This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

The Media Machine

Video clip synopsis – Electrified, digitalised then globalised, the media machine has created fantasy so spectacular that it makes the truth look badly acted.
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 5min 40sec
Tags - audiences, broadcasting, image and reality, language, media, media influence, media ownership, media production, representations, satire, see all tags


The Media Machine

For copyright reasons this clip is not available as a download.

About the Video Clip


The Media Machine is an episode of the series Human Contraptions (10 × 5 mins) produced in 2002.

Academy Award winning animator Bruce Petty takes a satirical look at the “contraptions” that shape our lives. Education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine, law, government and even the brain are transformed by Petty into evolving machines. Beginning with a simple concept, he takes us on an anarchic journey through history as each apparatus builds to its complex contemporary form. In the wry, ironic style that is his hallmark, Petty reveals these to be contraptions of a very human kind – imperfect, sometimes unpredictable and always subject to change. A witty, provocative and entertaining series, narrated by Andrew Denton.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


In this English unit students will learn:

  • to evaluate the way textual resources/features are used in films
  • about the way attitudes, values and beliefs influence representations of the media
  • to consider and evaluate the role of media in contemporary society
  • to compose a range of texts, including short films, stories and debates.

Outcomes from this module
Viewing and creating texts about the media, students will have the opportunity to explicitly develop and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in terms of:

Affective objectives

  • engaging: participating effectively in activities that involve connecting with people, feelings, places, ideas, issues and events
  • appreciating: valuing the world(s) in which they live in order to understand better the world of others
  • playing: experimenting with the flexible nature of language, exploring its possibilities, and creating desired effects

Knowledge and control of texts in their contexts

  • making meaning in texts, taking account of how language and meaning are shaped by cultural purposes, genres and register variables
  • using and controlling texts in their contexts, by making choices of register to achieve particular purposes in particular cultural contexts and social situations
  • selecting, synthesising, analysing, infering from, and evaluating subject matter and substantiating with evidence as required
  • establishing and making use of the ways that writers, speakers/signers and shapers’ roles and their relationships with their readers, listeners and viewers are influenced by power, distance and affect
  • using modes and mediums, combining where necessary, to interpret and produce texts.

Knowledge and control of textual features

  • choosing textual features from different language systems and operating these systems interactively
  • making decisions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the staging of texts and the sequencing and organization of subject matter, and of the use of cohesive ties to link ideas in a range of texts, including those that are multigeneric and multimodal
  • experimenting with visual, auditory and digital features, using them in combination as appropriate in written, spoken/signed and multimodal texts to make meaning
  • making use of a range of spoken/signed and non-verbal features

Knowledge and application of the constructedness of texts

  • making use of their knowledge that discourses shape and are shaped by language choices
  • exploring ways that cultural assumptions, values, beliefs and attitudes underpin texts
  • choosing ways to represent concepts, and the relationships and identities of individuals, groups, times and places
  • making choices about how to invite readers or viewers of, or listeners to, their own texts to take up positions in relation to the text of parts of the text.

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult Queensland Curriculum: Learning, Teaching and Assessment for updated curriculum information

Background Information


Bruce Petty says that ”caricature is a device by which we hope to make complex ideas (at least) accessible, (occasionally) witty and (sometimes) informative”.

His professional life has always been about finding those gaps and niches and trying to fill them in. He explains the challenge in creating the Human Contraptions series in this way: “I wanted Human Contraptions to be a cheerful reminder that as our cars, videos and toasters get smarter and cheaper, the institutions we really need are getting more expensive and unreliable, and are starting to rattle. I hope viewers recognise some of our more bizarre organisational devices and enjoy the general irreverence.

The main aim was to take an impressionistic, shorthand, comic look at over-worked, serious subjects. The series is based on general suspicions people have about the institutions we live in. These bodies are old or biased, often politically disfigured and under-funded – they are familiar targets. Representing them as machines at least suggests they are man-made, they wear out and can be fixed even as they do determine how we live.

The series offered a chance to check the workings of these “contraptions”. Institutions such as the arts carry our “trust” – we are expected to believe in them. We are persuaded that they are self-correcting and that the corrections are properly and democratically monitored.”

Many people are now beginning to suspect that this is not so.

The satirical, witty narration suggests double-meanings while sound effects and music are also important ironic components.

The Media Machine
Since its earliest days, the media machine has run two programs: what people want to hear and what is really happening—or news, as it became known. With television, the fantasy became so spectacular it made the truth look badly acted. Free speech was left to idealists, academics and low-budget documentaries. Then the machine went global and gave everybody what they’d always wanted: 200 continuous talk-down, talk-up, talk-back channels. In this episode, Bruce Petty asks whether humans have the media under remote control or the other way around.

Classroom Activities

  1. Discussing the clip
    1. What is suggested by the term ‘media contraption’?
    2. According to this program, what is the timeline for the development of the ‘media contraption’?
    3. Viewers are told that when the ‘elders’ exaggerated the news, ratings went up. What is being suggested about the news we hear every day?
    4. Who were Gutenberg and Marconi? What do they have to do with the story of the media?
    5. According to Petty, what has been the result of people’s fascination with the media?
    6. Does Petty believe that the interest of big business in the media has been positive? How is this suggested?
    7. What is the purpose of images such as women’s breasts, dollar signs and the word ‘sex’?
    8. What part does colour (and lack of colour) play in this film?
    9. How are visual and sound resources used in this film to suggest that democracy and free speech are not authentic outcomes of widespread use of the media?
    10. In what ways do the narration and images often contradict each other? What is the purpose of this technique?
    11. Why does this film finish with the screen going black and the human frantically clicking a remote?
    12. The cartoons in this film are fairly primitive. Does this detract from or enhance the messages for you? Would this have been an easy issue to present in an entirely naturalistic manner?
    13. In the narration accompanying the cartoons, is the meaning modulated so that the viewer might be left doubting any of the information or is the language authoritative? What sources are attributed for the information? What other methods (e.g. vocal) are used to give the film credibility?
    14. Overall, does the film represent the media in a positive or negative way? What discourses does this film mobilize? Are there other points of view that could be expressed? What are the possible consequences of going along with the views in this film?
  2. Doing
    1. Plan your own short film about the value or dangers of the media – produce a storyboard and then film it if you wish. Alternatively, challenge the views expressed in Petty’s film.
    2. Write a short story about someone involved in or affected by the media. Choose your plot, characters, setting and language carefully to encourage readers to take a particular stance towards the media and the issues you raise. Alternatively, write a piece of speculative fiction that imagines the role of the media 50 years into the future.
    3. Debate the role of the media in contemporary society.

Further Resources


Go to The Age for a profile of Bruce Petty

Go to to find out more about Bruce Petty

Go to The Age for a colour slide show of various Australia cartoonists presented by The Age.

Cagle, D, The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2007, Macmillan Computer Pub, 2006.

Petty, B, The Absurd Machine: A Cartoon History of the World, Penguin, Ringwood, Harmondsworth, New York, Toronto and Auckland, 1997.

Go to Screen Education for excellent articles and study guides focussing on all aspects of media teaching and media literacy.

Read Media new ways and meanings 3rd Ed. by Colin Stewart and Adam Kowaltzke. Jacaranda, Milton, QLD, 2008. Go to a sample of chapters online at Jacaranda Books

Read Media 1 by Roger Dunscombe, Melinda Anastasios- Roberts, Juliet Francis, Karen Koch, George Lekatsas and Nick Ouchtomsky and Media 2 by Roger Dunscombe, Melinda Anastasios-Roberts, Kevin Tibaldi and Andrew Hyde. Heinemann Harcourt Education, Port Melbourne, 2007