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Mediated spectacles, social media and social change


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Social scientists recognize the ambiguous significance of both mass media and mediated spectacles to impact public perceptions and governmental (in)actions regarding a plethora of societal and political concerns. This recognized ambiguity runs the spectrum from what Guy Debord termed “the society of the spectacle” in 1967 (1995; 2002), whereby mediated spectacles encourage passivity and distraction, to more recent accounts that reimagine spectacles in media and in public spaces of having the potential to encourage activism and alter public debates (see Duncombe, 2007). The advent and expansion of social media encourages understanding the significance of mediated representation to potentially drive social and/or political change through their capacities to transmit meanings outside of established mass media, to influence mass media itself, to act as vehicles for innovative narratives and to possibly galvanize action through the dissemination of visual representations. To explore the potential for mediated spectacles to facilitate political change, this project considers two case studies involving the intersection of social media, newspaper accounts and television coverage/documentary film representation in order to determine whether such an alignment contributes to discernable agenda-setting. The cases of the controversy over SeaWorld’s use of Orca whales (and the negative representation of this practice depicted in the documentary Blackfish) and the recent case of the killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist and hunter Timothy Palmer (including protests directed at Palmer’s dental practice) were examined through the social media related to these cases is juxtaposed with newspaper accounts and content analyses of television and/or film related to these cases in order to identify the capacity of social media narrative to inform mass media depictions of these events and potentially infuse them with “moralization” (Rozin, 1997).

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Mediated spectacles, social media and social change

  1. 1. Mediated spectacles, social media and social change: Do mediated spectacles encourage political change? By Brian M. Lowe SUNY College at Oneonta
  2. 2. Central Questions  Can mediated “spectacles” partially explain social and/or political change?  What constitute “spectacles”?  Can spectacles contribute to “moralization”?
  3. 3. Spectacles: A Brief Genealogy  Spectacles as social control:  Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle.  Debord, Guy. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle.  Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation  Spectacles as distractions:  Boorstin, Daniel J. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America
  4. 4. Spectacles: A Brief Genealogy  Spectacles as Contested Terrain  Edelman, Murray. Constructing the Political Spectacle.  Kellner, Douglas. Media Spectacle.  Spectacle as Zone of Conflict  Duncombe, Stephen. Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy
  5. 5. Moralization  “Moralization” by Paul Rozin (1997)  Acquisition or detachment of moral significance  Could be positive (some activity, practice or event acquires moral significance)  Could be negative (some activity, practice or event loses moral significance)  Significance itself can be positive or negative
  6. 6. Case Studies  Controversy over Tilikum/SeaWorld  Controversy over killing of Cecil the lion  Both controversies involve mediated representations (mass media and social media)  Both controversies involve moralization
  7. 7. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  24 February 2010: Tilikum (Orca) kills trainer Dawn Brancheau during public show at SeaWorld  Incident was framed as tragic accident by SeaWorld  Few calls for Tilikum to be euthanized  23 August 2010: OSHA fined SeaWorld $75,000 for violations related to Dawn Brancheau’s death
  8. 8. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  Evidence emerges that Tilikum had been involved in other incidents  20 February 1991: At SeaWorld Vancouver Keltie Byrne fell into a pool occupied by Tilikum and two other Orcas  Tilikum seized her and held her underwater until she drowned  6 July 1999: Remains of Daniel Duke found in tank with Tilikum  Duke partially mauled  (Kirby, 2012: 258-259).
  9. 9. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  2007: Former dolphin trainer Russ Rector writes to SeaWorld, warning that stress of performances could encourage Orca violence  Also evidence of Orca attack (fatal) on trainer in Spain in 2006  2006: Near fatal attack on trainer in San Diego  Conclusion: prolonged captivity for Orcas could cause mental deterioration and abnormal behaviors 
  10. 10. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  2012: Publication of Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby  2013: Blackfish released (directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite)  Made for $76,000 US dollars; initially screened in five theatres  Aired in October 2013 by CNN to an estimated audience of 21 million  
  11. 11. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  2013-2014: Withdrawal of celebrity entertainers including  The Beach Boys  Trisha Yearwood  From “Bands, Brews and BBQ” event  August 2014: SeaWorld stock had lost more than 30 percent of previous value  earnings-at-seaworld.html
  12. 12. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  2014: Orlando Business Journal posted poll results stating that 99% of respondents had not been influenced by viewing Blackfish on CNN  Subsequently disclosed that 180 of 328 votes were from a SeaWorld IP address  Fearful overreaction? “Taking out the 180 votes from SeaWorld still puts the poll at 95 percent in favor of the Orlando-based theme park.”  this.html?ana=twt&r=full
  13. 13. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  Director Andrew Stanton and Pixar films making Finding Dory (to be released June 2016)  Stanton saw Blackfish, met with Cowperthwaite and made changes to their animation as a result:  “At the end of the [Pixar] movie, some marine mammals are sent to an aquatic park/rehab facility - a SeaWorld-type environment. After seeing Blackfish, they retooled the film so that the sea creatures now have the choice to leave that marine park. They told Gabriela they didn’t want to look back on this film in 50 years and have it be their Song of the South.“ 
  14. 14. SeaWorld Controversy: A Timeline  25 February 2016: SeaWorld disclosed that it had used employees to infiltrate People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  Possible legal hazard: trade secret misappropriation  Stock declined 11 percent  claims.html
  15. 15. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  Background:  Worldwide Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University (WRCU) (Recanati-Kaplan Centre at Oxford)  Tracking of Cecil in 2008  Part of extensive effort: “we have satellite-tracked the movements of over a hundred lions and monitored every detail of the lives of more than 500 individuals” 
  16. 16. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  Background:  Growth in Big Game Hunting  Revenue source for sub-Saharan African nations  Particularly Zimbabwe and Tanzania  Estimated that 64% of African lions killed were by American hunters of last twenty years 
  17. 17. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  Background:  October 2014: U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes listing African Lions under Endangered Species Act  Would restrict importation of Lion remains into the United States  Proposal is not enacted
  18. 18. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  13 July 2015: Cecil is killed near Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park  28 July 2015: UK Telegraph identifies American Dentist Walter Palmer as hunter who killed Cecil  Reaction in mass media and social media is swift  67119/Cecil-the-lions-killer-revealed-as-American-dentist.html
  19. 19. Palmer with corpse of Cecil
  20. 20. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  28 July 2015: On Jimmy Kimmel Live, host Jimmy Kimmel devotes over four minutes to attacking killing:  Let's say we accept at face value that he thought it was legal and properly handled and didn't know the lion had a tracking collar, was a local favorite -- the big question is why are you shooting a lion in the first place? I mean, I'm honestly curious to know why a human being would feel compelled to do that. How is that fun? Is it that difficult for you to get an erection that you need to kill things?  Encourages donations to WRCU:  “Maybe we can show the world that not all Americans are like this jackhole,”  
  21. 21. Jimmy Kimmel monologue 28 July 2015
  22. 22. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  29 July 2015: Outrage expressed at killing of Cecil  Against Walter Palmer  WRCU received over $150,000 US dollars from over 2600 donors, attributed to Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue  Other calls for action  812026
  23. 23. Images from River Bluff Dental Yelp Page
  24. 24. Images from River Bluff Dental Yelp Page
  25. 25. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  3 August 2015: In response to online petitions  Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines  Ban transportations of animal remains from African hunts to the United States  Even from documented legal hunts
  26. 26. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  4 August 2015: Image of Cecil the lion projected onto the Empire State building  Partial statement by WRCU founder David Macdonald:  “…I never guessed that the journey would include the projection of one of our study animals on the Empire State Building. I am in awe, and I thank everybody. More importantly, with opportunity comes responsibility, and we must translate this into more and better wildlife conservation.” 
  27. 27. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline
  28. 28. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  Legislative action  16 September 2015:  HR. 2494 Global Anti-Poaching Act  S. 1918 C.E.C.I.L. Act (Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act)  2 November 2015: H.R. 2494 passed with bipartisan support   lion
  29. 29. Cecil the Lion: A Timeline  February 2016: “Cecil Effect”  Decline in African lion hunting raises overpopulation concerns  “It is the country where Cecil the lion was killed, sparking international anger against the American dentist who shot him.  The outcry over Walter Palmer’s killing of Cecil drove other big-game hunters away from Zimbabwe, fearful they too would attract the opprobrium of the public. But in what is being described as a side-effect of the affair, Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife area says it now finds itself suffering from an overpopulation of lions.”  effect-leaves-parks-lion-at-risk-of-cull.html
  30. 30. Social Media and Moralization  Social media gathered on SeaWorld (using Trackur)  Social Media gathered on Cecil  Data organized and pruned through RapidMiner  Evidence of moralization
  31. 31. Spectacular Qualities  Circulating within popular culture  Organize claims and information  Provide narratives  Engage the attention of audiences
  32. 32. Evidence of Success?  Economic impacts:  Decline in SeaWorld profits  Altering of Airline policies  “Cecil effect”  Legislative:  Bills passed  Popular culture:  Film plot altered  Loss of celebrity participation