Friday, August 21, 2009

Critical and Reflective Blog

Future in the Mirror: Media, Evangelicals and politics in Rio de Janeiro
Birman, P.
Lorelei Franke-Woods

Since the mid-1980’s, when a major football stadium in Rio de Janeiro hosted Brazil’s first non-Catholic religious event, there has been an evangelical surge in the once Catholic Brazilian society. The at first low-profile religious group, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), has been responsible for this event and continues to bring an otherwise Catholic Brazil under the ever growing influence of such evangelical mega-events. Birman discusses how UCKG integrates religious and secular media into ritual and symbolic activities both inside and outside the church in Brazilian contemporary society, focusing on use of the media resources of stage, pulpit and virtual space. But, Birman argues, the success and the public image of the UCKG also depend on its many symbols belonging to global and business values.

Birman argues that ritual activities, including exorcism take on total meaning when they are subject to television media and the press. Also, for its poor followers, a symbolic transformation to becoming shareholders in social and religious capital allows them an effective means to claim higher recognition and more rights in society. It has a new image of being the non-traditionalist religion of the poor, while offering the new image of the poor as religious and belonging to the church, yet disassociated from the stereotypical “Brazilian people”.

But, Birman argues, this phenomenon threatens to upset a balance between reason and emotion, the secular and the religious, the private and the public, and its success now poses a threat to the stability of the social hierarchy and to the Catholic hegemony. Consequently, the nominally secular media, reflecting Catholic sensibility, has campaigned against the UCKG, through a systematic exploitation of supposed similarities between religious intolerance and violence of the poor, and in the media created image of Rio de Janeiro as a violent city.

Birman, P. (2006). Future in the Mirror: Media, Evangelicals and Politics in
Rio de Janeiro. Religion, Media and the Public Sphere. Meyer, B. & Moors, A. (eds). Bloomington & Indianapolis. Indiana University Press.

Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like.
Elliott, D.
Lorelei Franke-Woods

Photojournalists have denied that images of the smoke that billowed from the World Trade Centre on 9/11 were manipulated, yet some viewers claim to have seen the face of bin Laden or Satan in these images. Yet, Elliott argues, these negative images and others taken before and after 9/11 have provided cues on how viewers should feel, corresponding with the government’s line of evil. According to Elliott, these 9/11 images always appear whenever keywords terrorism and images are typed into any search engine. They depict the consequences of the event, while the people involved have been blurred into stereotypes.

Elliott suggests that U.S. citizens need the news images and media to not simply follow government agenda if they are to be allowed to make their own educated decisions for self-government. Islam has been shown negatively in the U.S. media for the past two decades (Akbar Ahmed [2002}), and so the American public has been conditioned to expect threats, terrorism and fanaticism from anyone of Middle Eastern dress or look. Elliott argues that this image of threat has become the icon for terrorism.

In recent world history, vast amounts of concern and attention have been paid to terrorism. Some terrorists are portrayed and understood as evil while there remain some who have been considered freedom fighters, or rebels or the opposition army. These rebels are usually not shown by the media in any negative light. The distinction between the two groups is usually due to whether they have U.S. government support or not and that can alter quickly. Elliott suggests that separating these two groups confuses people’s ability to understand the situations in the world. Such an understanding is necessary, to see the perspective of the terrorists’ cause and without that, terrorist activity probably can’t be prevented.

Elliott, D. (2003). Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like. Images that Injure:
Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media. Lester, P.M. & Dennis, E.E. (eds).
London: Praeger.

U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the “Funky” Side of Religion
Clark, L.S.
Lorelei Franke-Woods

Young people appear to be increasingly sceptical about the God they associate with formal organized religion with which they may have had only limited contact. Clark suggests that they want a new outlook on religion and are turning to the supernatural world of extraterrestrial, with ghosts, aliens and the paranormal. This article questions the role popular media plays in religious beliefs of teenagers in the United States and how such beliefs may relate to their self-presentation of religious identity and perceived position of powerlessness relative to society.

Clark suggests five alternatives in how modern teenagers interpret supposed boundaries between the images presented by the media and those of the realm of the supernatural, beyond organized religion. They are firstly the traditionalists who are committed to their organized religions and see the supernatural as depicted in the media as entertainment. Secondly, the intrigued teenagers, who want a separation of traditional religion and media images, but who can sometimes find commonalities. Thirdly, the mystical teenagers with marginal traditional religious ties but also with much interest in the supernatural. Fourthly, the experimenters who actively search the media for the supernatural and finally, the resisters who embrace the supernatural and challenge religious orthodoxy. Clark argues for an understanding of cultural contexts that influence and determine these five alternatives. She acknowledges that within the U.S. culture, whether religion is associated with positive moral values, mysteries of the unknown, or oppression, the media reflects this.

While arguing that there is more than one type of religious identity for teenagers, and more than one way for media and religion to interact in the interpretation practices of audiences, Clark suggests further research is needed to identify whether religious identity and beliefs are directly related to religious affiliation. Also, she questions religious change over time, in conjunction with her five alternatives, and finally, suggests that the media, as an element of culture, gives important definition to how modern teenagers construct their religious identities.

Clark, L.S. (2002). U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the “Funky” Side of Religion. Journal of Communication. 52, 794-811.

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