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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Wrong Medium?

I just finished reading a very interesting article on "Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics," by Michael C. Williams in the latest International Studies Quarterly.

While international relations (IR) scholars are increasingly studying texts, discourses, and public arguments, Williams notes that television images are centrally important in shaping public understandings about world politics. He focuses on security questions, but the point is more broadly applicable.

Communications professor Cori Dauber basically makes this same point, but in IR, very few scholars study images carefully. Ironically, because of their emphasis on the role communication can play in "securitizing" various issues (like environment, migration or global poverty), scholars associated with the "Copenhagen School" of IR theorizing are in many ways on the discipline's cutting edge. Yet, as Williams notes, even theorists aligned with the Copenhagen School overlook the importance of TV:
"the increasing impact of televisual communication in security relations provides a fundamental challenge for understanding the processes and institutions involved in securitization."
I've often blogged about the words political leaders and policy elites utter in public contexts. And words remain important. However, I agree with Williams (and Dauber, and Ron Deibert of Toronto -- someone in IR who has studied non-print media) that images are also critical.

What do we see? Why? How do those images shape what we "know"?

I think bloggers too need to take TV images more seriously. Sure, many have noted the way Bush was positioned in front of Mount Rushmore and "served" a centerpiece turkey to troops in Iraq. They also note the fact that the media is denied access to caskets returning home to the US and that no one has seen images of President Bush at a military funeral because he hasn't attended one.

But much more could be done. In many ways, the MoveOn commercials I noted yesterday affirm the importance real-world political actors place on images.

Thus, in my second blog-related New year's resolution, I will try to comment at least periodically on the images I see on TV news programs. What images are American seeing about the news? By checking out international news sources, I will also try to comment on the images Americans are not seeing.

Update: A faithful reader sent me a good example of an image that Americans didn't see from Iraq. Well, at least we didn't see this perspective.

I also watched some CNN coverage today of soldiers returning to Fort Campbell, KY. As one would expect, there were lots of very happy happy people hugging one another. However, well into the report (and I confess that I didn't see all of it), they hadn't mentioned the fact that Fort Campbell 101st unit has been the hardest hit US installation in Iraq, suffering 59 deaths to date.

And like I said, you haven't seen any pictures of those caskets, nor of Bush or Cheney attending their funerals.

Also, as previously noted, Wampum is taking comments on various award nominees for best "lefty" blogging. They are narrowing the candidates for the Koufax awards and will apparently form the ballot based on the comments. Today, I learned I was nominated in the Best Writing category. Given the nominees, I would not vote for me. I will alert readers when they post the "Best New Blog" category.

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