Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman’s death & Hegemony

Blog
Joël Grassère
22/10/2020

 

In 2020 the black lives matter protests reached new heights. One issue that this movement is concerned with is cultural representation in the media. Also this year, the African-American actor Chadwick Boseman passed away. These factors rejuvenated the discourse about cultural representation in the media. Mr. Boseman’s Death is related to the aforementioned discourse because his work, specifically the movie “Black Panther”, has been used in the Black lives Matter movement as an example of positive Black representation in media. I will show how the discourse surrounding cultural representation is segregated and how language repertoire, hegemony, and filter bubble cause this.

Theoretical framework

The goal is to shed light on how this discourse is shaped and this shape’s effects. This will be realized by using linguistic/semiotic repertoires, indexicality, filter bubble(Sunstein, 2017), and polarization as visible through media material collected as multimodal data. Voice, and hegemonies, defined as the construction of norms, mainly semiotic and linguistic patterns in this case, that are fully normalized in a social group, are the keywords here. These are informed by a study of multimodality and critical discourse analysis informed by the concepts: language in society, the fact that language is always a concrete action, and language repertoires. Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that communication as action forms normality in a specific social group and context. (Blommaert, 2005)(Saint-Georges, 2013)(Hopkins & Sides, 2015)(Blommaert, 2019)

Tweet within the discourse

First of all the discourse in question is racialized. The topic is race in movies and other media. This can easily be seen in examples like the one below    This picture is part of the discourse as it is a reaction to Chadwick’s death. It shows an African-American child. Because of his race many people in the discourse on cultural representation would say he gained cultural representation through actors like Mr. Boseman. The text says #BlackLivesMatter and Black heroes matter. With all the racial words and the picture it shows this image and thus the discourse it is part of is racialized. The image is an action connected to the themes of the discourse to people who can recognize these signs. (Blommaert, 2005)( Blommaert, 2019)

example tweet in radicalized discourse

Therefore this discourse will be more popular and understandable for people whose hegemony allows racialized discourse and have such linguistic repertoires. The previously used picture can show this. The picture above shows the child doing a pose and says Chadwick forever. These are semiotic signs that are influenced by the movie “Black Panther”. This movie is one that is used to express and construct black power values, which in turn have become part of liberal normativity. Writing Chadwick or Wakanda forever and doing this pose thus indexes a person as pro-black and indirectly as liberal. (Blommaert, 2005)

Semiotic signs and language are normatively defined. Using these signs is using a language repertoire, because of how they say what. The way one communicates what, indexes normativity and thus the hegemonies that apply to this person. Therefore using the semiotics and language in the aforementioned pictures indexes a person as belonging to a certain group because they have a language repertoire. This is perceivable in the vast majority of tweets on cultural representation. Language repertoires that include references to liberal expressions, like the movie “Black Panther” are often used. Thus to participate in this discourse it is almost required to have this language repertoire. This means that having this repertoire is powerful in this discourse. Being part of this discourse does fit into the liberal hegemony, but not in the conservative one as its members lack this linguistic repertoire.(Diggit Wiki, 2020)(Bonilla-Silva, 2015)

People in a conservative filter bubble do not have acces to the discourse at hand.

Furthermore, in the age of the filter bubble your normality determines what content you get to see. If you follow conservative news you will not see the progressive news on the internet through algorithmic selection. This means that if you are not part of the hegemony wherein speech such as in the former picture is normalized this will not be visible to you. Concretely people in a conservative filter bubble don’t get access to the discourse at hand. (Sunstein, 2017)

Liberal versus Conservative News-sources

An important source of conservative news in 2020 is Donald Trump’s Twitter. If there is an issue that matters to conservatives in America it will most likely be on there.  He did not post anything about cultural representation or Mr. Boseman as is noted by the tweet written by a member of the Trump accountability project. I could also not find any reaction by Donald Trump.

Lack of reaction by Donald Trump

Barack Obama, an important liberal person in America, did tweet about Mr. Boseman’s passing and even emphasized how he was special as a Black gifted actor that could give black children someone to look up too. Thus Mr. Obama expresses that he thinks that through this work black people get representation in the media. The text and the fact that it was retweeted by the late Mr. Boseman’s account indicate that this is part of the cultural representation discourse.

Barrack Obama's reaction To Mr. Boseman's passing

Another important American conservative news source is Fox News, who did cover Chadwick’s passing. However the cultural representation aspect was not mentioned as you can see in the linked video and article. (Young, 2020) He is treated as every other celebrity. They do not engage in racialized discourse. This is opposed to the liberal coverage by CNN below. This article is longer and addresses the actor’s role as an icon for black power.
Lastly when one goes to google with no search history and searches for Chadwick Boseman death the first two pages cover almost exclusively liberal news sources. All the conservative news sources we examined did either not mention Mr Boseman’s death, or did so without connecting it to cultural representation. Liberal media sources do cover this. Conservative news sources are also less represented in google results on Mr. Boseman’s death.

We can thus see that condervative medeia do not engage with cultural representation discourse.

We can thus see that conservative media sources do not engage with cultural representation discourse. They seem to be out of the loop. T
The hegemony of the conservatives, as opposed to the liberal’s, does not really allow radicalized discourse.(Bonilla-Silva, 2015) The discourse does not fit into conservative hegemonies. Therefore conservative media sources who do not want to upset their audience choose to explicitly not cover this discourse. This is exacerbated through the filter bubble phenomenon as conservatives will rarely see coverage of the cultural representation discourse.(Sunstein, 2017) This is a feedback loop as the information that conservative sources disperse shapes the conservative hegemony. There is thus a circle. The discourse is not talked about because it is not normal. As it is not talked about it will not be normalized. In short, because these sources do not cover the cultural representation discourse, conservatives do not engage with it and vice versa.  (Blommaert, 2005)(Blommaert, 2019)

Conclusion

This all shows that the discourse on cultural representation spurred on by Chadwick Boseman’s death only reaches a certain portion of the population due to a combination of language repertoires, hegemony, and filter bubbles. The data shows that conservative media does not cover this discourse. Language repertoires play a role in this. Liberal language repertoires are dominant in this discourse. This assures that conservatives cannot function in this liberal dominated discourse. Furthermore, as racialized discourse is not normalized in conservative hegemony conservative media sources do not cover it and vice versa. This is exacerbated by filter-bubbles. (Sunstein, 2017) The hegemonies and social lives of these two groups shift further apart. This contributes to polarization. The information does not reach all groups equally and even powerful voices have trouble reaching people in opposing hegemonies. Publics are segregated and polarized because of a lack of interaction caused by filter bubbles, language repertoires, and hegemonies.(Hopkins & Sides, 2015)

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Young, J.(2020)Chadwick Boseman laid to rest earlier this month near South Carolina hometown, Fox News, retrieved from: https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/chadwick-boseman-buried-september-...