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30 Aug 19

Weekly Media Trends (30 Aug 19)

30 Aug 19

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Friday 6 September

Contrary to popular belief there’s been loads happening outside the Brexit bubble this week. We’ll deal with the titanoshambles that has been Westminster, but other interesting threads worth keeping an eye on include: Lana Del Rey following in the footsteps of Lizzo as an almost universally acclaimed artist taking a reputational hit by entering into an unnecessary scrap about criticism of her music; Kylie Jenner not quite getting the dystopian future symbolism we discussed last week…although there was some supporting evidence for our Terminator scenario…; the possibility that our crisis of trust is a myth vs another sign that we should be wary of trusting media giants; fresh questions about whether clicks and likes actually equate to cultural capital; another controversy for the seemingly cancel-proof Scarlet Johansson; and a sign of long term seed change in fashion, celebrity and influencer marketing post Fyre Festival courtesy of Business of Fashion.

Boris Johnson and the sudden collapse of a facade

The electorate are so fundamentally pissed off with the political class that Cumming’s only hope was to get in there and be everything they aren’t. But the issue is that Cummings background is in the wild, snarling attack dog tactics of single-issue campaigns and not the gentle building of consensus that is required in our age of multi-party politics.
But it started so well. Disciplined, ambitious, competent. For the first few weeks, it looked so beautiful that comparisons to fabled days of New Labour media virtuosity were beginning to be made. Cummings fired up the dark Facebook posts, put Johnson on the road and got him doing the Churchill stoop and scowl act. It all worked brilliantly, until the return of Parliament and a sudden series of disastrous optics:
  • It started with the prorogation. Which quickly caused a livid parliament and cries of ‘stop the coup’ calling over the BBC pre-election broadcast. And it caused the first ever capturing of the facial expression of a Prime Minister realising that he no longer enjoyed a majority in real time. Wow.
  • The lounging aristocrat. A pose that seemed to embody the sheer arrogance of Rees Mogg’s in the run up to an imminent government bleeding across into the non-politico world and caused four MPs to change their votes away from the government, and therefore out of the party.
  • The purge. There’s a fine line between looking strong and screaming ‘we will purge you’ down the phone at lifelong disciples of your party. Especially when you aren’t even a member of said party.
  • The brother. Good God, have you ever seen anything more brutal than a man who would prefer to walk away from his hard-fought ministerial career than support his own brother? Who needs televised fairy tales with dragons when you’ve got BBC Parliament - this is politics as blood sport.
  • It took Tony Blair a full decade of leadership to lose four votes in parliament. Mr. Johnson lost three in his first twenty-four hours. Now he is impotent, faced with the parliamentary equivalent of an elder sibling pinning him down, whacking his own fist into his face and then telling him to stop hitting himself. Checkmate.
  • The mildly fascistic motif of banks of police officers standing behind a PM, being severely undermined when one of their number collapsed. No wonder – they had been asked to stand at attention for a full hour on that stage because the PM couldn’t be bothered to be on time.
  • Please leave my town’. Even the walkabouts are resulting in polite, ever so British character assassinations and the hashtag is booming in Germany. I think they have a word for that sensation... Politics! It’s all so simple until other people get involved!
Poor Mr. Cummings, it’s all gone wrong just as he was believing his own hype.

Pornhub's 'Dirtiest Porn Ever' campaign

Pornhub started this week pretty well. In their new ‘Dirtiest Porn Ever’ campaign, the website released a new adult film shot on a beach littered with plastics, raising awareness of plastic pollution. 
Unfortunately, the week ended with something of a cock up. On Friday Pornhub were accused of profiting from ‘revenge porn’ by a victim on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. Despite their protestations, the report seems to have struck a chord with consumers, as one of the top stories on the BBC News website.
Pornhub’s stark reversal of PR fortunes is an important reminder for brands built on, shall we say, tricky behaviours. Pornhub needs to remember that they are ultimately selling something that many people view as a problem or at the very least an Activity Which Shall Not Be Named. When your product is that controversial, any publicity can quickly turn into bad publicity, drawing attention straight back to the elephant in the room. Pornhub are on the right track with their playful approach to communications, but they must remember that they simply have to work harder than everyone else.

Popeyes Chicken's Willy Wonka story leaves a sour taste

The viral success of American chain Popeyes Chicken’s Chicken Sandwich, which led the product to sell out nationwide, has proved a double edged sword. While McDonalds were barely able to contain the Rick and Morty-inspired return of their Szechuan Sauce Popeye’s have utterly failed to prevent hype turning into shrieking hysteria fuelled by stories of lawsuits and armed robberies.

With such a tense and highly-strung atmosphere, the time was ripe for a big gracious gesture to show how humble and bighearted Popeyes could be despite their success. Chicken sandwiches for sick kids? For the homeless? For refugees? Nope instead they sent millionaire musician (and we use that term loosely) Diplo a PLANE full of the sandwiches. One: slap in the face to all the normal hardworking people who just wanted a sandwich but had been told they’d sold out. Two: A private jet?! Really?!? In the age of Extinction Rebellion lavish air travel is becoming a hot button issue - as even our own dear leaders know to their cost. Three: the recipient was a rich popstar who lives a notoriously lavish lifestyle. This was a ‘let them eat cake’ for 2019 and Popeyes’ reputation will suffer accordingly.

More and more TV shows aging badly

South Park made It cool not to care, then the world changed. It’s 2019…were we really expecting South Park to age well? The answer is NO but it’s not suffering alone.

Iconic TV shows of yesteryear including The Simpsons and Friends have faced backlash from viewers and media for outdated storylines and characters failing the political correctness litmus test.

Lots of other edgy late nineties/early two thousand creators, like Ricky Gervais and Seth McFarlane, built their brand railing against the censors in their heyday but have been scrutinised for their reliance on dehumanising trans jokes and lazy stereotypes.

South Park’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s brand of lewd and childish content is struggling to cut through times of virtue signalling and cancel culture. Their childish attempt to permeate the latter fell hopelessly short with their ad campaign #CancelSouthPark that attempted to energise its fans by literally pretending the 'PC brigade' were trying to censor the show.

We may be at the gates of a cultural revolution; the legacies of the great TV shows may be in jeopardy. It’s looking like the quintessential Fawlty Towers will suffer after John Cleese controversial Brexit remarks and outdated. Time to start thinking twice about your favourite TV shows, can they survive 2019 and beyond?
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Which dystopian future are we living in now?


If there’s one theme permeating almost every media story and trend we come across, it’s a sense that we are now living in a dystopian future. But which one? As a cheerful Friday challenge we asked Borkowski staffers to make the case for which nightmarish fictional futurescape best captures our current reality.


Orwell’s epic was so accurate that it’s become a kind of totalitarianism handbook, as exemplified by several news stories this week. The idea that nationalist fervour in the form of constant war with foreign enemies keeps the populous focussed and compliant is being thoroughly tested by President Trump, most recently during this week’s rant about future wars in space, while at home CCTV cameras which can read lips have reignited allegations that we’re hurtling towards a “Big Brother” surveillance state.

People write PhDs on this stuff and we could go on and on, but the starkest illustration of an Orwellian construct which could lead to the rise of totalitarianism this week was the fluid doublespeak emanating from our own Ministry of Truth about how perfectly fine and compatible with parliamentary democracy it is to prorogue parliament…with every senior member of the cabinet having literally said the exact opposite in recent memory. The fact that we can moan about it like this without fear of censure is a crumb of comfort at least…

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Attwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of an American state controlled by vile religious fanatics, where fertile women are forced to mate with powerful men to counter mass infertility.

The novel is no work of fantasy. In the US, conservative lawmakers are making a serious attempt to undermine reproductive rights for women across the country, not a world away from the book’s vision of women being forced to bear children against their will. For many, the United States is starting to look a lot like the fictional Gilead. It’s not just confined to the US either, abortion still being banned in Northern Ireland.
But that’s not all. Just as in the novel, environmental destruction threatens societies across the globe with complete collapse.  

And we in the UK have extra cause for concern this week, after Boris Johnson’s announcement that the government plans to prorogue Parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit. The announcement, and the muted response in many parts, has an eerie similarity to a key passage in the novel: “That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets.”

That’s the lesson that The Handmaid’s Tale teaches us; that society dies slowly, not with a loud bang but with a whimper. We might not even notice that we have hit rock bottom.

The Matrix / Terminator / WALL-E

Let’s not discount the idea of a robot takeover and/or humanity’s submersion into a virtual abyss. The twentieth anniversary and impending sequel to The Matrix have spawned a flurry of think pieces about how real life has begun to imitate the sci-fi classic – ranging from how machines, VR and AI distort our reality, to the film’s apparent portrayal of the trans experience.

But if we’re talking about machines rising up to overtrow humans we’re still a bit further back down the line, maybe closer to Terminator – in which we develop machines that are too clever and sophisticated and they overthrow us (top candidates this week include a shapeshifting robot in China and an automated artificial brain built to aid the US military).

In reality we’re probably closer still to another great sci-fi film, WALL-E, which fingers climate disaster as a catalyst for our increasing retreat towards spending our entire lives online. We’ve even started building the robot

Black Mirror

The anthology series Black Mirror has a clear through line – the dystopian consequences of an increasingly tech-dependent society. From mass surveillance and biohacking to V.R. and cyberbullying, Brooker paints a dire future that feels chillingly familiar.

The worst-case scenarios of Brooker’s techno-dystopian parables don’t seem too grim to an audience already living in hell.

We live in a culture defined by likes and faves in which a ubiquitous ratings system dominates society, as in Nosedive. Think of Tinder matches and Uber ratings, and even China’s ‘social credit system’ – all insidious versions of how technology alters human behaviour. Or humanoid robot slaves tortured by their own existence like in Be Right Back...and also real life. Or John Hamm’s role in “White Christmas” as a futuristic life-coach embroiled in torturing digital copies of living people.

Ultimately Brooker ties Black Mirror together by profiling humanity’s innate greed and Promethean desire to push the limits of technology for our own edification, attributes which are unmistakeably present in the contemporary news agenda.

Farenheit 451

In Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 ‘firemen’ burn books to censor literature and destroy knowledge – a dystopian future in which ignorance breeds obedience.

The concept of retaining knowledge is gradually becoming redundant. Why read a book when we have unlimited sources of information (and alternative facts) at our disposal. We crave fast answers over genuine knowledge and the internet provides.

And just as the books burned in Bradbury’s classic, the Amazon Rainforest is burning in real life. We are totally powerless to the powers that control us. We can’t stop the burning.

Like the fires themselves, disinformation is spreading across the internet at a rate impossible to track. Brazil’s president blamed the fires on environmental activists, people are doctoring photos of the destruction, In our fast-paced world, it often feels like there isn’t time to fact check. Fake News has scorched our landscape of knowledge.

Bradbury warned us about the threat of mass media to knowledge and truth, about how the bombardment of digital endorphins was no substitute for critical thinking.

Even his alternative depiction of a world without books sounds familiar. In the novel, people interact with their “friends” through screens and listen to them via “Seashells” — sound familiar, AirPod and iPad groupies?

We have appointed Google and our social-media accounts as the custodians of our memories, emotions, dreams and facts. We set reminders to forget. Retaining information is becoming a thing of the past. A dystopian present, where non-combustible, but ever more ephemeral data is king.

Planet of the Apes

Just click here and weep at our impending doom... 

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