Populism and Media: A Complex Relationship


The readings from this week added another layer of complexity to the analysis of populism. The dissemination of populist rhetoric is not merely done through traditional political avenues. Özçetin suggests the importance of popular culture in shaping populist discourses. The case of the internationally praised historical drama Diriliş: Ertuğrul, which will be discussed in the following lines, is a good example. Postill asserts that populist communication is subject to a “dual hybridity” (old/new media and online/offline communication). Finally, I wish to talk about Neffati’s article on Zionism and Islamophobia in the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo. The particularity of this case is that it offers an example where the populist discourse is not always happening from a top-down dynamic. 

Özçetin shows how popular culture can perfectly be in line with a political agenda. The case of Diriliş: Ertuğrul symbolizes the populist message of Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s populist message is centered around the primacy of the Sunni-Muslim majority and the betrayal of the Kemalist elite. As Özçetin stresses, the character of Ertuğrul is a representation of Erdoğan himself, who is supposedly fighting against the evil embodied in the elitist class. The success of this show on an international level shows how effective popular culture can be in promoting a political party’s message. 

When it comes to social media, Postill places them as part of a “dense web of highly diverse online and offline communication practices”, in addition to old and new communication practices (762). I liked the nuance brought by this article. Postill insists that social media are not only used by populist candidates but also by “establishment politicians”. When used with mainstream media, it can be a very powerful tool for politicians. As for the point about places like mosques being places of important political discourse, there is definitely truth to that. Such discourse, however, is not uniform. It is important to consider for example the differences in Islamic preaches in Muslim and non-muslim countries. Muslims living in the West might have a different understanding of what it means to be part of a nation than Muslims living in a country where the majority is Muslim. 

Finally, the case of Charlie Hebdo offers a good example of how actors that are outside of the government in power can be influential in shaping public opinion. Neffati states that Philippe Val, director of Charlie Hebdo, “manipulates readership” into thinking of Islam as inherently antisemitic, and by extension a threat to the French Republic. Among the many outrageous caricatures and drawings that the magazine published, one of them depicts Muslims as an alien coming to invade a free and secular Europe. The message here is clear, the Muslim community is an enemy that does not belong in France. Today, as French Muslims are increasingly pushed into choosing between their faith or their country, a media like Charlie Hebdo becomes an alternative way for the populist message of the French government to reach the people. 

2 Replies to “Populism and Media: A Complex Relationship”

  1. Great response! I agree about the readings from this week adding complexity to looking at populism and how they convey rhetoric through popular culture to create discourse. Your discussion of Diriliş: Ertuğrul representing the AKP’s anti-elitist message is similar to my own (though I think you worded it better).

    I concur on the discussion of Postill’s article on social media and the nuanced power it can bring politicians. I like how you described the different understanding of being part of a nation when living in a country where the majority is a specific group versus when not.

    We discussed Charlie Hebdo in comments under my response, I agree Charlie Hebdo shows the impact magazines have in influencing people’s opinions. I will say you made a compelling case for the impact of the magazine. When you discuss the French Muslims having to choose between faith or country, the French constitution protects freedom of religion, so why would they have to choose between them?

    Wesley M.

  2. I find the point you brought up interesting, about the manipulation of readership, do you think this is a new phenomenon helping populism or something old and there isn’t a change to where populism stands today vs other eras?

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