Agenda-Driven Filmmaking: Have Science, Propaganda, and Movies Converged?

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by Aaron Franz

an obvious example of meme dropping in Transcendence
On the Themes and Memes podcast Adam and I have referenced a phenomena that we call agenda-driven filmmaking. This is a term that we came up with to describe any major motion picture which clearly pushes a sociopolitical agenda, and has little substance beyond that. Pushing a particular agenda is so important that other elements of good movie making, those that should take precedent, are pushed aside. Things such as story-telling, dialogue, character development and so on are all but forgotten in these films. In the mad rush to promote various agendas these sorts of things seem to be secondary concerns to the filmmakers involved. Common agendas that we have seen in our movie reviews include transhumanism, anthropogenic climate change/ecological disaster, and revolutionary rhetoric among others. 
The very idea that a movie contains any sort of agenda beyond merely entertaining audiences, or making money at the box office, is foreign to most people. But it must be understood that the practice of “culture creation” is very real, and referenced in many important reports such as the 2001 NBIC report on converging technologies (referenced frequently on Themes and Memes). This lengthy report has as its focus the various technologies that would make the transhuman dream a reality in the near future. Technologies including nanotech, biotech, IT, and cognitive enhancement are all very real. At the time of the NBIC conference all of these technologies had been in development, and the purpose of the conference was to try to envision various ways to develop them further. The ultimate goal however laid beyond development, and was all about the actual deployment of said technologies. Such deployment would be impossible due to the fact that the technologies themselves would alter human reality so greatly that they would never be accepted by the general populace. That is why the report points out the importance of culture creation, and the need to better understand the science of memetics. On page 318, William Sims Bainbridge and Gary W Strong outline these points and more under the heading “Memetics: A Potential New Science”. They point out the dire need to understand culture scientifically, and lament that,
“the culture-based industries have not yet made use of memetic science.”
A transhuman future is impossible, if the various means to bring it about have not first become an accepted part of human culture itself. This is why major media is so important, and why it is being used to make such a future look like a great idea. Major media is almost certainly the most important source by which our modern culture is transmitted to the masses. Movies have a power far greater than most realize. They have the power to present ideas (memes) to a worldwide audience. This is a stone cold fact, and there are many government agencies whose job it is to use the power of media to their own advantage. For instance, each branch of the US Military has its own entertainment liaison office which is tasked with working with media producers. Most notably these offices work with Hollywood producers to make films that both portray the military in a positive light, and further strategic military objectives via entertainment. It should be noted that both the military and “Military Industrial Complex” were well represented at the NBIC conference mentioned above. 
Returning to the phenomenon of agenda-driven filmmaking, we should try to understand why such films are being made in in abundance these days. Perhaps in a rush to scientifically understand culture with new disciplines such as memetics, culture creators have had a corresponding disregard for the more intuitive and creative side of media production. Put simply, filmmaking may now be transforming from an art into a science. This would explain the odd quality which these agenda-driven films have, and their seeming inability to put together a film that properly engages audiences on a deep emotional or psychological level. They are being put together as a product is produced in a factory, and not as a unique piece of art is created by an artist.
Adam in particular has repeatedly pointed out that these films seem to employ new techniques in order to engage the audience in subtle and subversive ways. Various technical tricks such as 3D, fast paced editing, and other scientifically based filmmaking processes. Such techniques are similar to special effects due to their technical nature, but are more clandestine. As Adam has argued, these films appear to be designed to induce altered states of consciousness. The audience is entranced, so that their conscious mind is taken even further away from the movie-going experience, as the subconscious is brought front and center. Of course, neither Adam or myself have any evidence of a scientific nature to back this up. We just know that these films make us feel odd, uncomfortable, and even ill at times. It is these observations coupled with our knowledge that films are most certainly made to promote certain ideas, that we are making our points about agenda-driven filmmaking. 
Two prime examples of agenda-driven filmmaking are Lucy, and Transcendence. Both films came out in 2014, and were clearly promoting transhumanism. Adam and I reviewed both of these movies, so be sure to listen to those podcast episodes if you have not already done so. These films were riddled with examples of bad filmmaking, but one of the most obvious in the case of Lucy was its lack of conflict. The main character was basically invincible, and so the audience wasn’t fully engaged. We connect to protagonists via their struggles, and where these struggles are absent, the viewer is left bored and wondering what the point of watching even is. The rapid fire and bizarre editing of this film may have been used in place of typical plot devices in order to keep the audience engaged. Transcendence seemed to be relying on the star power of Johnny Depp more than anything else, but it too is suspect in terms of new filmmaking techniques. But more interesting to me was this film's odd use of writing. The writers were clearly aware of the direction which they were leading their audience, as they pull a 180 degree turn at the end in order to guilt trip everyone watching. The characters which were clearly presented as evil were actually good all along, and it is implied that it is only due to our innate shortsightedness and petty fears that we couldn’t recognize this until it was too late. This is certainly an odd choice from a writing standpoint, because it leaves everyone feeling terrible as they leave the theater. The main point seems to have been to induce self loathing feelings, but a byproduct of this same plot twist is that movie goers will forever associate these depressing feelings with the film itself. And so it is that most people who watched Transcendence hated it. It doesn’t make much sense to engender these sorts of feelings if your main goal is to make as much money as possible with a film. I’m not sure if the deeper, and more subversive point of the film, that of making the audience feel terrible about rejecting a transhuman savior, actually worked either. I do however, believe that this was the intent. 
In these examples we can see how promoting a transhumanist agenda has taken precedent over any other concerns. Seemingly terrible choices were made by filmmakers, and we all should be wondering why that is. Certainly, it is true that bad films are made all the time, and bad choices are made by filmmakers frequently and without purpose. But when it comes to these films the agendas are so prominent that we need to seriously consider these sorts of questions. Films are certainly made in order to promote agendas. The questions raised in this article have to do with the possibility of new filmmaking techniques that may be being used for the purpose of promoting specific memes. I know that this is more than most people are ready to accept, and that is fine. For anyone who is at all curious, and thinks that there may actually be something to this concept of agenda-driven filmmaking than I implore you to listen to the Themes and Memes podcast. 
-article written by Aaron Franz, 12/17/2015