Category: Video

Giving thanks for the land and those who work it ethically


In honor of the land and those who are trying to preserve/save it from agribusiness, I’d like to give thanks to all those who treat soil, water, air and animals ethically. Along these lines, I’m posting a trailer for this nice little documentary, Land Awakening, about farmers in the Mediterranean who grow food sustainably.

From the film’s web site:

“Land Awakening” is my personal journey to experience hands-on organic sustainable agriculture, turning into the discovering of alternative technologies and approaches to producing and gathering food. The experience resolves to a spiritual reflection into our deep and sacred relationship with the Land.

Inspired by his son’s voyage to learn about organic farming in Spain, Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Raúl Álvarez embarks on his own quest finding how chemical agriculture creates deserts, and Wild Nature provides far more nutritious foods when we stop controlling it.

Raúl’s odyssey expands around the Mediterranean and Canada, warmly portraying compelling characters living sustainably. He meets experts breaking paradigms and taboos on agriculture, wild plants and marketing food, making his journey deeply inspiring.

Imbued with a beautiful scenery “Land Awakening” proposes a spiritual, timely and concrete message of change in our relationship to the Land where our food comes from.

Frack me: Toys R Us ad is Pied Piper to eco-apocolypse

Busloads of kids get surprise trip to Toys”R”Us – YouTube.

The latest from the media gods, whose gifts keep on giving for all the wrong reasons. In the newest installment, this Toys R Us ad blows over all commons sense like a climate change induced hurricane. The ad depicts a busload of mostly kids of color who are being taken on a field trip to “nature” (I use quotation marks because it is ultimately a false distinction). It mocks environmental education by falsely depicting a boring, un-engaged presentation about oak leaves. Then suddenly the kids learn that they had been tricked and were actually going to Toys R Us. Like moths to a flame, they sprint ecstatically into a furnace of Chinese-manufactured toxins.*

The ad is wrong on so many levels, but let’s start with the demographic of the children. Urban kids of color have been shown to have “nature deficit” because of a lack of access to environmental education and “nature.” Under-served youths tend to live in cities and attend schools that don’t have the resources for environmental education. This problem is being addressed by the No Child Left Inside model, but there is a long way to go, and ads like this certainly don’t help the matter.

Toys R Us offers itself as a kind of WIllie Wonka of the consumer sublime, a concept developed by David Nye. Over the past hundred and fifty years or so as we have shifted into techno-scientific modernity, the sublime has transformed from an experience of awe of nature to awe of the technological cornucopia that surrounds us. The ad reinforces this by representing its toy store as a magical kingdom of discovery and amazement. But the ancient meaning of awe–“terror–comes closer to the reality behind Toys R Us, a kind of Lord of the Flies of globalization.

It just amazes me that the more we know about the state of our planetary ecological crisis, the more corporations shill denial. Also, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t made by The Onion.

PS Check out The Cobert Reports’ response.

* I’m not China bashing here, just drawing attention to where this crap is made. Just as the Colombians shouldn’t be blamed for our coke addiction, nor should we accuse the Chinese for our over-consumerism.

New media literacy videos reinforce 19th century thinking

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Canada’s MediaSmarts media literacy hub has recently put together a series of videos (episode one posted above) to teach people about their six basic principles of media literacy. MediaSmarts is one of the organizations I analyzed in my dissertation, which in general seems to be ahead of most other North American media literacy organizations in terms of shifting their paradigm towards digital media. However, when it comes to these basic principles, I think they are still stuck in 19th Century thinking.  The videos are fairly simplistic–perhaps too simplistic–reducing media literacy to a formula that loses a lot of nuance. In essence, this is media literacy for a short attention span audience.

I’m also a little suspicious of the organization since MediaSmarts receives a lot of funding from major media corporations (check the sponsor links at the bottom of its homepage). While I don’t know if that has a direct influence on their methodology, I can’t imagine big media corporations backing a curriculum site that would be contrary to their interests.

I’ll break down why I don’t believe some of these principles serve us anymore. In short, the general problem is how they reinforce mechanistic thinking based on industrial-era science and technology, which inhibits ecological thinking about media. Mechanism views the world as a machine composed of reducible parts and is foundational for the view that nature is a thing that can be exploited for human use. As Einstein is oft quoted, we can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them. For this reason, I don’t think this approach to media literacy will help us solve the great challenges that face us in the 21st century.

Media Minute Introduction: What is media anyway?

One of the biggest problems with media education is the metaphor we use for media. Here it is used in the singular form, which implies that media are some kind of entity. By using the singular form they really mean “mass media.” The video strongly reinforces the one-to-many paradigm of mass media, which elliminates a whole set of practices that involve media making by individuals, activist groups and non-traditional organizations, essentially denying the role of people to “be the media.” My perspective is that media are an ecosystem… an environment that grows culture. Viewing media as a thing reinforces a mechanistic view that media are a kind of machine that programs us. As an ecosystem, media comprise a habitat in which we are members with rights and responsibilities.

Media Minute Episode 1: Media are constructions. 

The construction metaphor reduces media to a mechanical collection of parts. This reflects 19th Century ideas about communication in which messages are transmitted through space. In contrast, media are more like nonlinear conversations, a series of “utterences” that refer to other communications. While I do see the value of learning the “nuts and bolts” of message construction, ultimately media are always contextual and cannot be analysed in isolation from the environment they are embedded in.

Media Minute Episode 2: Each medium has a unique aesthetic form

This is an important point, one that is often neglected. It is very important that people understand that all media have different characteristics. However, the way it is framed in this video reinforces the “content delivery” model of media, presenting each media technology as a kind of medium-specific channel as opposed to different ecosystems that afford possibilities.

Media Minute Episode 3: Media have commercial implications

This principle is my least favorite and always irks me when I see it taught. Media do not always have commercial implications. Though it is true that a vast majority of what we engage in is produced by or within commercial platforms, this principle negates all the media that have no commercial implications. It reinforces a market-view of media that all media are relegated to the laws of consumerism.

Media Minute Episode 4: Media have social and political implications

This is a principle I basically agree with. It essentially argues that media are a kind of socio-politcal education. I would extend this to say that media are also environmental education–they teach us how to act upon the environment.

Media Minute Episode 5: Audiences negotiate meaning

This is probably the best insight from these principles. It goes without saying that all communication is negotiated.

Fake news just got fakier: New Fox News’ flight deck on the aircraft carrier USS Disinformation

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Air traffic controller of the propagandasphere… flight deck of the USS Disinformation…

With “information specialists” commanding BATS–big area touchscreens–the new Fox News Deck invites the hilarity that comes with the mistaken belief that fancy media technology legitimates misinformation. But Boing Boing’s headline said it best, “Fox News hires tiny little humans to work on gigantic iPads,” which conjures images of Oompa-Loompas slaving away in Rupert Murdock’s wanker factory. The weirdest part of the video is when Vice President of the News says they’re doing this because “people aren’t so linear” anymore. Could have been Tim Leary himself saying that.

Promoting neurodiversity

As a mildly dyslexic, right-brained kind of guy, I appreciate the perspective offered by this video. It calls for neurodiversity recognizing that we have various cognitive orientations and those that are not statistically “normal” shouldn’t be marginalized. This is one of my biggest gripes when it comes to education standards: there are many in the population who do not fit the profile that tests are designed for. For example, in my own personal experience I have consistently bombed standardized tests, yet I could still earn a PhD and have a successful academic life. Brains, like life, are diverse. Let’s keep them that way.

Documentary deals with financial crisis as a spiritual and cultural problem

Money & Life Trailer from Katie Teague on Vimeo.

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If you really want to understand how the world system works, you must understand money. The amazing documentary, Money & Life, is just the right kind of introduction to comprehend the globalization’s circulatory system. The documentary asks: can we see the economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous opportunity?

The film hits all the right notes, including using excellent biological metaphors to explain how money works, discussing money as a spiritual phenomena, showing the connection between the ideology of growth and ecological disaster, and proposing concrete alternatives. A must watch.

In their effort to promote the gift economy, you can watch the film online for free here. I encourage you to make a donation to support their work.|

New Century Global Center in Chengdu resembles WALL-E dystopia

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I’m fascinated by the utopian, highly mediated character of the New Century Global Center in Chengdu captured in this promo video. It’s ripe for some postmodernist deconstruction; it’s also a perfect clip for analyzing the ideology of globalization. The video’s animation situate the complex in a highly idealized, clean climate, but the reality is far different (check out the footage of the haze-covered Chengdu). Indeed, it’s hard to imagine what the ecological footprint of the world’s largest building might be; moreover it would seem to be an exaggerated escape pod from a degraded ecology in the surrounding environs. I can’t help but notice the uncanny parallel between the New Century Center and the dystopian shoppingmall spaceship in WALL-E that houses the last remaining humans in the universe (see clip below).

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The world gets smaller with local storytelling app

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An innovative education and citizen journalism project, Small World News, has just released a storytelling app that has built into it all the tools necessary for scripting, shooting and editing a short news video. StoryMaker (demonstrated in the above video) walks through all the steps to put together a short video that can easily be uploaded to the web. It has editing features, compositional suggestions, story formats and many ways to link and share the final piece.

The app draws on the long experience of Small World News. In his TEDx talk (posted below) co-founder, Brian Conley, describes his work in a variety of war zones and revolutionary situations to help people tell their stories. The Small World News web site features their multiple storytelling projects that are happening around the world.

This tool will be handy for media educators. Students can learn rather quickly the basic storytelling structure of news and produce their own within a meaningful amount of time without a major investment in technology or funds. My only concern is that the app could potentially be too formulaic: its templates may restrict creative possibilities. On the other hand, it is simply doing what teachers normally do, which is to model a boilerplate that scaffolds to more advanced forms of production. I look forward to the opportunity of giving this app a try.

Update: Niels ten Oever writes: “One small correction: the Storymaker app is jointly developed and published by the Guardian Project, Small World News and Free Press Unlimited.”

Technological creep

Network from Michael Rigley on Vimeo. [video link]

About halfway through last month my Samsung Galaxy S III’s data connection slowed down to 30 kbs a second, which is roughly the speed of an old modem. At first I wondered if there was a software glitch or some technical issues with my provider. It turns out the problem was that I had used up my one gig a month quota of data transfer, which pushed me into the slow lane until the end of the month. It was an interesting psychological experience. It reminded me of what it is like to be on the other side of the digital divide, and also the nefarious consequences of a world in which net connection is not neutral: pay a premium price for the tollway or get stuck in a traffic jam.

But what I found incredibly interesting is how this telecom strategy resembles the gambling industry: tantalize the customer just enough to want more, but make sure that the odds are always in favor of the house. In my case, moderate use of internet on my cellphone– such as checking email, Twitter and Facebook, and the occasional use of apps for navigation or bus schedules–seemed to keep me under the limit. Then I discovered Spotify, podcasts and multimedia, all of which gobble data connections at a ridiculous rate. Suddenly I wanted more. And all those years that I commuted without the aid of a fast, multimedia connection were forgotten quickly. What’s even worse, not only does my telecom find ways to charge me more every month, but it also resells my data without giving me a cut.

The psychological crisis described above is often attributed to technology addiction. But I think that is a misdirection. Is the carpenter addicted to hammers when she is building houses? The phone is just a tool to achieve something else. The addiction is not in the tool, but in the desire to eleviate bordom or the need to feel connected to others. These are mind states that exist with or without technology; the phone just makes it easier to scratch that mental itch.

But this leads to a much bigger issue related to recent news about massive government spying. One gets the feeling (especially after watching the video posted above) that these surveillance technologies are autonomous and beyond the control of their users. It feels this way because there is an architectural logic that access to the data dictates that it should be consumed–either to spy on or to commoditize users. It’s too easy and tempting to resist. And if you are part of a control freak security state, what better way to facilitate this mania than to just Hoover up the entire internet. Like frogs in a pot of water that’s gradually boiling, we have casually allowed this erosion of our rights for the sake of convenience. It’s the same as that casino psychology tethering me to the telecom’s business model: as long as it’s convenient and stimulates the right pleasure centers, I’ll keep dropping coins into the machine .

But am I willing to just stop? We have to be cautious about some of the anti-technology arguments that posit machines as autonomous from human control. While it is true that we tend to conform our behaviors to the structures that we create, those structures can also be changed. After all, they are created as a result of human culture. In this case, it’s not necessarily that technology is controlling our behavior, it is that technology has become the metaphor for how many view the world. For example, the faith in Big Data and information control comes from a blind acceptance of mechanism, which is a 19th century model of the universe based on a machine.

But the metaphors we use can change, and hence alter how we view the world. An organic metaphor, such “ecosystem,” can help us shift perspective so that we view technology not as a dominating system of control and efficiency, but rather a component of a complex system that also involves human agency. Not only that, lest we forget, these technologies also create feedback loops within living systems, which means that certain kinds of technologies that are not sustainable will simply cease to exist.

So if total surveillance is part of a strategy to reconcile the needs of protecting the carbon economy and the national security state, they are both doomed to fail. Of course, the fear is that they will take all of us down with them. This is a legitimate concern. It seems to me that Big Data and leaking are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, governments and corporations are compiling an inordinate amount of data on us. On the other hand, they are compiling data about their own activities which inevitably gets into our hands through the brave actions of leakers. So just as our information is at the mercy of systems that seem beyond our reach, those systems are also vulnerable to their own methods.

A video “plug” for unplugging day

[video link] Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”

Today is National Day of Unplugging, which obviously I’m not participating in due to a massive deadline (hence the sudden burst of productivity on this blog!). However, in solidarity I’d like to share this terrific video from Tiffany Shlain & Ken Goldberg which riffs on Ginsberg’s “Howl.” It features the wonderful narration of Peter Coyote.

Hip hop video deconstructs food imperialism

[video link] FOOD FIGHT – Kid Battles Corporate Machine – featuring Stic.Man of Dead Prez

By likening food corporations to drug pushers, this wonderfully conceived hip hop video hits all the right notes. As the rapper intones, “Poor diets kill more brothers than pistols,” Vandana Shiva deconstructs the food industry’s nefarious strategy for population control.

As Treehugger notes:

There’s slavery in our chocolate; drug-tainted horse meat masquerading as beef; obesity and poverty co-existing side-by-side and a food industry that fights hard to keep us in the dark about the correlation between cancer and our diet. And we haven’t even gotten to insecticides killing the bees we rely on for survival, or our meat- and dairy-heavy diet contributing to deadly climate change.

This is usually where someone chimes in with arguments about freedom of choice, free markets and personal responsibility. And this is where the analogy between fast food and hard drugs becomes particularly useful. We don’t allow drug dealers to pedal crack cocaine for a very good reason – and we certainly don’t let them put up billboards, advertise to our kids, or lobby congress.

Sugar is as addictive as cocaine. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Media theory hip hop video

Global Youth Media by appl juic – YouTube.

Last year I had the honor to contribute “Practicing Sustainable Youth Media” to an essay collection edited by JoEllen FisherKeller, International Perspectives on Youth Media (Mediated Youth). One of her graduate students put together this fun video based on the book, which combines hip hop and media theory. It may be the first of its kind! Enjoy!

The future through a corporate looking glass

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I read sci-fi with the understanding that it’s really about how present contradictions will play out down the line. This is unlike how technology companies visualize the future. They tend to ignore current contradictions by exacerbating everything that is wrong about the present. Here Corning dips its toe into the future stream by promoting what glass technology may look like in daily life. What I find amazing about this video is how it unselfconsciously promotes the integration of consumerism and marketing into everyday life as if it should be totally normal and desirable. Aside from representing an idealized bourgeois family that has somehow survived the current financial and ecological crisis, they seem to enjoy the absolute mediation of their lives without realizing that it is undermining the very future they desire.

Remember, friends, if we don’t envision a future, someone else will do it for us. I’d prefer if it weren’t Corning.

Minding the empathy gap

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Another fantastic animation by the RSA folks, this one featuring Roman Krznaric who explains the importance of empathy and how it can lead to social revolutions. Of particular interest is the last section where he talks about how our lack of action on climate change is due to an absence of empathy across space for climate victims and across time for future generations. He proposes an “empathy museum” where people can experience what life is like for others. Among the various strategies to garner empathy and create social revolutions, media, of course, also play an important role. So when people ask me what is the good side of media, I always say how they generate empathy.

PS If you haven’t already, be sure to also check out Jeremy Rifkin’s RSAnimate, “The Empathic Civilization.”

Planet Earth’s “overview effect”

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

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The wonderful film “Overview” (embedded above) introduces the idea of the “overview effect,” a concept that author Frank White developed to describe the sublime experience astronauts experience when they view Earth from space:

The Overview Effect… refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, hanging in the void, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, the astronauts tell us, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide us become less important and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative. Even more so, many of them tell us that from the Overview perspective, all of this seems imminently achievable, if only more people could have the experience!

The video gives a flavor of the kind of profound encounter they have when seeing Earth in space, which inspires tremendous feelings of care and precariousness not unlike those we feel for our children.

While watching the video I had two thoughts. First, what if everyone in the world had a five minute experience of seeing the Earth from space, and second, would that create a new religion?

I think it would.

Clearly until space travel becomes more common, few people will have the privilege of peering out a portal and seeing the thin layer of our atmosphere set against the vastness of space. But media can help take us there. And this is exactly the kind of positive impact I think media can have to raise ecological consciousness. I wish this video had been made when I was writing The Media Ecosystem, because I would have included it as an example of a kind ecomedia that raises consciousness.

Many of us may be wondering right now what kind of madness and spiritual sickness currently pervades our screens, yet we can also start to wonder how awe can also become part of our daily experience and begin to envision media that shows life as profound and unique. Such a vision should lift us past the horror that besets so many earthlings today.

A big thanks to the Planetary Collective for making this wonderfully positive video. Check out their homepage and support their work

Bonus: Also check out the soundtrack and download the files from Human Suits homepage.

Murdoch’s empire is an invader species of the media ecosystem

Watch Murdoch’s Scandal on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Frontline’s documentary, Murdoch’s Scandal [video link]

In case you missed it, the UK has been embroiled in an ongoing media scuttlebutt that was sparked by the News of the World scandal. The newspaper’s outrageous and unethical violation of people’s privacy and other alleged criminal activities led to a government inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson, whose report was released yesterday.

The Guardian, which was instrumental in uncovering many of the News of the World’s activities (see the Frontline documentary above), has this excellent overview of the report.

For those who don’t understand the nature and context of the problem, it should be noted that since the days of Thatcher and Reagan there has been an increasing normalization of neoliberal policies which eases government restrictions on media ownership. This has led to increased monopolization of media markets and, not surprisingly, to greater corruption. In the UK Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been allowed to dominated the newspaper market, giving him the overwhelming power to influence and pervert the political process. In the US we have experienced such an extreme consolidation of media companies that now only a handful of multinationals dominate the majority of media.

The lesson should be clear: private media companies should not be allowed to consolidate and monopolize media markets, and hence the media ecosystem. They become a parasitic invader species that transforms the public sphere into to a monoculture incapable of a resilient response to climate change. It leads to less diversity of views and to a dominant worldview that favors corporate interests. In such an environment we get less news about environmental problems and more gossip and infotainment about celebrities like the Kardashians. Not surprisingly, it was a nonprofit newspaper, The Guardian, that broke the Murdoch scandal.

Of grave concern is Murdoch’s increasing influence in the US media market. Not only does his company News Inc. own one of the most atrocious and scandalous TV news networks in the world, Fox News, but he is gobbling up major newspapers like The Wall St. Journal. He now is making a bid to purchase the LA Times and Chicago Tribune and it looks like Obama’s FCC is ready to let him have at it. Thankfully is waging a campaign to stop this outrageous giveaway (click here to sign their petition).

It is increasingly clear that media monopolization leads to unethical media practices because these massive companies are more accountable to their commercial interests than the public good. We need to genuinely support nonprofit media ventures. One way to do that is to donate to public media, such as a local public media radio station, or to nonprofit activist organizations that are seeking to change the media system so that it is more just and diverse. has these handy guides for taking action.

PS For additional info, The Telegraph’s Leveson Report: the key points at a glance.

Glenn Beck’s illiterate vision of environmentalism

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The above “Remove Your Footprint” video is from the fictional world depicted in Glenn Beck’s new dystopian novel, Agenda 21. The book’s title refers to an existing non-binding guideline created by the UN that outlines planning methods for sustainable development. This imaginary propaganda video is made by a future UN-controlled one-world government that looks uncannily like Soviet Russia. This hints at Beck’s demographic–try to guess the age of people who remember the bad-old days of the USSR. Unfortunately, Beck’s fear-mongering–which I’d like to believe is ineffectual and irrelevant–impacts something I care deeply about: climate change mitigation. Anyone monitoring the state of our global climate knows that without collective action and planned decoupling from the fossil fuel economy, civilization as we know it will cease to exist within a century. Under such a scenario Beck’s dystopia won’t even be possible.

This hypothetical propaganda video from the UN’s Division for Sustainable Development associates “healing the planet” with eradicating humans as if they are a planetary disease. It depicts a particular fear and misperception at the heart of Beck’ anthropocentric worldview. He equates concern for the environment as anti-human. This is the opposite of what most ecologists believe. While it is true that some environmentalists are anti-human/anti-civilization (I know this from direct experience), most care deeply about humanity. As an ecocentric parent, my empathy extends to ecosystems, animals, plants and fellow humans. It’s not one or the other.

As for Beck’s vision, however, it is certainly one or the other, which makes no sense on a practical level. Since humans are organisms that depend on fresh air, water and food to survive, I’m not sure how Beck’s vision of freedom ensures healthy ecosystems so that our liberties may be enjoyed. But if you spend anytime peering beyond Beck’s carefully cultivated media empire, you quickly see that he is no more than an irrational conspiranoid that has somehow amplified his worldview beyond that of a ranting psychitzophrenic on skid row. Without media literacy, many will fall for the trappings of serious journalism that Beck dresses his hallucinations with (again, I know from direct experience that it works on some people). Even worse, some will likely believe the “Remove Your Footprint” video is actually real.

Beck is no Orwell or Huxley, both of whom were deeply empathetic authors that cared more about humanity than for corporations. Their visions were based on empirical observations of the world and were by no means hawking conspiracy theories as political agendas. Heck, Beck didn’t even write the book. He just bought the rights to put his name on it. Which just about says everything about the literary qualifications of his anti-environmental stance.