International Communication Student at Global Fusion 2016 Conference on Media and the Global City

 

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Mia is the one on the right in the first row. Photo by: Mia Ross

Mia Ross is a Master’s student at St. John’s International Communication program and especially interested in Humanitarianism, Education, and Art Activism. She attended the annual Global Fusion conference on global media and communication research, this year held at Temple University from October 21-23. Visit her blog and portfolio site.

Day at the Global Fusion 2016 Conference at Temple University

by Mia Ross

The temperature was low, but my spirits were high that cloudy Saturday. After taking public transportation to Philly from New York I was ready to soak up as much information as I could.

First Session: Violence, Conflict & Surveillance

Syed Irfan Ashraf from Southern Illinois University presented a thought-provoking piece about the imagery of terrorism and high-tech rural warfare in Pashtu music. This is one of the many languages spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, the location of drone strikes and violent unrest for far too many years.

This powerful speaker emphasized that in these areas civilians are caught in the cross fire between militants and governments. Local militant groups destroy cultural nodes such as music centers, kill elders, forbid music at marriages, and send suicide bombers to movie theaters. Their government proceeds to engage in drone strikes to extinguish the militants who live among the innocent, needless to say, more innocent civilians are killed in these strikes than militants. In 2005 alone over 30,000 drone strikes were performed in the area, and the number has steadily risen.

One of the questions Syed sought to inquire was; How does their music package the war on terrorism? With spaces to create music damaged, and communication about the on goings of war scarce, the rural population is isolated within their anguish. The rural areas music have lyrics illustrating that isolation, the deep inescapable sorrow, tears, death, and hopelessness due to drones and terrorism. In contrast, the urban areas romanticize the violence; assimilating drone strikes with the eyes of a lover. Because the urban areas are rarely if ever hit by a drone strike there seems to be an ignorant bliss regarding the issue.

This reminds me of how Americans view violence. Action movies are packed with meaningless killings and gore that we cheer about as long as it’s in line with the Hero’s plight, we very seldom wonder about the families of the lives lost in these movies, and usually there are no innocents lost in the crossfire. That would take attention away from the storyline, purposefully created to entertain only.

Syed concluded:

“Protest music is an under-theorized source and practice in pedagogy.”

Syed teamed up with another presenter, Kristin Shamas from the University of Oklahoma, to talk about Necrospace. Using this term, which the presentation attempts to coin, they spoke about the politics of death. There are areas of the world that governments have sectioned off as fair shooting ground, whether people live there or not. The people are then subjected to remote warfare.  In Frontier Crime Regulation there’s no governance, just subjects who happen to be in crime buffer zones.

Necrospaces like the ones in the Middle East are perceived semiotic:

“The smell of the Lebanese civil war was of napalm and decomposing bodies”

Syed went on to express that Fadar is another location that now has a permanent smell of death imprinted on its location.

The media tends to justify and normalize these areas of death, taking the side of the government they belong to and telling the story of the “Hero”. In an effort to express civilian discontent with the casual bombings, they leave the bodies to rot in order to force their governments and journalists to acknowledge the carnage. The backlash to this “forced witnessing activism” is when families and hospitals refuse to participate in leaving their loved ones unburied.

This presentation at its core explored what do we mean by space, who gets to label them, and what reactions and consequences does this elicit?

Stuart Davis from Texas A & M International University had a presentation entitled “Where is Amarildo”. He spoke about the battle against police brutality in Rio De Janeiro’s favelas and transnational advocacy networks. In the Rio area there was a crack down on drug distributors that increased police presence in the poorer areas. Many Afro-Brasilia people were treated with suspicion, discrimination, and police violence.

There was one young boy whose missing status became a nation wide and eventually a worldwide question. Originally authorities accused the drug gangs of kidnapping the boy, but the communities mobilized and protested the chant to find the truth. Later it was revealed that the boy was taken in police custody, beaten severely, and electrocuted to death.  This sparked outrage, and 24/30 of the authorities in that unit were fired.

Heather Anderson from the University of South Australia conducted the last presentation in this session. She illustrated the importance of Prison Radio in the UK and Australia as a creative outlet, a sense of community, and regaining feelings of humanity. Although it was a great presentation, in America we have the largest prison population in the world and I don’t know if there are luxuries like televisions in every cell here. It made a larger problem of inhumane conditions of prisons that belong to my country, and I was unsure of her purpose of presenting.

Second Session: Representations of Race and Gender

Reighan Gillam from University of Michigan spoke about representation in media, racism, and police scrutiny in Rio De Janeiro. She analyzed a YouTube series created by an Afro-Brasilia family in an effort to confront the lack of representation of darker people on television and commercials. This alternative media is important to the communities of color in Rio, but remains non-existent or ignored in popular culture. The content of the show includes debunking stereotypes, pointing out discrimination, and parodies of deliberate exclusions of brown people.

YouTube is a platform that allows this community to present themselves, and do so in a way they can control.

Xiaomeng Li from Ohio University started her presentation with this comment: “In China there are three sexes: Male, Female, and Female PhD’s”. This seemed to be a common joke in Chinese culture, reflecting a much larger problem. Women who opt out of marriage to pursue professional goals or higher education are made fun of and seen as “left over” or a waste. Chinese culture in the past was largely influenced by Confucianism, which includes a sexist outlook.

“A husband who is virtuous has talent, and a wife who is ignorant has virtue.” – Zhang Di

This foundation of sexism, combined with China’s uneven men to women ratio, creates this discontent with women who do not want be paired. Xiaomeng searched the keyword Female PhD on Chinese mass media sites and shared her findings with us. The ones recognized for they’re accomplishments had to be attractive, and their contributions to academia are not acknowledged. Even more common are the articles about how to get a boyfriend for Female PhD’s where women are encouraged to lower their standards and to pursue a family instead of education.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Marwan Kraidy of University of Pennsylvania

This speaker talked about the rise of Islamic terrorist groups, and media as a War Machine. The ascetics of the visuals these groups project into the public, in addition to their structure as a nomadic entity were topics this speaker elaborated on with heavy reference to theories. He supposes that “Projectilic Images” are more pernicious than weapons. In reference to the “Projectilic Effect”, Marwan suggests these groups are now using images as swords, or bombs that affect our societal bodies.

“A lot of ISIS doctrine renders women invisible in the public body but complete obsession on possession in practice”. I found this quote interesting, since before I had heard theories that in terrorist groups are suffering from a testosterone saturated environment. In this environment, violence and pride overwhelm and overflow, directly associated with suppressing feminine energies, which tend to be non-violent.

I notice a slight fear within the speaker when upon answering a question the idea of if these groups are aware of or read the American scholarly analysis of their doings. “Do they read our work?” Marwan expressed that he hopes not, and I couldn’t help but wonder the implications of if they do…

My Take Away

The bulk of my newly learned information was regarding terrorism, the Middle East, and war politics. I usually stay away from these topics, assuming there’s simply too much going on to even begin to understand what’s happening there. Still I feel I’m no expert, but I know now why these events abroad are important to be aware of. The presentations about gender, activism, prison radio, and race expanded my perception of cultural issues to a more global scope. The real issues we face today are increasingly worldwide, and it’s going to take everyone working together to solve them.

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Photo by: Mia Ross

Thank you to all of the presenters and organizers of Global Fusion 2016!

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