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Don't Look Up, a satirical film about the government and the media's indifference to the global climate crisis, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence

Year in Review: The Social Impact of Media and Entertainment in 2021

It’s that time of year again. Can you believe it? We’re already on the cusp of a new year. It seems like just yesterday that we were binge-watching Tiger King, pulling weeds in Animal Crossing, logging onto Zoom happy hours, and re-learning how to wash our hands.

With many of us still working from home, getting vaccinated, and vigilantly wearing our face masks to the grocery store, we’re in a strange twilight period where for the first time ever, at least for me, the years feel like they’re starting to blur together.

You might be interested in: Year in Review: The Social Impact of Media and Entertainment in 2020

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If you are experiencing the same thing as I am, and you need a reminder about what exactly happened in 2021, here’s an abbreviated summary of some of the highlights:

  • Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump from their platform
  • The FDA granted emergency use authorization for vaccines against COVID-19
  • Perseverance, NASA’s rover, landed on the surface of Mars
  • The artist Beeple sold an NFT at Christie’s for $69 million
  • A ship blocked the Suez Canal
  • A jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of all charges against him in the killing of George Floyd
  • A cyberattack shut down one of the largest US fuel pipelines
  • Amazon acquired MGM
  • Bill Cosby was released from prison
  • Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos went to space
  • There was an outbreak of violence in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict
  • The United States withdrew from Afghanistan and the country fell to the Taliban shortly after
  • Facebook changed its name to Meta
  • Britney Spears’ 13-year conservatorship was terminated
  • Omicron became a thing

… And that’s just the short list. With all that aside, given everything that has been happening in the world, let’s take a step back for a second. When we analyze how media and entertainment was used over the course of 2021, what impact did it have? And what impact might we see next year?

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Entertainment Was Used as a Platform for Political Advocacy

Time and time again, when things get difficult, we see people turn to music, TV, and film as a personal outlet. In some cases, it’s used as cathartic form of self-expression in difficult times. In other cases, it’s used more directly to drive a call-to-action, like a song that turns into an anthem for a political movement.

The clearest example of this arose when the United States pulled out of Afghanistan, and the Taliban took control of the country, despite the agreement they had signed with the U.S. Within 10 days, Taliban fighters entered Kabul, and the country fell to them shortly after. The last time the Taliban was in control was in 1996.

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In the weeks leading up to, during, and after the Taliban takeover, Afghan artists all over the world took to their craft to motivate change. Musician and filmmaker Ariana Delawari was among the most vocal activists on social media, amplifying Afghan voices and combatting misinformation. Kabul Dreams, the first Afghan rock band, went on a full media blitz, doing interviews with The National, writing pieces for The Juggernaut, and releasing a song to express their outrage.

Journalism Illuminated the Dark Side of Social Media

People often talk about the pros and cons of social media and its overall proliferation, but it’s rarely discussed in a data-driven way, or in a way that is substantiated by credible, reliable sources. That, however, flipped on its head when whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents from Facebook, now known as Meta.

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The leak resulted in a comprehensive Wall Street Journal report that was dubbed The Facebook Files. The report highlighted all the ways that Facebook had knowingly made decisions to enable hate speech, censorship, and anger-provoking content. The report even noted that Facebook had data about how harmful its platforms were to young users, but that knowledge led to virtually no action from the tech giant.

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Art Imitated Life and It Showed Us How Crazy We Are

We can learn a lot about ourselves by observing how we behave during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. election. Sometimes however, we need a fictional look at ourselves to understand just how unreasonable we can be as a society.

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When Don’t Look Up, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, was released, it was intended to be a satire of the government and the media’s indifference to the global climate crisis. Upon watching the film though, audiences are quick to call out the parallels between the sequence of events that unfold in the film, and what we experience in our daily lives in the context of just about every globally important issue we face.

Where Does All of This Leave Us Now?

Going into 2022, I’m optimistic that the coronavirus coverage will start to die down, and we’ll become more accustomed to whatever our new normal looks like, even if it means getting vaccine boosters with our annual flu shot. As that happens, I suspect we’ll be spending a lot more time talking about blockchain, NFTs, cryptocurrency, and the metaverse.

Web 3.0 only started to take off in 2021, and the opportunities for growth are monumental under the right circumstances. I’m especially excited to see how media and entertainment start to manifest themselves in these new technologies and infrastructures, and as soon as that happens, you know I’ll be writing about it. The year will be rife with more change, more growth, and more thought-provoking content.

Welcome to 2022!

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