Monthly Archives: May 2014

Misrepresentation and the Media

It seems that the topic of refugees and asylum seekers is one of the most disputed political issues in Australia. The media plays a huge role in the framing of asylum seekers particularly through dehumanising visual representations. As an Australian, how many times have you seen dramatic images in the media of asylum seekers arriving on Aussie shores by boat? Does this make you feel threatened? Should Australia be worried? I mean we are surrounded by ocean… that makes us more vulnerable to the hoards of refugees trying to bombard our golden shores right?

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These exasperated claims can all be logically examined with simple facts and figures. I mean Australia receives approximately three per cent of the total asylum claims made in industrialised countries globally… three… per cent (UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2012). So why do a
good portion of Aussies seem to ‘flip out’ over the issue of ‘boat people’. The media shapes public opinion; it has the power to create moral panic over certain issues. Media representations play a crucial factor on the publics opinion of political issues, I mean the general publics knowledge of political issues is unavoidably and inherently mediated. A survey by McKay, Thomas, and Kneebone showed that ‘most respondents have limited accurate knowledge about asylum seeking issues, with knowledge highly dependent on media reporting’ (2012:128).

Images and visual representations in the media can hold a great power over viewers. They provide a snapshot of the situation being discussed; they tend to linger in the mind of the audience and can shape their emotional responses. So how are refugees being visually displayed in Australian media and to what extent does this affect this diaspora of refugees?

In the past decade the amount of media coverage on asylum seekers in Australia has experienced drastic rises and falls. This relates to events and catastrophes overseas as well as events domestically, like elections. I am sure most Australians can place a time when the issue of refugees and asylum seekers dominated national news. During these times the Australian audience was flooded with images and stories of ‘boat people’. These images usually featured large groups of asylum seekers arriving by boat. How does this representation influence our interpretation?

Australia Malaysia Refugees

Social-psychological studies have actually shown that close-up individual portraits are more likely  to evoke compassion in their viewers, while shots of large groups creates emotional distance. The  Australian mainstream media tends to be framing the issue of asylum seekers as less of a  humanitarian disaster and more of a security or border control threat (Jenni and Loewenstein,  (1997). This has created something of a moral panic within certain demographics of the Australian public, as they are misinformed or uneducated on the truth of the situation.

The power that the media can have over the response to certain issues (especially politically) can be demonstrated by the sympathetic reporting on Kosovo refugees in the late 90’s. In comparison, with the angle taken in many stories on asylum seekers today, Kosovar refugees were framed as the victims of terrible war crimes. Close up’s of women and children were often featured. This sparked a wave of donations and help from Western governments and humanitarian agencies.

refugees54_1jalica1_websRefugee camp fire in Podgorica

The Australian media often frames certain diasporas in a negative light. This could be the result of politics and media control. Whatever the reason many Australians are being misinformed and uneducated on this important topic. This problem now needs to be tackled from the bottom up, through citizen agency and through citizen media. Local and community media creation can be an engaging and active way to bring awareness to certain issues. If exercised properly it can also be a great way for those misrepresented diasporas to voice their stories and opinions. In a perfect world the mainstream media might actually tell the truth and report stories in a completely neutral light… but this world is far from perfect, so don’t believe everything you see on TV, ok?

Jenni, K.E. and Loewenstein, G. 1997 ‘Explaining the identifiable victim effect’, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 14: 235–57.

Mares, P 2002 ‘Reporting Australia’s asylum seeker “crisis’, Australian Policy Online http://apo.org.au/commentary/reporting-australias-asylum-seeker-crisis

Salazar, J.F 2012 ‘Digital Stories and emerging citizens: media practices by migrant youth in Western Sydney’ Journal of Community, Citizens and Third Sector Media and Communication, Issue 7

 

 

 

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China vs. Hollywood

Hollywood has always been dominant in terms of the Transnational Movie Industry, with American studios like Paramount, Fox and Warner Brothers conquering the international market. Alas, this could all be about to change. As Globalization provides new opportunities more competitors are stepping into the ring. Driven by the Internet, satellite networks, cable TV and DVD distribution, Asian production centres are continually drawing on cultural hybridity to meet the rising demand for glocalised content within globalized distribution networks. Through cultural hybridity and glocalisation, homogenising forces associated with cultural imperialism (like Hollywood) may potentially be overthrown. We are beginning to see the blurring of the modern and traditional, the high and low culture and the national with the global. Creating a new era of film.

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Globalisation doesn’t just mean the expansion of larger film industries like Hollywood and Bollywood, but also potential for the expansion for less global industries. In 2009 the annual revenue of American films reached $29.9 billion, of which $10.6 billion was generated from the U.S, while $19.3 billion was generated from an international market. China makes up a predominant sector of the international market, and is the third largest film industry in the world. However is still struggling to penetrate global markets, especially those of Western countries.

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China has abundant national resources for both domestic and global growth within its film industry. 5000 years of recorded history on events and ancient civilizations would surely inspire a whole lot of storylines. Many American movies have been inspired by Chinas rich culture and folklore.

Disney’s 1998 ‘Mulan’ is overloaded with Chinese images that satisfy a Western audiences stereotypical vision of Chinese culture. This film is an example of a movie that has taken or borrowed from Chinese culture, and then hybridized the content to suit a wider target audience. The film features calligraphy, The Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Chinese Gardens, Lanterns, chopsticks, Lion Dances and dumplings. Cultural translation also occurs in this film. This refers to the process in which film directors consider audiences living in different cultural backgrounds, and then Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 10.13.36 AMtransform the original value of the cultural text into a new form recognizable to a different audience. In this case Mulan has taken Asian values, such as filial piety and obedience, and transferred them into Westernized values like individualism and feminism. For example Mulan should be a compliant girl who obeys and wishes to obtain honour for her family. She is however an unruly teenager who disobeys her parents.

Cultural Hybridity is not only gaining momentum but also complexity. The motives behind film adaptations from certain cultures can range from marketing motives to authentic cultural representations. The progression of the transnational film industry is certainly going to be an interesting one to watch.

Schaefer, D, Karan, K 2010, ‘Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows’, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 309-316.

Huiqun, L 2010, ‘Opportunities and challenges of globalization for the Chinese film industry’, Global Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 323 – 328.

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Walk the line: comedy and racial stereotypes

Representations of race in the media often consist of the same sort of rigid stereotypes that constitute gender portrayal. While gender is considered a touchy subject in the media it seems that the stereotyping of race can be even more harmful. In countries like Australia a wide demographic of the population bases their views and opinions of different ethnic groups from the medias representations. Racial stereotypes are often based on social myths that are perpetuated generationally from parents to their children. So for some, the media provides the only alternative set of cultural depictions. If these media depictions of ethnicity are riddled with narrow and unchallenged prejudices both children and adults are going to hold these stereotypes true.

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The need for a more accurate portrayal of racial diversity should be a priority for political agendas, however as always changes can often take a great deal of time to filter down through the media. Many TV programmes and films depict lazy racial stereotypes. Some are criticised and some are overtly accepted usually by the dominant race, which when discussing prominent media (sorry to generalise) is usually Caucasian Westerners. For the media, discussing race can be like walking on eggshells, but for comedians (especially when discussing their own race) there seems to be a greater acceptance for light-hearted discussion. Could comedy be a great way to bring important issues regarding race into the public sphere of discussion? Or are the jokes still just playing off and perpetuating racial prejudices?

Stand-up comedy can be a great way to have an extended and direct conversation with an audience. Good comics can employ laughter to survive and understand pain, to explore obscenity, taboos and stereotypes. However when discussing issues like race and ethnicity there is a fine line between making fun of stereotypes and perpetuating them. Dave Chappelle’s comedy is almost centrally based around the discussion of black stereotypes in the U.S and the irrational fears that drive the willingness to believe such stereotypes. Dave Chappelle cleverly illustrates the relationship between black racial stereotypes and the people that believe and conceive them. This is a tough line to walk, for all comedians. Chappelle himself began to wonder wether his audiences were laughing at him rather than with him, and wether they were missing the larger points of his comedy, which he expressed when he walked off stage at one of his shows.

So if it’s all in good fun, what’s the big deal? Perhaps part of the problem comes from the creators? Assuming we live in a post-racial society where these stereotypes no longer have power. Or maybe the issue is with audiences? Their inability to separate between what is comedy and where there is perhaps a greater meaning… a greater discussion to be had. Maybe as audiences we need to ask a little more of mainstream entertainment… should we expect our humourists to challenge conventional ideas? Should we just expect offence as a by-product? Comedians have the means to challenge us, to make us think a little more about nonsense we willingly believe. I believe comedy has an important role to play in breaking down racial stereotypes, but it represents only a smaller part of the solution to disintegrate these perpetuated prejudices all too common in our society.

 

Duabe, M 2011 ‘Laughter in revolt: Race, ethnicity, and identity in the construction of stand-up comedy’ Udini, accessed May 8 2014 – http://udini.proquest.com/view/laughter-in-revolt-race-ethnicity-goid:305230275/

Levine, A 2012 ‘Racial Comedy and Dave Chappelle’ accessed May 6 2014 – http://predoc.org/docs/index-144688.html

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Representations of the female victim

Traditional media continues to play a crucial role in the way the world perceives women. Representations and scripts relating to gender in the media are complicated and while some distinguish them as realistic they don’t represent the world directly. There are many stereotypes and widely circulated ideas and assumptions about sex and gender within our society, however today I would like to focus on the representation of the female victim in the media.

I am sure everyone has heard of Law & Order: SVU. If you haven’t, it’s an American television show that centres on the investigators in the Special Victims Unit, who primarily work on cases related to sexual assault, rape and violence against women. With this in mind you’re probably thinking there is gonna be a whole lot of representations, scripts and stereotypes in this juicy media text. While this is partly true, it’s actually the lack of representation these female victims get that’s disturbing. We all know the storyline; masked stranger attacks woman at night while they are walking in the city. The victim is usually found dead, stripped naked, covered in bruises/gashes or horribly mutilated. We get some close up shots of said mutilated body in the morgue, some info on how the victim died… and that’s usually it in terms of her visual representation.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 14images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The investigators then piece together her life from odds and ends in her apartment and stories from her family and friends. As the investigators begin to track down the perpetrator (usually male) many significant details about his life come to surface. As for the female victim…  well she kind of just fades into the background.

The problem with this scenario is that a masked stranger in a dark alleyway doesn’t commit most sexual assaults. About 2/3rds of the assaults are committed by someone the victim or survivor knows (Trask 2014). It seems that a lot of television and films that feature rape follow the same script when referencing a sexual assault. This seems to be where the media is failing victims and survivors. The assault in question is usually a catalyst for another action, just a small piece in the plot. Of course I am making generalisations here and am mostly referring to your stereotypical American crime shows, but these representations of rape victims and survivors in the media are still prevalent.

If the effects of sexual assault on the victim were explored further in shows like Law and Order: SVU do you think it would make a difference? Sexual assault certainly attracts media attention, but is the way it’s being represented helping or hindering the case? Have a look at this new campaign against sexual assault that doesn’t feature any rape victims or survivors. Do you think this is a fresh perspective? Does this make you want to respond? Would you be more inclined to respond if it did feature the victim… or do you prefer Daniel Craig?

 

 

 

 

Trask, Ellen (2014) ‘Why Sexual Violence on “Law and Order” Represents No One’ feminspire 

NewsOne (2011) ‘Four Black Female Victims the Media Portrayed as Villains

Khan, Sameera and Phadke, Shilpa (2013). ‘Where Can We Have Some Fun?’. The Indian Express

 

 

 

 

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