Media anthropological reflections on the writing of history in the case of the Danish Muhammad cartoons
Peter Hervik (Aarhus University)
Paper short abstract:
I first review some of the assumptions I have found useful when studying how popular magazines represent Mayan speakers in Mexico and Central America and how the Danish news media cover ethnic minority issues in Denmark. I then analyse Danish government spin on the controversial Muhammad cartoons.
Paper long abstract:
During the last 10 years I have shifted my media anthropological focus from how popular magazines such as the National Geographic represented the Mayan speakers in Mexico and Central America to how the Danish news media covers ethnic minority issues in Denmark. In the first half of this paper, I will present some of the theoretical and methodological assumptions I have found useful for both areas of study. For instance being less morally concerned with the distortions of news photographs, headings, picture captions, texts, and blockbuster hits such as Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbour and instead being more concerned about working out the consequences resulting from distorted media coverage. The idea being that if damage has occurred already then righteous anger and comprehensive deconstruction of the media products seem less relevant from the perspective of those directly affected by these representations or for the long-term impact on popular consciousness. Shifting the field of study has also meant having to learn new principles and strategies for mediation between elite politicians and voters such as political spin and by implication involving new forms of populism. In the second half of my paper I will explore some issues in my ongoing research on government political spin to do damage control in the case of the controversial Muhammad cartoons. This specific case speaks also to the generally issue of how political communication experts through the use of focus groups, audience reception testing and aggressive spin seek to define how controversial events will be remembered in the future.
Understanding media practices