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: 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 this Week: 15 September 2016

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So in my haste to return to blogging, I consumed a lot of press this week. Some of it is older, but still important.

Vincennes, France holds a festival about American culture and literature, and has been since 2008. This year’s was held from the 8-11 of September. The festival chatted with 15 authors and Libération posted excerpts from their chat, which centered around the authors’ ideas and impressions of their personal vision of America. Fascinating stuff. Des écrivains racont leur Amérique [Authors talk about their America] — the original article is in French.

Going on at the same time, in Paris, was la fête de l’Humanité [The Humanity Festival], which is the French Communist Party’s annual festival. It still happens, though the party is apparently unpopular. This isn’t an article; it’s a video with a small report attached, but it’s interesting. France : la fête de l’Humanité, entre évènement populaire et vitrine politique [The Humanity Festival: popular event and political display– report and article in French].

Think Progress reports on several scientific studies about the mental health of Black people in the United States, especially battling the daily micro-aggressions and constant onslaught of race-based discrimination. It’s a glancing read, but each study is probably worth a look. Being Black in America is a heavy burden, one that many people are either blind to or deny.

Swinging back out to Europe, Arstechnica reports on Denmark’s move to pay for the leaked documents, in a bid to research Danish tax evasion (‘Panama Papers: Denmark to pay $1.3M-plus for leaked data to probe tax evasion‘). I usually read Arstechnica for technical news, but when tech and government mix, it can only be a good or bad thing. I appreciate Denmark’s willingness to investigate tax dodgers, instead of letting them run for high office.

Speaking of running for high office, two articles about the American presidential campaign, obviously. The Economist discusses the similarities and differences between the war-hawk policies of Clinton and Trump. American foreign policy is unattractive and scary thing to me, but there you go.

And finally, the Washington Post‘s 18 August report about Trump’s not-so-charitable giving is incredibly detailed and incredibly disheartening. I’m so bewildered by Trump’s continued existence. I’m very glad there’s only eight weeks until the election, but I have no idea what’s going to happen then. Nobody does, it feels like.

That’s all from me this week! Until next time. – SDM

photo by David Mark.

#atozchallenge: Vote of No Confidence

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When I go to the gym, I generally watch C-SPAN whilst I’m on the treadmill. (I know, I know, you don’t have to say anything–I’m a politics wonk). I am struck by a few things: first, that C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 are incredibly well-made television stations; second, holy crap senate and house meetings are boring; and finally, what, exactly, have we hired our representatives to do?

Important meetings are very sparsely attended. I realise that in an election season most representatives have shirked their duties to go and beg for resources back home, but the work of being a representative is not over, and should be just as diligently done at the beginning of the year as at the end.

And even in session, representatives should actually be working for their constituents, and not for whomever gave them the most money. I realise this is probably a pie-in-the sky dream, but as long as they are not working for us, we should stop voting them in. The issue is, of course, that not many people watch C-SPAN during their day. The fact that the sessions are boring and hard to follow is done purposefully. It is the same thing as teachers using specialised vocabulary to talk about their job. It makes one feel special; it’s using all your expertise and of course you want to show off. But it cuts off people that could probably help you or at least champion your cause.

Watch C-SPAN! Learn some stuff! Know what your representative is doing in your name. And if you don’t like what they’re doing, vote them out! – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts for this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by PDP

#atozchallenge: USA, USA, USA!

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One of the first things most visitors to the United States mention is that American flags are everywhere: in front of homes; in restaurants; in classrooms. The last one, in classrooms, is always disconcerting. It is a stark reminder of the weird patriotic symbolism of the United States: we are united under one flag, when we cannot be united under any other thing.

Saying the pledge daily is a compulsory activity, but not saying it is protected speech. I stopped saying the pledge in high school, for a few reasons. I was against the war in Iraq and felt that the pledge was compulsory nationalism, something that as a German made me uncomfortable. I also did not feel that America was just, or free, for everyone.

Now, as a teacher, I stand but do not say the pledge. I have had students ask me why, and I generally tell them that I didn’t feel comfortable saying it as a dual citizen. Sometimes I tell them that historically, compulsory nationalism doesn’t always end well. I obviously do not force any student to say it if they do not want to; it’s not my business to know why they aren’t saying it.

Patriotism is a choice, and the compulsory nature of the pledge denies choice. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by unsplash

#atoz: Something Rotten in these United States

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Change and innovation are part of the historical meme. Better, newer, faster is the constant drumbeat of American society. I am addicted to technology; I enjoy using it, and I’m sure that it would be hard readjusting to not having it. But I also enjoy preserving the connexions to our past. Just as people in Europe live in flats built in the 17th and 18th century and walk streets set down even further in the past, I want to be able to say my flat was built in the antebellum period, or that our library was built in the 1920s. However, historical preservation is on a local level, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is just not a priority.

But it is not even the historical preservation. We are destroying community in the race for profit. Small businesses are being swallowed whole by mega-corporations, and minority communities suffer from a lack of resources for many reasons, some malicious and some just through “tradition”, which can be just as malicious. And our infrastructure is crumbling: highways, bridges and rail-lines have not been updated since the 1950s, and some even longer.

To be “American” is not defined by being beholden to a certain set of core values and beliefs. Perhaps we have become integrated, but unlike the ideal “melting pot” of immigrants living beside each other, we are a mixed salad of things that, when put together, sometimes does not pair well. We cannot bond over a common heritage and history, so we should preserve the things we can.

We should not erase heritage and history, and if we continue building new without fixing what works, our foundations shall crumble, in more ways than one. – SDM

 

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by arutina

#atozchallenge: The American Kleptocracy

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The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.

Gordon Gecko is running for president. You see him every hour on television; his speeches become breaking news, as the media breathlessly waits for his plane to arrive. He is the gilt paint over the rotting wood of our infrastructure. We are allowing him to run, because we believe that politicians are corrupt and that we need new blood, obviously.

But is he not corrupt himself? He has used every avenue to his advantage: tax breaks, imminent domain and lackadaisical  reforms meant to improve our ability to trade and destroy.

We point to kleptocratic states like Pakistan and Russia, as if we don’t have clans of hoarding multi-national companies and military contractors siphoning money from the public coffers. We know who they are: the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Lockheed Martin and Blackwater (now called ACADEMI).

So greed, for America, is good for those who are greedy. We have a dire choice this November: who will be greedy in good ways? Is greed ever good? How will American society get past this greed?

Sometimes greed works. Georgia’s state house and senate recently tried to pass a ‘Freedom from Religious Prosecution’ act, similar to some other states, and businesses pressured Governor Deal to veto it; however, the fact that businesses hold so much sway over our politicians is just the exception that proves the rule.

I have no answers, because I am a pessimist. We are reaping what we have sown, and I believe we deserve this disaster, if only to start anew. There are too many working parts that must fail, but fail we must, so that we learn. We should have learned in 2008, but we did not. And now, eight years later, we shall learn a hard lesson again. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Matej Tomazin