Meaningful Media Now: September

As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office often includes TV series and movies that moved us, music we’re addicted to, and media trends that affect us. Read on to see the meaningful media and cultural phenomenons HI staff has been talking about in September:

  1. Featuring: The Blackfish Effect
  2. Speechless
  3. Hell or High Water
  4. Green Day: Revolution Radio 

  1. Featuring: The Blackfish Effect

On January 19, 2013, Blackfish, a documentary shedding light onto mistreatment practices of the SeaWorld Orca breeding program, premiered at Sundance Film Festival. On August 26, three and a half years after the premiere of Blackfish, the California Orca Protection Act was passed, banning orca shows and captive breeding in California. A bill was originally introduced back in March 2014, but that was never enacted. In between the film’s release and the California Protection Act, SeaWorld has suffered both publicly and economically.

Numerous news sources reference “The Blackfish Effect,” suggesting some kind of relationship between the film’s content and SeaWorld’s drop in public appeal. So, we wanted to look further into this “effect” by looking at public interest against key events of the Blackfish campaign, following events related to the film’s subject.

Below are the daily Wikipedia page views for both the Blackfish film page and a page on the subject of the film titled ‘Captive Killer Whales.’ For context, we have included events related to the film’s release (green), SeaWorld (blue) and the California Orca Ban (red). Including the ‘Captive killer whale’ trends allows us to see if the film prompted further information seeking. In other words, are people taking steps beyond watching the film to research and get information on the issue?

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Looking at the trends, we can see the period when the search interest for the film rises and falls around its release schedule. Specifically, this period takes place between mid-2013 and mid-2014. After that period, the overall trend of search interest is flat with individual spikes.

During this period of heightened film awareness, three key events related to the film occur. First is the SeaWorld open letter response in December 2013, which denounced the film and defended its existing practices. Second, the first iteration of the California ban was introduced in March 2014, a little under two and a half years before it would be enacted. Third, later in 2014, SeaWorld’s stock dropped significantly, which media outlets attributed to Blackfish. All of these events happen alongside a spike in popular interest, with the largest in magnitude being the open letter. Of the three other event’s we’ve noted, two (SeaWorld’s Profit Drop and SeaWorld deciding to end its Orca shows) also resulted in interest spikes for the film. But surprisingly, the passing of the Orca ban in August and signing in September (something the Blackfish campaign and other environmentalist organizations widely praised) did not garner that search interest response. This could be due to the previous accomplishments of the film and the ban not being directly related to film’s subject of SeaWorld, although it was affected by it.

While recognition and responses to the film came immediately, it wasn’t until years later that the Blackfish campaign saw both organizational changes regarding their issue (SeaWorld ending its Orca Program entirely) and actual government legislation being enacted. The “Blackfish effect” was both immediate and gradual, which required dedication from the film’s campaign throughout the years. This trend investigation shows that enacting significant change can be a tough, long process, but it also can be a process with progress.

2. Speechless


Source: Television Promos

Speechless, a new ABC comedy show, follows a family as they move into a new town and try to get adjusted in their new neighborhood. One of the sons, JJ (played by Micah Fowler) has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak, likely the inspiration for the title. While the premise may seem both expected and unexpected for a comedy, reviews have said the tone of the show is successfully light hearted, best summed up in Variety’s review: “In an effort to avoid mawkish predictability, “Speechless” could have gone in the other direction and leaned too hard on sarcasm, but like “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Black-ish,” “Speechless” takes on loaded situations by combining fairly well-defined characters with regular infusions of deft intelligence and dry wit.” Speechless has been received well by critics, with 79% on Metacritic, 98% of Rotten Tomatoes and 5/5 from the lesser known Common Sense Media.

While critical praise is a good step, attracting audience is another, so we were interested to see how the premiere would do on September 21st. While going up against the likes of Lethal Weapon (FOX), Survivor (CBS) and Blindspot (NBC), Speechless held its own in both television ratings (6.4 million viewers / 8th out of 13 major network shows to air that night) and in online search interest (11,046 Wikipedia page views day after release / 5th among 13 major network shows to air that night). Its middle of the pack performance on both the viewership and information seeking metrics shows that it was received as a moderately successful television show. While that may not sound like a rousing success, its solid performance bodes well for a show that took on a difficult task of destigmatizing an issue like cerebral palsy. We’ll definitely keep an eye on how the series performs in the coming months.

  1. Hell or High Water

Source: Deadline

Source: Deadline

The contentious debate around gun control and gun rights has taken a front seat in recent years. Google’s Election Hub displays gun control as the third most searched political topic among both sides of the aisle. The ongoing debate has caused a significant amount of legislation backlash. It’s a difficult task to get both sides to work together, but not impossible.

Hell or High Water, a modern western featuring Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, tackles this issue. There are multiple scenes where guns take center stage (it is a western after all), but not in typical way gun violence is shown in film. Due to the R rating, the shootouts are more realistic and gripping. While that grittiness isn’t necessarily unique to R rated westerns, the film has intriguingly garnered praise from both gun rights and gun control advocates. The ability to appeal to both sides of a bipartisan debate is impressive but not necessarily surprising. Jeff Bridges was attracted to the role because of the ambiguity, although this ambiguity was more related to the story of the film and not necessarily the stance of guns.

Due to its low budget/non-blockbuster theater presence, the movie’s awareness is fairly low. However, if the movie gets major award nominations and ongoing recognition in the coming months, it will be interesting to see if and how the perception of the movie forms within the existing discussion of gun control and gun rights.

  1. Green Day: Revolution Radio

Source: 91X

Source: 91X

Chaos. Fear. Anger. Civic activism.

These are the ideas that influence Green Day’s new album, Revolution Radio, which came out October 7. In true Green Day form, the band does not shy away from overt political and social commentary on the new album. As a result, the band has been generating attention in the media, especially with the release of the first single from the album titled “Bang Bang.” “Bang Bang,” written from the perspective of a gunman, addresses the culture of mass shooting that has emerged in the United States, as well as the growth in surveillance and social media coverage of these events. “Bang Bang” is bold, and the rest of the album follows suit. The album’s commentary references the protests in Ferguson and the water crisis in Flint in “Say Goodbye,” and country-wide racial and economic turmoil in “Troubled Times.” Other songs on the album tackle social classes, love, disillusionment, and the struggles of growing up.  

The title of the album, and the song with the same name, was inspired by lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s experience with the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City. When driving through the city, he ran into a large demonstration of people protesting the Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict police for the death of Michael Brown. Armstrong stopped his car and began marching with the crowd, moved by their public display of expression, awareness, and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Revolution Radio is not as political as their American Idiot album, but it still addresses many social issues currently at the forefront of media and public discourse. Though the songs in Revolution Radio were written before the presidential election, many of the metaphors in the lyrics that explore political unrest have had an unsettling parallel to reality. Armstrong points out that the album is not meant to add on to the anxiety, but to serve instead as a reflection of the current atmosphere before the election.

Revolution Radio provides a voice through the chaos of the current tensions in America, and echoes the racial, political, and economic unrest that is plaguing the public. Despite the anxiety expressed  in the album, Armstrong believes that “the next 10 years is going to be a big game-changer,” due to active political participation and demonstrations by younger generations, the messaging of Bernie Sanders, and the overall civic movements emerging in response to the stagnant political climate. With the upcoming election, it’s time for the audience to plug into Revolution Radio, a compelling listen that will mirror the current political climate, and allow them to find some solace and comfort knowing that they are not alone, and civic activism will bring brighter days ahead.