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(Omnibus Paper) Media and information literacy in 10 films and TV shows

An omnibus paper for my Media Information and Literacy class identifying how media literacy was applied on each of the viewed audio-visual material (how each concept/principle/proposition of media literacy was illustrated in each assigned film/TV show)

1. “Beauty in a Bottle”

This 2014 satirical comedy by Antoinette Jadaone follows the story of three different women with a common struggle relating to their physical insecurities. Their lives intertwine somehow through the craze for a new beauty product as one of them works as the creative head of the advertising agency launching the product’s campaign, another one becomes the product’s endorser, and the other one is the end user being targeted by the product.

Media messages are constructed: The film focuses on the impact of media in people’s mindset and lifestyle. In the story, media messages concerning the product launch of Beauty in a Bottle are constructed by the ad agency. The creatives behind the project collaborate with the client to effectively advertise the new beauty product to their target market. As reflected in the film, the media plays a crucial role in studying consumer habits and strategizing how a product can capitalize on people’s ideals of beauty and the insecurities these bring – which are both shaped by different media platforms as well.

The media construct reality: The film crafts the three major characters in a way that allows the capitalistic nature of a new product launch to be their common denominator. The advertising campaign constructs the sub-stories of the three different women confounded by their physical insecurities due to their age, body shape, and commoner look. Here, the media’s goal is to earmark these insecurities and frame the product as the hero to provide them that much-needed confidence and save them from their vulnerabilities. Scenes like the talking head videos of different women interviewed for the product campaign and Judith’s personal woes reminiscent of the consumer habits of the masses help create the reality of the product’s target market.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: In this film, media messages are carefully planned and executed to sell the client’s new product. To achieve its economic goals, media creatives in charge of the product launch carefully present the seller, the product, and the target market and highlight the superficial expectations and insecurities women have to face in such a consumerist world they live in.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: People’s exposure to media leads to their belief that the stories offered to them by the product campaign are part of their reality. Just like the film itself, the audience tries to empathize with the characters through on-screen elements that are similar to their own lives. As the viewers examine the lives of the women characters in the narrative, they either construct shallow meanings that may only focus on the entertaining aspects of the story or construct deeper meanings that address the serious issues women of today have to face when it comes to the perception of beauty and how they should keep up with society’s demands. 

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The film presents serious issues plaguing women in a consumerist world and it chooses the satirical approach that the general public (specifically those who are keen on watching teleseryes and mainstream comedies) is more accustomed to. From the comedic style showcasing women’s insecurities and their coping mechanisms to the exaggerated (hit-and-miss) performances, the choices made for the film’s storytelling coincide with the media messages ingrained in the story.

2. “Control Room”

This 2004 documentary by Jehane Noujaim follows the lives of broadcast journalists assigned to cover the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It focuses on the dynamics of the people working for Al Jazeera and their interactions with the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and other news organizations based in Iraq during the war.

Media messages are constructed: The so-called “freedom of the media” is often cited as the hallmark of giving the people the “truth” in the news, but the media messages coming from supposedly the same news story are constructed differently depending on the point of view and more specific agenda of the different outfits covering the news. 

The media construct reality: The different journalists presented in the film suggest that the media messages coming from them (as the ones in-charge of delivering updates about the war in Iraq) are based on each media organization’s partisanship. This means that an American news outfit is expected to tell news reports to generally benefit America, in the same way as foreign news outfits have their own perspectives that become their basis for presenting news reports for the benefit of who they are working for and who they are serving their news to. 

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: Those on the top echelons of media organizations have the upper hand in controlling, and even to the point of manipulating, media messages to serve their particular purposes. Political economy affects not just the war itself but also the news about the war. The powers that be are ultimately those financing these news agencies and they use journalism to promote media messages to their advantage.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: Media organizations are clearly aware of their target audience. They carefully produce news stories that can be rightfully interpreted by the viewers as something that would be to their advantage. Often times, they capitalize on emotional, political, and dangerous events, even if they are not the most responsible thing a journalist can do – in order to peek the interest of the viewers, and at times, lead them to a certain call to action. For instance, a coverage of a blast that killed a Middle-eastern reporter gets framed in a very emotional way for the Arab audience, while the freedom of Iraq as covered by the Americans focus on symbolic elements such as flags and people’s emotional reactions on screen.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The filmmaker chose the unnarrated cinema verité treatment for this documentary, alongside carefully expressing that the film works in the point of view of the filmmaker amidst certain critical reactions of bias, partisanship, and lack of objectivity in the storytelling. This approach conforms with the target audience’s need to grasp the media messages based on their overall take about the war.

3. “Hotel Rwanda”

This 2004 biographical drama helmed by Terry George is based on the Rwandan genocide of 1994 using the accounts of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in his efforts to save the lives of his family and more than a thousand other refugees stuck in the political tension between the Hutu and Tutsi populations of the country. The story follows his efforts in providing shelter to the Tutsis in the besieged Hôtel des Mille Collines and how he uses his level-headedness and hotel connections to give hope and secure the safety of as much people as possible.

Media messages are constructed: The film highlights the media messages initiated by the Hutu extremist radio show to promote hatred and calls to action against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority population. Clearly the Hutu listeners of the show react violently to the hateful means of bringing the news and opinions about the Tutsi people, while the Tutsis fear for their lives as they know the political, social, and moral repercussions of the radio show would most likely lead to their tragic end.

The media construct reality: In this film, media outfits deliberately construct the reality for the different groups of people depending on who they side in and/or what their goals are (which primarily involves getting good ratings by “selling the drama” in news reports). One of the sensational details of the on-going Rwandan conflict in the story involves the Tutsis literally doing phone calls to cry for help overseas and the media coverage these bring. Their desperate acts to survive pave way for enough media mileage and eventually a political move to help them in their most trying times. In the case of the pro-Hutu radio show, it is presented in the tale as the seemingly only access people have to get some details of what’s happening inside Rwanda when all the foreigners, including the journalists, were asked to leave the country.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: The media outfits presented in the story have clear goals and they have the media messages coming from their stories tailor-made for their target audience. There are scenes where people listening would end up reacting violently and the people from outside Rwanda learning about the horrendous crimes turn out very emotional. Rusesabagina clearly knows how to utilize media to save them, or at least buy more time for them to have a chance to escape impending massacre attempts. He makes as much life-saving arrangements with his local and international contacts as possible after long investing on favors for them as a hotelier.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: As the Hutu extremists within Rwanda’s political elite blame the entire Tutsi minority for the country’s economic and political issues, their actions have significant effects on how the entire Hutu population, especially the brutal Hutu militia, construct their own meanings from the media messages they receive from the different media platforms. On the other hand, the Tutsi people receive relatively the same news reports and they also construct their own meanings from the media messages – the Hutus are angry and offensive, the Tutsis are fearful and defensive. Meanwhile, the international community have their own takes on the turn of events, which are all based on their perspectives of the issues on hand.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The film itself uses classic Hollywood narrative to engage the audience while capitalizing on Rusesabagina’s real-life experience to emotionally dramatize the events of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The filmmaker uses an effective device of presenting Paul, a Hutu, and his wife, Tatiana, a Tutsi, to tell a sobering and heartfelt tale about the historical Rwandan massacre from the inside while most of the world looked away. Indeed, the film’s form and content work very well in creating a fitting atmosphere where humanity gets plagued by political corruption, racism, inequality, violence, abuse of power, and manipulation of media messages for personal and economic gains. Even the dramatic way of demanding for calls to action in the anti-Tutsi radio show, as well as the handling of the news coverage of international media outfits, aptly use form and content that are closely related in the media messages.

4. “Jay”

The 2008 film “Jay” by Francis Xavier Pasion centers on the coverage of the brutal murder of a gay Manila professor by a homosexual segment producer of a TV reality show and the effects of the turn of events on the lives of the slain man’s family, as well as those involved in the production of the TV show.

Media messages are constructed: In this film, the segment producer constructs media messages that can favor higher TV ratings, even to the point of recording hysterical weeping and asking the subject to do it all over again like an actress after the video tape of the original recording turned out damaged. Clearly, the film presents how this form of TV show thrives on sensationalism and its abuse of its subjects often get easily overcome by the producers’ promise of the glitz and glamour of showbiz for their willing victims.

The media construct reality: The filmed version of the life story of the slain Jay is clearly what more people get to see that the general public accepts this as the reality, despite the story being clearly manipulated for TV ratings’ sake. The production team even requires a reshoot of the morgue scene, which is a reenactment that gets presented as a genuine part of the reality of Jay’s death. Even the segment producer, being very much involved in the family’s plight to effectively cover his TV project, eventually finds himself blending his real-life interactions with the subject he covers, as seen in the latter part of the film.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: The film examines the different goals and interactions of the characters as they move around the tragedy of Jay’s death. In the end, they all contribute to the media messages that are produced for very particular purposes and the outcomes are based on the dynamics of the different people involved and the decisions they make based on their personal agenda.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: Jay’s family and friends grieve. The production team, often times coldly instructing on-camera talents to do various things, capitalizes on delusion, illusion, and theatrics. The target audience finds a morbid form of entertainment in images that play upon human anguish – which is the reason why media practitioners continue to use sensational subjects for higher TV ratings. Unfortunately, abused subjects remain willing victims of the so-called glory of seeing themselves on TV. They even become more self-conscious of how they should act on camera when they are supposed to be grieving for a loved one’s death. 

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The TV show-within-a-film structure of this motion picture effectively works in exploring the viciousness of television journalism that is set out to capture stories that sell. The film’s sense of realism coincides with the TV coverage of Jay’s brutal death, which is narrated though not quite astutely. The segment producer’s own plight as he finds himself surrounded by the grieving family’s ordeal weaves such strong imagery that is both provocative and terrifying. From his detached look at a tragedy of this magnitude to his dedication to do everything asked of him for the sake of the show, his personal and professional lives blend in an abstract fashion while the film’s narrative voice also subtly addresses some moral, social, and professional issues.

5. “The Newsroom” (S1E1)

In this pilot episode of “The Newsroom” entitled “We Just Decided to” directed by Greg Mottola, the story takes the viewers behind the cameras and into the control rooms of a news network where everyone’s adrenaline levels seem to be consistently on a high. In this episode created by Aaron Sorkin, infamous news anchor Will McAvoy returns to work after a forced vacation and shakes the network with a combination of new and old faces suddenly rearranged in their work assignments. The progression of the show reveals the machinations of a popular media industry and how these affect the media professionals behind the operations of the network. 

Media messages are constructed: The show convincingly presents how media messages are constructed in the news industry. This becomes very clear in the relatively impromptu report (as seen from the perspective of a non-news professional) of the oil rig explosion in the Mexican Gulf for McAvoy’s comeback program. As the new information come in, the producer leading the show supplies the news anchor with the on-going direction needed for the live broadcast.

The media construct reality: What ever the broadcast show provides on TV sets becomes the reality for the masses. From the state of broadcasting to the potential of Nielsen ratings, this demonstrates the power of news networks, producers, and hosts in creating what the people believes in and which issues would really impact the society in more ways than one. 

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: This episode brings to the table how media messages are produced based on both the personal and professional agenda of the media people behind it. The news network needs to revive their central figure’s show after a scandal, while the news anchor and the entire news team have their own reasons for acting as how they are in the story. These two greatly affect the final media messages, which are clearly produced for particular purposes.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: This episode may center on the interactions of the behind-the-scene people of a news outfit, but it also convincingly presents how the end users of media find themselves constructing their own meanings of media messages provided to them. This becomes more apparent in the dialogue as the various characters also mention how the programs affect their audience.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The show uses drama, suspense, and tension with a subtle bit of romance in order to create an entertaining pilot episode featuring an imperfect yet well-oiled news organization where a combination of hackneyed and realistic speaking lines work like characters’ sparring partners. This approach helps bring the media messages to the target audience using fitting formative elements.

6. “The Post”

The 2017 American historical political thriller “The Post” directed and produced by Steven Spielberg revolves around the political tension encountered by the first female publisher of a major American newspaper Katharine Graham of The Washington Post when she finds herself torn on whether to publish or not the leaked Pentagon Papers documenting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Set in 1971, this period piece depicts the true story of the attempts of a good number of journalists to reveal the biting truth about the leaked classified documents. Graham’s decision can either make or break not just her, but the entire paper as a significant journalistic institution, alongside her family’s legacy.

Media messages are constructed: As the film exposes the value of journalism at a time of political turmoil, it supports the concept that media messages are constructed, especially in an organized system of a newspaper where professionals collaborate and decide as a single unit in crucial matters including making an exposé of the government’s long-running deception about the Vietnam War.

The media construct reality: This film successfully highlights the importance of journalism to tell an entire nation about cover-ups spearheaded by no less than the government expected to protect its people. As the Post runs the story despite government bullying tactics, other papers interestingly follow suit – creating a ripple effect where the citizens are now provided crucial information long kept from them. The filmmaker’s choice of lens to focus on The Post instead of The New York Times, which had a significant role in the real-life breaking of the Pentagon Papers, greatly affects the reality brought to the viewers, as such artistic license, while valid and acceptable in general, kind of alters the public’s sense of reality of what really happened.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: The film’s exceptional storytelling creates an air of activism at a time when the current U.S. president continue picking on the press for fake news. Clearly, the story’s references and allusions to the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump are very much apparent. When authenticity becomes uncommon, the media messages people get from this film’s bitingly timely themes serve very particular purposes. 

People construct their own meanings from media messages: Considering the historical impact of the events presented in the story, the viewers are able to construct their own meanings from the media messages – reminding them how history tends to go in circles and it is a matter of trying to break the chain and bend things towards true public service.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: In this compelling motion picture, the dramatic structure offers that right mix of offense and restraint through vivid scenes of an underdog heiress’ colliding worlds. Using its impressive ensemble cast, the story examines overlapping layers of virtues and personal and not so personal needs and wants. It reflects today’s ragged, tenuous sociopolitical climate where competence and sense of responsibility should really work hand in hand.

7. “Shattered Glass”

Based on a Vanity Fair article by H. G. Bissinger, this 2003 biographical drama written and directed by Billy Ray revolves around the early professional life of journalist Stephen Glass and his scandal at the American commentary magazine The New Republic. It chronicles his fall from grace when his colorful stories were eventually discovered to be fabricated. 

Media messages are constructed: This film provides a serious, well-observed examination of journalistic practice and the thin line between entertainment value and fact-checking to both inform and entertain. Relying on questionable sources of information and pretending he was there to give his articles that first-person feel, Glass’ notoriety in the magazine reflects the power of media in sending different messages to the people and their impact to them.

The media construct reality: Whether the media offers biting and/or entertaining details in what they produce for their audience, they help build what the people consider as real. The information the masses get from the media become the building blocks of their reality. It is worth noting how a receptionist character wryly remarks to Glass’ editor that all this trouble about falsified stories could have been averted if the stories required photographs.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: In the case of Glass, his published stories are clearly produced for particular purposes – for personal and professional gains. He uses his gift of telling amusing stories without any sense of accountability. When his fraudulent acts get discovered, the entire team issues an apology letter to their readers for their shortcomings and finding themselves blindsided by Glass’ fictitious stories when careful fact-checking could have prevented the publication of over two dozen fabricated tales in the magazine.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: In journalism films such as this, people create their own meanings from media messages. One may be for Glass, the other may be against him. Even inside the office, the not so entertaining editor replacement in the team justifiably suspends Glass, resulting to the enmity of his staff who all are fond of Glass because they believe him (and are loyal to him) more than their new boss.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The dramatic take of this astute film about the life story of Glass focuses on the dangers of sensationalizing stories and how being too calculated without accountability can eventually lead to moral indignation. As the story notes, fact-checking and taking good care of one’s news sources should always be on top of things for journalists.

8. “Spotlight”

Based on a series of stories that earned the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, this 2015 biographical drama by Tom McCarthy follows The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in America, as it investigates dozens of cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by Roman Catholic priests.

Media messages are constructed: This film pushes socio-political and religious issues upfront by responsibly taking creative license into account in the retelling of the real-life events. The story presents the value of media messages in a society where power figures continue to warn off journalists from doing what they are ought to do for the good of the public.

The media construct reality: The story proceeds cautiously while seeking the truth about the cover-up done by the courts and the Boston Archdiocese about the pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Massachusetts. Clearly, this exposé shall shake the biggest institutions of the society, which is definitely far from the reality the public acknowledges.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: In the team’s plan to publish their findings, the story isn’t about exposing the Catholic Church and it is not on a mission to rattle people’s faith. Its motive is to tell the bigger picture accurately while showing the power of the newsroom in exposing the truth and seeking the justice people need in a world that oppresses them more and more. Journalism is important – and this is ingrained deep in the narrative.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: While resisting the temptation to lionize its heroes and antagonize religion, this film succeeds in telling the difference between social relevance and sensationalism without deliberately forcing its heavy material into the audience. The resulting drama honors the audience, as well as its real-life subjects, by successfully providing them with enough cinematic elements to construct their own meanings from media messages rooted in the story. Amidst the many politicized moments the Spotlight team continues to encounter, they put their best efforts forward in their quest for truth and justice through journalism.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: The film’s storytelling gracefully handles the lurid details of its subject matter. Its fact-based story complements the intricacies of the investigations of the real-life accounts of the widespread pedophilia scandals and subsequent cover-ups happening inside the Catholic Church. Full of multiple and even some contradicting layers, its wittily intercut structure rightfully touches on the viewers’ emotions while also allowing them to ponder on the issues at hand.

9. “The TV Set”

The 2006 showbiz comedy “The TV Set” by writer/director Jake Kasdan follows the plight of an idealistic writer who needs to navigate the chaotic corporate minefield to bring his vision to fruition on the small screen. Amidst successfully selling his story idea to the network, putting the show together means endless compromises that he is unable to get a good grasp of his supposed passion project as the production progresses.

Media messages are constructed: This comedy-drama offering exposes the systemic problem in the capitalistic ventures of a TV network where artistic initiatives clash with economic demands. The demands of those in power remain on top and their control over the media messages coming from their shows are very much apparent from start to end.

The media construct reality: As reflected on the scene where the network gets a sample of their target audience to evaluate their potential TV shows for the upcoming season, the construction of reality in media has a reciprocal relationship between the media outfit and the end user. As the one who is ultimately in control of content for public consumption, in the end, the network still has the upper hand in building the reality for its audience.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: As the TV pilot maneuvers around the mine-laden path of casting, production, and prime-time scheduling, the different characters have their own reasons for pushing the project forward. The writer struggles to stay true to his vision, while the network president maintains her headstrong take on shortchanging his passionate ideas to the point of disillusionment. The rules of the game require those involved to make compromises acceptable for the particular purposes of those in power.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: This motion picture suggests that the kind of projects that get a green light relates the kind of media messages the public gets accustomed to. The different characters greatly affect the dynamics of the tale as they juggle around at the expense of their physical and mental health and their personal lives. The film audience see through all these and they are given the opportunity to ponder on things based on what they find in the story.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: In the superbly controlled accounts presented in the film, the viewers navigate around many scenes that generate entertaining moments on how the different complications in the story fall into place to make character decisions valid throughout the narrative.

10. “Tuhog”

The 2001 satiric picture “Tuhog” by Jeffrey Jeturian follows the story of a family victimized by incest and the movie production company that coerced them to sell the rights to their story with the promise of a tasteful, socially relevant film about them. The filmmakers in the story transform their case into a preposterous sexploitation flick with the final movie bearing little resemblance to the source material.

Media messages are constructed: The media messages of the film explore a socio-realist observation of the plight of slum dwellers and dysfunctional families and their struggle for survival. The filmmakers behind the project intend to sell a soft-porn material to its target audience, while lying to the victims in the type of film to be produced in order to earn profit from the genre’s patrons. The cheap sex flick capitalizes on the taboo for the sake of commercial value. 

The media construct reality: The film dares to tackle sensational media in the country, specifically in cinema. This satirical drama features the theme of incest, which is not well-explored in the mainstream fare. Exploitation cinema unfolds as the filmmakers rape their subjects through irresponsible filmmaking. The teachers and neighbors of the victims react to what they see on screen without even bothering to be critical enough in judging the family. The movie they just watched just became their reality.

Media messages are produced for particular purposes: The film works as an intelligent commentary and a harsh portrait of patriarchy that still prevails up to the present. In order for its satire to work, the exaggeration of the story’s original details shows the excessive and gratuitous sex while tweaking facts for dramatization purposes – invoking nasty images of incest, which is a difficult and sensitive topic to explore in Philippine cinema. The filmmakers aim to sell the film through an abusive retelling of a tabloid report. Their intentions coincide with the general audience’s reactions because they know their target market and they know what pleases them.

People construct their own meanings from media messages: The film examines the liberties filmmakers often take with a material described as “based on a true story.” In sensationalizing the story for profit, the deviation from the real-life events is hideous and horrendous that these filmmakers are in no way different from pedophiles and rapists.

Form and content are closely related in media messages: This sexy film utilizes a film-within-a-film structure that effectively showcases carefully crafted mise-en-scene as a choreography of juxtapositions. In seamlessly bridging the stories of Floring and Hasmin, its form and content aptly coincide with its media messages. The contrast between the reality and the sexploitation flick makes it tragic and funny at the same time because the exaggerations are so typical of actual Pinoy sex flicks, especially the “ST films” of the 90s (sex trip films). Throughout the picture, it feels like a tug of war between the heart-wrenching tragedy of the real-life situation and the hilarity of the sex flick. The excesses of cinematic license make a statement that cinema has the ability to influence the society and even instill ideologies to the people. The push and pull between the “reel” and the “real” also show how the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject is prone to abuse.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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