Media’s Societal Criticism Trend

Charlotte Izadi, Staff Writer

There seems to be a shift happening in media brought on by this generation’s awareness of the hidden frameworks of society and their specific adeptness at condemning issues they experience and observe in their lives. We have seen it time and time again: media reflecting people’s innermost thoughts and interests, with society and its dysfunction coming into the spotlight. While the issue of a corrupt society has been prevalent in almost every era of history, it has only in the past century been portrayed in films and popular culture. This specific type of critique (one that shows itself openly in media) has become quite popular and seems to have resonated with this generation. There are many reasons for this, but the most obvious is money, because at the end of the day that is the purpose of any industry. The industry has recognized the appeal of this area and capitalized on  it. Today’s society is a mix of the revolutionary and the destructive, with technology and society becoming more concerning as they elevate. This begs myriad questions: when do we ever stop? When is it enough? Throughout history, the answers have been found in art.

There are various types of movies that try to answer the questions including the hyper aware approach seen in Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022). The movie breaks down the shallowness of gen z through a mad descent into chaos, exercising humorous irony to get the message across. The film resonated most with younger audiences, due to the language and thematic elements. However, it won high praise from critics across the board who commended its unique approach. This trend covers a wide range of topics that fall under this universal umbrella of criticism of society exemplified in Peele’s Get Out (2017) and even detectable earlier and more subtly in films like Weir’s Dead Poets Society (1989). While one is about racism and the latter about the meaning of life, both explore the corruption of society through those scopes. Perhaps the best example is  Bong Joon-ho with his masterpiece Parasite (2019). The film explores inequality between social classes and the degradation of humanity in a strikingly skillful way. The concepts of class differences and irony are frequent in the aforementioned films, as they are both relevant and relatable to the target demographics of the films. Nowadays, when movies take themselves too seriously they are subsequently not taken seriously at all by audiences who claim that fact alone makes them unappealing. This may be due to the fact that this generation is one of the most inclined to not take anything seriously and constantly revert to jokes and humor to cover the truth of how they feel or what they think. 

There is also a subgenre of satirical films on society that are beginning to appear more and more seen in Mylod’s The Menu (2022) and Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (2022) which won the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival. Both these films have gained recognition for not taking themselves too seriously as previously mentioned. The Menu delves deep into elitism in its extravagantly overblown approach through food. The film is wildly entertaining and has gripped modern audiences with its grandiose approach to the subject which recognizes what people want to see and furthermore, what they will listen to. These films explore in depth the destruction and corruption of the world while at the same time, making people laugh and entertaining them. These seemingly incompatible aspects of the films are, in reality, what make them so great and appealing to viewers. There seems to be an understanding among film lovers nowadays against pretentious films and ones that are trying to do too much, taking themselves more seriously than deemed appropriate. Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness takes what The Menu did even further, creating a film that is both ironically and genuinely funny while at the same time uncomfortable in its truthfulness. The film is an exploration of humanity and social hierarchy in a masterly presented chain of events which appeals perfectly to modern audiences in its aesthetic and comedic method. The theme of irony is beautifully tied into the film, exemplifying another aspect of filmmaking that contemporary audiences enjoy and appreciate. This subtrend of irony within trends of  societal criticism in media has even made its way into real life. At the 2020 Oscars when Parasite swept the awards, it was downright hilarious to watch the audience, full of grossly wealthy celebrities, cheer enthusiastically for a movie that overtly called them parasites.

Another incredibly common theme tied into these films is the problem of greed among people. These portrayals call into question what truly is human nature? Are humans naturally good, or are they naturally greedy? Some look to old philosophies to learn, such as those of Enlightenment thinkers Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes. But most people nowadays look to media to answer these questions. The new age of the mega rich and billionaires has cultivated a universal sense of disdain for the greedy. Another more recent approach to the trend is through the scope of technology. Films such as Garland’s Ex Machina (2014) and Jonze’s Her (2013) have demonstrated this trend which seems to have really touched audiences. While the two are vastly different movies, both critique technology, one in a more scientific and apocalyptic way, and the latter in an emotionally manipulative and tragic way. Technology has called into question common ethical and moral standpoints, and raised the question of whether technology has gone too far? Even someone living under a rock in the desert knows of the ways in which technology has both improved and created disastrous problems for society. This approach melds the two into a very relevant and significant critique of the modern age.

This new occurrence in media has been interesting to follow and has progressed quite wonderfully, with the films becoming more and more satirical and comedic, reflecting the way in which this generation handles serious matters such as the corrupt underlyings of modern society. While these films have been successful, the effect of media on its viewers has become a concern. Do people view these films as simply what they are? As merely films? Or as something more with a deep rooted message for them to understand? It is unclear whether some directors are simply using the trend to create movies or using the movies to enact real change and awareness of the message. Either way, the trend has become immensely popular and it is intriguing to see where it ends up going.