Front row seats at the theatre

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Visibility is a lynch pin for many campaigns and social movements. If they cannot get media coverage they will struggle to gain the public recognition they seek validating them as a ‘real’ cause and to then create change by mobilising the larger audiences outside of their cosy like -minded circles (Gitlin, 1993).

Considering the rise in new media, amidst the sheer amount of other movements vying for people’s attentions and the highly saturated 24-hour news cycle, the opportunity for a campaign to gain visibility has reduced significantly over the last few decades. This challenge has led to the growth of media orientated activities such as stunts, rallies and marches as campaigns aim to shout louder to get the visibility needed to further their cause (Mccurdy, Mattoni, and Cammaerts, 2013).

However, this struggle for visibility within the media can be a risky business, as a campaign could end out only receiving negative framing from the media, rather than the messaging they would like to distribute into the public sphere. Also, there is an ethical tension at work here because by reducing your messaging into a sound bite or an image, you run the risk of oversimplifying the issue you are campaigning on (Gamson and Wolfsfeld, 1993).

So the question is, does this political theatre further a campaigns cause or damage it? I would like to argue that using stunts, marches, rallies and creating strong images to gain visibility, can be a successful tool in a wider campaign strategy, especially when used alongside other tactics.

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For example, take the #RallyforAleppo this weekend. The organisers used an array of tactics to gain coverage. Firstly, the event was organised by a coalition of organisations, NGO’s and news outlets. Secondly, alongside the coalition members promoting the event, the rally was also endorsed by public figures, like the actress Carey Mulligan, who spoke and helped raise the profile of the rally. Finally, they encouraged people and children to bring a teddy and place it outside 10 Downing Street with a message for Theresa May, creating an incredibly strong visual.

As I stood in the crowd and looked across the street to the entrance for 10 Downing Street, I saw a huge group of photographers, videographers and journalists eager to interview and capture grandparents and parents with their children putting the teddies down.

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Yet I was left with a question. Would this rally have been so well attended and covered by the media if it had been organised without the visual of children placing teddies outside 10 Downing Street? We cannot know the answer for sure. But I could guess probably not.

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People lay teddy bears at the rally for Aleppo outsdie Downing Street. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Shutterstock from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/22/carey-mulligan-joins-london-protest-against-bombardment-of-aleppo-syria

The stunt had created an image that had captured the imagination of the media. Whilst the situation of these children in Aleppo is entangled in a complex web of international relations. This simple image was successful in breaking through the news cycle, with a stark reminder that the children trapped in Eastern Aleppo hundreds of miles away, are not a distant faceless story, they are just like these children and deserve to be protected and need to be helped. And hopefully the powerful images communicated through today’s rally will help to further the conversation on how these children can be helped.


*This blog has been written as part of my MA in Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster, for more information about this course please follow this link http://www.westminster.ac.uk/MACampaigning.


References

Gamson, W., & Wolfsfeld, G. (1993). Movements and Media as Interacting Systems. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 114-125.

Gitlin, T. (1993). Public sphere or public sphericules? In J. Curran, & T. Liebes, Media, Ritual and Identity (pp. 168-173). London: Routledge .

Mccurdy, P., Mattoni, A., & Cammaerts, B. (2013). Mediation and protest movements. Chicago: Intellect, The University of Chicago Press.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. I agree with your sentiment- it is a shame that tactics such as celebrity endorsement and iconography have become essential requirements for garnering significant media interest and public interest. This is particularly disheartening in instances of humanitarian crisis, such as the one in Aleppo. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that campaign organisations must abide by the (unwritten) rules of media coverage in order to be effective/ successful. If symbolism has become the criterion- the expectation- for this, then so be it. That is, as long as the symbols and tactics used have a constructive impact on the wider narrative and the media present the story in a consistent and accurate manner. Really interesting read!

    1. I agree with everything James said. Unfortunately an event has to meet certain demands in order to break through “the noise” these days. This gets even worse when considering the (financial) situation of news organisations. In the end, much comes back to selling. Selling your event to the media, in a way that they see how they can sell it on. This is not a positive development and not the media’s fault only, but also something that should be addressed as soon as possible, as it concerns society as a whole. What counts most, from my point of view, in terms of this powerful ralley is though – as was already said – that it had an impact and that these important voices were heard. Love this post!

  2. Jess says:

    Really interesting. I’m reminded that creating an image was partly what launched Greenpeace into an international organisation. They created what they called a ‘mind bomb’, an image that set minds going and focused them on the issues that Greenpeace wanted to share with the world. That image was of a tiny boat with only 2 or 3 people sat in it in front of a mighty whaling ship. The picture that went global was a harpoon being shot at a great whale swimming just beyond the tiny boat. As the harpoon was fired it skimmed just a foot above the heads of the Greenpeace protestors in the boat. The image gained coverage on tv news shows across the world garnering support for the green movement and resulting in Greenpeace hubs popping up all over the world. Of course this was not their only tactic but an incredibly powerful one, and can still be seen today in the large-scale stunts that Greenpeace pull off as a core part of their campaigning strategy. Thanks for the read!

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