Lockdown media has been full of celebrities speaking to us from wherever they may be isolated, and one might think that because we’ve all got ‘lockdown’ in common, that we might somehow feel closer to the celebrities who are also going through the same challenges as the rest of us ordinary folk… as if they are celebs, just like us!
Channel Four’s ‘Stef Show’ is the most obvious example I can think of that spins this narrative – not only is ‘Stef’ presenting the show from home, not only is she herself a pretty ‘ordinary’ presenter (one of very few non middle class presenters on T.V.), the show intersperses video feeds of ‘ordinary families’ with celebs.
However, rather than feeling solidarity with these celebs, I think the glimpses we are getting into their homes serves as a reminder of the class divide.
Many of them have been broadcasting from huge open plan kitchen-diners, often in the South East of the country. It’s as if lockdown has become an opportunity for them to show off their wonderful homes.
A prime example of this is Gloria Hunniford, speaking here: her pristine, ornamented house signifying that upper middle class identity….
And when Griff Reese Jones was interviewed, he was sitting underneath a picture of his great great uncle (or something like that) who was a past mayor of Cardiff. That was after us seeing some footage of him collecting eggs from his chickens from his large garden in the countryside.
This got me to wondering…. what proportion of celebrities have chickens? Probably at least thrice the national average.
However, there are counter-cases
I was particularly impressed when Jack Monroe, whose been given a slot on ‘Daily Kitchen Live‘ told Matt whatever his name is (the main presenter) that arborio rice isn’t a necessity, while he was making a recipe with it because ‘that’s what he had lying at the back of his cupboard.
Jack Monroe really did come across as ‘like us’, I mean who else has Arborio Rice kicking about at the back of the cupboard?
The mainstream media’s coverage coronavirus is utterly disgraceful – the narrow agenda being firmly focused on using official statistics uncritically to provide an exaggerated picture of the covid-19 death rate, for failing to engage in any critical debate about how we’re going to come out of this mess, preferring to distract us by a perpetual stream of presenter and ‘public-hero’ celebreities ‘sharing’ their ‘isolation’ coping strategies, and thus normalising individualised solutions to public problems. At the same time the commercial channels are more than happy to allow companies specializing in domestic services to ramp up their advertising at us.
It follows that unless you are going to do systematic content analysis of the mainstream media’s coverage of coronavirus to document the extent of this extremely narrow agenda, you should switch off the Television (actually physically unplug it until at least June would be my advice), avoid newspaper and radio at all costs, and be extremely selective about which web sites you visit.
If, however, you would like some more objective, fact based and critical sources to help keep up with pandemic developments, I can recommend the following:
Alternative news sources on Coronavirus
The Conversation offers some insightful articles exploring some of the less focused on consequences of covid-19, such as how it highlights the class divide, and many articles take a deeper look at issues such as ‘where do pandemics come from’?
The Corbett Report – hosted by James Corbett, an awared winning independent journalist. A good alternative news source focusing on global geopolitics and how ‘covid-19’ may be part of a longer term globalist agenda to establish a world government
The Last American Vagabond – Lots of interesting critical commentary on Covi-19 – focusing on evidence that it was here well before the China breakout and a focus on the really important issues of how governments around the world are using the pandemic to impose social control and remove human rights.
@Vforvapid over at Hive.blog is producing some interesting, well referenced material on how large Corporations are benefitting from the Covid-19 bail-out – check out this post as an example: America reaps egregious sums. Also check the rest of his feed for more.
You might have heard about the The David Icke Covid-19 Interview which was live streamed and then censored on (i.e. disappeared from) YTube. That link will take you to the same video on ThreeSpeak – an anti censorship, pro free speach video platform. Unlike YTube they allow people to post videos with contentious content (but not anything which is racist/ incites violence etc.).
Lockdown coping strategies have suddenly become a major theme in the mainstream media. Both ITV and Channel Four have rushed out new daily lunchtime shows which focus solely on how to cope with lockdown.
The Steph Show on Channel 4 is the most overt example of this. Presented by Steph McGovern the show aims to ‘provide us with information to help us navigate these unique times’.
The show consists mainly ‘heroes and heart warmers’ – visits to people who have been raising money for our key workers, interviews with celebrities, typically in their enormous, plush houses, and tips to keep the kids entertained during lockdown.
NB – please don’t miss how PERFECT the choice of Steph McGovern is as a presenter for this particular type of show at this particular time – she’s got a well-documented history of having had to overcome prejudice in the media as a working class woman, but she’s just cracked on anyway and made a success of her career despite adversity – cracking on, staying chirpy, bravely facing up to adversity… just what we need to ‘cope’ with coronavirus! And that working-class Northern accent, how very approachable….
Over on BBC 1 at the same time we have ‘Daily Kitchen Live’ – which as the title suggests is more focussed on recipes which can help you make the most of what you’ve got in the cupboard or with what food is available.
This programme features a ‘war chest’ of crucial spices such as chilli powder, cumin etc. and guest features Jack Monroe, famous for her budget cooking.
Both programmes are littered with references to ‘staying safe’ and ‘staying at home’, and feature very little focus on the public space outside of people’s own living rooms.
The ideology of ‘coping strategies’
Personally I see this mainstream lunchtime focus on ‘coping’ as ideological – it distracts us away from the shameful misreporting of the actual number of people dying of Coronavirus (rather than merely ‘with’ it), the overzealous use of emergency lockdown measures, and the normalisation of medicalised control strategies for the mass population.
All of the ‘coping strategies’ – e.g. the recipes and the tips for keeping your kids entertained are (obviously?) individualised – they come from individuals and are suggestions to individuals, and it necessarily has to be this way because of the lockdown.
This fits our society very well, which has been on a trend towards privatised solutions to social problems for at least two generations, but it normalises this. Suddenly, staying in, and ‘coping’ are normal, while we leave the ‘difficult health problems’ to the experts (read global pharmaceutical industry).
Putting a ‘chirpy face’ on these privatised control strategies and ‘sharing our private lives together’ makes this all bearable.
Meanwhile completely absent from these shows is any discussion of how little we know of Covid-19, whether these lockdown measures are necessary, how we’re going to come out of this, basically anything even vaguely critical is off the agenda.
Then there’s the whole discourse of ‘coping’ – Ulrich Beck pointed out in Risk Society that since at least the 1980s politics has been about promising that things won’t get any worse, rather than making promises about making progress.
The idea of staying in ‘to stop the virus spreading and making the effects worse’ fit this discourse perfectly – in fact too perfectly, which is why I think we should be investigating whether this virus was engineered and released deliberately.
Meanwhile one thing which isn’t off the agenda on C4 is the adverts – and what do we see featured….. life insurance, pizza, DIY and broadband deals – all the consumer essentials for life on lockdown.
So these shows are basically telling you to forget about asking critical questions about Covid-19, be happy making the best of the lockdown because ‘coping’ rather than ‘striving for a better society’ are as good as you can get, and spend more money on your home entertainment to make the whole situation more bearable.
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’
This featured Louis Minchin interviewing some other celebrities and James Cracknell about the upcoming charity boat race in which four teams from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky will be competing to raise money for mental health charities.
Now I know rowing is traditionally associated with independent schools, as are media celebrities, and I detected a distinct upper middle class twang going around the self-congratulatory interviews. This made me wonder what the class background of the boat race celebs was.
Given that 6-7% of the population is independently schooled, I did a quick trawl to figure out how over-represented (if at all) the upper middle classes are in this event.
A note on the methods
I simply looked up the celebs on Wikipedia, and about half had information about their schooling, in one case (Rachel Parris) the school had information on her.
NB there are some data gaps below, and I stopped at 50% as I’ve only got so many hours in the day….
Team BBC – at least 33% Independently schooled, 4* over-represented compared to the national average.
Alastair Stewart recently resigned his position as a news reader for ITV, following accusations that he’d made a racist comment towards someone on Twitter.
Stuart was having a twitter conversation with Martin Shapland about the relationship between the taxpayer and the crown, and in a reply to Shapland he used a Shakespear Quote:
“But man, proud man, Dress’d in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d— His glassy essence—like an angry ape.
Shapland, who is black, picked up on the ‘ape’ part of the quote and accused Stuart of being racist, and trying to disguise a racial slur within a quote.
Stuart resign from his 40 year career as a news anchor before he was sacked – that tweet above which broke ITV’s guidelines on the use of social media.
NB Shapland has said that he didn’t want him to resigned/ be sacked, and that an apology would have done.
But is this an example of racism?
The first thing suggesting that the tweet had no racist intent is that Stuart has used that quote with other people, which suggests that the intention is to suggest someone’s opinion is invalid because it is not properly informed with all of the facts, rather than it referring to someone’s racial background.
The second thing in Stuart’s defence is his track record: I’ve never come across a sniff of him being Racist before? Obviously all is colleagues and friends say he isn’t, but then they would… but if one was racist, you’d expect something to have ‘come out’ after 40 years in the media spotlight?
Finally, there’s the background of Shapland – some of his previous tweets suggest he’s something of a ‘race warrior’, with some of his tweets calling out white privilege.
I’ve been looking around for an example of something that appears to be racist, but on slightly closer examination . almost certainly isn’t racist, and this seems to be a good example of that!
This feels like ‘trial by social media and political correctness’
As I understand it, in the eyes of the law (certainly where hate crime is concerned) if a victim perceives there to be racial intent, then there is racial intent, so in that sense, ITV had no choice to but to let Stuart go.
However, in this case, the objective truth seems more likely to be that there was any racial intent in that tweet:
It’s probably even the case that even Shapland himself didn’t really think Stuart was being racist: rather it feels like what happened is that Shapland sent off a terse reply ‘playing the race card’ without really thinking about it as part of a social media tiff.
And in the rapid world of social media, you might be able to delete those kind of tweets, but not before someone else has screen shotted and retweeted them!
To my mind this is a very postmodern event – this kind of thing just couldn’t happen outside of social media.
I don’t think this has turned out too well for Shapland either – he’s getting a lot of actual abuse on twitter now, Stuart has been a popular part of our media landscape for generations!
Also, careful how you use Twitter, it’s not a great case for ‘debates’!
Is the UK biased against the conservatives? How do we even measure this?
More conservatives complained to the BBC about anti-Tory bias in its 2019 election coverage than Labour supporters complained about there being an anti-Labour bias. (Source).
This trend is consistent with complaints about bias received by the BBC throughout 2019 – most complaints were from conservatives, complaining about the BBC being anti-Tory or anti-Boris – especially The Today Progamme, Andrew Marr Show and Newsnight.
However, the above analysis is based on formal written complaints, which is not a valid indicator of the nature or extent of bias in the media – there may have been more complaints on Twitter and Facebook about the BBC being pro-Tory in its election coverage, but these aren’t ‘formal’ complaints and so don’t need to be dealt with by the BBC.
Hence we need to treat the above figures with caution, especially when Tory voters tend to be older, and Labour voters tend to be younger – the former are more likely to make formal written complaints, the later more likely to take to social media.
Writing in the Observer, Peter Oborne calls out the BBC for being biased towards to Tories and against Labour, so there is definitely a difference in subjective opinions over what counts as bias.
NB – sociologically speaking, all of the above should be dismissed as subjective value judgments – there is nothing factual about the nature or extent of bias in the BBC in any of this!
Is it possible to measure political bias in the BBC objectively?
For the BBC as a whole, probably not, because it’s so difficult to measure agenda setting – what’s kept out of the news, which is itself ideological.
Where the narrow news agenda is concerned I guess any attempt to objectively measure bias would need to focus on specific programmes – say Newsnight, where one could count the air time given to different guests, and the kind of interaction between the presenter and the guests too, and the amount of time given to pro-Tory and pro-Labour issues.
However, the later is tricky – although inequality is more of a Labour issue, is devoting half a Newsnight programme to it biased towards Labour? It’s still something the Tories have to deal with.
Also, how do decide whether a presenter ‘asking hard questions’ is biased against an interviewee or just doing their job?
In short, it’s difficult to measure bias on Live T.V. shows, much easier in News Papers.
Examples of right wing media bias from the filthy Daily Mail, from the 2019 general election.
There’s nothing quite like a General Election to reveal the bias in mainstream newspapers, which is a major topic within the media option for A-level sociology.
I mean, we all know that the mainstream news is biased, but during elections, any attempt to report political events in a fair or neutral way just seems to disappear altogether.
In the case of the the UK’s most widely circulated, and most offensive, newspaper, The Daily Mail, even the most cursory discourse analysis reveals a very strong pro Tory and anti Labour stance, often framed as ‘pro-Bexit and anti-Brexit, and also often personablised as pro Boris and anti Corbyn.
Below are a few examples from the filth that is the Daily Mail.
Corbyn in the Dock
Corbyn on trial – implies he’s done something so wrong as to be accused of being a criminal. And next to it an assertion by Boris presented as truth.
Labour’s Brexit Portrayal
So here the headline moves away from the personal attacks, but we’re back to it underneath – with a ‘sneering’ Corbyn, implying he’s somehow evil and arrogant, not caring about the people.
Corbyn’s Two Fingers to Leavers…
This is probably the most disgusting headline of all: as if Jeremy Corbyn is that flippant about how leavers feel, and as if the issue is that simple.
And finally: how to help the Torys win…
Mainstream newspapers may be less well circulated than ever, but they do offer a very easy insight into just how biased they can be. And if this bias is in the print version, you can be it’s in the online versions, and not just at election times, although at less fraught times, the bias will be a lot subtler!
This post focuses on traditional representations of men as reinforcing aspects of hegemonic masculinity before considering some of the changes to male representations in more recent years.
Traditional representations of men reinforce hegemonic masculinity
Traditional representations of men have ascribed certain attributes to male characters such as strength, power, control, authority, rationality and lack of emotion. In other words, media representations of men have reinforced hegemonic masculinity.
Gilmore has summarised this even more simply, arguing that the media stereotype men into ‘the provider, the protector and the impregnator’.
Violence as a normal part of masculinity
According to Earp and Katz (1999) the media have provided us with a steady stream of images which define violence as an ordinary or normal part of masculinity, or in their own words….
“The media help construct violent masculinity as a cultural norm. Media discourse reveals the assumption that violence is not so much a deviation but an accepted part of masculinity”.
Wider representations of men and masculinity
Children Now (1999) conducted research in the late 1990s and found that there were six common types of representation of men in the media
The joker – uses laughter to avoid displaying seriousness or emotion
The jock – demonstrates his power and strength to win the approval of other men and women
The strong silent type (James Bond) – being in charge, acting decisively, controlling emotion and succeeding with women.
The big shot – power comes from professional status
The action hero – strong and shows extreme aggression and violence
The Buffoon – a bungling father figure, well intentioned and light hearted. (Homer). Hopeless at domestic affairs.
(Boys to Men: Media Messages About Masculinity, Children Now 1999).
The Crisis of Masculinity, the New Man and changing representations of masculinity
As with women, the changing roles of men in society are reflected in changing representations of men in the media.
Representations of men are moving away from absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence with more male characters being comfortable with showing emotions and seeking advice about how to deal with the problems of masculinity.
There are also an increasing amount of images within advertising which encourage men to be concerned with body image and appearance as well as a sexualisation of male bodies, in which they are presented as sex objects for female viewing pleasure, much in the same way as female bodies have been traditionally been used by the media.
An essay plan covering some of the knowledge and evaluation points you could use to answer this question for AQA A-level sociology paper two: the media option.
You might like to review this post on how women are represented in the media before going through the plan below.
The item refers to three main types of stereotypical representations
A limited range of roles (Symbolic annihilation)
Concern with appearance (The Beauty Myth)
Women needing a partner
Symbolic Annihilation (Tuchman, 1978) = under-representation/ narrow range of social roles, gender stereotypes – housework and motherhood
‘Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux – Disney Films – Snow White.
Gauntlett – increase in the diversity of representations, reflects wider social changes.
films with ‘strong’ lead female characters – e.g. Alien, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.
However, lead female characters are slim and attractive
The Bechdel Test.
Global Media Monitoring group (2015) – women in news – the overall presence of women as sources was 28%. largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.
The Beauty Myth
media present unrealistic and unattainable images of women which encourages women to worry unnecessarily about their looks (Naomi Wolfe).
Tebbel (2000) body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.
Killborn – women presented as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.
Orbach – media associates slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity
Recent evidence challenges Beauty Myth…. Backlash to 2015 Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign
Since 2015 increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising: Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 , Sport England ‘ This Girl Can‘ campaign.
2017 – Advertising Standards Authority launched new guidelines on avoiding gender stereotyping in advertising, banned ads 2019.
UN women’s Unstereotype Alliance‘.
Women needing a partner
Ferguson (1980) – content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980: cult of femininity: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.
Ferguson: teenage magazines aimed at girls offered broader range of female representations, but still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.
However, McRobbie – Cosmopolitan has featured positive representations of young women as seeking to control their own lives rather than being dependent on men.
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