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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 and society, media industry, media influence, media ownership, media production, media text, representations, satire, see all tags


The Media Machine

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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:

  • explore how the media has developed over time, according to Bruce Petty
  • learn how comics and cartoons represent issues and ideas
  • understand how representations of the media are understood by audiences
  • examine the relationship between the media, media products and society; past, present and future
  • create a poem, diagram or cartoon of their own media machine.

Curriculum links
National: The Statements of Learning for English- Year 9

Reading, viewing and interpreting information and argument texts

  • Students read and view texts that entertain, move, parody, investigate, analyse, argue and persuade. These texts explore personal, social, cultural and political issues of significance to the students’ own lives.
  • Students understand that readers and viewers may need to develop knowledge about particular events, issues and contexts to interpret texts.


  • When students write information or argument texts, they make appropriate selections of information from a few sources and attempt to synthesise and organise these in a logical way.
  • Students write imaginative texts in print and electronic mediums that contain personal, social and cultural ideas and issues related to their own lives and communities and their views of their expanding world.

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



  • How does Petty represent the evolution of the media? Discuss his visual representation of each form of media in terms of cartoon images, sound and narration.
  • What point of view does Petty present about the media? Do you share his view?
  • Compare this cartoon with Bruce Petty’s political and social cartoons from newspapers. In what ways does this cartoon mirror conventions of the Petty cartoons featured in newspapers? Discuss caricature, satire and exageration as stylist elements of both.
  • What role do newspaper cartoons play in informing debate about current issues? Are cartoons more or less powerful forms of commentary than text?


  • Create a representation of your view of a particular form of media or media today: a poem, story, article, diagram or cartoon. Describe or illustrate the connections between the form of media (TV, radio Film, Press, Digital etc) and the producers, audience issues etc.

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. Two recommended texts for classroom use for discussing representation as well as many other key media concepts that relate to this clip. Go to the books online at Heinemann Media for more detail.