In the wake of the September 11th attacks, amongst the ravaging of war, the United States has been secretly deploying drones to carry out assassinations throughout the Middle East. The drones are increasingly piloted by the likes of young computer gamers groomed by screen culture and computer games of war, where in many cases, the Pentagon is directly involved in the creation of such games as recruitment tools, actively working to lure young people proficient with technology into the new era of the military-industrial-complex. Drone unravels this complex phenomenon while travelling to places such as Waziristan, where innocent civilians, including children and rescue workers are routinely secretly killed, where families and communities ravaged by the drone strikes search for understanding, accountability and adjustment to the daily horrors. The film also takes a look at the young people sitting behind the screens of the new war machines, half a world away, that actually pull the trigger, asking what kind of world is being built in the rise of seemingly endless and lucrative war driven by technological escalation.
Instafame is an exploration of a teenager’s relationship with the concepts of success and fame through the lens of the screen, exemplified by the popular photo-sharing website ‘Instagram.’ The short film speaks volumes about this specific aspect of screen culture in that the notions of celebrity are self-reinforced in the closed-loop of the ‘social networking’ environment which is itself a purpose-built, commercially-mediated experience. So what happens to the notions of identity, friendship, personality and so on; in this space, and in the wider culture?
The Hacker Wars explores the strange duality of the modern-day computer-hacker as a mischievous provocateur, but also in some cases, societal activists with underlying political fervour, serious or not. The film explores this by profiling some of the renowned characters that have tickled the secretive inner workings of corporations and government agencies for various reasons—ranging from the nefarious and narcissistic, to the political and scandalous. Some do it for the lulz, others do it to prove a point, and others do it to “speak truth to power.” In any event, many have faced severe punishments as a result. By following through this, The Hacker Wars touches on issues of whistleblowing, social justice, and power relations, in a time where computer technologies represent extreme power and control. But for whom? And what? This poses the question in deciphering the personalities of the hackers themselves. Are they serious activists with good intentions, or are they driven by insane ideologies?
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?
Web Junkie travels to China, the first country in the world where Internet addiction has been classified as a clinical disorder. The film focuses on the methods used to treat young people, which reveal a surreal mix of prison, hospital, and military operations, with a dose of group therapy thrown in for good measure. We also see the cultural and emotional effects of Internet addiction in China’s society of hyper-competitiveness, which speaks to the dominant culture worldwide. Web Junkie exposes the virtual world in a country—and indeed world—of disparity, where health officials have no idea how to cope with a younger generation that finds World of Warcraft more exciting and supposedly more “real” than their own lives.
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.
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.
In 2002, quietly and behind closed doors, the Internet giant Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a privatised giant global library, containing every book in existence. Not only this, but they claimed they had an even greater purpose—to create a higher form of intelligence, something that HG Wells had predicted in his 1937 essay “World Brain”. Working with the world’s most prestigious libraries, Google was said to be reinventing the limits of copyright in the name of free access to anyone, anywhere. But what can possibly be wrong with this picture? As Google and the World Brain reveals, a whole lot…
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.
Admit it—you don’t really read the endless pages of terms and conditions connected to every website you visit or phone call that you make do you? Of course not. But every day billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, your friends and family, your finances, and your secrets—precisely because of this; and are not only selling the information to the highest bidder, but freely sharing it with the government. And you agreed to all of it. With plenty of recent real-world examples, Terms And Conditions May Apply covers just a little of what governments and corporations are legally taking from Internet users every day—turning the future of both privacy and civil liberties into serious question. From whistleblowers and investigative journalists to zombie fan clubs and Egyptian dissidents, this film demonstrates how all of us online have incrementally opted-in to a real-time surveillance state, click by click.
Using the analogy of a Panopticon, this film looks at how technology and the convergence of vast data stores together are fuelling one of the most comprehensive attacks on privacy ever before seen. How is modern society being defined by such rapid changes? Where are we heading? By travelling to Germany to show how such attacks have been the basis for past dictatorships, Panopticon asks: Even if you have nothing to hide, do you have nothing to fear? What does privacy mean for you? When precisely does the surveillance state begin? What is your threshold? With a focus on the Netherlands, Panopticon offers a comprehensive analysis challenging the current herd-mentality and apathy about privacy in the modern world.
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.
How does the military train the solider of tomorrow? Video games. The most popular games are those that replicate as close as possible the war events as seen on the news. Such games now far outpace the biggest Hollywood blockbuster movies, popular music, and best-selling books, combined. What does this complete immersion in high-tech war mean for our political culture? As well as those directly affected by state violence? What does it mean when the technological sophistication of modern militarism become forms of mass entertainment? Returning Fire profiles three artists and activists that decided these questions needed to be answered. We see how Anne-Marie Schleiner, Wafaa Bilal, and Joseph Delappe moved dissent from the streets to the screens, infiltrating war games in an attempt to break their hypnotic spell. The results ask all of us—gamers and non-gamers alike—to think critically about what it means when drones and remote warfare become computer games and visa versa. Can we reflect on our capacity to empathise with people directly affected by the trauma of real war?
One generation from now, most people in the United States will have spent more time in the virtual world than in the natural world. New media technologies have changed lives in countless ways. Streams of information now appears in a click. Overseas friends are contactable in an instant. Engulfing video games and streams of endless entertainment to stimulate the senses, dazzle the mind and pander to the acculturated desire to be in control. Even grandma loves Wii. But what are people missing when they’re behind screens? How is it already impacting our children, our society, and the planet? At a time when people are at screens more than they are outside, Play Again explores the challenge in dealing with the addiction and returning to the real world…
Truth in Numbers? Everything, According to Wikipedia explores the cultural implications and background of one of the most visited and referenced sites on the Internet. What is the role and impact of Wikipedia in the archiving of information and the preservation of culture? What will it leave behind? This film examines the unfolding legacy by weaving multiple perspectives about the impact of Wikipedia and provoking a deeper conversation on how knowledge is formed and what future generations will learn about history and the world…
Neuroscientist Professor Susan Greenfield says today’s developing brain is being worryingly reshaped by excessive visual stimulation — the effect of a culture driven by screens. Biotechnology, nanotechnology, even the internet are all impacting on our brains and could be heralding future generations with different abilities, agendas and even ways of thinking. Her prediction is that we might be standing on the brink of a cataclysmic mind-makeover never before seen…
Within a single generation, digital media, the Internet and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialise and even conduct war. But is technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? Is our constantly-wired-world causing us to lose as much as we’ve apparently gained? In Digital Nation, Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin explore what it means to be human in a 21st-century digital world…
Based on the comprehensive work of media scholar George Gerbner, The Mean World Syndrome takes aim at the for-profit media system that thrives on violence, stereotypes, and the cultivation of anxiety. The film takes us through how the more television people watch, the more likely they are to tend to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place, while being insecure and afraid of others. We see how these media-induced fears and anxieties provide fertile ground for intolerance, extremism, and a paranoid style of politics that threatens basic social values. The result is an accessible introduction to debates about media violence and more broadly, the effects of the media system. This film is a powerful tool for helping to make sense of the increasingly intense and fractious political climate of today.
20 years on from the invention of the World Wide Web, The Virtual Revolution explores how the Internet is reshaping almost every aspect of our lives. But what is really going on behind this reshaping? The inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, believed his invention would remain an open frontier that nobody could own, and that it would take power from the few and give it to the many. So how do these utopian claims stand up to today?
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.
Google or Wikipedia? Those of us who search online are getting referred more and more to Wikipedia. For the past two years, this free online “encyclopaedia of the people” has been topping the lists of the world’s most popular websites. But do we really know what we’re using? The Truth According To Wikipedia plunges into the story behind Wikipedia and explores the powerful world of ‘Web 2.0’ — Is it a revolution, or pure hype?
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 renowned dot-com boom of the 1990s which was the world’s first Internet television network. This concept was way ahead of its time. Using this platform, before broadband, a vision of that future was exemplified at 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. These happenings, documented through We Live In Public, serve as a powerful analogy for the Internet as it’s now known today and the price we pay for living in its ‘public.’ It shows the costs of willingly trading privacy and sanity for a constant voracious audience, attention, and the pursuit of celebrity, in an online world of pervasive surveillance.
The average child in the United States spends 40+ hours per week consuming media—the equivalent of a full-time job. This means that by the time children born today turn 30, they will have spent an entire decade of their lives in front of a screen. Remote Control examines the implications of this unprecedented level of exposure by showing the media habits of two families and supplementing their personal insights with interviews from media experts and educators. Revealed is the centrality of media in our lives and far-reaching effects that we are only beginning to understand, as well as ways we might begin to help our children live a life instead of watching one.
Stupidity sets out to determine whether our culture is hooked on deliberate ignorance as a strategy for success. From Adam Sandler to George W. Bush, from the IQ test to TV programming, to the origins of the word “moron,” this film examines the celebration of dumbing-down in contemporary culture. Featuring opinions and comments from TV personalities to scholars, researchers, and the general public, Stupidity reveals that despite this culture’s extensive access to information and education, it continues to choose and celebrate stupidity and ignorance.
With its motto “Don’t be evil,” Google claims it has the best intentions. But there are also claims that Google is slowly turning into Big Brother, keeping track of users and continuously making decisions about the information it provides. Will Google turn out to be the new Library of Alexandria, serving as the great collector that brings the world’s information to supposedly everyone, as it claims? Or is it more like a monopolistic, Ministry-Of-Truth-type corporation that challenges the very freedom of information by its stronghold over internet data?
The Net explores the back-story of Ted Kaczynski (the infamous ‘Unabomber’) as a prism to the often unexamined side of the history of the Internet. The film combines travelogue and investigative journalism to trace contrasting counter-cultural responses to the so-called ‘cybernetic’ revolution of the 1970s. For some whom resist the pervasive systems of digital technology, the Unabomber can come to symbolise an ultimate figure of refusal. But for those that embrace the technologies, as did and do the champions of so-called ‘media art’, such as Marshall McLuhan, Nam June Paik and Stewart Brand, the promises of worldwide networking and instantaneous communication outweigh any and all of the concerns. The Net links these multiple nodes of cultural and political history, analogous to the Internet itself. Circling through themes of utopianism, anarchism, terrorism, the CIA, LSD, MKULTRA, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, The Net exposes the conspiracies and upheavals, secrets and cover-ups as part of the forgotten subversive history of the Internet.
At the time of making this film, the year 2000, computer games represented a $6 billion a year industry, and one out of every ten households in the United States owned a Sony Playstation—numbers that have no-doubt since skyrocketed. Back then, children played an average of ten hours per week—a stat also since to have increased today—and yet, despite capturing the attention of millions of these kids, video games remain one of the least scrutinized cultural industries. Game Over seeks to address this fastest growing segment of the media, through engaging questions of gender, race and violence. Game Over offers a much needed dialogue about the complex and controversial topic of video game violence, and is designed to encourage viewers to think critically about the games they play.
Through exploring deep questions about the way mainstream media is organised and perpetuated in concert with technological development, media expert George Gerbner delivers a solid indictment of the way the so-called “information superhighway” is now being constructed. Following on from his solid work looking at the impacts of television on society, Gerbner turns to examining emerging technologies like V-chip and the way they interface with globalisation. This film urges the viewer to struggle for democratic principles in this emerging technoculture.
By addressing the question of violence and the media from a number of different angles, The Killing Screens presents a comprehensive view on how to think about the effects of the media environment in new and complex ways. In contrast to the relatively simplistic behaviourist model, that “media violence causes real-world violence,” renowned media scholar and researcher George Gerbner shows us how to think about the psychological, political, social, and developmental impacts of growing up and living within a cultural environment of pervasive violent imagery and narratives. What are some of the impacts of this culture and what can be done about it?