The new movie Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the tracking and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden, has received several Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), but it’s attracting another kind of attention as well: several writers, including Jane Meyer at The New Yorker and Peter Maass at The Atlantic, have accused it of condoning or even glorifying the use of torture by US intelligence agencies.
Since at least the days of Birth of a Nation (1915), Hollywood has turned to history for material. A quick survey of this year’s Academy Award nominations shows that this is as true now as ever, with five out of the nine nominees for Best Picture – Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and odds-on favourite Lincoln – based in history in some way. Their approaches vary, of course, with the history-as-backdrop approach of Les Miserables, the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained, the academic character study of Lincoln, the docudrama of Zero Dark Thirty and the history-as-thriller of Argo.
This winter the Olympics return to Canada for the first time since the Calgary games of 1988. For many people, the most vivid memories of that Olympiad are the colourful stories of some of the less accomplished athletes, such as British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards and the members of the Jamaican bobsled team. It’s unlikely, though, that there will be any charming underdogs in this year’s Olympiad, as the games become more and more the province of professionals. As audiences and advertising revenues drop, however, will the professionalization of the Games spell their downfall?
Have you ever wondered why Canadian private broadcasting networks such as CTV and CanWest air certain television programs over others? Why, for instance, does CanWest air House, or CTV air Grey’s Anatomy, over other television programs?
One of the most successful new shows of recent years is TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8. How successful? It consistently wins its time slot against all other cable competitors, including high-profile shows such as The Closer, and among the very desirable demographic of women between eighteen and thirty-four it outdraws broadcast network offerings Two and a Half Men, Heroes and 24. TLC has had a number of different identities over the years, and has become very nimble in responding to unexpected successes. Starting out with science programming, back when it was called The Learning Channel, the programming moved first into real-estate and home remodelling shows and then to programs such as The 750 Pound Man and It’s Not Easy Being a Wolf Boy. Among these was a pair of shows about unusual families, Little People, Big World and Jon & Kate Plus 8. When the latter became a runaway success the channel quickly capitalized on it, and now features several other shows about large families such as Table for 12 and 18 Kids and Counting.
If asked to think about community television (or public-access television, as a similar institution is called in the US) most people would probably conjure up the movie Wayne’s World or its real-life analogue, The Tom Green Show: TV made by people who would, under normal circumstances, never appear on TV, shot in someone’s basement or living room. Or perhaps they’d think of earnest, low-budget shows that showcase community events that wouldn’t otherwise be televised, such as ethnic festivals or the Canadian Improv Games.
The hottest media story in the past week has been the instantly infamous New Yorker cover portraying Barack Obama and his wife Michelle as terrorists. Though the Obama campaign has been measured in its response, media outlets – and particularly bloggers – have been vocal in their disapproval. Some have suggested that the cover crosses the line from satire into hate speech, while others accuse TheNew Yorker of giving ‘aid and comfort to the enemy’ by visually depicting the smears and misconceptions that have been aimed at the candidate.
Joe McGinniss’ book The Selling of the President had a shocking title for 1968, suggesting as it did that in the television age the presidency had become nothing more than another product to be packaged and sold. A new MNet resource, Watching the Elections (a lesson for Grade 8 to 12 Social Studies classes), shines a light on how the different aspects of an election – from the debates to political ads to the candidates themselves – are actually media products.
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.
In January, American Vice-President Joe Biden met with video game industry representatives in the wake of the tragic events at Sandy Hook to discuss the possible relationship between video games and gun violence. Five days later, President Barack Obama asked the United States Congress to fund more research to study the potential link between violence and video games, noting that “We don’t benefit from ignorance”.