Topic of Research Investigation: Role of media in shaping public opinion and perception x Reflection

In today’s discussion, we managed to narrow our scope of investigation into 3 separate case studies- all of which revolves around the conceptual role of the media in shaping public opinion and perception; specifically identifying the figures of leadership who hold power and perpetuate influence throughout public mediums. As a group, we have collectively chosen this topic as it not only largely identifies with the theme of development (especially in the context of current affairs and global politics) but from a constructivist point of view — allows us to take on an angle that not only allows for the analysis of various ways of leadership historically, but from a social context of anarchy as well. According to Alexander Wendt who has the most amount of literature attributed to political constructivist theory — “anarchy is what the state makes of it”; the theme of anarchy here is not the most relevant to our research investigation, but it does set the tone in allowing us to define the role of states and governments/ governmental institutions and the extent of their power in perpetuating a regime/ democracy. Moreover, it allows us to identify popular ideas since constructivist theory is entirely dependent on the audience (public opinion) – giving us insight into the social context at that time as well.

Therefore, the overview of our intended case study figures of political leaders are as follow:

. Donald Trump
. Margaret Thatcher
. Augustus

We plan to look at these 3 figures and the ways of which they have managed to shape public opinion about their policies and agendas by looking at their way of leadership and governance. Furthermore, we also aim to look at the issue of censorship in the media and to what extent media powerhouses/ governments with the capacity to control content exert their influence in order to propagate certain ideas, or garner support for a particular cause/ policy/ line of agenda. In the meantime, we seek to collate a variety of different literature on these 3 figures and sieve out primary sources (in the form of official government publications/ transcripts of public speeches/ pictures/ etc) that will allow us to anchor our discussion and compare/ contrast several points of similarities/ differences with their use of the media and shaping public opinion.

There are also several interesting articles to look at with regards to public perception and representation of President Trump in the media. A notable one would be the article featured in The Economist very recently that showcases all their cover works with regards to Trump and his presidency. President Trump’s first year, through The Economist’s covers undertook a sarcastic tone in describing the first year of presidency since Trump’s inauguration as President, with compiled illustrations ranging from “when the former host of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ took George Washington’s old job” in the January 2017 issue, to him as an “unruly child” in January 2018. The significance of these illustrations not only effectively portray the political climate and entanglements of his administration, but the underlying tone of sarcasm in all illustrations does not paint him as a figure deserving of respect from the mainstream media.


References:
1. Alexander Wendt: Anarchy is what States Make of it: The Social Construction
of Power Politics, International Organisation, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 391-425.

2. https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2018/01/twelve-months-
ten-covers

Trump: The Media Spectacle and the Paranoid Spokesman

For my research this week, I looked at particular papers on the Paranoid Style in contemporary American politics and research on Trump’s media content, presence, and attention. I reflected on my research thusfar as well as the others’ research in connection to my own, and Trump as a ‘trigger’ for the historical socio-political research they have done. I also went through Trump’s Twitter feed for mentions of Mexican immigration and the border, though it seems that pre-2015 tweets are inaccessible through Twitter itself.

Encoding the Paranoid Style in American Politics: ‘Anti-Establishment’ Discourse and Power in Contemporary Spin’- Michael Serazio, Critical Studies in Media Communication 33:2

  • “anti-establishment”= ‘signifies act of co-optation: It appropriates an outsider image on behalf of insiders and inveighs against power concentrated in the Capitol while eliding any response to power that might be concentrated in capital.’
  • ‘revealing anxieties emerge about authority and governance at a time of institutional failure, democratic malaise, and increasing inequality.’
  • à through this, we can discover how “anti-establishment” appeal tries to position candidates against an ambiguous yet menacing power structure, encoding “rhetoric suggesting their independence from the political status quo…[which] may no accurately reflect a politician’s actual association with the political establishment” (Barr 2009, p. 33)
  • à “guerrilla-style” power- ‘rhetorically seeking to blend in with grassroots authenticity, while actually often working on behalf of elite institutional and economic interests (Seazio, 2013)’
  • channelling economic angst: they offered a means of stoking resentment without explicitly talking about the advantages afforded to the economic upper class—a mediated performance of cultural politics meant to channel that feeling of disenfranchisement.
  • Economic conditions are not the exclusive motivating factor behind anti-establishment appeals
  • Anxiety about increasingly non-white populations can be observed in Europe’s ethno-nationalist parties and signified in the United States by the first biracial president as well as Trump’s persistent immigration fear-mongering
  • — “nostalgia for an imagined time—the 1950s, maybe,”
  • typically evoked without acknowledging the post-war welfare state conditions that afforded shared middle-class prosperity (e.g. progressive taxation, robust union membership, etc.)
  • Right-wing anti-establishment discourse: framing the approach as an attack against “establishment” interests helps to mobilize the non-elite against their own financial interests (Frank, 2005).
  • ” In her reporting on the Tea Party, Zernike (2010a) ‘Critical Studies in Media Communication’ 191 identifies not just government as the brunt of that mistrust but “all of the establishments Americans once trusted unquestionably: doctors, banks, schools, the media” (p. 6).
  • Political communication of this sort attempts to convince citizens to think about power not in terms of taxes, wages, and wealth, but rather experience, lifestyle, and opacity of political process. That is a baleful conceptual substitution, because it suggests populist performance matters more than actual populist policies.

 

‘Donald Trump and the ‘Oxygen of Publicity’: Branding, Social Media, and Mass Media in the 2016 Presidential Primary Elections’- Sarah Oates and Wendy W Moe, 2016

  • Idea of ‘oxygen of publicity’= by Thatcher, used it to describe how terrorists could use the media to gain legitimacy
  • June 28: Trump suggested on CNN’s State of the Union show that Mexico should be forced to ‘build a wall’ along the US-Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants
  • Became focal point for public discussion on anti-immigrant forces
  • Of all the tweets relating to issues (economy, healthcare, immigration, and Iran), Trump unsurprisingly had the largest volume of tweets relating to immigration. However, these tweets were never a major proportion of his tweets in general (peaking at 13 tweets on immigration out of a total of 59 tweets—or 22%– on July 3rd) and the number of immigration themed tweets faded over time
  • an overview of the tweets that related to the candidates does not show a high level of political engagement at work, particularly for Trump
  • people on Twitter (according to data suggestion) are ‘merely echoing and re-distributing snippets of news or opinion around campaign events’ vs having ‘grass-root networks of discussion that arise from social media’
  • à immigration in particular triggered a large volume of tweets related to Trump
  • Thus, the social media comments served to augment and extend the traditional media coverage of Trump’s views on immigration, views that were at odds with mainstream US media narratives about immigration’
  • engagement tended to follow candidate behaviour, strongly suggesting that social media would generally augment, rather than contest, candidate narratives
  • for example, if his extremist statements were going to spark an interest in response by other candidates, we would expect to see a surge in tweets about immigration that mentioned Clinton (such as her response or different approach to the issue) but we did not find this in the data. We can surmise that Trump enjoyed strong ownership of the immigration discourse as a sub-element of his political brand.

Results

  • Both Trump and immigration dominated in the coverage coded in the three national newspapers from July 1 through Sep 24, 2015
  • coding found that 208 of the 475 articles (43.8%) in our sample were focused on Trump, while only 90 (18.9%) were focused on Clinton
  • Immigration was mentioned in 264 out of 475 stories or almost 56% of the stories analysed.
  • It would seem that a mention of Trump almost always elicited a mention of his views on immigration.
  • – Trump’s stand on immigration bleeds into random stories about him (e.g. golf tournaments being cancelled, network dropping beauty pageant) and his controversy
  • Thus, Trump’s comments on immigration not only dominated the traditional coverage of a Presidential primary in the three newspapers; it is also made its way into other sectors of the news.
  • à anti-immigration became a key element of the Trump brand
  • In their rush to cover Trump’s extreme rhetoric, the traditional media gave visibility and, arguably, credence to these remarks

 

‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, in The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays- Hofstadter (2008)

Elements of the paranoid style:
– A way of seeing the world and expressing oneself. (4)
– Overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, apocalyptic.
– Against whole nation.
– Unselfish, Patriotic, Righteousness and moral indignation
– “The central image is that of a vast and sinister conspiracy, a gigantic and yet subtle machinery of influence set in motion to undermine and destroy a way of life.”( 29)
– “The distinguishing thing about the paranoid style is not that its exponents see conspiracies or plots here and there in history, but that they regard a “vast” or “gigantic” conspiracy as the motive force in historical events. History is a conspiracy…” (29)
– “He constantly lives at a turning point” (30)
– Exponent is “militant” … “He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of a working politician.” Not interested in compromise because it is a fight between good and evil. (31)
– Enemy all powerful (31): “cruel, sensual, luxury-loving” (32).
– History seen as the “consequences of someone’s will” (32).
– Imitation of the enemy (in terms of apparatus of scholarship). (32)
– Recurring trope = figure of renegade who leaves the group to expose it. (34)
– Use of facts to argue point. (35)
– Begins with kernel of truth. (36)
– Hyper-coherent. (36)
– Not wholly rational but rationalistic. (36)
– “the curious leap of imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events.” (37)
– An international phenomenon.

More Notable Quotes and/or Tweets:
MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ July 24 2015:

  • T: “I don’t think the 11 million — which is a number you have been hearing for many many years, I’ve been hearing that number for five years — I don’t think that is an accurate number anymore, I am now hearing it’s 30 million, it could be 34 million, which is a much bigger problem.”
  • Joe Scarborough: “Who are you hearing that from?”
  • T: “I am hearing it from other people, and I have seen it written in various newspapers. The truth is the government has no idea how many illegals are here.”

CNN’s Larry King Live, April 28, 2010

  • KING: So you’re in favor of profiling?
  • TRUMP: I’m in favor of — if people are coming in illegally, I am favoring you have to have laws. Nobody knows what the law is. People are streaming across the border. Sometimes, it’s drug dealers. What’s happening there, the drug dealers are coming in and that’s a big deal. They’re coming in and they’re killing.

@realDonaldTrump, Jan 27: ‘Mexico has taken advantage of the U.S. for long enough. Massive trade deficits & little help on the very weak border must change, NOW!’

@realDonaldTrump, Jan 20: ‘We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth- and we will bring back our dreams!’

@realDonald Trump, 30 Aug 2016: ‘From day one I said that I was going to build a great wall on the SOUTHERN BORDER, and much more. Stop illegal immigration. Watch Wednesday!’

@realDonaldTrump, 27 Aug 2016: ‘Heroin overdoses are taking over our children and others in the MIDWEST. Coming in from our southern border. We need strong border & WALL!’

Thoughts:

  • While much of Trump’s discourse fits in with the anti-establishment paranoid style as described by Serazio, it seems he is largely exempted by his most loyal supporters from his display of wealth and luxury. This could likely be due to his previous celebrity status and image of American ‘success’
  • It would be interesting to compare Ada’s Mexican immigration statistics with Trump’s statements and claims
  • I am also going to briefly contrast Trump’s statements on the border and Mexican immigration with some past Presidents including Obama and George W Bush
  • I am also going to look into some fact-checking in terms of drug passage via the border, and terrorists coming in (there has been some reports of terrorist organisation-affiliated people entering or attempting to enter via the southern border but whether this is actually a cause for alarm seems to be dubious)
  • It would maybe also be worth mentioning the wider global situations that would affect support and the rise of this ‘peak’ of populist, anti-immigration sentiments i.e. the refugee crisis and increase of terrorist or terrorist-inspired attacks in the West
  • — BUT, it should definitely be pointed out that, while this general sentiment is most likely a factor, it is not directly related to the main concerns around the US-Mexico border

 

Classics, South Park, and Nostalgia

One of the most difficult aspects of the presentation thus far has been establishing how my major discipline of Classics can/does feed into my analysis of South Park. This is primarily because I was reluctant to make arbitrary links between classical culture and the animation series – I wanted to make observations that had value.

To further complicate my ‘problem’ is the scope of Classics itself, as defining what exactly is included within the discipline has shifted over time. Originally, the classics have been defined by two ancient languages, Latin and Greek, but more recently cultural and reception studies have been investigated by classical scholars. Moreover, after reading Carles Miralles’ paper ‘The Use of Classics today’, it became clear that Classics today is inherently interdisciplinary, and as a result I do not approach research from a singular angle, but a combined stance of historical, cultural, and popular culture. Carles states:

  • It is becoming advisable to distinguish between to study of philological and historical knowledge on the one hand, and  on the other, the contemporary use of the classics in fiction and in commentary.

Thus, Carles is suggesting that the discipline has become so wide that it perhaps there is a need to distinguish between classics in the historical sense and the reception of classics in contemporary popular culture. My specialism within Classics lies within the reception branch – my dissertation, for example, examines the use of myth in Kate Tempest’s poetry. Comparatively, I know little about the history of antiquity (other than life in Pompeii leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius) and I think it is a lack of historical and linguistic knowledge that has been partially responsible for my anxieties around using Classics as an angle of critique and investigation; up until now, I didn’t feel qualified to make classics motivated judgements.

However, Carles’ paper argues that classical reception is as much ‘classics’ as knowledge of antiquity is. Furthermore, I realised that I can draw links between HOW the discipline is taught/approached with South Park, rather than having to stick to to then content of the discipline itself.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century classics evolved from the confinements of ancient language, as techniques for newer disciplines were applied to the study of antiquity. As stated by Miralles, this put ‘the features and issues arising from the study of the ancient world into the framework of other humanities and social sciences’. As a result there has been an explosion of specialities within classics, which can complicate attempts of synthesis. Classics now demands its scholars to be ‘in a living dialogue with literary artistic creators, with the media, and with public opinion concerning how classics are being used.’

However, it is the traditional learning style and connotations of Classics that allowed me to draw parallels with episodes of South Park, particularly season 20. Carles points out that traditionally, the classics has been a provider of ‘models and moulds’ and were treated as ‘the very roots of modern western society’; antiquity was looked back upon as an exemplar of perfected society and something that contemporary society should aspire towards.

‘Nostalgia carries cultural prestige’

Moreover, nostalgia for the past in order to better the future runs throughout season 20 of South Park under the guise of ‘member berries’. Member berries are talking fruits that act as a relaxant/quasi-drug and they feature in most, if not all, of the episodes of the most recent season (which follows the campaign and election of Donald Trump). ‘They remind the user of the good ol’ times of Chewbacca and the original Ghostbusters (i.e. the one without the women)’ (Jack Shepherd). On a deeper level, they are used as a ploy to show the electioneering tactics of Donald Trump as they remind the character Randy of a time “when there were fewer Mexicans”, “feeling safe”, and “when there was no Isis”. In the final episode of the season, Donald Trump is pictured sat in The White House with an army of member berries in the foreground, thereby suggesting that nostalgia for the past triggered a triumph in fascist politics.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 19.52.28

A compelling link can be made with the Classics discipline here as it has traditionally been used ‘as a touchstone to make sense of the present’, and this idea of looking back to better times has often caused nationalist and imperialist appropriations of antiquity. The film ‘300’, for instance, uses The Battle of Thermpolyae as a vehicle to push forward anti-orientalist, xenophobic, and homophobic views through placing the macho Greeks (represented by their chiseled, symmetrical physiques) against the emasculated oriental ‘other’. By extension, the film used antiquity as a means to justify an expansion of the War on Terror.

Thus, South Park shows the dangers of nostalgia in a similar way to how receptions of the ancient world have enacted nostalgia for the Classics. Carles’ concluding comments are pertinent here as he states that ‘Classics should lead us not to cherish a nostalgic recollection of some better past but rather to renew our commitment to playing an active role in a globalised society in securing recognition for the value embodied in the Greeks and Romans’. Thus, interdisciplinarity within the discipline of Classics can be used as keeping the discipline relevant for the present moment, rather than being reliant upon looking back. 

Voice Group B- Reflection for Week 2 begin. 30/1

Following the previous meeting on Friday, the group had looked at speeches in which they would like to possibly study for the meeting on Monday. Interestingly, a few members in the group had decided that an interesting study topic would be one of the many speeches in Donald Trump’s election campaign. We discussed Donald Trump’s use of voice in his speeches: his own powerful use of voice and his suppression of minority voices.

The discussion in the meeting surrounded how Trump’s political rise to fame, and eventual election, may have its origin in the suppression of the minority voice, and amplifying the majority voice. This is evidenced in a YouTube video of a campaign speech that Trump gave in Wisconsin which appeals to the majority voice through his promise to represent their repressed voices in politics again. Trump therefore creates a powerful voice for himself by pledging to make his voice a compilation of the voices of those who see themselves as disenfranchised. It is interesting, however, that Trump tries to include the voice of the minority here by the repeated mention of African American and other minority groups (a possible response to previous criticism of his treatment of minorities). The video can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdVwZlhQjHU.

As this is an interdisciplinary project, it is an amazing and unique opportunity to draw on many expertise to create a project that benefits from interdisciplinary collaboration. We must therefore be mindful that we collaborate in an interdisciplinary way, rather than a multidisciplinary way, to ensure that the project is not just a sum of our expertise, but creates something that is better for the collaboration.

During the meeting, the group decided that a good way to communicate ideas outside group meetings was through GoogleDocs, which allows everyone in the group to edit a single document. We have shared ideas on here and this document will allow us to fine tune our ideas in the coming weeks. We are meeting again on Monday 6th February, an important opportunity to pull our ideas together.