Favourite Zombie Theories

Up on twitter, zombie peeps are having a discussion about their favourite zombie criticism/theories. Be sure to follow these  people on Twitter and their academic works! If you want to read more about zombies, also go check out my Recommended Reading page (in which you’ll find these peeps!).

@zombiescholar (AKA Sarah Juliet Lauro):

  •  We ‘Are’ the Walking Dead by Gerry Canavan (@gerrycanavan) (Extrapolation Fall 2010, Vol. 51 Issue 3, p431)
  • Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller by Kobena Mercer (Screen, 1986, 27;1)

@DanHF (AKA Dan Hassler-Forest):

  • Steven Shaviro’s (@shaviro) Capitalist Monsters Historical Materialism 10 (4):281-290 (2002)
  • The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Centre ed by Edward P Comentale and Aaron Jaffe (published September 2014)

@gerrycanavan (AKA Gerry Canavan)

  • The Zombie Manifesto by Sarah Juliet Lauro and Karen Embry, boundary 2 Spring 2008 35(1): 85108

@DrMoreman (AKA Christopher Moreman)

  • Guess who is going to be dinner by Barbara Bruce in Race, Oppression and the Zombie (McFarland)

@Doctorofthedead (AKA Dr Arnold Blumberg):

  • Braaaiiinnnsss!: From Academics to Zombieed. Robert Smith

@VintageZombie (AKA me!)

    • Plans are Pointless by Sara Sutler-Cohen in Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Ed. Christopher M Moreman & Cory James Rushton. McFarland & Company

@DrWalkingDead (AKA Kyle William Bishop)

  • Undead (A Zombie Oriented Ontology).” by Jeffrey J Cohen Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 23.3 (2013): 397-412.

@jamierussel74 (AKA Jamie Russell)

  • Robin Wood “Apocalypse Now: Notes on The Living Dead”
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Postliteracy FTW! with @feddabonn

3dAre makerspaces ushering in a postliteracy era?

~

What the hell?

Postliteracy is basically the idea that there will soon come a time when text and writing will no longer be as dominant as they are now, and we will find other means to communicate.

While the technology of writing has been around for ages, even historically literate societies such as the Chinese only had a small percentage of their population actually literate. Mass literacy is a result of the Gutenberg press and movable type, and subsequent European colonisation.

~

Why the hell?

Reading and writing are too bloody hard. It takes most people at least 10 years of education to effectively read and write in their first language. Increasingly, 15 years of education is the standard.

ALSO

Reading and writing are specially too hard for people who belong to pre-literate or recently literate cultures. This is pretty much most of the non-European world. While West, East and South Asian civilisations have had scripts for the longest time, even in these civilisations the ability to read and write was often restricted to a privileged few.

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This means that people from these communities are severely disadvantaged with access to information. This is seen in negative health and economic statistics, among others. Examples of this are the comparative well-being of Māori and Pasifika people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Aboriginal peoples in Australia and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India.

A few people think that post-literate ways of communication would be closely related to pre-literate ways of communication. The Pacific islands are full of examples of the use of tattooing, woodwork, speech making, songs and stories as ways to communicate and record culture. So if post-literate strategies are similar to pre-literate strategies, maybe finding what those strategies are will also help communicate import information to people that need it most in the here and now.

~

Who the hell?

Mostly old white men, I’m sorry. At least they aren’t rich, I don’t think. Not very anyway.

  • Marshall McLuhan, 1967, The Gutenberg Galaxy : Talks of the tyranny of the text, and how the electronic age would bring its end.
  • Walter J. Ong, 1982, Orality and Literacy: Talks of how orality and literacy are very different cultures, and not variants of each other. Talks of the coming of a ‘secondary orality’ based on electronic technology, that will build on both pre-literate oral cultures as well as literate text based ones.
  • Thomas Pettitt and Lars Sauerberg, 2010ish, Gutenberg Parenthesis and The Future is Medieval: Pettitt and Sauerberg see mass literacy as an anomaly that interrupted the development of oral culture, and our current electronic/internet age as a return to that orality.
  • James C. Scott, 2009, The Art of Not Being Governed: Anarchist historian James Scott looks at upland South East Asia as a history of resistance to and evasion from Empire. The most controversial and least evidenced chapter deals with the idea of post-literacy as a strategy used by groups…deliberately losing their script to avoid empire.
  • Michael Ridley, 2012, Beyond Literacy: Mike looks at a complete abandoning of visual language with improved technology. This is a bit different from Ong’s secondary orality, that would still depend in many ways on literacy.

~

Why do I care?

My mother belongs to a small tribal group in north east India called the Mizo, based (mostly) in the state of Mizoram. We were litericised and Christianised by Welsh missionaries in the late 1800s. Like everywhere else, this was a complex mix of welfare and destruction. I grew up watching my Mizo cousins wrestle with modern education and literacy, without the cultural underpinnings that highly educated Indians took for granted. Years later my wife and I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, where I see Māori and Pasifika people struggling with similar issues. Something crystallised, and I have been thinking/reading about postliteracy for a little over two years now.

I am currently studying postliteracy in the context of the Pacific, hoping to find strategies that can be used in the here and now to help societies that were recently made literate. I also hope/expect to specifically study the maker movement as a postliterate strategy, and as a way to engage and communicate with people from oral cultures. Maybe the whole thing is a pipe dream, but it is a good dream if it helps improve the world experience of people from recently literate cultures. We have rich oral cultures, but have been tricked and forced into believing that our cultures are inferior to literate ones. No more.

When not studying, I am a librarian with Auckland Libraries. Yeah, ironic, I know. Reachable on twitter @feddabonn, where I rant and swear a lot.

The Changing Face of the Monster

Over some mocha this morning I was thinking (coffee required for brain function). Everyone blames Twilight for dumbing down the vampire. People right out despise Twilight for changing vampires. They’re supposed to be monsters, people cry out in rage, not lovers! As my focus is also on a monster-turned-romantic-interest, Twilight has some sort of weird interest for me. I don’t particularly like it, I think Bella is weak and the writing not great – but there’s a part of me that knows that if I’d read it as a teenager (probably <15; maybe what would be considered a tween now), I would have loved it.vampires

Vampires had already completely saturated mainstream culture before Twilight. They were domesticated by their commodification. Fred Botting discusses this: the vampire is now a familiar and consumable figure. His references for this go much earlier than Twilight, with Dracula as a superhero in 1962 and the amusing Count Duckula, but especially Anne Rice (he doesn’t specifically mention Twilight in this section, although this book was published three years afterwards, but I haven’t finished reading it all yet!). This has created a new site of identification for the vampire.

“Vampires cease to be threats to individual and social identity and curiously give shape to the unformed mass of desires, cravings and appetites called the consumer” (Botting 41)

So the vampire loses its weirdness.  This sort of goes against a lot of monster theory. The vampire is no longer uncanny – something that was once familiar and has since become repressed (Freudian theory). True Otherness is a return of the repressed. Foucault argued “What makes a human monster a monster is not just its exceptionality relative to the species form … the human monster combines the impossible and the forbidden” (Foucault in Levina and Bui, 5). For Derrida, a monster is something that is unknown, abnormal, it frightens because there is no anticipating it. Once it is known, once the monster is seen as a monster, “one begins to domesticate it” (Derrida in Levina and Bui, 6). In Twilight Edward says vampires could have evolved side-by-side with humans – Darwinian evolution rather than supernatural presence.

“The vampire is warmly embraced, included, naturalised, humanised in an appropriative liberal gesture that is scarcely tenable given the vampire’s historical construction as that which is both most proximate and alien to human identity”(Botting 41)

We know what vampires and zombies are now. We know their weaknesses, we know their  strengths. What is left to explore? As Hildebrand-Burke demonstrates in his post on modern horror, we seem to stick to the past view of monsters rather than looking to the future. Why can’t we create new monsters? Why stick to the 19th century imagery of what a vampire is, or the 1970s-80s version of what a zombie is? Fear comes from change, from what is unknown. Nina Auerbach proposes “every age embraces the vampire it needs” (although embrace might be a bit strong. Every age CREATES the vampire it needs?).

Although Twilight and the books I’m looking at are romances or contain romantic elements (romances = romance is the main plot & must have a happy ending. Romantic elements = romance is supplementary to the story), they change the monster and yet are reviled for it. Most modern vampires laugh at the suggestion that a Christian Cross or garlic can stop them. Is this not making the familiar monster unfamiliar again? They are changing the rules of the game and disturbing the knowledge that makes us safe. Why do we even want to restrict this change?zombies

Recommended Reading

  • Where are all the Monster Books? by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • Guide to writing modern horror by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • The Limits of Horror by Fred Botting
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century edited by Marina Levina and Diem My Bui (check the Introduction by the editors, and Domesticating the Monstrous in a Globalizing World chapter by Carolyn Harford)
  • Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger
  • The Living Dead: A study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature by James B Twitchell
  • The Real Twilight: True stories of Modern Day Vampires by Arlene Russo
  • A Taste of True Blood: The Fangbangers Guide edited by Leah Wilson
  • The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A critical study of the growth of a genre by Tim Kane

*Images from the Sims 3: Supernatural promotional material

Uhoh! There was a monster in my bed*

Last night I was with Kate Forsyth and Matt Finch at the NSW Writers’ Centre talking about monsters. This post will be a bit of an overlap between what was said then and some extra things I wanted to throw out there for writers and readers of children’s and YA literature on how academia views the novels you write/read, how gaming constructs narrative and more on zombies, because they are awesome.

~

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Being an Academic

There’s usually a fair gap between academia and the actual artists (Apart from my two lovely panelists!). Artists accuse academics of reading things into their work that they didn’t actually put there, academics will try to locate artists work in the greater sense of social/cultural identity. So I’ll give a quick rundown of some of the more general things academics say about children’s and YA authors in particular.

All writing is ideological. Whether you intend it or not, a lot of scholars see writing as something that reflects, reenacts or rejects society in some way. The way you present what a child is, is ideologically based. As Kate said, our construction of childhood is entirely modern and not at all how past, future, or even other present societies view childhood! As an example, you’ve no doubt seen the rise of the ‘tween’ in the past decade or so. This is not something that goes against our entire history of being. It is something created, but all our categories and definitions are (changing definitions/words in the dictionary are another excellent example, language is a living thing).

In writing a story, scholars say, you are positioning the reader into a particular view. If writing a realist novel (recently, I read Junk by Melvin Burgess, so that can be my example), you don’t really expect the reader to come out of reading it thinking drugs are totally awesome and they should go out and try them now. Not just for ethical, moral and legal reasons, but you use certain words, certain strategies of writing and of course plot to try to align the reader. In fantasy, you may not expect someone to think The Dark Lord is awesome and they should totes go join a gang of evil peeps now! Readers, of course, will take from the work what they will (and you can’t stop that! Everyone brings their own experiences to a text).

What you intend, as much as how you use narrative strategies to position one character as “good” or the hero, and another as bad, is important and from this, an ‘ideal reader’ or ‘subject position’ is created – as far as what I believe and the academics I follow, the authors intentions are not  literally able to be read in the text, it is only through narrative strategies that we ascertain this subject position. What you don’t intend, to the academic, doesn’t matter as much as your story. I used the example last night of how there are quite a few dystopias around the idea (or ideological positioning) of technology as something that is cutting us off from nature. While you may just be intending just to write a good story about a world falling apart, there are criticisms (as you would expect in reviews anyway) that maybe this intensely negative view of technology is actually teaching children to fear the future.

Being a writer, you are given great power. Childhood and adolescence is considered a time when we are forming our idea of what our identity is and where we fit in society. Some academics say that it is even the role of fiction – Children’s literature is for affirming the self and personal power, but YA lit is for inducting the adolescent into society, our structures and institutions. It comes at a time in their lives (assuming the ideal reader – I’m an adult and I read YA!) when their sense of self is malleable and adapting to the new information they are drinking in, and that doesn’t have to come only from non-fiction.

Recommended Reading

  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000.
  • McCallum, Robyn. Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction. New York: Routledge. 1999
  • Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge. 2010.
  • James, Kathryn. Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature. New York: Routledge. 2009

sekhaBeing a Gamer

I have somewhere about 500 or so books … I think. Haven’t sat down and catalogued them all for a while. But with games, I generally go back to the same two (the others are more seasonal playing), World of Warcraft and The Sims, and they are very different in terms of storytelling.

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game with two factions that hate each other – The Alliance (your typical European humanoids, humans, night elves, dwarves, gnomes, werewolves (called worgen)) and the Horde (your traditional villains, orcs, trolls, tauren (which are half-cow, half-human), undead, blood elves and goblins). There is an overarching storyline, following on from the other Warcraft games, where the Orcs invaded Azeroth through a Dark Portal and the humans defended their land, but at one point, the creation of the Portals between worlds actually tore the Orcs homeworld asunder and they were isolated from their people. Each race has their own story of how they came to be (e.g. Blood Elves are elves that got addicted to fel or demonic energies) and there are also quests in the game which contain mini-stories.

While you play as a Hero (for whatever faction), essentially you don’t have any control over the storyline or influence. While there are numerous options with what you can do each day (crafting, dungeons, exploring, farming, pet battling, playing Player vs Player), you can’t change the storyline. Even if you might agree with the big villain of the expansion (there’s always at least one big villain), you cannot change the outcome and probably, if you raid, you will have to kill them anyway. You can manipulate your own perception of your character, even if you don’t role play specifically, choosing clothes, companion pets (which don’t fight with you in battle, but are more like little pokemon), titles (such as Elder, Noble, Kingslayer, etc).

The Sims on the other hand, is more a sandbox game. You don’t have to do anything, nothing is set in stone and there’s no path to follow. A few pre-made families have their own background story and personalities, but anything that happens is up to you. You can only control one family at a time, and you can guide them to their dreams of becoming a CEO, or build a wall around their pool and forcibly kill them. The Sims doesn’t use English either, it’s an invented language called Simlish, so you can even make up what they are saying.

There’s a lot to love about the Sims because of the freedom in storytelling. You can tell the Sim where to go and what to do, and (forcibly) influence their whole life. The Sims community is extremely inventive as well! They share stories, videos (called machinima), their families, even create self-sims to explore how they want to live their life. You can take Sims from birth to death (and even beyond death, as you can play as ghosts too!), fulfill their dreams or ruin them, and from generation to generation.

There’s nothing to say what the future of storytelling in games are, but there are some games, such as by Telltale (including the Walking Dead game) where it’s more like a choose your own adventure, you are given a world and a character and a situation, and then choices on how you act and what you say – and those decisions influence the story. This is a very particular gameplay slowly on the rise. Could gaming have an impact on how we organise novels and stories in the future?

9199346Being a Zombologist-in-training

There are two types of monsters or villains that I like best – one is the villain that believes they are doing the best thing, for society or themselves or their family; the other is the relentless enemy that you can’t stop or reason with – the zombie!

Between the panelists last night, we agreed that for us, monsters are representative. Freud believed monsters to be a symbol of repression – whether on a societal level or personal level, something that was once familiar and homely, now foreign and Other. For children’s and YA, the slaying of this monster can be hugely empowering on many levels. I rather think that monsters can also be un-embodied entities, such as a whole society. While it can be a horrendous and heartbreaking journey to defeat one enemy, imagine battling all of society for justice – the odds are not in our favour.

That is essentially what zombies are. They are seen to be many things, our fears or anxieties about race (originally when zombies were misappropriated from Haitian lore into Hollywood, it was all about showing the barbarism and danger of blacks, particularly the danger of black men/magic controlling white women), consumerism (of course, Dawn of the Dead!), and more recently, terrorism and economic crisis and refugees. These days, zombies are the conversion of a HUGE chunk of society into mindless beings that only want your flesh or brains (the eating of flesh comes from Romero, the eating of brains from Return of the Living Dead and O’Bannon – it’s not “the original zombie” at all! *insert long-winded rant here*). The history of the monster is the history of the culture itself (just as how childhood is a historical and social construction).

There are other theories of course, that monsters are a psychological universal. Derrida argued that monsters are created by the unrecognisable and the unpredictable; once it is recognised, it’s no longer a monster (perhaps an argument for evil, seducing vampires -> sparkly, vegetarian vampires?). Could go down the path of “it’s the author letting out their own subconscious fears and defeating them”. Multitudes of theories!

But monsters and villains and evil is important, particularly in children’s/YA. I mentioned last night that there is quite a bit of criticism from the academic community that it is expected that children’s/YA lit needs a happy ending, or at the very least, an ambiguous ending (of which some other scholars believes subdues the actual effect of the literature, particularly dystopia where the moral of the story is that we need to act now so we don’t lose our humanity in the future, but you’ll never see a child get the same ending as Winston from 1984). Of course, we can all think of examples where that is not true, where the character does not triumph, dies, or falls into depravity, but a positive or ambiguous outcome is the cultural expectation. For the reader to feel empowered, there usually needs to be a resolution (Kate used the example of someone literally throwing down a book that had no real ending). With ‘traditional’ (Romero) zombies, it’s particularly hard to create a happy ending because everything is just gone. Society is gone, humanity is gone, all that is left is a life spent scavenging and in hiding. A tough play for an author, if you only stick to one view of what a zombie is…

Recommended Reading

  • Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Ed. Stephanie Boluk & Wylie Lenz. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2011.
  • Triumph of the Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic on page and screen. Ed James Lowder. Dallas: Banbella Books, 2011.
  • Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Ed. Christopher M Moreman & Cory James Rushton. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2011.
  • Bishop, Kyle W. American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010.
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader Ed. Marina Levina and Diem-My T. Bui. New York: Bloomsbury. 2013.
  • Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. Eds. Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro. New York: Fordham University Press. 2011.
  • Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy. Eds Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad. Chicago: Open Court Publishing. 2010.

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Conclusion

If there is anything to take from the talk last night, it’s from what Kate said: Darkness is NECESSARY in children’s and YA literature. If you take away that, you take away the power. There’s an importance in retelling too, as Kate said ‘as a creative artist it’s our job to recreate tales, and find new ways to tell stories.’ That’s very true for monsters as well. Monsters adapt and change as society does. They fill a certain void that we need filled (yes, even the romantic ones!). As much as people cried out “Those aren’t zombies!” when Warm Bodies came out, their idea of what a zombie IS is tainted by cultural tradition (as much as we all love Romero, he didn’t invent zombies, he reinvented them!). That’s the power of the author, scriptwriter or storyteller. To tell the story that needs to be told, not what society dictates the monster or villain traditionally is and always should be.

~

* ❤ Lady Gaga

 

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Young Adult Lit and Technology

Following on from my previous post, technology in YA is a bit weird to me.

The fear of technology is definitely not new in science fiction or Western culture. Look at the Matrix, look at Terminator, look at all the billions of books that I couldn’t possibly name them all. Technology is scary! It will rise up against us, or cause our destruction in some way (some zombies are caused because of bio-chemical weapons, testing of new plagues or even for cures). Technology seems to be a pretty persistent social anxiety in modern times, that it will irrevocably change our society and our very nature in some way, Technology is a threat to humanness.

Technology has a great lot to offer us, but in science fiction there’s a decidedly sinister undercurrent. In Technophobia, Dinello demonstrates how science fiction shows technology as subverting human values, changing human behaviour, and doesn’t provide us with the utopia as it promises, “we end up oppressed by our own inventions”. I really enjoyed The End Specialist by Drew Magary, a world where there is a cure for old-age, disease, and most types of deaths. Great huh? Immortality! But then as it gets used and legalised, the real societal and personal problems emerge. No matter how benign the technology may seem at first, it has long reaching consequences that will make us all suffer eventually.

So where I don’t get it is that the recent generations are growing up in a world of ever-increasing technological advancement, a world of wonders with a tablet and smartphone in the hands of every toddler (yes, I’m super-generalising here), and yet there is this imposing of the view that technology is a negative thing into fiction for them. I’m not the first to find it odd, Noga Applebaum has already written a book on this (which I purchased a few days ago and am eagerly awaiting). She states that “young readers, internalising this technophobic message, are in danger of learning to fear the future”. Ball calls YA scifi a socially conservative genre, as it clings to these older traditions that are not the lived experience of the intended readership. These negative attitudes are not so dominant in adult science fiction, so why here? Why now? Why does society produce an overall negative perception of technology for young adult readers?

We think of technology as changing and taking away from human ‘essence’. We cling to these historical perceptions of what is human, without considering that the human essence, and even what it means to be human, is itself a product of cultural context. This firmly sets humans at the top of the hierarchy, but it also assumes universality and denies the ‘Other’, making a certain type of person as the ‘default’ model of human, and thus privileged.

This is what I’ll explore into next, the argument about the future of humanity and posthumanity from both sides.

Recommended Reading

  • Ball, Jonathan. “Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre.” Jeunesse: Young people, texts, cultures 3.2 (2011): 162–174. Print.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Mendlesohn, Farah. The Intergalactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2009.
  • Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2007. Print.
  • Fletcher, David-jack. “Recalibrating the ‘ Human ’.” Neo 5 (2012)
  • Dinello, Daniel. Technophobia: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2005. Print.

Politics and the Media

So the past few weeks I’ve been working on one of my final essays for this semester. The course was Charisma, Fame and Celebrity and I chose to look at how the role of the leader in politics has changed due to the rise of televised media. I was going to look at polling and Twitter/blogs of amateur journalists, but couldn’t fit it in ><.

So first up, what charisma is isn’t very clearly defined. It’s more a case of you have it or you don’t have it, but there seems to be very little doubt (particularly in journalism) that is does in fact exist. Most of the modern work on charisma is based on Max Weber (although charisma was first a Greek word, which was then widely used in Christianity until quite recently when the meaning became more secular). Weber predicted the fall of the charismatic leader due to the ‘bureaucratic political party machines’ (although, clearly has not made it impossible, just very difficult for a charismatic leader to rise above). They usually arise in times of crisis, and can better survive poor performance or avert blame during such times.

In Australia, there appears to be a growing ‘personalisation of politics’ – also referred to as ‘presidentialisation of politics’ – where we single out a leader as the One whom all policies and ideas come from, rather than a whole party or cabinet voting on them (I saw more studies for this than against it, though both exist). In America this might not seem such a big deal, but in Australia it is the parties themselves who decide on a leader. They might choose a new leader because the old one has been ineffective (either in policy-making or failure to win government) for so long, doesn’t represent the party’s ideals, has received poor polling, things like that. While looking at some stats, it seems like leaders have a shorter life span than they used to – but I didn’t look at this in much detail and didn’t have the word count to go into it in any meaningful way.

The blame for less charismatic leaders is squarely put on televised media – although the politicians are complicit in this process as well. Joshua Meyrowitz has a great chapter in his book No Sense of Place on the history of American Presidents and how before tv, any ‘ugliness’, disability or health issue, and presidential scandals were able to be confined from the public. The way they manipulated – or perhaps, worked with – the media to establish a certain image was much more in their control. But no longer! Now we pretty much all have tvs, access to 24 hour news, and news can spread wide and very fast. It seemed to be that the appearance of a charismatic leader partly relied on the distance between the leader and the people, which is now almost impossible as the media will endlessly go on about a leaders personal life, their hair colour, their shoes etc. There also seems to be evidence that politicians have gone along with the media to try and get the attention they need (after all, you can’t vote for someone if you don’t know they exist!).

Barrack Obama is generally considered to be an exception to this, particularly in his first election. Remember how damn excited everyone was?! Although it was quite a bit lesser, people were like that for Kevin Rudd before he got in. While Tony Abbott has been called a ‘charmer’, neither he nor Julia Gillard are gifted with charisma. Part of being charismatic depends on being recognised by followers that one IS charismatic.

In Tanner’s Sideshow, he says “a short-term focus, extreme risk aversion, and minor announcements are all symptoms of the permanent campaign” (111), and I think we’re getting that quite clearly in Australia at the moment.

And now for the fun bit, a video by the Chaser boys from their series The Hamster Wheel. Enjoy! XD

Recommended Reading

  • Julia 2010: The Caretaker Election. Ed. Marian Simms & John Wanna. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 2012.
  • Ginsborg, Paul. Democracy: Crisis and Renewal. London: Profile Books. 2008. Print.
  • Farnsworth, Stephen J & Lichter, S Robert. The Mediated Presidency: Television News and Presidential Governance. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2006. Print.
  • McAllister, Ian. The Australian Vote: 50 Years of Change. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing. 2011.
  • McKew, Maxine. Tales from the Political Trenches. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. 2012.
  • Megalogenis, George. Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era. Collingwood: Black Inc. 2010.
  • Meyrowitz, Joshua. No Sense of Place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1986.
  • Potts, John. A History of Charisma. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan. 2009.
  • Tanner, Lindsay. Sideshow: dumbing down democracy. Melbourne: Scribe. 2011.

Lessons from Reality TV

I’m currently finishing up an essay on whether reality TV can teach audiences, using as my case studies The Biggest Loser (most studies were on US and Australian series) and 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom (US only). I was going to include Masterchef (Aus, US and UK), but this assignment is only 2000 words and there are fewer studies on it that I could find.

I have issues with reality tv research.

While participants of surveys, viewers and non-viewers, are very clear that reality TV does not teach, or at the very most, only teaches in certain genres (e.g. home makeover shows), it seems that there is some kind of learning going on – but it does not appear that media creates the behaviour/attitude, but does contribute and reinforce it. The little that I found on Masterchef said it was a celebration of unhealthy food with no nutrition, but it did affect buying patterns and promoted home cooking (Phillipov). For The Biggest Loser, there is a lot of condemnation of the mixed messages, the promotion being “yay let’s all lose weight together” and the real message transmitted is stigmatising obesity (Thomas, Hyde and Komesaroff), humiliating the contestants, and the horror of the temptation challenges where they will tempt contestants to eat (sometimes large amounts of) takeaway or unhealthy foods for prizes such as immunity, exercise machines, or even contact with family at home (Lundy, Ruth and Park, and, Sender and Sullivan). With 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom, it was suggested that the media does inform teens on things like the reality of teen pregnancy (Lance) – not so much on the risks and responsibilities of sex and childbirth  – but each study also points out that there is a massive lack of sexual education across the US compared to other Western nations. There seems to be negatives and positives for all of them, and not just on an individual level but taken to much broader societal level.

One aspect that I could not include in my own essay, partly because of word count and partly because it was barely mentioned in the research I looked at, was the effect of the whole branding, including the show, the websites, the forums, the merchandise and advertising etc. I wonder if we are starting to use all media to our benefit. There is always a lot of talk on Twitter during shows now, some with their own Twitter tickers at the bottom. Marketers, of course, want us to go out and buy all the stuff related to the show such as replacement meal shakes from Biggest Loser, food from Coles – which sponsors Masterchef (see: The Gruen Transfer or The Checkout on ABC, Australia for more on marketing and promotion … and associated evils). All three shows have a website linked to them – I’m often found on Masterchef during the season catching up on the show or looking up recipes. 16 and Pregnant is marketed as a type of sexual health education for teens, alongside the website It’s Your Sex Life which has an ad on every episode (even on the MTV website catchup). Maybe we should be examining these shows in context with all the external stuff?

When I first decided on this topic to write about, everyone had an opinion. Reality TV is just crap and anyone who buys into anything it does is stupid. Reality TV can be good, but you need be choosey and thoughtful and actually research the things you take away from it (especially on things like how real is reality tv? I did see quite a bit of work on the scripting and editing control that changes whole stories). Images of people sitting at home with The Biggest Loser on while eating McDonald’s or other takeaway. I had my own experiences in which to build my expectations from because of my constant watching of Masterchef and my summer holidays binge on 16 and Pregnant/Teen Mom. I tried watching more The Biggest Loser for this assignment, and it literally made me feel ill (despite the protestations by my brother-in-law and his girlfriend that it was essentially a good program, and that it was great there were kids on it <.< ). Overall, all these opinions were in various studies and research done on the topic! I am quite interested to see what comes in the future, but am rather mindful of the possibilities for exploitation – one scifi series I have by Ian Irvine (Human Rites) has a short description of a future reality tv show where people must call in to bid to pay for a life-saving operation for a child, complete with obnoxious host. *shudders*

References

Phillipov, Michelle. “Communicating Health Risks via the Media: What Can We Learn from MasterChef Australia?” The Australasian medical journal 5.11 (2012): 593–7.

Lundy, Lisa K, Amanda M Ruth, and Travis D Park. “Simply Irresistible: Reality TV Consumption Patterns.” Communication Quarterly 56.2 (2008): 208–225

Sender, Katherine, and Margaret Sullivan. “Epidemics of Will, Failures of Self-esteem: Responding to Fat Bodies in The Biggest Loser and What Not to Wear.” Continuum 22.4 (2008): 573–584.

Lance, A. et al. “16 and Pregnant: a Content Analysis of a Reality Television Program About Unplanned Teen Pregnancy.” Contraception 86.3 (2012): 292.

Strasburger, Victor C, Amy B Jordan, and Ed Donnerstein. “Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Health Effects.” Pediatric clinics of North America 59.3 (2012): 533–587.

Thomas, Samantha, Hyde, Jim and Komesaroff, Paul. “‘Cheapening the Struggle:’ Obese People’s Attitudes Towards The Biggest Loser.” Obesity Management 3.5 (2007): 210–215.