Navigating the Notorious Grey Area

It does not seem like six weeks ago, when I was nervously beginning the subject of BCM110. In that relatively short amount of time, I have not only learned a tremendous amount, but also been challenged on occasion, by the differing perspectives offered by my peers and teachers.

Interestingly, the week that I found personally the most perplexing has been the present, where we were asked to relate the media theory that we have learned to a set of media issues.

One example that we were asked to engage with was the controversy that surrounded Bill Henson, and those now infamous portraits. Now, let me preface by saying that I have always regarded myself as being relatively open minded in regards to sex, and I am not easily offended. However, where that open-mindedness seems to close up is in regards to children, who I believe have been exploited, particularly sexually.

 The lecture seemed to assert that we often view provocative images of children in the context of being told by the media that they are ‘erotic’, and thus, inappropriate. Within the medium of the lecture and tutorials, we as students, were able to discuss the issue within a mediated public sphere. An argument that appeared to be put forth was that the reason we feel uncomfortable with such images is due to the preconceived ideas we have when viewing them, and that the media is responsible for a moral panic. I respectfully disagree.

An argument that was put forth by one of my fellow peers was that Bill Henson’s photographs are okay so long as he got the consent of the subject and their guardians. There are two issues that I have which arise from this argument. The first being whether it should be up to a child’s parent to consent to something so controversial on their behalf, which they may later come to resent, and secondly, do the children themselves have the capacity to consent?

Certainly the law regards children, as having doli incapax, an inability to commit a crime as they do not have the capacity to form the necessary intent. Thus, should they be able to consent to something like this? I would say no. It was stated in the lecture that an individual might be found to be in possession of child pornography if they have any ‘naked’ images of people under the age of 18, even if taken with consent. Consider this, if a young man aged 17 or 18 were found to have Henson’s photographs of his 15 year old girlfriend he could be liable. Should a middle-aged man, who produced them for the view of the general public, not be held to the same account?

How do you rate Bill Henson’s latest photographs?

Beautiful 31%

Not to my taste but I recognise the artistic merit 26%

Not to my taste and unsure of artistic merit 14%

I find the subject matter disturbing 7%

Disturbing and it shouldn’t be classified as art 22%

Total votes: 3759.

I found it interesting that my post ‘The Women in the Child’ appears to be so relevant to this week’s material.  Henson’s pictures are very grainy and voyeuristic, if we go back to the topic of semiotics, and dissect what these images connote, I would suggest that they do have a paedophilic feel about them. It is not necessarily because they are naked, it is the way those naked bodies are depicted through their adult and provocative poses.

 

Julian Burnside QC, tried to imply that by taking issue with the photographs, one was merely encouraging censorship. HUH? WAIT, WHAT? That makes absolutely no sense…

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Of course I understand that children and adolescents have a sexuality, but personally I believe this needs to be monitored and cared for by the adults they trust. I actually think the media has done a wonderful job of providing a space for issues such as this to be discussed and debated, and even provide a platform for children to weigh in on such issues.


References:

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Bringing Death out of the Closet

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When I first began watching HBO’s Six Feet Under the timing could not have been more profound. My grandmother had just died, and upon returning interstate from her funeral, I was informed via Facebook that a classmate of mine had just passed away. Two funerals, within two weeks… That is a little bit too close for comfort, even for those who are relatively comfortable with their own mortality.

Although I was prepared for the passing of my beloved Nan, I was caught off-guard by the unexpected death of a peer who was so young and as I thought, still had his whole life ahead of him.

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From the very first episode, Alan Ball managed to captivate my intrigue by drawing back the curtain on the ‘taboo’ subject of grief, funerals and death. The show managed to provide me with a source of comfort at a time when I was feeling a little overwhelmed by life itself.

I hear you ask, “but how is a show about a dysfunctional family who run a funeral home an example of a mediated public sphere?” My answer to that lies within the documentary ‘Life and Loss: The Impact of Six Feet Under’.

 

McKee describes the public sphere as a metaphor used to explain how individuals come together to exchange opinions, feelings and information about what is important to them in a ‘liberal’ society. I would like to propose that Ball acts as the mediator in this example, by producing storylines that explore controversial themes such as homosexuality, religion, incest, and mortality.

‘Life and Loss’ explored the impact that Six Feet Under had, particularly amongst the embalming and funeral director community. Prior to the shows premier, when Daniel Biggins would discuss his occupation as a funeral director, he was often met with a disturbed expression. However, once Six Feet Under premiered, he was bombarded with hundreds of questions about his job, including: “have you watched the show?”

The show was praised by the funeral industry for accurately depicting the diversity of death rituals, ranging from Buddhist monks through to the funeral of a murderer. As a direct result of the show, there was an increase in organ donation and prearranged funerals, a clear indication that the show encouraged people to think about death.

Each episode would begin with a death; sometimes they were peaceful and other times they were sensationalised. One poignant example was the death of a baby to SIDS. The scene was depicted through the child’s perspective and was sensitively delivered. Ball fought hard to include this storyline as he felt that it was a reality of the industry and therefore needed to be covered, not just glossed over. As actress Lauren Ambrose explained, “I don’t believe audiences need to be sheltered from dark subject matter”.

The show was not made to be shocking, but rather to simply illustrate one of the two certainties of life, death and taxes.


References:

  • antymon51. (2010). Life and Loss: The Impact of Six Feet Under. [Online Video]. 24 August 2010 Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzoIpasRAvI. [Accessed: 06 April 2014].
  • HBO. 2001. Six Feet Under. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hbo.com/six-feet-under#/. [Accessed 06 April 14].
  • IMDb. 2014. Alan Ball. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0050332/. [Accessed 06 April 14].
  • IMDb. 2014. Lauren Ambrose. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0024404/. [Accessed 06 April 14].
  • McKee, A, 2005, ‘Introduction: the public sphere : an introduction’ in Public Sphere: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp1-31.
  • Schiappa, Edward, 2004. AN A TELEVISION SERIES CHANGE ATTITUDES ABOUT DEATH? A STUDY OF COLLEGE STUDENTS AND SIX FEET UNDER. Death Studies, 28, 459-474.
  • Image courtesy of HBO and Gif of gify
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♪♬ Rinehart, Murdoch, and Packer… Oh My! ♪♬

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Scott Ludlam (from The Guardian“Oh the bias!”) has said that a diverse media ecosystem is the backbone to any democracy, including Australia. He argues that regardless of your own political beliefs we should all be fighting for the diversification of media ownership. And to an extent, I certainly agree.

The usual argument put forth is that when there is a dominance of media ownership by a few ‘big guns’ (Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax), the under-saturation of Australia’s media market will lead to abuses of power. As well as conflicting interests, a lack of diversity in content, analysis and opinion.

 

This all seems common sense on first consideration. However, when I begin to really think about the question why does it matter who ‘controls’ the media, I feel a little underwhelmed by my own personal conclusions.

It is certainly true that currently, if you turn on your TV you are guaranteed to be watching a channel produced by one of six companies. The fate of newspapers is even grimmer, with only four major players. So why does this matter?

Media not only informs, but also holds the power to shape the publics perceptions. We are all familiar with Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR as extreme examples of what abuse occurs when the public are manipulated by one dominant media source.

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Let’s not all run away crying in despair, just yet. I would like to think that most Australians are intelligent enough to navigate the contemporary media landscape, by ascertaining if a story has a particular agenda. Never, is a story going to be 100% objective or free from bias, to think that way is both naïve and idealistic. Journalists have their own ideologies that inevitably contribute to how they interact with a particular issue or story.

I suppose, why people are panicking, is that they are afraid that if there is only a few opinions being thrown around by the media, they will be left in the dark about alternative ideas. However, I really don’t believe that to be the case. Perhaps I have too much faith in the general population of Australia; currently we are in a time of dramatic change in how we communicate with one another, with social media taking centre stage. Although much of how we receive our news online is via the mega media companies, we are provided a platform via blogs, Twitter and Facebook to discuss our own opinions about current affairs amongst our peers.

I feel it needs to be said that virtually all the research that went into this blog post has come from publications that were produced by the ‘monopoly’ including the criticisms made by Ludlam…Oh the irony!


References:

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The Women in the Child – A Controversial Image

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This is Brooke Shields aged just ten years old. The photograph was taken by fashion photographer Gary Gross (a more then appropriate name in my opinion) who specialised in dog portraiture. It was taken in 1975 and was to be part of his project called ‘The Women in the Child’. These photographs were taken with the permission of Brookes mother, Teri, and first appeared in the publication Little Women, and eventually in the Playboy Press publication ‘Sugar and Spice’.

Now, let me preface by saying that I have made the conscious decision to only use a cropped image of her face, as I believe the images that make up the collection are nothing short of child pornography. Therefore, I am only going to analyse this controversial ‘text’ in regards to the cropped image I have selected.

Gross explained the idea behind this image as being an exploration of the femininity in prepubescent girls compared to adult women. The image clearly denotes an attractive and ‘made-up’ prepubescent girl, who is leaning against a white wall, staring intently down the lens of the camera.

However, when we then move to what the image connotes, the image becomes far more complicated. Brooke has had her hair and make up styled to not only make her look like a woman, but a women who has a strong hold on her sexuality. She has been covered in body oil and is completely naked except for a choker necklace (which I believe connotes that she is just like the dogs Gross usually photographs). Although she is leaning up against the wall for support, she has been positioned in a way to signify her sex appeal.

We then move on towards what her gaze connotes. Although she is only a child, she looks towards the camera with an explicitly vulnerable ‘come hither’ stare, with her lips pressed into a seductive pout.

It is true that people will interpret media messages in different ways based on their own ideologies. However, I must admit, that in regards to this complex image, I have a hard time believing that most people would read this message as anything other than grossly inappropriate.

I don’t believe the ‘artist’ Gross has managed to achieve his objective of exploring the femininity in prepubescent girls.  In fact, I believe he has done the exact opposite. What makes young girls beautiful is their youth, yet in this image he has tarnished that by making them up to look like mature women. In a way, it is rather ironic.

Further Reading:


References:

Image courtesy of Gary Gross via listverse 

 

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Child Killers – Are we responsible?

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As soon as I heard the name ‘Jamie Bulger’, my attention was caught. You see, I have been studying criminal law for the past year and I find the correlation made between the media and childhood violence truly fascinating.

In this particular instance the perpetrators were not adolescents, rather two boys aged just ten years old. Jamie was led away from a shopping centre to be tortured and sexually assaulted. He  was then murdered. The boys then proceed to position his body on the train tracks to make it look as though they had not been involved. Although ultimately unsuccessful as they were caught, it does raise some questions, such as how they came up with the idea and more importantly, why?

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When I first heard about this case I immediately wondered what those two boys had been exposed to, after all they were only ten years old. It was later revealed unsurprisingly that both boys had come from families that were dysfunctional and decorated with the usual attributes of poverty, neglect, and other forms of abuse.

The judge in his ruling, made the rather weak connection between their exposure to violent video games and the manner in which they had carried out their crime.  This raises the question, does the media play a role in shaping childhood perceptions and interpretations of violence. The ‘media effects’ model would argue yes, and so would I, but only to an extent.

I wish to make it clear from the outset that I am not suggesting the media is to be blamed for the criminal actions of children. However, it is my belief that exposure to violence in childhood via the media is a contributing factor. David Gauntlett argues against the ‘media effects’ model by stating that children are more than capable of distinguishing between reality and sensationalised violence, and I certainly agree that most have the skill-set to do so. However, there are children who are in abusive environments and may not have the ability to distinguish fiction from their reality. By watching violence for entertainment purposes on a regular basis, the media is inadvertently reinforcing these kids distorted understanding of behaviour and people, which has been shaped by their own environment and life experiences.

Do I believe it is justified that the media has been blamed for this? No, I do not. I believe it is the parent’s responsibility to censor what their children are exposed to. Once published it is virtually out of the hands of the media.

If you want more information about the relationship between children, violence and the media:

Note: I wish to make it clear that I actually agree with many of the other arguments asserted by Gauntlett against the ‘effects model‘. However, to simply state the media is either wholly responsible or not for something is too simplistic of an approach that lacks critical analysis. Like most things in life, it is a little bit more complicated than that.

Random Fact: When I was nine and still chasing my dream of becoming an actress I was actually in a documentary that appeared on the History Channel about ‘Child Killers’ and yes my role was one of the killers.  


References:

Images courtesy of BBC and Wikimedia 

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