What I’m Watching: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is a satirical and serious show that looks at current events issues. Every week, Oliver focuses on an important issue from the news. In two episodes, he focused on the refugee crisis. In one video, he parses the hateful language used by European governments, especially in The Netherlands, Hungary and Denmark. He softens the language with jokes, as when he calls a Polish minister who calls the refugees ‘human garbage’ “the Polish six flags guy” (Oliver 2015a). He backs up every joke with a bit of research, including research about how helpful refugees and immigrants actually are to an economy, especially ones in Europe with a slow birthrate (Oliver 2015a). The end of the video is a tribute to Noujain Mustaffa, whom he especially highlights in the clip. Unlike short clips on the evening news, this first segment from John Oliver places the crisis in some historical context. However he neglects to mention the full context of the crisis itself; that is, the attack on dissidents in Syria and the civil war there.

In the second clip, released after the 13 November 2015 attacks, Oliver updates the situation and adds to it the US response. One of the attackers was rumoured to have posed as a refugee, setting off fears of refugees coming into America on the same pretenses. After the attack, 31 state governors banned refugees from coming into their state, a pointless bit of grandstanding as Oliver points out they have no legal right to do so, and that refugees can just go to more accepting states (2015b). He also debunks a fear-mongering video from Fox News showing a group of Muslim men calling out Allahuakbar whilst riding the metro; the video had been uploaded five years previously (Oliver 2015).

Oliver places the crisis in context for the American audience in the second clip; he points out that Americans have been slow to accept refugees, even sending a boat with Jewish refugees back to Belgium in 1939, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two (2015). With the recent news that the United States is lowering its threshold of refugees it will accept, there is a certain sense of déjà vu.

Oliver’s sarcastic take on the hyperbolic language used by politicians and the media is a less scholarly, but still important, way to explain how media influences policy, and why it is added to my bibliographic resources for my thesis.

photo: geralt

What I’m Reading: The Spectatorship of Suffering

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

In Lilie Chouliaraki’s book The Spectatorship of Suffering, she discusses and analyses the various ways that Western spectators view suffering of a distant ‘Other’. Television and other forms of media has put a veneer of aesthetics over suffering, where there is a disconnect between the visualization of suffering and the actual reality of it (Chouliaraki 2006). In this age of hyper-visualisation, Chouliaraki says that “spectators today are not required to call on their capacities to create and interpret meaning” (2006: 51). This means that, like other parts of their lives, they are only consumers.

Chouliaraki defines three types of news reporting of disaster news: adventure news, emergency news and ecstatic news (2006). I concentrated on adventure news and emergency news, as my thesis will go over media coverage about the so called ‘migrant crisis’ and conservative immigration reform in the United States.

Chouliaraki defines adventure news as “news items that […] consist of random and isolated events” (2006: 97). In normal news, they are stories of tragedy that are told in a minute or so, and given no context. In this way, the spectator not only has no chance to feel pity, the sufferers are completely dehumanized (Chouliaraki 2006). Adventure news is categorised by three main themes:

  • descriptive narratives that register only ‘facts’
  • singular space-times that restrict the spectator’s proximity to suffering
  • the lack of agency that dehumanizes sufferers and suppresses the possibility of action in the scene of suffering (Chouliaraki 2006: 98)

Adventure news is especially prevalent in 30-minute news shows, where there are multiple bits of news to get through. These news stories are usually devoid of context and seemingly unconnected to any other events happening either at the same time, or historically (Chouliaraki 2006).

The other type of news I concentrated on was emergency news. Emergency news is news that demands action from the spectator, but not in any direct way (Chouliaraki 2006). In emergency news, the suffering is closer, both verbally and visually. Instead of static maps and lists of those killed or injured, there are dynamic images and videos that place the disaster in a specific time. Finally, the suffering a slightly humanised by their actions, however limited they may seem to Western spectators (Chouliaraki 2006).

Chouliaraki’s books are quite dense with complicated academic writing that can be intimidating, but the research and analysis is quite helpful, especially when deconstructing how news brings suffering to indifferent spectators. I hope, with my thesis, to create context for media’s impact on actual political policy.

photo: jane b

 

What I’m Reading: Self-Mediation

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Self-Mediation: New Media, Citizenship and Civil Selves is a collection of essays studying an analysing the rise of social media in the daily lives of people around the world, and how this new form of media is allowing otherwise oppressed voices to speak out. Of course, this rise has also come with new oppressions and also self-conscious displays of a new form of aesthetic.

I chose two essays: Greg Myers’ “Stance-taking and public discussion in blogs” and Lilie Chouliaraki’s “Ordinary Witnessing in post-television news: towards a new moral imagination.” In Myers’ essay, he writes that blogging, which is seen as independent from traditional media, is “not independent of prevailing ideologies and institutionally organised campaigns” (Myers 2012, pg 56). This means that a blog writer, though writing independently, brings their own ideals, morals and ethical beliefs into every post. Myers also quantifies words that are considered stance taking, ironic takes in comments and more conversational style of writing (2012). He uses the speech analysis software called WMatrix to pore over 50,000 words collected over five blogs, with comments included. Looking at comments on a blog can be particularly insightful, but only to a point; as Myers says, comments tend to go off-topic, either deliberately or by “gradual mutation” (2012, pg 57). Commentators also tend to use irony in their comments, in order to throw something they see as incongruous into relief or as a mocking strategy (Myers 2012). Myers’ essay will help me in quantifying and sorting words in the conservative media that I will be reading.

In Chouliaraki’s essay, she writes about mass media and its growing reliance on direct witnesses (2012). She argues that whilst this direct witnessing gives audience members “potential to care” (Chouliaraki 2012 pg 113), most of the direct witnesses are still part of the powerful majority or some way part of an existed power structure. So instead of the victims’ voices, we hear from the NGOs who are ‘saving’ them. There is also a lack of objectivity in order to be the first source on television or other forms of mass and social media (Chouliaraki 2012). Chouliaraki also points out that in order to be first, there is no time to analyse or deconstruct the history or reasons behind certain disasters (2012). This is especially true when natural disasters hit former colonies that have been stripped of most of their resources by their colonial powers.

Both of these essays offer valuable insight into the language usage in current mass media, whether traditional or social. As I am not a conservative media consumer, Myers’ essay will help me decipher stylistic usage, and Chiouliaraki’s will support my findings of non-objective witness reporting.

photo: geralt

What I’m reading: Language and Power

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Critical discourse analysis is the study of language as social practice. The analysis is mostly leftist and oppositional. In Norman Fairclough’s book Language and Power (2015), he argues that language has been changed by a neoliberal, globalist and capitalist society in order to suppress resistance and individualise issues that are caused by social ills. This book will be particularly helpful in revealing how conservative media outlets in the United Kingdom, the United States and France control and constrain the audience (Fairclough 2015).

There are many ways media may control and constrain the discourse, especially in public, one-way communication such as TV broadcasts and newspaper articles, either by suppressing certain voices or placing more emphasis on ‘powerful’ voices (Fairclough 2015 and Bell 1991). One important way of suppressing certain voices is by creating a standard language and making anyone who does not speak that standard language seen as either less educated or less reliable (Fairclough 2015). Though Fairclough uses the example of Standard British English and Received Pronunciation (2015), this happens in the United States as well; African American Vernacular English [AAVE] is seen as non-standard and inferior. For French, the standard is the French spoken in France and not its former colonies; television news broadcasts will often put subtitles under people speaking non-standard French, though they may be perfectly understandable.

One way that capitalism has been particularly invasive and insidious is its use of social justice and change type language in order to sell a product. Most recently, Colin Kaepernick as the face of Nike and Kendall Jenner’s tone-deaf ad for Pepsi, the former hailed and the latter panned, has made consumerism a form of political discourse (Fairclough 2015). By building a certain ‘image’ of their company, these multi-national companies can hide behind language of resistance whilst creating more consumers for their products.

Social change in general has taken a blow by the creation of centre-left parties that have taken on neoliberal, capitalist ideals and deemphasising their pasts as socially progressive, anti-capitalist parties. Hence New Labour and New Democrats in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively and Emmanual Macron’s République en Marche (The Republic on the Move) in France. By erasing their more socialist pasts (or, in the United States’s case, completely switching ideologies after the Southern Democrats jumped ship after the Civil Rights amendment passed), these parties have capitulated to the idea that capitalism is the only way forward and so must work within that parameter (Fairclough 2015).

Fairclough’s book is going to be very helpful in dismantling the ways the news media has constructed the language surrounding the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers in the critical period of 2011-2016, and the current language of immigrants in general.

photo: Bruce Emmerling

What I’m Reading: The Language of News Media

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Allan Bell’s book The Language of News Media was published in 1991, which means that it does not cover the explosion of the Internet, but the language used by news media actually has not changed much since the 1990s, so this book is still valuable. Media is organised in many different ways depends on type of media, but there are some similarities, such as the editors and journalists who generate and modify language (Bell 1991).

One spot that has weakened with the advent of the internet is something Bell calls disjunction and isolation (1991). Since news can be accessed anywhere with a decent digital signal, the audience can be both local and world-wide, and news can be accessed almost instantaneously.

Most helpfully, Bell writes about how news media manipulates time and location (1991). This is especially true in regards to the advent of ‘fake news’, where so-called bad actors use old pictures, or take video or audio out of context, or even completely edit video and images to prove some other point.

Media has become a globalised commodity and Bell’s explanation of how the traditional news media is structured is helpful, if outmoded. However, the language he describes is still used, even if it’s at an accelerated pace.

photo: Matthew Galbraith 

What I’m Reading: Les disparus

europe-2069532_1920.jpgI am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Les Jours is an independent French media source bankrolled by subscribers and investors. (Full disclosure, I am a subscriber.) Each ‘obsession’ is a long-form multimedia article that can be read on any type of technology. It is almost an online magazine, with each article being called an episode and filled with photos, sounds and other information. The obsession that I chose to read, amongst others, was Les disparus: sur la trace des migrants morts en Méditerranée (The vanished: following the path of dead migrants in the Mediterranean). The first episode is available to read, and is in French. I chose three particular episodes on which to focus: episodes five, ten and twenty. I am solely responsible for the translation, and regret any errors.

Released over a span of seven months, Taina Tervonen describes efforts to identify dead or missing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from objects left behind from sunken vessels. She also describes the European Union’s reaction to the crisis–mostly negative and unhelpful.

In episode five, Après les tragédies, l’Europe refermée (After the tragedies, Europe shuts down), Tervonen visits the island of Lesbos, where many asylum seekers washed ashore, dead or nearly so. She writes that “in October [2015] alone, there was a peak of 220.579 people” arriving from the Mediterranean (Tervonen 2018). Instead of helping Greece and Italy, the European Union decided to reinforce border controls and not much else (Tervonen 2018). This may have been the simplest measure, but it did not reduce the flow of people. The people of Lesbos, according to Tervonen, were “abandoned by Europe, whilst also suffering under austerity imposed by Brussels” (2018). Showing a strong front against refugees and asylum seekers may assuage the minds of xenophobes within the EU, but does nothing to help the people aiding refugees and asylum seekers.

Tervonen writes that at the height of the crisis, in September 2015, the EU entered into negotiations with Turkey “to limit and organise the influx of migrants” (2018), and then also with some African states to propose development aid in exchange for better border controls. She writes, “for the first time, development was officially conditioned on border control” (2018). Numbers, whilst reduced, did not fall to zero; however, the European Union has made those seeking refuge and asylum more and more uncomfortable, meaning they make more dangerous choices in crossing.

Tervonen describes the effects of the ‘better border controls’ in episode ten, L’Europe délocalise le tri des migrants (Europe outsources the sorting of migrants). The European Union sorts exiled people into two groups, refugees and economic migrants, and for the most part, that sorting happens in Greece and Italy (Tervonen 2018). However, after 2016 negotiations, that sorting started happening in Libya and Niger, the former a country with no central government and the latter incredibly poor and unable to handle the amount of people that are trying to cross through.  The refugee camp in Agadez, Niger is run by international organisations, and concerns itself with the sorting of ‘real’ refugees and ‘fake’ asylum seekers (Tervonen 2018), as if people leaving their country are doing so for some sort of amusement. There are many steps and interviews at these camps, where there is not enough food or sanitation for the numbers that keep arriving. Also, the development aid is slow to come, angering people in the city (Tervonen 2018).

In episode 20, Le jeune homme et la mer (The young man and the sea), Tervonen updates the story with new measures from Europe. They are cruel and Kafkaesque, and do not help the countries from which people flee. The conditions in Libya, a country that deals with the sorting of asylum seekers, are “well-known and regularly denounced in NGO and various UN agency reports” (Tervonen 2018). There is a system of voluntary returns, but as Tervonen writes, ‘voluntary’ is a laughable concept when you’ve been starving in a camp or prison in Libya and Niger (2018). As of July 2018, Tervonen writes that there are “at least 6500 people detained in official prisons and multiple thousands in clandestine ones, according to the UN” (2018).

The European Commission put forth three possibilities for a continued system of sorting: asylum centres in Europe organised by Frontex and the European bureau of asylum; asylum centres in Northern Africa organised by the UNHCR; finally, countries neither EU or NATO, in Europe or in Africa, with no real oversight by any organisation (Tervonen 2018). The extreme right in Europe does not like the first option, and the second and third options are places where asylum seekers are being treated poorly.

Though the numbers of new arrivals has lowered, there are still thousands in camps waiting for some word. A legal route is nearly impossible; the EU is only concentrating on “border surveillance, on sending people back and [so-called] control centres” (Tervonen 2018).

This control is only one way, of course. As Tervonen (2018) writes, sitting in the Gambia in Palma Rima, enjoying the sun: “There are so many White [Europeans], like me, who travel without issue from one continent to another, without any risk except for a pick-pocket or a hangover.” Europeans do not give the same rights to those to whom they have caused harm, and it is most obvious in these countries that must support tourism but are not allowed to seek something better, or receive help from those countries that used them in the past.

photo credit: Kreative Hexenküche

What I’m Reading: The refugees who gave up on Britain

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I am currently studying Religion in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. As part of the literature course, our professor has asked us to write a bibliographical review of sources that we may use for our thesis. I have chosen to write my thesis on media and its effect on immigration policy. Therefore, I will be reviewing articles and books that focus mostly on the refugee crisis sparked in part by the Arab Spring movement in 2011.

Kate Lyons, writing in the Guardian in 2018, followed an Afghan father and his son as they made their way to Britain and then back again. She details his time in the United Kingdom, weaving information about the refugee process throughout. According to Lyons, “more than a million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, of whom 50% were estimated to be Syrians and 20% Afghans” (2018).

The refugee process in the United Kingdom seems designed for the asylum seeker to fail. There are two interviews for refugees, a screening interview and the substantive interview (Lyons 2018). Since most asylum seekers do not have “documentary evidence proving the danger in their homeland”, the interviews are the only way to verify their claims (Lyons 2018). Caseworkers and interviewers tend to latch onto small inconsistencies in the interviews to deny claims, according to Lyons (2018). Of course, asylum seekers tend to be suffering PTSD and depression, and may not be able to be coherent during interviews. Along with the fact that only 30% of interviews have an interpreter, it is no wonder that only 32% of initial asylum claims were granted in the UK in 2017 (Lyons 2018).

This article followed one family and their failure to be granted asylum. Using human traffickers, jumping lorries and sneaking into a country may be illegal, but it is because of stringent rules regarding asylum seeking that people are forced into these desperate measures.

photo: Michael Gaida