Polonia: A Case Study

Diaspora is a term that I’ve never come across in my years of studying the media. Yet when I learned that it refers to a cultural group of people who have scattered from their original geographic homeland, I immediately lit up. My whole life I’ve been exposed to diasporic media, thanks to my family’s strong Polish cultural ties.

In particular, I remember growing up with the sights and sounds of TV Polonia, an international television station servicing Polish people living outside of Poland. Delivered alongside the myriad of international television stations offered by cheap satellite TV companies, TVP is a station that caters to one of the world’s largest diasporic populations.

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With between 15-20 million people of Polish descent living outside of Poland (MSZ, 2014), it comes as no surprise that a station dedicated to this group exists. TVP, and its radio subsidiary, report primarily on key Polish issues often ignored by the media within Australia.

In today’s internet age, the importance of a dedicated diasporic station such as this may have arguably diminished. Yet for the less computer-savvy amongst our population (my grandparents included), TVP was, and continues to be, a key source of Polish news and entertainment in an otherwise very Australia- and US-centric media landscape.

In a nation that prides itself on multiculturalism (at least ostensibly), diasporic media such as TVP plays a pivotal role in allowing our diverse population to maintain a cultural link to their old homeland.

Global Echo Chambers

No discussion of globalisation and the media is complete without a foray into the world of social media. Hailed by many as the ultimate connective medium, social media has the potential to bridge the gap between cultures and countries. Social media as a medium should be McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’ coming to life. But is it?

While it certainly has the potential to be, more often than not social media acts as nothing more than a convenient echo chamber. Rather than encouraging us to explore the vast wealth of different cultures and opinions available around the world, the majority of social media platforms have been developed or evolved (often by design) to be reflections of our own cultural beliefs and standards.

Conventional ‘friendship’-based social media networks such as Facebook will inherently give users a view of the world that is centric to their socioeconomic situation and geographic region. Put simply, despite being a ‘global network’, Facebook is little more than the online version of your local community. Even then, the Facebook Wall is designed to hide content that users would find ‘boring’ or disagreeable (Edgerank, 2014), limiting your online world to the small fraction that you’ll find most agreeable.

Yet even when we delve into more global networks like Twitter or Reddit, we find that users will choose to segment themselves into very niche or specific topics or regions. Reddit itself has appropriated the term ‘circlejerk’, to refer to the never-ending reinforcement of popular ideals or viewpoints on the site’s respective ‘subreddits’.

Despite our growing dependence on global social media networks, our ability to limit ourselves to a very narrow perspective of the world is becoming easier and simpler. With an ever-increasing number of geo-specific, language specific and purpose-specific social media networks coming into existence on a near daily basis, this trend is unlikely to slow down.

We are more globally connected than ever before in history. Yet our global village is starting to look an awful lot like a set of global echo chambers.

 

Edgerank, 2014. Edgerank. Available at http://edgerank.net/

Race in Context

In my research proposal, I outlined my desire to research the impact of gaming on the public sphere. Looking at the topic of race and ethnicity in the media, I found that video games present an equally fascinating case study in this field, too.

Many modern games (CoD in particular) have used race as a defining characteristic. The ‘good guys’ (usually white, typically American or British soldiers) fight against the evil Arabs/ Russians/ Germans/ Muslims.  My classmate Lachlan has gone into greater detail on the topic in his blog post, so I won’t comment too heavily on the negative use of race in games.

Rather, I wanted to explore the positive use of race in gaming. Extra Credits, a lecture series that delves into issues pertinent to the study and development of video games, explored the topic with their Race in Games episode.

The Extra Credits team make particular mention of LA Noir, which utilises race and racial issues heavily. In their episode, they look into the way in which the LA Noir developers have used character reaction to racial issues as a narrative device to define and add depth to characters.

We each carry around ‘baggage’ regarding racial (and other) issues. Game developers can tap into our extrinsic feelings towards these issues in order to define characters, dictate mechanics or advance the story.

The way in which race and racial issues are addressed is what sets apart games like Call of Duty from LA Noir. When used to define game mechanics, race becomes nothing more than a caricature or stereotype, which we are forced to adopt in order to complete the game. Yet when properly and intelligently utilised, race and racial issues can become powerful and rich storytelling devices. And through the interactive nature of the medium, it has the potential to force us to reflect upon our own feelings towards race and racial issues.

Gender and the Media

Gender and the Media

Let me preface this by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with the need for greater representation of women and women’s issues in the media. The growing media awareness of anti-female behaviour in countries such as India is nothing short of phenomenal and a great boon for gender equality worldwide. So when I say that I take issue with studies of ‘gender in the media’ that focus entirely on women, know that I do so without condemning the much-needed awareness of women’s issues and gender inequality that are being raised.

Western media and academia is quick to criticise gender inequality toward women (and rightfully so), though has failed to apply those same standards of criticism when presented with cases of gender inequality toward men.

A TV Show that presents certain female characters as incompetent in ‘male’ tasks is lambasted mercilessly by critics in news articles. Yet portrayals of male incompetence in ‘female’ tasks are the stuff of comedy gold. Advertisements that sexualise or objectify women are rightfully attacked by feminist media sources, and yet the same standard is rarely applied when the gender roles are reversed (O’Brien, 2013).

When workplace inequality toward women is uncovered, the media (both independent and commercial) immediately demands explanations and solutions. Obama’s push to eliminate the pay gap (Fram, 2014) between men and women has received staunch support from countless media sources, particularly the independent media in the US. Yet we dismiss as a fact of life, that 9/10 workplace deaths are male, or that the average male works up to 6 hours more per week than his female counterparts.

INFOGRAPHIC 

The media has blossomed in its willingness to discuss violence, discrimination and sexual abuse toward women. Yet media coverage of violence or sexual abuse towards males is significantly more lax. Worse still, there are cases in which media outlets have portrayed such stories as little more than idle curiosities or humorous, often under the category of “Weird News”.

Even in our entertainment, we’ve come a long way from laughing at the Pepe le Pew’s unwanted sexual advances, yet we still find it hilarious when our male characters are sexually assaulted or sexually blackmailed.

Yes, women have been, and continue to be, discriminated against in many facets of life. Yes, social issues affecting women do exist. Yes, it is fantastic that the media and academia study these issues and bring them to light. Yet when presented by the long list of male-specific issues in society today, men are told by the media and society to ‘be a man’ or ‘man up’ or that they deserve a bit of discrimination as payback for the years of discrimination women faced. And very rarely do we stop to ask “why?”

When studying ‘gender in the media’, we need to take a more holistic approach. Gender issues are not a binary Male/Female tug of war. When looking at gender issues, we should never take an “Us verse Them” attitude. We must recognise that different gender issues exist for both men and women, and not dismiss them entirely because of a “they did it first” attitude, as some journalists are want to do.

As students studying media and culture, we must recognise when the media takes action to address gender issues and also when it fails to act, for both men and women.

 

Fram, A. 2014. “Obama Signs Actions Taking Aim At Gender Pay Gap”, Huffington Post, 08 April, Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/08/obama-pay-equity_n_5112161.html

O’Brien, S. 2013. “Diet Coke: Sexist against men”, The Herald Sun¸ 09 February, Available at: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/seewhatsusiesays/index.php/heraldsun/comments/diet_coke_sexist_against_men