With the War on Drugs being hailed as an overwhelming failure worldwide, why is it still waging on? US President Donald Trump and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions have thrown the media into a whirlwind by reconfirming their commitment to the failed policies, whilst other countries such as Portugal, Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Uruguay now have longitudinal data available to prove that none of what the fear-mongers have said has any statistical validity. Legalization and de-criminalisation of illicit substances is a solution that is not perfect but is proving better than the current strategies.
This report discusses the foundation of drug law worldwide and shows a brief overview of what has happened since.
Drugs and Billie Holiday
In 1939 the beautiful jazz singer Billie Holiday became one of the first celebrity targets for the unofficial war on drugs. The lately defunct department of prohibition became the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, with Harry Anslinger at the helm. What followed was symptomatic of a country at war with itself. The Holiday story exemplifies how drugs became a conduit to continue the war on black people in America and pass under the bar of civil rights. This was the war on drugs before there was one.
I was sitting a Macbeth Way Community Centre, we were in a medium sized room with a high ceiling and highly-polished white-tiled floors that continuously bounced sound from one hard surface to another, no matter how many people were in the room. It was a TAFE outreach class on governance being taught in the middle of a public housing estate in Rosemeadow, a suburb of South-Western Sydney.
A group of women from Macquarie Fields and Claymore were talking about a program that ABC’s Four Corners produced about the social housing estate in Claymore. The women were talking about how it is hard enough to come from Government housing estates and how much harder media coverage like the Four Corners program ‘Growing Up Poor’, made it for residents of the estates covered to find employment due to existing stigmas being confirmed and sensationalised. They felt by robbing them of their humanity and context the program left them to be judged as object. The residents of Claymore in my class continued, speaking of the invasive journalists who would hang out on their streets or around the shops trying to get residents to speak with them. “I wouldn’t talk to ’em,” one lady said, “I know what they want.” She’s speaking about a the portrayal of marginality that seems to be the lens through which we view poverty, the framing that forms the dominant discourse by which we discuss poverty and powerlessness.
So as public communicators, the subjectivity, lack of context and possible impacts of using the visual medium need to be explored to be employed responsibly and without undue negative impact on the subjects of the image. The image itself does not exist in a vacuum, and despite the intention of the photographer, journalist or film maker there is a world that exists before during and after the image is taken and then publicised. By using the work of Gordon Parks, a photographer, writer, poet and composer, who gained fame by photographing what he saw around him, poverty and the struggle for civil rights, we can look at this case and its impact.
Firstly let me just state that I do not wish to ignore that this discussion could easily be about the aestheticisation of poverty as Gordon Parks’ photographs are indeed beautiful. But here for this post I consciously chose to look at the experience of the individual, the intention and possible impacts on the practitioner, subjects and audience.
Gordon Parks was an African-American photographer who was born in 1912 and died in 2006. Parks was a black man in America. Born in Kansas and raised in Minnesota, he never finished school, worked as a waiter on the railway, in road gangs and many other forms of employment. Unable to afford education he did what he could. Inspired by photographs of the bombing of the “Panay” he saved up his money and bought a camera for seven dollars; it came with two rolls of film. He wanted to shoot fashion, which he did, but some of his most notable work came from the world directly around him, “the photographs that I made there [Chicago], aside from fashion, were the thing that I was trying to express in a social conscious way. I’d become sort of involved in things that were happening to people. No matter what color they be, whether they be Indians, or Negroes, the poor white person or anyone who was I thought more or less getting a bad shake. I, you know, thought I had the instinct toward championing the cause. I don’t know where it came from but… Possibly the cause was my own early poverty.” Parks (1964)
In 1961 LIFE magazine sent Parks to Rio de Janeiro to create a story focused on poverty in Latin America. To accomplish this Parks focused the photo essay on the family of Jose and Nair da Silva and their eight children.
LIFE showed its readers a frightening, brutal world where the da Silva children — and, by implication, countless others like them — spent their day “penned in their shack [built of tin cans and broken orange crates] or roaming the foul pathways of the favela where the filth of the inhabitants is tossed out to rot.” TIME LIFE (2012)
There’s an unromantic version here that LIFE magazine doesn’t speak about. But, Parks says in his autobiography Voices in the Mirror, “The detailed Life assignment in my back pocket was to find an impoverished father with a family, to examine his earnings, political leanings, religion, friends, dramas and his frustrations.” Parks (1990) So that’s what he did. In the same autobiography he explains his own motivations for wanting the assignment,
“I’ve never lost my fierce grudge against poverty. It is the most savage of all human afflictions, claiming victims who can’t mobilize their efforts against it, who often lack strength to digest what little food they scrounge up to survive. It keeps growing, multiplying, spreading like a cancer. In my wanderings I attack it wherever I can—in barios, slums and favelas.” Parks (1990)
Parks, sees himself as self-determining through exposing the ugly face of poverty. There is a conversation to be had though that in order to be allowed to photograph these topics in a way that he would be published, the subjects had to be shown through the lens of disgust and powerlessness. That by imposing himself on the de Silva family (the subject of the LIFE article), that he too was exploiting this family’s powerlessness, “José, the father, viewed us with skepticism. Nair, his pregnant wife, seemed beyond tired beyond speaking. Hardly acknowledging our presence… Later, when we got down to the difficult business of obtaining permission from José da Silva to photograph his family, he hemmed and hawed, wallowing in the pleasant authority of the decision maker. He finally gave in, but his manner told us that he expected something in return.” Parks (1990)
Parks goes on to create a relationship with the then twelve-year-old Flavio who is the eldest boy and a parental figure in the de Silva family. Flavio makes a sympathetic figure in the western press and is consequently ‘helped’. Brought to America to be cured of tuberculosis with the assistance of President Kennedy and the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver. The Life cover and article demonstrates how poverty has a value that makes the audience feel good about themselves in a way that is public and self congratulatory, “The Compassion of the Americans Brings a New Life for Favio” the article was titled. Parks made a film about Favio, writes and sponsors the boy in a way that was sustained throughout Parks’ life.
In an excerpt from the HBO documentary Half Past Autum: The Life and Work of Gordon Parks Parks returns to visit Flavio, who is now in his fifties with a family of his own. Everyone there is visibly moved, “Gordon Parks is really something that happened in my life and my brothers and sisters’ life, and my mother’s ” says Flavio, “it’s something important, it’s an act of a father. We kept in contact by writing letters and thinking in our minds, in his there and me here, it’s the way you keep in contact, just not forget the person.” Towards the end of that section of the documentary, Parks reflects on the real impact that their interaction had on Flavio:
“Age had fallen hard on Flavio da Silva’s head, neither time nor goodwill had overcome the poverty that still stalked him. The house was in shambles. Life‘s cover had portrayed Flavio smiling his thanks to those who saved him, but now it was clear that in molding human lives money alone was not enough.” Parks (1999)
This quote realises for Parks that after a life spent photographing, filming and writing about the plight of the poor, he realises that poverty is a problem that is bigger than money, it is a social problem not to be solved by publicity portraying them as victims, marginalised citizens and/or the powerless other.
According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics in 1960 the population of the favelas were 337 412, in the year 2000 it had risen to just over a million.
Maria Perlman is an anthropoligist who has spent her life studying the idea of the marginal community and the links between the social systems that support the existence of the myth of the other and the reasons for its existence. In The myth of marginality:urban poverty and politics in Rio de Janeiro, Perlman connects sustaining the the current ideology around ‘marginal’ communities as functionally convenient for the dominant political system. Her longitudinal research of the favela’s of Brasil points out many causal indicators for their existence that were never dealt with through looking at Life’s expose on poverty in Latin America.
The portrayal of the Savio’s and other residents of the favelas as ‘other’is problematic
Perlman writes, “My conclusion was that the favelados are not marginal, but inexorably integrated into society, albeit in a manner detrimental to their own interests. They are not separate from or on the margins of the system, but are tightly bound into it in a severely asymmetrical form.”
In Parks’ coverage of the Savio family the father was painted as a type of a villain, blaming him in a way for his family’s situation and standing in the way of Flavio being adopted in America and having a ‘better life’.
Perlman writes, “The ideology of marginality, with its moralistic “blaming the victim” narrative has persisted,” she goes on to explain how this ideology serves the dominant culture.
The coverage in the LIFE magazine article did not investigate the significant societal factors that led to the poor of Brazil in the 60’s and 70’s not being able to overcome their social and economic distress which were:
the dramatic loss of manufacturing in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan area, which left thousands of blue collar workers unemployed;
the consolidation of the physical space of the city and consequent reduction in construction jobs (which had been a mainstay for unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the boom of the 60s and 70s); Perlman (2005)
Perlman also lists: a downturn in domestic employment due to the financial insecurity of the middle-class; technological advances replacing jobs; higher education standards for job entry; increase in drug violence; and the stigma of living in a favela as a barrier to employment.
No person or society is an island, so it seems irresponsible to the subject to portray them as such. There is a direct correlation between portrayal and public opinion, “portrayals of poverty are important because they have an impact on public opinion.” says Rosalee Clawson and Rakuya Trice in a research study called Poverty as we know it:Media portrayals of the poor,
“In turn, public opinion has an impact on public policy (Page and Shapiro 1983). Thus, if attitudes on poverty-related issues are driven by inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of the poor, then the policies favored by the public (and political elites) may not adequately address the true problems of poverty.” Clawson & Trice (2000, p. 61) “Graber’s research on television suggest that themes are more memorable than verbal information (Graber 1990, 1991) Although news magazines are a very different medium than television, it is certainly possible that magazine photos capture the audience’s attention in the same way as television visuals. Psychological research suggests that vivid images of particular cases are more memorable and influential than dry statistical data (Fischhoff and Bar-Hillel 1984) a finding that is confirmed in the quantitative study Watchdog, voyeur or censure? An eye-tracking research study of graphic photographs in the news media which investigates peoples beliefs about American intervention in foreign countries after exposing research subjects to selected graphic images. Dahmen (2015)
This discussion is in no way meant to be exhaustive and there is no blanket way to control where, how and which images are released. But, a concerted effort by employers, educators and individuals to be aware of the real impacts that any information, specifically regarding the powerless has to impact lives that have very little recourse to fight. As shown by relating the Perlman article to the Life Magazine story, it would have been more socially responsible to educate their readers on the context around the images, possibly by showing through the images why the poverty existed in that place, rather than adhering to existing stereotypes of the filthy dirty poor, who are just there.
The Life article did encourage giving aid to South-America for a time, but it did not cure the employment, education, housing, drug or social stigma problems as they still exist is Rio de Janeiro today.
Clawson, RA & Trice, T 2000, ‘Poverty as we know it: Media portrayals of the poor’, Public Opinion Quarterly, vol.64, no.1, pp.53-64
At around eighteen-months of age I uttered my first sentence , “Mum, look at me!” Now at that age when brain development is still coming to terms with the self as a concept, children will often try to get their parents attention just to be witnessed in whatever activity they are engaged in or just to ask “do you see me?” Now so many years later my own children are at ages seven and ten and can still be heard saying “Mum, look at this.” or “Mum look what I can do.” with such regularity they are like my personal push function for sixteen hours a day. Our need to be witnessed in almost everything we do is seems to be so intrinsic to who we are as human beings that the selfie as a form of witnessing seems like a natural extension of a specific human need. A form of validation of the “I am here” or “look what I can do” drive.
Now let me be clear, this conversation around witnessing and the selfie is a tunnel visioned one only for the purpose of this discussion. The motivations behind the selfie movement are as diverse as the stars in the sky. This discussion of the motivation of witnessing and how it may relate to selfie taking and viewing is only exclusive for focus, not because it is unrelated or does not act in combination with any other behaviour.
The term ‘witness’ has many uses and meanings, but its use in this blog post will be in reference to its meaning as a discursive term, “of stating one’s experience for the benefit of an audience that was not present at the event and yet must make some kind of judgement about it. Witnesses serve as the surrogate sense-organs of the absent.” Peters 2001 (p.709)
I don’t believe for a second that the importance of being witnessed is purely a human concern. Many a David Attenborough special can be seen showing a male bird of paradise performing some spectacular choreography on the forest floor, or a baboon shaking their bare-ass at a mate, just waiting to be noticed. But, naturally humans took it a step or ten further, painting pictures of their daily activities on cave walls, making frescoes depicting their wealth and exploits or developing photography so that their likeness will continue long after the organic being is gone. Long before the term ‘selfie’ came about, people have been asking other people to take pictures of them as part of the environment.There is an importance around witnessing and being witnessed that the selfie can now fulfill with ease due to technological accessibility. It may be important to note here that the behavior appears to have remained constant with the medium changing or expanding due to technological advance.
In ‘Selfies: Witnessing and Participatory Journalism with a Point of View’ Michael Koliska and Jessica Roberts describe witnessing as “crucial to communication”, they say that “Before information can be shared or passed on to news audiences it has to be first acquired or witnessed.” They are referring in part to the essential nature of witnessing within the profession of journalism, but the principle could be applied to people’s need to be witnessed in their relationships, cultural activities and life events. The idea of “truth and experience, presence and absence” as well as “the trustworthiness of perception”(Peters, 2001, p.707) (2015 p.)
At the age of fourteen I spent two months in traction in Wollongong hospital. A girlfriend had decided to have a bit of fun and scare me by jumping beside me as we jumped from the rocks at the ‘grotto’ in North-Nowra and into the Shoalhaven river. As often happens when kids decide to do something stupid, something went wrong and a broken left femur was the consequence. After two months in hospital I had lost all concept of my face. It sounds strange, but how I looked was not part of my sense of self at that time due to spending two months without a mirror.
I remember seeing my face for the first time in two months, the pallor of my skin , the shape of my face, my blue eyes looking back at me deep and alive. Maybe it was shaped by the idea of Narcissus staring into the water entranced by his own reflection, but our mirror image has always fascinated us. As if we can find clue to our true identity there, hidden away in the upturn of our mouths. My eyes tracing the newly unfamiliar features of my face, my visual identity slowly returning and with it the awareness of how I witnessed myself and how my external presence was witnessed. It gave me insight into how image is present in the construction of the self.
In her paper “Bringing sexy back: reclaiming the body aesthetic via self-shooting”, Katrin Tiidenberg discusses how our stories of bodies and sexuality have often relied of images to discover or create their truth. In reference to the role of selfies in constructing the self Tiidenberg says, “Traditionally photographs were seen as showing us the reality (cf.Bogdan & Biklen, 2003); according to Rose (2001), some historians of photography have argued, that the use of photographs in a specific regime of truth (Foucault, 1977), resulted in photos being seen as evidence of “what was really there”” Tiidenberg (2014 p.2) She goes on to discuss how this is no longer a prevalent view among visual scholars, that photographs are now seen as a ‘negotiated reality’. Tiidenberg however contests the idea of ‘negotiated reality’ particularly in the case of sexuality and candid shots, saying that in the case of candid photography it can be a case of the individual taking back the right to tell their own story of self, “According to Lasen and Gomez-Cruz: “self-portraits seem to be taking part in embodiment processes and in the shaping and knowing of the self” (2009, p. 206). Taking an active role in one’s sexual storytelling through both, images and text, can serve as empowering exhibitionism that allows us to “reclaim a copyright to our lives” by rejecting the “regime of order and the regime of shame” (Koskela, 2004, p. 206-207) or an act of “self-storying as activism” (Crawley & Broad, 2004, p. 68 as cited in Sheff, 2005). Tiidenberg (2014, p.2)
Selfies as a form of witnessing is a fairly new area of exploration particularly in relation to citizen and professional journalism. In the era of fake news journalists have been using selfies as tools of credibility of their witnessing of events and by extension validating their experience. This is another form of self-storying and places the journalist in a position of power by exhibiting their role as witness to their audience, but also as validation for the self.
So, despite the relatively new term of ‘selfie’ and the popular obsession of discussing it in a predominantly negative light. As the discussion progresses and accusations of narcissism are cast aside by psychologists who have a solid understanding on the psychological drives of the disorder, the behaviour of reflecting the self back to the self and exhibiting it to others will gain perspective. The behavior is not really new as evidenced by Foucault and other scholars (some discussed here), even though the medium is. Perhaps the focus could be brought to how the conversation or manifestation of self images changes in content, use and impact according to accessibility. Perhaps the objections and uproar of how the self is being portrayed through selfie is due to the possibility of wider distribution and its different temporal relationship to us than that of its predecessors thanks to the immediacy of the technology.
Durham Peters, J, 2001, ‘Witnessing’, Media, Culture and Society, vol.23, p.p.707-723, University of Iowa, Iowa City, SAGE Publications, London
Hall, K, (2016), ‘Selfies and self-writing: Cue card confessions as social media technologies of the self’, Television and New Media, Vol.17, No.3, p.p.228-242
Koliska, M & Roberts, J, (2015), ‘Selfies: Witnessing and participatory Journalism with a point of view, International Journal of Communication, Vol. 9, p.p.1672-1685, University of Maryland USA, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China
Tiidenberg, K, (2014), ‘Bringing sexy back: Reclaiming the body aesthetic via self shooting’, Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, Vol.8, No.1, Article.3
I thought I’d get a jump on blogging and start practicing for all those coming blog assignments.
First tute Dr Nicola Evans, a fresh faced and soft spoken woman who has the most delightful accent, started us off. “The average life of a web page is 100 days.” She began citing issues that are coming to the fore as a consequence of the temporal nature of new technologies and the speed at which they rise and fall. Many case’s legal notes that are citing URL’s as their references are finding that the links have disappeared.
Instantly my mind jumps to Orwellian ideas, where changing what is recorded in the past and making history appear as you wish it to be today becomes reality.
And so the discussion in this subject instantly tied with my other subject’s lectures that week and started a snowball effect in my overactive mind. One of the emerging issues is really an old issue, now with greater capability for healing and/or damage; the mediated message.
Anyone can start a news website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account etc, there is little to no accountability, I’m not saying their needs to be more. But with such a high amount of information being viewed everyday it’s not easy for the average person to wade through it and to come out with a story that is not a product of someone else’s agenda.
The powerless still have a problem of accessibility and it is up to the powerful to tell their stories. But for what purpose?
For instance here is a discussion between journalists about what is happening in Syria. There are many stakeholders in this discussion. There are accusations about the White Helmets, there are accusations about false stories coming from aid organisations. Unless you are on the ground in eastern-Aleppo you are stuck with the task of wading through a wide range of second, third, fourth, tenth hand information that is contradictory and obviously has become the play thing of multiple stakeholders.
Much like economics, much like policy or climate change the mediated message has gained volume, speed and access in a way that can influence the way that large populations of people think about an issue.
My first ideas for a focused research area is the way that NGO’s working abroad use technology as a way of promotion and possible proliferation of a mediated message or propaganda. My father has a lot of interesting things to say about the Red Cross during Vietnam and there is now documented evidence of their role in WW2. It may be interesting to compare the enabling of aid organisations as false fronts for government propaganda versus their advertised role.
One of the things that I decided in past semesters was that deciding on a topic in the first couple of weeks and starting the planning and reading phase would be of most benefit. So this is me making good on that.
Am still stupidly excited to be back asking the pressing questions of our time (which I have a fleeting suspicion will be the same as 2000 years ago). This is my last core communications topic, and if my brain flow is anything to judge by, it promises to be one hell of a ride.
Last week I watched a shocking video of bombs falling in Aleppo in Syria. Children were left dead or maimed, husbands cradled their dead wives while in the street old men screamed at the sky. I cried. I was viewing the video on Facebook. So I pressed share and wrote a heartfelt plea to my community to watch the footage that can not be seen on commercial media. My Facebook community is highly responsive to everything, so it caught my attention when only one person reacted to the video. When I went looking through my feed, the video has disappeared.
A deleted post might not seem like a big deal, but it’s not the first time that things that are political or difficult to watch have disappeared from my timeline, or have not appeared in my friends feeds after I have shared them. Got me thinking about how much our online social networks are censored or engineered.
Three days ago I was met with an onslaught of panicked posts as I opened my news and twitter apps. News companies were having public anxiety attacks over Facebook changing their algorithm to favour friends over news. Apparently many media companies had changed their business models over the years to depend almost completely on Facebook for distribution.
The public isn’t always right — and that’s the Facebook algorithm’s fatal flaw for journalists – Medium https://t.co/jNgyrUgcby
Then today blew up twitter and news feeds with another Facebook censorship story. Facebook is accused to deleting the accounts and stories of several Palestinian journalists. Al Jazeera detailed the accounts involved and the apology by Facebook, ‘Our team processes millions of reports each week, and we sometimes get things wrong. We’re very sorry about this mistake.’Hyatt (2016) Al Jazeera suggested a reason for Facebook’s involvement in the deletion of many Palestinian journalist’s account may have a legal answer.
‘Over the summer, an Israeli legal advocacy group – connected to the Israeli army and intelligence agencies -filed a $1bn lawsuit against Facebook claiming the company was violating the US Anti-Terrorism Act by providing services that assist groups in “recruiting, radicalising and instructing terrorists.’
This is not a Facebook only censorship issue, as referred to by digital freedom advocate Rebecca MacKinnon in her TED talk ‘Let’s take back the internet’, it’s is symptomatic of the issues that occur when a corporate body is given the role of public governance when there is a monetary interest at the fore. McKinnon also shows how living in China for much of her career as CNN Beijing Bureau chief and time spent studying Taiwan as a Fullbright scholar which has increased her understanding of censorship of the internet as a new problem of the global society as it departs from the sovereign state.
‘We have a situation where private companiesare applying censorship standardsthat are often quite arbitraryand generally more narrowthan the free speech constitutional standardsthat we have in democracies.Or they’re responding to censorship requestsby authoritarian regimesthat do not reflect consent of the governed.Or they’re responding to requests and concernsby governments that have no jurisdictionover many, or most, of the users and viewerswho are interacting with the content in question.
So here’s the situation.In a pre-Internet world,sovereignty over our physical freedoms,or lack thereof,was controlled almost entirelyby nation-states.But now we have this new layerof private sovereigntyin cyberspace.And their decisions about software coding,engineering, design, terms of serviceall act as a kind of lawthat shapes what we can and cannot do with our digital lives.And their sovereignties,cross-cutting, globally interlinked,can in some wayschallenge the sovereignties of nation-statesin very exciting ways,but sometimes also actto project and extend itat a time when controlover what people can and cannot dowith informationhas more effect than everon the exercise of powerin our physical world.’Mackinnon, R (2011)
Benjamin Jackson raises the same issue in his article ‘Censorship and freedom of expression in the age of Facebook’, explaining that social media companies are presenting something of a conundrum as private companies are not covered by the 1st Amendment (USA), ‘The prospect of censorship on social network websites is especially troubling because it is unclear whether the First Amendment provides any protections for communications on social network websites.’ Jackson (2014, p.121)
Facebook’s mission states their mission as,
But, being a global private company, just like it’s peers—such as Google—they are under no real obligation to create a space where information is truly free. Meeting a need for end users and other stake holders while staying financially viable would be of the up most importance. Facebook like Google is not a democracy…they are a private companies. As with anything new in our world the legislation is retroactive. Possibly that places ‘us’ the users in a powerful position to make our voice heard and press for a level of censorship (or no censorship) that everyone is comfortable with. Either that or wait for the separate sovereign states to exert their control on a technology who’s greatest benefit and vision was the free exchange of information on a global level.
I’ll finish with a quote from a journal article by Sadja Qureshi speaking on the possibilities of networking to empower people,
‘Access to other individuals with similar thoughts and ideas is made possible through the Internet. Combined with the power of social networks and cellphones, people can have access to the people and resources they need to go about achieving better livelihoods. The social revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and the Occupy Wall Street movement that went global, illustrate how these networks of change are enabling information to be disseminated instantaneously, transforming perceptions of the world we live in. Castells (2012) states that “when societies fail in managing their structural crises by the existing institutions, change can only take place… by a transformation of power relations that starts in people’s minds” (p. 228). He adds that the Internet is a “privileged platform for the social construction of autonomy.” This means that individuals can define their actions around projects that meet their values, and interests independently of social institutions (Castells, 2012).’ Qureshi (2013, p.98)
Taking into account the transformative power of a openly networked population, is it any wonder that institutions are grappling through governments, corporations and courts to gain control of this new global plane.
Carr, M 2013 ‘Internet freedom human rights power’, Australian Journal of International Affairs’, vol.67, no.5, p.p.621-637
Qureshi, S 2013, ‘Networks of change, shifting power from institutions to people: how are innovations in the use of information and communication technology transforming development?’, Information Technology for Development, vol.19, no.2, p.p. 97-99
Let me be honest, I’m only halfway through reading Nick Couldry’s article ‘Constructing a digital story circle: digital infrastructure and mutual recognition’. But, I know what I want to research for Media, Audience & Place, therefore I will put digital pen to digital paper now, while I am still filled with the spirit.
As usual, in an effort to be reflexive in the foundation and inspiration for my research I will submit two examples if I may. Which will also start some sort of narrative.
John Pilger filmed a documentary called ‘The War Behind the War’. The documentary exemplifies how during the Iraq War the commercial media in the UK, USA and Australia was complicit in creating a false identity for the allied forces by reporting propaganda and censoring what information was broadcast to the public. So the media was framed in a way that was not objective or balanced. And we are still experiencing the fallout from that in the form of Islamophobia as we were not allowed to feel compassion for the Iraqi people, or to see them as human.
Of the many outcomes of this misinformation is cultural identities being changed or upheld in both a negative and positive capacity.
My Dad lives in Tennessee, so you can imagine that when I visit from Australia, I’m something of a novelty. When I would go to shop or talk to people on the street, after the shocked “Oh my God! Where are you from?” I informed them that I was from Australia (Austria? No Australia), I would immediately be greeted with “OH! Just like in Crocodile Dundee”, yeah.
The phenomenon that I’m steering towards is the ability of television, film and other medias to create identities globally, real or imagined.
The Research Proposal
Taking this idea of media creating identities and making it specific to minority identities. Using peoples memories I would like to create a story circle with people from different minority communities. Using their their memories and experience of media overtime to create a narrative on how the portrayal or absence portrayal off the minority group affects them. Nick Couldry explains how, ‘Three main dimensions of a digital storycircle are explored: multiplications, spatializations (or the building of narrative around sets of individual narratives), and habits of mutual recognition.’Couldry (2013, p.1) I will do this by also including the experiences and memories of members of the dominant culture in relation to the media’s portrayal of minority cultures.
As part of the narrative existing data, such as the research study quoted below, will be used to supplement my small research project. I’ll be sourcing other projects from around the world with larger sample sizes.
Research findings using college students’ perceptions have consistently
shown that negative exposure to African American portrayals in the media
significantly influences the evaluations of African Americans in general (Ford,
earch has shown that Black depictions on television have an effect on view-
ers of all ages and of all races (Bryant & Zillmann, 1994; Dates, 1980). Punyanunt-Carter (2008, p.242)
The way minorities are portrayed on television, film and other media has changed over time is an important facet of research. The below study looked at white peoples reactions to watching black comedy, ‘Stereotypical television portrayals of African-Americans in a humorous context increase the likelihood that whites will perceive an African-American target person in a stereotypical manner.’ Ford (1997, p.266) So there are some very clear studies showing the impact of the portrayals of minorities on audiences.
This cartoon today is so offensive to me. But, it would be interesting to have the discussion with someone who has the capability relaying a history. It may even be interesting to make a compilation of scenes of television and film over time and have my subjects give their impressions of each one.
Looking at how violated do minority people feel in their own homes may be a point of discussion. Do they turn off certain music or advertising because of the portrayal of minorities? What do they let their children watch? Why? If they have white friends or family over, do they watch different things in order to not offend?
Given that this will be a small study I will have to make it smaller and more specific. I do think that affect of minority portrayals on media on audience identity or perception there of it is a worthy area of media research.
Couldry, N, Macdonald, R, Stephansen, H, Clark, W, Aristea, L, Aristea, F, 2015, ‘Constructing a digital storycircle: digital infrastructure and mutual recognition’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, p.p.1-29
Ford, TE, 1997,’Effects of stereotypical television portrayals of African-Americans on person perception’, Social Psychology Quarterly, vol.60, no.3, p.p.266-278
Punyanunt-Carter, NM 2008,’The perceived realism of African American portrayals on television’, The Howard Journal of Communication, vol.19, no.3, p.p.241-257
So, whilst using the bathroom about 30 minutes ago (too much information, I understand), my beige vision of the cubicle door was interrupted by a wordy poster asking for participants for a research project. It’s not unusual to find such a poster in a university campus cubicle, I guess they figure they have a captive audience. Due to a recent discussion re: ethics and methodologies around research, this one caught my eye.
According to to the poster, the research team (with ethics approval) are studying dietary habits and will require you to take a 30-45 minute questionnaire and an interview of the same length. There was no reward or outcome stated, no clue as to what the research could be used for. So as far as I know it could be used to improve the lifestyle and eating habits for the good of all mankind OR it could be used to give McDonalds a new angle for marketing their latest an greatest to an unsuspecting population, already plagued with obesity and other malnutrition related disease. Unmoved to record the details of the project I politely flushed and went on my way.
This happy accident (I’m referring to seeing the poster) came immediately after my finishing ABC’s Four Corners documentary Growing Up Poor. I had never seen the documentary but, as a resident of Campbelltown LGA, I have sat in courses with women from the community of Claymore NSW, the area which was the topic of the documentary. These women over the years, have spoken at length about the media coverage that their area has received, and how they felt that it had added to their struggle as well as to their children’s perception of their own disadvantage. And was not a balanced portrayal of their community.
Both these encounters have made me think hard about the liberties that we as researchers and journalists take with other peoples time and/or lives. Sometimes quite irresponsibly not taking into account the value of other peoples time. And the possible fall out into the lives of people, not only those we are engaging with but the wider community. A ripple effect if you please, that may not be what was intended, but never the less is coke bottle that we leave behind for someone else to swallow.
It should be a matter of vigilance and consciousness of those who dare to act on another’s behalf without be asked by the party being acted upon. Let us not forget all those children seized from their parents across the world. The stolen generations who were ‘better off’ not being left with their indigenous community. So much of what we do including small projects on weight gain, are birthed through the eye glass of privilege and/or power. Isn’t it time that we put down the eye glass and just sat together in the grass with our shoes off, ready to listen and grow?