We’re Never in Control of What Media we Watch

 If you think you’re watching Breaking Bad instead of X Factor in an attempt to define who you are and not succumb to what TV bosses tell you to watch, then you’re wrong.

raccoonroof-thumb-510x340-44176The live action 101 Dalmatians would have you believe that racoons and skunks are prominent wild animals in England. Anyone with half a brain knows this is false, unless of course they escaped from a nearby zoo (the skunks, not the people that believe they’re native to England). So why oh why are there wild racoons and skunks in a film set in London? Because America, audience and film industry alike, is innately selfish. The reason behind the skunks and racoons in a film set in London? So American kids didn’t get confused trying to figure out what a badger is. Oh puh-lease! What about all the British kids watching a film set in their capital city wondering what on Earth those funny black and white cats with hands are? Better a false representation of London to confuse us Brits than a true representation that might confuse the dainty, uneducated minds of American children, right?badger_2369182b

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, a film I watched recently and reviewed this morning, is what made this article pop into my mind. A remake of a Japanese film named Hachi-kō about a loyal dog who’s adopted by a university professor when found wandering alone on a train station in Tokyo. Like a lot of American remakes of foreign films, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a Westernised version of the true story. Weirdly though the canine star of the film is an Akita, which stays true to the original story but begs the question if American audiences can get their head around a breed of dog native to Japan, why would they struggle with badgers? You’d think they’d have swapped the Akita for a golden retriever called Ben. Is the audience really as stupid as the media lets on or is this desire to Westernise, and more importantly Americanise everything, stripping true stories of their cultural roots, just another form of selfish domination? Yes and no.

xfactorThe media controls what the audience does and doesn’t watch. If you think you’re watching Breaking Bad instead of X Factor in an attempt to define who you are and not succumb to what TV bosses tell you to watch, then you’re wrong. Everything we like, everything we watch and everything we use to define ourselves is mediated, forced upon us by the big producers who decide what does and does not reach our screens. If there’s a current trend in film, you can say goodbye to anything that attempts to be different. Those scripts will just get thrown in the bin, and even if they do get made eventually it’ll be on a tiny, independent budget and will probably never reach mainstream audiences. America makes up the largest portion of the film industry and the biggest amount of mainstream film releases, be it cinema or DVD, if they want to mediate what we watch and make everything Americanised then they can and they will. The point is, the American audience isn’t too stupid to know what a badger is, nor would they be incapable of watching and understanding a Japanese true story set in Japan. What the media does is dictate what we do and don’t watch by hand picking what gets shown on TV, what films make it to the cinema and

Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad

indeed what films even get made full stop. Their idea of what the audience wants is just that; their idea. When people say TV shows like The X Factor and other mainstream trash that takes over the entire TV for the few weeks it’s on each year, are what the masses want, what they really mean is that’s what the masses have been told they want. Ask most people whether or not they fit in with the mainstream masses and they’ll probably say something like ‘no, I don’t like The X Factor, I just watch it because there’s nothing else on’, and that’s my point proven; our likes and dislikes don’t actually fit with what the media believes the masses want, the media makes what they want, rams it down our throats and then when several million viewers tune in because there’s naff all else on they assume that it’s because we like that kind of shit.

imagesThat’s quite a long winded explanation, I don’t blame you if you nodded off halfway through, but in a nutshell my point is films like 101 Dalmatians get Americanised and we’re led to believe it’s because the audience is as thick as two short planks when they’re not. It’s not because the American audience wouldn’t know what a badger was, it’s because the media has decided for them that it would be too much for them to comprehend despite not giving them the chance to even give it a go. Talk about condescending! It’s a prime example of how the media is duping us into believing we’re making conscious choices about what we watch and what films and TV shows define us as a person; we get what we’re given, and granted there’s a lot of options so to an extent we do have control over what media we consume, but it’s all still hand picked by the big wigs at the top, for every five new TV shows that start up there’ll probably be ten or more that got turned down. The 101 Dalmatians example just shows how the media makes decisions on the audiences behalf about what they should and shouldn’t be exposed to without giving the audience a chance to see it and respond with their own opinion.

It's called DARTMoor Zoo, not Rosemoor
It’s called DARTMoor Zoo, not Rosemoor

Don’t even get me started on We Bought a Zoo, I’ve been to the zoo they filmed that in multiple times (it’s in Dartmoor, which is near where I live in Devon) and the true story is British. Why they cast Matt Damon, changed the name of the zoo and pretended it was set in America (filming half of it at the zoo here in the UK and the rest back in the US) is beyond me. America needs to realise that life actually exists outside of America, and that life is equally important. It’s that typical ‘if it doesn’t happen in my country it doesn’t happen full stop’ attitude. If there aren’t badgers in America then clearly, they do not exist at all.

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13 thoughts on “We’re Never in Control of What Media we Watch

  1. Interesting essay! I agree with most of what you’re saying – it’s disappointing the way American television/film tends to Americanize their content (and the follow-on effect of how that colours people’s opinion of the world they live in) and the larger point that so much modern media has a dismal view of their audience’s intelligence.

    Still, I don’t entirely agree that we’re never in control of the media we watch. People who say things like “oh, this show (say, X-Factor, is terrible but I watch it anyway” are part of the problem, but ultimately producers make what people want to pay for – and a lot of people love junk (see the recent-ish story about Netflix viewers claiming to love foreign films/documentaries but rarely actually watching them! http://www.vulture.com/2013/08/netflix-you-dont-really-like-foreign-films.html). The best way to have more control over the media is to hunt down the good stuff and eschew the bad stuff; that way shows like Breaking Bad make enough money that we get more and more art of that quality.

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    1. It’s true, but like I said the media still hand picks what we do and don’t get to see…for ever five TV shows of Breaking Bad quality that get produced there are many more of that quality that get turned down…it’s all hand picked for us, even if we are choosing between what the media has to offer, we’re still choosing from their selection of what they want us to be able to see, if that makes sense. We can choose to watch the better stuff, but whatever we choose is still governed and mediated by the media…we don’t have any control, we could only get control if they got writers/directors of TV shows to pitch their idea to the audience rather than the big-name producers, that way we could decide what does and doesnt get produced based on what we want to see more of.

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      1. “if they got writers/directors of TV shows to pitch their idea to the audience”

        Interesting idea! Given what ends up making a lot of money nowadays, there’s a reasonable chance that this actually gets rid of shows like Breaking Bad. Mad Men, for instance, has relatively terrible ratings (they’re obviously not bad, but compared to top network programs), but is primarily successful because it wins Emmys and respect for AMC. Just basing decisions on what people would actually watch might actually kill shows like these! I reckon we need more people like Megan Ellison (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan_Ellison) – rich people with good taste 🙂

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      2. That’s the thing, the things that get awards aren’t always what the audience wants and is usually just admired by chin stroking pretentious critics. Any film like the upcoming Diana or The King’s Speech are instant awards winners but not so much the kinds of things that mainstream audiences want (although I personally liked The King’s Speech!) People need better taste full stop haha 😛 I love me some trashy sitcoms (which I usually binge-watch in bed on my unproductive days) but love some of the big, awesome series’ like Sons of Anarchy, gotta have variety!

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      3. Well, I’m often on the side of those pretentious chin-stroking critics – as much as the Emmys get it wrong, for example, they still recognise outstanding, game-changing work like Girls or Louie that’s hardly bringing in truckloads of money. Yeah, “award bait” can be problematic, but we do still live in a world where The Tree of Life can get made with a sizable budget.

        On the flipside of the coin – and where I agree with you somewhat – immensely talented, critically deified directors like David Lynch now struggle to get finance to make the films they want to make (and Lynch may never make a film again!). That’s definitely a problem. I don’t know that the solution is as simple as “asking the audience what they want,” unfortunately – since we already do that with box office receipts and – with some exceptions – people like crap. People spend their money on crap. Yes, this is due to marketing and so on, but still, popularity is measured in dollars or awards, and both have their problems. We’re no longer living in the ’70s, where films like Taxi Driver can be commercial successes (and a lot of this has to do with escalating film budgets and therefore a changing definition of what “success” even means in that context).

        There’s one small silver lining to all this at least – the growing trend of crowdfunding might throw off the commercial model when it comes to making good (if not high budget) films. We also get people like Shane Carruth who make masterpieces on a shoestring and do everything themselves… though that’s the exception rather than the rule.

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      4. I never said it was as simple as asking the audience what they want, because that would never, ever in a million years work. My point was that people can’t possibly believe they ever have control over the things they do and don’t like unless that’s the case. If people believe they aren’t mediated and governed by the media then they need to take a closer look!
        It doesn’t matter whether or not award winners are liked or disliked, there’s not one blanket statement for award winners because there are so many different types of awards; Oscars tend to be the pretentious ones and unless the viewer is half-blind and deaf then you can tell an Oscar bait film a mile off! Even if they’re made purely to win awards, though, that doesn’t make watching and enjoying them wrong. I’ve seen and loved many award winning films, and as a general rule if I come across anything that’s won awards at Sundance I’ll make a point of watching it because Sundance films tend to be really good.
        Crap and good is in the eye of the beholder, those who buy into the mainstream stuff don’t think it’s crap, and it doesn’t bother me that it exists, my point being that these are the people that think they have control over their choices…my post was entirely aimed to explain how the media mediates and governs us and not everyone even realises it.
        I do wish independent filmmakers could get the money they need to make good, unique films because I’m personally sick of the Hollywood remake train and the boring, done-to-death films they come out with, so I watch foreign films and Asian cinema and that’s enough for me! It doesn’t *matter* and I’m not bothered one way or another whether things in the film industry change, although with web 2.0 and increasing ability and space for ‘we media’ will allow people to make their own media more and more, so there will be advances in that respect somewhere along the line. I used crowd funding to make my short film, that’s ‘we media’…anyone that does it outside of a commercial production company IS creating ‘we media’ which is, in other words, media made by the audience for the audience. Long gone are the days when we need the big conglomerate production companies to make our films.
        My point may have been misconstrued; I’m not saying audiences should be asked what they want in terms of films and TV, but until that happens (which it won’t, it’s impossible and impractical) we have to accept that even our most free choices are governed in some way…the films available, although there are many, have been hand picked by someone on the basis of whether or not it’ll make money (in other words, on their assumption as to whether or not we, the audience, will like it-they make our decisions for us). With we-media, crowdfunding and cheaper filming equipment, people can make films, burn DVDs and sell them easily but that probably won’t ever be the norm, people are less likely to want to buy a film with little or no recognition that’s not in the ‘mainstream’, not to mention they’re very hard to come by at the moment!
        My other point being the dumbing down of media and the Americanisation; hence the 101 dalmatians example…that’s a prime example of the media controlling the audiences decisions and thoughts; they decided long before the audience could see it for themselves and make their own minds up that American audiences wouldn’t get what a badger was so they changed it to skunks and raccoons, which gives a false representation of England because they don’t run wild here….they decided for the audience that their brains wouldn’t be able to handle it; as they do with everything else, they decide things for us! It won’t change, it’s not an issue either…it doesn’t matter really that the only media available to us has been chosen for us and we don’t have free choices, we’ve made it this far we can carry on! Not to mention without producers choosing what does and doesn’t get made, the media and film industry would be an absolute nightmare! Some mediation is needed to keep it working, I’m simply explaining (because I saw some films recently that got me thinking about it) that audiences don’t have free choice.

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      5. That all makes sense! I think I may have misinterpreted your thesis slightly. Good discussion 🙂

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      6. Hehe don’t worry it happens to me a lot, I tend to go off on tangents 😛
        It makes sense in my mind but then most of the time makes no sense out loud!!

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  2. So what you’re saying is that viewers don’t control the entertainment industry? We also don’t control the news business. We don’t even define what news IS. Actually, we don’t control much of anything except what we do with our own friends in our own homes. Has it ever been different? Personally, I doubt it, but I’m completely, hopeleessly cynical.

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    1. It’s always been the same, although it was even worse when there was less choice and the news, TV and radio was used to indoctrinate entire nations. It has got better, but people still don’t realise that we’re being entirely manipulated and mediated. They still believe their choices over what they do and don’t watch/believe/listen to are uninformed, unmediated choices

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  3. It’s part of a general dumbing down of media across the board. NOT just in America. All over. Somewhere, in boardrooms round the world, people dumber than us have decided we aren’t smart enough to understand words of more than one syllable, concepts, wit or much of anything. It burns my butt … probably the single thing about movies, TV, news, you name it that makes me crazy. AND angry.

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  4. “It’s not Brits who think American readers are a bunch of whinging morons with the geo-social understanding of a wire coathanger, it’s American editors.” –Terry Pratchett

    Read that quote years and years ago, and it’s truer today than ever. He was talking about books, of course, but it’s even truer for TV and movies. It’s deeply insulting, especially the more fallacious the reasoning gets (We know what badgers are. We have badgers, albeit a different breed.)

    The truth is, while there are indeed some Americans who are just too dumb to get it, the same could be said of any other culture, and the majority are more than intelligent enough to grasp simple things like “This is taking place in a different country”. But something about being in charge of a media company makes people think that everybody else is a complete moron.

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    1. Exactly! I would’ve thought that if most British viewers know what a raccoon is then most American viewers know what a badger is, but it’s the producers that just decide that the audience won’t get it before they even give them the chance to try. It is insulting, definitely!

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