Whenever I try to prove my point in a debate, I like to share my personal experiences in order to really drive through my argument. It sheds some light on a situation when you have personally experienced or know somebody who has experienced something that you feel is wrong in society.
We found that the same is true when journalists are covering outside politics. In Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists, and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility, Sarah Sobieraj states that “…preferred victim-activists exist in opposition to their foil: disconnected do-gooder types who advocate for causes that do not impact them directly or who address concerns that impact their lives, but speak about these concerns as public issues” (516).
In other words, journalists want to cover social movements or political outsiders that they perceive as authentic. They want an emotional story, some anger, a protest – the “intimacies of human experience” (514). In this way, educated citizens simply speaking on problems within society, without experiencing it themselves seems inauthentic. As we discussed in class, however, this is problematic. For one, our view of authenticity can often be misconstrued. When we want an authentic experience, we can trivialize the actual experience to fit whatever we have in our minds. An entire culture, for example, cannot be shrunken down into a hole-in-the-wall eatery or a different language.
Furthermore, while journalists want political outsiders to show their version of authenticity, they also want a social movement to have a simple and clear message with a solution. Often times, however, the goal of a social movement is not a specific law or proposition, but rather to show that there are distinct problems within a society. Loren from Disrupt, an interviewee in Sobieraj’s piece, expressed his frustration with this when reading of his group’s coverage in the media:
“So much of the coverage just said things like, ‘Protestors gathered for a range of causes’ or ‘protesting every issue under the sun.’ Things like that give the impression that we are all out there talking about different things…It’s like it’s just easier for them just to say it makes no sense, what we’re saying, than it is to explain or figure out why it makes sense…We don’t just want some proposition passed; we are trying to show that something is seriously, seriously wrong here” (522).
Frequently, authenticity means that there isn’t a simple message with a solution. A movement can comment on society as a whole, with people that aren’t necessarily affected by it and without protest or disruption, and that movement is still 100 percent authentic.
I see this as a double bind – a catch 22. Journalists follow the crime story model in order to find authentic stories, “presenting the activity as a threat to order, or as heated conflicts between police and protestors” (509). The general public then largely sees these movements as irrational or ridiculous.
Take the large protests following the Ferguson decision and the Eric Garner decision. A main theme found in these protests was that Black lives matter. Which, contrary to popular belief, was a discussion not based simply on police brutality, but the institutional racism found all over the justice system in America. This is a broad comment on society as a whole, with no simple solution. Thus, the protests were shown, negatively, in this light. The mass media showed the protestors as violent and unreasonable, which they very well may have been, but why they were this way was not communicated correctly. Instead #BlackLivesMatter was reduced to simply a commentary on police brutality and these specific incidents. For the mass media, the importance was the violence, not the reason behind the violence.
Sobieraj comments that the “success stories” (516) in her research involved “only fleeting, often partial-line, references” (509), of their political goals or concerns.
I think awareness is so important. A social movement should be able to comment about a broad range of concerns within a society, and still be able to receive coverage. The major problems in society – the issues that span economic and social boundaries – are not simple. Racism, for example. This should not be seen as irrational. A social movement should be able to comment on these problems with “indoor events” and not just violent protests. However, often times these movements feel forced to – which is oftentimes not authentic. But when they do give protests and stage walks, they are seen as irrational, unreasonable and foolish.
Activists can’t seem to win.