Tag Archives: #BCM210

The Word That Shall Not Be Named…

An interview is a form of qualitative research that enables researchers to “obtain information that cannot be gained by observation alone” (McCutcheon, 2015), or more simply, “a conversation between a researcher and an informant/respondent” (McCutcheon, 2015). Depending on its purpose and protocol, an interview can involve multiple people in a focus group or one individual, and can be conducted in either a structured, semi-structured or unstructured form, each providing the interviewer, and therefore the interviewee, with a different level of flexibility and freedom.

When considering the topic for Assessment 2 and this final blog I originally opted to continue on from the first blog required in BCM 210, in which I identified my interest in researching whether increased exposure to violent media content desensitised young people to violence and even promoted violent behaviour. However, I have instead elected to pursue a very different but equally interesting issue: the media’s contribution to the reappropriation of the word “nigger”, otherwise known as the “N word”.

My first two survey questions were structured interview questions adapted from my group’s questionnaire that aimed to introduce the interviewees to the topic and break down any discomfort or timidness preventing them from responding honestly about the role of the “N word” in both contemporary media and culture:

  1. What do you perceive to be the meaning of the “N word”? Would you associate it more with camaraderie or racial persecution?
  2. Have you ever used the “N word” in either of these contexts?

When asked the first question, my group, who consist of a Caucasian male, Caucasian female and Asian male, were initially quite tentative to respond. In order to combat this I had each of them say the word out loud and then describe what they thought it meant after having said it, which seemingly removed the elephant in the room and freed the group members up to talk more openly. It was then that each member of the group confessed to having used the word before in the context of camaraderie.

The following two questions were far more open-ended in nature, allowing the interviewees to give more personalised answers:

  1. Are you exposed to the use of the “N word” in the media that you regularly consume? If so, in what context is it used?
  2. Do you think that there is a relationship between the increased presence of the “N word” in the media and the changing role of the “N word” in the society in which you live?

The group then proceeded to engage in a highly constructive discussion about their experiences with the “N word”, bringing up examples of how the media that they consume has desensitised them to the term and even influenced the frequency of their use of the term. These examples included Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012), gangsta rap artists such as Tupac and even specific songs such as Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Niggas in Paris (2011). Examples of individuals who had been shamed by the media for their use of the “N word”, including Jeremy Clarkson, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling, were also brought up in the group’s discussion, allowing the group to reconsider the discriminatory and culturally divisive power of this word that still exists in modern society despite its increased use and changing role.

This interview was a highly constructive experience that enabled me to gain a greater understanding of how different types of questions can vary in their ability to promote honest, useful responses from interviewees.

Reference List:

Carter, S & West, K 2011, ‘Niggas in Paris’, in Watch the Throne, Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation/Def Jam.

McCutcheon, M 2015, Lecture 6: Interviews, Focus Groups, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, pp 10.

Tarantino, Q 2012, Django Unchained, Columbia Pictures.

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Critique of Marsden & Melander’s ‘Historical Cases of Unethical Research’ (2001)

Serena Marsden and Melissa Melander’s academic article, Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) is in most ways an effective, accurate and succinct account of the history of unethical research and the development of ethical codes and regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing ethical standards and protecting human subjects involved in research, such as the Belmont Report and the Institutional Review Board. Some of the key factors that make this text authoritative are Marsden and Melander’s use of an objective, analytical writing form suited to their academic audience and the content of this article, as well as their examination of a wide variety of significant historical case studies.

The purpose of Marsden and Melander’s article is to analyse how and why particular historical cases of unethical research have influenced the way human subjects are treated in contemporary research practices. In order to effectively explore this topic Marsden and Melander investigate five of the most significant unethical research studies of the 20th century. The accuracy and succinctness of Marsden and Melander’s investigations into these cases, and in particular their analyses of the treatment of the human subjects involved in each study and the ethical questions raised by each study, such as subjects’ rights to autonomy and self-determination, beneficence, justice, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity, and non-maleficence, is one of the critical aspects of this article that makes it so effective. These studies include:

  1. The horrifying medical and scientific experiments conducted by Nazi physicians in German concentration and extermination camps between 1933 and 1945.
  2. Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment on the nature of obedience and authority when one’s conscience is questioned.
  3. The 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study involving four hundred poor African-American men.
  4. The Willowbrook Hepatitus study conducted from 1963 to 1966 on a group of uninformed mentally disabled children.
  5. Laud Humphrey’s “tearoom sex” study of impersonal homosexual acts committed by males in public restrooms in the mid-1960s (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1-3).

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Being an article published by the University of North Dakota Press, the audience for Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) would primarily consist of academics studying or interested in the history of unethical research and the development of ethical codes and regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing ethical standards and protecting human subjects. As a result of this, Marsden and Melander employ an objective and analytical writing form that aims to communicate the relevant information as clearly and accurately as possible, however, the authors also maintain a definite position throughout the text. This is possible as a result of this article’s content, which includes cases that are so inhumane and immoral, as well as historically distant, that any contemporary civilized reader would immediately adopt the authors’ position that this kind of treatment of human subjects in unacceptable, which enables Marsden and Melander to avoid using a subjective voice.

Like any other article, however, Marsden and Melander’s article is not perfect. Not only do the authors fail to provide any in-text citations, but the referencing produced at the bottom of the article is also highly substandard, with no definite style or method evident in their approach. Furthermore, elementary spelling and grammar mistakes can be found scattered throughout the article, such as “historical eases”, which can be found in the opening line in place of “historical cases” (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1). Nevertheless, as a whole Marsden and Melander’s Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) is still a very effective, accurate and succinct article that provides a clear and authoritative analysis of its topic.

Reference List:

Marsden, S & Melander, M 2001, Historical Cases of Unethical Research, University of North Dakota Press, Grand Forks, pp 1-3.


The Great Media Witch-Hunt

‘Media research’ is defined by Wimmer and Dominick as “an attempt to discover something” (2014) within the field of the media. Due to the vast and multifaceted nature of the media, however, this could involve investigating any issue within any one of the multitudes of channels and platforms through which we consume media in the 21st century. An examination or enquiry into a media-related topic should involve a systematic, accurate and objective research process, beginning with an initial observation, followed by the gathering of qualitative and/or quantitative data, the formulation of a theory and hypothesis, the further gathering and analysis of data and a final deduction that leaves the investigator with a greater understanding of the chosen topic or issue (McCutcheon, 2015: 21-22).

The aspect of the media that I am most interested in researching is the mass media’s tendency to, in cases of youth-related crises, identify a scapegoat as the target of a media-led witch-hunt and campaign of moral panic based on the academically divisive ‘causation theory’. This is especially evident in the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999 and the murders of Suzanne Capper in December 1992 and James Bulger in February 1993.

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The first case study involves shock-rock band Marilyn Manson, whose violent and sexual music and image became the target of a widespread media-led witch-hunt following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 (Jones, 2002: 126-127), when the perpetrators, high school seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were reported by the media to have been wearing the band’s t-shirts before committing the shooting (Moore, 2002). As a band that played heavy music with anti-Christian lyrics and a shock-goth image, it came as no surprise that Marilyn Manson were subsequently blamed for 36 further school shootings as the media pursued its witch-hunt against the band (Moore, 2002).

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The second case study involves the horror film Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking (1991) and the murders of Suzanne Capper and James Bulger. The first murder was that of 16 year old Suzanne Capper, wherein the perpetrator, McNeilly, “assumed the character of Chucky” by mimicking certain violent scenes from the film and continuously repeating the phrase “I’m Chucky, wanna play?” whilst torturing Capper (Foster, 1993: 2). In this case, it is quite evident that there is a direct cause-effect relationship between the viewing of Child’s Play 3 and the method in which McNeilly tortured and murdered Suzanne Capper. Three months later, however, the film resurfaced in the case of two-year-old James Bulger, who was murdered by ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. Apart from the media’s assertion that Bulger’s murder was inspired by Thompson and Venables’ viewing of the third Chucky film, which was later disproved, this case does not contain any evidence to suggest that the boys had seen or been influenced by the film (Faux & Frost, 1993: 1). In fact, the only evidence to suggest why the film was ever linked to Bulger’s murder is the case of Suzanne Capper, which sparked a widespread campaign of moral panic surrounding the impact of violent media, and particularly the Child’s Play franchise as a result of its child-like antagonist and horrific murder scenes, on the psychology of youth and the need for new legislation concerning video films (Morrison, 2003: 1).

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What these cases demonstrate is that the mass media is highly prone to creating scapegoats and spreading campaigns of moral panic in the wake of youth-related crises. Combined with quantitative and qualitative research, I believe that an investigation into this topic could uncover the perspectives of the public, the media corporations and the scapegoats on this issue, as well as the real-life effectiveness of these kind of media campaigns on legislation and public perception, in the hope of exposing the reason why causation theory is such a prominent aspect of current media reporting.

Reference List:
Bender, J 1991, Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking, Universal Pictures, USA.
Faux, R & Frost, B 1993, Boys guilty of Bulger murder, Times, London, pp 1.
Foster, J 1993, Horror fiction became reality, The Independent, London, pp 1-2.
Jones, S 2002, Pop music and the press, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, pp 126-127.
McCutcheon, M 2015, Lecture 2: What is media research?, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, pp 7-22.
Moore, M 2002, Bowling for Columbine, United Artists, USA.
Morrison, B 2003, Life after James, The Guardian, London, pp 1.
Wimmer, R & Dominick, J 2014, Mass Media Research: An Introduction, 10th ed., Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.