Media and Fear 2017
Invited Speakers Profiles and Abstracts for Papers
Cyprus is a divided island characterised by a long-lasting conflict, which is supported by strong othering processes (Spivak, 1985) in both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Even though the harsh nationalisms in both communities have softened up (Bryant, 2004), the island’s cultural settings remain contextualised by a post-antagonistic condition, in particular within the Cypriot elites, which still defines the other as (potential) enemy.
These othering processes have many different components, but one major component is built on the fear for the other becoming violent (again). Despite the dominance of the post-antagonistic condition, the pacifist Cypriot bi-community movement has grown stronger since the 1990s (Fisher, 2001), and a wide variety of conflict transformation initiatives have been developed. One of these initiatives is the establishment of the Cyprus Community Media Centre in 2009, which later started the online radio station MYCYradio.
This presentation will first provide a theoretical discussion on othering processes (linked to the dynamics of antagonism and agonism – Mouffe (2005), and will then critically analyse how three MYCYradio shows overcome the post-antagonistic othering processes, including the politics of fear that are an intrinsic part of it, through the organisation of a participatory bi-community dialogue.
Nico Carpentier is Professor at the Department of Informatics and Media of Uppsala University. In addition, he holds two part-time positions, those of Associate Professor at the Communication Studies Department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB - Free University of Brussels) and Docent at Charles University in Prague. Moreover, he is a Research Fellow at the Cyprus University of Technology and Loughborough University.
Overcoming the fear for the other: A case study on Cypriot community media and conflict transformation
Popular culture’s attraction is in its broad offer to help reflect on life. To deal with fear and the reality of being under threat is arguably a pressing obligation on all of our agenda’s. Terrorist attacks the world over are reported in detail in the news media; crime reporting remains a staple item in the media diet.
Television series and popular literature offer much to ponder various kinds of threats to our well-being and how to deal with those. Well-known are hyper-masculine rogues such as 24’s (Fox 2001-2010) Jack Bauer who is popular culture’s poster child for forcefully turning threat into controlled anger and methodical manoeuvring rather than fear to outwit evil doers. Lee Child’s novels likewise offer a similar type of crime fighter in former MP Reacher to name but one other well-known example.
How interesting then that The Mentalist (CBS 2008-2015) was one of the top-watched series and features former ‘psychic’ Patrick Jane who is really a coward rather than a hero or a fighter. Jane uses his wits and exceptional talent for ‘reading’ people to help the California Bureau of Investigation apprehend perpetrators while patiently working to trap the serial killer Red John to avenge the murder of his wife and daughter. Jane is interesting for his tragic back story and lack of conventional male accoutrements (the use of muscle, weaponry and sheer force to intimidate).
The paper focuses on storytelling in the Mentalist and its five key characters to help reflect on the different sides to danger, threat and loss and how fear is neither the best nor a very appealing road to deal with any of these.
Joke Hermes is a Professor of Practice-based Research in Media, Culture and Citizenship at Inholland University. Her research focuses on participant design and audience research in relation to media and diversity. She is founding co-editor of the European Journal of Cultural Studies.
To deal with what threatens us: Using the Mentalist to reflect on the complex of emotions sparked by danger, threat and loss
The documentary films The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2013) by Joshua Oppenheimer are a provocation to engage with memories of the Indonesian genocide in the 1960s, the intensity of suffering, and the moral issues enmeshed within Indonesian society and politics.
The Act of Killing is a performative documentary, re-enacting crime scenes in a traumatic space (Walker 2013). The Look of Silence offers a poetic mode of address to document a family’s experience as victims of the genocide. For Oppenheimer (2014) documentary is a means to ‘make visible the fictions that constitute our factual reality.’
This study uses empirical research to think through the renarrativising of fear in these documentary films, and to critically analyse the performative and reflexive practices of the filmmaker and their dialogue with audiences in various reception contexts. The empirical research includes in depth interviews with over 50 participants from Sweden, Denmark, UK, Japan and Colombia, impact reports within Indonesia, and interviews with the filmmaker.
The research connects with the idea of the mnemonic imagination (Keightley and Pickering 2012), where remembering the genocide in creative ways invites engagement with the pain of the past and fear of the present and future. In these documentaries impunity is performed over and over in the documentaries by perpetrators of the violence who remain in power. One Japanese female viewer described their experience as ‘when I saw this reality I really felt tremendous horror.’ Faced with such fear, audiences renarrativise fear, telling social stories that imagine the world somewhat differently than how it is (Gordon 2004).
For Oppenheimer (2014), documentary ‘can change the way we reflect.’ In this case, these documentaries offer audiences the moral capacity to imagine justice for genocide, reconciliation across generations, the healing of painful memories, articulating other kinds of knowledge and power than that represented in the realities of the films or audiences lived experiences. As this Colombian female viewer reflected: ‘It is an invitation to create, to imagine what we can do to stop people dancing on the places where they tortured people.’
Renarrativising Fear: Transnational audiences and documentary engagement with The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence
The use of digital media provides social movements with increased visibility. While websites, blogs, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow movements to reach wider audiences, they also make them more visible to the authorities.
This presentation examines the activists’ fears of digital surveillance compared with the fear of surveillance and infiltration in face-to-face encounters. The study draws from 75 interviews with activists from the Occupy movement based in New York, London, Boston and Seattle. In the interviews, activists appeared more resigned to rather than fearful of digital surveillance. Most of them accepted implicitly that online activity can and will always be surveilled by the authorities, particularly if it is undertaken on commercial platforms.
Interviewees associated with the free software movement differed in this respect. These more technologically adept activists stressed the importance of technological autonomy, the capacity of the movement to develop its own digital media infrastructure which would protect the movement from suppression by the authorities. Yet for most interviewees, it was the surveillance and infiltration of physical assemblies that they were most fearful of. This can be explained by the important role of Occupy assemblies, which served as the physical embodiment of the movement and its centre of decision-making. Their open and inclusive character meant that undercover police could easily pose as activists and disrupt the consensus process with damaging results. Some of the livestreamers of the movement, with their privileged position of recording and broadcasting the activities on the ground, were also accused of being police infiltrators. Compared with the more impersonal sense of digital media surveillance, where those watching you remain invisible, it is the personal nature of face-to-face surveillance that inspires stronger feelings of fear and hurt as those watching you are people you come to collaborate with and know personally.
Anastasia Kavada is Senior Lecturer in the Westminster School of Media, Arts & Design at the University of Westminster. She is Co-leader of the MA in Media, Campaigning and Social Change and Deputy Director of the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). Her research focuses on the links between online tools and decentralized organizing practices, democratic decision-making, and the development of solidarity among participants in collective action. Anastasia’s case studies include, among others, the Global Justice Movement, Avaaz, and the Occupy movement. Her work has appeared in a variety of edited books and academic journals, including Media, Culture & Society and Information, Communication & Society.
Digital media, social movements and fears of surveillance
Netflix’s Stranger Things gives us a fresh take on horror, nostalgic and scary. It pays homage to mainstream cinema, music and popular culture of the 80’s, playing with many of the tropes of 1980’s horrors such as Nightmare on Elm Street, or the more gentle science fiction films such as ET. It also feeds off other ‘80’s obsessions that marked the political landscape in the US (and elsewhere).
The show is set in a time when the Cold War drove increasing surveillance, and technological advances that were about control. Governments the world over were interested in understanding the paranormal and its military applications. ‘Otherness’ had many faces in both our world and in space. We had the West, and we had Communism. The series plays on very specific cultural fears of this time – that of communism, science in the service of the military, and technology that is out of control. It plays into another set of contemporary fears about technology, especially its impact on children, and of otherness and difference, and of how to control the borders between ‘our world’ and ‘their world’.
The series relies on, and plays with, notions of memory. No longer are we focused solely on ‘what happened’, instead the series prioritises ‘how it was experienced’ (Keightley and Pickering, 2012). This offers up a space for audiences to create a narrative that draws on their experiential memories to understand ‘what is happening’. I also raises issues concerning the role of trauma in the creation of identities, especially those of the ‘other’. There is now a large body of work that explores these issues of how memory and trauma can shape identities through the generations (eg: Tober, 2016; Nagata, Kim and Nguyen, 2015). Add to this the play on technologies of memory and the power of the mind to shape and reshape historical narratives, Stranger Things opens an exciting conversation on how far we can go?
However, the series does not present these issues uncritically. It encourages suspicion of the adult world, and instead asks viewers to accept the child’s logic and experience as primary. We are invited into the world of the subconscious, where primal demons lay in wait. To accept this allows engagement with a dream world in which our darkest fears are realised, observed and ultimately accepted. It also points to the power that institutions have to use technology and to use our experiences – here, we are encouraged to be fearful. As we move between our own memories, and this dream world we are inevitably drawn towards contemporary political issues and current narratives of fear.
Our fascination with the show is many ways nostalgic, and indulgent, connecting with our inner child and fascination with the dark worlds created in childhood games. This nostalgia does give way to a darker discussion of what we still fear as adults – otherness, and the assumption that the other is always ‘evil’ to our ‘good’. When Eleven says at the end of series one to Mike ‘I am sorry. I am the Monster’, there is a moment when we catch our breath and ask ourselves, are we, ourselves’, the thing to be feared both in our dreams and memories, as well as in our present?
Jane Roscoe is the Director of The London Film School. She was previously the Head of International Content for Australian public service broadcaster, SBS and before that was the SBS Network Programmer. She was responsible for acquiring, commissioning and programming content for two FTA channels. Her academic career spans the UK, New Zealand and Australia and focused on industry related audience research, and key writings on documentary and factual television. She has an extensive international network spanning industry and academia and sits on a number of editorial and industry boards.
Stranger Things: Be afraid, be very afraid
This presentation provides a self-reflexive account of ethnographic research conducted in a Hezbollah controlled area of Beirut called Burj Al-Brajneh (July-August, 2015). The research was part of a larger Audience study including Casablanca and London; examining how Arab children (7-12 years old) used screen media to construct narratives of self, othering and worldliness.
The presentation focuses on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the refugee camp Burj Al-Brajneh (Beirut) with a Syrian refugee family including the mother, father and five children. It engages with the family’s uses of media in the household through the un-concealment of the political economy of the fear that marks the family’s everydayness. The family did not own a television, but used the mobile phone (the mother’s) to communication with family members in Syria and in the diaspora. News of relatives living in the war zone was exchanged daily by a network of Syrian families living in Syria and in the diaspora. The children (between 10 and 15 years old), four of whom could not read or write, also used the mother’s mobile phone to talk to relatives, listen to music, play games and watch cartoons.
Children’s illiteracy and the context of war made it necessary for the ethnographers to rethink the entire methodological approach. Rather than imposing a structured method, the researchers spent most of the time listening the family’s everyday grievances. Listening to our interlocutors speak about their everyday suffering threw into question not only our ‘method’, but also our institutional role as academic researchers.
This presentation will show how both the researchers and the interlocutors were caught up in the political economy of fear produced by the context of war and the sectarian politics imposed by Hezbollah. It will also demonstrate how our roles oscillated between those of academic researchers and those of activists/councillors.
Tarik Sabry is Reader in media and communication theory at the University of Westminster where he is director of the Arab Media Centre. He is author of Cultural Encounters in the Arab World: On Media, the Modern and the Everyday (2010, I.B. Tauris), Editor of Arab Cultural Studies: Mapping the Field (2012, I.B. Tauris) and Co-Editor of Arab Subcultures: Transformations in Theory and Practice (IB Tauris 2016). He is co-founder and co-editor of the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication and co-founder of the journal Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture. He has published several journal articles and book chapters on the topic of media and contemporary cultures in the Arab world. His research interests include time and modernity, international migration, Arab audiences, Arab popular cultures and Arab contemporary philosophical thought. Sabry is currently working on a co-authored book entitled: Children and Screen Media in Changing Arab Contexts: An Ethnographic Perspective (Palgrave 2018).
Syrian Refugee Children, Screen-Media and the Political Economy of Fear
Over the past few decades, Islam has gradually assumed an unenviable position in European public debate as, over time, it has been discursively constructed and largely understood as equivalent, or conducive to, cultural and religious fundamentalism, political extremism and terrorism. Despite several instances of Muslim radicalism and violence during this period that have undeniably left their mark in public memory, this paper approaches such representations of Islam and Muslims as a threat to European societies and ways of life as the outcome of complex processes of ‘social construction’, of contestation and struggle at the level of meaning creation.
Echoing the work of various approaches to securitization and surveillance (Buzan et al.1998, Huysmans 2006 and 2014, Hansen 2006, Lyon 2006, Mavelli 2011) as a social and inter-subjective process, this paper examines different levels of this process, from media representations, to state policy and popular culture where the social construction of insecurity and fear is argued to have unfolded. More specifically, drawing on archival research and interviews with policy makers, advocacy workers, journalists and politicians, the paper traces the evolution of strategies of representation and construction of Islam and Muslims in Europe from the late 1980s onwards.
It maps the evolution of policy and discourses, from positing Islam and Muslims as an ‘exotic’ and largely temporary presence in Europe, the construction of a ‘Muslim problem at home and abroad’, and its current permutation into a security threat causing social anxiety and fear. It also examines the array of policy responses to counter this threat from monitoring and administering lifestyles, to developing integration demands and policies to establishing systems of surveillance. Finally it proposes, that the construction of Islam as a threat highlights biopolitical control and modern surveillance systems (Foucault), the generation of societal and ontological insecurity (Hansen, Silverstone) and the reproduction of European societies around the politics of fear.
Roza Tsagarousianou is Reader in Mass Media and Communication at the University of Westminster, UK. She has authored Diasporic Cultures and Globalization (Shaker), Securitizing Islam in Europe: Public Debate, Policy, Identity and Citizenship (Palgrave Macmillan), co-authored Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks (Palgrave Macmillan), co-edited Cyberdemocracy: Technology, Cities and Civic Networks (Routledge) and the Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Diasporas, Media and Culture (Wiley Blackwell) as well as a special issue of Javnost/The Public on 'Diasporic Communications: Transnational & Local Cross-currents' and a special issue of Journal of Contemporary European Studies on Rethinking Multiculturalism and written extensively on citizenship and identity, diasporic and migrant cultures, transnational Islam and Muslim communities. She was convenor of the Diaspora and the Media working group of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (2008-2015).
Securitizing Islam in Europe and the politics of fear