Archive for January, 2011

25th Jan 2011

Sky Sports’ sexist pundits

Micro-sociologist Erving Goffman’s theory of back-region behaviour is, by definition, about how human beings exhibit certain private habits and opinions that must stay hidden from the front-region presentation of their selves. Tell that to Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys. Once again, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, high-profile public figures are hoisted by their own very public, mediated petard.

But let’s get things into perspective. Several years ago ITV Sport rightly forced out pundit Ron Atkinson for making racist remarks on air, likewise unintentionally but within reach of a stray microphone.

The sexist remarks made by Gray and Keys, while clearly offensive and in this case actually inaccurate (assistant referee Sian Massey has an excellent officiating record and made a great call not to raise her flag in the lead-up to the first Liverpool goal against Wolves during the match in question), were not especially derogatory, nor were they criminally offensive. Racist attitudes have been rightly criminalised; but sexist attitudes free of harrassment, while morally wrong, should not be deemed illegal or sufficient grounds for gross misconduct (i.e. sacking an employee) in my view.

Self-policing and self-regulation are always preferable to big-brother-style, nanny-state, pseudo-dictatorships telling us what is right and wrong, and catering to every whim in the name of censorship. So it’s sad to see Gray, a New-Lad-archetype, often controversial commentator who speaks his mind, sacked by Sky – though it does appear that an earlier incident last December involving Sky presenter Charlotte Jackson was a more serious breach of decent sexual behaviour.

UPDATE 26/1: As a corollary to this case, Alastair Campbell’s point that the decision to dismiss Gray may have been to do with his legal action against the News Corp-owned News of the World over suspected phone-tapping adds a layer of intrigue to the saga. Gray is currently consulting with his lawyers about whether to file a charge of unfair dismissal – and he may tow this conflict-of-interests line in any future court-case.

Note too the Referees Association’s decision to withdraw Massey from the Crewe-Bradford match last night. Clearly a huge media presence was readying itself at Gresty Road – but there will be an equally huge entourage of photographers and camera operators at the next match she officiates, so a relatively quiet Tuesday-night League Two affair may have been the best opportunity to quell the media fire (never underestimate media amplification, especially where novelty is involved). Of course, the RA has an axe to grind and wants to make the maximum impact it can in its backlash against Gray/Keys/Sky Sports/anti-referee media sentiment generally, but is the RA doing Massey any good by delaying her return? (A return she will be all too pleased to get out of the way!) Is macho-masculinity exercising muscle against itself, to the detriment of progressive femininity?

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13th Jan 2011

MeCCSA paper

Here’s a link to the paper I’m presenting on Friday 14th January at the MeCCSA Annual Conference in Salford - called Media, Mesmerism and Magnetic Modernity [Word].

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06th Jan 2011

Eastenders cot death row

Debate has raged for several days now, on 5 Live and other media forums, about the cot death / baby swop story-line aired on the BBC’s flagship soap, Eastenders, over the Christmas period. Typical traits of the direct-media-effects model have surfaced – 1. some people treat some forms of dramatic TV as mirrors of reality, 2. some people think characters in soaps are real people, and will shout abuse at the actors who play those characters if they encounter them in real-world situations, 3. some people will justify evils acts, like swopping a dead baby for a healthy one, with reference to what they’ve seen on TV, and 4. thousands of innocent babies and parents are now threatened by sinister minds cultivated on Mean-World principles portrayed by irresponsible Eastenders programme-makers.

Those of you who’ve read chapter 2 of my Key Themes in Media Theory know where I stand on behaviourist theories of media effects. To put it simply, theories of effects are theoretically unconvincing, and a century of effects research hasn’t proven much either. But – and there’s always a qualification to this debate – some of the time, media do have some effects, on some people, for certain periods of time (though short-term effects are easier to measure than long-term ones).

Of the four points mentioned above, all are blown out of proportion by fearmongering crusaders disgusted at the depravity of this particular TV case. For me, no baby-theft epidemic is on the horizon. But – but – but, I disagree with those who defend the Eastenders story-line on the basis that it’s a ratings winner. Why does a BBC soap need to be a ratings winner when we, the licence-payers, are funding it? Now Coronation Street is a different matter – it needs to be a ratings winner so ITV can maximise advertising and sponsorship revenue from the programme. The BBC should not rely on melodrama for the sake of a ratings war – indeed, it should not pander to ratings at all. Cot-death-baby-swops should base their justification purely on artistic and public-service grounds – not on petty economic considerations.

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