Media and Nationalism Essay

Media and Nationalism Essay

The role of media and printed literature in shaping the public opinion and disseminating

Official policies among the population is of great importance, and especially so when talking about shaping the identity of a nation. The rise of nationalism is thus connected with the growth of printed books and with technical development of media on the whole. Once a new nation is taking form, it becomes essential for it to locate its roots; something that becomes more and more important the older the nation gets and new threats to its identity arises. The role of the media as national messenger in definition of ethnic minorities and the identity of nation is therefore crucial. The tendency has been that media defines “Us” against “them”. “Them” are those who do not belong to “our” community, they might be of another ethnic origin – visible minorities in case of skin or hair colour – or share another religion and cultural heritage – non visible minorities.

This defining is normal in media practices in order to be able to tell a story. But the problem arises when different attributes are prescribed to these different groups of “we” and “them”, where “we” are always defined as good, law-abiding, modern, non-criminal, non-prejudice etc. and “them” are always defined as bad, criminal, backward/traditional etc. Development and divergence of media into new forms have different implications on the formation of national identity. With the advent of new forms of communication like internet and electronic media the shaping and reformation of national identity has also taken new paths. Although in the age of Internet and new media such as blogs, for most citizens old media still works as the main source of information about far-flung places, people and cultures. These far flung cultures can now be found next door in your neighbourhood, and the way media portrays migrants and ethnic minorities is essential for understanding and social cohesion in the society at large. A fair, balanced and diligent reporting with emphasis on the identity of the migrants will help bridging the gap between the different ethnic enclaves, at the same time a biased, inconsequent and short-sighted reporting will lead to prejudices flourishing and xenophobia gaining in power. Media has a choice, in either reporting about “the others” in a fair and balanced way that seeks to eliminate the prejudices among the population or contribute to further cementation of named prejudices. Although media cannot be entirely blamed for the rise of populist parties with a racist agenda, theirs is the task to portray the whole nation in all its colours and shapes and by not doing so, they pave the way for populist elements. By its use of language and words media can choose many different ways to report on subjects such as the cost of migration, criminality among ethnic minorities etc. Media also have the choice of reporting more extensively on ethnic discrimination, of which there are hundreds of reported cases every year. The Anglo Saxon journalist tradition of objectivity is also in need of change – are there any objective journalists? The need for a distinction between impartial reporting and objective reporting is necessary. For the last twenty years or so, Europe’s club of sovereign nations experienced a profound restructuring of its membership and conventions. From the bottom upwards, within ruling nation-states, eruptions of small nations revived traditions and antagonisms. In some recent cases, these national movements pushed hard to enter as the youngest states in the club. They sought to dismantle the map of Europe that the great powers of East and West had imagined after two world wars. In other cases, small nations asserted sufficient pressure to achieve legitimacy for self-governance and self-representation within ruling nations, though they appear to have settled for a limited sovereignty just short of statehood. Still others, caught in the diasporic flows from former colonies and dependent economies, are dislodged from national homelands and struggle to maintain their collective identity along the axes of language and tradition.

From the top downwards, transnational corporations, with essential support from practically every European state, have erected a grid of commercial, informational and legal institutions to heighten the efficiencies of capital flows, accumulation, and management. The European Union is the name of this regional economic bloc, but more than that, it is also a command to all the new and potential (and older) members within the club of sovereigns to respect the supranational legitimacy of this place called Europe. Added to the command to perform “The European Union!” are a set of disciplinary routines — like the economic and monetary union (EMU) and the exchange rate mechanism (ERM) — which are designed to ensure the synchronization from above of national economic policies. As Eric Hobsbawm argues (1990: 191), it is such supranational restructuring that will, coordinate and incorporate the mosaic of national revivals, and it will eventually elide nationalism’s historical significance.

This process of social transformation is creating new conditions that will alter the character of European broadcasting. After holding onto the territorial purview of radio and television for most of the twentieth century, European states lost ground to both infranational and supranational media practices, as well as to new international political institutions. For example, within the older nation-states of Europe, the experiences of Welsh, Basque, or Catalan television enterprises mark a new kind of nationalist expression. And nations emerging in Eastern Europe, some having already joined the club of sovereign states, are just beginning to redefine the national character of their broadcasting systems.

At the same time, supranational policy statements, like the EC directive Television Without Frontiers, try to secure subjective boundaries around European identity in opposition to other macrosubjects like Asia and America — the latter being the most prominent bogey in commercial culture wars, as the recent GATT accords testify. In addition, citizen’s speech/ expression rights have become more and more an international affair in Europe, as a whirlwind of national deregulation erodes traditional political safeguards. As a result, determining cultural freedoms becomes increasingly a providence of such institutions as the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention on Transfrontier Television Broadcasting of the Council of Europe. Running parallel to these endeavors, scholars proposed cultural studies as an equally important agenda aimed at understanding ideology, the power of discourse, and the alignment of these with durable sentiments of collective identity. Studies of race and racism multiplied, seeking new ways of understanding social conflict and solidarity anchored to cultural identity. Sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies furnished new, interdisciplinary procedures for media research in order to test theories of power, ideology, and identity. And of these, ethnography and participant observation provided welcome insights into the operations of power and resistance at the local level. Eventually, mass communication and cultural identity provided two of the — if not the — main intersecting lines of inquiry about European media. Visual recordings of the war in Afghanistan are being captured on a daily basis by the British media. Through the use of various platforms, images of the conflict are being relayed to the public in the United Kingdom and the world as a whole through the use of the most popular media platforms of the moment. These include the use of reality television, the use of celebrity-endorsed culture and war corresponding, and the reality / hyperreality of cyber-culture such as the uploading of images of this conflict by the people who are closest to the action: the combat troops who are fighting in this war. It will be essential to examine the role of the frontline troops in Afghanistan, and their role as the new recorders of warfare and memories of conflict through the capturing on digital cameras and ‘Helmet-cams’ and the uploading of images onto digital archives and image sharing platforms such as YouTube. Also important will be an examination of the visual aesthetics of the captured images and their remediation qualities and similarities to images seen in first-person shooter based digital combat video games. We must question the similarities of memories being created and captured on these personal digital-cameras and the images recalled from games such as Delta Force: Task Force Dagger. By exploring the ever-popular role of reality television in Britain, it will become apparent through an examination of the reality-documentary series Commando: On The Front Lines (2007), by Chris Terrill, how this filmmaker has managed to not only capture images and, subsequently, memories of the Afghan campaign, but also has “created” memories of the men who are on the front lines. Terrill has captured the men of Britain’s Royal Marine Commandos with a sense of ‘naturalism’ which Graeme Burton associates with the traditions of reality documentary making in his works Talking Television. (Arnold, 2000, London). Terrill’s use of first-hand interviews with the Marines we are following from training to combat, interwoven with televised news broadcasts which report the casualties and deaths of Marines in Helmond province, allows for more than a simple affinity with the recruits. By recalling for the audience memories of previous deaths in the war, we are allowed to share in the harsh reality of knowing these recruits will soon face danger. Adding further to the aims of this paper, we will look at the similar documentary style of Sky One’s Ross Kemp in Afghanistan (2007). Building on the success of his reality-based examination of gang cultures, Kemp, a leading British television celebrity, has added to and further shaped the public memory of the War in Afghanistan. Differing in many ways from Terrill, Kemp uses himself as an instantly recognisable figure within the series, who acts as the changing figure in the history of  British war corresponding. It will be important here to understand the relative importance of the cult of celebrity in British culture to begin to understand why Kemp’s series gained so much recognition and answer questions as to why we should find a leading British celebrity figure helping to shape public memories of the Afghan campaign. This important series, coupled with the other media platforms above have helped and will further add to the digitally-enhanced cultural memory of Britain’s role within the war in Afghanistan. The place of these films, digitally-created and archived on either the web or on formats such as dvd cannot be discounted as they have added and will continue to enhance the memory of Britain’s place within the world and the memory of Britain’s military and its history to future generations. My main argument is that a comprehensive analysis of the reception of non-national, foreign texts by means of building contexts and locating productions and reviews within them, can provide insight into the complexion of a nation’s identity at a certain historical moment. In other words, contextualising the reception of ‘the Other’ might enhance the understanding of ‘the self’ – in the case of this research, ‘the Greek’. Brian Singleton, in a discussion of interculturalism, has suggested that approaching foreign theatrical traditions ‘can be described as “the pursuit of otherness for the investigation of self”’ (94). Even though Singleton develops his argument in the context of a different scholarly debate, I read the reception of English drama in Athens as indicative of a similar process. The staging of English drama as ‘the Other’ can be perceived as a potential way of comprehending ‘the self’, ‘the Greek’, in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Locating the staging of ‘the Other’ in an

historical context, offers evidence and paves the way for a reconstruction of, or an

imaginative approach to, what it meant to be Greek in each period. This approach

does not reduce ‘the Greek’ to a static condition but explores the dynamic dimension of national identity as a lived experience, shaped by and manifested in different aspects of public life. When we look more closely at the way people use the Internet, we see that a fair amount of usage is not exactly ‘new’. Like before, people book holidays, collect pictures of their favorite movie star or take a quick look at today’s headlines. The means of finding information is new, but the information sought is not. But not all usage can be written off as “a new means for old habits”. Sometimes people participate in activities that cannot be compared to any other media use, most of all because of the interactivity of the Internet. The classic example is on line gaming; people participate in a virtual reality and play a chosen role, they communicate with others, form clans, become friends with other users, send each other messages etc. This sort of usage is tied to the medium; these communities are impossible without the Internet.

These virtual communities are responsible for only a small part of Internet usage. Much more common are existing ‘communities’ with a virtual ‘branch’. Soccer fans are not a virtual community but participate also in virtual communities, they have their own mailing lists, websites and chat channels. This also applies to Rolling Stones fans, Macintosh users, white supremacists, believers in the flatness of the earth, Muslim fanatics and breeders of Dalmatian dogs. These ‘communities’ existed before the Internet and can exist without it. They had other ways of communicating; their own newsletters and magazines and personal communication: local or regional gatherings, phone conversations and letters. The Internet gave these communities extra possibilities: communication is faster, can be more frequent and is possible for more people.

We use the term ‘communities’ without a definition but as the above examples indicate, there are many different sorts of communities. The main difference seems to lie in the scope of the communities: there are ‘one issue’ communities (music lovers, dog breeders, Mac users, believers in the flatness of the earth) while white supremacists and Muslim fanatics share some sort of common ideology. We are mainly interested in this last sort of communities, people who share common ideas or believe which are not limited to one topic and participate in one way or another in sharing, promoting and defending these ideas or believes. Today media is the central carrier of and channel of disseminating information on various parts of society and its members, their culture and life situations. Which discursive approach media uses when it comes to the national identity, minority rights and the national self-image is crucial for ethnic minorities and their respective human rights. Media is of vital importance in the process of “othering” that occurs as a result of negative stereotypes in the society. Most people in western societies don’t personally know a member of say, Muslim community, but they have already a prejudicial view that finds its root both in the colonialist and racist history of the country, as well as the discursive framework delivered by media about this minority. These negative attitudes lead to social gap, which in turn leads to disadvantage in full enjoyment of the rights and opportunities, for example in housing, employment, education etc.

To conclude it can be said that media guides people to their identity both virtual and real. Now whether this guidance proves constructive or destructive depends on how and in what fashion it affects people.

Works cited

Media in global context (edited by Anabelle Sreberni-Mohammadi, Dwayne Winseck, Jim Mckenna and Oliver Boyd Barrett)

Hervik, Peter; Malmö University.(2005)

Kianzad, Behrang and Gaunitz, Victoria.( SR Ekot 2005)

Shohat, Ella and Stam, Robert. (1994); Unthinking Multiculturalism

Spencer, Philip and Wollman, Howard(2002); Nationalism, A Critical Introduction

Beate Hein Bennett – Theatre, History, and National Identities

Das and Harindranath(5-11)

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