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The “China Virus” Meme and the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election

COVID-19, United States, China, meme, foreign policy

Henna-Riikka Pennanen
henna-riikka.pennanen [a] utu.fi
PhD
The John Morton Center for North American Studies
University of Turku

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In this essay, I argue that in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, “China virus” became a meme that connected traditional media spaces, online spaces, and policy spaces. The template for the meme was created by repeating terminology that fixed a link between SARS-CoV-2 (and its attendant disease COVID-19) and China. I trace the co-production and circulation of the meme within the modern-day version of a conservative echo chamber, comprising the President, his administration, Fox News hosts, Republican politicians, informal Trump advisers, and Trump supporters. As the meme reverberated through the echo chamber, it was assigned the function of an identity marker and the connotation of an “irresponsible China,” which ultimately built toward the national security narrative of China as a threat. The meme was also employed in two election strategies: the domestic policy of blaming China and the foreign policy of tough-on-China. Outside the echo chamber, however, the China virus meme was seen to function as a means of pandemic othering, and it connoted the return of the “yellow peril.”

The “China Virus” Meme and the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election

Through 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic dominated people’s lives and commandeered the mediascape. The pandemic and the presidential election composed two “intense, yearlong storylines” in the news in the United States (Mitchell et al. 2021, 21). In this essay, I focus on the controversy that intersected both of these storylines: the naming of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus as the “China virus.” I argue that the “China virus” terminology became a meme that was co-produced and circulated—partly, but not exclusively—in an echo chamber comprising the Trump administration, Fox News hosts, Republican politicians, informal Trump advisers, and Trump supporters.

Limor Shifman (2014, 7–8, italics in the original) defines memes as “(a) a group of digital items sharing common characteristics of content, form, and/or stance; (b) that were created with awareness of each other; and (c) were circulated, imitated, and/or transformed via the Internet by many users.” Accordingly, the “China virus” terminology provided the shared form, or the template of the meme, which was then discursively populated by shifting meanings, identities, and functions. Here, ”China virus” terminology refers to all variations of the term denoting the Chinese origins of the coronavirus and its attendant disease. Whether the terms in use were, for example, the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese Plaque,” I consider these as variations of one and the same “China virus” meme template. While Shifman analyzes memes as socially constructed discourses traveling the internet, the ”China virus” meme traversed and connected online spaces as well as traditional media spaces and policy spaces. As I will show in this essay, the meme was circulated, repeated, mimicked, and modified in the run-up to the election. It became the cornerstone of Trump administration’s COVID-19 response, was adopted as an identity marker, functioned as part of Trump’s presidential election strategy, and formed a building block of the emerging national security narrative of China as a threat. Effectively, the meme coalesced domestic and foreign policy.

The essay is based on an analysis of selected online, media, and policy sources from 2020.[i] I have identified and selected tweets from Donald Trump’s now defunct Twitter feed, episodes from prominent Fox News programs,[ii] and speeches made by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which the “China virus” terminology, COVID-19, and China were addressed.

Making of the Meme

By the end of December 2019, news about a new infectious disease in the city of Wuhan, China, began to make the rounds worldwide. In January 2020, the disease was confirmed as being caused by a novel coronavirus, and experts alerted the world about the potential outbreak of a pandemic. Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, sounded an alarm in his January 29 memo to the National Security Council, noting that the coronavirus could reach the United States and cost countless of lives and dollars (Osterholm and Olshaker 2020, 16). Two days later, the World Health Organization (WHO 2020a) declared “a public health emergency of international concern over the global outbreak of novel coronavirus,” and on March 11, the WHO (2020c) characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. By that time, Navarro’s predictions had already materialized, and 24 U.S. states had declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 (Razek 2020).

Over the spring, the “China virus” terminology was notably embraced on Fox News. Media Matters for America—a politically left-leaning media watchdog organization—noted that from January to March, “Fox News personalities and their guests have used derogatory language to describe the disease 144 times” (Savillo 2020). Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, in particular, were prolific users of different variations of the terms “Wuhan virus” and “Chinese virus”. However, before the WHO (2020b) issued COVID-19 as the official name for the disease on February 11, the term “Wuhan Coronavirus” also appeared on CNN, for example (Provalis Research 2020).

The terminology was also adopted by President Trump, as was evident on his communication platform of choice—Twitter. A search for the term “virus” in Trump’s Twitter feed reveals that in the early months of 2020, he tended to refer to “Coronavirus” and “CoronaVirus.” The President muddled the conceptual distinction between the virus and the attendant disease and referred to both as “covid,”[iii] especially in conjunction with mentions to “Covid Relief Bill” or “Covid drugs.” Occasionally, he clarified that by “COVID-19” he meant the “China Virus” (e.g., on July 7). Then, during and after March, President Trump gravitated more and more toward the terms “Chinese Virus” and “China Virus” in his tweets.[iv] In May, the President adopted another variation: “the Plague,”[v] and used it repeatedly thereafter.

The similarity between the vocabularies of President Trump and Fox News hosts was hardly a coincidence. In fact, Matthew Gertz (2018) from Media Matters claims that during Trump’s presidency, there existed a “Trump–Fox Feedback Loop” that covered a wide variety of topics. Gertz posits that this loop was formed in stages: first, Trump live-tweeted Fox News programs; second, his tweets upended the news cycle for the rest of the day; and third, the tweets were then reported on Fox News. Along similar lines, Brian Stelter characterized the relationship as symbiotic, in which “Trump props up the network and the network props up Trump” (Stelter 2020, 23).

While the idea of the Trump–Fox loop is informative for understanding how the “China virus” meme was co-produced, how it traveled, and what discursive contents were attached to it, in this essay I will show that at times the loop broke down and that the meme was anything but exclusive to it. Representatives of the Trump administration, the Republican Party, and the conservative media and movement all participated in the production and circulation of the meme. And yet, so did news outlets and political actors with no connections to the loop; by criticizing the meme, they participated in assigning meanings and functions to it. Perhaps more instructive would be to view the Trump–Fox loop as part of an echo chamber—a modern-day extension or modification of the conservative echo chamber that was created by the conservative media in the 1990s and 2000s (Jamieson and Cappella 2010). Like its earlier conservative predecessor, the echo chamber of 2020 represented “homogenous clustering” (Breuer and Johnston 2019, 435) or a space in which individuals are exposed to only like-minded people and information that is ideologically consonant and confirms their pre-existing opinions (Kitchens et al. 2020, 1622).

In the early spring, the President and some Fox News hosts contended that the new coronavirus was not a threat, and there was no need to foment panic or hysteria (Chiu 2020a; Shephard 2020). Among the main news outlets, Fox News stood out in terms of the tendency of its hosts to characterize the threat of the pandemic as overstated (Provalis Research 2020). Yet, some actors within the echo chamber contested this line of thought. Tucker Carlson (2020a), for example, emphasized the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat very early on in his opening monologues. He criticized both sides of the political aisle for not taking proper action to counter the threat, but especially those who claimed that the virus was not a serious problem. Carlson conjectured that maybe these people did not know any better, or maybe it was because of the presidential and congressional elections that were coming up. Whatever the reason, he concluded, they were wrong: “The Chinese coronavirus is a major event. It will affect your life. And by the way, it’s definitely not just the flu” (Carlson 2020a). Similarly, Maria Bartiromo and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)—a political Trump ally and frequent Fox News guest—raised the alarm over the virus (Fordham 2020).

The echo chamber sent mixed messages on the gravity of the issue and on how to respond to the pandemic. This was reflected in the reactions of the Trump and Fox News audiences. Some reacted by wearing a protective mask, or by practicing social distancing, while others eschewed all COVID measures. In fact, one study showed that Tucker Carlson’s audience took protective measures against the virus “much earlier than Hannity viewers” (Sullivan 2020b). However, as March progressed, Trump changed his tone. On March 18, Trump tweeted that he had “always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously” and had done “a very good job from the beginning.” This turnaround has been largely attributed to the influence of Tucker Carlson (Shephard 2020; Sullivan 2020a). Other Fox News hosts fell in line around the same time. Sean Hannity claimed that the news network had been telling their viewers “from day one” that the “virus is serious” (Gabbatt 2020).

In trying to make sense of COVID-19 and debating the nation’s response to it, the template of the meme was slowly forged through repetition of “China virus” terminology. And by March, the meme was in full circulation.

The (Identity) Politics of Naming

Once the template of the meme had been established, it quickly stirred controversy. Headlines in, for example, the New York Times (Rogers et al. 2020), NBC (Yam 2020a), Vox (Scott 2020a), the Washington Post (Chiu 2020b), and CNN (Filipovic 2020) criticized the President’s use of the “China virus” terminology, while Media Matters (Savillo 2020) took aim at Fox News. The meme was condemned for its linkages to xenophobia, racism, and anti-Asian bigotry. According to reports compiled and published by the Stop AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Hate Reporting Center, people of Chinese background—and people of Asian background in general—faced verbal harassment, shunning, physical assaults, and potential civil rights violations in connection with COVID-19 (Stop AAPI Hate 2020a). Anti-Asian American discrimination was very real and nationwide in the United States during the pandemic.

President Trump paused at the criticism. In a press briefing on March 24, he pledged his support for U.S. citizens with Asian heritage (MSNBC 2020). Trump chose not to use the term “Chinese virus” in the briefing. He explained his decision later that day in an interview with Bill Hemmer on Fox News: “You know, everyone knows it came from China, but I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it” (Fox News 2020c). The pause, however, was short-lived. On March 25, he congratulated his administration in a tweet for getting “great reviews on our handling of Covid 19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus.”

Meanwhile, in his opening monologues, Tucker Carlson (2020b) insisted on using the “China virus” terminology and denounced other alternatives as dangerous euphemisms at a time when “accuracy and clear language in the way you talk about the threat” was essential. He claimed that the risks of the virus had gone unheeded because the situation had been politicized with the controversy on naming:

One of the reasons that Americans may have missed the significance of this virus is because unfortunately, it came enmeshed with politics. On television, talking heads have wasted hours upon valuable hours yammering not about the virus and its potential victims, but how it is racist to tie the coronavirus to China, where it came from. (Carlson 2020b)

Similarly, Sean Hannity accused the “media mob” of politicizing the issue at a time when a unified response was most called for (Fox News 2020b). According to a text analysis comparing transcripts of different television news broadcasts, blaming the media and Democrats for politicizing the COVID-19 was a distinctly Fox News theme (Provalis Research 2020).

Fox News hosts and President Trump had two main lines of defense against the criticism they faced. The first line was encapsulated by Maria Bartiromo, who in her March interview with Senator Cotton claimed that the virus originated in China, and hence the term “Chinese virus” was perfectly applicable. Senator Cotton agreed. (Blitzer 2020a). For both Fox News hosts and President Trump, this line was fortified by the point that there are a host of viruses and diseases named after their place of origin (Fox News 2020b; 2020c). Persisting in using the term “Chinese virus” on grounds that it came from China ignored the best practices for naming human infectious diseases issued by the WHO years earlier. The 2015 WHO guidelines urged the creation and employment of “scientifically sound and socially acceptable” names that would not incur “negative effects on nations, economies and people.” The guidelines were to apply to new diseases only. Thus, although older, established names, such as “swine flu” and “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome,” clearly stigmatized particular economic sectors and communities, the WHO had no intention of changing or censuring those names. (WHO 2015.)

In light of earlier naming practices, Hannity declared that it was an “insane talking point,” propagated by the “social justice warriors in the media mob,” to claim that “using the word China or Wuhan virus to describe the Wuhan virus is racist” (Fox News 2020b). Hannity’s comment touched upon the second line of defense: to dismiss the criticism as identity politics. Carlson (2020b), for example, pleaded that such a moment of crisis was not the “time to indulge in the lowest and dumbest kind of identity politics”. Conservative or right-wing critique of identity politics is nothing new (Scott 2020b). Yet, while Fox News hosts and President Trump accused the media and the left of identity politics, they at the same time forged the “China virus” meme into a marker for political identity. The President himself urged his supporters at a rally to refrain from using the term “coronavirus,” because “corona” sounds like a beautiful place in Italy. Instead, he argued his supporters should opt for the term “China virus,” which “the radical left” refused to use (CNBC TV18 2020). In other words, the “China virus” meme was used as a deliberate taunt to liberals and progressives. The “China virus” meme functioned as a symbol for standing with President Trump, essentially not that different from wearing a red Make America Great Again hat.

The “China virus” meme firmly established what the Trump camp was not (i.e., radical, left-wing Democrats), suggesting that they were the exact opposite (i.e., conservative, right-wing Republicans). This speaks to Corey Robin’s (2011) argument that conservatism is forged in reaction and negation. Using the meme prompted a backlash, to which the 2020 echo chamber reacted by accusing the critics of making the naming of the virus about identity politics. At the same time, they embraced their own form of identity politics, and employed the meme to drive home the distinction between themselves and the critics.

Blaming China

The Trump administration defended the “China virus” terminology by claiming that it was not targeted at U.S. citizens with Asian heritage, but rather it was “an indictment of China for letting the virus get here” (Yam 2020b). Thus, the administration employed the “China virus” meme to blame China for the outbreak of the pandemic. This, I would claim, was an intentional election tactic, purported to counter domestic criticism over the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before President Trump fully embraced the “China virus” terminology, he utilized the words “Coronavirus” and “CoronaVirus,” most notably in tweets in which he emphasized the good relations and cooperation between the United States and China. For example, on March 23, Trump tweeted about having a conversation with Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, discussing “in great detail the CoronaVirus,” and added that the U.S. was working closely with China on the issue. Soon, however, the President’s tweets, speeches, and interviews flipped, and criticism of the Democrats and the media playing identity politics was joined with criticism of China. “Blame China” was a strategy put forward in a memo sent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to the Republican campaigns. The memo, dated April 17, urged Republican candidates to evade questions on the President’s handling of the pandemic, except for the “China Travel Ban” he issued on January 31. Instead, the memo advised them to direct their attention to China, arguing that “Coronavirus was a Chinese hit-and-run followed by a cover-up that cost thousands of lives”. If questions of racism arose, those were to be rejected by assuring that “No one is blaming Chinese Americans” (Isenstadt 2020).

In March, Trump was still hesitant, granting in a press conference that “I don’t know if you’d say China is to blame” (Chiu 2020a). And on April 19, he mused in a press briefing that the spread of the virus may have been a mistake on the part of the Chinese, but adding, “if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, I mean, then sure there should be consequences” (Rourke 2020). However, by April 28, he was faithfully following the script set out in the memo and laid the blame for the coronavirus outbreak squarely on China (Davidson and Rourke 2020). Again, in a Rose Garden speech in May, he stated that “China’s cover-up of the Wuhan virus allowed the disease to spread all over the world, instigating a global pandemic” (White House 2020a). He reiterated the theme on Fox News (Olson 2020) and took his “blame China” message to the world stage as well. In September, he addressed the United Nations General Assembly and faulted the Chinese government and the WHO for the worldwide spread of the virus—which he again termed the “China virus” (White House 2020b).

Fox News hosts had turned to blame-shifting well before the campaign memo. On March 18, the same day that newspaper headlines were deploring the use of the “China virus” term, Tucker Carlson claimed that the pandemic had happened only “because China hid the truth” from the rest of the world (Fox News 2020a). Laura Ingraham stated that the Chinese had “blood on their hands” (Garcia 2020). Sean Hannity (Fox News 2020b) sent “a very serious message for China’s hostile dictatorship,” blaming their “months-long cover-up” for “death and destruction and carnage all over the world”. He also praised the President’s travel ban, defining it as a decision that bought time and saved “countless thousands of Americans from being exposed” to the virus, just as the Republican campaign memo later advised.

At first, utilizing the “China virus” meme to blame China may have been a simple tactic of blame-shifting to counter any criticism of Trump administration’s COVID-19 response in the run-up to the election. But it tapped into a wider negative sentiment regarding China that was shared by some Trump administration officials, the president’s political allies, and Fox News hosts—and increasingly also the public, as shortly after the pandemic outbreak, the share of especially Republicans who considered China an “enemy” rose dramatically (Bruce 2020).

The “China Threat” Narrative

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had issued an alarm over China in his speech at the Hudson Institute in 2019, describing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as “truly hostile to the United States and our values” and China as a national security risk (Pompeo 2019). Then, in March 2020, he repeated that the CCP posed a “substantial threat to our health and way of life,” which now “the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated” (Pompeo 2020c). Pompeo also appeared on Fox News, talking through the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic and slamming China for suppressing information and spreading disinformation (e.g., Blitzer 2020b; Fox News 2020b). Pompeo was an avid propagator of the “China virus” meme, using the term “Wuhan Virus” in his speeches and tweets (see, e.g., Pompeo 2020b).

Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Senator Cotton, and Peter Navarro were also long-time critics of China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in particular. Bartiromo, for example, featured in a YouTube clip presented by the Committee on the Present Danger: China—an interest group established in 2019, with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon as one of its founding members. In the clip, she interviewed Attorney General William Barr and characterized the CCP as rich, powerful, dangerous, and an enemy of the United States (Committee on the Present Danger China 2020). Carlson has criticized China for years (Shephard 2020), and Senator Cotton concluded in 2019 that China was building a “new evil empire” (Gehrke 2019). Navarro has built much of his literary career on composing wake-up calls to people ignoring the threat posed by China, such as The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won (2006) and Death by China: Confronting the Dragon—A Global Call to Action (2011). All four actors sounded an early alarm over COVID-19, perhaps precisely because it was associated with China. And then they made this connection explicit. In an interview with Maria Bartiromo, Senator Cotton argued that the unleashing of COVID-19 was a “deliberate and conscious choice by the Chinese communist leadership, because they didn’t want to see their relative power and standing in the world decline” (Cotton 2020). Carlson dubbed China a “dangerous Cold War adversary” (Carlson 2020c) and repeatedly claimed that COVID-19 is “part of a larger geopolitical struggle for control of the world” that China is determined to win (Carlson 2020d; 2020e). He warned that the Chinese perceive the pandemic as a “beginning of a new Chinese century” (Halon 2020).

Adam Breuer and Alastair Iain Johnston (2019) have introduced the idea that memes are also smaller components of narratives. Breuer and Johnston explain that in the social and online media era, the story arc of a narrative “is composed of short discrete items (text and/or images) that users of the meme connect to make a coherent story (or sub-narrative). Mutually consistent combinations of these sub-narratives help create a master narrative.” In other words, memes are discursive building blocks of sub-narratives—“the elements that ensure narratives propagate and spread”—and, in turn, sub-narratives are the building blocks of a master narrative. All three do not necessarily emerge simultaneously. Thus, we can have a meme not yet connected to a sub-narrative, or a sub-narrative, only later connected to an emerging master narrative. (Breuer and Johnston 2019, 431–33.) Narratives are vital for society and politics. As Jelena Subotić (2016, 612) notes, through narratives people make sense of the world and their own role in the world. Narratives are manipulated, “highly selective and purposefully constructed,” and they grant “ideological and emotional value to what we hear and how we choose to act on that knowledge” (Subotić 2016, 612–13).

Following Breuer and Johnston (2019), I argue that the “China virus” meme was a component of a (master) national security narrative of China as a threat (see, e.g., Pan 2015; Turner 2013; Yuan and Fu 2020). The meme added the connotation of China as an irresponsible international actor that was culpable of failing to handle the virus in its initial phase, suppressing vital information, lying and spreading disinformation, threatening to sever critical supply lines, and manipulating the international media. Such claims were frequently made by Carlson, and the silver lining of the pandemic, he claimed, was that now the whole U.S. saw clearly that China was “an imminent threat” (Carlson 2020b; 2020c; 2020d). “Irresponsible China” was joined with other sub-narratives building up to the “China threat.” These were most notably propagated by Mike Pompeo. Pompeo suggested that China was striving for hegemony; conducting an aggressive military build-up; challenging the rules, laws, and norms of the international order; and “cheating” in the economic and trade realm (Pompeo 2020a; 2020c; 2020d). In addition to these geopolitical storylines, Pompeo claimed that the Chinese Communist Party in power was ideologically alien to the U.S.: a totalitarian, repressive, and human-rights-abusing regime (Pompeo 2020c; 2020d). Some of these sub-narratives were reiterated also, for example, by Tucker Carlson (2020d; 2020e; Halon 2020).

During the early phase of the pandemic, President Trump appears to have wavered over employing the “China virus” meme to promote the “China threat” narrative, just as he wavered over blaming China for the virus. At the time, his focus was on the Phase One Trade Deal and cooperation with China over COVID-19. Eventually, however, he jumped on the bandwagon. In an interview with Maria Bartiromo in August, Trump explained: “It’s before plague and after plague. Right now, I view China differently than I did before plague” (Conklin 2020). The significance of national security narratives is that they provide grounds for legitimization of certain policy options and grounds for mobilization and action (Yuan and Fu 2020, 421, 426). Indeed, by the time of the August interview with Bartiromo, Trump’s foreign policy actions had aligned with some of the “China threat” sub-narratives: the President had signed executive orders banning U.S. companies from doing business with TikTok and WeChat and ending preferential economic treatment for Hong Kong, and he was issuing sanctions relating to China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang (Conklin 2020; White House 2020a).

The idea of an “irresponsible China” in conjunction with COVID-19 was shared well beyond the echo chamber. Observers of international politics commonly criticized China for being slow to report the COVID-19 outbreak, for lacking transparency, and for refusing to cooperate with foreign scientists (see, e.g., Patrick 2020, 4, 49). However, the Trump–Fox loop linked that discussion directly to the presidential election. Hannity, for example, interviewed President Trump’s informal China advisor, Michael Pillsbury of the Hudson Institute, who made the claim that China was fueling criticism of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus because they wanted Joe Biden to become the next president (Fox News 2020b). The same talking points were later mouthed by President Trump. In late April, Trump claimed in an interview that “China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” including using the coronavirus situation to meddle in his reelection bid (Holland 2020).

Thus, through the “China virus” meme, domestic and foreign politics became conjoined. This was reflected in an ensuing contest between Trump and Biden over who was “tough” and who was “weak” on China when it came to a host of issues, ranging from holding China accountable for the pandemic to policies for countering the perceived “China threat” (Kessler 2020; NPR 2020). For Trump and Republicans, the “China virus” meme functioned as a sign of their “toughness”. It should be noted, however, that “tough on China” was hardly a new election tactic. For the past two decades, both Republican and Democratic congressional candidates have blasted China and attacked their opponents for being “soft” on China (Wichowsky and Chen Weiss 2021), and the same goes for presidential candidates on the campaign trail (Chang 2015, 244–47).

Conclusion

In this essay, I have argued that in 2020 the “China virus” became a meme that seamlessly connected traditional media spaces, online spaces, and policy spaces. The template for it was produced by repeating terminology that fixed a link between SARS-CoV-2 (and its attendant disease COVID-19) and China.

Reverberating through the 2020 edition of a conservative echo chamber, the meme was assigned multiple meanings: most notably it connoted the irresponsibility of China in global politics and ultimately it functioned as a building block for a national security narrative of China as a threat. The meme was also assigned multiple other functions. The meme was employed in two intertwined election strategies: blaming China for originating the virus—in order to counter criticism of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response—and advocating for a tough-on-China foreign policy. Even in its template form, devoid of any additional discursive elements besides the claim that the pandemic had Chinese origins, the meme also functioned as an identity marker, distinguishing President Trump and his supporters from the “radical, left-wing social justice warriors.” To be sure, the national security narrative of the “China threat” was also about identity. And just like the identity of Republicans, this identity was a negation of the other it portrayed.

In encountering the global pandemic, the Trump-Fox loop was initially in disarray. While it soon aligned, weaponizing the “China virus” meme to win the presidential election as well as the great power competition against China, outside the loop and the echo chamber the meme was met with sharp criticism. Critics argued that the racialized and stigmatizing language of the “China virus” played a distinctive role in discrimination, noting that “the history of Asian Americans in the U.S. is dotted with evidence showing that such rhetoric has laid the groundwork for violence and shameful policies” (Yam 2020b). Effectively, the “China virus” meme functioned as a means of pandemic othering, or designating a specific—often marginalized—group as a source to blame and avoid during a pandemic (Dionne and Turkmen 2020).

The Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center (2020b) also connected the “China virus” meme with the “return of the ‘Yellow Peril.’” In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century U.S. and Europe, the “yellow peril” was imagined as not one but a series of threats emanating from the “yellow races”: a military and naval threat of Japan (or Japan and China combined); a global commercial and industrial threat of the “westernized East”; and a domestic U.S. threat of Chinese immigrants “underliving” U.S. laborers and tainting the “civilized” society (Pennanen 2020, 70–71). One specific variation of the “China virus” meme firmly entangled the present with past instances of pandemic othering and racial fears of the “yellow peril.” Once the President started tweeting about the “China Plague” (e.g., October 12, 2020; November 16, 2020), the immediate association was with the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Chinatown in San Francisco in 1900–1904. Labeled as the “Chinese plague,” the outbreak was a culmination of the Sinophobia and anti-Chinese discrimination prevalent in California at the time, and it fixed a connection between Chinese heritage and disease (Urbansky 2019, 77, 80).

As the “China virus” meme moved beyond the echo chamber, it was assigned wholly different functions and meanings from those assigned within. In the end, the Trump–Fox loop could construct, propagate, and manipulate a meme, but the inherent dynamism of the meme form ensured that they could not control and dominate it.

References

All links verified March 15, 2021. 

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Committee on the Present Danger China. 2020. “Treasonous,” YouTube, August 18, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymkwWX512UI.

Conklin, Audrey. 2020. “’It’s before the plague and after the plague,’ president tells FOX Business.” Maria Bartiromo.” FOX Business, August 13, 2020. https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/trump-china-post-coronavirus.

Cotton, Tom. 2020. “April 26, 2020: Senator Cotton Joins Sunday Morning Futures.” https://www.cotton.senate.gov/news/videos/watch/april-26-2020-senator-cotton-joins-sunday-morning-futures.

Davidson, Helen, and Alison Rourke. 2020. “Trump says China could have stopped Covid-19 and suggests US will seek damages.” The Guardian, April 28, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/trump-says-china-could-have-stopped-covid-19-and-suggests-us-will-seek-damages.

Dionne, Kim Yi, and Fulya Felicity Turkmen. 2020. “The Politics of Pandemic Othering: Putting COVID-19 in Global and Historical Context.” International Organization, 74 Supplement: E213–E30.

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Filipovic, Jill. 2020. “Trump’s malicious use of ‘Chinese virus.’” CNN, March 18, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/18/opinions/trumps-malicious-use-of-chinese-virus-filipovic/index.html

Fordham, Jillian. 2020. Cotton called for a “targeted travel ban” on flights from China to the U.S. in late January.” FOXBusiness, February 16, 2020https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/coronavirus-covid-outbreak-tom-cotton

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Fox News. 2020b. “[Hannity] Secretary Pompeo on China’s coronavirus ‘disinformation campaign’: They put countless lives at risk.” Fox News, March 18, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/secretary-pompeo-on-chinas-coronavirus-disinformation-campaign-they-put-countless-lives-at-risk.

Fox News. 2020c. “Trump: I don’t regret calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus.” Fox News, March 24, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/shows/bill-hemmer-reports.

Gabbatt, Adam. 2020. “We have a responsibility’: Fox News declares coronavirus a crisis in abrupt U-turn.” The Guardian, March 17, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/mar/17/fox-news-coronavirus-outbreak-trump.

Garcia, Victor. 2020. “Laura Ingraham: ‘China has blood on their hands’ for their role in the coronavirus pandemic.” Fox News, March 18, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/media/laura-ingraham-china-has-blood-on-their-hands-for-their-role-in-the-coronavirus-pandemic.

Gehrke, Joel. 2019. “Tom Cotton: China is building a ‘new evil empire’. Washington Examiner, February 6, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/tom-cotton-china-is-building-a-new-evil-empire.

Gertz, Matthew. 2018. “I’ve Studied the Trump-Fox Feedback Loop for Months. It’s Crazier Than You Think.” POLITICO, January 5, 2018. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/05/trump-media-feedback-loop-216248.

Halon, Yael. 2020. “Tucker Carlson warns that Beijing sees coronavirus pandemic as ‘beginning of a new Chinese century.’” Fox News, May 4, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/media/tucker-carlson-beijing-coronavirus-new-chinese-century.

Holland, Steve. 2020. “Exclusive: Trump says China wants him to lose his re-election bid.” Reuters, April 30, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-china-exclusive-idUSKBN22C01F

Isenstadt, Alex. 2020. “GOP memo urges anti-China assault over coronavirus.” POLITICO, April 24, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/24/gop-memo-anti-china-coronavirus-207244.

Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Joseph N. Cappella. 2010. Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Kitchens, Brent, Steven Johnson, and Peter Gray. 2020. “Understanding Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles: The Impact of Social Media on Diversification and Partisan Shifts in News Consumption.” MIS Quarterly, 44(4): 1619–49.

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Osterholm, Michael, and Mark Olshaker. 2020. “Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold.” Foreign Affairs, June 9, 2020. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-05-21/coronavirus-chronicle-pandemic-foretold

Pan, Chengxin. 2015. Knowledge, Desire and Power in Global Politics: Western Representations of China’s Rise. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Patrick, Stewart. 2020. “When the System Fails: COVID-19 and the Costs of Global Dysfunction.” Foreign Affairs, 99(4): 40–50.

Pennanen, Henna-Riikka. 2020. “Asia’s Hope and Pacific Peril: Emergence of Japan as

a Military Threat in the American Press at the End of the 19th Century.” In War and Stereotypes: The Image of Japan’s Military Abroad, edited by Frank Jacob and Sepp Linhart, 51–78. Paderborn: Brill/Schöningh.

Mitchell, Amy, Mark Jurkowitz, J. Baxter Oliphant, and Elisa Shearer. 2021. “How Americans Navigated the News in 2020: A Tumultuous Year in Review.” Pew Research Center, February 22, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/2021/02/22/how-americans-navigated-the-news-in-2020-a-tumultuous-year-in-review/

Pompeo, Michael. 2019. “The China Challenge.” U.S. Department of State, October 30, 2019. https://www.state.gov/the-china-challenge/.

Pompeo, Michael. 2020a. “U.S. States and the China Competition.” U.S. Department of State, February 8, 2020. https://www.state.gov/u-s-states-and-the-china-competition/

Pompeo, Michael (@SecPompeo). 2020b. Twitter, March 21, 2020. https://twitter.com/SecPompeo/status/1241150861910343680.

Pompeo, Michael. 2020c. “Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability.” U.S. Department of State, March 25, 2020. https://www.state.gov/secretary-michael-r-pompeo-at-a-press-availability-3/.

Pompeo, Michael. 2020d. “Communist China and the Free World’s Future.” U.S. Department of State, July 23, 2020. https://www.state.gov/communist-china-and-the-free-worlds-future/.

Provalis Research. 2020. “Fox News on Coronavirus: A Change in Tone but Still Blaming the Media and the Democrats,” Provalis Research, April 17, 2020. https://provalisresearch.com/blog/fox-news-coronavirus/.

Razek, Raja. 2020. “24 states have declared a state of emergency due to coronavirus.” CNN, March 11, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-outbreak-03-11-20-intl-hnk/h_5c886c400fa63ae66fd197ec23927eca.

Robin, Corey. 2011. The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rogers, Katie, Lara Jakes, and Ana Swanson. 2020. “Trump Defends Using ‘Chinese Virus’ Label, Ignoring Growing Criticism.” The New York Times, March 18, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/us/politics/china-virus.html

Rourke, Alison. 2020. “Trump warns China over Covid-19 outbreak as Europe approaches 100,000 deaths.” The Guardian, April 19, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/19/trump-warns-china-over-covid-19-outbreak-as-europe-approaches-100000-deaths.

Savillo, Rob. 2020. “Fox News pushes racist and xenophobic language for coronavirus.” Media Matters for America, March 25, 2020. https://www.mediamatters.org/coronavirus-covid-19/fox-news-pushes-racist-and-xenophobic-language-coronavirus.

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Notes

[i] All the references to Donald Trump’s tweets in this essay are from the online archive of his Twitter account: https://factba.se/trump/topic/twitter.

[ii] The programs include HannitySunday Morning Futures with Maria BartiromoThe Ingraham Angle, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. When the citation to the program episodes is made to an online article, not to a stand-alone video clip, the reference is made first to the video clip embedded in the article and only secondly to the text, which is usually a summary or a transcript of the episode.

[iii] A search for the term “covid” in President Trump’s original tweets in 2020 reveals that it was used on the following dates:

Term: covid

Mar: 14 (multiple), 23, 31

Apr: 4, 13, 21, 22 (multiple)

May: 16, 24, 25, 27 (multiple)

Jun: 9, 15, 22

Jul: 6, 7

Aug: 3, 23

Oct: 1, 2, 5, 6 (multiple), 9, 12, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27 (multiple), 28, 30

Nov: 1, 14, 19, 21 (multiple)

Dec: 27

[iv] A search for the term “virus” in President Trump’s original tweets in 2020 shows that he used the terms “virus,” “coronavirus,” “Chinese virus,” and “China virus.” Here are the dates on which he used the terms:

Term: virus, coronavirus

Term: Chinese virus, China virus

Jan: 27

Feb: 7, 25

Mar: 19, 23 (multiple), 27 (multiple), 29, 30

Apr: 6, 17

May: 3, 10, 20

 

Mar: 16, 17, 18 (multiple), 21, 22, 25

Jul: 5, 6 (multiple), 7, 8, 20, 21, 26, 28, 30

Aug: 2, 3 (multiple), 7 (multiple)

Sep: 3 (multiple), 7, 8 (multiple), 18, 30

Oct: 7, 13, 26

Nov: 16

Dec: 6, 9, 18, 19, 24, 26, 29

[v] A search for “plague” in President Trump’s original tweets in 2020 yields the following dates when he used the term:

Term: plague

May: 2, 3, 5, 13, 16, 17, 20

Aug: 11,

Sep: 16

Oct: 3, 5, 7, 12 (multiple), 21

Nov: 16

Kategoriat
3-4/2022 WiderScreen 26 (3-4)

Joe Bidenin kampanja 2020: Turvaa kaaoksen keskelle

Yhdysvallat, Joe Biden, Presidentivaalit 2020, Donald Trump, #TeamJoeSings

Outi Hakola
outi.hakola [a] uef.fi
FT, Dosentti, yliopistonlehtori
Itä-Suomen yliopisto

Tulostettava PDF-tiedosto

Johdanto

Vuoden 2020 Yhdysvaltain presidentinvaaleissa suuri osa yleisöjen, median ja tutkijoiden huomiosta suuntautui istuvan presidentin Donald Trumpin aggressiiviseen kampanjointiin. Samaan aikaan hänen vastaehdokkaansa Joe Biden työsti omaa kampanjaansa ilmeisen voitokkaasti, joskin vähemmän teatraalisesti. Bidenin kampanjointi heijastaa hillittyä tyyliä ja perinteistä politiikkaa, jossa korostuu asiapohjaisuus ja uutismedioiden ja kampanjatapahtumien kautta yleisöjen tavoittelu.

Vaikkakin Biden on aktiivisesti läsnä sosiaalisessa mediassa, ei hän ole samalla tavalla onnistunut keräämään laajaa seuraajakuntaa kuin Donald Trump. Esimerkiksi siinä missä Trumpilla oli kampanjointinsa aikana yli 80 miljoonaa Twitter-seuraajaa, Bidenilla luku oli hieman yli 12 miljoonaa (Murdock 2020), ja YouTuben puolella Trumpin kanavalla oli 2,75 miljoonaa tilaajaa verrattuna Bidenin 716 000 tilaajaan. Osittain suosioeroa selittää henkilöiden värikkyys ja tunteisiin vetoavuus. Sosiaalista mediaa luonnehtii tunteiden korostuminen sekä hyvässä että pahassa, ja voimakkaita tunteita herättämällä voi tavoittaa laajoja yleisöjä (ks. esim. Hyvärinen ja Beck 2018). Bidenin huoliteltu poliittinen kommunikointityyli välttää liioiteltuja tunteellisia ilmauksia, ja etenkin negatiivisesti tulkittuja tunteita, ja tunteiden sijasta hän tyypillisesti keskittyy tekemiseen, tavoitteisiin ja kansallisten symboleiden hyödyntämiseen viestinnässään (Savoy ja Wehren 2021).

Hillityn ja perinteisen poliittisen viestinnän tyylit ovat nähtävillä myös Bidenin sosiaalisen median audiovisuaalisuuden hyödyntämisessä. Kun tarkastellaan Bidenin YouTube-kanavaa, on nopeasti huomattavissa, että Biden tarjoaa katsottavaksi erityisesti eri tapahtumissa pitämiään poliittisia puheita ja mediaesiintymisiä. Erityisesti sosiaalista mediaa varten tehtyjä videoita on vähemmistö hänen materiaalistaan. Silti presidenttikampanjaa varten hän teki myös mainosvideoita, joissa Biden esittelee tavoitteitaan ja arvojaan. Videossa One America Biden toteaa, että ”we are in the battle for the soul of the nation” (Biden 2020a), joka on yksi hänen tunteellisesti voimakkaimmista ilmaisuistaan.

Kampanjavideoissa toistuu johdonmukaisesti Bidenin kampanjan ydinteema: kaikkien amerikkalaisten tuominen yhteen ja yhteiskunnallisten jakolinjojen pienentäminen. Yhteisöllisyyden ja yhtenäisyyden puheilla Biden ottaa pesäeroa vastaehdokkaaseensa. Bidenkin silloin tällöin hyödyntää negatiivisen kampanjoinnin keinoja eli vastustajan heikkouksien esille tuontia, mitä on pidetty tyypillisenä amerikkalaiselle politiikalle (ks. esim. Lau ja Rovner 2009; Mark 2006). Suurimmaksi osaksi hän kuitenkin kieltäytyy keskittymästä Trumpiin ja antamaan tälle tilaa omalla kanavallaan, jolloin Trumpin näkeminen uhkana yhtenäisyydelle ja ”amerikkalaiselle sielulle” jätetään vihjailuiden varaan. Näissä vihjailuissa Trump yhdistetään kaaokseen, epäjärjestykseen ja aggressiivisuuteen. Muun muassa samaisessa One America -videossa Trumpin nimeä ei mainita kertaakaan, mutta kun ääniraidalla kerrotaan, miten maan murtunut politiikka on johtanut vihaisuuteen, loukkauksiin ja jakolinjoihin, kuvatasolla näytetään puolilähikuvia Trumpin aggressiivista ilmeistä sanojen ”the anger, the insults, the divisiveness” kohdalla (Biden 2020a). Tällä tavoin Biden tarjoaa itsensä vaihtoehdoksi Trumpin jakolinjoja korostavalle politiikalle ja poliittiselle tyylille.

Vaihtoehtoisuus oli läsnä myös niissä tavoissa, joilla Bidenin kampanja hyödynsi populaarikulttuuria. Trump, jonka julkiseen profiiliin on vaikuttanut vahvasti hänen tositelevisiotaustansa, on hyödyntänyt poliittisessa profiilissaan viihdekuvastojen mehukasta tyyliä ja mainetta (ks. esim. Hakola 2020). Populaarikulttuuri ei ole ollut samalla tavalla osa Bidenin asiapitoista lähestymistapaa, ja kampanja hakikin populaarikulttuurin suomaa näkyvyyttä eri tavalla, kuten tunnettujen näyttelijöiden ja muusikoiden tuen ilmaisujen kautta.

Musiikkikampanja #TeamJoeSings

Yhtenä erityisenä lähestymistapana Bidenin kampanjasta voidaan erottaa populaarimusiikin kampanja #TeamJoeSings. Kyseessä oli YouTubessa toteutettu virtuaalinen konserttisarja, jossa syksyn 2020 aikana esiintyi eri artisteja, jotka tukivat Joe Bidenin ja Kamala Harrisin kampanjaa. Musiikki on pitkään ollut tärkeä presidenttikampanjoiden populaarikulttuurinen ulottuvuus. Esimerkiksi John F. Kennedy käytti Frank Sinatran ”High Hopes” kappaleesta versiota, jossa kehotetaan äänestämään Kennedyä, George W. Bush soitti Brooks & Dunnin ”Only in America” kappaletta, ja Barack Obama julkaisi kokonaisen soittolistan, johon oli kerätty kampanjassa käytettyjä inspiroivia kappaleita (Patch 2016, 366–67). Justin Patchin (2016) mukaan kampanjakappaleilla on pyritty paitsi innostamaan, myös luomaan kuvaa jaetusta kulttuurista, sillä populaarimusiikki vetoaa tunteisiin, käsityksiin kansasta ja puhuttelee äänestäjiä ”tavallisen ihmisen” tasolla. Samoin Bidenin kampanjalle musiikista tuli keino lisätä tunteellisesti puhuttelevia elementtejä hänen ehdokkuuteensa.

Konserttisarjaa olivat käynnistämässä musiikkimanagerit Jordan Kurland ja Nick Stern, jotka olivat tukeneet myös Barack Obaman kampanjaa ”Vote for Change” -musiikkikiertueella vuonna 2004. Tällä kertaa he halusivat tarjota Bidenin kampanjalle tavan päästä yhteyteen artistien kanssa ja artisteille alustan, jolla ottaa poliittisesti kantaa (Baltin 2020). Forbesin haastattelussa Stern toteaa, että ottamalla mukaan eri kokoluokan artisteja, myös pienemmän yleisön artisteja, oli mahdollisuus puhua erilaisille yleisöille äänestämisen tärkeydestä (Baltin 2020).

Mukaan valikoituneet artistit noudattavat logiikkaa, jossa he musiikkiesitysten ohella keskittyvät äänestämisen tärkeyteen ja syihin, joiden takia he kannattavat Bidenin–Harrisin kampanjaa. Kannatuslausunnoissa poliittisista agendoista nousevat esille ilmastonmuutoksen torjuminen, globaalin COVID-19 pandemian asianmukainen hoitaminen ja rotu- ja sukupuoliasioihin liittyviin epätasa-arvoisuuksiin puuttuminen (ks. esim. Dawes 2020; Vile 2020; X Ambassadors 2020). Kappalevalinnan tasolla suurin osa artisteista haki inspiraatioita symbolisuudesta, joskin muutama artisteista on valinnut suoraan poliittisesti kantaa ottavia kappaleita. The Harlem Gospel Travelers ovat valinneet esitettäväkseen kappaleen Fight On, jonka on innoittanut Black Lives Matter -liike. Siinä missä alkuperäinen versio kertoo mustien kohtaamasta väkivallasta ja kysyy, monenko ihmisen on vielä kuoltava ennen muutosta, on vaaliversioon lisätty taustalauluun kertosäen ”Biden for Change” (Biden 2020b). Tällä viitataan toiveisiin siitä, että Bidenin–Harrisin hallinto edistäisi rotutasa-arvoon liittyviä asioita.

Kaikki muusikot eivät kuitenkaan nimeä tiettyjä poliittisia teemoja, vaan eniten muusikoita yhdistää arvoista ja demokratiasta puhuminen. Usea toteaa kyseisten vaalien olevan erityisen tärkeät, koska niissä kyse ei ole vain presidentin valinnasta, vaan demokratian puolustamisesta (ks. esim. The War And Treaty 2020; Thomas 2020). Muun muassa muusikko Jim James perusteli osallistumistaan kampanjaan sillä, että jokaisen velvollisuus on tukea demokratiaa, äänestysoikeutta ja mahdollisuutta yhteiskunnalliseen keskusteluun (Baltin 2020). Yhtenä elementtinä tähän liittyy myös postilaitoksen puolustaminen, sillä postiäänestämisen kyseenalaistaminen oli yksi Trumpin ja republikaanien kampanjoinnin pääkohteita. Postiäänestyksen puolesta puhui suorimmin Ben Gibbard, joka tunnetaan yhtyeistä Death Cab for Cutie ja The Postal Service. Näistä jälkimmäinen bändi on nimetty Yhdysvaltain postin innoittamana, ja hän esittääkin yhtyeen Such Great Heights -kappaleen tukeakseen postilaitoksen merkitystä poliittiselle osallistumiselle. (Death Cab for Cutie 2020.)

Demokratian ohella artistit korostavat, miten tukemalla Bidenin ja Harrisin kampanjaa, he haluavat puhua yhtenäisyyden puolesta. Esimerkiksi avioparin Michael Trotter Juniorin ja Tanya Blountin duo peräänkuuluttaa yhteen tulemista paitsi videon kannatuspuheessa myös lauluvalinnallaan We Are the One (The War And Treaty 2020).

Yhtenäisyys-tematiikka on musiikkivideoiden elementti, jossa luodaan selkeimmin pesäeroa Trumpin edustamaan politiikkaan. Vaikka Trumpia ei nimeltä mainita, on hän läsnä epäsuorissa viittauksissa. Muun muassa folkrockyhtye Dawesin laulaja peräänkuuluttaa, että on hullua, että inhimillisyydestä ja säädyllisyydestä on tullut ihmisiä erottava tekijä (Dawes 2020). Samoin Andrew Bird toteaa, että nimenomaan säädyllisyys ja arvokkuus ovat puuttuneet politiikasta viimeisen neljän vuoden ajan, ja äänestäjien olisi hyvä pohtia, miten vaarallista tämä on. Hänen kappalevalintansa Sic of Elephants korostaa viestiä kysymällä ”Can’t you see how dangerous /The one you chose is / Which brings us back to / Might makes right.” (andrewbirdmusic 2020.) The Nationalin laulajana tunnetuksi tullut Matt Berninger puolestaan toteaa, että vaaleissa onkin kyse valinnasta rohkeuden ja hyväsydämisyyden sekä pelon ja ilkeyden välillä. Hän on valinnut esitettäväkseen kappaleensa ”Distant Axis”, jossa hän laulaa jakolinjoista, ja toiveesta, että olisi mahdollista pienentää erottavia tekijöitä palasiksi hajoavassa maailmassa. (Berninger 2020.) Trumpin politikka merkitään tällä tavalla kansakuntaa jakavana, ja Bidenin luvataan palauttavan amerikkalaiset takaisin keskusteluyhteyteen keskenään.

Yhteisöllisyyden sanomaa luodaan videoiden audiovisuaalisissa valinnoissa. Osittain pandemia-ajan rajoitteiden takia videot on kuvattu pienimuotoisesti, tyypillisesti yhdellä otolla joko artistien kotona tai studioilla kännykkäkameralla tai yhdellä kameralla. Musiikki esitetään pääosin akustisina kitara- tai pianovetoisina versioina. Valinnat korostavat kotoisuutta, autenttisuutta ja intiimiyttä: artisti puhuu suoraan yleisölleen ilman musiikkiteollisuuden kehystä tai spektaakkelimaisuutta.

Akustisuus korostaa myös rauhan ja turvallisuuden tunteita, jotka toimivat arvoina Yhdysvaltojen yhteiskunnallisen ja poliittisen elämän kaoottisessa tilanteessa. Rauhallisen tunnelman puhuttelevuus on nähtävillä videoiden katsojakommenteissa. Monet kiittelevät akustisia versioita niiden kauneudesta ja liikuttavuudesta, mutta myös siitä, miten kappaleet antavat mahdollisuuden rauhoittua ja levätä kaiken hulluuden ja kaaoksen jälkeen. Sen lisäksi, että tukilaulut ottavat poliittisesti kantaa Bidenin kampanjan puolesta, niiden kenties vaikuttavin puoli onkin affektiivinen tunteisiin vetoaminen, jossa tarjotaan äänestäjille leposatamaa kansakunnan sisäisten ristiriitojen keskellä. Suuressa osassa valittuja kappaleita onkin selviytymiseen tai toiveikkuuteen liittyvä sävy. MisterWivesin Mandy esittää heidän Superbloom-kappaleensa, joka kertoo lannistumattomuudesta: ”So you got that wildfire in your soul / Don’t you ever let it go / Make it burn so bright that they all know” (MisterWives 2020).  Puolestaan X Ambassadorien (2020) kappale Joyful lupaa: ”Can’t say I’m perfect, but I certainly tried, to be joyful, joyful.”

Kappaleet pyrkivät puhuttelemaan äänestäjiä tunteellisella tasolla ja sitä kautta motivoimaan poliittiseen toimintaan. Kesha esittää kappaleensa Here Comes the Change, joka on alun perin tuomari Ruth Bader Ginsburgin elämäkertaelokuvasta On the Basis of Sex (2018, ohj. Mimi Leder). Laulun avulla hän kehottaa, että vaikka on vaikeaa olla ”the lighthning in the dark”, on sen aika, sillä muutos on tulossa. (Kesha 2020.) Daya (2020) puolestaan pyytää The Chainsmokersien kappaleen Don’t Let Me Down kautta: ”I need you right now, don’t let me down.” Tämän voi tulkita viittaavan kahteenkin suuntaan – yhtäältä äänestäjiin, jotta nämä lähtisivät liikkeelle ja muuttaisivat Yhdysvaltojen politiikan suunnan ja toisaalta Bidenin-Harrisin kampanjalle, jotta nämä seisoisivat lupaustensa takana voiton koittaessa.  

Yhteenveto

Samalla kun musiikkivideokampanjointi kannusti äänestäjiä poliittiseen aktiivisuuteen, se toimi vastavetona Trumpin kampanjalle. Siinä missä monet artistit asettuivat mielellään tukemaan Bidenin ehdokkuutta, populaarimusiikin käyttö oli osoittautunut Trumpille kompastuskiveksi jo edellisen presidenttikampanjan aikana. Useat artistit, kuten Neil Young, Rihanna, Queen, Elton John, Adele, R.E.M., The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen ja Pharrell Williams, ovat kieltäneet Trumpia käyttämästä heidän kappaleitaan kannatustilaisuuksissaan. Osa artisteista on muotoillut asian lakikysymykseksi siitä, että heidän musiikkiaan käytetään ilman lupaa. Toiset ovat huomioineet myös ideologisen näkökulman ja eivät halua musiikkiaan yhdistettäväksi Trumpin poliittiseen sanomaan. Esimerkiksi George Harrisonin perilliset kielsivät The Beatlesien kappaleen Here Comes the Sun käytön Ivanka Trumpin esittelymusiikkina, mutta ehdottivat, että he olisivat saattaneet hyväksyä Beware of Darkness kappaleen käytön (Ivie 2020). Vaikka kiellot eivät ole välttämättä toimineet käytännössä, ne rakentavat symbolisen eleen, jolla kyseiset artistit ovat irtisanoutuneet populaarikulttuurisesta tuesta Trumpin populismille.

Bidenille osoitettu laaja tuki muusikoiden parissa on toiminut arvovaltavoittona populaarikulttuurin kentällä. Ratkaisu toimii myös siksi, että se oli mahdollista toteuttaa positiivisesti, ilman tarvetta turvautua negatiiviseen kampanjoitiin. Vaikka artistit lähettivät piiloviestejä Trumpin hallinnon suuntaan, kukaan ei keskity haukkumaan istuvaa presidenttiä, vaan syihin, joiden takia he kannattavat Bidenia. Sama tendenssi näkyy kampanjaa ideoineen Kurlandin kommentissa, jossa hän toteaa, ettei tarkoituksena ollut tehdä ”anti-Trump” politiikkaa, koska on tehokkaampaa keskittyä asioihin, jotka tukevat Bidenin ehdokkuutta kuin vain vastustaa Trumpin politiikkaa (Baltin 2020).

Vaikkakin musiikkikampanjaa voidaan pitää arvovaltavoittona Bidenille, ei kampanja itsessään ollut valtaisa menestys, jos sitä tarkastellaan sen tavoittamien yleisömäärien kannalta. Keskimäärin #TeamJoeSings kampanjavideot tavoittivat 25 500 kuuntelijaa, ja yhteensä videot ovat keränneet alle puoli miljoonaa kuuntelukertaa YouTubessa. Jos lukua verrataan esimerkiksi viimeiseen Bidenin ja Trumpin televisioväittelyyn, joka keräsi noin 63 miljoonaa katsojaa (Nielsen 2020), voidaan kyseenalaistaa, kuinka merkittävänä musiikkikampanjaa voidaan pitää. Kampanja kuitenkin osoittaa, miten tuomalla muusikoiden äänen kuuluviin, kampanja pystyi hyödyntämään populaarikulttuurin ja sosiaalisen median affektiivisia ulottuvuuksia tavoittamaan erilaisia kohdeyleisöjä. Samalla #TeamJoeSings -tukikampanja täydensi Bidenin julkista kuvaa tunteellisella tasolla. Artistit korostivat puheissaan yhteisöllisyyttä ja kappaleiden valittu audiovisuaalinen esitystyyli tarjosi hengähdystauon ja korosti Bidenin kykyä tarjota turvaa ja rauhaa kansalaisille. Siinä missä kampanjoita tutkittaessa keskitytään usein siihen, mitä ehdokkaat sanovat ja tekevät, onkin tärkeää huomioida, miten kampanjoita tukevat elementit voivat täydentää niitä piirteitä, joita yleisö kaipaa, mutta itse poliitikko ei omalla profiilillaan kenties pysty tarjoamaan.

Lähteet

Kaikki linkit tarkastettu 20.11.2022.

andrewbirdmusic. 2020. Andrew Bird -Sic of Elephants (Team Joe Sings). YouTube, September 25, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95BGd_hxvNU.

Baltin, Steve. 2020. “How The Music Industry Got Behind Joe Biden For The ‘Team Joe Sings’ Series.” Forbes, October 22, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevebaltin/2020/10/22/how-the-music-industry-got-behind-joe-biden-for-the-team-joe-sings-series/?sh=59c56c1a1306.

Berninger, Matt. 2020. Matt Berninger – Distant Axis (Team Joe Sings). YouTube, September 25, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpsAkmUzAFI&list=PLB92o2PvjqndT0LgZ3lekwRl5N7geFL3t&index=3.

Biden, Joe. 2020a. One America / Joe Biden for President. YouTube, April 25, 2020.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDErYGhV9OM&list=PLB92o2Pvjqnef2Mm5hnq2XCfxrJORR6P6&index=3.

Biden, Joe. 2020b. The Harlem Gospel Travelers on Team Joe Sings | Joe Biden For President 2020. YouTube, September 22, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugRK-OeGXuc&list=PLB92o2PvjqndT0LgZ3lekwRl5N7geFL3t&index=10.

Dawes. 2020. Dawes #TeamJoeSings. YouTube, October 9, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2BRaT73IuY.

Daya. 2020. Daya – Don’t Let Me Down (Team Joe Sings). YouTube, September 25, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R43-XWeIG0A&list=PLB92o2PvjqndT0LgZ3lekwRl5N7geFL3t&index=6.

Death Cab for Cutie. 2020. Ben Gibbard – #TeamJoeSings. YouTube, August 19, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G57OD0GFld8.

Hakola, Outi. 2020. ”Audiovisuaalinen populaarikulttuuri osana populistista strategiaa: Tapaustutkimuksena Donald J. Trump.” Lähikuva 33: 3–4, 131–48. https://doi.org/10.23994/lk.100444.

Hyvärinen, Hissu, ja Roman Beck. 2018. “Emotions Trump Facts: The Role of Emotions in on Social Media: A Literature Review.” Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 1797–1806. https://doi.org/10.24251/HICSS.2018.226.

Ivie, Devon. 2020. “The Ongoing History of Musicians Saying ‘Hell No’ to Donald Trump Using Their Songs.” Vulture, September 2, 2020. https://www.vulture.com/article/the-history-of-musicians-rejecting-donald-trump.html.

kesha. 2020. Kesha – Here Comes The Change (Team Joe Sings). YouTube, September 18, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC-BIJpUGQM.

Lau, Richard R., ja Ivy Brown Rovner. 2009. “Negative Campaigning.” Annual Review of Political Science 12: 285–306. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.10.071905.101448.

Mark, David. 2006. Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

MisterWives. 2020. MisterWives – SUPERBLOOM #TeamJoeSings. YouTube, August 21, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_2eBZGlTKQ.

Murdock, Jason. 2020. “Joe Biden Has Gained More Than 8 Million Twitter Followers Since Election Day.” Newsweek, March 12, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/joe-biden-twitter-followers-surges-millions-2020-election-day-donald-trump-falls-1552061.

Nielsen. 2020. “Media Advisory: Final Presidential Debate of 2020 Draws 63 Million Viewers.” The Nielsen Company (US), LLC. https://www.nielsen.com/news-center/2020/media-advisory-final-presidential-debate-of-2020-draws-63-million-viewers/.

Patch, Justin. 2016. “Notes on Deconstructing the Populism: Music on the Campaign Trail, 2012 and 2016.” American Music 34(3): 365–400. https://doi.org/10.5406/americanmusic.34.3.0365.

Savoy, Jacques, ja Marylène Wehren. 2021. “Trump’s and Biden’s styles during the 2020 US presidential election.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, fqab046, https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqab046.

The War And Treaty. 2020. The War And Treaty – #TeamJoeSingstime. YouTube, October 23, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVkzkn-eriE.

Thomas, Rob. 2020. Rob Thomas – #TeamJoeSings. YouTube, October 9, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy8PSOtR8R4.

Vile, Kurt. 2020. Kurt Vile – Team Joe Sings. YouTube, October 23, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSyzUlHkD2Y.

X Ambassadors. 2020. X Ambassadors – Joyful (Acoustic for Team Joe Sings). YouTube, September 25, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QneU3_Y9XK8.

Kategoriat
1-2/2022 WiderScreen 25 (1-2)

Music Industry and Live Streaming Services. Challenges and Perspectives

Cultural Consumption, Diffusion of Innovation Theory, Digital Arts Engagement Services, Music Industry, Pandemic Crisis

Konstantinos Kasaras
k.kasaras [a] external.euc.ac.cy
Adjunct Academic Staff
School of Business Administration, European University of Cyprus

Panagiotis Douros
pdouros [a] uniwa.gr
Adjunct Lecturer
Special Technical and Laboratory Staff, University of West Attica, Greece

Vasileios Benteniotis
73 [a] students.euc.ac.cy
PhD Candidate
School of Law, European University of Cyprus

Tulostettava PDF-versio

The Covid-19 pandemic challenged global economies and the livelihoods of citizens. In this context, some sectors whose economic existence significantly dependent on public attendance, experienced the negative impacts of the pandemic. One of the most affected sectors was the music industry due to social distancing measures and lockdowns. Artists and cultural organizations had to reestablish their presence by adopting live streams. This essay supports the idea that these new patterns of services can become an opportunity to multiply resources for the music industry in the post-Covid period. In order to do so, it interprets the adoption of digital innovations by music listeners and concertgoers, which we do by synthesizing a rich set of literature from the institutionalization of cultural products and by tentatively applying the Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) Theory as it was developed by Everett M. Rogers (2003).

Introduction

The Covid-19 pandemic challenged the very fundamental components of cultural industries. While the majority of cultural production paused, artists faced tremendous economic destruction, especially those whose incomes depend on performance. In general, the pandemic has had a serious impact on the cultural sector, professionals, audiences, and communities. The present essay argues that music consumption experience can be enriched through the acceptance of new digital technologies. These digital technologies – gradually introduced in the form of streaming – offer new audiovisual experiences and augment the context of cultural consumption. From the perspective of this essay, this is a new and continuously changing environment in cultural studies, mainly because consumers are progressively accustomed to digital experiences.

According to a recent OECD report dated 7 September 2020 ”the cultural and creative sectors (CCS) – along with the tourism sector – are among the most affected by the current crisis, with jobs at risk ranging from 0.8 to 5.5 % of employment across OECD regions” (OECD 2020). Regarding the music industry and for the time period between February and March 2020, the OECD estimates that the music and cultural sector has already lost GBP 50 million in the United Kingdom. Respectively, from the beginning of the year to August 2020, in the United States, the estimated damage is 10.2 billion USD. In addition, due to the worldwide massive cancellations of festivals caused by the pandemic crisis, one has to add to the overall losses from the absolute decrease in sponsorships. OECD (2020) estimates that the decrease in sponsorships to the industry as a whole is predicted to amount to USD 10 billion globally in 2020.

Due to the Covid-19 global lockdown, cultural and creative industries had to redefine their strategies and the positioning of their cultural services in order to maintain some input of resources. Moreover, new modes and patterns of consumption should be adopted already with the affiliation of digital cultural experiences. Inevitably, during the pandemic, digital arts engagement services (DAES) emerged as the only choice for dedicated consumers.

The music industry embraced live streaming in order to soothe the effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns despite the fact that issues concerning licensing and monetization are still under discussion. One could argue that the overall managerial positioning of these digital arts engagement services in cultural markets is still under consideration, mainly because during this period several attempts were made, with the majority of them not recording much success. However, not all attempts failed. In contrast, a few but quite successful examples were reported.

A benefit concert that was organized by Global Citizen of New York City and the singer Lady Gaga on April 18, 2020 was streamed online to the television global broadcast (Picture 1). Under the title ”One World: Together at Home”, the concert featured more than 70 celebrities and its main purpose was to support the World Health Organization and professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic ”battlefield”. The concert managed to raise nearly $128 million in order to support the fight against Covid-19 – $72.8 million of it to local and regional responders.

Picture 1. Source: Globalcitizen.org 2020.

In addition, during the Covid global lockdown and more specifically on April 24, 2020, the famous online video game platform named Fortnite hosted a 10-minute virtual concert by US rapper Travis Scott (Picture 2). More than 12.3 million people globally witnessed a record-breaking virtual video game concert.

Picture 2. Source: Mtv.com 2020.

According to the previously mentioned OECD report, it is estimated that the majority viewed the concert via social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook) and YouTube, underlining the potentiality of partnerships among gaming and creative industries.

The music industry has a vital and continuous relationship with media providers and events. In addition, the engagement of the music industry’s products with new digital environments has been a fact before the pandemic. These two are the keystones in order to build on and convert the pandemic crisis into an opportunity. Given this, the current essay argues that one has to associate the new emerging live streaming services with the theories of consumption of cultural products. From this perspective, emphasis is given to approaches for cultural markets, which argue that social influence is important in determining whether someone decides to buy or reject a product. In cultural markets, an ex-ante prediction of a successful product is either very difficult or impossible. This ambiguity is frequently surpassed by the involvement of music experts and opinion leaders who act on music networks.

In order to appreciate whether these new forms of consumption can lead to profit increase for the music industry, it is vital to understand the music consumer’s acceptance of digital innovations and perspectives. To generate understanding of these adoption issues, this essay uses the long-established diffusion of innovation theory of Everett M. Rogers (2003), which we complement with an interest in the institutionalization of new music consumption habits.

Institutionalization and the production of cultural artefacts

In the 1960’s, institutional theorists introduced the concept of open systems in the study of organizations (Powell & DiMaggio 2019). At the same time, organizations were placed in a cultural and social systems perspective (Douros 2020). Based on this, Peterson & Anand (2004) developed a new perspective on the production of culture. They argued that the symbolic elements of culture are significantly shaped by the social systems within which they are created, distributed, and preserved.

According to Peterson & Anand (2004), six social dimensions characterise rapid cultural change. These aspects are law and regulation; technology; industrial structure; organizational structure; occupational careers; and the consumer market. In practice, the dimensions overlap and should be seen as interdependent.

The Covid-19 pandemic made cultural organizations implement new digital technologies in order to support their products and services. This became a crucial sine qua non in order for institutions to survive and inevitably opened up completely new opportunities for newcomers and the re-organization of the industry. Finally yet importantly, the consumer perception and market were definitely also under change. Drawing on the above mentioned six production factors model as proposed by Peterson & Anand (2004), the pandemic can be seen as creating new conditions for cultural organizations: distinct law and regulation entered into force, technology was innovated, industrial and organizational structures changed in the long-term, careers were shifted, and the consumer market may be distinct in the future. This new setting has enhanced further the engagement of cultural institutions with media providers and new communication technologies.

Media events in relation to music industry (i.e. the Eurovision Song Contest, the Metropolitan Opera and Berlin Philharmonic broadcasts, BBC’s Desert Island Discs etc.) have been under consideration in Communication studies literature since the 1970s (Holt 2018). In fact, as Hirsch claims, ”the mass media constitute the institutional subsystem of the cultural industry system” (1972, 649).

In the early 2010s, YouTube – apart from being a video sharing platform – established a new culture of media events, by featuring live streams of performances. Respectively, a limited number of music festivals – like the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium – have started to develop digital services for their audience, often custom made, in order to mimic the particular in-person experience that a festival can create. As Holt argues the ”in-person communication is being valued in new ways because it is challenged by new technologies, particularly by the smartphone” (2018, 9). Consequently, the next big thing in music festivals is to establish new services orientated to consumer’s digital engagement.

Digital arts engagement services (DAES) in music industry have been applied in two types, in terms of extending the sensory experience mediating reality through technology. These are Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) (Wedel et al. 2020). Augmented Reality (AR) seeks to improve actual elements through technology, having as ultimate goal to “see and experience the real world mixed with various virtual objects, without losing the sense of reality” (Karamanoli & Tsinakos, 2015) while Virtual Reality (VR) is associated with personal computers and digital realms; providing experiences that are difficult in real-life (Breese & Vaidyanathan 2020).

Virtual Reality use is very common in gaming. Live performances within gaming platforms were held before the pandemic (The Guardian.com 3.2.2019), but also during the Covid-19 global lockdown (the above-mentioned Fortnite’s virtual video game concert by Travis Scott).

An Augmented Reality example is the one of the performance of Tupac Shakur at Coachella 2012, some fifteen years after his death (Picture 3). This performance boosted Tupac’s record sales to such an extent, resulting to his return to the top of The Billboard Top 200 for the first time in a decade (Caulfield 2012; Billboard 2020).

Picture 3. Source: Billboard.com 2020.

Also, in 2019 September 7th, the Lyric Opera of Chicago did a unique, one-night-only concert experience along with a digital hologram of the Greek famous opera singer Maria Callas (Picture 4), 64 years after her final appearance here and 42 years after her death (Lyric Opera.org 2019). According to the journalist Hedy Weiss ”you really had to be in the Lyric audience to understand the full impact of this dazzling experience. Suffice it to say that when the svelte and glamorous Callas first walked onto the stage in a lemon-yellow gown (with even the subtle click of her heels audible) the audience erupted in applause and a collective gasp of stunned delight and amazement” (Wttw.com 2019).

Picture 4. Source: Chicago Tribune.com 2020.

Last but not least, quite recently Sir Paul McCartney made history with his ”a duet” with John Lennon in the city of Spokane (U.S.A.) on April 28, 2022. He performed a version of the song I’ve Got A Feeling which appears on The Beatles’ last album, Let It Be, next to a clip of Lennon singing in a 1969 gig.

Picture 5. Source: Faroutmagazine 2020.

According to Hirsch and Gruber, ”control over the distribution of many cultural products became reintermediated, shifting to the companies which control the technology platforms through which they are now accessed by consumers” (2013, 3). Nowadays artists and cultural organizations perform on Twitch, Facebook, YouTube Live and other platforms, having their performances accessible either live or prerecorded. Based on this, several event ticketing sellers and organizations worldwide have already added e-tickets for online access to music concerts and theatrical performances. Such events are gaining publicity, but it is still unclear whether they manage to send a clear signal that will cut through the noise, due to the fact that these digital practices at their initial level contain a high degree of uncertainty. However, as Hirsch argues, ”the competitive advantage lies with firms best able to link available input to reliable and established distribution channel” (1972, 646).

This unique structural characteristic of creative industries – along with the assumption that uncertainty in quality is an inherent characteristic of cultural goods (Kretschmer et. al. 1999) – create a fluid environment for them. Economists and marketers have suggested a three part classification of Search, Experience and Credence (SEC) for goods and services, which is based on the ease or difficulty with which consumers can evaluate or obtain information. Cultural goods are ”credence goods” (Kretschmer et al. 1999), which means that quality cannot be ascertained with certainty, or with reference to stable, external criteria, even after consumption. In contrast, ”search goods” and ”experience goods”, quality can be confirmed before and after consumption respectively. In other words, consumers may be unable to appreciate the quality of their cultural products precisely (Darby & Karni 1973). In addition, compared to search and experience goods, these cultural products and services are unique, due to the fact that they do not provide a direct utilitarian function to their users, since they are ”goods that are valued for their ’meaning’” (Lawrence & Phillips 2002, 431). Their value derives from symbolic qualities which are defined by consumers’ interpretation of the products (Beckert et al. 2017).

Cultural organizations need to manage the process of symbolic creation and the quality problem. This is a key challenge for an organization that usually gives rise to the creation of entities that Emons (1997) describes as ”fraudulent experts”, who exploit the inability of consumers to discern quality and offer appropriate services. Such experts are art critics, influencers (Johnstone & Lindh 2018) specialists (McCroskey et al. 1975), mavens (Verboord 2021) and cultural intermediaries that act as gatekeepers in the system. In cultural markets, organisations have at least an obvious objective. According to Yin and Phillips (2020), cultural organizations need to manage critical market agents, e.g. mavens, connectors and salesmen, apart from the selection system of experts. They can have a crucial role in the word-of-mouth social epidemics that define trends.

However, due to the rise of digital, horizontal and complex networks of cultural production, distribution and consumption based on mechanisms of collaborative filtering and social recommendation, we are experiencing a major reversal of the traditional mechanisms of filtering and influence (Kasaras et al. 2012). This indicates the increased importance of networks in cultural consumption. Consumers trust reviews made by other consumers and distrust traditional advertising, and firm-related reviews (Willemsen et al. 2011). Online user-shared information diffuses rapidly like a virus, producing social contagion phenomena (Luarn et al. 2014). This means that the more people talk about a product or a service, the more word-of-mouth encourages additional consumption. This practice leads to ”winner takes all” types of markets (Frank & Cook 2010; Liu et al. 2015; Prakash et al. 2012), where success breeds success. The demand, price and value of a good or a service dependents mainly on the number of people who have already consumed it.

Scholars examine human networks in order to interpret informational cascades. Networks have structures and topologies that allow, filter and sometimes deny the flow of information. According to Kostka et al. (2008, 185) ”the underlying network structure decides how fast information can spread and how many people are reached”. Social network theories emphasize that trait similarity as a friend selection criterion, can increase the clustering coefficient of the social network (David-Barrett 2020). Scholars use the term homophily when defining trait similarity (McPherson, Smith-Lovin & Cook 2001). Homophily describes the tendency of people to associate and bond with similar others and develop similar cultural tastes (Mark 1998). Mark (1998) argues that people with similarities keep close ties, which constitute networks that in most cases become the main sources of information. This is especially true for younger people who use more interpersonal contacts for gaining information (Verboord 2021). Given the fact that cultural goods cannot be ascertained with certainty (even after the consumption), this indicates the increased importance of networks in cultural consumption.

As mentioned previously, the case study of Fortnite’s virtual video game concert by Travis Scott was a smash hit. This success can be explained either from the popularity of the artist, or, by the fact that computer games are a significant phenomenon of the current popular culture (Bullerjahn 2011) which has enabled people to enjoy interacting with both friends and strangers. Most significantly, online gaming has created huge Social Gaming Networks (SGNs), ”defined as computer networks that are simultaneously inhabited by multiple players for the purpose of playing game”, (Alturki 2020, 97383). According to Johry et al. (2021, 140) ”games industry has emerged as a key player in entertainment, with an estimated 2.7 billion players across the globe by the end of 2020, independent of gender, age, and geographical regions”. Moreover, during the Covid-19 a remarkable rise in the sale and consumption of digital games has been recorded, which – as stated by Johry et. al. (2021), demonstrate that they have a pivotal role as a source of entertainment and social interaction during the pandemic. Howe et al., underline, that ”the fact that many modern video game designers have realized the success of social networking sites and attempted to foster the same emphasis on communication and connections in video games” (2018, 2). Video games networks can be proved a solid ground for the application of digital arts engagement services (DAES), mainly because these groups are agents for emotional connection of players through relational maintenance.

Taking all these into account, a new strategic development should be evaluated under the consideration of all these new features and realities that appeared into the pandemic and shaped the digital environments along with the oddities and characteristics of cultural markets. Which means that firms and organizations in cultural industries should dare to take one step forward and develop strategies of promotion in the digital environment, in order to maintain their competitiveness and to follow new consumption patterns related to social epidemics.

Researching the impacts of pandemics on music production

The adoption of the new streaming services is in the focus of contemporary research by professionals and academics related to cultural products. A recent funded project by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in UK (Culturehive.co.uk 2021) suggests that digital arts engagement has been extensive: e.g. “one in three watched online performances, while future engagement beyond Covid-19 is expected to hold up since that 37% say they will watch content online in the future”. Another survey conducted by eMusic (Musicweek.com 2020) has revealed that three in four of its music listeners in the US and UK found music to be very important during lockdown and half of them have viewed performances livestreamed free of charge since the start of the pandemic. In addition, the majority of the respondents claimed that they would not feel confident in rushing back to traditional live performances once restrictions are lifted.

United Talent Agency commissioned a consumer study (Pollstar 2020) on ”Media and Entertainment in the Time of Coronavirus”. This study showed that 90% of concertgoers felt compelled to replace the live music experience while under lockdown restrictions in the time of the pandemic, with 28 % of those having paid to watch a livestream. Most importantly it revealed a strong shift towards a wide array of virtual events. More than one in four argued that they’ve already attended a virtual concert and approximately seven in ten concertgoers who watched a livestream concert during the lockdown, replied that they plan to continue doing so even after live music events return.

Finally, the pre-Covid research by Maasø (2016) on the integration of music-streaming services at a music festival in Norway (Øya festival), analyzed how livestreaming coverage of a festival influenced a large population of music listeners and especially, how few concertgoers experienced this influence. The main outcome of the research suggests that despite the fact that the practice of livestreaming has been applied before the pandemic, the emphasis had primarly remained on live experiences in the ”traditional” sense (Vandenberg et al. 2021).

The pandemic as an opportunity

Music tech companies need to respond to livestream business logistics (i.e. ticketing, investments on advanced technological features to upgrade the shared experience, etc.). The creation of this new task could become a milestone in Research and Development (R&D) for services in cultural production. This is an open field for entrepreneurship and for the development of a new market, where various newcomers and competitors can attack a provisional leader’s weakness.

The wide usage of digital environments during the pandemic, along with the continuous and dynamic familiarization of employees, students, consumers etc. create a new setting. Before the development and adoption of DAES by music industry it is crucial that this setting should be explored in order to become an asset for an integration of new digital orientated services. Under this light, the consequences of the pandemic crisis in music industry should be revalued through the notion of creative destruction conceptualized by Schumpeter (1950), which is a reversal of the established order brought about by entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship in Schumpeter (1934, 66) is defined as ”new combinations of inputs… [Which] cover the following five cases: (1) The introduction of a new good… or a new quality product; (2) The introduction of a new production method…; (3) Opening a new market…; (4) The conquest of a new source of supply for raw materials…; [and] (5) The implementation of a new organization of any industry”. Digital technology industries incline to disruptive innovation. Mainly because the rates of adoption of new technologies and digital services are considered as highly fluid and volatile, due to their interaction with their users (Flew 2018).

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen (2003) was one of the first scholars that cited the concept of disruptive innovation. This idea refers to the ways in which new digital disruptive technologies can lead to a market total restructuring. Under this scope, Funk (2018, 12) argues that ”the architecture of software (and its overall performance) is a key factor in the success of most electronic products, and as the Internet of things spreads to mechanical products, software will become a key factor in competition among them and their economic feasibility”.

The term ”Internet of Things” (IoT) broadly refers to the extension of the Internet into the physical realm and has become commonplace in both the vernacular of technologists and consumers (Breese et al. 2020). According to Turchet et al. (2018, 61994) ”in the Internet of Things, ‘Things’ refer to embedded systems that are connected to the Internet, which are able to interact with each other and cooperate to reach common goals”. Recently, the term ”Internet of Musical Things” (IoMusT) has been introduced by authors (Hazzard et. al. 2014) as an emerging field that expands the experience of music technologies.

A definition on the IoMusT is given by Turchet et. al.: It is ”the ensemble of interfaces, protocols and representations of music-related information that enable services and applications serving a musical purpose based on interactions between humans and Musical Things or between Musical Things themselves, in physical and/or digital realms” (2018, 61995). The Internet of Musical Things (”IoMusT”) appears in various applications like smart studio production, haptic devices, augmented and immersive concerts with virtual experience, audience participation and communication etc. In other words, it allows users to easily share data for audio production and of course music creation. These are the reasons why the IoMusT experiences are attracting both artists and audiences around the world and most importantly why it has become more prevalent during the age of COVID-19 where many live musical events, like concerts, are no longer possible in the ”traditional way”. The IoMusT provides the means for entrepreneurs and pioneers to develop disruptive services and to reverse the established order.

According to recent research, as previously presented, livestreaming cultural performances are commonly known to fans, with an increasing importance of social media in promoting events (Danielsen & Kjus 2019; Chen & Lei 2021). Directly connected to this digital arts engagement, is to what extent these virtual attendances in the post-Covid period will become an opportunity to multiply resources for cultural industries. Therefore, the first question is how these new modes and patterns of consumption will be taken up or even better how they get perceived as compatible to consumer’s needs and expectations, as they are shaped today.

Previous research highlighted the ”symbols of social relationship” which are feelings of collectivity generated during a cultural event (Collins 2004) and the creation of a sense of community that binds participants together in a larger culture (Frith 1996). In addition, the thrill of physical proximity to the performer and social interaction have been found to be important to participants (Paleo & Wijnberg 2006; Pitts 2005). To what extent this can be applied to online events (Vandenberg et. al. 2021) is an issue still to be explored. Consequently, the second research question refers to the extent that these livestreamed performances can fulfill ritual characteristics, creating social ties and feelings of community.

An analytical approach for future research

Considering all the above, one has to provide an explanation on how the new services can become an opportunity for music industry to multiply resources, at the post-Covid-19 period. In order to do so, this paper suggests the use of a qualitative approach by using focus group interviews in order to explore participants’ experiences as well as expertise. Focus groups are useful for bringing together mainly homogeneous groups of participants with experience on a given topic on which they can share detailed information. They are considered flexible by nature, and they allow for the exploration of consumer reactions to new services concepts.

However, the ways that these livestreaming services can be adopted by audiences should be highlighted. Despite the fact that the discussion on understanding the technology adoption process is extensive (Molinillo & Japutra 2017), a standard textbook and reference for the implementation and promotion of consumer products, among others, in a new technological environment, is the Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations (2003). Rogers proposes a model for what he named ‘diffusion studies’ by which he wishes to explain how innovations (ideas, behaviors or objects) are taken up in a population or in other words how they get perceived as new and adopted by the audience.

The adoption of an innovation is apparently related to subject interpretations and it is characterized by uncertainty on decision-making. As Rice and Pearce (2015) argue, the diffusion of innovations theory describes a broad set of factors (i.e. psychological, individual, relational, innovation attributes, communicative skills etc.) that affect this uncertainty and thus adoption. However, all these are also interrelated to a set of demographics factors (i.e. age, sex, education), relevant social and economic status, family status and of course technological skills (digital divide – van Dijk 2005). According to Rice and Pearce, ”unequal adoption of communication/information technologies generally relates to differential participation in social, informational, and economic activities, as influences and as outcomes” (2015, 402).

All these underline the need of an analytical approach that will be based on qualitative data and that will lead to a deeper understanding on the potentialities of the adoption of new streaming services in music industry.

Discussion

This essay suggests that the wide usage of digital environments during the Covid-19 health crisis, alongside with the continuous and dynamic familiarization of populations, create an open field for entrepreneurship in music industry. It is also argued that music festivals and concerts participation connote cultural ritual ties and create social ties and feelings of community. Respectively, online networks and communities contain comparable components and conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to interpret to what degree these livestreamed performances can fulfill ritual characteristics and support feelings of community. Moreover (and at a second level), it is important to understand and analyze the differentiating ingredients that online communities have, in relation to ”traditional” networks of concertgoers.

Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations theory is used extensively in order to interpreter the rate at which consumers are likely to adopt a new product or service, or in other words, the rate at which new ideas and technology spread. This is why, it is considered here, as the appropriate research model so as to highlight the consumers’ adoption intention on music livestreaming services. Additionally, it is of great interest to associate possible differences in the adoption of new services that may be related to different socio-demographic characteristics of the consumers and to explore whether fans of different music genres will record different attitudes regarding their adoption.

Given the above-mentioned, this essay has set the theoretical framework for a future consumer research, into organisations from both public and private sector of Greece that have already established live streaming concerts. The first one is the Athens Concert Hall Organisation, which is a non-for-profit organisation administered by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Also known as Megaron, it is still the biggest and most prestigious Concert Hall in Greece and it is considered as a very busy and remarkable creative arena for cultural and educational activities, an arts Centre with great impact and stable audience. The annual programme consist largely of classical music and opera, music works from all over the world, music by younger composers, jazz and many pop artists as well as dance, and the visual arts. Finally, another prestigious organization coming from the private sector is the Christmas Theater. As the largest stage in Athens, it hosts concerts from all music genres and it is considered as a very popular concert venue for all ages.

References

All links verified 11.8.2022

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Kategoriat
1/2020 WiderScreen 23 (1)

Huutavat kriitikot – elokuvakritiikki YouTubessa

ansaintamallit, elokuvakritiikki, YouTube

Atte Timonen
atte.t.timonen [a] utu.fi
Digitaalinen kulttuuri
Turun yliopisto

Tulostettava PDF-versio

Elokuvakritiikin määrän vähentyessä niin sanotuissa vanhoissa mediamuodoissa on YouTube pystynyt tarjoamaan sille uudenlaisen julkaisualustan. YouTuben menestyneimpien elokuvakriitikoiden suosion takana on vahva parasosiaalinen elementti. YouTuben sisäänrakennettu tapa tuoda katsojaa lähemmäksi sisällöntuottajaa on tehnyt kritiikistä helpommin lähestyttävää, jopa samaistuttavaa. Samalla se on valitettavasti näkynyt ongelmallisten ja pinnallisten tuotantojen yleistymisenä. Kuitenkin, viimeisten kuuden vuoden aikana on uusi julkaisumuoto, videoessee, lisännyt myös akateemisen elokuvakritiikin suosiota YouTubessa.

Vuonna 2019 Valtion taidepalkinnon elokuvataiteen saralta voitti kriitikko Kalle Kinnunen, joka toimii muun muassa Suomen Kuvalehden ja Imagen elokuvakriitikkona. Helsingin Sanomien haastattelussa hän totesi seuraavasti:

“Elokuvakritiikin tila on viimeisen kymmenen vuoden aikana huomattavasti vähentynyt eri medioissa. Samalla, kun kaikenlainen markkinapuhe lisääntyy, mediassa on jatkuvasti vähemmän keskustelua taiteen sisällöstä.” (Kinnunen 27.11.2019)

Kinnunen on oikeassa. Television puolella elokuvakritiikki on käytännössä olematonta, ja lehdissäkin se on vähentynyt. Iltalehti lopetti elokuvakritiikin julkaisemisen 2015 ja ulkomailla The New York Times ilmoitti samana vuonna, ettei jokaista New Yorkissa ensi-iltaan tulevaa elokuvaa enää arvioida lehdessä. Tero Kososen mukaan elokuvien suurkuluttajat hakevat elokuviin liittyvän informaation muualta kuin päivälehdestä. Kulttuurikritiikki on kohdannut kriisin, jossa sen paikkaa perinteisessä journalismissa uhkaa “internetin tuomat uudet julkaisualustat ja ansaintamalli” (Ilta-Sanomat 20.4.2018). Mitä ovat nämä uudet julkaisualustat ja ansaintamallit, jotka ovat sitten haastamassa klassista elokuvakritiikin mallia mediassa?

Käyn tässä esseessä läpi YouTube-videopalvelussa esiintyvän elokuvakritiikin historiaa: mikä on vaikuttanut sen syntyyn ja kehittymiseen? Millaisia ovat olleet sen suosituimmat muodot, ja millainen on sen tämänhetkinen tila? Samalla analysoin, miten parasosiaaliset suhteet ovat vaikuttaneet sen suosioon sekä pohdin YouTuben palvelumallin ja sen suoman vapauden tuottamia ongelmia suhteessa kritiikin ymmärtämiseen.

Olen itse kirjoittanut elokuvakritiikkiä eri alustoille kuuden vuoden ajan. Kirjoitan säännöllisesti Porin ylioppilaslehti Pointille sekä omaan blogiini Suomi-Rivendell-Asgard arvosteluja uusista ja välillä myös vanhoista elokuvista. Lähestyn aihetta siis kritiikin kirjoittajan ja kuluttajan näkökulmasta. On myös sanottava, että olen saanut inspiraationi aloittaa elokuva-arvostelujen kirjoittamisen nimenomaan YouTuben elokuvakriitikoilta.

Elokuvakritiikin nousu YouTubessa

YouTubessa suosiota saaneen elokuvakritiikin muoto sisältää usein yhden tai useamman ihmisen istumassa pöydän ääressä, kasvot kohti kameraa, keskustelemassa joko toisen kriitikon tai yleisön kanssa. Ennen YouTuben syntyä tämä formaatti oli olemassa jo television puolella. Esikuva tällaisella tyylille on amerikkalaisten kriitikoiden Gene Siskelin ja Roger Ebertin pitkään isännöimä ohjelma At the Movies (1986–2010). Ohjelman tyypillisessä jaksossa Siskel ja Ebert puhuvat 4–5 elokuvasta 30 minuutin ajan, keskustellen molempien kriitikoiden näkemyksistä ja päättäen arvion arvomääritelmällä “peukut ylös vai alas”. At the Movies –sarjaa tehtiin 24 tuotantokautta. Se voitti lukuisia Emmy-palkintoja ja sen vaikutus vastaaviin ohjelmasarjoihin oli valtava. At the Movies sukelsi syvälle elokuviin, mutta sitä rajoitti myös sarjan formaatti ja sen pituus. Puolessa tunnissa yhden elokuvan käsittelyyn jäi aikaa ainoastaan 4–5 minuuttia. Tämä ei tarjoa mahdollisuutta päästä kunnolla kaivautumaan elokuvan sisään, vertaamaan sitä ohjaajan aikaisempaan tuotantoon tai keskustelemaan sen paikasta osana laajempaa elokuvahistoriaa.

YouTube-videosivusto aukesi 2005, ja pian kriitikot saapuivat sivustolle. Vuonna 2004 aloittanut nettisivusto Cinemassacre.com sisälsi James Rolfen tekemiä koomisia videoita retropeleistä. Niissä Rolfe esitti vihaisen pelifanin ja kriitikon hahmoa nimeltä The Angry Nintendo Nerd. Vuonna 2006 Rolfe siirsi materiaalinsa YouTuben puolella, ja 2007 hän muutti ohjelman nimen The Angry Video Game Nerdiksi, kiertäen näin Nintendon tekijänoikeuksia. Rolfen videoilla oli selkeä, toistuva rakenne: vihainen nörtti esittelee vanhan pelin, joka usein on ollut osa hänen ja oletetun katsojakunnan lapsuutta, ja samalla haukkuu sen pystyyn koomisen yliampuvalla tavalla, usein lukuisten kirosanojen saattelemana. Vuonna 2006 Rolfen videosta “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)” tuli viraalihitti YouTubessa (ks. Video 1). Hardcore Gamer -sivuston hieman mahtipontisessa artikkelissa “The Nerd Who Changed Gaming Culture Forever” Alex Carlson huomioi, että Rolfen kielenkäyttö ja keskisormi pystyssä-asenne oli olennainen osa kokonaisuutta (Carlson 7.1.2014). Tämä asenne rikkoi mielikuvaa kritiikistä kuivana ja persoonattomana kenttänä, ja avasi ovia monille tuleville huutaville kriitikoille.


Video 1. The Angry Video Game Nerdin viraalihitiksi noussut Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES).

Vuonna 2007 Doug Walker perusti oman kanavansa nimeltä The Nostalgia Critic. Kuten Rolfe, Walker esitti hahmoa, vihaista “nostalgia-kriitikkoa” joka arvioi elokuvia ja TV- sarjoja omasta lapsuudestaan, tarkoituksenaan kritisoida sokeaa nostalgiaa. Vaikka näissä oli usein koominen pohja, vastasivat niissä esitetyt mielipiteet Walkerin omia mielipiteitä. Perinteisessä Nostalgia Critic -arviossa elokuva käytiin läpi alusta loppuun asti, sitä arvioitiin ja samalla sen sisällöstä väännettiin vitsejä. Videoiden keskimääräinen pituus oli puolesta tunnista jopa 45 minuuttiin. Doug Walker perusti myös oman verkkosivuston, That Guy With Glasses ja myöhemmin The Channel Awesomen, josta tuli myös alusta monille muille kriitikoille jotka kopioivat Walkerin hahmon tyyliä. Nostalgia Criticin vanavedessä YouTubeen alkoi ilmestyä yhä enemmän vihaisia kriitikoita huutamassa kameralle: Angry Joe (Joe Vargas), Linkara (Lewis Lovhaug) ja Cinema Snob (Brad Jones), joista Angry Joe- kanavalla on nykyään yli 3 miljoona tilaajaa, ylittäen Channel Awesomen tilaajamäärän kahdella miljoonalla. Kaikki heitä yhdistää status amatöörikriitikkoina, joilla ei ole taustallaan koulutusta elokuva-tai media-alalla.

Tämän mallin lisäksi oli muita varhaisia menestyjiä. Bob “MovieBob” Chipman alkoi tehdä arvosteluita 2008 omalla kanavallaan, kunnes 2010 liittyi The Escapist– viihdesivustolle, joka julkaisi hänen elokuva-arvostelujaan nimellä “Escape to the Movies”. The Escapistilla on 1,16 miljoona tilaajaa, joskin sivustolla on myös peliarvosteluja ja uutisia. Toinen menestystarina on Chris Stuckmann, joka kirjoitti aluksi arvioita blogissaan, mutta 2009 hän avasi YouTube-kanavansa. Kanavalla on 1,72 miljoonaa tilaajaa, ja se on keskittynyt yksinomaan Stuckmannin tekemiin arvioihin. Jos YouTuben hakukenttään kirjoittaa “film review”, Stuckmannin sivusto tulee hakutuloksen kärkisijoille. Bob Chipman ja Chris Stuckmann tarjosivat alusta alkaen erilaisen mallin YouTubessa olevasta elokuvakritiikistä. Kummankin tyylissä näkyy Siskelin ja Ebertin vaikutus, ja Stuckmann on sanonut At the Moviesin olleen hänen inspiraationsa. Heidän videonsa ovat enemmän perinteisen kritiikin mallisia: niissä ei esiinny komiikkaa, vitsejä elokuvasta ja sen sisällöstä (ainakaan alituisesti) tai roolihahmoja. He käyvät läpi elokuvan alkuasetelman tai tiivistelmän, kertovat mistä pitävät ja mistä eivät ja nostavat esiin teemoja tai ideoita elokuvan pinnan alta. Molempien videot ovat mitaltaan 4–10 minuuttia pitkiä.

Suomalaiset elokuvakriitikot YouTubessa ovat hieman hajanaisempi joukko. Tällä hetkellä suosituimpia elokuva-arvostelijoiden joukossa on Japen leffavlogi (3,75k tilaajaa), Totuus Elokuvasta (1,66k tilaajaa), Vernus (1,37k tilaajaa) ja stand up- koomikko Iikka Kivi (2,66k tilaajaa). Näiden visuaalinen tyyli on hyvin lähellä perinteistä vloggausta sekä Stuckmannin ja Chipmanin tyylisten YouTube-kriitikoiden videoita. Jokaisen kanavalla on myös elokuva- arvioiden lisäksi muuta materiaalia: Kiven tapauksessa toki hänen stand up- videoitaan, mutta muilla on kyse erilaisista listavideoista, joissa käydään läpi suosikkielokuvia tai tietyn vuoden parhaimpia elokuvia. Arviot seuraavat myös samanlaista mallia aiemmin mainittujen kanssa: juonisynopsis, oma mielipide, hyviä ja huonoja puolia ja lopussa mahdollinen juonipaljastuksia sisältävä osio. Arvosteluvideoiden pituudet ovat kanavasta riippuen 5–12 minuuttia. Vanhin näistä kanavista, Japen leffavlogi, on ladannut arvosteluita YouTubeen vuodesta 2015 lähtien.

Miksi juuri tämän tyyppiset kritiikit ovat nousseet suosioon YouTubessa, ja miten tämä on vaikuttanut kritiikin käsittelemiseen laajemmassa kontekstissa?

Parasosiaalinen ansa ja vilpillinen mediakritiikki

Donald Horton ja R. Richard Wohl julkaisivat 1956 teoksen Mass communication and para-social interaction, jossa he loivat termin parasosiaalinen käytös. Parasosiaalinen käytös viittaa suhteeseen, joka muodostuu yleisön ja median hahmojen välille (Horton & Wohl 1956). Suhde muistuttaa oikeita arkielämän ihmissuhteita, jotka vahvistuvat julkisuuden henkilöiden jakaessa tietoa omasta elämästään. Vaikka ilmiö on ollut olemassa kauan, ja haittailmiöt kuten stalkkaus ovat sidottuja parasosiaaliseen käytökseen, on YouTube ja sosiaalinen media muodostanut aivan uudenlaisen kentän parasosiaaliselle käytökselle. Se on ollut avain monien sisällöntuottajien menestyksessä. Leslie Rasmussenin (2018) mukaan parasosiaaliset suhteet ovat tyypillisesti olleet yksipuolisia ja etäisiä, mutta internetin kommunikaatiovälineet ovat muuttaneet sitä lähemmäs perinteistä kanssakäyttäytymistä. Kun julkisuuden henkilö on twiitin, sähköpostin tai kommentin päässä sinusta, on tällaisten parasosiaalisten suhteiden luominen paljon helpompaa.

Tämä parasosiaalinen tekijä näkyy myös vahvasti monien YouTuben elokuvakriitikkojen suosiossa. Kriitikot, kuten esimerkiksi aiemmin mainitut Doug Walker, Bob Chipman ja Chris Stuckmann, ovat kaikki luoneet osittain oman suosionsa parasosiaalisten suhteiden avulla, mikä on vaikuttanut heidän tuottamansa kritiikin suosioon samalla. Ensinnäkin on huomioitava kuvaustapa: kuten Siskel ja Ebert aikoinaan, useat YouTuben kriitikoista puhuttelevat yleisöään suoraa, katsoen suoraan kohti kameraa. Sen sijaan että he olisivat hienosti lavastetussa TV-studiossa, he ovat usein normaalin näköisissä huoneissa, joita saattavat koristaa oheistuotteet tai hyllyt täynnä kirjoja tai dvd:itä. Tämä luo kuvan siitä, että nämä kriitikot eivät ole mitään kaukaisia entiteettejä keinotekoisessa ympäristössä, vaan samanlaisia median kuluttajia kuin mekin. Hahmoa esittävien kriitikoiden kohdalla myös toissijainen sisältö kanavalla vahvistaa tätä: Doug Walkerin sivuilla on myös vlogeja, joissa hän on vielä tuttavallisempi ja rennompi. Hän on kuin yksi meistä.

Rasmussen nostaa myös esiin sen, miten viime vuosina parasosiaalisia yhteyksiä on käytetty myös some-markkinoinnin ja promootion työkaluina. Lindsay Ellis nostaa esiin tubettajien luoman autenttisuuden tunteen videoesseessään “Youtube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!)” (ks. Video 2).

“This fall in line with the appeal of Youtube in general, that it strips away the polished facade of television to give you something ‘real’….Fundamentally, Youtube lifts the barrier between the content creator and the viewer. ”


Video 2. Lindsay Ellisin “Youtube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!)” käsittelee autenttisuuden tunnetta.

Nämä kriitikot eivät ole siis mitään akateemikoita tai älymystön jäseniä, vaan tavallisia faneja kuten sinä ja minä. He ajattelevat elokuvista samalla tavalla kuin me. Tämä on aitouden, tai ainakin keinotekoisesti tuotetun aitouden, luoma illuusio, parasosiaalinen ansa. Bob Chipmanin ja Chris Stuckmannin tuttavallinen tapa puhutella katsojia (“you/ guys”) sekä videoiden lopussa oleva kehotus tilaamaan, jakamaan, kertomaan oma mielipide, painamaan thumbs up -nappia, seuraamaan somessa ja mahdollisesti rahoittamaan, on kaikki osa tätä. Tätä viimeistä osaa kutsutaan nimellä “call to action”, jossa videon tekijä pyytää katsojaa ottamaan osaa sisältöön muuten kuin istumalla ja katsomalla. Näin katsojasta tulee myös osa tätä prosessia: heistä tulee tilaajia, seuraajia, ja mahdollisesti jopa rahoittajia. Tällainen aitouden luominen ja parasosiaalisen suhteen rakentaminen ei ole olennaista kritiikin sisällön suhteen, mutta se on elintärkeää näkyvyyden ja rahoituksen kannalta. Tämä luo kuitenkin ongelmia elokuvakritiikin sisältöön.

Viime vuosina on noussut esiin kritiikkiä YouTubessa esiintyvää elokuvakritiikkiä kohtaan. Tällä hetkellä yksi suurimmista elokuva-aiheisista kanavista on CinemaSins, jolla on 8,78 miljoonaa tilaajaa. CinemaSinsin “Everything Wrong With x” -formaatti on yksinkertainen: noin 20 minuuttia kestävän videon aikana Jeremy Scott laskee kasaan elokuvan “synnit”, ja lopussa syntien summa lasketaan yhteen ja tuomio langetetaan. Synnit videoissa vaihtelevat, mutta usein kyse on juoniaukkojen esiin nostamisesta, hahmojen tekemien valintojen kritisoinnista ja elokuvan sisältöä koskevasta saivartelusta. Tämä ei sinänsä ole väärin – kukin saa omalla kanavallaan tehdä mitä haluaa – mutta CinemaSinsin suosio sekä asema elokuvakritiikin kentällä on huomioitava keskustelussa kritiikin muutoksesta. CinemaSins on osa samaa YouTubessa sijaitsevan kritiikin jatkumoa, jonka aloitti Angry Video Game Nerd ja jota Nostalgic Critic jatkoi. Kritiikin ja komedian amalgaami, jossa sarkastinen nipottaminen yksityiskohdista vetoaa katsojakunnan – eli yhä enemmän 2000–2010 vaihteessa isommaksi nousevaan nörttiyleisöön – omaan tapaan keskustella mediasta foorumeilla. Tämä ei kuitenkaan ole kritiikkiä, vaan korkeintaan sen esiaste, reaktio elokuvaan. Videoiden ollessa myös useimmiten noin 20 minuuttia pitkiä, on kokonaisuutta vaikeaa ottaa vastaan vain vitsinä. Alun perin videot olivat 10 kertaa lyhyempiä, mutta YouTuben algoritmin alkaessa suosia pidempiä, enemmän ajankäytöllistä omistautumista suosivia videoita markkinoinnissa, alkoivat CinemaSinsin videot paisua. “Kritiikin” sisältö on sidottu kaupalliseen menestykseen.

Tämän kaltainen kritiikki, niin sanottu vilpillinen kritiikki (bad faith criticism), on yleistä YouTuben enemmän performatiivisten kriitikoiden parissa. CinemaSins on kerännyt paljon kritiikkiä osakseen, jopa suoraan elokuvateollisuuden puolelta. Elokuvaohjaaja Jordan Vogt-Roberts kirjoitti twitterissä laajan vastalauseen CinemaSinsin videolle “Everything Wrong With Kong: Skull Island”, joka käsitteli hänen samannimistä elokuvaansa. Vogt-Roberts nosti esiin useita esimerkkejä jossa CinemaSins käytti syntejä vilpillisesti, jättäen huomioimatta kohtausten kontekstit tai laajemman elokuvan kokonaisuuden. Usein kun CinemaSins joutuu kritiikin kohteeksi, heidän vastauksensa nojaa argumenttiin “nämä videot ovat komediaa” tai “ettekö te ymmärrä sarkasmia”, vedoten siihen että he esittävät hahmoja. Kuitenkin, samaan aikaan Jeremy Scottin omalla kanavalla olevissa elokuva-arvioissa, hän toistaa samaa kritiikkiä jota myöhemmin näkyy CinemaSinsin videoilla. Sama näkyy myös Doug Walkerin omissa arvioissa elokuvista, jotka ovat sisällöltään hyvin samanlaisia hänen esittämänsä hahmon kritiikkeihin. CinemaSinsin lähes 9 miljoonaa tilaajaa ovat osoitus kanavan saavuttamasta vaikutusvallasta, ja kun näiden videoiden vilpillinen mediakritiikki valuu yleisöön, se vaikuttaa varmasti katsojan tapaan katsoa ja ottaa vastaan elokuvia. Tämä näkyy osittain jo elokuvissa, kuten Disneyn live-action -elokuvissa, jotka pohjautuvat aikaisempiin animaatioelokuviin. Niistä on hiottu pois kaikki kulmat, ja vanhat nipotukset ja saivartelu on tehty mahdottomaksi nokkeluudella, joka syö elokuvan sisältöä.

Jokainen kuva kuin maalaus – videoesseiden nousu

Vuonna 2013 alkoi kuitenkin tulla ensimmäisiä esimerkkejä uudenlaisesta elokuvakritiikin muodosta YouTubessa. Kriitikko Matt Zoller Seitz, joka teki lähinnä klassisia, artikkelimuotoisia kritiikkejä, julkaisi kirjansa The Wes Anderson Collection videomuodossa, jakaen kirjan neljään videoon. Tämä ei kuitenkaan saanut suurta suosiota, vain yksi videoista ylitti 100 000 katsojan rajapyykin. Vuonna 2014 Tony Zhou perusti YouTube-kanavan Every Frame a Painting, ja hänen videonsa Edgar Wrightin editointityylistä oli hänen ensimmäinen läpimurtonsa. Tämä video keräsi yli 4 miljoonaa katsojaa. Zhou’n videot ovat hyvin analyyttisia, keskittyen joko kuvauksen eri elementteihin (Joel & Ethan Coen: Shot | Reverse Shot), ohjaajien tyyleihin (Lynne Ramsey- The Poetry of Details) tai näyttelijäntyöhön (ks. Video 3). Zhou lopetti videoiden julkaisemisen 2016, mutta hänen kanavallaan on yhä 1,76 miljoonaa tilaajaa. Zhou’ta eikä Seitzia ei kuitenkaan voida pitää varsinaisesti tämän formaatin synnyttäjinä: elokuva-esseitä elokuvista on tehty kauan, ja hyvä esimerkki tästä on Orson Wellesin F For Fake vuodelta 1973, joka on elokuvan mittainen essee taideväärentämisestä. Kuitenkin, Zhou’n suosio aloitti YouTubessa uudenlaisen elokuvakritiikin yleistymisen.

Video 3. Tony Zhoun videoessee Robin Williamsista.

Zhou’n videoiden kutsuminen videoesseiksi juontaa niiden rakenteesta. Alussa Zhou esittelee aiheen ja tulokulman, sitten käsittelee argumenttinsa, jotka tukevat hänen ajatustaan esimerkkien kautta, ja lopussa esittää päätelmänsä näiden argumenttien varassa. Esseen rakenne on yhä sama, vaikka se olisi osana 5 minuutin mittaista videota joka käsittelee Jackie Chanin tapaa kuvata toimintaa elokuvissaan. Tubettaja Evan Puschak kommentoi 2016 pitämässään TED-talkissa “How Youtube Changed The Essay”, että esseen on oltava “lyhyt, mielenkiintoinen totuus”. Puschak myös vertaa videoesseitä elokuvaesseisiin, tehden kuitenkin eron enemmän avant-garde-elokuvia muistuttavien teosten kuten Chris Markerin Sans Soleilin ja YouTube-videoiden välille:

“It seems to me, that video essays take their cues more from academia and journalism and from their online predecessors, the educational explainer youtube channels.” (Puschak 9.6.2016)

Tätä formaattia ovat seuranneet monet, ja videoesseistä on tullut 2010-luvulla vaikutusvaltainen mediaformaatti. Zhou’n mallia seurasi myös Puschak, jonka The Nerdwriter -kanavalla on yli 2 miljoonaa tilaajaa. Puschak ei keskity vain elokuviin, mutta hänen tyylinsä on hyvin samanlainen kuin Zhou’n. Lindsay Ellis, joka 2008 liittyi Doug Walkerin Channel Awesomeen nimellä “Nostalgia Chick”, erosi sivustosta 2014 ja alkoi tehdä video-esseitä hyvin akateemista lähtökohdasta. Hänen suosituimpiin julkaisuihinsa kuuluu videosarja Michael Bayn Transformers -elokuvista, joita hän tarkastelee elokuvatutkimuksen eri filosofioiden lähtökohdista. Ellisin menestys on huomioitava erikseen, sillä 2019 hänen Hobitti-elokuvia käsittelevä video-trilogiansa The Hobbit Duology oli ehdokkaana Hugo-palkinnolle, ollen ensimmäinen YouTube-video tässä kategoriassa. Myös aikaisemmin lyhyempiä elokuva-arvioita tehneet tubettajat ovat alkaneet tehdä videoesseitä. Huomattava esimerkki on Bob Chipmanin 3 tuntia ja 27 minuuttia pitkä kolmiosainen Really That Bad: Batman V Superman videoessee, joka on kerännyt yli miljoona katsojaa.

Videoesseet ovat avanneet sosiaalisen median käyttäjille enemmän analyyttisen ja akateemisen tavan tutustua elokuviin, ja tarjoavat siten omalla tavallaan vastalauseen aiemmalle, pinnalliselle elokuva-kritiikille, jota YouTubessa on toki valtavasti. Samat parasosiaaliset elementit kuitenkin ovat yhä olemassa, ja tämä yhdistettynä useiden video-esseiden akateemiseen jargoniin ja hyvään tuotantoon tuottaa omanlaisiaan ongelmia. Vilpillinen argumentti tai esimerkki ontosta ja jopa virheellisestä argumentoinnista on helppo piilottaa näiden taakse. Kuitenkin, useimmat video-esseet elokuvista eivät ole arvioita vaan kritiikkiä. Niiden tarkoitus ei ole kertoa katsojalle tekijänsä mielipiteitä elokuvasta ja onko sen näkeminen kannattavaa, vaan syvemmin pohtia käsiteltävää elokuvaa jonkin elokuvatutkimuksen linssin lävitse. Tämä voi keskittyä koko elokuvaan tai vain sen osa-alueeseen, mutta useimmat videoesseistä kuitenkin pureutuvat jotenkin sekä kohteeseensa, sen paikkaan osana laajempaa elokuvahistoriaa ja kulttuurista kontekstia.

Lopuksi

YouTube on tarjonnut jo varhaisessa vaiheessa hyvän alustan elokuvakritiikille. Kulttuurikritiikin kadotessa päivälehdistä ympäri maailman ja printtijournalismin tehdessä hidasta kuolemaansa, on palvelu kenties tämän kritiikin muodon tulevaisuus. Sen tarjoama vapaus, saavutettavuus ja kansainvälisyys on tehnyt monista harrastelijoista kuuluisuuksia ja tehnyt elokuvakritiikistä helposti lähestyttävän kritiikin muodon. Samalla kritiikin määritelmät ovat muuttuneet ja muovautuneet, mihin on vaikuttanut vahvasti enemmän koomiset ja performatiiviset kritiikin muodot. Vanhat kanavat kuten Channel Awesomella ja Chris Stuckmannilla on yhä miljoonia seuraajia, vaikka ne eivät ole muuttaneet formaattiaan juuri lainkaan yli kymmenen vuoden aikana. Kuitenkin näinä valeuutisten aikakautena on yhä tärkeämpää, että myös YouTubessa esiintyvän kritiikin kuluttajalla on medialukutaitoa, jolla erottaa vilpillinen ja virheellinen kritiikki satojen videoiden joukosta.

YouTuben elokuvakriitikoiden kummisedän Roger Ebertin kuoltua 2013 kriitikko Wesley Morris kirjoitti muistotekstissään “The People’s Critic: Remembering Roger Ebert” seuraavasti:

“What Siskel and Ebert instilled in civilian filmgoer was perception. Movies had a surface that could be penetrated and explored.” (Morris 5.4.2013)

Monellakin tapaa nykyään suositut video-esseistien, kuten Evan Puschakin, Lindsay Ellisin, Michael Tuckerin (Lessons From A Screenplay) ja Dan Olsonin (Folding Ideas) ideana on edelleen avata elokuvan kerroksia yleisölle, oli kyse sitten käsikirjoituksesta, editoinnista tai kulttuurisesta ja aikakaudellisesta kontekstista. David Piercen Wired-verkkolehden artikkelissa “The World’s Best Film School Is Free On YouTube” bloggari Jason Kottke kommentoi, että elokuvasta kirjoittaminen on vähän kuin arkkitehtuurista tanssiminen (Pierce 12.9.2017). Kuvien, musiikin ja puheen yhdistäminen antaa audiovisuaalisen kokemuksen, ja on helpompi nostaa esiin pointteja elokuvan kuvakerronnasta ja tyylistä, kun voit aktiivisesti samalla näyttää mistä puhut. Kulttuuri- ja taidekritiikin määrä on ehkä vähentynyt klassisissa medioissa, mutta sen määrä YouTubessa kasvaa alati. Se on kuitenkin yhä amatöörien kenttä monellakin tapaa, mutta lainatakseni Roger Ebertia:

“I was instructed by a wise film editor long ago: ‘If you understand something, you can explain it so that almost anyone can understand it.’ ….Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrels.” (Ebert 2010)

Lähteet

Kaikki linkit tarkistettu 10.3.2020

Videot

Ellis, Lindsay. 2018. “Youtube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun And Profit!)”, YouTube 11.9.2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FJEtCvb2Kw.

Puschak, Evan. 2016. “How Youtube Changed The Essay.” TEDxLafayette College. YouTube 9.6.2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ald6Lc5TSk8.

Verkkosivustot ja -palvelut

Carslon, Alex. 2014. “The Nerd Who Changed Gaming Culture Forever.” Hardcore Gamer. 7.1.2014. https://hardcoregamer.com/2014/01/07/the-nerd-who-changed-gaming-culture-forever/68599/.

Dry, Jude. 2017. “‘CinemaSins Attacked ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ so Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts Fought Back in the Best Way.” Indiewire. 15.8.2017. https://www.indiewire.com/2017/08/cinemasins-kong-skull-island-jordan-vogt-roberts-1201866889/.

Morris, Wesley. 2013. “The People’s Critic: Remembering Roger Ebert.” Grantland. 5.4.2013. http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/the-peoples-critic-remembering-roger-ebert/.

Lehtiartikkelit

Kinnunen, Kalle. 2019. ”Elokuvakriitikko selittää maailmaa.”Yle Uutiset. 27.11.2019. https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2019/11/27/elokuvakriitikko-selittaa-maailmaa-ja-siksi-ammatti-on-uhattuna-maailmassa.

Kosonen, Tero. 2018. ”Viihdetoimituksen esimies.” Ilta-Sanomat. 20.4.2018.

Owens, Simon.2017.  “How Youtube and podcasts spurred the golden age of film criticism.” Medium.com. 8.11.2017. https://medium.com/the-business-of-content/how-youtube-and-podcasts-spurred-the-golden-age-of-film-criticism-538b6d427efc.

Pierce, David. 2017. “World’s Best Film School Is Free On Youtube.” Wired.Com. 12.9.2017. https://www.wired.com/story/youtube-film-school/.

Kirjallisuus

Ebert, Roger. 2010. Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2010. Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC.

Kumen, Tommi. 2018. ”Kulttuurijournalismia, josta viimeisenä voisi luopua” – elokuvakritiikin tilanne suomalaisissa päivälehdissä. Opinnäytetyö. Haaga-Helia.

Horton, Donald ja Richard R. Wohl. 1956. “Mass communication and para-social interaction.” Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes, 19, 215–229.

Rasmussen, Leslie. 2018. “Parasocial Interaction in the Digital Age: An Examination of Relationship Building and the Effectiveness of YouTube Celebrities.” The Journal of Social Media in Society, Spring 2018, Vol. 7, No. 1, 280–294.