Media And Technology Ethics: A Guide To Educational Video Resources

Kinasevych, O. (2016, April 5). Media And Technology Ethics: A Guide To Educational Video Resources. Unpublished manuscript, Winnipeg, Canada.

Contents

Introduction

“If it is not right, do not do it: if it is not true, do not say it” (Marcus Aurelius, 1890, p. 292).

This guide seeks to catalogue a brief selection of video1 materials that may be used as teaching and learning aids in the critical examination of ethical applications of media and technology — including video itself. The guide considers these media and technologies in relation to their use in communication of messages, ideas, and values to the public and within education settings.

The roots of ethics were at one time articulated by Marcus Aurelius in his oft-cited meditation from the second century CE, noted above. Although succinct and superficially direct, Aurelius leaves open the definitions of “right” and “true.” Some clarification may be found later in the same text where he continues: “First, do nothing inconsiderately, nor without a purpose. Second, make thy acts refer to nothing else than to a social end” (1890, p. 292). Again, there is some ambiguity regarding the kinds of purposes and for whose society, but the point may well be that ethics are ambiguous and context-dependent. Contemporary views of ethics include respecting human autonomy, not causing harm, providing some benefit to others, and treating people equitably (Clark, Prosser, & Wiles, 2010). In either case, the exploration for the right and the true may be a fair — albeit modest — metric for the current purpose.

Technology and media have no inherent purpose but through their affordances they may reveal the values of the designers of their processes and artifacts (Selwyn, 2011). The unquestioning acceptance of technological advances since the Industrial Revolution, in particular by the education community, has been criticized. Western economic models of capitalism together with the technological imperative have been harnessed to establish a certain “domination” of our society (Woodcock, 1944, para. 5). The cycles of production and consumption have left little room for considerations of sustainability and the human condition. Technology and media have been directed by the values of consumerism, militarism, and capitalism. Might ethics ever stand a chance?

Of the various media, video occupies a special place. It is closer to the oral traditions of story-telling than text-based communication or even audio communications. Unlike traditional story-telling, video can include edits in timing and imagery such that cannot be conveyed in any other medium. Further, by engaging our eyes and our ears, it becomes immersive in its effect. A flickering series of still images accompanied by recorded sounds provides a compelling sensory illusion. The affective response precedes the cognitive. However, we should be cautioned: “needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by [images] is an aesthetic consumerism…. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution” (Sontag, 1973, p. 18).

Therefore, we turn to ethics. Carl Mitcham posits categories of technology as object, as knowledge, as process, and as volition (Francis, 2010). In this last category — one of “aims, intentions, desires, and choices” — we may find room to express the values we hold important (Francis, 2010, p. 5). This guide seeks to examine ethics through — and with — video. McLuhan had once stated that “as we extend our educational operation by television and videotape we shall find that the teacher is no longer the source of data but of insight” (2003, p. 10). This guide aspires to provide such insight. Ultimately, the hope is that the use of today’s media and technology may reflect ethical aspirations that have spanned millennia — and that remain all the more important in today’s world where words travel further and deeds may touch so many more lives.

Note 1 — For the purposes of the current discussion, the contemporary term “video” will be used to represent the range of media that portray sequences of still images presented in a manner to convey the illusion of motion. Historically, terms such as “film,” “movies,” and “motion pictures” have been used interchangeably to label this form of media.

Catalogue And Usage Guide

This catalogue of video selections is organized alphabetically by title. Each selection is characterized through eight headings: contributors, format, source, genre, content advisory, keywords, description, and discussion.

Contributors are the key individuals, entities, and their roles in the production of the video. Typically, this will include narrators and directors, and others as appropriate.

Format describes key physical parameters of the video, such as running time.

Source indicates the organization that produced the video and a locator (URL) if available. In some cases, the video may need to be sourced through a library or purchased outright. The source heading includes a citation which is expanded in the References section of this catalogue.

Genre attempts to categorize the presentational style of the video.

Content Advisory provides guidance to any contentious depictions or content in the video. For this purpose, the standards of the Province of Manitoba are referenced. Appendix B explains each content descriptor. In general, the material selected for this guide is intended for adult viewers or post-secondary education contexts. Some videos may be suitable for younger audiences with appropriate guidance.

Keywords aim to provide a sense of the concepts represented in the video as they relate to the theme of this catalogue. Keywords are discussed further, below.

Description provides a synopsis of the video narrative and visuals.

Discussion provides guidance as to how the video may be used as a teaching or learning tool. It is meant to draw attention to key elements of the videos as they relate to the theme of ethics in media and technology.

In this guide, keywords were selected to further categorize the selections in how they relate to the theme of media, technology, and the ethics of their use. Several keywords pertain to cognition and perception: attention (an example that demands or holds the viewer’s gaze), audience (the participation of the viewer as such), communication (the transmission of some message), critical thinking (exploration or challenge to), perception of reality (not unalterable), reflection (consideration of challenging ideas), sensory engagement (how video is an immersive medium), SMCR (the communication model) (Bettinghaus, 1960), sublime (sense of awe), and time (how it may be perceived or altered). Keywords connected to economics are capitalism (monetary focus) and consumerism (the desire to purchase). Keywords pertaining to humanity are dehumanization (a removal of human empathy), health (physical and mental), human-ness (the degree to which we manifest our humanity), identity & self (pertaining to our individual selves), individuality (our uniqueness), objectification (positioning a human being as an object), and relationships (social connections between people). Media and technology are represented with keywords art (expressive and intuitive), camera (a device for capturing images), history (change over time), industrial revolution (an historic period of social, commercial, and technological upheaval), media (modes of communication), novelty (for its own sake), scientism (observing phenomena only through the lens of science), and unintended effects (unexpected consequences). Finally, power and society are represented with keywords authority (those in power), conformity (the need to be alike), control (exertion over others), democracy (social inclusion and participation), ethics (directly addressing ethical topics), manipulation (a deception of others), militarism (promotion of war), power (inequality between people), propaganda (communications with often unseen agendas), surveillance (by the state), and violence (brutality toward others).

The video selections may be viewed in any sequence. An instructor may choose to group certain videos together to compare and contrast the ideas presented. Because many of the video selections are rich in the information they convey, they may each be studied several times and each time may reveal something new to the viewer.


1981 Primitive Internet Report On KRON (1981)

CONTRIBUTORS Steve Newman (reporter)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken soundtrack (0:02:17)
SOURCE (Newman, 1981) KRON-TV San Francisco (broadcaster)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1wu
GENRE Television news report.
CONTENT ADVISORY Suitable for all audiences.
KEYWORDS history, media, novelty, sublime, time
DESCRIPTION This brief television news report describes how newspapers were experimenting with online editions of their text content in 1981. An early subscriber to the experimental service is shown using a dial telephone, handset coupler, and a television-like monitor. He is captioned “owns home computer” while he describes the features he appreciates about the new service. The service is relatively expensive and download of the newspaper content is said to take “hours.”

This news item appears to be presented as a human interest story while the television reporters seem somewhat bemused with the newspapers’ attempts at technological advancement. At the same time, there’s an expectation that online newspapers may someday supplant print editions.

DISCUSSION This video presents an historic snapshot of attitudes toward information technology as newspapers began transitions to online forms. The video may be used to compare contemporary attitudes toward the news dissemination process and its technologies.

Home technology usage is illustrated and presents the opportunity to consider how these technologies and attitudes toward them may have changed to the present day. What attitude does the television news reporter appear to take toward the “home computer” user? What perceptions do we have today of “home computer” users versus people without home computers?

What dynamic might exist in the fact that a television news program is examining changes in the newspaper industry?

What critical questions, if any, are being asked about the process of the dissemination of news? What has happened to the “news cycle” as more news appears online? What challenges might this present to meaningful journalism today?

A Clockwork Orange (1972) — Segment: “The Choice Was All Yours”

CONTRIBUTORS Stanley Kubrick (director, scriptwriter), Anthony Burgess (scriptwriter), Malcolm McDowell (actor), Madge Ryan (actor), Carl Duering (actor)
FORMAT Feature film, colour, sound (2:16:00)
Segment runs from 1:09:49 to 1:18:28 (0:08:41)
SOURCE (Kubrick, 1972) Warner Bros.
GENRE Science Fiction.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Frightening Scenes, Mature Theme, Nudity, Disturbing Content, Brutal Violence, Sexual Violence.
KEYWORDS attention, audience, authority, conformity, control, dehumanization, ethics, identity & self, individuality, manipulation, media, perception of reality, power, propaganda, sensory engagement, SMCR, sublime, unintended effects, violence
DESCRIPTION Alex, the young protagonist, is brought into a facility for treatment and cure of his violent tendencies. In this segment, Alex is introduced to Dr. Branom who describes the treatment in a roundabout way, in that it involves watching films. Alex responds that he enjoys watching films. Alex is given a dose of some drug.

Alex is next seen strapped to a movie theatre chair with some apparatus on his head. Alex’s voiceover is heard retelling the experience to his “brothers.” His eyelids are forced to remain open for duration he is watching films. He is shown violent films which he enjoys at first. Gradually, Alex becomes progressively more ill as the films continue.

Later, back in his hospital room, Alex discusses the treatment with Dr. Branom. He describes his discomfort to which Dr. Branom responds that Alex is getting healthier.

Once again in the movie theatre, Alex is strapped down with his eyelids forced open. The images he is presented with are propaganda films from Nazi Germany. The soundtrack consists only of music. Alex realizes the music is by Beethoven. Alex loudly protests that it’s a “sin” that Beethoven’s music should be used in this fashion. The treatment leader, Dr. Brodsky, responds that nothing can be done to change it.

Note that Alex often speaks using a fictional, Russian-influenced dialect of his teen subculture with words like “malchik,” “devochka,” “horrorshow,” “gulliver,” “slooshy,” and “viddy,” for example.

DISCUSSION This brief sequence communicates the relationship between Alex and the films he is watching and our relationship to a film in which we are watching Alex receive cruel treatment.

In terms of the SMCR communications model (Bettinghaus, 1960), the filmmaker has created multiple, simultaneous channels between the various senders (the filmmakers and the medical staff) and receivers (Alex, the medical staff, and the film viewers), leaving the film viewers to untangle the various layers.

In the first treatment, Alex observes that “it’s funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you viddy [see] them on a screen.” How might this be a reference to the clarity with which we might understand something as it is presented as a video?

The inclusion of the Beethoven music may suggest an aspect of the unintended consequences of technology (Hlynka, 2014; Levinson, 2005). Dr. Brodksy does nothing to remediate this conflict. What responsibility do filmmakers have in how they construct their films? How much more might this be the case for educational video?

Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds (2010)

CONTRIBUTORS Ai Weiwei (narrator, self), Kate Vogel (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, sound (0:14:42)
SOURCE (Vogel, 2010) Tate Media (production company)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1xa
GENRE Documentary.
CONTENT ADVISORY Suitable for all audiences.
KEYWORDS art, conformity, consumerism, dehumanization, human-ness, individuality, objectification, power, propaganda, SMCR, sublime
DESCRIPTION This video follows an art project in which millions of porcelain sunflower seeds are manufactured. Ai Weiwei, a dissident artist in China, conceptualized and directed the project. The many steps in the production of the porcelain are documented. Ai Weiwei narrates the porcelain production process, its historic context, and finally the political connotations of the project. The video concludes with the placement of the sunflower seeds in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery in London.
DISCUSSION The magnitude of the Sunflower Seeds project provides an example of the “sublime.” How might we quantify the scale of this project?

This art was used as a powerful political statement that Weiwei hints at in the video. He positions the work as a response to the sunflowers that appeared often in the many images of Mao Zedong, where Mao would often be represented as the sun. In the context of this visual propaganda, the sunflowers could be imagined to eventually die and the seeds would be harvested. Where might people be represented within this symbolism?

In our contemporary world, the Sunflower Seeds may represent several ideas. They may represent the mass-produced goods that China delivers to consumerist societies. They may also represent individuals stripped of their individuality and made to conform in the interests of state power.

Weiwei appears to leverage his skills as a communicator and artist. He seems to reverse the sender’s message channel and has transformed himself from receiver to sender. The channel he selects, though, is different though he mimics (or mocks?) the original vocabulary.

Baloney Detection Kit (2009)

CONTRIBUTORS Michael Shermer (narrator)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken soundtrack (0:14:40)
SOURCE (Shermer, 2009) Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (production company)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1xp
GENRE Documentary.
CONTENT ADVISORY Language May Offend, Disturbing Content. (Caution: scene at 0:00:53 — 0:01:00 may be offensive to some cultures, traditions).
KEYWORDS critical thinking, ethics, perception of reality, scientism
DESCRIPTION Michael Shermer explains the value of scientific inquiry and describes ten questions to aid in critical thinking of scientific and other claims.
DISCUSSION The “Baloney Detection Kit” seems primarily aimed at scientific inquiry. In what ways might we apply the questions in other contexts?

Which rules resonated with your view of the world? Which might be most useful in your daily contexts of school or work?

Which rules might be controversial? How might you challenge or argue against those rules?

Call The Cops (2014)

CONTRIBUTORS Rob Hustle (singer)
FORMAT Video, colour, musical soundtrack (0:03:31)
SOURCE (Hustle, 2014) Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1xs
GENRE Music video.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Frightening Scenes, Mature Theme, Language May Offend, Coarse Language, Violence, Disturbing Content, Gory Scenes, Brutal Violence.
KEYWORDS authority, camera, conformity, control, dehumanization, democracy, history, individuality, militarism, objectification, perception of reality, power, propaganda, sensory engagement, surveillance, violence
DESCRIPTION This music video presents seething criticism of police brutality, specifically in the United States. The lyrics are angry and the visuals are a fast-paced collage of surveillance, witness, and journalist video segments depicting brutal police violence directed at civilians. The singer makes connections of police brutality to militarism and dictatorships such as Nazi Germany. He questions the relationships of power to race and social class.
DISCUSSION This video presents an extreme in the use of edits, timing, volume of imagery, and the sensory engagement of sight and hearing, almost to the point of overload. It perhaps is one exemplar of the power of video as compared to print or audio alone. The video engages the viewer at an affective level to convey a simple cognitive theme, that of pervasive police corruption and brutality, and the role of the state in the proliferation of these attitudes.

The deployment of surveillance cameras may have had some effect on curbing civilian criminal activity. However, pervasive video cameras have exposed police brutality and abuse as never before, even in Canada (CBC News, 2007).

Is the use of surveillance video segments appropriate in this music video?
How important are video segments to the message of the music video?
How might a music video like this be perceived by police authorities in Canada?

Connected, But Alone? (2012)

CONTRIBUTORS Sherry Turkle (speaker)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken soundtrack (0:19:48)
SOURCE (Turkle, 2012) TED Talks (production company)
TED.com — http://ur1.ca/or1xx
GENRE Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Suitable for all audiences.
KEYWORDS attention, communication, consumerism, control, critical thinking, human-ness, identity & self, individuality, novelty, objectification, reflection, relationships, sensory engagement, sublime, unintended effects
DESCRIPTION Turkle discusses the conflict between the pleasures of contemporary technological tools and our human needs for real human relationships. She argues for careful use of information technology such that it should not get in the way of our real-life connection to others.
DISCUSSION Turkle identifies some of the value or satisfaction that technologies may provide us. What are these and how important are they? How would we have managed in a time before these technologies?

Why might there be tension between information technology and social interactions?

Turkle discusses the value of solitude. How might we aim to achieve solitude and in what measure?

How fully do you disclose yourself to others in your online persona? Do you present more than one persona online? How and why might these differ?

Consuming Kids: The Commercialization Of Childhood (2008)

CONTRIBUTORS Adriana Barbaro (director), Jeremy Earp (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, sound (0:05:24)
SOURCE (Barbaro & Earp, 2008) Media Education Foundation (distributor)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1y7
GENRE Documentary trailer.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Mature Theme, Violence, Disturbing Content, Gory Scenes.
KEYWORDS attention, capitalism, conformity, consumerism, critical thinking, dehumanization, health, identity & self, media, objectification, perception of reality, propaganda, relationships, sensory engagement, SMCR, sublime, surveillance
DESCRIPTION This trailer summarizes the key issues surrounding the commercial marketing of products directly to children.
DISCUSSION Corporations have many means of production of commercial messages, as well as control over the many of the channels over which these messages are transmitted. Considering the SMCR model of communication (Bettinghaus, 1960), how might families disrupt inappropriate messaging to their children?

Danielle (2013)

CONTRIBUTORS Anthony Cerniello (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, musical soundtrack (0:04:58)
SOURCE (Cerniello, 2013) Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1yc
GENRE Documentary.
CONTENT ADVISORY Suitable for all audiences.
KEYWORDS art, attention, audience, identity & self, perception of reality, sensory engagement, sublime, time
DESCRIPTION This cinematic experiment presents the image of an individual as she ages, gazing directly into the camera, at the audience, the entire time. Starting as a toddler, the individual gradually, almost imperceptibly, matures.
DISCUSSION The individual in this film gazes directly out at the “audience.” Might we be able to stare directly back if there was no intermediary — the camera? How are we, as the audience, hidden? What permission does video give us to observe what we might otherwise not?

This video provides an example of how video media can alter our experience of time. In a few minutes, an entire lifetime passes before our eyes. This may not be reality but could it be akin to how we remember our pasts and imagine our futures — in compressed sequences?

Digital Ethics And The Future Of Humans In A Connected World (2014)

CONTRIBUTORS Gerd Leonhard (speaker)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken soundtrack (0:19:52)
SOURCE (Leonhard, 2014) TEDx Talks (production company)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1yh
GENRE Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Mature Theme, Language May Offend, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS critical thinking, ethics, human-ness, identity & self, individuality, industrial revolution, scientism, sublime, surveillance, unintended effects
DESCRIPTION Leonhard makes the case that technology has advanced more quickly than our ethical thinking. Without ethics, he clearly argues that technology may soon pose the threat of extinction to the human species.
DISCUSSION Leonhard questions the ethics of several media and technology corporations. Individuals may certainly demonstrate ethical behaviour, but are corporations capable of doing so?

Should we favour the benefits of technology, such as speed and the network effect, as opposed to human characteristics such as depth, meaning, and self-realization? Is a compromise possible or are some things non-negotiable?

Why might we be concerned about artificial intelligence? What are its ethical implications?

‘E’ (1981)

CONTRIBUTORS Bretislav Pojar (director), Francine Desbiens (contributor), Yvon Mallette (contributor), Michèle Pauzé (contributor), Maurice Blackburn (contributor), Robert Forget (producer)
FORMAT Short film, colour, sound (0:06:32)
SOURCE (Pojar, 1981) National Film Board of Canada (NFB) (production company)
NFB — http://ur1.ca/or1yo
GENRE Animated film.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Mature Theme, Violence, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS authority, communication, conformity, control, critical thinking, democracy, individuality, manipulation, militarism, perception of reality, power, propaganda, SMCR, surveillance, violence
DESCRIPTION The only discernible dialogue in this animated short film consists of exclamations of ‘E’ and ‘B’ as townspeople argue the correct meaning of a newly installed sculpture.

The argument is settled by force when the king orders his henchmen and police to beat the townspeople until they perceive the “reality” as the king sees it.

DISCUSSION How do individuals and society create meaning? What makes an ‘E’ an ‘E’?

How is truth established? Is it negotiated? Do people with power hold a certain advantage?

We may not see people being physically beaten for their beliefs in our society. How might people in our society be coerced to change their beliefs?

CONTRIBUTORS Phil Harper (director, producer, narrator)
FORMAT Video, colour, sound (0:10:30)
SOURCE (Harper, 2013) Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1yt
GENRE Documentary.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Frightening Scenes, Mature Theme, Violence, Disturbing Content, Brutal Violence, Tobacco Use/Promotion.
KEYWORDS attention, capitalism, communication, conformity, consumerism, control, dehumanization, democracy, ethics, history, individuality, industrial revolution, manipulation, media, militarism, objectification, perception of reality, power, propaganda
DESCRIPTION This video provides a quick look at the birth of public relations as propaganda in the service of elites and against the interests of democracy.
DISCUSSION What do you believe to be the “essence of democracy?” How might it be different from Bernays’ view?

In Bernays’ view what role might media and technology play in shaping democracy? How might we use, or not use, media and technology to counter undemocratic beliefs?

Evidence (1995)

CONTRIBUTORS Godfrey Reggio (director), Philip Glass (music)
FORMAT Short film, colour, musical soundtrack (0:07:40)
SOURCE (Reggio, 1995) Vimeo.com — http://ur1.ca/or1yx
GENRE Documentary.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS art, attention, audience, camera, communication, control, critical thinking, dehumanization, ethics, individuality, manipulation, media, objectification, power, sensory engagement, sublime
DESCRIPTION This video captures the gaze of children as they watch a television show.
DISCUSSION What might the opening and closing sequences — using grainy, extreme close-ups — be saying about the theme or subject matter of this video?

Could we say that the children are watching television using critical thinking skills? Why or why not? Should they be?

What message might the filmmakers be trying to make with this video?

Experience The Power Of A Bookbook™ (2014)

CONTRIBUTORS Inter IKEA Systems BV
FORMAT Video, colour, sound. (0:02:29)
SOURCE (Experience the power of a bookbook™, 2014) Youtube — http://ur1.ca/i4cq9
GENRE Satirical advertisement.
CONTENT ADVISORY Suitable for all audiences.
KEYWORDS consumerism, critical thinking, sensory engagement, sublime
DESCRIPTION This advertisement subverts technological fetishism by presenting the values of a printed book using terminology usually reserved for the description of consumer electronics.
DISCUSSION If we accept that printed books are a form of technology, does the commentary provided by the narrator seem fair?

It may be easy to compare books to contemporary electronic devices. How might have people prior to book technology make fun of books? What about writing technologies — how might they have been scorned?

How The News Distorts Our Worldview (2008)

CONTRIBUTORS Alisa Miller (presenter)
FORMAT Video, colour, sound (0:04:23)
SOURCE (Miller, 2008) TED Talks (production company)
TED.com — http://ur1.ca/or1zc
GENRE Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS attention, communication, critical thinking, democracy, ethics, media, perception of reality, power, propaganda
DESCRIPTION Miller discusses how U.S. mass media representations of the world are skewed toward U.S. interests and toward the banal. She presents geographic representations of the land masses of the world and then distorts their sizes according to the media attention they received in 2007. She discusses how international news stories have been usurped by media attention to celebrities.
DISCUSSION It would appear that media companies may not serving the public interest. Worse, by ignoring global issues, media may be sending the message that certain societies are not worthy of our concern.

Miller makes her points through the use of graphic visuals that distort the view of the world so that it mirrors, perhaps, our worldview more accurately.

Junk Thought (2013)

CONTRIBUTORS Micah White (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, sound (0:03:13)
SOURCE (White, 2013) Adbusters (production company)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1zh
GENRE Animated documentary
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Mature Theme.
KEYWORDS attention, capitalism, conformity, consumerism, critical thinking, health, identity & self, individuality, industrial revolution, manipulation, media, perception of reality
DESCRIPTION In response to advertising and consumerism, this video presents the idea of mental pollution created by our information environments. The definition of pollution is traced through history. The narrator retells Émile Zola’s 1866 short story “Death by Advertising.” An argument is made on the benefits of critical thinking.
DISCUSSION Much of our world is presented in a mediated form, composed of mass communications designed to drive economic growth through materialist consumption. The volume of these messages is such that, although we may be able to think critically, can we think quickly enough to analyze the messages sent our way? If not, do we need to disconnect from the mediated world and, if so, for how long?

In what ways might your own health be affected by a toxic information environment? Or would you argue that such an environment does not exist?

Killing Us Softly 4 (2012)

CONTRIBUTORS Jean Kilbourne (presenter), Sut Jhally (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken soundtrack (0:04:56)
SOURCE (Kilbourne & Jhally, 2012) Media Education Foundation (distributor)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or1zm
GENRE Documentary trailer, Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Mature Theme, Nudity, Sexual Content, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS attention, conformity, consumerism, critical thinking, dehumanization, ethics, health, identity & self, manipulation, media, objectification, perception of reality, relationships, sensory engagement, violence
DESCRIPTION Kilbourne provides a strong critique of advertising directed at women and how its tone and attitude has hardly changed over the years. Advertising, she argues, is used to sell us not only product but values, concepts of love and sexuality, notions of success, and telling us “who we are and who we should be.”

Advertising is used to portray “ideals of female beauty,” which are unachievable. These portrayals are directed at young women who are compelled to spend time and money to achieve the impossible and are then made to feel ashamed and guilty when they fail. The ideals are achieved through photo retouching, today more easily accomplished through computer software.

Women are thus objectified, the first steps for the justification of violence. This violence, together with eating disorders, have become a public health problem.

DISCUSSION The images discussed by Kilbourne are so pervasive, we may take them for granted and no longer notice them.

For one day, note how many times you might see images such as those discussed in Kilbourne’s presentation. Does being aware of such messages make you more likely to see them? Or are you likely to let them pass into the background.

Who are the people you consider beautiful? What is it that makes them beautiful to you?

Network (1976) — Segment: “Mad As Hell”

CONTRIBUTORS Sidney Lumet (director), Paddy Chayefsky (scriptwriter), Faye Dunaway (actor), William Holden (actor), Peter Finch (actor)
FORMAT Feature film, colour, sound (2:00:01).
Segment runs from 0:53:12 to 0:57:27 (0:04:19).
SOURCE (Lumet, 1976) MGM, United Artists
GENRE Drama
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Mature Theme, Language May Offend, Coarse Language, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS attention, audience, camera, capitalism, communication, conformity, consumerism, critical thinking, democracy, ethics, human-ness, individuality, manipulation, media, perception of reality, power, propaganda, sensory engagement, SMCR, unintended effects
DESCRIPTION In this segment, Howard Beale, a news announcer, has had an emotional breakdown and arrives at the television studio in his pyjamas and an overcoat, soaked from the rain.

In his broadcast, he decries the pessimism of the daily news stories and of society as a whole. He explains that he doesn’t know of a solution but insists that his viewers cannot simply cower in fear. He urges them to reclaim their humanity. To do so, he instructs the audience to go to their windows and to shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Television executives are not concerned with Beale’s state of mind. They are excited at the prospect of higher ratings.

The scene concludes with people shouting out their apartment windows while a thunderstorm lights up the night.

DISCUSSION Howard Beale is clearly not in his right mind. However, the media executives continue to broadcast his rantings. At what point do we stop seeing people as human beings and start seeing them as entertainment?

What manufactured messages might be placed into our communities by mass media that we then adopt as our vernacular? Consider sources such as advertising, television shows, movies, and popular culture.

Present Shock. When Everything Happens Now. (2013)

CONTRIBUTORS Douglas Rushkoff (speaker)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken dialogue (0:14:42)
SOURCE (Rushkoff, 2013) Vimeo.com — http://ur1.ca/or1zu
GENRE Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Mature Theme, Coarse Language.
KEYWORDS attention, capitalism, conformity, consumerism, critical thinking, human-ness, individuality, industrial revolution, media, perception of reality, reflection, relationships, scientism, sensory engagement, SMCR, time
DESCRIPTION Rushkoff describes how technology has been used by the dominant economic system to extract value, in the form of time and attention, from its users.
DISCUSSION What is the difference between chronos and kairos? How does technology favour one over the other?

What connections does Rushkoff make between economic systems and technology? How does this make you look at your own technology usage?

Television Delivers People (1973)

CONTRIBUTORS Richard Serra (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, music soundtrack (0:06:56)
SOURCE (Serra, 1973) Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or201
GENRE Art film
CONTENT ADVISORY Suitable for all audiences.
KEYWORDS art, attention, audience, capitalism, consumerism, critical thinking, dehumanization, democracy, ethics, individuality, manipulation, media, perception of reality, propaganda
DESCRIPTION This video presents a scrolling text that describes how television is a medium of control, teaching “materialistic consumption,” and at the same time casting its viewers as the product of television. The presentation is minimalist, as though it were a public service announcement. The music is reminiscent of banal shopping mall soundtracks.
DISCUSSION By choosing the format of the television medium, what might the artist be insinuating about how we receive information and whom we trust?

How does the combination of a cliché soundtrack with an emphatic text achieve the effect that this video has? How might reading the scrolling text compare to having someone read the text as audio? Or as a talking head on screen? Or with visual effects and edits?

The Act Of Killing (2012) — Segment: “My Conscience Told Me They Had To Be Killed.”

CONTRIBUTORS Joshua Oppenheimer (director), Anonymous (director), Christine Cynn (director)
FORMAT Feature film, colour, sound (2:39:00).
Segment runs from 2:30:41 to 2:36:15 (0:05:36).
SOURCE (Oppenheimer, Anonymous, & Cynn, 2012) Final Cut For Real (distributor),
Films We Like (distributor, Canada)
GENRE Documentary, History.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Mature Theme, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS camera, conformity, dehumanization, ethics, individuality, media, perception of reality, power, reflection, sensory engagement, violence
DESCRIPTION Anwar, a one-time gangster, recounts the executions he committed during mass killings in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966. He visits a rooftop where many of the executions took place. He points out where the executions took place and describes how a piece of wire is one of the “easiest ways to take a human life.”

As he calmly recounts the executions, he retches into a nearby gutter. He retches again as he continues to describe the atrocities. After some time, he slowly makes his way downstairs from the rooftop.

DISCUSSION The premise for this documentary film was to invite executioners from the Indonesian mass killings to re-enact their executions as scenes from some of their favourite movies. This approach was taken to probe the impunity with which the executioners operated and how they might react today to the past events.

In the selected segment, although Anwar may have rehearsed going up and down the stairs, and then walking around the execution area, his visceral reaction to his own retelling likely could not have been rehearsed.

To what degree might his confessional be the cause for Anwar’s physical reaction? What role might the presence of a camera have had in his reaction? What options did the camera operator have in responding to the distress of the narrator?

The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men (2012)

CONTRIBUTORS Thomas Keith (director, producer)
FORMAT Video Recording (0:06:40)
SOURCE (Keith, 2012) Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or208
GENRE Documentary Trailer.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Mature Theme, Language May Offend, Coarse Language, Crude Content, Nudity, Sexual Content, Substance Abuse, Sexual Violence.
KEYWORDS communication, conformity, consumerism, dehumanization, health, identity & self, individuality, manipulation, media, objectification, perception of reality, relationships, sensory engagement, violence
DESCRIPTION Thomas Keith walks the viewer through some stages of the sexist indoctrination of young men. These are identified as womanizing, pornography, rape jokes, and “masculinity cops.”
DISCUSSION Many of the images represented in this video are products of mass media and advertising. It may not be that the behaviours described in the video originate within our communities directly but, rather, they are primed from our mediated environment.

A learning activity could be to inventory the number of scenes presented in this video and how many of those were staged for mass media, re-enacted for the film, or spontaneous observations of life.

The Power And The Danger Of Online Crowds (2005)

CONTRIBUTORS James Surowiecki (director)
FORMAT Video
SOURCE (Surowiecki, 2005) TED Talks
TED.com — http://ur1.ca/or20h
GENRE Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Frightening Scenes, Disturbing Content.
KEYWORDS communication, conformity, democracy, individuality, media, sublime, SMCR
DESCRIPTION Surowiecki starts his presentation by reading two witness accounts from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and then showing two brief amateur videos.
DISCUSSION Surowiecki suggests that blogging as a means of journaling the world and sharing information reached an inflection point in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Commentators found ways to disseminate information despite the toll taken on regional infrastructure. How has this capability changed in the years following?

Surowiecki observed that reports taken as a whole provided a clearer picture than any individual reports might have. What might explain this phenomenon?

Surowiecki cautioned that independence was important in the reporting of events. How might reporting be affected without the independence he describes?

The Truman Show (1998) — Segment: “You Never Had A Camera In My Head”

CONTRIBUTORS Peter Weir (director), Andrew Niccol (scriptwriter), Jim Carrey (actor), Paul Giamatti (actor), Ed Harris (actor), Natascha McElhone (actor).
FORMAT Feature film, colour, sound (1:43:00).
Segment runs from 1:22:17 to 1:36:01 (0:13:44).
SOURCE (Weir, 1998) Paramount Pictures.
GENRE Drama, Science fiction.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Frightening Scenes, Language May Offend, Violence.
KEYWORDS attention, audience, authority, camera, conformity, consumerism, control, critical thinking, dehumanization, ethics, human-ness, identity & self, individuality, manipulation, media, objectification, perception of reality, power, relationships, sensory engagement, sublime, surveillance, unintended effects
DESCRIPTION Truman, the unwitting protagonist of a TV show (within this film), has decided to escape his hometown on the suspicion that there is more to see outside his small world. This segment commences with Truman at the helm of a small sailboat, having evaded his keepers, and heading into the unknown.

Christof, the director of the TV show, attempts to thwart Truman’s escape. Christof directs the show staff to create a storm in Truman’s path, which they are able to do with the controls over the artificial environment in which Truman lives. There appears to be scant regard for the safety or life of Truman. The audience of the TV show are transfixed as Truman battles the obstacles placed before him.

Truman manages to maintain control of the boat and, seemingly aware he is being manipulated, calls out to the sky: “Is that the best you can do? You’re gonna have to kill me!” Christof attempts to capsize Truman’s boat. As the storm subsides, the TV control room staff are relieved and awed that Truman has managed to survive and carry on.

As his boat progresses, it collides with the wall that encloses Truman’s “world.” Truman despairs at the meaning of this turn of events. He prepares to exit through a stage door. Christof attempts to intervene again — to keep Truman from departing — by speaking to Truman from the sky. Truman questions the nature of his reality but the grand ruse has been exposed and Truman makes his final exit. The TV audience is overjoyed but quickly turns to other diversions.

DISCUSSION In this film, the media — with Christof as the archetype — appears to be cast as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It controls not only the world in which Truman lives, but also the audience that observes passively. According to Shakespeare, “all the world’s a stage.” Truman’s world truly is a stage and Truman an unwitting — and apparently unwilling — participant. What part of the stage does his audience occupy?

Christof directly manipulates Truman’s reality. It can be argued that the media have a role in shaping our reality. How might we begin to recognize aspects of our reality that are being manipulated? How might we allocate trust to the institutions of our society?

As an audience, what responsibility have we to individuals who may be exploited for the sake of entertainment? As an audience, how are we cast in a passive role?

In the scenes showing the TV-show-viewing audience, the screens they are watching are often out of sight. At the same time, the audience appears to be gazing in our direction, the audience of the film. How might we interpret this positioning of the viewers and the viewed?

The Web Is More Than “Better TV” (2007)

CONTRIBUTORS Peter Hirshberg (presenter)
FORMAT Video, colour, spoken soundtrack (0:31:32)
SOURCE (Hirshberg, 2007) TED Talks
TED.com — http://ur1.ca/or20l
GENRE Conference presentation.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Frightening Scenes, Mature Theme, Language May Offend, Violence.
KEYWORDS attention, audience, consumerism, history, industrial revolution, manipulation, media, militarism, perception of reality, sublime, unintended effects
DESCRIPTION Hirschberg presents a recent history of the Internet, information technology, and their relationships to television and mass communication.
DISCUSSION What were the several roles the military played in developing new technologies?

What is the role of the audience in defining media?

What was convergence? What does convergence look like today?

War Made Easy (2014)

CONTRIBUTORS Loretta Alper (director), Jeremy Earp (director)
FORMAT Video, colour, sound (0:05:33)
SOURCE (Alper & Earp, 2014) Media Education Foundation (production company)
Youtube — http://ur1.ca/or20q
GENRE Documentary trailer.
CONTENT ADVISORY Not Recommended For Young Children, Not Recommended For Children, Frightening Scenes, Mature Theme, Violence, Disturbing Content, Gory Scenes, Brutal Violence.
KEYWORDS authority, conformity, control, dehumanization, democracy, history, manipulation, media, militarism, novelty, objectification, propaganda, scientism, sublime, violence
DESCRIPTION This trailer compactly presents a number of powerful images and ideas about the waging of war in the modern age. It illustrates the fetishization of military hardware and the dehumanization of its victims. Despite the increasing technical sophistication and “precision” of the weaponry, this video contends that the proportion of civilian casualties in conflicts since World War I have increased dramatically.
DISCUSSION What is the role of the media in a war zone? Does this role differ from what it would ordinarily be? What kinds of terminology do journalists use to soften the messages they are conveying?

How does technology mediate between a weapons officer and people he is about to kill?

Why might journalists be admiring the equipment of war? What elements of the technological sublime might be at play?

 

References

 

Appendix A — Sources And Repositories

Collections of video resources

Source Formats URL
Amazon.ca Titles available for purchase. https://www.amazon.ca/b?node=917972
CBC Digital Archives Free online streaming. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/
Criterion Collection Titles available for purchase. https://www.criterion.com/library
Internet Archive Free downloads in public domain. https://archive.org/
Media Education Foundation Download previews or purchase full-length titles. https://www.mediaed.org/
National Film Board of Canada (NFB) Purchase and digital downloads. https://www.nfb.ca/
TED Talks Free online viewing and downloads. https://www.ted.com/talks
Vimeo.com Free online viewing. https://vimeo.com/
YouTube.com Free online viewing. https://www.youtube.com/

Municipal public libraries may offer documentary and feature films for individual use. These may be in contemporary DVD and Blu-Ray formats or via online streaming. Winnipeg Public Library, for example, carries all feature films listed in this catalogue.

Appendix B — Manitoba Film Classification Board — Film And Video Ratings — Content Advisories (Province Of Manitoba, n.d.)

Not Recommended For Young Children

The film may be inappropriate for young children. An example might be the death of a family pet, a complicated family breakdown, or images considered frightening or disturbing for the very young. “Young Children” would be persons age 8 and under.

Not Recommended For Children

The film may include scenes that reflect a more mature situation, such as drug use/abuse. “Children” would be persons age 13 and under.

Frightening Scenes

The film contains images that might shock or frighten a person. These scenes might be found in a thriller, suspense or war genre.

Mature Theme

Contains images or storylines that may be disturbing or incomprehensible to minors. The film may contain portrayals of domestic violence, racism, religious matters, death, or controversial social issues.

Language May Offend

Contains language that may be offensive to some groups i.e. sacrilegious language such as Goddamn; also used for PG films that contain expletives.

Coarse Language

Product contains profanity, threats, slurs, sexual references, or sexual innuendo.

Crude Content

Material or humour that is unrefined or coarse and that may be seen as harsh, rude, or offensive.

Nudity

Contains images of full frontal, partial, or rear nudity. Context will be determined by the situation, clarity, detail, repetition, and whether the nudity is in a non-sexual or sexual situation.

Sexual Content

Film may contain images and/or verbal references of sexual themes, sexual innuendo, fondling, implied sexual activity and simulated sexual activity.

Violence

May contain restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence, portrayals of violence with some bloodletting and/or tissue damage, and frequent more prolonged portrayals of violence resulting in bloodletting and tissue damage. The degree, frequency and intensity of the acts of violence will be factors in the classification decision.

Disturbing Content

Indicates the expected natural reaction by an audience to any elements of a film, including the tone of a film, pertaining to distress or suffering. This includes the implication or threat of physical and/or psychological violence, even when violence is not depicted.

Substance Abuse

Descriptive scenes depicting the use of illegal substances, the excessive use of tobacco or the use of alcohol resulting in impairment.

Gory Scenes

Graphic images of bloodletting and/or tissue damage. Includes horror or war representations. Degree, frequency, and intensity will also be a major factor in the classification decision.

Explicit Sexual Content

Sexual acts, shown in full, clear, unequivocal and realistic detail, that may or may not be gratuitous to the film.

Brutal Violence

Visually explicit portrayals of violence, which may be characterized by extreme brutality, extreme bloodletting and/or extreme tissue damage. May include images of torture, horror or war.

Sexual Violence

The degradation of an individual in a sexual manner. May contain images of nonconsensual acts with the intent to inflict harm, for example, simulated rape, and/or the use of threat to force compliance in sexual activity.

Tobacco Use/Promotion

Contains conspicuous consumption/promotion of tobacco through the use and placement of tobacco products or images. These tobacco products or images could include the smoking of cigarettes and cigars, using smokeless tobacco or showing brand name cigarette packages.

This guide was prepared for course EDUB 7460 “Information Technology and Education.” I’d like to acknowledge the guidance of course instructor Prof. Denis Hlynka and the inspiration he provided.
See this page at https://kinasevych.ca/index.php