10.4185/RLCS-2018-1267en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS, 73-2018 | |
Transgresion and critics of the system: the journalistic vignette
Translation of paper by Yuhanny Henares
In 2008 one of the authors of this paper published in this same journal, a text were he presented an analysis of the transmission of the transgressor, critical, atypical message in the general landscape of Spanish journalism, through the journalistic vignette (Reig, 2008).
Part of the theoretical, methodological and empirical background we are about to use here already appeared in that study more than ten years ago. However, we wanted to demonstrate how those complaints seem to have fallen, if not completely on deaf ears, in such a chronic oblivion that the authors themselves are forced to follow the dictates of their consciousness reminding their recipients that the situation not only has not improved, but instead, in some aspects, it conveys the feeling of having changed for worse.
Therefore, our mission was taking that study as starting point and to complete it with new analytical contributions considering that, if the problem persists, both the work of vignette cartoonists as well as ours, is deemed necessary. The year 2008 was the start of the crisis we are still in, whose trigger was the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Macroeconomic indicators point towards a positive direction but, as Pierre Vilar (1974) made clear many years ago, one thing is growth and another one, development. We may be in a growth period: productive, mediatic, technological, but there is the feeling that our species is clung to an extreme greed. The press vignette is quite aware of it and we consider that our obligation is to continue a research monitoring of the matter.
There is a vignette of deep critical relevance, that is not only focused on everyday life aspects, but instead dares to question, almost permanently, the system within it develops -paradoxically -. Its critics go even beyond the editorial line of the media that sheltered it, which is clearly observed in the case of El Roto and, with less sharpness, in Forges, which are the two prevailing authors in this paper. Undoubtedly, humor is a special way to “sneak” issues and perspectives that the usual journalistic text cannot or doesn’t want to have.
But this matter must be demonstrated with a greater strength compared to 2008 and this is what we are aiming for through some samples of both authors – mainly- that enlighten us about the critical line, usual in their communicative expressions through drawings and written text. Said demonstration will be done using a qualitative analysis.
In this text, we assume a definition of journalistic vignette summarized in the following words: the press vignette is an excellent tool for the critical analysis of reality (Tejeiro Salguero and León Gross, 2009). These authors echo the opinion of others to which we also sum up. Thus, they state:
Peña Marín sustains that graphic humor contributed to the constitution of an comprehension and evaluation of the social world shared by a wide majority of Spanish citizens during Francoism; Natalia Meléndez defends that vignettes contributed powerfully to the role specific media played in the conformation of opinion during transition.
In the present times, it seems absurd to go back to the debate that emerged in the past regarding the journalistic genre the vignette belongs to. Undoubtedly, it is an opinion genre, in the academy we tend to debate about the unreality in the sense that both vignette cartoonists and mass media (written in this case) position the vignette in their opinion section. From the previous paragraph that talked about the vignette in Francoism and the Spanish transition between Francoism and democracy (Segado Boj, 2009), we conclude we were standing before a text of double opinion: the image conveyed an opinion and the discursive text, that sometimes didn’t even existed, conveyed an opinion as well. Satirical magazines of political nature La Codorniz and Hermano Lobo were kidnapped by their opinative contents in the same way it happened with the famous cover of El Jueves on 2007 where the Princes of Spain back then (now kings) appear copulating in a especially erotic position.
On the other hand, also the humoristic vignettes magazine El Papus was victim of a bomb on September 1977, committed by the extreme right, although the tragedy was not completely clarified. A suitcase was handed to Juan Peñalver, watchman of the house where the magazine’s editorial offices were located –in Barcelona- so to give it to the director of the publication, Xavier de Echarri, but the suitcase exploded earlier and destroyed Peñalver’s body at the same time other seventeen people were injured (Geli, 2017).
Besides being an evidence for any individual comparing publications with the objective of confirming where vignettes appear, for many years their presence was witnessed in the opinion section in a proportion near 60 percent (Tejeiro Salguero and León Gross, 2009). It is not necessary to insist on the matter, in this aspect of journalistic genres.
3.2. Simple structural approach and qualitative content analysis
We will use a double methodology in this study, although they are two pathways ending up joining into one. On one hand, we have the Simple Structural Approach (SSA) we have talked about elsewhere (Reig, 2017). On the other hand, we have the Qualitative Content Analysis (QCA) which includes the perspective of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).
The SSA –since it is complicated- it complies with the articulations of the macro-structure of power surrounding us: the market. In the market, there are underlying business (large corporations), financial (banking, investment funds), political (UNO) and military factors (NATO), all of them more or less articulated. But the element of large corporations includes alliances between mediatic corporations that currently go beyond the purely mediatic to delve into a network of bonds between telecommunications, communication and technology, all this supported by the financial element and other non-financial corporations. For instance, AT&T (telecommunications) is owner of Time-Warner (communications/messages) with the support of JP Morgan (banking) and Microsoft .
From this structural articulation there emerge messages destined to avoid that the mercantile structure suffers too much due to the dissident alternative pressure of some social segments. However, not all messages are unanimous in their approaches. In what the professor Enric Saperas (1987) called self-legitimation of media some decades ago, among pro market messages there “leak” minoritarian opinions that question the mercantile system one way or the other. This is the positioning of the vignettes we are about to analyze. We are facing an omnimodal power that has not yet reached the absolute totalitarianism, something the new digital media circulating in a network also impede, although we must keep in mind it also belongs to the market.
The Complex Structural Approach (CSA) is not the aim of this paper, but we must say that it already breaks the science/ letters split or social sciences/ ‘pure’ sciences split to become a transversal philosophical method aiming for the deepest casuistry of events.
QCA and CDA will be understood here as interconnected, based on ideas exposed by Eiroa and Barranquero (2017: 61 y 119):
(…) the qualitative method is used when there is no intention of getting statistical data nor numbers. On the contrary, researchers use it when they need to know themes in Depth as well as aspects related to perceptions and human behavior, such as opinions, reflections, thoughts or the reasons leading to taking specific decisions. We understand as qualitative methodology, a research strategy based on a rigorous contextual description of an event, behavior or situation, guaranteeing the maximum objectivity in the capture of reality.
To look for this context is what lead us to the Simple Structural Approach, in such a way that without context there is no text. Vignettes we are about to study below respond in their contents to the social-economic-mediatic context sketched here.
3.3. Qualitative analysis categories
We have used some categories we consider essential, derived from the indicated context and where vignette cartoonists inspire to create their ‘analytical-opinative’ messages.
We already indicated that the main mission of this paper is to base it on the one we already elaborated on 2008 so that, from there, we demonstrate conveniently argued new contributions. Among them, there are some sub-categories, as we call them, of some categories comprised in the previous table.
As it is and will be observed, a greater part of new contributions are focused on what we call structural message and its reflection in press vignettes, which is completed with sketches about vignettes of what we call conjunctural message.
3.4. Conjunctural message and structural message
As we indicated in the study this paper is based on (Reig, 2008), there are two types of messages in the world of communication and journalism. One is essentially equal para all mass media (we refer to the ones to which large groups or clusters of communication, that is, the most influencing, those who stablish agenda setting or state of affairs). We call this message structural and refers to the defense of the stablished order, specifically, the New World Order that originates, as immediate root, from 1991, when George Bush, father, “officially inaugurated it.”
We call the other type of message, conjunctural. With this denomination we refer to the political “battles”, critics to politicians, union rivalries, even the cases of corruption introduced as research journalism, but that are stopped, slowed down or silenced, as soon as they start to affect deepest interests of the structures of power. For instance, the GAL case in Spain or the case of “mad cow disease” (spongiform encephalopathy), or the depleted uranium, which caused diseases on the occasion of NATO bombing against Serbia in 1999; or the so-called “Gulf Syndrome”, something similar but in relation to the use of mysterious substances in 1991 by allies, substances that damaged the health of North American and British soldiers, above all, causing death among some of them; the case of contaminated Coca Cola packagings in one of the production factories in the Netherlands, something that occurred at the start of this century and that has been already forgotten, etc.
The conjunctural message appears all the time in daily journalism. It is focused a lot on partisan struggles, therefore it has a secondary relevance for this work. The conjunctural message is especially visible on the radio, news and in their talks, On the other hand, the conjunctural message will fill the citizen with a procession of events: deaths of all kinds, by murder, homicide, physical violence, above all, catastrophes, accidents, wars and massacres in the Third World, etc.
Before confirming the results of our research line, we will recall an essential principle already expressed before, on which the Qualitative Content Analysis methodology is based on. What are we researchers looking for, with this type of analysis? Why do we use it? Eiroa and Barranquero (2017) say:
(…) researchers use it when they need to know topics in-depth and aspects related to perceptions and human behaviors, such as opinions, reflections, thoughts or the reasons behind making specific decisions.
From the human behaviours observed, vignette journalists have projected reflections, opinions, ideas, which is not strange they have – with a lesser extension- more deepness, critical relevance and stimulation for thinking, compared to the editorials and / or articles in a media.
Category 1. Methodological grounds
The structural approach is based in the interrelationship of elements, as we have seen before. Therefore, we need curiosity, transgression, not resigning to what is perceived at first sight or what we are shown. Here, there is an essential principle for both social research and journalist:
B. Vignettes with conjunctural messages
Category 2. Critics to Mariano Rajoy, president of the Spanish government (in 2017-2018)
The president of Partido Popular (PP) Mariano Rajoy (Spain), was accused of stagnation, by letting problems get solved for themselves, letting them wear out before the presence of many other problems/ messages and due to the tiredness and the bad memory of the citizen.
Sub-category 2.1. Stagnation
Vignette by Ricardo, in El Mundo, 26/5/2011. Retrieved from: http://www.vozbcn.com/2011/05/26/74020/rajoy-trabajando-vineta-ricardo/
Sub-category 2.2. Submissiveness
Moreover, his submissiveness before foreign potencies, specially before Germany (Angela Merkel is the German chancellor) and USA, an aspect sharply managed in the vignette. A cover of El Jueves we reproduce was censored by Facebook back in 2012.
Another vignette –from Kap– illustrated about how problems of national sovereignty arise when we incorporate Spain in its European and world context. However, the vignette still concentrates its satire against a conjunctural political character.
Vignette by Kap. Jaume Capdevilla, in: http://www.voxeurop.eu/es/content/cartoon/1714051-soberano , 29/3/2012.
Category 3. The prince and the princess
We deemed convenient to remind about the fact there has been a turning point after the famous cover of El Jueves from Summer 2007. However, we do not consider it is something that questions a system of power and control, like the market. But still, it is a clear warning about an idle institution and therefore, we are facing a qualitative progress in the search of freedom of expression in journalism, a search grounded in its existence due to the subsequent reaction of justice which, on one hand, recognizes the egalitarian nature of all Spanish citizens before the law, and on the other, approves special rules for the King figure. The normal action in this case is not that Justice takes action to enforce a special law, but that the King himself, the prince, princess or whoever feels offended in his or her rights went to the justice “as another citizen” to complain about being victim of a supposed public scorn...
The nation of minors and young individuals today is called world. We have known for sure and for a long time that we live in a pathological, competitive and very aggressive society (Martín García, 1999). It is necessary to know it, try to adapt to the environment but not lose the illusion to improve it. However, is endocultural education coherent with the situation described? Forges is sensitive to a problem perceived from its very personal pen:
C. Vignette as critic of the structural message
As we said earlier, most of our analysis is dedicated to the vignette that derives from a systemic structural situation of power, a situation we described superficially. For better and for worse, we are surrounded by the mercantile activity and its effects. Opinion and analysis journalists, through their vignettes, are specially incisive with this aspect of our existence, undoubtedly aware that the wide context that surrounds the human being influences his daily life.
Category 5. Unique market system
In reality, when we say we are in a market economy, we are not adjusting to reality. What exists is an economic system that competes less and collaborates more over time. In all fields of production there are fusions, absorptions, crossed participations, etc. at a forced march. Competence leaves room to concentration and internationalization. There is no bipolarity but a single dominating system that adapts laws and governments to its interests (Navarro and Torres López, 2012).
The unique system, without counterweight, makes room to the return of the ‘Hobbesian’ man. In the Western world there are precarious or very precarious contracts (afterward we will see this issue reflected in some vignette) and the spiral of silence activates. Nevertheless, their beneficiaries are the privileged portion of the planet. In other many parts of the world, human rights and peace are submitted to commercial interests. And still USA leads this geopolitical dynamic.
Category 7. Scandalous inequalities
Even though hundreds of millions exited poverty in the last decades, one out of nine individuals still starves. However, existing resources would allow eliminating three quarters of extreme poverty if tax income increased and military expenses and other similarly regressive expenses were cut .
Sub-category 7.2. The constant continues, but extended to youth
The question heading the previous sub-category leads us to think whether the author of the vignettes prior to this analysis –Forges- keeps in mind how labor reforms and politics of adjustment and austerity have caused labor precariousness in Spain, mainly. The so-called neoliberalism was successful in putting the system at its disposal and achieving hands-free to do whatever it wants in the market, even despise politicians elected democratically.
Sub-category 7.4. Market greed
El Roto shows relentless and goes directly to what perhaps is the root of the most negative aspects brought by the market: greed. Michael Moore (2010) states:
“Capitalism is the legalization of greed. Greed has always been among humans. There is a good number of things in our species you could call the dark side, and greed is one of them. If you do not put on hold specific structures or restrictions in those parts of our nature coming for this dark side, they get out of hand. Capitalism does the contrary. It does not only lacks restriction, but it stimulates it, rewards it.”
To perform a task that submits human rights to the economic interests is necessary to achieve a lack of sensitivity in the Western human, who is the most educated. Erasing from their brain the historical perspective and the context of events -and with it, the structural methodology- is essential to make the mentioned task possible. Interpretative subjects are removed from career studies or reduce their presence and synchronic approaches reduce drastically. New technologies contribute more to trap individuals in the Net than to free them, although they have potential for that.
Category 9. Double moral
However, the citizen is an accomplice of all this to a great extent. There is the famous double moral that confuses justice with charity. There is action on superficial affairs to clean the bad consciousness. Actions we perform are usually of makeup and vanity, not directed towards changing structures of power which are the ones causing most injustices we observe currently, as zenith of an ancestral process.
Religion, volunteers, NGOs are essential elements with presence in our lives and of great usefulness, but only initially. From my perspective, they do not constitute any articulate power that really concerns the hegemonic power, which is the one that usually has the monopoly of violence and of the organized and studied scientifically message, through the mediatic clusters and service and communication consultantship companies.
September 4, 1999, El Roto, from El País, showed us a time that, essentially, did not distinguish from other times. From our perspective, utensils and technological tools have changed deeply, as well as behaviors, but there are no grounds allowing us to envision a change of mentality, a transmutation of ethical values, a world where having is submitted to being and technology to the knowledge in the sense of hermeneutical capacity, not possession of technological devices. The Society of Knowledge, is really a fallacy, a sophism.
The capacity the market system has to absorb their enemies or rivals and turn them into its annexes is very interesting scientifically speaking. Without going too far, the cyber-activism is a behavior that uses tools offered by the system itself with the aim (or chimera) to destroy it and we already know the case of the famous Che Guevara T-shirt very well and how it is part of the symbolic capitalist universe coming from a strongly anti-system person. Consequently, we deem adequate the interrogation of our sub-category regarding whether we are standing before a constant instead of exceptions.
Category 12. Thought without thinking
If knowledge is not understood in compliance with the Theory of Knowledge, but instead in compliance with devices’ possession, our way of acting becomes technical. The human being waives old premises of causality in favor of entertainment, leisure and self-abandonment, induced and accepted at the same time; the human being waives fostering of thought as an element that looks for the deep causes of things. We will have information from here, but not knowledge, an instinct of not being well, but not aware of why we are not well.
Category 13. Functionality of message
The absence of thought and the critical capacity lead to the functionality of messages coming from the media of hegemonic thought, derived from the hegemonic structure of power called market economy. Media are framed in mediatic groups and clusters connected at the same time with other socioeconomic instances: banking, telecommunications, weapons, large industries in general. That is, media are not a counterpower but instead an element of hegemonic power that tends to preserve said power and for that it needs to create a specific state of public opinion.
Sub-category 13.1. Reversion of discourse
Sub-category 13.2. Who is in charge of agenda setting now?
With the social networks and the more and more generalized use of Internet by youth, mainly, there has been the belief of the decline of television as determinant in agenda setting, however, “young individuals that use more Internet (2 hours per day) do not watch less television. On the contrary, most who surf the Internet two hours daily watch more than three hours of television per day. Internet, once more, does not displaces television screen.” (Murduchowicz, 2008).
Sub-category 13.3. Who and what imposes agenda setting to those imposing agenda settings to publics?
Sub-category 13.4. The power of banking
The analysis of the previous vignettes indicates that we are standing before a correlation of facts we have ranked, at the same time we looked for an essential explanation to the last of questions. We believe – and to a great extent with reason- that we are facing the transmitter-recipient-transmitter society, a context where the recipient has a wide capacity of action. Nevertheless, cultural principles guiding the recipient do not differ essentially from those previous to the digital technological revolutions, but instead have increased sometimes: extreme individualism, narcissism, consumerism, apparent solidarity, arrogance and low self-esteem at the same time… What is happening? To avoid delving deeper, that agendas setting are still built from the mercantile dynamic for the moment.
Category 14. Social disarticulation
In order to conduct public opinion towards one way or the other, it is necessary to mold the brain from childhood and youth. People must feel, have fun, not be aware of the cause of their problems. Society disarticulation is essential to achieve the aforesaid.
Youth manifestations on the street, to drink alcohol and get public spaces dirty, are extremely positive facts for reinforcing structures of power, who present as tolerant and democrat before a decadent situation that, deep inside, is a manifestation of passivity and indolence before life that relinquishes from its history to embrace an absolute instantaneity.
Category 15. New economy and loneliness
The New Economy contributes to disarticulation and loneliness. The arrival of the post-industrial society has not produced, as authors like Daniel Bell indicated back in the sixties, but instead another very different one where exaggerated competitiveness replaces leisure in the sense of interrelationship and intercommunication. Machines, in effect, work for us, but have not made us freer nor calmer.
Category 16. Abandonment of the minor
The previous category leads us inevitable to this one. The new economy brings the fact that both partners need to work to manage home expenses. But this, that initially is something positive and desirable, turns into a negative element when we analyze working conditions and the characteristics of most of current jobs. Parents wish to rest when they get home, there is a waive of kids’ education and an abandonment of these at the hands of the new technologies that turn into educative sources and “nursery schools.”
The arrival of the ‘Self Media’ (Jean Cloutier), of the Screens Society (Román Gubern) and digital natives, has not only entailed another abandonment of the minor at the hands of the digital culture, but also that culture has extended to the complete population to a greater or lesser extent, with its benefits and prejudices, which are being studied continuously.
Category 17. A dangerous object
The boy and the young individual end up by waiving to manage elements that -still- constitute the cognitive and methodological support to face life: the main one, the book, which they end up perceiving as a strange object. The book as methodological synchronic pillar, with the support of a professor, is not in the net yet. It would be necessary to elaborate a book of books, an already specialized task of the teacher, the researcher.
One of the main results –regarding current adult generations and most conscious young individuals – is a single subject, isolated, theoretically free, aware about what is happening, but impotent to solve his or her deepest and crucial problems. In said subjects, there is a progressive abandonment in the sense defined by Seligman: the illusion declines, the will for self-improvement and self-esteem lessen, before the confirmation that everything is useless despite what is done. The hegemonic system defeats out of tiredness, without convincing, it wins, and everything turns into a routine, into a sort of peace of resignation, splashed by dysfunctional crashes the mediatic message tries to discredit immediately. To spread the illusion of freedom into the minds is a priority for all domains’ system.
Category 19. Reaction against critics to emotions, beliefs and power
The journalists’ massacre on January 2015 in the editorial offices of Paris of the satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo at the hands of radical Islamists, entails a reading about what are the limits of human beings when some vignettes attempt against emotions and religious beliefs behind armed organizations. As can be observed in the illustrations, the covers of the magazines did not only draw cartoons of Mohammed but also of other ‘book’ religions (Judaism and Christianity). The Western press vignette does not only criticize the Western structure of power but also the one behind other cultures. Results can be fatal at the same time phobia against Islam leave a mark among citizens and some voices – such as the case of the journalist Roberto Savio, founder of the Press Service International Agency (IPS)- try to rummage in the History of Western abuses against the Islamic world to try to understand what happened without it meaning to sneak into the assassins’ side. The reader might find reflections in the link indicated below the slide.
Category 20. Double ethics of journalism
However, when the citizen in general and journalism in particular showed support with the victims of the attack under the slogan Je suis Charlie, the journalistic labor dynamic continued with the limitation suffered due to another kind of violence: pressures upon the free work of the journalist. The director, editorial chief or section chief, know what must be published and what don’t, what can be extended on a larger Surface and what entails less space, as well as the news that must be eliminated or shrink due to advertisement. But, actually, said ‘attacks do not see the light, because regarding the presentation of the media in public, it must comply with what is considered politically correct.
Before a traditional rather anemic discourse journalism, scarcely transgressor, that has turned the journalist into a seller of messages, the vignette journalism provides fresh air and we have numerous examples demonstrating so– such as the ones shown here-. It is about a journalism of opinion that combines inventiveness with image. Both factors turn into basic tools to lead the recipient from data to interpretation, from Information to Knowledge, from the yawning to the delight, from the routine to the stimulus, because the first thing a human being must do if there is the will for a possible solution to the essential problems, is to be aware of the ultimate causes of said problems. And the ultimate causes, from our perspective, are enclosed within the current system of domain known as market economy. That the problem is surmountable or not, improvable or not in essence, is actually, another problem.
 AT&T confirms the purchase of Time Warner for 85.000 million dollars, Saturday, October 22, 2016, http://expansion.mx/empresas/2016/10/22/at-t-confirma-compra-de-time-warner-por-85-000-millones-de-dolares
 Facebook censors a cover of El Jueves about Rajoy and Merkel,
7. List of references
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Reig, Ramón (2017): “Metodología para el estudio de la estructura mundial de la Información”, en Reig, Ramón y Labio, Aurora (Editores): El laberinto mundial de la Información. Estructura mediática y poder, Barcelona, Anthropos/Siglo XXI.
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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
R Reig, R Mancinas-Chávez (2018): “Transgresion and critics of the system: the journalistic vignette”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 73, pp. 504 to 530.
Article received on 10 December 2017. Accepted on 24 February.