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Melodrama in Media

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Laura Flint

on 23 October 2014

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Transcript of Melodrama in Media

Melodrama in Media
Topics to Explore Through Melodramatic Journalism
An exploration in perspective
Elisabeth Anker
Melodrama is...
"A mode of popular culture narrative that employs emotionality to provide an unambiguous distinction between good and evil through clear designations of victimization, heroism, and villainy" (Anker, 23)

"A pervasive cultural mode that structures the presentation of political discourse and national identity in contemporary America" (Anker, 23)

Linda Williams
Melodrama is...
"Neither archaic nor excessive but a perpetually modernizing form that can either be clearly opposed to the norms of the 'classical' nor to the norms of realism" (Williams, 12)
"An evolving mode of storytelling crucial to the establishment of moral good" (12).
Let's Move Campaign
Junk food, white bread, and sugar are the ultimate evils.
Michelle Obama backs new standards for federally subsidized lunches. New school lunches are healthy, must be good policy.
No attention paid to costs or effect on schools
University Speech Codes

Michael Brown Shooting
In Ferguson, the Majority of the police force/government officials are white and the majority of the citizens are black.
Police refused to release name of the policeman as well as anymore details for many days after incident.
The chief of police chose a militarized response to the riots.
The police also released a video of Michael Brown previously stealing from a convenience store, even though the crime was unrelated to the shooting.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
"Dangerous Ramifications" of Melodrama
"America is characterized as an abstract yet cohesive collective body, signified by the qualities of virtue and goodness implied in the ideals of freedom and democracy; the collective body is under attack from an evil 'other,' a villain and this condition necessitates a retaliatory act of heroism" (Anker, 25).
"The villain is a shifting category populated most often by a foreign invader or a domestic subversive...who becomes personified, demonized, and codified as the embodiment of pure evil" (26).
"In sum, by first identifying America with the victim, and subsequently with the hero who elicits reparation in order to institute righteousness in a place of prior wrongdoing, the melodramatic narrative offers the state justification to exercise military and economic power. American melodrama creates a moral obligation for state action" (26)
Squashes debate-- Since "state action seen as both necessary and good" and a "moral imperative," to oppose retributive action seems un-American and out of the question (36).
Eliminates "complexity" and "ambiguity." Only one solution and that is intervention (36).
321 schools from 42 states left the federal lunch program since new standards were put in place.
1.1 million students dropped out of the National School Lunch Program in 2013.
Schools have been forced to cut and take money out of other budgets in order to subsidize expensive vegetables that many students simply throw away.
The schools themselves are asking for TEMPORARY waivers to implement changes at a later date.
Melodramatic spin:
Healthy food is good, no matter the cost. Anyone who opposes healthier school lunches is evil. Hyperbolic rhetoric prevents an actual debate about the policy and its effects on schools.
Liberal media and Democratic leaders immediately jumped to the conclusion that the Court ruling was anti-women.
Conservative justices are evil and misogynistic; they want to restrict healthcare for women.
“The one thing we are going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men."-Reid
“Five men could get down to specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm and she should pay for it herself or her boss.” -Pelosi
The Hobby Lobby ruling does not outlaw contraceptives.
The ruling does not prevent any woman from seeking birth control.
Only four kinds of birth control were in question.
The Court only stated that forcing closely-held, for-profit companies to provide "abortifacts" to employees was not the least restrictive means of carrying out the compelling government interest of providing contraception.
In doing so, the legislation violated the RFRA.
The government can easily provide these four types of contraception directly to employees.
Justice Thomas is not black. Diaphragms were not in question.
Melodramatic spin: The media provided the public with misinformation in order to villainize the Court. In doing so, they also oversimplified and distracted from the case at hand.

Melodrama as a "tool"
"We must equip ourselves as a culture with the tools to understand the melodramatic stories of race, gender, and class that do, inevitably, sway both audiences and juries" (Williams, 294).
"The spectacle of interracial violence that becomes visible as an infringement of humanity and rights--features the display of black suffering and white force. It is a media-dependent show, needing the pulpit, the stage, the film, or the 'glaring light of television' to melodramatize the villainy of slavery and the virtue of slaves, the villainy of segregation, the virtue of black men and women seeking rights" (253).
"In the alchemy that confers morality on suffering victims, he gained a strange authority" (253).
"Only the beaten black man...had the kind of moral authority to make this plea effective" (253).
In a world where "color and gender (and class)" are "factors that impinge on justice", it is important to acknowledge the tradition melodramatic rhetoric has played in these conflicts.
We should address melodramatic conventions instead of ignoring them. In order to combat them, we must acknowledge the impact of race etc. in society.
Melodrama should be seen as a protean, perpetually modernizing force.
An unarmed, 18-year-old African American teenager was shot six times by a white policeman. The details of the event are still unclear, such as if the policeman was provoked.
The shooting resulted in riots, looting, and civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
Context within black and white melodrama:
"In New York, San Diego and Las Vegas... the percentage of black people killed by police was at least double that of their share of the city’s total population" (ColorLines).
"Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed" (PEW).
Without looking at this case as an episode in the "black and white melodrama,"it becomes easy to condemn the looting and rioting in Ferguson, as well as easy to dismiss the African American population's reaction to the shooting as an overreaction (5).
It is important to recognize how activists will use this event to "play the race card" and "parlay(ed) victimization into melodramatic forms of moral power" (7).
Victimization will be used as "moral authority" (253).
Campus Rape
Over 50 Universities undergoing federal investigation under Title IX "over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints" (Dept. Ed).
Media outcry over "rape culture" perpetuating campuses across the nation.
Nearly 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during her time in college.
"Despite federal laws created to protect students, colleges and universities have failed to protect women from this epidemic of sexual assault" (NPR).
"Even after they've been found responsible for sexual assault, students are rarely expelled or suspended" (NPR).
Melodramatic context:
Women fighting against the "boys will be boys" attitudes of the past.
Blame the victim culture of rape: woman provoked it through her clothes/actions.
Women as victims of male aggression

The new rebellion against campus rape is another episode in the male vs female, patriarchal melodrama. Women are beginning to use their power as victims to their advantage, as survivors of sexual assault are beginning to utilize the "moral capital" of suffering to demand accountability from colleges and perpetrators (253).
“60% of the 427 colleges and universities analyzed maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students” (FIRE).
Emory University has a been labeled a "red light" school because it has "at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech"(FIRE).
In 2011, Emory attempted to establish a "free speech zone" (FIRE).
There is a substantial history of federal courts striking down public university speech codes.
Doe v. University of Michigan
UWM Post v. Board of Regents of University of Wisconsin
"On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed" (AAUP).
"In response to verbal assaults and use of hateful language, some campuses have felt it necessary to forbid the expression of racist, sexist, homophobic, or ethnically demeaning speech, along with conduct or behavior that harasses" (AAUP).
I think it would be relevant and helpful to the Emory community to explore speech codes both theoretically and in practice at Emory. Both sides of the debate use hyperbolic rhetoric to pit free speech against offensive speech. It would be interesting to both utilize melodramatic rhetoric and examine how it has been used in the past.
ISIL Attack on Christianity
"Tens of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee Iraq as ISIS continues to seize Christian towns" (CNS News).
Christians were initially told that they must convert, pay a tax, or be executed. The fine option was later removed (Cousins).
ISIL painted the Arabic letter "N" on their houses to mark them as Christians and their property as ISIL's.
Mosul was one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
"They changed our church into a mosque, ruined historic museums and destroyed a monastery and manuscripts that were 1,000 years old. Iraq is gone. Iraq is finished. We're finished. It's impossible for us to go back,"- Mosul Christian
ISIL continues to wage war on Iraqi Christians, destroying thousand-year-old communities and executing innocent civilians.
"They are systemically beheading children, and mothers, and fathers. The world hasn't seen an evil like this for a generation. There's actually a park in Mosul that they've actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick," Mark Arabo, national spokesman for Iraqi Christians told CNN" (Almanar News).
I would explore ISIL's atrocities in their attempts to establish an Islamic Caliphate in melodramatic terms. I would also examine why the media is not using melodrama to describe the plight of the Christians or the Iraqis.
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