Creating Technology for Social Change

Radical Media in Democracy, Social Movements, and Dance as Radical Media

The theme of today’s class is Hegemony, Ideology, and Resistance. “Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements” by Robert Downing discusses the radical media, or “media, generally small scale and in many different forms, that express an alternative vision to hegemonic policies, priorities, and perspectives,” (Downing, v). Radical media exists not necessarily as an opposition to mainstream media.

Downing says that radical media fit into the realm of popular culture. Popular culture can have social movements that have both retroactive and constructive aspects. An example of retroactive social movement would be a group wishing to return to policies of the past. This story from 2008 by USA Today highlights the rising influence of white supremacist groups in the United States. A Google search for Keystone returns numerous highly active radical media groups on the subject, including white supremacist blogs, independent news organizations, and interest group websites. For an example of constructive radical media Downing cites the environmentalist movement.

Downing discusses the importance of both radical media and the mainstream media in the democratic process. He gives five reasons why radical media is necessary in a democratic society (p. 55).

1) Radical media is usually free of word and time limits placed on traditional media. This allows for more specialized and detailed coverage. This also leads to a proliferation of possible subject matter, whereas traditional media is very constrained.

2) Radical media can include the normally excluded. Downing says this is particularly true to minorities, marginalized members of society, etc.

3) Radical media can help developing and existing social movements.

4) Radical media is less subject to filtering and censoring because they are not loyal to corporations.

5) Radical media’s internal organization structures are less hegemonic than mainstream media. I think Downing includes this point to showcase that in contrast with mainstream media organizations, the radical media orgs are usually less formal, and are new institutions. However I’m not sure I think this point is strong for arguing why radical media is important to democracy.

In relation to point three, Downing discusses various types of social movements that happen within popular culture (which makes up the public sphere) (p. 24).

1) Social movement as a rioting mob. Ex) French Revolution, Arab spring
2) Social movement as rational actors. Ex) Civil Rights Movement
3) New Social Movements (NSMs) Ex) Feminism, Environmentalism

Within these varying types of social movements, the process of information dissemination is discussed in terms of how they serve as “Developmental power agents.” While I agree that they do serve this purpose, I disagree with the way Downing says information is spread. He states that radical media “are quite often in the lead in addressing issues that only later get noticed by mainstream media” (p. 44). Last week in class we discussed a more circular structure of information transfer. For example, a story from the blogosphere could be picked up by the mainstream media. But the opposite can and does happen as well.

In the last portion of the reading Downing discusses the sometimes blurry relationship between art and media. Downing uses a quote by John Walker (1983) that discusses the importance of arts in radical media. Walker says art “is distinguished…by its greater degree of independence, individuality, personal expression, and handwork,” (p. 56). Art’s “separation” and independence from the mainstream culture is similar to radical media’s separation to corporate bias, the time constraints of traditional news, etc. Because of this, art can serve as a form of radical media.

I can’t say I am very familiar with art forms like printmaking, painting, theater, or drawing. However, one form of art I am very familiar with is ballet. Through choreography and music choices, dancers can portray many things in relation to social movements.

A fantastic example of dance as radical media is choreographer Rennie Harris in collaboration with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Harris is a hip-hop choreographer who showcases social issues through his works. “Home” will be a dramatic piece about the impact of HIV/AIDS on communities. here.

Another example using dance is performance spreading ideology or religion. Ballet Magnificat is a Jackson, MI based Christian ballet company. They use choreography, costuming, musical choices, and acting to promote Christian belief systems. I don’t know if the type of activism Ballet Magnificat is doing fall into any categories of social movements described by Downing. In the ballet Ruth the Biblical story is told. Ballet Magnificat holds summer camps and tours nationally to spread their message of Christian faith. Through these performances the company invites viewers to reflect critically with the option to participate in spreading their message.