Oil Spill. Climate Change. File Sharing. Erectile Dysfunction. Clean Coal. Unspeak is language that deliberately manipulates public opinion and it is also Submarine Channel’s latest interactive documentary. Based on a book of the same name by British journalist Steven Poole’s, the documentary investigates the manipulative power of language.
Blending filmmaking, data, technology, and design, the story of Unspeak unfolds across a series of short films, data visualizations, and a participatory dictionary. Unspeak exposes how language is manipulated to suit political agendas and the changing role and responsibility of the media. With its demand for sound-bytes and attention grabbing quotes, the media creates Unspeak. Rather than critically investigating terms coined by politicians, the media engines often indiscriminately hijack them.
Through a radical collage of archival footage, quotes, and Steven Poole’s own enlightening analyses, Unspeak critically and satirically reveals the unspoken messages and obscured meanings behind loaded catchphrases. The short films are directed by Jennifer Abbott (The Corporation) and Rob Schröder (Meet the Fokkens), to name just a few. Steven Poole comments: ““Submarine Channel’s interest to adapt the book Unspeak was an unexpected gift, and the chance to write a series of new scripts on current themes was a wonderful opportunity. I am hugely impressed by what all the directors have done with the films. To enrich (and not merely illustrate) arguments about language through moving images is a terrific achievement. The films, along with the brilliant data-visualization work on the website, have made Unspeak come alive in a way I could never have imagined when I first wrote the book. Forward with the Unspeak Liberation Front!”
The participatory dictionary, which already consists of more than 100 words, aims to crowd source new words from the public into a collective database. The data visualizations illustrate the prevalence of Unspeak in the media – and the context in which it is used – by tracking Twitter, Wikipedia, and many news articles worldwide.
Having only experienced the documentary in its beta form, i’m looking forward to the full experience and observing how the crowd sourced elements grow over time. As with many interactive documentaries, although this is launch week, a whole new experience may be available to you in just a few weeks.
This project is made possible with the financial support of Ministry of Culture, Education and Science, The Creative Industries Fund NL, and The City of Amsterdam. The introduction episode was supported by the Dutch Cultural Media Fund, The Netherlands Film Fund and VPRO.