Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three Articles Reviewed

Phil Helliwell

U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion
Lynn Schofield Clark

Lynn Schofield Clark’s article U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion addresses the media’s role in the religious identity of teens in the United States. She suggests five different patterns that relate to how US teens order and discuss religious belief in the wake of popular supernatural themed media, sported mainly in television shows and film. The five patterns are the Traditionalists, the Intrigued, the Mystical, the Experimenters and the Resisters.

Clark defines the Traditionalist teens as those strongly affiliated with an organised religion and they uphold the view that there is a clear boundary between religion and the media. Interestingly, these teens view the media unlike any other group: they assess fictional entertainment in terms of its moral message. The Intrigued teens are not far removed from the Traditionalists, yet are indifferent when it comes to organised religion. They too maintain a boundary between the supernatural themes in entertainment and religion, but they do so under the assumption that believing in a supernatural thing or being is different from having an invested (religious) belief in a divine power. The Mystical teens come from a myriad of backgrounds and believe to have directly encountered the supernatural. Media such as horror films have informed their reckoning and subsequently have influenced their reactions to these supernatural encounters. Experimenter teens are generally far removed from the religious norm (Christianity) yet are clearly influenced by genre films pertaining to their religious beliefs. Clark found in young Wiccan teens the influence of the film The Craft had over their religious identity, despite them being aware of the obvious romantic embellishments in the film. Finally are the Resister teens who are fiercely sceptical of organised religion yet remain open to the possibility of the supernatural. They explore ideas about the supernatural almost entirely through media sources.

Clark demonstrates in her article that teens draw from the media to support their religious identity, not as something tailored by the media to be directly consumed.
Clark L.S. (2004). U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion, Journal of Communication, 52, 794-811.

Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don't Like

Deni Elliot

In her article, Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like, Deni Elliot seeks to demonstrate how stereotypes of Muslims are created by the government-supported media and how those stereotypes misinform the population and perpetuate misunderstanding. Her argument tracks the development of the stereotype from the present to its possible inception, and does so in direct relation to the attacks of September 11 and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

According to Elliot, the Muslim stereotype as it stands today was formed both before the and during the time of the September 11 attacks. Images have been turned into icons - namely the turban, the burqa, and the typical non-Anglo facial features - and those icons have themselves been perpetuated in mediums like film, often portrayed as or as signifiers of antagonists. In addition to this, images of toddlers dressed in mock suicide bomber jackets and demonic faces in the clouds of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers support the preexisting Muslim stereotype.

But what makes this parade even more insidious for Elliot is that the stereotypes seem to be (or were) supported by the US government. She points out that the official definition of terrorist used in the United States Code itself is concerned primarily with direct non-military attacks on civilians by informal organisations. Yet the terrorists portrayed by the US government and the media go beyond the definition found in the United States Code by including the accumulated cultural stereotypes on top of the definition of terrorist. They are not as other terrorists are, they are more; they are evil. This is the key point Elliot wishes to convey; that while there are terrorists in and from places other than the Middle East, only those from the Middle East carry the extra baggage, which she puts down to the preexisting Muslim stereotype.
Elliott D, (2003). ‘Terrorists we do like and Terrorists we don't like’, In PM Lester & EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd Edn, London, Praeger, ch7, 51-55.

The Mediatization of Religion
Stig Hjarvard

Hjarvard’s article, The Mediatization of Religion, deals with the conglomerate mass that the media has become and its relatively new role in a being large force in the proliferation, maintenance and evolution of religion and the religious imagination. Data was extracted from the Danish population.

Today it is evident that supernatural themes are common in entertainment media, so much so that to see them in film or television is completely normal, and alongside this, at least in Denmark, television programs devoted to religious issues screen regularly. These examples are effects of the greater happening of the Mediatization of religion, whereby the traditional institutional means of communication and spread of religious ideas are now conveyed via the media. Hjarvard suggests this is a process of secularization, yet the effect is of a re-sacralization of particular facets of established religious ideas once thought disposed of in the typically conceptualized wave of secularization.

But the crux of Hjarvard’s article comes in his enjoining of Meyrowitz’s three aspects of media communication – media as conduits, media as languages and media as environments – and a development of Billig’s idea of “banal nationalism”; “banal religion”. As the media formats communication between sender and receiver, as it constantly transfers symbols and as it facilitates communication in the modern society, everyday ideas, objects and places are mobilized to establish religious meaning, yet without the input of institutionalized religion.
Hjarvard, S, 2008, The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change, Northern Lights, 6, 1, 9-26.

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