Source: Wikimedia Commons
November is here, which means the season of ghosts and goblins has come to pass. As an enthusiast of all-things-haunted, I filled the month of October with scary movie nights, Halloween costume parties, visits to a haunted house and Phantom Fright Nights at my local amusement park, and even an outing that involved shooting paintballs at zombies. As any good graduate student in the social sciences might do, I pondered the sociological aspects of these activities throughout the month. What makes this campy season of fear so popular in U.S. culture? Does it serve any purposes beyond providing consumers with themed entertainment, as the producers of frightening fun reap massive profits each fall?
Whether flipping through channels, listening to the radio, or reading the newspaper, it is evident that crime has secured a mainstay position in today’s media. In order to achieve high ratings, television networks and news outlets must fill their allotted time slots with only those headlines sure to popular attention (see Best, 2004). Oftentimes, those stories and reports are generated by sensationalizing criminal events. However, the seemingly overrepresentation of crime and delinquency is not the focus for this essay. Rather, it appears that crime has become a generalized preoccupation that has transformed a number of U.S. institutions (see Hudson, 2003). More specifically, crime – and societies growing fear of crime – has become a mechanism through which a new mode of governance has emerged. (more…)
by kiddingthecity (on bank holiday weekend)
Lately, I performed a browser’s search for “surgical mask”, and I came up with many (more than I expected) interesting fictions. For instance, I learned that in parts of Asia, especially in Japan, it is quite a common thing, and it makes you a good citizen, the preoccupation not to infect your neighbour if you ever feel poor. Or that surgical mask happens to be a designer’s stuff, a fashionable item, with a lot of cool features and relative price tags. And, as you can expect, it is a cool fetish in the erotic imaginary. But in the Western News Culture it is the symbol of panic, fear of unknown germs, mixing and mingling of migrant people from faraway and exotic countries, rhetoric of crowdedness and traffic, busy professionals on the front line of the latest threat.
In other worlds, the recurrent photographies of the surgical mask on the front pages are constructed as powerful chain of signifiers, despite the reassurance of professionals and politicians of the inadequacy of that measure in order to limit the risk of contagion. And by no mean least importantly, as their exchange-value increases due to relative scarcity, wearing of surgical masks has become a class issue (see The Independent).
I can rework, quite literally here, the famous ditto by Barthes: ‘The mask is the meaning’.
Marianne Hirsh on Barthes and the gaze