marion knew this, and saved it as a form of activism, knowing that archiving everything that was said and shown on television was part of the fight for the truth and historical memory, keeping those in power accountable. At the time, the public didn’t know it, but TV networks themselves were not keeping archives of their material, with huge swathes of recorded history lost. If it wasn’t for Marion, and the Internet Archive that will soon digitise her tapes for prosperity and free public access, these records would be lost forever. This film is about a radical Communist activist, who became a fabulously wealthy recluse archivist, and whose work was unorthodox, but also genius, even though she would pay a profound price for dedicating her life to such a visionary project.
The Viewing Booth recounts a unique encounter between a filmmaker and a viewer—exploring the way meaning is attributed to images in today’s culture of the screen. In a lab-like location, Maia Levy, a young Jewish American woman, watches videos portraying life in the occupied West Bank, while verbalising her thoughts and feelings in real time. Maia is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, and the images in the videos, depicting Palestinian life under Israeli military rule, contradict some of her most deep-seated beliefs. Empathy, anger, embarrassment, innate biases, and healthy curiosity all play out before our eyes, as we watch her watch the images created by the occupation. As Maia navigates and negotiates the images, which threaten her worldview, she also reflects on the way she sees them. Her candid and immediate reactions form a one-of-a-kind cinematic testimony to the psychology of the viewer, most especially in the digital era.
The Great Hack is an inside account of the company Cambridge Analytica, which used vast amounts of personal data scraped from portals such as Facebook to manipulate elections throughout India, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States over the past decade. The company, owned by SCL Group—a British firm that has a background in military disinformation campaigns and psychological warfare—came to public attention after the Brexit campaign in the UK, and soon after, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, both closely worked on by Cambridge Analytica and its billionaire backer, Robert Mercer. This resulted in inquires and investigations into both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but the company liquidated, along with its internal documents. Two former employees instead step forward to offer an inside account into the dark world of data mining and personalised propagandising, having some regret for what they have done. The film tracks these characters, as Cambridge Analytica lives on as Emerdata Limited, in the same London office. The Great Hack exemplifies big questions about democracy in the age of targeted information manipulation via the screen, and just how much power over our awareness has been ceded to giant corporations.
The 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
High Tech, Low Life follows the journey of two Chinese bloggers who travel their country chronicling undner-reported news and social issues stories. Using laptops, mobile phones, and digital cameras, both develop skills for reporting while learning to navigate China’s continually evolving censorship regime and the risks of political persecution. The film follows 57-year-old ‘Tiger Temple,’ who earns the title of China’s first “citizen reporter” after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder; and 27-year-old ‘Zola’ who recognises the opportunity to be famous by reporting on sensitive news throughout China. From the perspective of vastly different generations, both personalities must reconcile an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey from veggie-farmer to Internet celebrity; and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past, both provide a portrait of China and of the wider questions facing news-reporting in the age of the Internet.
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?
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…
Burning Question looks at the public debate surrounding global warming and explores the striking disconnect between a body of evidence from the world’s most prominent scientists, and the maze of speculation, rhetorical posturing, and outright misinformation from politicians, PR specialists, and political pundits. Mixing a local focus on Ireland with insights from scientists and leaders from around the world, Burning Question serves as both a primer on climate science, and a penetrating analysis of media framing and perception management.
We’ve been told again and again that sports and politics don’t mix, that games are just games and athletes should just “shut up and play.” But Not Just a Game argues that far from providing merely escapist entertainment, American sports have long been at the centre of some of the major political debates and struggles of our time. By tracing the good, the bad, and the ugly of American sports culture, Not Just a Game shows how American sports have glamorised militarism, racism, sexism, and homophobia; but also traces a largely forgotten history of rebel athletes who stood up to power and fought for social justice beyond the field of play.
War is hell, but for Hollywood it has been a god-send, providing the perfect dramatic setting against which courageous heroes win the hearts and minds of the movie going public. The Pentagon recognises the power of these celluloid dreams and encourages Hollywood to create heroic myths; to rewrite history to suit its own strategy and as a recruiting tool to provide a steady flow of willing young patriots for its wars…
The War You Don’t See traces the history of ‘embedded’ and independent reporting from the carnage of World War One to the destruction of Hiroshima, and from the invasion of Vietnam to the current war in Afghanistan and disaster in Iraq. As weapons and propaganda become even more sophisticated, the nature of war is developing into an ‘electronic battlefield’ in which journalists play a key role, and civilians are the victims. But who is the real enemy?
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…
In September 2008 when the American economy was on the verge of melting down, the then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, his former protégé John Thain (CEO of Merrill Lynch), and Ken Lewis (CEO, President, and Chairman of the Bank of America) secretly cut a deal to merge Bank of America and Merrill Lynch — in the midst of stock collapse; a rocky merger; the worst fourth-quarter losses in at least 17 years; a stockholder revolt and an urgent need to raise more capital despite a $45 billion “bail-out” from the federal government…
Welcome to the wartime contracting bazaar in Afghanistan. It is a virtual carnival of characters with shady connections—former CIA officials and ex-military officers joining hands with former Taliban and mujahedeen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort. US military’s contractors pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting—a deadly irony…
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?
Reaching into the Orwellian memory hole, War Made Easy exposes the some 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq. Using archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George Bush, this film reveals how the American news media have uncritically disseminated the pro-war messages of successive governments — paying special attention to the parallels between the Vietnam war and the war in Iraq…
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.
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.
Enemy Image overviews the history of the portrayal of war in television news from the perspective of the United States. The film starts with the coverage of Vietnam where reports happened with little supervision, control or interference. Following this, The Pentagon takes action to control access by journalists to battle areas in subsequent invasions—such as the Invasion of Grenada, where journalists were excluded completely—to the first Gulf War, where ‘news packages’ were provided directly from the military; to the embedded churnalism of the invasion of Iraq. Shown is the progressive tightening of control by the US military on the contact journalists have with soldiers and civilians in the war zone, in order that “never again will television raise the moral and political questions that face a people during war.”
Class Dismissed examines the role of television in the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect with class, offering a more complex reading of television’s often one-dimensional representations. The patterns inherent in the depictions of working class people are as either clowns or social deviants, stereotypical portrayals that reinforce the myth of meritocracy and have systemic social implications. By citing plenty of examples from today’s sitcoms, reality shows, police dramas, and daytime talk shows, Class Dismissed links television’s portrayals to negative cultural attitudes and public policies that directly affect the lives of working class people. A new media must be envisioned and created.
The Pentagon has a long tradition of cooperation with Hollywood. Movie studios can save millions of dollars and achieve spectacular success by securing use of military stock footage, military equipment, weapons and manpower. But the catch is that Hollywood must alter scripts, whitewash history, censor and present their films to display war and the military in a favourable way. As a consequence, mainstream commercial films become the best and most powerful, widespread propaganda…