Week 4 – Documentary and Video for Change

Documentary and Video For Change

This week, and next week, we will be exploring the role of video and documentary for social change: looking at a number of filmmakers, activists and advocacy groups who use documentary to make an impact and create social change. We have a number of guest podcasts and speakers this week to help you to think about this. The main focus of this week will be developing your ideas for Challenge 5: Documentary Task

But lets start with a few examples that were nominated for last years ‘Impact Award’ from Current TV, which rewards the films that have made the most social impact:

and here are some of the trailers and the impact that the films made:

The End of the Line (2009), the winner of the award, reveals the impact of overfishing on our oceans.

Impact Highlights:

  • Raised £6m to launch the Blue Marine Foundation, dedicated to creating a global network of marine reserves
  • Had significant impact on supermarket and consumer brands – from sandwich chain Pret A Manger to cat food brands Sheba and Whiskas all moving to use sustainably-sourced fish
  • Used as a strategic lobbying tool in both the UK and European parliaments to engage politicians in the issue of over-fishing

The Age of Stupid (2009). An archivist from the year 2055 looks back on footage to ask: why didnt we do anything about climate change while we still had the chance.

Impact Highlights:

  • Launched the 10:10 Global campaign in 46 countries, with over 100,000 individuals signing up alongside corporations and government departments, pledging to cut 10% of emissions
  • Launched the “Global Day of Doing” (10:10:10) coordinating over 7,000 local carbon cutting events in 188 countries
  • Raised almost £1m to sustain the 10:10 campaign

Burma VJ (2009). Using smuggled/undercover footage from Burma (a country that is ‘closed to the press’) this documentary tells the story of the 2007 protests by thousands of monks.

Impact Highlights:

  • With an estimated 30 million viewers, Burma VJ put the issue of Burma firmly on the international agenda
  • The ensuing political pressure helped bring about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Inspired a new generation of VJs and independent journalists within Burma

The Reckoning (2009) – Following the story of a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court attempts to enforce international laws against war crimes and genocide.

Impact Highlights:

  • The film team distributed, free of charge, screening kits to over 600 NGOs from 78 countries, to raise awareness of the International Criminal Court
  • Used extensively in education programmes including a 2-week ‘Teach the Reckoning’ workshop bringing together 700 educators from 70 countries representing a network of over 25,000 high school teachers
  • Used widely in Africa; it supported critical debate within the Kenyan judiciary and triggered an investigation into post-election violence

Trouble the Water (2008) – following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the USA

Impact Highlights:

  • Repeatedly used in strategic political campaigning; from raising a 20,000-strong letter campaign to the speaker of the House of Representatives, to strategic screenings at the national Democratic and Republican conventions
  • Triggered a major lobbying effort by 400 campaigners, including hurricane-survivors and supporters from across the country who travelled to Washington DC for training, advocacy and action.
  • Launched a “Share Your Story” campaign to gather hundreds of testimonies from constituents that were used to lobby policy leaders.

This week we want you to think about how you can use video and documentary to raise awareness of your creative activism projects, obviously we are not expecting you to be producing the above (many of these films have taken many years to come to fruition) but hopefully they will inspire you about the positive impact that media campaigners can make.

Week Four Task/Challenge 5

This weeks task is Challenge 5: Documentary Task .

Further Materials

We have some talks that you can listen to from Emily James, Director of the Documentary film called Just Do It, Sam Gregory from the video and human rights advocacy group called Witness and Charles Tsai from the Social Creatives.

It is also worth looking at these articles and sites to help shape your thinking:

Week Four – Narrative Film, Discourse and Politics

This week we are thinking about the way that discourse works through narrative film.

Download the slides here Narrative Film, Discourse and Politics

Find out about this weeks task here.

Week Three – Media, Power and Aesthetic Resistance




Media Power and Resistance Lecture Slides

This weeks task- challenge 3 – Culture Jamming and Remix


What do you think about the ideas in this short ‘thought bubble’?

Our Media Consumption in the UK

We live in an intensely mediated age: what the Situationist, Guy Debord, termed ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ (1967). We will come back to Guy Debord next week when we start to look at media tactics in more detail.

In the UK the average media consumer’s digital day is seven hours and five minutes – almost half (45%) of people’s waking day is spent consuming some kind of media (television, internet, print etc). With the average UK 16-24 year old cramming 9.5 hours of media into 6.5 hours of consumption per day through multitasking (2010 – Ofcom Report). In fact, contrary to popular belief, even more traditional forms of media consumption are on the rise.

A vast amount of the income derived from much of this media is through advertising (selling your eyeballs to brands and organisations) – making the advertising industry worth more than £16.7 Billion A Year (this is a figure for ‘display advertising’ alone and therefore doesnt include other, more blurry forms of advertising such as PR) and giving them a massively significant role in determining what that media might be.

Media Effects

A number of academics have studied the intense effects of this environment on our attitudes and behaviour, our mental health, the way we see ourselves, our desires and even the way we relate to each other. Such studies have led to a number of changes- concerning the selling of dangerous products such as Tobacco and Alcohol and there are strict regulations particularly when it is concerning vulnerable people such as children. A famous example of one of these studies is the Payne Fund Studies that looked at the effect of films on childrens behaviour . A number of theories have emerged from this:

Catharsis Theory: That the media acts as a kind of channel for us to vent our own frustations- so by watching violence on TV or playing violent computer games for example, we are much less because it helps us to release our frustations and desires to carry out those acts. This theory therefore argues that the media has a postive effect.

Aggressive Cues Theory argues that exposure to violent stimuli in the media increases our psychological and physical arousal around these acts. Therefore increasing our chances of behaving in certain ways.

Observational Learning Theory takes this a stage further and is related to the way we are positioned in terms of the act we are being exposed to. So for example if we can relate to the character we are more likely to see their behaviour as normal. So if we are taught to be scared by a certain situation then we will potentially observationally learn to experience that situation in the same way.

Reinforcement Theory goes against the above in that it argues that we already come to view the media with in a preconceived way- and that the media merely reinforces our views that we already have. So if we already have certain attitudes- seeing media portrayals that support our attitudes will merely reinforce our opinions and actions. This will be to do with our background.

Cultivation Theory argues that the symbolic realm of television actually shapes our conception of the world, our values and our attitudes toward certain people (through media portrayals such as stereotyping). That we come to believe in the reality of the media- we come to believe in the symbolic reality that the media portrays and this determines our very consciousness. (ie- our notions of beauty and the perfect body, our insecurities)

Advertising obviously wants to play on these deep psychological fears (as we will see later in this weeks screening of Century of the Self) because they can often, and conveniantly, be resolved through consumption. Here’s another ‘thought bubble’:


Media and Power

The ownership and control of the media (and therefore the way it is funded) arguably makes a significant impact on the narratives and ideologies we experience as ways to live our lives by.

The Propaganda Model- 5 Biases

Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman (1988) in their book Manufacturing Consent analyse how the media creates ‘Propaganda’- necessary illusions to reduce the general public to consent and control. Out of this book they developed the propaganda model which describes five editorially-distorting filters applied to news reporting in mass media:

  1. The Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The media must serve the interests of making profit for their owners. The tendancy therefore is for few big firms to develop into conglomerates (for business purposes: it makes sense in terms of economies of scale etc). This is visible across a number of media- ie News International and the Murdoch Empire, Technology companies such as Microsoft and Google)
  2. Advertising: They must cater to the economic interests of their revenue streams. Therefore the interests of advertisers have a tendancy to become the dominant narratives, the dominant fears.
  3. Sourcing Mass Media News: they argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access, by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring [...] and producing, news. Because news is so dependant on PR and celebrity, in order to reduce the costs of acquiring content, the news becomes PR and Celebrity- an issue explored in Starsuckers. Those who fail to fall into this bias will find it harder to get access tio the news.
  4. Flak and the Enforcers: Corporations have great social, financial and assets and resource at their disposal to set up ‘flak machines’ to manage public information and to discredit true information. You might argue that this type of behaviour has been apparent in the recent Leveson Enquiry
  5. Anti-Communism: One function of the dominant news media was to undermine the ideas around other forms of social organisation, such as communism/socialism- to reinforce the political organisation of free market capitalism. Bear in mind the book was published in 1988, just a few months before the fall of the Berlin wall.

Two Provocations:

1. The first one is a manifesto written by arts academics at our own Coventry School of Art and Design way back in 1964 - an early artistic intervention on the issues of advertising.

2. In 2007 the Brazilian City Sao Paulo became the first city outside of the communist world to put a near blanket ban on outdoor advertising in its “Lei Cidade Limpa” or Clean City Law:

“The Clean City Law came from a necessity to combat pollution … pollution of water, sound, air, and the visual. We decided that we should start combating pollution with the most conspicuous sector – visual pollution.” – Mayor Gilberto Kassab

Watch this video and have a think about what the motivation was for this?

Another useful idea to look into, if you’d like to explore questions around power in more detail, is Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s ideas around cultural hegemony. Looking at the way dominant groups in society maintain their position of power through a negotiated consent and how the working class comes to accept the ‘common sense’: the norms, values and morals of the ruling elite.

Culture Jamming, Hoaxes and other ‘radical’ acts of aesthetic resistance

This week we will be exploring the work of a number of cultural and creative activists. Although some of these we cannot legally condone as acts that you should undertake for your projects, they are useful for our thinking around how artists can use the media to provoke ideas. We’ll start by looking at these 3 examples of ‘symbolic resistance’:

  1. Voice Box Action by the Barbie Liberation Organisation  some more on wikipedia
  2. Gay Background Characters in Simcopter Hack - Sabotage or Creative Act?
  3. Rosa Parkes

The Theory

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” (Debord 1967: Thesis 1)

Guy Debord was a member of the Situationists International- a group of avant garde thinkers and artists set up in 1957 in Paris (coming out of a movement known as the Lettrist International). Their ideas were grounded in Marxism, and his analysis of the concepts of commodification(the turning of things into tradable goods), reification (giving things qualities they don’t innately have) and alienation (social estrangement from human nature). The issue being that we recognise worth and value in things not because of their use-value but because of their market value.

In 1967 Guy Debord published a book called Society of the Spectacle. The book is a series of 221 short theses that address the idea that we live in a Spectacle- where advanced capitalism commodifies our experience and perception of the world. Here’s some important points that the book sets out to make:

  • The Spectacle is a social relation of false consciousness mediated by images.
  • The Spectacle masks reality- we live through the proxy of the spectacle- and therefore masks degradation of human life through advanced capitalism.
  • The Spectacle becomes a substitute for the real.
Now this all seems very depressing- as if we are all victims of a power system that we cannot control or do anything about. But as we will see, there are ways that you can think through these ideas to imagine and create another reality.
The Situationists (and previously the Lettrists) wanted to challenge the spectacle, and so developed a number of theoretical and practical frameworks that are enormously useful for thinking through what interventions we might make as Creative Activists. Among these were ideas that we should critique the status quo of Urbanism (the urban way of living as the ideal of human existence) and the way we go about living our lives through the use of a range of ‘disruptive’ and ‘interruptive’ practices (including the situation, the derive (drift), psychogeography, detournement, recuperation and revolution to name a few).
We will be thinking through some of these in the coming weeks (especially when we are looking at Flash Mobs) but for now we will just focus on a few of these areas:

The Detournement

“turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.”
Detournement is a useful concept that you will be using in this weeks task. Basically it consists of turning the symbolic realm back on itself- taking the signs of the spectacle and subverting their meaning through artistic and performed practice. It has inspired a number of movements including Punk, Culture Jamming and more recently Remix. It often involves mimicry and symbolic inversion.

Culture Jamming

Culture jamming is a form of protest in which media messages are transformed in humorous or disturbing ways to provoke insight. The term is used to cover practices such as hoaxing, spoofing, subvertising, guerilla advertising and graffiti art in an attempt to reclaim the flow and narratives of the mainstream media. The term was first coined in the mid 1980s by an experimental band called Negativeland- who used it to describe the act of rearranging messages on billboards. It was further described by Mark Dery in 1993 who used the term to refer to media hacking, information warfare, terror art and guerilla semiotics. It is often controversial and sometimes carried out through illegal means and therefore by anonymous collectives.

A number of campaign groups have used graffiti as a means to subvert the messages of advertising, early collectives include the Billboard Liberation Front (San Francisco) who describe themselves as marketeers for the people. You can see some of the ‘Billboard Corrections’ that they have carried out here. There is a similar group based in Australia called the Billboard Utilising Graffitiists Against Unhealthy Promotion (BUGAUP) who, throughout the 1980s, primarily targeted tobacco advertising, making a statement about the ethics of advertising the dangerous substance. Lots of groups continue to use graffiti, and associated methods such as sticker campaigns, to carry out their political and anti-corporate consent. If you are interested in looking further into graffiti as a means of dissent it is also well worth looking at the work of Banksy.

For information and resources around culture jamming a good resource to look at here is a publication called Adbusters: Journal for the Mental Environment

Adbusters is a network of artists, activists, students, educators and writers working on anti-consumerist and pro-environment campaigns against corporate media’s domination of the mental environment. They have launched a number of action-led campaigns including Buy Nothing Day, Digital Detox Week, More recently they have come to notoriety for their involvement in the Occupy Movement, that has led to demonstrations across the World.

They started out in Canada in 1988, when founders Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmaltz, appalled by an advert that effectively promoted the, for them, anti-environmental logging industry, set out to create an anti-ad aimed at dispelling the myths of that campaign. Their ad was refused airtime which, for them, showed that citizens didn’t have the same power as corporations in determining the truths and narratives that are prevalant in the media. Since then, they have been making spoof adverts and trying to get them into public advertising spaces. Although their relationship with the media continues to be rather antagonistic, with only a few broadcasters agreeing to air their anti-consumerist adverts. On September 13, 2004, Adbusters filed a lawsuit against six Canadian television broadcasters for refusing to air their work, the case continues…

Here’s some examples of their work:

and here’s a film they made called the Production of Meaning

Some more Culture Jammers

The Yes Men aim to raise awareness about what they consider problematic social issues. Through a process they call ‘identity correction’ where they impersonate ‘big-time criminals’ (read- corporations/organisations) in order to publicly humiliate them. They set up fake websites and then speak on behalf of those organisations including the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and many others. They have released two feature length films The Yes Men (2003) The Yes Men Fix the World (2009) – which we will be watching later today

Joey Skaggs (The Art of the Prank) - Stages Elaborate Hoaxes such as ‘Cathouse for Dogs‘ (a dog brothel) and ‘Celebrity Sperm Bank’ (a fake auction for rockstar sperm). Joey Skaggs has very kindly agreed to be this weeks guest podcaster for the class- and we will post up his talk later on this week.

Reverend Billy Talen and the Church of Earthelulah - a radical choir singing about the ‘devil’ of consumerism (they visit shopping malls and preach anti-consumerism).



Recuperation is the opposite of detournement. It refers to the act of when ‘mainstream’ culture reclaims subversive acts, ideas and works- and packages it back up as a ‘safe’ commodity or idea. This is often seen when cultural styles (such as the DIY aesthetics of Punk) become incorporated into the thing they were trying to criticise (so you can buy ripped jeans for example). Fashion is notorious for doing this but so are a number of other areas where rebellion and radical thinking are basically incorporated and controlled through the aesthetic realm. Subversion therefore becomes style, rebellion gets packaged back to us (think of the way the famous Che Guevara image is now incorporated back into mainstream). The spectacle must regain control to maintain the social order.

Naomi Klein, in her book ‘No Logo’ points out that culture jamming can sometimes appear to be authentic, when in fact it is entirely set up by the brands who work with culture jammers to effectively produce anti campaigns. What appears to be authentic resistance can in fact be orchestrated marketing (astroturfing)- and such campaigns can end up resulting in enormous publicity for the brands that only go to reinstate their values. This is Recouperation at play.

Here’s an interesting example from Levis- a banned advert following the UK 2011 Summer Riots- that focuses around the symbols of rebellion:

and here’s the same advert being (re)detourned:

The riots in the UK are particularly interesting when considering issues of consumerism (much of the looting revolved around the taking of branded sports clothing), this might be an area that you will want to explore in your work over the coming weeks


Culture Jamming and Remix

Further Resources

Watch The Yes Men Fix The World - exploring some of the techniques of a group of political activists who use ‘Identity Correction’ to impersonate big corporations and organisations.

Here’s a guest podcast from artist and prankster Joey Skaggs talking about his work.

In November 2011, the RSA brought together a panel to discuss Advertising in Society: What’s the Deal? – have a listen to the podcast.

Remember to follow our Creative Activism Facebook and Creative Activism Twitter Feeds for inspiration, links and articles for this week’s task.

Week One – Introduction to the Creative Activism Class

Creativity, in many ways, is always about change


Download the Lecture Slides Here


What we mean by Creative Activism in this class?

In the context of this class, we are using the term ‘Creative Activism’ to describe the role of creativity in the process of advocating for social and cultural causes and change. We will therefore be addressing the way that Activists and Changemakers have approached:

  • Issues such as human rights (the right to free speech, the right to a fair trial, workers rights, right to be educated, health rights).
  • Issues and injustices around inequalities (in gender, sexuality, race, class and ability for example).
  • Global issues (poverty, environmentalism, health etc)
  • Issues around Power (abuses and inequalities in media, government, corporations for example)
  • As well as a whole host of issues that are related to these

The projects that you work on can take place at a local level (where you might argue for something to be changed or addressed locally- such as better disabled access to city centres, better representation on issues that matter to you) or at a national and international level (you might choose to support a charity or advocacy group campaigning around poverty). There are many groups that you could get involved with and we will be posting links up to some good places where you can find these over the few weeks.

We will be exploring a number of creative approaches to activism: artists producing provocative work to encourage debate and reflection, writers and poets who use their talents to engage people in looking at issues in new ways, comedians addressing issues through humor and satire, documentary filmmakers bringing an issue into the limelight through capturing important stories – the list goes on.

What we’ll be doing?

Over the next 10 weeks we will be exploring how professional and amateur campaigners, artists and media practioners from a range of disciplines have used creative approaches and methodologies to bring about justice for their causes and to make important issues come to public attention. We will be exploring terms and approaches such as culture jamming, guerilla marketing, digital methodologies, tactical media through a number of different areas including in on the web, filmmaking, music, photography and design.

Alongside this exploration, we will be considering how we, as media creators (artists, filmmakers, photographers – however you see yourselves), can use these approaches and methodologies to help your own work have wider significance and impact. As part of this exploration there will be a series of tasks and challenges for you to carry out so that you can put into practice some of the ideas that you develop over the course of the class.

Where possible we are hoping that your work will actually help and support real causes that are out there in the world. This might be an issue in your community, it might be supporting a cause you feel strongly about or even producing content as part of a group you are already connected to – its up to you.

Sharing, feedback and getting your work noticed

We will also be encouraging you to share your ideas and knowledge with each other through the use of the #creativact hashtag: which you should use every time you blog, post a video or photograph or find an interesting link that you want to share with the class. Remember you are posting these up into places like vimeo and flickr where others can find it – so it also might be worth you using the ‘description’ box to say what you were trying to achieve (and the context of your project) in case other people outside of the class stumble across it and want to know more about it.

And remember – if you are happy for others to benefit from your work you can license it under an appropriate creative commons license (flickr and vimeo allow you to select which license you want). You might also want to post the work into other places to help it have a bigger impact (such as to forums and sites in your ‘activist’ community) – we will be encouraging you to do this with all of the tasks. Remember- part of the objective of this class is also to encourage you to develop your networks.

You should also be looking at the work of others on the course- encouraging each other with constructive feedback and advice so that we can all learn from each other. There is a lot of knowledge in our community and it would be great if we all could help to maximise each others potential with it. Remember to tweet your work, or post it to the facebook page, so that others can find it.

Week One Workshops

Today’s workshops will involve us starting to think about the causes and issues that you would like to focus on- thinking about the issues that matter and impact upon you and how you can start to get connected to these through your creative work.

Week One Task/Challenge

Every week there will be a task that you will be working on. Some of these will be individual tasks and with some of them you will be able to do them as part of a group. As you will see from the schedule, some of the tasks will last for one week and some of them will be for a few weeks. Toward the end of the class there is a group task for the whole class (where you will be doing a flash mob for charity!).

Find out about this weeks Task: Challenge One- Image Task: Provoking Truths With Imagery

Further Resources

Follow our Creative Activism Facebook and Creative Activism Twitter Feeds for inspiration, links and articles. You can find links to podcasts from our visiting speakers here as well as subscribing to our content in iTunes U 

Please take a look at our Reading List for the Creative Activism Course for books and texts that will provide you with some creative inspiration and introduce some of the theoretical frameworks we will be exploring on the module.

Some thoughts for next week

While you are working on this weeks tasks you will also need to be thinking about what we will be looking at over the next few weeks so you can start to research and develop your ideas. Please take a good look at the class schedule to find out more about what we will be covering.

Remember to have fun and be creative- we want to encourage you to experiment and take risks, and to challenge yourself to do new things in your work.


Lectures, Workshops and Creative Tasks

During the class we will be developing a number of lecturescreative tasks and workshops exploring the potentials of creative activism. This includes lateral thinking sessions, the development of creative strategies and their fruition into media interventions that will hopefully create an impression, raise awareness and have some kind of impact on an issue you feel strongly about.

The aim is for these tasks to build into a portfolio of work for our participants (which includes using video, web, writing, photography, digital and social media, ambient media and so on) to enable you to connect in a real way to a social, political or cultural issues that you believe in.

Even more importantly though: this project is about you building a network of inspiration and connections to like-minded individuals who you can collaborate with to share experiences, resources, knowledge and skills.

If you have any ideas or you’ve been inspired by a particular artist, activist or project , then please let us know. Even better, if you would like to donate a lecture or talk to the class, then please get in touch.