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reframing the story media tactics and interventions, digital dissent, and satire Megan Boler Ontario Institute of Studies in Education University of Toronto The Moral of the Story: Art, Culture, Media and Politics Parkland Fall Conference 2008 | November 14-16, 2008

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reframing the story

media tactics and interventions, digital dissent, and satire

Megan Boler

Ontario Institute of Studies in Education

University of Toronto

The Moral of the Story: Art, Culture, Media and Politics Parkland Fall Conference 2008 | November 14-16, 2008

skepticism and critical inquiry key tools for radical change and social justice
Skepticism and critical inquiry: key tools for radical change and social justice

MEDIA CRITICISM: popular culture is a primary form of education

MEDIA equally or more potent than school, church, or home in shaping perceptions and culture

“Fear is the mother of morality.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

the big picture of media and democracy
The Big Picture of Media and Democracy
  • What is the role of media in a democracy?
  • How have activists engaged media criticism and tactical media as part of social justice movements?
  • Media as propaganda in times of war
the power of media in defining perception and reality
The power of media in defining perception and reality

Recent examples of media defining global perception with immeasurable negative effect:

How much hope can we invest in the political and cultural power of tactical media?

questions about digital media
Questions about digital media
  • In what ways has access to digital media production and distribution democratized public political expression?
  • Has online activism detracted from offline social movements?
  • Silo effect/fragmentation: what are the effects of people reading increasingly different news sources?
  • See video Epic 2015 --”Googlezon”
digital media and democracy tactics in hard times ed m boler forthcoming mit press 2008
Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times ed. M. Boler (forthcoming MIT Press, 2008)

“Why, at a time when the means of communication have been revolutionized, when people can contribute their opinions and access those of others rapidly and immediately, why has democracy failed?” (Jodi Dean)

potentially radical digital media practices of intervention critique reframing organizing
Potentially Radical Digital Media Practices of Intervention, Critique, Reframing, Organizing
  • Blogging, videoblogging
  • Viral videos
  • Remix
  • Podcasting
  • Social networking (Facebook, etc.)
  • Mobile communication technologies
key questions
Key questions:

How are people using digital media for activism and to construct counterpublics, and what are the effects and impact of digital dissent?

What are the relationships of online to offline activism?

What is the significance of the popularity of parody and satire to changes in citizenship practices of activism?

shock and awe 2001 2003 present
Shock and awe2001/2003--present

Public crises of faith in “truthtelling”

Coincides with

Increased democratized

access to digital media production and circulation

public crises of faith in truthtelling
Public crises of faith in “truthtelling”

Increased expression of demands for truthful accounts…

…Alongside paradoxical sense that all the world’s a construction

Living an irony: Only certainty is that we’re being lied to

grasping for fragments of facts
grasping for fragments of facts

2004 “americans are dying for the truth” (key theme identified in high frequency in the 150 Bush in 30 Seconds)

Blog most frequently looked up word in online Merriam Webster Dictionary 2004

Jon Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire 2004

YOU person of year 2006

Truthiness popularized by Colbert in 2006- “Word of the Year” now adopted in north american vocabulary

colbert first show 2005 truthiness is tearing apart our country
Colbert, first show 2005: “Truthiness is tearing apart our country…”

“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all.Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the President because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?...

Truthiness is: 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.”

Stephen Colbert, October 17 2005

rethinking media democracy and citizenship sshrc 2005 2008 four sites of study
Rethinking Media, Democracy andCitizenship (SSHRC 2005-2008)Four sites of study:

Online networks developed about Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and appearance on Crossfire

Bushin30seconds Contest (150 quicktime movies)

Independently-produced viral videos

Political blogs addressing media responsibility to democracy following the U.S. invasion of Iraq

rethinking media democracy and citizenship sshrc 2005 2008
Rethinking Media, Democracy andCitizenship (SSHRC 2005-2008)

What are users’ and producers’ motivations for online political engagement?

In what ways do digital forums provide people with a sense of public voice and/or political efficacy?

To what extent is/was frustration with mainstream media a motivation to blogging/production?

rethinking media democracy and citizenship www meganboler net
Rethinking Media, Democracy and

Year One: Discourse Analysis of Hundreds of Blogs and Digital Media Productions

Administered Survey of 159 online producers of dissent

Year Two: Conducted 35 semi-structured interviews; coded data and themes

Year Three: coding interviews with Atlas.ti and analyzing findings

sample findings rethinking media democracy and citizenship sshrc 2005 2008 www meganboler net
sample findings Rethinking Media, Democracy and Citizenship (SSHRC 2005-2008)

Online participation

increased sense of community

increased sense of having a public voice

does not detract from offline activism

user motivations for participation in four online sites of digital dissent shared across groups
User Motivations for participation in four online sites of digital dissent, shared across groups:

Make a statement/express myself/be heard

Anger and frustration with current events or political issues

Influence others (especially to influence election results)

Offer “corrective” function to counter media


Distinct commitment to dialogue and debate across partisan lines, in efforts to come to truths via process of either/both:

Agonistic debate (Habermasian consensus and rational public sphere)

Pluralism: diverse views made possible via blogs (“Walmart model of democracy)

See Andrea Schmidt and Megan Boler,“Will New Media Save Democracy?” February 2007, Counterpunch

(1) Bushin30seconds campaign campaign against Bush 2004 election

150 quicktime movie finalists selected from over 1500 submissions

The one thing with art that is wonderful is it’s one of the few places that people let down their walls of what they already believe and actually listen with an open heart and are willing to consider things from another side. If you’re just in a discussion, people’s walls are up and they’re heart is closed usually. Art is the one thing that can bridge that with politics. (Holly Mosher)
effects of online activism
Effects of online activism

“It’s really great because you know people are watching these ads, whether they see yours or somebody else’s and it’s really nice. You feel like you’re part of a group. I also support it by constantly emailing and writing my senators and congress people as well….” Holly Mosher

interview rich garella producer of polygraph bin30
(interview, Rich Garella producer of Polygraph Bin30)

a theory of communication try to get them emotionally

“instead of saying you know ‘Bush lied,’ and give people something that they can argue directly against or … accept or reject, we just said ‘let’s give them an arresting visual teamed with an arresting sound track that just creates this association in their mind between Bush and lying without exactly saying it explicitly.”

(Rich Garella interview, producer of Polygraph Bin30)

“people have this reaction like science is trustworthy and technical things are trustworthy and there’s an implication that scientific instruments are neutral collectors of evidence and give results that you can't doubt … the little pens are like laying down little lines of ink that you can't argue with. Now obviously … it doesn’t really say anything about what Bush is saying because Bush was never hooked up to any kind of machine and [Laughs]…and you know, polygraphs don’t work very well anyway…”Rich Garella, Polygraph
Rich Garella, Polygraph

“a theory of communication: try to get them emotionally”

“I view this ad really as … a kind of propaganda that I hope was effective but it’s not very defensible … it doesn’t construct a logical argument or anything like that and … when the same methods are used by people I disagree with to put across an underlying message that I think is untrue, it makes me angry.”

2 jon stewart on crossfire
(2) Jon Stewart on Crossfire

October 14, 2004

Top-cited media event in blogosphere in 2004

Watched by 600,000

Downloaded and watched by estimates of 1-4 million within one week

jon stewart s demands to mainstream media on crossfire
Jon Stewart’sdemands to mainstream media on Crossfire

Media has a responsibility to the public

Crossfire replaces civilized discourse with partisan theatre hacks

“Stop hurting America”

“Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America…. See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns.”

Jon Stewart on Crossfire

interview with lisa rein tds blogger
Interview with Lisa Rein, TDS blogger

“The Daily Show was serving the function of what real news was supposed to do and they were the only people doing it and they were doing it with comedy it was all so weird and wonderful and it was still the only thing of its kind … so I just wanted to promote it and get it out to as many people as I could…

That’s what I’m hoping for I’m really just trying to get out to a wider audience, I like being there for younger people, so they can get good information about things before they waste a bunch of time…”

Megan Boler and Stephen Turpin

“Ironic Citizenship: Coping with Complicity in Spectacular Society”

available on

“The Daily Show and Crossfire: Satire and Sincerity as Truth to Power” in

Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times (MIT 2008)

fake news many paths to truth commitment to sensibility seeking to reveal untruths
Fake news: many paths to truth; commitment to sensibility; seeking to reveal untruths

Straddles all spheres:

Uses remix, “real news”

Jon Stewart committed to “rational debate” as an ideal of press and democracy

Uses satire to “pop us out” of assumptions of “truth” in media

Asks viewers to inhabit space of critical gap

Yet not outside of complicity and spectacle

why the appeal of fake news
Why the appeal of fake news?

Irony and political satire allow us to cope with complicity in the spectacular society

coping with complicity and society of the spectacle
Coping with complicity and society of the spectacle

post-2001media landscape confirms the necessity of a contradictory life

msm upholds a correspondence notion of truth
MSM upholds a correspondence notion of truth

in contrast, satire

allows ambiguity of meanings that resonate with our lived experience of contradiction within spectacle

satire as a call to action: trusted court-jester’ssincerity against already-admission of complicity
andrea schmidt and megan boler will new media save democracy february 2007 counterpunch
Andrea Schmidt and Megan Boler,“Will New Media Save Democracy?” February 2007 Counterpunch

Notions of democracy: pluralist “Walmart” choice model, or agonistic sphere

Low percentage of blogs that get significant readership

Silo effect? NO!

Predominance of white male bloggers who achieve “pundit recognition” and “public voice”

Genuine questions about blogging’s investigative role in journalism and capacities to shift news agenda setting

I always joke about what a what a great political activist I am sitting on my arse in front of the computer…

I like to record protests and show people that they exist and, … so I will physically go to protests, I’ll shoot video for an hour and then go home and put it up and that’s my contribution. Rather than being at the protest like all day long ….

It seemed to help I mean it ultimately didn’t help because Bush went to war anyway. But it seemed to help in the lead up to that war where we started off with little tiny protests and then we had millions of people all over the world in February and…the video let people know that it was happening and people were showing up..
onegoodmove org norm jenson
Onegoodmove.orgNorm Jenson

Began blog to make TDS clips available to Mac users

Surprised that his blog quickly attracted thousands of international readers

Online comment forum evidenced that viewing clips on his blog inspired viewers to become involved in activism

survey findings democracy through blogging
Survey Findings:Democracy through blogging

Blogging “allows a level of citizen participation. You have a voice as well as a vote instead of just going and pulling a lever and being an anonymous number, you actually contribute something to the debate.”

www meganboler net survey findings on blogging
www.meganboler.netSurvey findings on blogging

“I think the main value is it brings more voices to the table. Like by comparison to corporate media where they pretend that there’s maybe two sides to every argument, which is ridiculous.”

bloggers motivations
Bloggers motivations

“I’m not just attempting to influence [readers] while they’re online, I’m attempting to influence them for their entire lives.”

A contributor to a prominent US military blog explains, “I like to argue because it helps form my opinion. I’m not bound to any opinion, and arguing with smart people who disagree is the best way to find holes in your own argument.”
stuart hall politics of representation
Stuart Hall | Politics of representation

dominant (or 'hegemonic') reading: the reader …accepts and reproduces the preferred reading

negotiated reading: the reader partly shares … the preferred reading, but sometimes resists and modifies it …this position involves contradictions

oppositional ('counter-hegemonic') reading: the reader… understands the preferred reading but … rejects this reading, bringing to bear an alternative [non-dominant] frame of reference

tactical media the yes men
Tactical media:The Yes Men

Wednesday November 11, 2008

Bill MOYERS: I do not know whether you are practicing an old form of parody and satire…or a new form of journalism.

Jon STEWART: Well then that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can't figure out which one. I think, honestly, we're practicing a new form of desperation….

July 2003

Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity. Edwin Land

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. Erich Fromm

Genius means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way. William James