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MEDIA MANIPULATION: READERS' RESPONSES

In our opinion piece about MOVIES AND MEDIA MANIPULATION of 14/10/99 (with reference to the movie Eyes Wide Shut), we asked, "How well - balanced, informed, intelligent etc - do you think does the media present film related information to the public? You can break down the media to categories or individual outlets. Have your own two bob's worth. WRITE to us, and include your full name and a phone number (just in case)." This is what you said:

24/10/99

It seems strange to talk about this sort of topic now. For years with the rising of mass culture and consumerism, we have been manipulated, in every aspect of our everyday lives, whether we are aware of it or not. The only hope is that whenever we see, do, eat or purchase something that we remain critical and not take everything at face value. The fact that someone will publish an article on the manipulation of the media shows some 'anarchy' in itself. We should never take publicity too seriously, and simply be aware that what we see and understand something to be will not always coincide with what we are told we will see.
Thanks
Leanne Scrivener

21/10/99

Dear Andrew
Reading your piece on media manipulation as seen with the EWS phenomenon made me think of a comment Sydney Pollack made to you the other day, re the Golden Age of '65-'75. This period in Hollywood was strong precisely because films were still judged first as general entertainments, rather than targeted events. This "general" tag did not prevent great work by Coppola, Cimino, Scorsese, Altman, Jewison, Pollack, Boorman, Frankenheimer and others reaching mass audiences. The return of genre as the most significant feature of a film reminds me of the stock market: e.g., e-trade houses are hot this month, but by Christmas it might be medical technology, gold mining or beer. The share market commits on the basis of sector; so does the film market. Action, space opera, gross comedy, the new "women's picture", horror, famous naked bodies, art-house etc etc. Niche marketing makes cinematic innovation hard to do (for filmakers) and harder to spot (by audiences). The chance of getting a realistic feel for a new film on the basis of advertising/review is getting harder and harder; advertising goes for a tight fit inside the relevant niche, and reviews are largely of the "I love it/It stinks" variety.

In some ways I feel that we have returned to an earlier period in movie history. Selling the sizzle is now far more important than marketing the steak. Fair enough perhaps, with such a fickle and indulged audience. But cinema still maintains the power to move one's emotions and express universal truths. Your site is a small part of the long struggle to remember what movies could once do, and what occasionally they do again.

PS A word about cliches: please avoid telling us that a hymen protects against bullshit. Eugh.
Robert Lawton, Adelaide

21/10/99

Dear Mr Urban,
I haven't seen the movie - I plan to - but of course I couldn't avoid the media hype as it was everywhere. I also haven't read Lynden Barber's column, so I hope I'm not covering anything he may have said. There are, however, three perhaps relatively inconsequential ingredients that nevertheless add to the overall success of the manipulation recipe that I would like to mention :

- In Eyes Wide Shut we are seeing "our" Nicole, as Alan McKee would say (that's the ECU media lecturer). She is Aussie and "one of us" - local girl makes good; not only with Tom but international stardom (despite or because of Tom?) as well. We cheer for her and smugly acknowledge her Aussie accent in the whirlwind of media interviews. What a star! But she's still "just like us". This identity has of course been already manipulated by the media, primarily women's magazines, but gee, they were right! She's so down to earth, friendly and genuine - such Australian qualities - right? Why wouldn't we want to claim her as our own? So of course Nicole herself will be a marketing tool, more so in Australia than the rest of the world, because she is part of our national identity in the international 'marketplace'.

- The Time magazine cover, which I have seen. All I could think about when I saw it was: in all the studio shots, Nicole's head is close to Tom's chest, or variations of. She's 6 foot - he's 5'7 (or thereabouts). What are these photos in this widely-read magazine saying about this ideal couple in terms of gender representation? Why can't Nicole be seen as taller? Who made the decision to film them this way, and why? This is an issue of itself, separate to the movie, but still relevant in terms of the hype of the super-couple. I amused myself trying to imagine what was out of frame at the bottom of the photos in terms of props!

- I had a conversation with my mother over the Time article before the film was released and told her it was going to be a best seller regardless of the story, because the viewer would see Nicole's tits and bum - full stop. She didn't get it. I tried to explain that I thought it was the postmodern "surface" thing but I think your story of the media / MMM goes deeper. Do the film-going 18-35 year olds (the largest demographic?) give a shit about explorations of a relationship based on an early 20th century German writer? Or do they want to see Nicole's tits? "Our" Nicole's tits? So it's no surprise that the ticket sales dropped, as you've said.

I look forward to seeing the movie and making my own mind up - and subconsciously looking for any cellulite, dammit ......

Regards
Jean Burton, Adelaide

Andrew L. Urban comments: When you see the movie you'll also see "our" Nicole's tits and bum; so your conclusion re ticket sales is not really valid. But your other points are spot on.

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