Journeys in Film The Dhamma Brothers: East Meets West in the Deep South
The Lear Center's Journeys in Film project has produced a new school curriculum for the documentary The Dhamma Brothers: East Meets West in the Deep South. The film tells the story of Alabama's Donaldson Correctional Facility, which holds 1,500 of the state's most dangerous prisoners, and where a growing network of men now gather to meditate on a regular basis.
The curriculum guide frames The Dhamma Brothers film in a way that allows middle- and high school students to grapple with the themes and ideas presented interactively.
The lessons encourage critical thinking and deep discourse, inspiring students to ponder the complex issues surrounding the US prison system. Lessons cover a broad range of subjects, including theology, stress management, philosophy, sociology, social justice, life skills, genocide studies, psychology and education.
The curriculum has been used in prison theological certificate classes, discussions of the American Penal Code, community college world religions courses, library screenings and a 120-day treatment program for high risk youth.
Read the JiF blog about the film here. And learn more about two other JiF curriculum guides, for the movies Happy and Defiant Requiem.
There's a new tool in the struggle to get action on climate change on everyone's agenda: insurance company actuarial tables. more>>
There's no link between exposure to media violence and actual violent behavior, right? Not so fast. A new meta-analysis of 217 studies published between 1957 and 1990 suggests that exposure to media violence is a risk factor for violent behavior, much in the same way that second-hand smoke is a risk factor for cancer. more>>
Did you ever think chocolate could be entertaining, and compellingly so? Watch what some clever Germans have devised. more>>
Fox News seems to have discovered the science behind making people distrust science. A new study explains how. more>>
Do you tweet during television shows? A new study analyzes the interesting connections between Twitter and TV. more>>
Can puffs of air be the next big thing in online entertainment interactivity? Disney Research thinks so and their new tool, Aireal, is pretty dazzling. more>>
Are you still just playing Grand Theft Auto on your Kinect? Take a gander at what a dance company and engineering firm in France have been doing with the gaming device. more>>
Since the NSA leaks were revealed, "meta data" has been all the buzz. Find out what it means and what it looks like here.
If all you've got in your paintbox are pixels, can you still be an artist? The exhibit "Into the Pixel" offers some interesting answers. more>>
A mobile game that explores Jewish cultural history? Who knew? Check out Jewish Time Jump: New York and discover how augmented reality, GPS and rich source material can put you in New York City a century ago, immersed in the world of Jewish immigration and the women's and labor movements. more>>
Are celebrities now the canaries in the coal mine, alerting us to the imminent death of American culture and democracy? Author and journalist George Packer (The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America) thinks so and regards the current crop, ascending as most Americans stare at a growing abyss of economic inequality, as particularly craven: people, who've become personas, then brands, then empires. more>>
What's the latest tool for historians and other archival researchers? It's probably in your hand: your smartphone. more>>
After reading Angelina Jolie's moving and brave NYT op-ed about her recent prophylactic double mastectomy due to her possessing the BRCA1 gene, watch TV writer Jessica Queller tell her own BRCA cancer story at a Hollywood, Health & Society event.
Remember 24, the show that graphically convinced viewers, military recruits and interrogators for eight seasons that torture works? It's baaaack, next summer on Fox, and Americans will have another chance to gauge the impact of a fictional TV show on real political choices and military behavior in the field. more>>
When you're one of the biggest computer companies on the planet, what's the cool way to announce your breakthrough discovery? Watch IBM's movie assembled out of mere atoms, the tiniest movie ever, to find out.
There's a brilliant new tool for non-profit organizations: Comedy. Actor Matt Damon has launched a drive for increasing awareness of global water and sanitation issues via a funny, mock press conference about a new strategy he's adopting on behalf of his charity Water.org. more>>
What's the next, new entertainment feature for your home? Um, how about a window? With enough of these "light-taming" windows installed you could actually live inside your very own entertainment center. more>>
A wave of new research is in on the effects of violent gaming....and nothing is clear. more>>
The Chinese once turned to Confucius for wisdom. Now they study....episodes of Friends -- in a Beijing cafe that's an exact replica of the series' Central Perk coffee shop. Chinese university students watch reruns of the show to learn English and discover American culture, and to some, Chandler has become an inspirational figure. more >>
When is a video game not a video game? When it is a "notgame." Take a look at Bientôt l'Été, a new game that discards video game clichés. more>>
Most Americans think Ronald Reagan was the first actor to become President. This LA Times article, however, makes the case for an earlier White House thespian: FDR. more>>
MoMA -- home to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and Van Gogh's The Starry Night -- has acquired for its collection the first 14 of a planned 40 video games. Among the titles now embraced as high culture are Pac-Man, Tetris, Another World and Myst. more>>
Social media takes the stand in Florida's Trayvon Martin murder case. The attorney for defendant George Zimmerman embraced the Web from the start, setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a legal defense Web site for his client. more>>
Criminal Minds for the defense? A ten-year old boy claims he thought he would escape punishment for killing his abusive father after watching an episode of the CBS drama that showed a fictional boy doing just that. The boy, now 12, has been charged with murder. more>>
Agritainment? Youbetcha! Farming as entertainment. Small family farms are discovering that a corn maze in the fall or a pick-your-own patch in the spring are essential for economic survival. more>>Watch a video.
More Songs in the Key of Los Angeles: Josh Kun in Conversation with Van Dyke Parks
Lear Center Director Marty Kaplan won the 2013 LA Press Club National Entertainment Journalism Award for his bi-monthly column in the Jewish Journal. This is Kaplan's second win in this category in as many years. Judges noted, "With panoramic sweep, Kaplan lasers in on all aspects of our culture, pointing out common denominators in commentaries written with style and swagger." Congratulations, Marty! The Lear Center staff is so proud and this award is a celebration of terrific writing that is not to be missed.
Johanna Blakley at IC2013 New York: The Data Overthrow
Lear Center Managing Director Johanna Blakley is a presenter at IC2013 New York: The Data Overthrow, a two-day summit sponsored by the Paley Center for the Media. The event convenes some of the greatest minds in media and entertainment to explore and debate the new business, advertising and distribution models in this age of unprecedented access to information about consumers and the way they interact with content. The increasing volume and detail of information, the rise of multimedia, social media, and mobile ubiquity will fuel this growth in data for the foreseeable future.
November 21-22, 2013
Paley Center for Media, New York City
Blakley will discuss "How Does Media Move Us?"
Other speakers include Nate Silver, Statistician, Author & Founder, FiveThirtyEight; John Skipper, Cochairman, Disney Media Networks Group, and President, ESPN Inc.; Tim Armstrong, Chairman and CEO, AOL; Chris Hughes, Publisher & Editor in Chief, The New Republic and Megan Liberman, Editor in Chief, Yahoo! News, among many others.
Are You Rich Enough, Baby? The 21st Century Silver Spoon
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, Director of the Lear Center's Star Maps project, turns her keen eye on conspicuous consumption by the 1% and those who wish to be in the 1% -- and what that means for the political future of all of us -- in this NY Times Op-Ed.
The Lear Center's new Media Impact Project is seeking a Survey Research Specialist. The ideal candidate will be passionate about building a new program that will be recognized by the media measurement community as a reliable central resource for information and tools. The Survey Research Specialist will coordinate, implement and analyze surveys and collect data to be provided to funding agencies and clients. For more information and to apply online, click here.
Marty Kaplan: National Entertainment Journalism Award Finalist
We're so proud of our Director, Marty Kaplan, who is a finalist in this year's National Entertainment Journalism Awards in the columnist category. See the full list of finalists here. Prizes will be awarded at a gala ceremony at the LA Press Club on November 24, 2013.
I knew better than to expect P.L. Travers to write something sweet in my copy of Mary Poppins, but I didn't think it would be quite so medicinal.
It was 1988, and I'd been a vice president at Disney for two years. From the time I got there, studio president Jeffrey Katzenberg had wanted to make a sequel to Mary Poppins, and I was assigned to develop a script. The story we wanted: Jane and Michael Banks, the children in the first film, now have children of their own. A problem comes up, and the one person who can solve it is Mary Poppins, played again by Julie Andrews, who arrives, sets things right, and departs as mysteriously as she came. We called it the title of the second book in the series: Mary Poppins Comes Back.
But as the new movie, Saving Mr. Banks, does not depict, Mrs. Travers intensely disliked Walt Disney's 1964 version. And since she still controlled the rights to her Poppins books, my efforts at getting a sequel off the ground were entirely theoretical. But in 1987, when Mrs. Travers was 87, Walt's nephew Roy had been approached by writer Brian Sibley, an acquaintance of his and a longtime friend of hers. Sibley told Disney she was open to doing a second movie at the studio, and within a few months their agent closed a deal, but she extracted a steep creative price: Unlike every other features deal at the studio, this one gave away control of the story, settings, and characters to the author of the underlying material. To her.
And so, because the studio needed her approval of our Banks-children's-children approach, Katzenberg and I went to London bearing porcelain Disney figurines, plus a bottle of Jack Daniels, which Sibley told me she liked, and paid a call on Mrs. Travers at her Chelsea row house. Her sitting room looked like it hadn't changed for 30 years.
We pitched our next-gen sequel. She coolly blew us off.
Then she and Sibley told us what the story would actually be. It would take place a year after the first film, not a generation. Things are going badly for Mr. Banks at work because some documents have gone missing, leading to financial disaster for the family and requiring them to put Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane up for sale. The only point of agreement with our scenario was that she wished Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins.
She also unloaded her grievances about what Walt Disney did in his version, and her edicts about this one. Mary Poppins must never wear red. We must never see her undergarments; even if she's upside down, her skirt must cling to her ankles. There must be absolutely no intimation that she and Bert have a romantic relationship, as they seem to do in the 1964 film's "Jolly Holiday" sequence (whose mix of live action and animation, by the way, was a terrible decision), nor may Bert, a character who is not in the books, have as prominent a part in the sequel, nor may he do any magic on his own, nor may Dick Van Dyke play the role again. In fact, no American may play any role in the movie.
Last week, a professor of physics and astronomy told the New York Times that the probability of an asteroid hitting the earth ---- it happened over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, with the energy of 30 Hiroshimas ---- isn't once in a century or two, it's once in a decade or two. It's only a matter of time before a Sarah Palin names these death rocks "Obamacare asteroids." A Ted Cruz also will liken Obamacare to an asteroid, assuring us Obamacare has a 100 percent chance of causing Armageddon. Some concern troll will say that the beleaguered White House "needs a Bruce Willis" to rescue it from losing the Senate and seeing its legacy repealed.
No one has a clue how we will look back on this time. It's possible that Republicans will fail to win veto-proof, Obamacare-killing control of Congress in 2014. It's possible that young people will join the risk pool, despite the Koch brothers' plan to stop them. It's possible that some of the Republican governors who refused Medicaid money for 8 million of their constituents will find themselves so wildly unpopular that they'll do a 180. It's possible that people in the individual market stranded by the law and their insurance companies will find solutions. Hell, it's even possible that healthcare.gov will work.
So it's not nuts to think that by the time Obama leaves office, the American health care system will be better in lots of ways, Obamacare will be the new normal and solid majorities will like it. There may be no "Keep Your Hands Off My Obamacare" signs during the 2016 campaign, but it's possible that the painful rollout of the exchanges will be forgotten.
That would ruin things for the drama queens in the media. Their master narrative is Countdown to Armageddon. Demagogues need end times to raise money. News needs to shout apocalypse to get attention.
It's not just Obamacare. Imagine that CBS News had no reason to retract the Benghazi piece on "60 Minutes." If accounts of Dylan Davies's F.B.I. interviews hadn't made their way to the New York Times and impugned the star source, every right-wing blowhard in the media and the Congress would be in full impeachment mode by now, and every recycled Benghazi talking point would be super-duper extra-breaking breaking news. But the story fell apart. Davies played Lara Logan like Scooter Libby played Judith Miller. CBS News may have hoped the story would inoculate them against the liberal bias charge, but instead they put the quality of their judgment into play.
Without the Benghazi drum to beat, Lindsay Graham, Darrell Issa and the shows that love them have reverted to the Obamacare apocalypse to keep us scared and watching. What's so strange is that there's an actual Armageddon in plain sight that's failing to get the red-siren treatment it deserves.
As "The Last Hours: Warming the World to Extinction," a 10-minute movie written by Thom Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners makes terrifyingly clear, climate change is on track to cause the sixth mass extinction in geologic history. The fifth, the K-T extinction 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid hitting the earth off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula - and it killed the dinosaurs. The third mass extinction - the Permean, the worst - was caused by volcanic eruptions in the Siberian Traps that warmed the oceans six degrees Celsius and melted trillions of tons of methane that had been frozen beneath the sea floor and ice sheets. The methane this released into the atmosphere doubled the warming the volcanoes caused and killed 95 percent of all life on earth. Today, fossil fuel burning and industrial agriculture are increasing greenhouse gases at rates never before recorded by humans, physicist Michael Mann says in the film, "far greater than any of the most rapid events that happened in the deep geological past," including the Permean extinction.
Talk about doomsday scenarios. If this keeps happening, Obamacare, along with everything else we love, hate or talk about, will be irrelevant, because our species won't be around to love, hate or talk about anything. But you would not know that things are as dire as they are from watching the news, which is just how Exxon-Mobil, Monsanto and the Koch brothers like it.
The day before the Times reported a tenfold increase in the odds of an asteroid strike, Erik Petiguara, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley made front page news with what he found in the four years of data that the Kepler spacecraft sent back to Earth until it malfunctioned last winter. It turns out that "there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way galaxy." Forty-five hundred individual candidates for Earth 2.0 have so far been identified, the nearest of which may be only 12 light years away, orbiting a star, Petiguara said, that "would be visible to the naked eye."
If one of those habitable exoplanets gave rise to a civilization technologically capable of sending signs of its existence into space, it would take a really, really long time for such a signal to reach us. By the time we detect it, life on Earth 2.0 may have long ago become extinct. The same lag applies to the signals our civilization has been beaming into space. If one day some interstellar auditor of ours wonders why our signal has gone dark, I just hope that the last message they pick up from our planet is a worthy battle over taxing carbon or sustainable farming, not some hyperventilating attention junkies doom-mongering about Obamacare.
I recently gave my fifth talk for the TED network - this time on one of my favorite projects at the Norman Lear Center, where I'm the director of research. The Lear Center has conducted many studies demonstrating that entertainment plays a key role in people's lives, igniting curiosity, inciting conversations, and importantly, influencing attitudes and behavior. One of my favorites was a series of U.S. national surveys that explored whether there is a correlation between entertainment preferences, what we enjoy, and political ideology, what we believe.
One thing you learn in survey research is that it's not very helpful to ask people to label themselves politically. So we created an instrument that would diagnose the respondent's ideology based on their responses to dozens of statements about hot-button political issues. Using statistical clustering analysis, we discovered that three groups emerged from our national sample. "Conservatives," as we decided to call them, "liberals" and "moderates." These same respondents were asked about their preferred leisure-time activities and their favorite radio and TV shows, Web sites, movies, games and sports and much more.
What we found is that each of these clusters had distinctly different entertainment and leisure preferences. (For a full run-down, check out our white paper.)
Now this kind of research doesn't allow us to determine causation: I can't tell you whether your politics determine taste or taste determines politics. But, if I had the chance to ask you enough questions, I would be able to predict your politics based on your taste. And vice versa.
I've always wanted to scale up this research to a global sample, where we could see what kinds of clusters emerge on a trans-national scale. Because as you know, in a networked world, culture, media, and politics are not constrained by national boundaries. So, last Fall, I leapt at the opportunity to administer a similar survey in Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring.
Working with Mobile Accord, the company that created the SMS platform for the Haiti relief effort, we administered our survey to over 2,300 Tunisians on their mobile phones. We knew that our sample would skew younger and more Internet-savvy than the general population, which would provide us with a valuable glimpse into the mindset and media habits of a population that will most likely play a leading role in shaping the future of Tunisia, and perhaps the Middle East.
This summer, I spent a great day with a bunch of filmmakers at the Topanga Film Festival. Their goal? Making sure that their documentaries would have a real, measurable social impact.
Just making a smart, moving film about a pressing social issue isn't necessarily going to change the world. It's crucial for filmmakers to know what they can do to optimize the possibilities for impact.
It's not just about good marketing. It turns out that there's a treasure trove of compelling academic research that filmmakers can tap in order to increase the chances that their work will hit its mark.
Beth Karlin, the director of the Transformational Media Lab at UC Irvine, has become an expert on the interdisciplinary art of using storytelling to increase social engagement and trigger social change. Karlin has joined forces with Jon Fitzgerald, a filmmaker who co-founded Slamdance and the author of Filmmaking for Change, in order to create a workshop curriculum that informs filmmakers about how they can maximize their potential to effectively address pressing social issues.
The Lear Center's new Media Impact Project at the Lear Center shares those goals, and so I have joined Beth and Jon in an initiative that we're calling SEA Change. Here's what it's about:
The SEA Change approach to designing and assessing film campaigns leverages Storytelling, Engagement and Activism for Change. It synthesizes academic theory, empirical research and the lived experience of storytellers and activists, with an eye towards exposing what we know, exploring what we don't, and leveraging our connections to maximize impact. We focus on developing measurable goals and using theory and findings from the social sciences as well as from analysis of successful cases to meet and measure these goals.
The workshop at Topanga included Michael Crooke, a film funder who was the former CEO of Patagonia. and a wide range of filmmakers affiliated with the Creative Visions Foundation, which supports media activists and incubates artistic projects in a ridiculously awesome space on the beach in Malibu. Beth, Jon and I had a chance to test out our ideas about how to inform filmmakers about relevant research and structure a program that would allow them to actively learn from one another. It was an incredibly stimulating experience and one that we will reiterate on November 17, 2013, immediately following the Creative Activist Arts Festival. We're putting together an 8-week workshop as well: for more information about that, or to join our mailing list, email seachangeinstitute at gmail dot com.
Join us for a panel discussion at the Hollywood Film Fest (where Jon just happens to be the Executive Director) on October 19 at 11am at the ArcLight Hollywood. Beth, Jon and I will be joined by award-winning author, producer, and director JLove Calderon and the delightful Allison Cook, a creator of the wildly successful Story of Stuff Project.
Made in Rio: what does this phrase conjure for you? Caipirinhas in a steamy club? Live samba music in a gritty city square? Barely-there bikinis? Or gangster violence in hillside favelas (with million dollar views)? There's a reason VICE calls it the sexiest city in the world, and from my own visit to Rio, I can testify to the exciting and troubling contradictions that define this unique city, which continues to increase its global influence despite its struggles with chronic poverty, corruption and violence.
This is the second in a two-part interview with Ronaldo Lemos and Pedro Augusto, who issued a fascinating report on the growing Rio fashion industry. Territórios da Moda (Fashion Territories) is currently only available in Portuguese and so I asked Ronaldo and Pedro if they would care to do an interview in English. You can check out Part 1 of our interview here, where we explore the burgeoning fashion scene in Rio and the many contradictions that animate a city that has captured the global imagination.
Johanna: In Territórios da Moda (Fashion Territories), you explore some of the contradictory perceptions that people have about Rio: on the one hand it's a lush, expensive place - a sensual playground for cosmopolitan travelers; on the other hand, it's a city filled with abject poverty and lawlessness. Do you think that the "brand" Made in Rio will ultimately reflect both of these perceptions?
Ronaldo & Pedro: Absolutely. Rio is a city where contradictions occupy the same physical space. The posh neighborhoods and the favelas are all together. The poor and the rich inhabit the same regions in Rio, unlike other cities. And that is reflected in Rio de Janeiro fashion. The permanent tension between chic and casual is an example of that. And that is precisely what makes Rio a fascinating city. In the past few years, there have been many changes in public policy, attempts to bridge the divides between the city and the favelas. And that has been important too. There is a great deal of optimism, and the fashion in Rio emerges from the mix of rich and poor.
Johanna: Have any designers tried to make "dangerwear" -- clothing that reflects a dangerous gangster lifestyle in Rio, like we've seen in Los Angeles and other urban areas in the United States?
CNN and MSNBC are giving wall-to-wall coverage to the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Fox News is taking brief breaks from the courtroom to empathize with Darrell Issa and Paula Deen, because George Zimmerman isn't the only victim around who needs defending, but otherwise the cable news channels are all race-crime-porn all the time.
They have three good reasons for doing this.
First, their business model is delivering audiences to advertisers. They fear that Americans will change the channel if they actually cover the news. Thus the Supreme Court's nullification of the Voting Rights Act was a one-day story. So was President Obama's attempt to put climate change on the nation's agenda. The NSA's Big Brother turn is been-there-done-that. Syria's a snoozer. Sandy Hook is so last year. There's always the chance that a police chase with the potential to deliver a real-time death crash will mandate a split screen with the trial, but the name of the cable news game is always Capture the Eyeballs.
Second, they're right. This trial is a good story -- not in the sense that it deserves this kind of journalistic attention, but rather that our lizard brains love this kind of stuff. Fear, hate, danger, death, suspense: it's reality television, minus the unreality. As citizens, we may sheepishly acknowledge that other news is more important for us to follow. But as animals, we're like those lab rats that would rather starve to death than abandon the lever that once dispensed cocaine.
Third, there's an ideological compatibility between cable news's corporate ownership and the kind of content they deliver. It's not beyond the wit of those networks to grab and hold audiences by actually covering the daily assault on democracy in America. The disenfranchisement of voters now going on across the country will turn out to be the biggest story of the 2014 elections. Women's rights are being rolled back in state after state. Wall Street is still getting away with murder. The stranglehold of big money on Congress is a horror show. But if you're a media conglomerate with talons sunk deep into both political parties, why draw attention to the corrupt system that also empowers you? Covering the Sanford, Florida circus won't jeopardize your sweet deal in Washington, D.C., and it's cheaper to boot.
Cable news isn't uniformly disgraceful. Some shows actually attempt to tell citizens news they need to know. But by and large, an hour of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report commits more journalism than a day on the cable news networks, and it's way more entertaining. If we're going to be slouching toward tyranny, I guess I'd rather do it laughing.