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.
Generation Wealth is a visual history of the materialistic, image, and celebrity-obsessed culture, explored through the work of photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. Part historical essay, part autobiographical, Greenfield puts the pieces of her life’s work together to reveal the pathologies that have created the richest and most unequal society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging, and sex, Generation Wealth unpacks the global boom-bust economy, the corrupt American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.
Ten years on from his previous film, Advertising & the End of the World, renowned media scholar Sut Jhally follows up by exploring the since-escalating devastating personal and environmental fallouts of advertising and the near-totalising commercial culture. The film tracks the emergence of the advertising industry in the early 20th century to the full-scale commercialisation of the culture today, identifying the myth running throughout all of advertising: the idea that corporate brands and consumer goods are the keys to human happiness and fulfilment. We see how this powerful narrative, backed by billions of dollars a year and propagated by clever manipulative minds, has blinded us to the catastrophic costs of ever-accelerating rates of consumption. The result is a powerful film that unpacks fundamental issues surrounding commercialism, media culture, social well-being, environmental degradation, and the dichotomy between capitalism and democracy.
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.
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.
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.
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 Bro Code unpacks and takes aim at the forces of masculinity that condition boys and men to fundamentally dehumanise and disrespect women. The film breaks down a range of contemporary media forms that are saturated with sexism—movies and music videos that glamorise misogyny, pornography that trades in the brutalisation and commodification of women, comedy routines that make light of sexual assault, and a slate of men’s magazines and TV shows that propagate myths of what it means to be a man in this culture: that it’s not only normal, but “cool” for boys and men to control and humiliate women. There’s nothing natural or inevitable about this mentality. And it’s extremely harmful in the real world. By setting the myths against reality, The Bro Code challenges young people to step up and fight back against this culture, to reject the fundamental idea that being a ‘real man’ means disrespecting women.
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?
Author and activist Jean Kilbourne analyses the depiction of women in advertising and media by decoding a large array of print and television ads. What is revealed is a torrent of stereotypes; sexist and misogynistic images and messages; laying bare a world of frighteningly thin women in positions of subservience; collectively, the restrictive code of femininity that works to undermine girls and women in the real world. By examining these messages, Killing Us Softly asks us to take advertising seriously, and to think critically about its relationship to sexism, eating disorders, violence against women, popular culture, and contemporary politics.
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.
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?
This short film chronicles a metamorphosis of mainstream media and political power throughout the last decades, by looking at the role of the television journalist. In the early 1950s, not long after the invention of television itself, TV journalists essentially served as prompters for government figureheads and official viewpoints. This function changed somewhat however, with the political scandals of the 1960s and 70s, exemplified by Watergate, where some journalists joined the mainstream shift in society of questioning political power, big business and bureaucracy. Out of this boomed a new era of investigative journalism. But this ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall as the old certainties of “good and bad” and “right and left” were blurred and no longer simple. But rather than working to make sense of the complexity, journalism turned from moral principles to a simple reporting of experience, devoid of context. TV journalists now plead with the audience to send in photos and videos as a kind of so-called “democratised” media, but what actually functions as vast echo-chamber of uncertainty and unaccountability.
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.”
Two film students set out to explore the psychological and manipulative powers of consumerism by creating an extensive and pervasive advertising campaign for a fake hypermarket. The ads appear on radio, television, billboards; there is a promotional song, an internet site, ads in newspapers, magazines, and flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products are distributed. Will people believe it and show up for the grand opening?
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?
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised documents first-hand the events in Venezuela leading up to and during the April 2002 coup d’état attempt which briefly deposed President Hugo Chávez. A television crew from Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ happened to be recording a documentary about Chávez during the events. Shifting focus, the crew followed events as they occurred and captured images that they say contradict explanations given by Chávez’s opposition, the private media, the US State Department, and then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised details how the coup was the result of a conspiracy between various old guard and anti-Chávez factions within Venezuela and the United States…
At the turn of the millennium, a group of eleven girls aged 8 to 16 from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed about their views on media culture and its impact on their lives. Their insightful and provocative responses reveal how the attitudes and expectations of young girls are influenced by a saturated media culture. Using excerpts culled from a typical week of television broadcasting alongside the interviews, What a Girl Wants aims to provoke debate about the effects of media culture and, ideally, act as a catalyst for change in media content.
Produced twenty years ago, and even several years before the rise of Fox News, The Myth of the Liberal Media is possibly relevant now more than ever. The film dissects how news content gets shaped within a narrow and ultimately conservative institutional framework that marginalises other perspectives, filtering news events through a lens that serves power. Featuring scholarly analysis from Justin Lewis, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, The Myth of the Liberal Media asks: If you want to understand the way a system works, you look at its institutional structure. How it is organised, how it is controlled, how it is funded. The documentary examines the relationship advertising has in funding the media, and how this sets agendas, as well as exploring certain narratives that are propagated through a number of case studies that reveal how these mechanisms ultimately serve power instead of public interest.
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.
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…
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?