While Coronavirus is no doubt a real-life event, with real-life social and (for an extreme minority tragic) individual consequences, it is also very much a media event, especially since isolation is correlated with a significant increase our media consumption with news sites especially seeing a surge in visits (U.S. data)…
Social media usage (Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp) is seeing a similar 75% increase in user engagement.
The News is a Social Construction
The spread of Coronavirus, and the societal reaction to it are media-events, they are socially constructed – that is to say we do not get to see every aspect of reality, only that which is selected by media professionals.
Because Coronavirus was so unexpected, and because the consequences are potentially so horrendous (millions could die from it globally, so we are told), it’s tempting to think that the reporting around this global event are ‘true’ or, at least as accurate as can be given the lack of any actual real data.
HOWEVER, it is precisely because this event is so ‘massive’ ( global, and with a range of different responses), and because there are so many unknowns (missing data on how many people actually have it), that this event in particular is possibly the most ‘media constructed’ in world history.
Add to this the fact ‘ordinary people’ have a reduced capacity to get out and see what’s going on for themselves (because of emergency social isolation legislation), then this is also the most hyperreal event in world history. One might even ask if it’s actually happening at all, as this person does here:
Give all of this, we really need to ask ourselves how the story of Coronavirus is being constructed, and to my mind I see several core narratives which haven’t so much emerged rather than just blasted all of a sudden onto the media scene:
The 11 media narratives of Coronavirus
Panic and Risk based around uncritical use of statistics
Enforcing the importance of social control
‘The War footing’
Celebrities ‘like us’ in isolation
Sharing ‘isolation coping strategies’, while staying isolated
Victims: Private tragedies made public
New heroes (frontline workers and volunteers, especially NHS workers)
The importance of trusting medical experts/ technical solutions to Covid-19
The economic impact/ bailout of covid-19/ ‘pulling through this together’
Blame other countries or poor migrants
This is very much a first-thoughts run through of this, and I might rejig it later. Below I provide a few examples for some of these themes.
NB – I am not saying that we shouldn’t take this virus seriously, and I do accept that this is a highly contagious bug and potentially deadly for some (like the flu, that’s also deadly!), and the challenge we face is the rapidity of the spread of it. But at the same time, I just think we also need to aware of uncritical reporting of the death rates and social responses…
NB for a ‘content analysis’ challenge, scroll down to the bottom of this post!
Media Narrative One: Panic and Risk based around uncritical use of statistics
At time of writing (April 1st 2020) you get this theme from doing a basic Google search for the term ‘Coronavirus’:
The panic is in the language in the ‘top stories’: ‘record surge of cases’, ‘fatality rate shoots up’, but also in the images – you’ve got The Army, the Prime-minister with a lab technician (themes 2 and 10 above there) and then just a sea of red in the next image.
This could all be contextualized instead – things get worse before they get better, in China the cases are coming down:
Theme Two: Reinforcing social control
In case you missed it, same picture as above, search return Number One: Stay At Home: Save Lives| Anyone Can Spread Coronavirus, and this is from the NHS.
If you think such a simple statement doesn’t require analysis, then you do not have a sociological imagination.
Coronavirus is the most searched for term atm (NB that is an assumption, but I think I’m pretty safe making it!), and Google is the most used search engine in the world: so these are the nine words which people in Britain are the most exposed to.
There’s a rather nasty psychological manipulation technique going on here – social control through the internalizing of potential guilt: if you go out, you could kill someone.
However, the fact that this advice comes from the trusted and loved NHS makes us think (maybe) that while dark, this must be ‘good advice.
Confused yet, terrified? I’m not surprised!
NB: Keep in mind that this advice is reinforcing government emergency lock-down legislation, legislation that is not based in hard statistics on the actual chance of people dying from Covid-19 – there’s every chance that the real mortality rate from the disease is the same as the flu, but here we are in lockdown for three weeks.
On the theme of social control, I found this from The Sun especially interesting…
Here we have the perfect way of reinforcing the stay at home method – a 19 year old female nurse (although I don’t know how she can be qualified at age 19?) crying because people are flouting the stay at home rules – the perfect hero and victim, all rolled into one!
If that doesn’t make you feel guilty for going out, nothing will, I mean look at that face, how could you hurt her?
Theme Three: The War Footing
President Trump has declared himself a war time president, and he’s far from the only one using the ‘War Footing’ narrative – besides using war related language (fight against, achieving victory, the national effort), a lot of commentary harks back to WW2 analogies – I heard one lab technician today saying how his small lab, testing for Covid-19, was like one of the boats from Dunkirk, for example.
Theme Four: Coronavirus Villains
You really don’t have to look far, and probably no newspaper does a better of job of singling these out for us than The Sun, which tells us that going out for a too long walk is now deviant (top right hand corner below)
Anyone who now goes out for anything but emergency health reasons or going to the supermarket for essential food shopping is now a deviant!
Theme Five – Celebrities like us in Isolation
I present you my man Gregg Wallace – getting buff while in isolation in his Kent Farm House… coping with isolation, just like us! (Except he’s probably in a very large farmhouse in a very exclusive part of of Kent with several acres surrounding him, and a couple of million quid in the bank to fall back on in tis of crisis, like every other celebrity.
Theme 6: Coping Strategies
Here’s a nice middle class example from The Guardian. I’m sure there are plenty of other social media sharing strategies going on out there!
Theme Seven: Victims: Private tragedies made public
This example from Sky News is interesting – it shows how the media is lining up to report on ‘the most extreme’ cases… even before Covid-19 is confirmed as a cause..
Theme 8: New Heroes
The NHS front line workers appear to have emerged as the new heroes, as well as other essential key workers, but it’s mainly NHS workers who are getting the praise – the weekly clap for the NHS has become a media event with extreme rapidity (clapidity?)
Theme nine: The importance of trusting medical experts/ technical solutions to Covid-19
This is an emerging theme, which I expect we’ll see a lot more of in coming weeks. Not much to say on this atm, but it is there – at the bottom of the BBC News links – I might be overanalysing this, but the fact that it’s at the bottom, or at the end, does suggest implicitly that such technologicla drug trials are the way out….
Theme 10: The economic impact/ bailout of covid-19/ ‘pulling through this together’
The Italian covid-19 mortality rate is so high because they record the number of people dying with the disease RATHER than deaths from the disease.
According to news reports Italy is the epicenter of Coronavirus deaths in Europe. Take this extract from today’s BBC News report as an example:
When you look at the Covid-19 death rate in Italy compared to other countries, the death rate is around 10-20 times higher compared to some other countries, if we look at deaths per million of the population. This to my mind is suspicious, by which I mean ‘possibly invalid’, as indicated below…
The graph below, of Coronavirus cases rather than deaths makes me no less suspicious of the validity of the Italian Covid-19 death rate. Admittedly Italy has the most cases, but not that many more than France or Germany, which have much lower death rates.
So how do we explain the high Italian Covid-19 mortality rate?
In case you can’t be bothered to watch the whole thing (although I recommend it!) the gist is as follows:
The Italians record the deaths of people with Coronavirus as deaths from Coronavirus. Dying with Coronavirus is NOT the same thing as dying from Coronavirus.
Most people in hospital with Coronavirus have 3 other diseases (yes that is MOST, as in over 50%), such as cancer, heart disease, and other fatal diseases. Many more have two or one other diseases.
Since most people who have already died during this phase would have done so before the lockdown measures were in place in Italy, the chance are that everyone permanently in a hospital with a would have contracted Coronavirus.
Long story short – many of the people who are recorded as having died from Coronavirus would have probably died of something else, e.g. Heart Disease, but IF they happen to also have Corona, they are recorded with that as the cause of death when it probably isn’t!
Other good stuff in the Corbett Report
This is an excellent source of ‘alternative news’ on the Coronavirus. This particular report is full of evidence of more than 20 experts (reported in The Guardian) questioning the official figures we are getting on Covid-19.
The current lockdown situation was based on projections of literally millions of people possibly dying of Covid-19, up to 500, 000 in the UK, BUT the ‘experts’ who made those projections have since retracted them, in other words admitting they got them wrong, but the lockdown remains in place.
There are plenty of people out there suggesting that the Corona statistics are meaningless, such as Steve Goodman, professor of epidemiology at Stanford University.
This is partly because of what I wrote about in this post – there are possibly millions of people who have already had it, but they had such mild symptoms, they never even really noticed, thus we don’t know how many people have had it, thus we don’t really know what the actual mortality rate is!
So why are we really in Lockdown?
This is something you need to think about very carefully. Possibly this is all about social control – through fear and using ‘protecting the health of others’ as ideological justification (hard to argue with that). The reasons why authorities might feel the need for more control is something I’ll come back to later.
In the meantime, please do watch that video.
And rather than staying safe, stay critical, society needs that more.
The latest figures show that 6% of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 die of the disease.
A 6% death rate, and only a 94% survival rate, I don’t fancy those odds!
However, writing in The Spectator, Dr John Lee points out that these death rates may be misleading, and that Covid-19 is possibly no more deadly than the flu, something we are all familiar with and which has a death rate of 0.1%
So far, relatively few people have been tested for Covid-19, and those that have are probably those displaying the most serious symptoms who have presented themselves at a hospital, or they’ve been tested because they were already in hospital, which means they’re likely to be more susceptible to infection because of being in sub-optimal health.
In short, the type of people already tested for Covid-19 are probably not representative of the wider population!
It could be the case, as has been suggested by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific Adviser, that the actual infection rate is 10 to 20 times higher in the general population with most people displaying only minor symptoms, not getting tested and recovering without us ever knowing about it!
If it were the case that the real infection rate is 20* higher then the actual death rate would be nearer 0.3%, which is in the same realms as the flu.
Furthermore, Covid-19 has now been added to the list of ‘notifeable diseases’ (along with Smallpox and Ebola and other nasties), which means that anytime someone dies having contracted Covid-19, it must be recorded as the cause of death.
This isn’t the case with flu, so while someone in their 80s may well die of it, this may not be recorded as the actual cause of death.
Thus overall, while Covid-19 may be more infectious than the flu, it may not be more deadly!
Ultimately we need more testing for the virus to be done to get a more valid picture of how deadly it is.
Managing risk in an age of uncertainty
Having said that, even if the real death rate may be lower than reported, the extreme contagiousness of Covid-19 has still led to a rapid increase in the number of critical cases and deaths in a short period (as I understand it flu isn’t as contagious, so there simply aren’t as many people who catch it such a short period of time), so the extreme control measures we’ve put in place may just be worth it!
It may sound cold, but this is a great example of managing a threat in a risk society where we have limited available data.
NB – it’s worth pointing out that you have much less chance of dying from it if you’re young compared to if you’re old:!
Sociological perspectives on HS2 – functionalism, marxism, interactionism, feminism and post-late modernism.
The conservative cabinet recently gave approval for the full HS2 rail line to be built, linking London to Birmingham, and later to Manchester and Leeds.
The estimated cost will be £100 billion, meaning the final cost will probably be nearer $200 billion. I know we live in a supposedly postmodern age, but the one certain thing is that private construction companies will find a way to go well over their budget when working on major public infrastructure projects.
I got to thinking what the green light for this project suggests about different sociological perspectives.
Functionalism and HS2
At a very basic level, you could argue this is a ‘functional’ project as it’s improving different connectivity across England, and supporters point to the economic benefits this project will bring to the economy: jobs in the short term and then more business (supposedly) to the North in the long term.
It’s also a very modernist project: it’s big, bold and done at the level of the nation state, and it’s about promoting economic growth.
Marxism and HS2
Marxists tend to argue that government policies which benefit the wealthy are more likely to get the go ahead than those that benefit the poor. Call be a Marxist cynic, but when I heard of a new high speed rail line between London and the North being built my first thought was ‘well that’ll be nice for city commuters’, now the can all cash in their 1M homes in the SE and buy a much larger home up north and a Monday -Thursday flat in London.
We could also be critical of this project in terms of the North-South divide – a lot of people in the North would rather we spent £200 billion over the next five-ten years on improving travel infrastructure just in the North.
A super fast rail line to a few cities up North isn’t going to benefit that many people (other than city commuters) if you can’t then get anywhere else because the local roads are still congested and the local public transport links are irrational?
I can’t imagine this project benefiting anyone in the bottom sixth of society, the kind of people who generally can’t afford to travel.
Feminism and HS2
I can’t see that much relevance in applying Feminism other than to mention that this project does seem to be very much a boys thing. I’m sure every single person I’ve seen talking in favour of it is a man.
I have, however, seen lots of women protesting against it, at various local sites where the rail is going to uproot local communities and destroy local woodlands.
Interactionism and HS2
I don’t think we can understand why this project is going ahead without taking into account the symbolic meaning of it for Boris Johnson and Brexit.
This isn’t just a physical infrastructure project, giving HS2 the green light at this point in British history is also a sign that ‘Britain can go it alone’, that ‘Britain’s building for the future’, that Britains ‘gearing up for business’ – and a whole load of other slogans are no doubt going to be attached to this by the political class for the next decade.
And it’s also a nice little personal legacy for the PM himself.
Postmodernism/ Late Modernism and HS2
On the surface there’s nothing postmodern about it this project – it’s very modern and ‘national’, however if you look into what companies are involved with constructing, and in the future running HS2, this will no doubt be a global effort.
HS2 is also a symbol of divisions in our late modern society – with half the population being against it, the other half being for it. This is hardly promoting value consensus!
One also has wonder whether building better travel connections ‘for business’ makes sense when work is changing so it’s more remote, with more people working from home.
It’s also a reminder of the challenges of politics in a Late Modern age – we simply don’t know whether this will end up being a good investment, but in the context of uncertainty politicians just have to make decisions and stick to them!
I’m sure HS2 is primarily being built so Boris Johnsons’s city buddies can have a better quality of life, it’ll make it feasible for them to buy a nice house up north and a flat in London and then do the Monday to Thursday commute, then go have a nice long weekend up North.
So if you’re looking for an investment, buy a house in Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds now! This isn’t financial advice!
‘Blue Monday’ is apparently the most ‘depressing’ day of the year…
Accept it’s not.
It’s actually the day of the year on which people are most likely to book a holiday, based on the following formula:
A psychologist called Cliff Arnall came up with the formula in 2005. He developed it on behalf Travel (a now defunct media channel), who wanted to know what motivated people to book a summer holiday, and the bits of the formula are (I think) supposed to represent those variables.
Industry stats suggest that late January is the period when people are most likely to book a holiday (how far this has been reinforced by the Blue Monday marketing phenomenon is hard to say), so Arnall’s variables may be valid. I’ve no idea how he came up with either them or the formula, but the idea behind it doesn’t appear to have been to calculate the most ‘depressing’ day of the year.
However, somehow the media have come up with the concept of ‘Blue Monday’, and now the third Monday in January is, in the public’s imagination, the day of the year which is the most ‘depressing’.
Intuitively this makes sense: debt, darkness, post-Christmas, all things we might think make it more likely that we will be miserable.
However, there is no actual evidence to back up the claim that Blue Monday is the most ‘depressing’ day of the year.
People have used social media sentiment analysis to look at how mood varies day to day, but this doesn’t back up the concept of Blue Monday… if anything early spring seems to be the period when people are the least happy.
There’s a further problem, the official view of the mental health charity MIND, that Blue Monday trivializes depression which tends to be a long-term mental health condition which doesn’t simply worsen as we move from Christmas into January and then gradually lift as we get further towards spring.
In the end it must be remembered that ‘Blue Monday’ is actually a marketing tool, designed to make us buy crap we don’t need in order to ‘lift our moods’, which aren’t necessarily lower in January at all!
And as a result, we get a raft of newspaper articles telling us how to ‘beat Blue Monday’, some of which suggest we should ‘book a holiday’ which is where the whole concept started after all!
Relevance to A level sociology
Firstly the concept of Blue Monday illustrates the need to think critically – this is a great example of a concept which is based on completely invalid measurements. It simply has no validity, so the only question you can ask is ‘why does it exist’, rather than ‘why are people more miserable in late January (they are not, according to the evidence!).
This is possible support for the Marxist theory of society – of ideological control through the media: Blue Monday appears to be a media fabrication designed to get us to buy more stuff.
The recent ‘russian spy poisoning’ is relevant to many areas of the A-level sociology specification, such as state-crime, globalisation and even consensus and conflict theory.
The recent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly by the Russian State, is relevant to many areas of the A-level sociology specification.
Details of the poisoning
On 4th March 2018 Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 were poisoned by a nerve agent called Novichok. The pair were found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury in the late afternoon, following what seems to have been a pretty ordinary ‘afternoon of leisure’ involving a trip to a pub and lunch in Zizzi’s. Four weeks later, they remain in a critical condition.
Much of the news has focused on just how deadly the nerve agent ‘Novichok’ is – basically a tiny, practically invisible amount was sufficient to render two people seriously ill, and even the police officer who first attended Sergei and Yulia Skripal was taken seriously ill just from secondary contact with what must have been trace elements of the nerve agent.
Pretty much everywhere the pair had visited that afternoon was shut down, and any vehicles that they had been in contact with were quarantined while they were cleared of any trace of the nerve agent and total of 250 counter-terrorism officers are at work investigating the case.
Theresa May has accused the Russian State as being complicit in this attempted murder, which seems plausible as Colonel Sergie Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI. He was later flown to the UK. It seems that the poisoning is the Russian State passing its ‘final sentence’ on this poor guy.
HOWEVER, Russia strongly denies these allegations, so this might just be a hypothetical state-crime!
The international reaction to the poisoning has also been dramatic: to date 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats, and Russia, which of course denies any involvement in the poisoning, has done the same as a counter-response.
Links to the A-level sociology specification
Probably the most obvious link to the A-level sociology specification is that this is a primary example of a state crime – it seems extremely likely that the poisoning was carried out by an agent of the Russian state – The UK condemned Russia at the United Nations Human Rights Council as being in breach of international law and the UK’s national sovereignty.
Thirdly, you could use this as an example of how ‘consensus’ and ‘conflict’ exist side by side. he existence of global values allows various nations to show ‘solidarity’ against Russia and express ‘value consensus’ but it also reminds us that there are conflicting interests in the world.
Fourthly, media coverage aside, it’s hardly a post-modern event is it! Having said that, we don’t know for certain who did the poisoning, so all of this could be a good example of ‘hypperreality’.
There’s lots of other links you could make across various modules – for example, the way the media has dealt with the event (it’s very news worthy!) and the ‘panic’ surrounding it, it fits with our ‘risk conscious society’ very nicely!
Does this mean that Jeremy Corbyn’s rejection of contemporary capitalism is now the new mainstream, and/ or does this represent the end of Capitalism as we know it?
It does seem that Capitalism has become something of a dirty word ever since the financial crash of 2008, and in a recent poll, most British people regard capitalism as ‘greedy, selfish, and corrupt’; and many are more sympathetic towards socialism, and favor the renationalisation of the railways and utilities.
However, the ideological scare-mongers are out, claiming that re-nationalisation will be far from free, and it will be interesting to see how much genuine public appetite there is for bringing back services into public ownership!
The Daily Mail and their Tory beneficiaries would have you think that the current crisis within the NHS are caused mainly by a combination of the following variables:
HOWEVER, this is not the case according to some more in-depth analysis by Ravi Jayaram, an NHS consultant (in The Guardian), who instead blames several years of chronic underfunding by the Tory government which have had the following effects:
Firstly, Primary Care services have been decimated by funding cuts, and as a result there are fewer GPs per patients, and so people feel they have to go to A and E rather than seeking help from their local GP.
Secondly, the recent conflict over Junior Doctors’ pay and the removal of the nurses bursary has left a sour note in the NHS, with those who are able to do so retiring early or leaving the country, meaning that the staff left behind struggle to provide safe and effective care.
Thirdly, whole wards of some hospitals have been closed by hospital trusts in order to stay in the black, meaning there is a decrease in supply.
NB – all of this has been going on while, as is well known, there is an increasing demand for NHS services by an ageing population!
And the deeper cause of all of this….well it’s a blinkered commitment to a neoliberal ideology which champions lower taxation and tight control on public spending….
Donald Trump’s recent retweets of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos posted by the far right group ‘Britain First’ sparked outrage last week, a row which intensified when Theresa May said it was wrong for him to do so, which in turn prompted a twitter rebuke from Donald Trump in which he said suggested she should be focusing on the destructive Radical Islam in the UK rather than criticizing him.
The videos purported to show Muslims pushing a boy off a roof, destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and beating a boy on crutches.
Trump’s tweets prompted The Guardian to suggest that his proposed state visit should be cancelled, because it would be inappropriate to extend such a formal welcome to such a racist bigot
However, the Daily Mail points out that state visits have been extended to all sorts of immoral characters in the past – such as Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
NB IMO the above statement from the Daily Mail is a great example of something which isn’t (technically) an argument) – that we shouldn’t cancel a proposed state visit because we have a tradition of setting a low-ethical bar for people invited to past state visits isn’t a rational reason for not changing current policy – it’s an irrational appeal to tradition/ emotion, thus not logical, thus not an argument.
According to Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, Trump’s tweets also reveal something about the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the USA – namely that the UK likes to flatter itself that there is one, but the reality is that this special relationship never actually amounts to much in terms of the USA doing anything for the UK… This might be a warning about not relying on the USA as one of our post-Brexit saviors.
As to why Trump posted those tweets, besides being an impetuous Racist, there may have been a self-interested political motive – these tweets may have been aimed at his own far-right American audience…. and he needs their support for his ‘Mexican Wall’ project.
So, all in all, as shocking as Trump’s Tweets were in terms of their revealing his horrible racism, the deeper-reality behind the tweets is even worse…