Image bites – The Great Burqa Robbery and other political ads

The visual features of much of the modern mass media is important in understanding the use of films for distributing ones messages and signify a trend in which politics and public debate are not only about verbal arguments but also about visual narrative representations. The visual message literally makes visible the preferred perspective, while obscuring potential alternatives. In a compelling campaign the verbal and visual messages are carefully constructed and interact with social and cultural environments in ways which maximize their acceptance. At the same time given the ambiguity of visual communication the visual narrative is also vague and broad enough to enable to interpret the message in their own way. These features becomes clear for example when we look at a recent ad in the election campaign of anti-islam politician Geert Wilders:
Wilders beats the drum of mass migration directly linking it to Islam, Islamization and linking that to insecurity, crime, social welfare, rejecting ‘Dutch’ values and terrorist attacks by a combination of textual and visual narratives. DeLuca (1999) uses the phrase “image event” to refer to the media tactics of social movements. Such films were I think not meant by him as an ‘image event’ (take Greenpeace’s campaigns in media as prime example of such staged events)  but Deluca’s analysis which shows that such events are examples of rhetoric that combines the verbal with the visual in order to achieve “critique through spectacle” (DeLuca 1999:22) is applicable here as well. Such ‘image’ events are usually about providing ‘fragments of arguments’ that break away from the established order, in this case on the one hand it taps into ‘common sense’ ideas about multiculturalism and Islamization while offering an alternative to analysis and explanations coming from what is perceived as the political elite. Showing airplanes (from a foreigh company) bringing in waves of migrants. Visual examples of mass migration such as women with headscarves and mosques, showing prisons, socialist politicians (in particular social democrat Cohen) that are lenient, sleepy and ‘drinking tea’ (as the metaphor of being too lenient and tolerant) and a showing a mosque under construction resonate with fears of people for Islamization and with anger about politicians who are too tolerant about intolerance and who are giving ‘our’ culture away.

Another ‘fine’ example is the recent ad by the Swedish Democrats:
While the counter in the video shows Sweden’s declining budget in this time of economic crisis, Sweden is swept by Muslim immigration visualized by Muslim women in burqa’s and with baby carriages. The particular images used in ‘image events’ can be seen as ‘image bites’ having similar persuasive effects as sound bites on viewers and their political understandings, in particular when it involves negative compelling images that elicit danger, fear, or disgust. The power of the visual rhetoric is, among other things, that it makes the message almost incontestable because reality is reduced in such a way as to be seen as inherent in the way things are. It turns complex issues into messages that appeal to people’s common sense.

Other videos invoke memories of the past in which Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Constantinopel and Cordoba and equating it with contemporary issues such as Park51:
This rhetoric, because it refers back to actual incidents and/or fears in which Muslims played a role and is informed by the widespread logic of culture talk, is predictable at the same time that it provides authority to the central message that Islam is a religion that incites to violence and hatred and that the native citizens will be the victims of Islamization.

H/T: Foreign Policy Blog, JH and MB

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