Keeping the Rabble in Line

Banging on about representation: The would be media lens

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Interesting grammar" *

A very rapid response to the Jonathan Dimbleby Show on ITV -- Just finished

On his Sunday lunchtime show, Dimbleby just conducted a live interview with a member of Palestinian Authority [govt]. He used the term "security" with reference to Israeli actions...but the term "violence" was attributed to Palestinian actions. Security has associations with a sort of preservation, an insurance, an agreed assurance to keep people safe. It is rational and calm[ing], safeguarding...a restoration of order. Most of all, it "provides protection". The other [in both senses of the word]: violence, is an irrational, illegal, uncontained set of actions. It is a disorder as opposed to a restoration of order. It is raging and destructive. So is it severe and dare I say it: savage, perhaps an uncontrollable urge...almost part of a deranged "psyche". This language is not neutral, is any? Use of language that consistently, uncritically, unthinkingly encodes one set of actions as horribly normal, regrettable but understandable and, crucially as a response to the irrational violence of the maniacal 'Other'...and represents this other as just that, an irrational, violent deranged subject -- incapable of compromise, is deeply problematic. However, it is unproblematised within reporting, interviewing and writing the news agenda. It is part of the media discourse, that's "just the way we do it" and subsequently it is embedded within the 'writing' of the news narrative[s]...by dint of repetition ad infinitum both "security" and "violence" are naturalised as "the way things are", and as described, the "way things are" for certain "sides"/types of people.

Maybe more later...

*Interesting Grammar - Morrissey

9 Comments:

  • At 5:53 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    violence, is an irrational, illegal, uncontained set of actions. It is a disorder as opposed to a restoration of order. It is raging and destructive. So is it severe and dare I say it: savage, perhaps an uncontrollable urge...almost part of a deranged "psyche".

    I'm not entirely, dare I say at all, convinced by this chain of associations.

    I do think it's important that security isn't labelled as "violence," but violence itself doesn't carry all these associations. In fact "violence" carries a much larger and usually much less extreme set of associations for most users/consumers of the term.

    E.g. "it is raging and destructive" -- but legitimate violence (violence deemed legitimate by some-body) is encoded as the polar opposite, without always necessarily disavowing the term "violence" in order to do so...

    Similarly, no doubt Palestinians are frequently represented using devices which allude to "savagery", but I don't think the use of the term "violence" could possibly do this work on its own.

    I'd have to see how the rest of the associations were actually drawn within the discursive strategy of a TV report to be convinced by your chain. My question is thus: which "violence" are we talking about? Currently I think it's effective enough to say that "violence" is in this context defined in opposition to "security", without then extrapolating some shaky associations.

     
  • At 7:01 PM, Blogger Chris R said…

    Rob, thanks for comments -- useful as ever...and as ever, I am about to partly disagree. For instance: "but legitimate violence (violence deemed legitimate by some-body) is encoded as the polar opposite, without always necessarily disavowing the term "violence" in order to do so..."

    Of course the questions are, by whom is this "legitimate" violence legitimised and authorised. Well, years of use of the various terms I have described have made state violence [for want of a better term] legitimate and almost always, the term violent or violence has been disavowed. News media rarely, if ever, refer to "official violence" as violent...more often than not it is a "restoration of order", "maintaining security" and occasionally a "clampdown" which does have some negative associations. This is most common at present in Iraq. My point is, in the narrative and construction of news, I do think that violence, in general is a perjorative term...security is not -- the terms are divvied out in specific ways.

    "Similarly, no doubt Palestinians are frequently represented using devices which allude to "savagery", but I don't think the use of the term "violence" could possibly do this work on its own."

    You are right, in this case, Palestinians are encoded and represented as savage -- often burning flags, hurling stones and "venting rage" [a term with clear links to a violent [dis]order]. The next shot is of [admittedly armed] Israeli soldiers, but crucially, their arming is considered necessary precisely because it is in reponse to the "upsurge in violent attacks". So they are often [I will not say always as it is not that black and white] responding to the violent 'other', they are not the instigators in this instance. The soldiers are usually calm and on patrol, rarely pictured "in [violent] action" so to speak. In this context, narrative and discursive formation, the use of these terms certainly helps perpetuate and maintain some of my "shaky associations" :-) I do not claim that the term violence could do this work on its own, although maybe it appeared that way in this post...which is what you were responding to...

    So, you're correct to draw attention the ropey associations, but the way[s] in which the the discursive formation was and is frequently drawn helps one reach these conclusions. And yes...violence is defined in opposition to security, and perhaps that is enough.

    C

     
  • At 5:16 PM, Anonymous tom said…

    Hi chris

    i have been reading your blog over the last few days, and thinking a lot about it. It's impressive stuff. here are a couple of thoughts.

    in your blog 'Discursive Formats' you refer to a three-pronged fork of media analysis: "semiotic/image/cultural". Your interrogation of media’s assumptions about culture and language are vigorous, but the Peter Oborne 'Dispatches' response is so far the only blog that combines these with a critique of image. Is there room for more dissection of image in your responses to television news?

    i also want to know more about the history of this false discourse. Your blogs assert that it is a construct. But without identifying the processes of its construction, it - ironically - starts to seem something that has always existed: a 'given'. I realise these are your immediate responses to news and current affairs broadcasts. But maybe they could also work as starting points from which to launch broader explorations?

    Now i will get back to my moronic job.

    See you soon

    love tom.

     
  • At 1:22 AM, Blogger Chris R said…

    Tom,

    Firstly, thanks for your rigorous and insightful responses. I will try my best to deal with them.

    "in your blog 'Discursive Formats' you refer to a three-pronged fork of media analysis: "semiotic/image/cultural". Your interrogation of media’s assumptions about culture and language are vigorous, but the Peter Oborne 'Dispatches' response is so far the only blog that combines these with a critique of image. Is there room for more dissection of image in your responses to television news?"

    I have [briefly] discussed image analysis in my responses to Rob -- above -- but perhaps it is lacking somewhat. Odd really, given my interest in Television as a form. Also I did actually do quite a lot of image analysis in my lecture on Tuesday, so no doubt this will feature more regularly in future posts [should the particular blog demand such an approach] I am currently writing three seperate posts but have yet to post them...one of these does in fact deal with the visual codes in a broadcast from Monday's news [not too rapid a response this time ;-) ]

    Secondly:
    "i also want to know more about the history of this false discourse. Your blogs assert that it is a construct. But without identifying the processes of its construction, it - ironically - starts to seem something that has always existed: a 'given'. I realise these are your immediate responses to news and current affairs broadcasts. But maybe they could also work as starting points from which to launch broader explorations?"

    Well this is another good point, although i'm not sure it is a "false discourse" Henrik -- my academic supervisor -- is currently advising me and recommending to me various sources on which i can draw that take into account the formation[s] of the discourse. One of the problems i obviously have, is that it does seem to be a given. I realise the flaw in this position and will maybe work to rectify it, but the "end product" seems so obvious, I barely take notice of its emergence. Ed Herman, Schlesinger, Greg Philo, Paul Jalbert, Noam Chomsky and others do discuss this...as do Jake Lynch & Annabel McGoldrick in a very good new book: Peace Journalism. I am aware of this work, and have read quite a bit of it but I am far from expert. From what I understand, news gathering and disseminartion are sets of practices that are adhered to in news rooms, as the "best way to work". So it probably figures in the training. I suspect many of these tactics and strategies are practiced because of constraints of time, space, place, editing etc. Constraints are a feature of reporting and journalism, so strategies are worked on and emerge that ensure "the story" gets told. For instance: Strikes are always encoded as a disruptive action by a workforce -- that's how we are supposed to understand it -- I do not necessarily think this is a deliberate attempt to sympathise with the management -- though no doubt one could make a case for this -- but it is simply the way it's done. I am quite sure much of it is really about time, money, place etc...all work and jobs have "best practice" don't they? So in order that the story reaches our screens in neat little 4 minute segments, with the requisite narrative closure, I suppose a default position is arrived at, remembered from training, forced by various and varying constraints. I realise this doesn't really answer your question, but at present, it is the best i can do. I am currently wondering [with Henrik] whether I need to become more involved with this particular approach...we'll see.

    Lastly - Some of this will probably appear in a blog in the next few days as I have just been to a seminar/book launch tonight [Weds] and need to get my thoughts out there.

    Thanks for the comments. Very much appreciated Tom.

    xChrisx

     
  • At 4:37 PM, Anonymous tom said…

    i am also interested to know about the formation of the discourse through history - how it has (or hasn't) grown/mutated in relation to world events, social/industrial/cultural upheavals, etc. a kind of 'grand narrative' of the news story.

    and also the relation of the discourse to language in general: do its short-hands and assumptions seem 'given' simply because they are the short-hands and assumptions of [warning: incoming generalisation] society at large? how far do the two shape and inform each other?

    or are these avenues kind of off-topic? you presumably have a more specific focus. maybe i should go find out for myself. i'll shut up now.

    tom

     
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