What I’m Reading: The Ironic Spectator

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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.

Lilie Chouliaraki’s book The Ironic Spectator analyses how solidarity has shifted from spiritual or revolutionary ideas to the performative aspects of therapy and aesthetics. I was most interested in her analysis of media’s influence on how we view suffering. As in her other two books (previously discussed here and here), there is a sense that media, whilst transformed by social media and easy access to technology, it is still constrained by old models of transmitting the news and centring it on Western sensibilities.

Chouliaraki describes the difference between spiritual solidarity, revolutionary solidarity and the post-modern “ironic solidarity” (2013). According to Chouliaraki, ironic solidarity ‘explicitly situates the pleasures of the self at the heart of moral action, thereby rendering solidarity a contingent ethics that no longer aspires to a reflexive engagement with the political conditions of human vulnerability’ (2013: 14). That is, instead of the solidarity of a group of religious cohorts or the solidarity of the proletariat, there is just the solidarity of pity or sympathy, without any religious or political support.

This new ironic solidarity is tied with the marketisation of humanitarian efforts. With the explosion of aid agencies, they must compete in capitalistic terms. So they must advertise themselves as if they were commodities by using tactics that cause the spectator to feel pity or sympathy; NGOs have become a brand (Chouliaraki 2013). However, these economic approaches completely gloss over the ‘”big picture” questions of injustice and redistribution that are specific to the contexts of development” (Chouliaraki 2013: 18).

Using media is the easiest way to market NGOs. By harnessing the new social aspects of mass media–that is, traditional media’s call for tweets, personal videos and personal testimonies–humanitarian agencies are basically given free commercial access (Chouliaraki 2013). However, media is still a moralising force throughout the world and in constant threat from authoritarian regimes and even capitalist market forces that choose what is important to Western spectators.

Like her other books, Chouliaraki analyses media sources in order to build her arguments, something that I hope to emulate well when it comes to my own thesis. Her books were helpful, although I did struggle with the sometimes dense, overly-academic language.

photo: Engin Akyurt

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

Je suis Bruxelles: On Fear

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My students watched, numb and quiet, as they let the words from France 24 wash over them. After we watched the international reactions, one of my students said idly, ‘What next?’

I said, in as even a tone as possible, ‘When war or terrorism happens, people in general tend to become more “little-c” conservative [to distinguish from Conservative parties] and a little more insular.’ It was as much as I wanted to say. I talked about the 7 July bombings in London, how London reacted, and we talked about assimilation and culture in Europe. I don’t like using tragedy as teachable moments, but it was important for them to begin processing.

After school, chatting with a colleague, I let bitterness and pessimism take over as I said, “Donald Trump will be the next president, and Britain will leave the European Union.” I felt sick as I said it, as if it were a premonition. I feel sick as I think of it now. My even tone in class had fallen away, and I felt angry, as I never had before.

It is not the time to close borders, to hate and to fear. But we will. It has become the first response to this distress. But I choose to celebrate Brussels and the idea of the European Union which was attacked on the 22nd of March.

May there be no next time. – SDM

Photo by Ji-Sun Yoo