Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Oscars: In 'King's Speech' and 'Social Network,' Media Are the Message

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Oscars: In 'King's Speech' and 'Social Network,' Media Are the Message

Article excerpt

Two Best Picture contenders at the Oscars, 'King's Speech' and 'The Social Network,' revolve around the advent of new forms of communication. Why that theme resounds with audiences.

What do "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network" - two frontrunners for Best Picture in Sunday's Academy Awards presentation - have in common? Hint: Think communication.

That's right: They are both about the advent of new modes of communication and how that affects individuals and society. "The King's Speech" paints the portrait of a pre-World War I monarch-to- be confronting the need to address his people via the new medium of radio. "The Social Network" tackles the birth of Facebook - now the most widely used social media tool on the planet, embraced by more than half a billion people.

Together, these movies bracket the mass media era as it arrived and developed over nearly 80 years. Each tells a story about the dreams we invest in these tools, as well as the nightmares they sometimes can be to their users. Much as good science fiction examines the undercurrents of humanity's hopes and fears about rockets and radioisotopes, these two films probe our expectations and anxieties about the delicate art of communication between one human being and another.

IN PICTURES: Oscar nominees 2011

"These two films talk about the possibilities and limitations of new technologies for communication," says Susan Mackey-Kallis, a communications professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Every new medium generates both optimism and pessimism about its impact, she adds. "The King's Speech" deals with the future monarch's dread of being sidelined by a piece of machinery that is profoundly changing everyone's lives. Suddenly, a king is no longer a remote figure, she says, "but expected to be in the living rooms of the nation, able to calm and reassure people during their worst fears."

A subtext of "The Social Network," on the other hand, is that a loner and a misfit can find social salvation through a new technology, says Ms. Mackey-Kallis.

She also points to the now-classic message of media theorist Marshall McLuhan: that each major media shift will bring profound social change in its wake. …

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