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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 - animation, 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

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



Students will learn to:

  • understand and critically analyse how media technologies and industries develop
  • appreciate the variety of technologies available for communication
  • understand how audiences are targeted
  • examine the relationship between the media, media products and society; past, present and future
  • express their ideas through media forms and gain self-confidence and communication skills through that expression;

Key Concept: Media Institutions
Institutions are the organisations and people whose operational processes and practices enable or constrain media production and use.

This clip is relevant to year 11 and 12 students studying:

VIC- VCE Media Studies: Units 1, 2 and 4.
WA- The Arts/Media: Contexts, Exploring, Responding and Reflecting:
QLD- Film, Television and New Media: Technologies, Representations, Audiences, Institutions and Languages
SA- VET Broadcasting and Multimedia

Go to senior years Media Studies curricula in your state or territory for specific outcomes

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


Learning Activities

1. Petty makes a distinction between what people ought to know and what people want to know (or be entertained by).
a) How does Petty suggest this happens?
b) What things do you think people ought to know from the Media?
c) Do you think the Media supplies this? Or do you think the Media concentrates on one of these more than the other? Why do you think this might be?

2. The cartoon uses imagery and symbolism to represent the structures and conventions of media institutions and the content and values it portrays. Discuss how this occurs in:
a) the brief history of the media opening segment.
b) the content machine which follows and the representation of news values.
c) advertising as a milking machine.
d) talkback radio as a toilet.
e) the government as a panel game.

3. How does Petty represent each of the media forms: print, radio, TV, film and digital? What are the main visual and sound elements in each of these?

4. A number of Media critics talk of information overload or information “white out”. Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard talk about too much information just becoming noise while Bruce Springsteen writes about 57 channels and there’s nothing on.
a) In Human Contraptions Media, what do you think Petty has to say about this?
b) Why might this happen?

5. Draw, build or otherwise create your own Media human contraption (if you can’t draw, you might like to do this in the form of a diagram or “family tree”). Your contraption will need to show the interconnections that you think there are between the various forms of media, society and “reality”. In your work you will need to include, amongst others, the audience, the owners of the media, the creators of media products, their creations, the government and the people.

Further Resources


Go to The Age for a profile of Bruce Petty

Go to ABC website 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.

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. Go to the books online at Heinemann Media for more detail.