Peculiar Media and Modern Populism

M. Nagy

If this is a horse, I fully intend to beat it dead at this point. I will be blunt and paraphrase the words used by Brubaker in defining what populism is simply, it is rhetoric.1 In framing the term in such a way, it can then be analyzed in a fashion rather than be used as a journalistic cliche. Identifying populism the term as such is important as it strips away the fanciful nature of populism being used to attach the concept as a synonym for bad politics.

Now, why bring up the arguments by Brubaker when they are detached from this weeks readings by nearly 3 months? Simply put, there is nothing special or unique about the fashion in which populism is conducted now compared to the historical precedent. Neffati demonstrates how traditional print media has the capacity to, at the minimum, convey and cultivate a deep-seated aspect of fear in its readers.2 Whether this is something crafted by the paper or merely drawing out from the popular conscious; I think is an argument that goes far beyond the data the author presents however. Regardless of that, its certainly not a new form and is a direct continuation of traditional print media. I disagree with their analysis that this is a development in pushing of boundaries, at least in the grander scheme; as maintaining a freedom of speech, and to offend, is typical in any form of hyperbolic media such as Charlie Hebedo.

With the movement from print to visual media, there is the possibility for adaption into something wholly unique from its predecessors. As Özçetin notes that, “certain parts of the media may act as agents of populist rhetoric themselves; how media figures, including journalists, columnists and commentators may resonate with the populist discourse of the party in power.”3 There is indeed a growing emphasis on the tools and, in particular, the individual nature of the spread of populist rhetoric between those who agree with the message inherently. I would point to this being more a form of elaboration of the previous iterations of media however, as it is the natural evolution of the democratizing nature of more easily accessible creation, distribution, and consumption of media.

Viewing the different iterations of media as something new and unique can sometimes be a productive and useful tool in determining the effects they are having on a society. It also runs the risk of oversimplifying the situation in establishing a new effigy to rally around and burn at the stake. As Postill puts it succinctly, “Just because a populist – or indeed a non-populist – social media campaign preceded an electoral victory, we cannot assume that this triumph was a result of that campaign.”4 There is a desire to make things special and unique, it makes it easier to understand why things do not go as planned. However, Populism and the methods it uses to spread through modern media are not new; after all, Plato did outline it two and half millennia ago in his allegory of the cave.

1Rogers Brubaker, “Why Populism?” NUPI Podcast (51 minutes) .

2Imen Neffati, “Anti-sociologisme, Zionism, and Islamophobia in Philippe Val’s Charlie Hebdo” French Cultural Studies (2021) 32(3):280-295.

3Özçetin B, “‘The show of the people’ against the cultural elites: Populism, media and popular culture in Turkey” European Journal of Cultural Studies. 22(5-6) (2019):942-957.

4John Postill, “Populism and social media: a global perspective.” Media, Culture & Society. 40(5)(2018): 754-765.

One Reply to “Peculiar Media and Modern Populism”

  1. I agree with your statement about populism having a continuous line of presenting itself in history to now, I think most of the issues that populists gather around are probably about the same too. I think that you also briefly mention an issue that Kramer brings up: Do people come to media because they are drawn to things that replicate their views, or does the media help to crystallize and form identity. I would argue it does both, as it can act as both a recruitment tool and as a signal indicating a populist safe space.

    I do think something to consider in whether or not this is a new issue (I don’t think it is), is the public facing nature that a lot of social media has. Strangers that have never met a person before can go on a profile, having never met you, and see the ideas that you ascribe to and promote. Things like zines and pamphlets hold the same ideas certainly (seeing someone with a certain pamphlet), but the combination of private life with extreme views and the accessibility of those views by people that do not know you is, I think, different. This is, of course, a point that can be argued.

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