Submarine Channel Launches Interactive Documentary Unspeak – Words are Weapons

8 July 2013 • 

Unspeak is a brand-new interactive documentary by Submarine Channel investigating the manipulative power of language. It is based on British journalist Steven Poole’s intriguing book of the same name.

Oil Spill. Climate Change. File Sharing. Erectile Dysfunction. Clean Coal. Unspeak is language that deliberately manipulates public opinion. Erectile dysfunction used to be called impotence, which was felt to be too insulting, as it might imply that the afflicted were flaccid and powerless in all areas of life. Erectile dysfunction, by contrast, sounds soothingly neutral: a mere mechanical fault, fixable by a little blue pill.
Blending filmmaking, data, technology, and design, the story of Unspeak unfolds across a series of short films, data visualizations, and a participatory dictionary. Unspeak exposes how language is manipulated to suit political agendas and the changing role and responsibility of the media. With its demand for sound-bytes and attention grabbing quotes, the media creates Unspeak. Rather than critically investigating term coined by politicians, the media engines often indiscriminately hijack them.

Through a radical collage of archival footage, quotes, and Steven Poole’s own enlightening analyses, Unspeak critically and satirically reveals the unspoken messages and obscured meanings behind loaded catchphrases. The short films are directed by Jennifer Abbott (The Corporation) and Rob Schröder (Meet the Fokkens), to name just a few.

The participatory dictionary, which already consists of more than 100 words, aims to crowd source new words from the public into a collective database. The data visualizations illustrate the prevalence of Unspeak in the media – and the context in which it is used – by tracking Twitter, Wikipedia, and many news articles worldwide.

Steven Poole: “Submarine Channel’s interest in adapting the book Unspeak was an unexpected gift, and the chance to write a series of new scripts on current themes was a wonderful opportunity. I am hugely impressed by what all the directors have done with the films. To enrich (and not merely illustrate) arguments about language through moving images is a terrific achievement. The films, along with the brilliant data-visualization work on the website, have made Unspeak come alive in a way I could never have imagined when I first wrote the book. Forward with the Unspeak Liberation Front!”

Steven Poole is a British author and journalist who writes for the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He is the author of Unspeak, Trigger Happy, and You Aren’t What You Eat, and a broadcaster and composer. He lives in London. is an international distribution and production platform for fresh content that exploits new technologies to tell stories in visually exciting, multiple format-friendly ways – including motion comics, online games, web documentaries and transmedia productions such as (2010), which was nominated for a Digital Emmy Award. Submarine Channel is part of the multiple award-winning production outfit Submarine, founded by 2000 by Bruno Felix and Femke Wolting.
This project is made possible with the financial support of Ministry of Culture, Education and Science, The Creative Industries Fund NL, and The City of Amsterdam. The introduction episode was supported by the Dutch Cultural Media Fund, The Netherlands Film Fund and VPRO.