This is a fascinating concept and one connected to our role as Media students. It is also something incredibly relevant to our lives, especially recently.
The night of the European Union Referendum I checked my Facebook and various online media sites and then got ready for sleep. It seemed quite clear how the vote was going to go and many of my friends on Facebook had shared how they voted so I felt pretty confident about the outcome. I went to sleep expecting to wake up still in the European Union.
You all know what happened when we woke up that morning. I picked up my phone and clicked on the news app where it revealed that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. I was flabbergasted. I read on and checked other news sites and they all confirmed the same thing. I felt like I had woken up inside a Kafka novel. Turning on Facebook also revealed that nearly all of my friends had also been as surprised as I was at the result. Everyone, it seemed was absolutely livid.
But how could this be? Everywhere I looked online had revealed a ‘Remain’ outcome and especially my Facebook. I had unexpectedly fallen into the Echo Chamber.
The Echo Chamber is a place where your own ideas, values and beliefs are echoed by all those around you. It is a place where likeminded individuals repeat and often amplify these views so much that opposing views are either drowned out or are never heard. The views are echoed so much and so successfully that you end up convincing yourself that yours is the only view or at least the most valid. From Wikipedia:
Participants in online communities may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. This can create significant barriers to critical discourse within an online medium. Due to forming friendships and communities with like-minded people, this effect can also occur in real life. The echo chamber effect may also prevent individuals from noticing changes in language and culture involving groups other than their own. Regardless, the echo chamber effect reinforces one’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is. Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.
But is this a problem? Surely, it’s a good thing to be surrounded by like-minded people? Perhaps. And perhaps not.
By existing in the Echo Chamber we run the risk of not really knowing what the world is truly like. When I went to bed that night I honestly thought most of the country had the same point of view as me regarding the EU. I was wrong.
This is dangerous because it can lead to limited critical thinking on very serious topics. We need to expose ourselves to opposing ideas, values and beliefs to both understand them and if appropriate, argue against them. But we can only do that if we allow ourselves to exit the Echo Chamber. But if we do we run the risk of listening to views we disagree with, we might get offended, we might get upset. However, we also might have a better understanding of the world around us and that, my dear students, will always be a good thing. Even if we discover truths we consider ugly.
To find out more about the concept of the Echo Chamber and its place in mass media, party politics and culture then head over to David Byrne’s website to read his article.
I have a made a summer ‘reading list’ for you. I am not expecting you to read everything on the list but I do expect you to read at least two of the links I’ve given. I will also be expecting you to write a response to what you have read. If you’re unsure about which ones to read then we can discuss in class.
Here is a list of recommended things you should read to help you with A Level Media Studies and your studies in general. A collection of academia, novels and essays. They are all inspirational and will help you see the world as a more interesting place.
You need to choose one of these briefs for your coursework. Remember, groups must be no larger than 4.
A promotion package for the release of an album, to include a music promo video, together
with two of the following three options:
• a website homepage for the band;
• a digipak for the album’s release;
• a magazine advertisement for the digipak.
A promotion package for a new soap opera, to include a TV trailer, together with two of the
following three options:
• a listings magazine front cover featuring the new soap;
• two hyperlinked webpages (with video extract) for the soap’s website;
• a poster for the soap.
A selection of materials related to an original children’s TV drama, to include the title
sequence to the TV programme, together with two of the following three options:
• the front cover to a magazine for the series;
• a DVD cover for the series;
• a radio advertisement for the magazine.
An extract from an original documentary TV programme, lasting approximately five minutes,
together with two of the following three options:
• a radio trailer for the documentary;
• a double-page spread from a listings magazine focused on the documentary;
• a newspaper advertisement for the documentary.
The first two pages of an original local newspaper (if done as a group task, each member of
the group to produce an individual edition of the newspaper, following the same house style),
together with two of the following three options:
• a billboard poster for the newspaper;
• a radio advertisement for the newspaper;
• two hyperlinked pages from the paper’s website.
A short film in its entirety, lasting approximately five minutes, which may be live action or
animated or a combination of both, together with two of the following three options:
• a poster for the film;
• a radio trailer for the film;
• a film magazine review page featuring the film.
The first four pages from an original regional magazine (if done as a group task, each
member of the group to produce an individual edition of the magazine, following the same
house style), together with two of the following three options:
• a radio advertisement for the magazine;
• two hyperlinked pages from the magazine’s website;
• a billboard advertisement for the magazine.
As an avid fan of podcasts I am always on the lookout for new audio programmes and a friend of mine recommended Invisibilia from NPR. This is the first episode from Season One called, The Secret History of Thoughts. Prepare to have your mind blown! This might be the best podcast I have ever heard.
The recent shootings at an Orlando, Florida gay club have, understandably, caused a lot of emotional responses and these have been ricocheting around the world all weekend and are likely to continue for some time. As students of the mass media we are in a position where we can analyse these responses and flex our critical thinking muscles in an ongoing assessment of how this tragedy is represented.
Thoughts and Prayers
What exactly does this phrase actually mean? Political leaders, influential opinion makers and the regular Joe swamped social media with the now ubiquitous phrase of, ‘thoughts and prayers’, which is the default setting for any public disaster. It is a commonplace phrase and most likely to be used in America, where religious belief is rife. The surface idea behind the phrase is to communicate that one is ‘praying’ for the victims of the disaster. But in America, especially, it says a lot more than that. In the comedian Anthony Jeselnik’s stand-up routine, a clip below to demonstrate, he talks about the saying, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is essentially worthless as it offers neither time, energy or money to help the situation. His argument is that it is actually a selfish phrase to use because it has the appearance of sympathy with none of the effect. It is designed as a ‘get-out clause’ in moments of disaster and allows the person using the phrase to simply use it and move on.
Perhaps prayer works, I don’t know. But I do know that real political movements, real change and real disaster relief takes action, not just thinking about it.
We may never know why 29 year old Omar Mateen walked into a crowded Orlando gay nightclub and murdered 49 people, wounding a further 53. Many news reports were eager to point out that he had, ‘extreme Islamic ideologies’, that he might be linked to ‘Isis/IS’ and of course we have the use of the word, ‘terror’, which has now become synonymous with religious extremism. President Obama himself referred to the disaster as ‘an act of terrorism’. Simply by using that phrase Obama has connoted that this is a religious related attack because of the association the words have with other attacks of the last 15 years. But is it? US officials have stated that there is no direct link with Islamic State but that’s not quite as good a headline.
Other reports suggest that he was angered by the sight of two gay men kissing in downtown Miami. It is hard to accept that the sight of two men embracing each other would drive someone to mass murder but perhaps it did. If this is the case then we need to do more in terms of positive representation of queer people. “But won’t that cause more people to get angry”? I hear you ask. I don’t think so. I think that increased representation of any marginalised group in society helps people see minorities as human and less as the ‘other’. This is where you, as Media students, come in. You are the next generation of media producers, editors and writers. Part of how we, as human beings, see ourselves is going to be your job.
Can Love Trump Hate?
Within minutes of the massacre hitting social media our leaders did the most important thing one can do when faced with a mass shooting. They went on Twitter.
Donald Trump, of course, wasted no time in using the death of 50 people to enhance his political career and even managed to use it as a means to call for Obama’s resignation and as a scaremongering tactic against voting for Hillary Clinton. But he certainly wasn’t alone in using the tragedy for his own means. Every leader was obliged to say something for fear of appearing dispassionate. We live in a society where we are so eager to ‘call someone out’ (see my piece on shaming) that most statements from our political leaders have become absurd in their meaninglessness.
Trump’s narrative is one of fear and crisis. Every opportunity he gets he uses it to remind people that the ‘other’ is after you and are going to kill you and your family. It is interesting to analyse his tweets and statements and see how his campaign is built around a very simplistic narrative of impending doom and how he’s only one that can save us. It might be simplistic but his popularity has revealed it is also incredibly successful. Trump’s campaign has tapped into the American zeitgeist of fear and he has been using it to own advantage. The Orlando attack has led Trump’s supporters to use confirmation bias to enhance and confirm their already pre-existing fear of ‘otherness’.
A massacre of this size will help sell a lot of newspapers and act as immense clickbait for news websites. As uncomfortable as it is hearing that it won’t make it any less true. We have the headlines with with ‘Worst Shooting in US History‘ and you all know the value of a new story like this, it has Negativity, Recency (24 rolling news!), reference to one of the ‘Elite Nations’ (“How could this happen in America?”) and Size. It seems nearly every way this story is being told is focusing on these news values, especially ‘size’. Have a glance at the news websites and count how many refer to the amount of victims and how it is the worst massacre since 9/11.
Today’s The Sun website refers to the perpetrator as the, ‘ISIS Killer’, despite no actual evidence linking Mateen to the terrorist organisation. Whilst sites like The Huffington Post offers news journalism it also offers a lot of opinion pieces (like the one you’re reading) but when you have opinion, news and entertainment side by side it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between them all.
In a fascinating article published this morning in the The Guardian, journalist Owen Jones eloquently discusses how some news organisations have neglected to mention that this was an attack on LGBT people. He had appeared on Sky News the night before and was so affronted by their willingness to turn the ‘other’ into the ‘invisible’ that he actually walked off. In the interview, Jones was trying to tell the interviewer that this was an attack on LGBT people and that it should be called just that, a homophobic attack. But he was shouted down by the interviewer, Mark Longhurst, who said it was more about an attack on ‘human beings’ enjoying themselves. This is a clear example of how the mass media have the power to reshape a narrative which sidelines an already marginalised community.
And so, my dear students, it is down to you yet again. As the future journalists, film and television makers and designers part of how we represent, report and reflect on massacres like the terrible shooting in Orlando will be in part your responsibility. You may choose to continue how it is today, or maybe, just maybe you’ll decide the world deserves a better mass media and represent the terrible things which happen to us with critical thinking, compassion and above all else, truth. Or at least the closest we can get to it.
Perhaps he was an IS agent or a lone assassin or maybe he really was angered by seeing two men kissing. Regardless of his motives, it is clear that he grew up in a culture where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are still seen as ‘other’, as ‘them’. This is why understanding representation theory and applying it to our lives and work is so important.
I came across this booklet whilst doing research for you guys this morning and it looks really good. Some of it might be a little, ‘heavy’, but do give it a go. There are 19 essays in the booklet, including:
Games and the Internet: Fertile Ground for Cultural Change
The Music Industry in an Age of Digital Distribution
Distributed Innovation and Creativity, Peer Production, and Commons in Networked Economy
The Internet’s Influence on the Production and Consumption of Culture: Creative Destruction and New Opportunities