The Breakdown of Civility: Public Discussion of the Crisis in Masculinity and the Nuance of Cultural Representation
Peter Lunt (University of Leicester, UK)
Have the various well-meaning attempts by public service broadcasters to create contexts in which divergent voices can be heard, differences aired, and debates joined broken down in the face of the online cacophony of voices and the rivalries of recent culture wars? The BBC’s discussion programme The Big Questions flips the conventions of talking heads, talk shows and programmes that bring power to account and create a genre fed by the dispersed conflicts, statements, abusers and victims of the Twittersphere and the podcast universe. The venerable BBC tries to tame the new liquid forms of contestation and debate in programmes that are dominated by online provocateurs, skilled in the arts of verbal adversary who effortlessly break the bounds of factual broadcasting genres that aim to give space to people to have their say on difficult and controversial questions. In this paper I use the example of three programmes on the BBC that constitute a theme across The Big Questions linking the crisis of masculinity, toxic masculinity, and asking whether social media reveal men’s hatred for women. The programmes intensify difference and hostile, dismissive rhetoric in a context that places voicers usually dispersed online into co-presence with interesting but problematic results that demonstrate the limits of talk as therapy, storytelling and mode of resolution. What is said appears to be less about the important and substantive questions related to masculinity and more about contesting ownership and asserting the rules of public debate itself - occupying the television studio and exploding its’ potential.
Peter Lunt is a Professor in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, UK. He has previously held academic posts at the University of Kent, University College London, and Brunel University and has been a visiting lecturer at the LSE, SPS in Cambridge, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, Notre Dame (London Programme) and the University of Oslo. His research interests include media audiences, public participation in popular culture (talk shows and reality TV), media regulation, consumption research and the links between media and social theory. Recently, he has been engaged in media policy research focusing on the changing regime of regulation of media and communications in the UK through a study of the work of Ofcom. The findings and ideas from this research (funded by the ESRC) have been published in a number of papers and appear in the book (with Sonia Livingstone) Media Regulation: Governance in the Interests of Citizens and Consumers published by Sage in 2011.
Communication Breakdown: Misinformation and the Need for Media Reform
Simon Dawes (Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ), France)
The emergence of so called ‘fake news’ and disinformation has understandably given cause for concern in liberal democracies whose legitimacy depends on the ability of the public to access reliable information and to participate in rational, informed debate. Measures to deal with this threat have been controversial, however, with state intervention to decide on the limit between real and fake news raising alarm bells for an even more fundamental threat to media freedom, and with the liberal media’s own attempts to fact-check online rumours and political claims doing little to address the public’s weariness with being condescended by elites.
To avoid the temptation of falling back on simplistic defences of the status quo, such issues need to be addressed in the context of the lack of public trust in information more generally, and, more specifically, in mainstream journalism and politics. While ‘fake news’ and (deliberate, false) disinformation are clear threats, the logic behind them is no different from the fundamentally flawed logic behind the more respectable liberal public sphere – that the public interest can somehow be fulfilled by the unrestrained pursuit of private interests. Within the effectively unregulated (largely right-wing and tabloid) press in the UK, for instance, we are fed a regular supply of stories that are not only not in the public interest or that constitute violations of privacy, but which are based on false information and lies. Less obviously, there is also the threat posed by those institutions that still offer a veneer of respectability – such as the independent liberal newspaper, The Guardian, and the supposedly neutral and objective public service broadcaster, the BBC – but which are also responsible for spreading misinformation (misleading news stories and distortions of facts).
This paper will argue that the threat posed by disinformation can only be adequately addressed by a simultaneous consideration of misinformation, in the context of a wider debate on the need for fundamental media reform. Without such a holistic approach to independent regulation, attempts to combat ‘fake news’ will do little to restore public trust in liberal democracy or to enable the public sphere.
Simon Dawes is a Maître de conférences (Senior Lecturer) at Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ), France. He is the author of British Broadcasting and the Public-Private Dichotomy: Neoliberalism, Citizenship and the Public Sphere (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and co-editor (with Marc Lenormand) of Neoliberalism in Context: Governance, Subjectivity and Knowledge (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is also the founding editor of the open access journal, Media Theory.
Breaking Down the Text: Textual Analysis as a Method in Film and Television Studies
Christine Geraghty (Glasgow University, UK)
Textual analysis is one of the key methods of media and cultural studies and also a much criticised one: the ‘cultural’ turn, ‘historical’ turn, the turn to audiences, the ‘spatial’ turn, the production turn have all been premised on a move away from textual analysis. Yet, since my first work on narrative and soaps, textual analysis is a method I have used and returned to over many years and in this presentation, I want to reflect on how I have used textual analysis and whether it still
Analysis almost by definition involves breaking down a created work/a cultural moment/a production situation/ a set of audience responses into parts in order to analyse it more clearly, make patterns and connections and make our work more manageable. Textual work, in particular, can be seen as destructive, pulling apart the connections that hold the work together, destroying the organic wholeness which contributes to the pleasure of the text. In the 1970’s, critical theory provided a new underpinnings for traditional textual analysis, both through the structuralist methods of breaking the text up into smaller and smaller elements and the ‘deconstruction’ model which sought for and lauded texts which held the seeds of their own destruction, the key that would turn the text against itself.
This approach led me to texts that were sometimes jagged and incoherent, to melodramatic texts and to adaptations that took moved across media. Examples I will discuss could be the film adaptation from theatre of The Knack . . . and how to get it (1965), the adaptation of Dickens in BBC’s Bleak House (2005) and the BBC soap opera EastEnders (1985).
My presentation will also consider the modes of textual analysis that have emerged in the work developed to analyse 21st century examples of US ‘quality’ drama. I will argue that such analysis has privileged coherence, evaluation and authorship although I will use the example of The Wire (2002-2008) to suggest a different approach could be taken. I would hope that in the discussion we could consider whether textual analysis is now a fruitful method for the analysis of dramas which attempt to construct complete narrative worlds online, of immersive dramas and games formats or other works of media in digital culture. Or might we conclude that this mode of analysis has itself broken down?
Christine Geraghty is an Honorary Professorial Fellow (University of Glasgow), having previously held posts at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She publishes on film and television with a particular interest in fiction and form. Her first analysis of television serial narrative appeared in the BFI’s monograph Coronation Street (Dyer et al (eds)) in 1981. Subsequent books include Women and Soap Opera (Polity, 1991); British Cinema in the Fifties (Routledge, 2000), Now a Major Motion Picture: Film Adaptations of Literature and Drama (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008) and the BFI TV Classic, Bleak House (Palgrave 2012). More recent work includes essays on Atonement (2007), The Knack (1965) and on British cinema as a Literary Cinema. Her most recent research is exploring colour-blind casting in British cinema. She is on the editorial board of the Journal of British Cinema and Television and on the advisory boards of a number of journals, including Adaptation and Screen and is Book Reviews editor for Critical Studies in Television.
Misunderstanding Media Literacy: the Challenge of Developing Appreciative Inquiry
Joke Hermes (Inholland University, Netherlands)
Breaking down, as in deconstruction, was and quite possibly still is the preferred means to deliver media critique. Surprisingly its dominant mode of delving beneath the surface, of questioning appearances became accepted method for many forms of media literacy training from the 1990s onwards. Over the past decade in the humanities deconstructivist approaches have been criticized for neglecting affect and embodiment in (everyday) meaning making. Now that such criticism has, even more unexpectedly, been strengthened by the use of the same type of approach to texts by alt-right and alt-light conspiracy thinking, deconstructivist method itself needs breaking down to come to not just a new method but a new programme for dealing with mediated content in a world overcrowded with suggestions about what is really going on 'out there'. The paper will focus on appreciative inquiry and how its uses for popular fiction might provide means to talk about how we deal with factual media and 'truth'. The grand claim here is that such an effort will help depolarize and literally break down the political and ideological controversies that currently tear apart democratic societies.
Joke Hermes is a reader in Media, Culture & Citizenship at Inholland University, Netherlands. She is also affiliated with the Media Studies department at the University of Amsterdam. Her research meets the growing need for insights into how the creative industry can contribute to putting social issues on the agenda and solving social problems, with an emphasis on diversity and the shifting dividing line between creators and users of creative products and services. She is an active researcher who develops practice-based research that focuses on participant design and audience research. Additionally, she is the co-founder and co-editor for the European Journal of Cultural Studies, published by Sage London.
Transported Immobility: Living in a Digital Media Blackout Zone
Annette Hill (Lund University, Sweden)
In this presentation I want to take Barthes’ concept of transported immobility and allow it to travel from the dining car of a French train to the forests of Sweden and to my own experience of living in a digital media blackout zone. In ‘Dining Car’, Barthes’ reflects on the contrary experience of eating an elaborate meal in an upscale restaurant carriage. This entire mise-en-scene Barthes’ describes as a ‘mirage of solidity’ (1979: 143); the thirteen waves in the dining car experience ‘conceal by a protocol of attention its very contingency’ (1979: 141). For Barthes, the protocol of attention surrounding the elaborate dining car experience is a mythic substitute, a ‘spectacle of stability’ (1979: 144).
We can extend this idea of transported immobility from its original story of the dining car to other kinds of contrary experiences. Here, the mix of mobility and immobility is suggestive of how movement and transportation are accompanied by constraints on mobility. It is also suggestive of how objects and embodied experiences are also connected to subjectivities, stories and myths. What Barthes describes in the idea of transported immobility is how some experiences have a contrary mixture of freedom and constraint, of spectacle and mundane reality. In this work I describe the nine waves of the nature hotspot experience, where I am tethered to a particular indoor and outdoor place and dependent on intermittent digital media connection. Such tethering fixes me to a particular place in the rural forest that enables WiFi, provides access and a flow of communication in that moment of connection, and is a source of frustration as rural infrastructures and inclement weather routinely affect the experience, a non-normative experience of media breakdown and repair that challenges our assumptions of living in a digital society.
Annette Hill is a Professor in Media and Communication at Lund University, Sweden, and a Visiting Professor at King’s College London, UK. Her research focuses on audiences and popular culture, with interests in media engagement, everyday life, genres, production studies and cultures of viewing. She is the author of eight books, including Media Experiences: Engaging with Drama and Reality Television (Routledge, 2018) and Reality TV: Key Ideas (Routledge, 2015).
Breaking Down the Frontiers Between the Material and the Discursive: A Case-study on the Assemblage of Four Prague Wolves
Nico Carpentier (Charles University, Czech Republic)
This arts-based research project is an investigation into the hybrid position of animals, and the challenge that they pose for theoretical positions, ranging from anthropocentrism to trans-humanism. This presentation will start from the logics of the assemblage, embedded in the ontology of the discursive-material knot, arguing that assemblages are always necessary articulations of discourses and materials, sometimes including bodies. Through their theoretical grounding in the discursive-material knot, assemblages become seen at contingent, and both the object and outcome of political struggle that aims to generate fixations. Simultaneously, this ontology also allows emphasising that the material has agencies of its own, that the material has the capacity to dislocate discourses and that it invites for particular discourses to become articulated with it.
In particular in the case of animals, the ontology of the discourse-material knot raises significant questions about how much agency is (and can be) attributed to animals, how discursive orders are imposed on them, how their bodies sometimes become fixated, and how much ability they have to resist. The case-study of this presentation, which reports on an arts-based research project using photography and collage , takes us to the wolves ' habitat in the Prague zoo. It analyses the ways that these four wolves have been disciplined and incorporated into the zoo assemblage, their bodies fixated and exposed to the gaze of visitors (and their pets) and discursified in contradictory ways (as example of a species, objects of preservation, commodities to be represented as toys and cultural icons of wildness). At the same time, the wolves display affect, playfulness and a combination of routine and unpredictability (that also made the photographic work rather difficult), that partially disrupt these discursive configurations and material fixations, and demonstrate the complexity of the wolves' assemblage.
Nico Carpentier is an Extraordinary Professor at Charles University in Prague; he also holds part-time positions at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB - Free University of Brussels), as Associate Professor, and at Uppsala University, as Senior Researcher. Moreover, he is a Research Fellow at the Cyprus University of Technology and Loughborough University. Earlier, he was ECREA Treasurer (2005-2012) and Vice-President (2008-2012), and IAMCR Treasurer (2012-2016). Currently, he is Chair of the Participatory Communication Research Section at IAMCR. His latest books are The Discursive-Material Knot: Cyprus in Conflict and Community Media Participation (2017, Peter Lang, New York); Cyprus and its Conflicts. Representations, Materialities, and Cultures (2018, co-edited), Critical Perspectives on Media, Power and Change (2018, co-edited), Respublika! Experiments in the Performance of Participation and Democracy (2019, edited), and Communication and Discourse Theory (2019, co-edited).