Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Social Media's Critique of Mainstream Media Tactics

In Chapter 3, Silberstein cites Charlotte Linde's theories on storytelling: storytelling "'create[s] group membership for [the speaker] and solidarity for [a] group.' Stories, by their nature, locate our very personal experiences within larger cultural norms and expectations" (61). Recently, we saw reflections of this in Ferguson, MO, and in the social media memes that sprung from that event. Coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown presented him in two lights: a promising college-bound student or a crime-committing thug. As a result, people took to Facebook and Twitter to tell their own stories and show their own contrasting depictions of self-identity with the #iftheygunnedmedown posts. Here are two examples:

By using rhetoric and personal stories, these two examples of #iftheygunnedmedown clearly urge audiences to sympathize with Michael Brown and doubt the role of the media in reporting his shooting. These images also tie in to Silberstein's "assumptions" about identity--she says, "Identities are neither singular nor stable; that is, people have multiple identities, including, for example, being family members, professionals, religious (non)believers, (non)citizens. And these identities are not necessarily stable. Individuals can be seen as competent professionals at one moment and lose that identity in the next...Identities are displayed, and thereby (re)constructed through interactions with others" (61).  The #iftheygunnedmedown meme complicates identity for viewers because they display two different conceptions of identity simultaneously, and viewers are inclined to identify with the people in the memes because they are depciting personal identities and evoking a group identity. This subversive tactic helps problematize media coverage of the Michael Brown shooting.

These memes create a group identity and solidarity, contributing to a larger skepticism of both the media and the police. In the future, perhaps more people will turn to social media like Facebook and/or Twitter for "real" news that is "free" from media bias.


  1. I agree, and I've been thinking about why the news and entertainment often get conflated. I wonder about the idea of taste and how the media attempts to provide what it thinks the audience wants. Blair stated that the true judge of taste is the public consensus. So I have to wonder if the newsmakers are catering to audience taste, and if so, what control does the audience have in driving content?

  2. This concept of storytelling is interesting in the way that it connects to the ideas within Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. For example, one of Postman's main concerns is that television is reshaping culture through its emphasis on entertainment. For Postman, cultural norms and expectations are seen through the lens of television's entertainment emphasis.

    As both Mary and Kat have discussed, the media not only wishes to entertain, but fulfill the audiences wants/desires/expectations. However, these wants/desires/expectations have the ability to express the culture's prejudices and biases.

    What I wonder is if television is a representation of our cultures biases and prejudices or if it reinforces them? Or both?

  3. Unfortunately, the media can definitely represent people in biased ways by the materials they choose to use depicting them. Most people are pretty multifaceted, and I think this is part of the human condition in some ways, and yet the media often does what they can to simplify people's identities. It is possible to present more balanced depictions of people; it just takes a little more time and more materials and hearing from more than one perspective about it, and yet because there is such emphasis on presenting information quickly, it does not happen in a lot of cases. However, I do think that NPR and some print publications do try to present more balanced views, and I appreciate that whenever I notice it happening.

  4. Thanks for sharing these photos. They made concrete the idea of (re)constructed identit(ies). I like the idea that the public has sort of reclaimed narratives through using social media. Not to say that those reclaimed narratives are always promising or flattering for people, but they are reclaimed nonetheless, which gives people a chance to participate in constructing their narratives in unique ways, rather than have the media dictate the narrative, therefore, forcing one perspective onto the viewers of the media.

    In our discipline of rhetoric and composition, I think about the variety of ways a fixed narrative is in place (through the use of peer-reviewed journals and publications) and how only a few are able to have a hand in crafting the narrative of our discipline. But, social media, email, text messages, and personal websites have afforded us (as professionals in the discipline) to craft narratives for ourselves and for our discipline in ways most of couldn't if we still relied heavily only on journals and other highly selective publications.

    Well, my glass of wine is empty, so I'm signing off. Cheers.

  5. I thought the events in Ferguson, MO was an excellent event to show how the topics that we discussed this week are still influential today. There's a section just a couple of pages after your first quote in chapter three where Silberstein says, "Interestingly, news reports cover the emotional reactions of the people (even reporters) to events, rather than the events than the events themselves; that is, coverage is not so much about the occurrences themselves as it is narrations about them" (63). In the case of Ferguson, I heard less and less about the actual event that caused the rioting than how it made people feel. Not that it's all bad to get the community's ideas involved, but they seemed to focus more on getting soundbites from the rioters than discussing the event. Like the new reporters Silbertein talked about at the World Trade Center, these reporters were more interested in what kind of violence the demonstrators had seen. At some points, if you hadn't already hear about the shooting there would have been no way to know exactly what they were reporting on. More and more on "news" programs I'm starting to see a trend where the reporters sit down and have a View-esque discussion about how they feel on the topic. That's not news. That's yet another attempt at turning news into entertainment. It's easy to see how the things that Silberstein saw in the media after 9/11 are continuing today.