IN DEPTH provides media analysis of selected media issues that has international relevance. This issue of IN DEPTH deals with the analysis of body images of Iranian women during the Green revolution in Iran. The study consists of two parts.
Islamic kaleidoscope: Western media discourse
and Iranian women
By KS Manu
Every thing is there, but floating - Roland Barthes
We live in a media-centric world, and every day conjure with different mediated realities, bombarded from varied corners. The media saturation is increasing day by day, and at the same time the borderline that stretch across reality and media reality is vanishing. This is due to the characteristic of news as a pre-existing discourse of an impersonal social institution which also represents an industry. (Hartley, 1982) As Hartley puts it, in discourses language systems and social conditions meet. Thus news as a discourse cannot deny the social, political and historical conditions of its production and consumption. The social, economic and political relations shape our every day interactions; these relations are experienced through different discourses which are structured by the generative system of language. That's how the forces at power, or the hegemony cleverly manipulates news, for which they use the language system to achieve their intended goals. News have a very important place in the informal situations we experience in our daily life, be it in a restaurant, work place or at the street. We usually interpret the world around us largely in terms of the codes we gather from news, and collectively make up a 'reality', from it, from the cleverly structured language system of news.
Media discourse and theoretical constructs
Media and its discourses has been analysed through various theoretical constructs. Marxists approaches have been instrumental in examining the relationship between media and society, particularly its role in contemporary capitalist societies, the relationship between ownership and control and the anatomy of media messages. Marx proposed that those who own the economic production also take the ownership of mental production. This underlines the fact that they have control over the dominant ideas of the time, and these ideas support their position of social power. In this way media function as part of the ideological state apparatus to generate messages which reinforce the ideology of bourgeoisie. (Althusser, 1971) Neo-Marxists like Gramsci (1971) took the Marxist viewpoint further to propose the hegemonic theory. Hegemony for him was a moral and philosophical leadership that was able to rule by winning the active consent of those over whom it rules. (Gramsci, 1971) Media has been the principal agent which supported the hegemony to remain in control, through it's cleverly crafted messages. Thus the media discourse and particularly the news discourse has been much significant for the hegemony. Mouffe, (1985) who combined Gramsci's ideas and post structuralist thought maintains that media plays an important role in the maintenance and reproduction of hegemony.
News discourse and hegemony
The western hegemonic powers very well know the power of news discourse to influence knowledge, beliefs, values, social relations and social identities. This signifying power, or the capacity to represent things in particular ways, is mainly a matter of how language is used. Thus any media representation, is made with a perfect understanding of what to include and what to exclude, what to 'foreground' and what to 'background.' This is evident in live news broadcasts by the CNN in their successive Gulf War coverages, in which it represented the US military officers as 'sober' and 'gentle' whereas the Iraqi resistance as 'cruel', 'inhuman' and 'unlawful.' Similar discourses continued to reign, (as a rule) in most of the western media, and which later culminated in the explicit confession of the made-up news and its gathering mechanism proved by embedded journalism. After 9/11 a shift came in the characteristics of news discourse; hitherto it was the triumph of the western, particularly US political and military hegemony, which has now replaced for a cultural war, representing Islam, Islamic issues or developments in Islamic nations having terrorist connotations or symbolising a base and uncivilised culture.
These media texts tend to pose three questions before the audience.
(1) How is the world (news events) represented?
(2) What identities are given for those who 'take part' in the news event (like the reporters, audience, and the 'third parties' referred or interviewed)?
(3) What relations are set up between those involved?
Thus it is not an arduous task to assess the particular representations, relationships or identities for relations of domination without getting involved in questions of truth. Critical discourse analysis cannot be indifferent to matters of truth whether it is a matter of how reports falsify by omitting part of what was done or said.(Herman, Chomsky, 1988) or a matter of false ideological premonitions. Halliday (1978) says that the 'ideational, interpersonal and textual' functions of language are always simultaneously at work in any text, and even in any particular sentence or clause. Thus representations, relations and identities are always simultaneously at issue in a media text;the ideational function of language accounts for its ability to present representations of the world; the interpersonal function helps it to constitute relations and identities. As Fairclough (1995) argues the wider social impact of media is not just to do with how they selectively represent the world, though it is a vitally important issue, it is also to do with the different social identities, the versions of 'self' they project and cultural values they give.
This study analyses news reports of The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, feeds from news agencies AP, AFP and popular photographs in western media during the Green Movement in Iran, and the subsequent Iranian polls to understand the characteristics of western media discourse.
Discourse analysis is used as the methodology for the research. Discourse Analysis (DA) examines how the social world is constructed through discourse. There are various branches of discourse analysis like conversation analysis, ethno- methodology; sociolinguistics; discursive psychology; critical discourse analysis etc. (Hughes, Bertrand, 2005) This study uses Critical Linguistics approach developed by Fowler et al as the discourse analysis technique. Critical linguistics is a developed by a group based at the University of East Anglia in the 1970s. Media discourse is one of the important area of study in Critical linguistics. It is based upon systemic linguistic theory (Halliday, 1978). Critical linguists view discourse as a field of both ideological process and linguistic processes and finds a determinate relation between them (Trew 1979) They are concerned with the representation and the ideation function, ie,how events , people and objects that are part of it are represented in grammar of clauses. The basic premise is that coding events in language entails choices among models which the grammar makes available, and that such choices are potentially ideologically significant. Such ideological-linguistic processes are also processes of struggle in which choosing to represent an event in one way may also be refusing to represent it in other currently available ways. Critical linguistics underlines the role of vocabulary choices in process of categorization. For example a study of gender discrimination in media reporting might consider how differences in the vocabulary used to refer to men and women assimilates people to pre-existing categorization systems of an ideologically powerful sort. A clause, which codes an event in terms of a particular type of process, will also assess the truth of probability of proposition so encoded and the relationship between producer and addressee(s). The concept of modality is used in a very general way to cover features of texts which ‘express speakers’ and writers’ attitudes towards themselves, towards interpreters and towards their subject matter (Fowler, 1979 & 1987) Choices of pronouns, modal auxiliaries, speech acts and many others are included within modality.
A comparison of the news stories on the stoning sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran and the execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia by Washington Post is a typical example of a clever balance of linguistic coordinates, that try to reconstruct identities, relationships and representations. The Ashtiani report slams Iran of the barbaric medieval practice of stoning to death, particularly a woman, for a case which the newspaper tells, did not get a fair trial. But the Teresa Lewis report upholds the fair trial it gave for the low IQ woman and the 'compassionate' ways in which the US justice department has handled the case.
The objectives of comparison
1. The study examines how media texts become multifunctional, simultaneously representing the world around and enacting social relations and identities using choices in vocabulary, grammar etc.
2. It also attempts to find how western media discourse interlinks both ideological process and linguistic process.
The news that appeared in the online edition of The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, feeds from news agencies AP, AFP during one week period from the breaking day were taken as sample for the study.
Table showing summary of analysis of Ashtiani and Teresa Lewis news reports
The stoning sentence against the 43 year old Sakineh Muhammadi Ashtiani has been put to hold and is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court but she still faces a possible death sentence by other means.
Astiani was convicted in 2006 of having an 'illicit relationship' with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes.
. The clause ‘but she (Astiani) still faces a possible death sentence by other means’ defuses the core information that ‘Ashtiani has been put to hold and is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court’
The quotes for 'illicit relationship' tells there is no evidence for the crime.
Ashtiani will not get a fair trial, and she will be definitely be executed
The unjust Islamic law, that gives more than one punishment for the same crime.
Teresa Lewis report
Teresa Lewis who plotted with her young lover to kill her husband and stepson for insurance money became the first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years Thursday night when she was killed by lethal injection
The clause ‘first woman executed in Virginia in nearly 100 years’ suggests that women are seldom given capital punishment in America
No criminal will escape the US law, even though its a woman or it is first time in history.
Civilised way of execution, no pain
America is a civilised society
The outcry over the case is one of the latest thorns in Iran's relationship with the international community as the US, EU and the international human rights group have urged Tehran to stay the execution.
Reports explores a falsely constructed human rights angle. Words like used to represent: 'thorns', 'outcry' are used to represent the clamour against Iran.
Internationalising the sentence for stoning rather than projecting the irrelevance of the sentence in modern times.
Politicising the issue, targeting Islamic laws
Teresa Lewis report
Lewis case generated passion and interest across the world. The EU asked the Virginia governor to commute her sentence to life, citing her mental capacity.
No politicising of the issue.
Sober words used to represent: 'generate passion', 'interest'
Even criminals sentenced for death sentence are given humanitarian considerations, unlike in other parts of the world
America is a humanitarian society
A woman identified as Ashtiani said in a state TV report shown on Monday “I am a sinner”
The clause ‘A woman identified as Ashtiani’ suggests that the news is fabricated
Report questions the veracity of news whether the woman appeared was Ashtiani.
Fabrication of truth.
Teresa Lewis report
'I just want Kathy to know that I love you, and I am very sorry.' Lewis said before the drugs were pumped into her arms
The statement reproduced ‘I love you, and I am very sorry,’ represents that the convict repents.
Voice of a truthful report, as if the reporter is a witness.
American people have strong sense and sensibility unlike portrayed by the independent media
The report also broadcast purpoted statements by two men whose faces were blurred that state TV identified as Ashtiani'sson and lawyer Houtan Kian. 'He told me to say she (Ashtiani) was tortured', Qaderzadeh said. 'Unfortunately I listened to him and said lies to the foreign media.”
The clauses ‘purpoted statements’, ‘ state TV identified as’ etc and pieces of conversation suggests that the story itself is fabricated.
Iran is trying to cover up the issue.
Iranian media always tell lies.
Teresa Lewis report
Lewis spent most of her final day with her family. Virginia correctional services said that she asked for a last meal of fried chicken breasts, a dessert and Dr.Pepper.
Sensational portrayal of the story so as to create a sympathy with the convict.
The convicts are given humanitarian considerations.
The US court verdicts are final, good justice system.
The analysis of the above media texts in the perspective of discourse practice suggests that the western media has made use of every possibility of linguistic mechanisms that makes texts transform and embed other texts which are in chain relationship with them. (Fairclough, 1995). Here the conjunctions used are generally temporal (now, after) the tense is mostly past, the processes are actional (spent) or mental (I love you) and the characters in the news story are the subjects of the clauses. The reports uses both the discourse used in represented discourse attributed to the ‘voice of others’ ('I just want Kathy to know that I love you, and I am very sorry.' / 'He told me to say she (Ashtiani) was tortured',) in quotes and through discourses which are not attributed and tells the ‘voice’ of the report itself. Reports show that media texts do not act as mirrors of reality, but they present versions of it, depending on the objectives of those who produce them. Thus representational process in a text depends on the choices made, or what is included, what is excluded and what is foregrounded and what is backgrounded. These media texts uses presuppositions to establish represented realities as convincing; which is achieved through intelligent and purposive sequencing of the clauses. Thus news emerges as a distinct discourse.
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- The Washington Post, Nov15, 2009, online edition
The portrayal of Iranian women
Post-September 11 western media activity shows a calculated and vigorous attack on the Middle East in the name of investigative journalism on 'war on terror'. Thus a distorted media image of the Arab people is becoming ingrained not only in American culture but also around the world who consumes the 'world news' of the global television channels. Television programs, motion pictures, novels, and comics, help promote these distorted images of Arab people to unsuspecting audiences, and these audiences relay the image to subsequent audiences.(Shaheen, 1985) Recently the Western media is all set to attack Iran, disseminating images of Iranian women, with a distorted message. The discursive constructs of the western media about Muslim women has been under scrutiny of media watchers around the world for some time. The images of Afghan and Arab women are now familiar to the people of the West through photographs and video footages of the western media. This new found fascination for the body image of Muslim women cannot be dismissed as human interest pieces in the routine news coverage. Different connotations are conveyed through the images of burqa, abayas, chador, coloured headscarfs and body images of Muslim women but all have a common denominator of Islamic hatred, especially after 9/11. The western media has thus made the veil, a powerful political weapon for the sake of the hegemony, even in instances where it was symbol of self assertion for the Arab womanhood. They have tried to interpret the veil, with a purpose of propagating the western, particularly the American viewpoint of Islam, blatantly asserting that veil and Islamic ideology are one and the same. (Afzal-Khan, 2005). The interpretations of the veil through various media was the beginning of the rhetoric of demonization of the Muslim world, particularly Iran (Victor Navasky, 2002) The veil, to be precise, covering and uncovering assumes significant meanings in the historical context of Iran. But the media discourse of the west do not take into account the historic veracity of the denouements. Thus hijab turns out to be a symbol of Iran's backwardness, arrogant and conservative political stance towards women’s rights and progress and also that of Islam.
Women and Iranian polity
The face of Iranian women is one of most debating features among the other Islamic and non-Islamic countries of Middle-East region and even in non-neighboring nations. During post election reformist movement or so the called Green Movement Iranian women become a permanent representation in media around the world and especially in western media.
Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 the relationship between state and women in Iran became complex. On the one hand the state tried to keep the female bodies and faces on the central stage of revolution, while at the same time, it forcibly attempted to shape them as so-called 'Islamic women’. Iranian women have striven to utilise the pivotal role given to them by trying to conquer enclosed public spaces. During immediate post- revolutionary period representation of Iranian women as veiled domesticated woman attained more significance. During this time compulsory veiling was legislated, co-education banned and segregation imposed in many public areas. Most significant was the 1979 abrogation of the family, effectively denying women’s right to divorce and re-establishing men's unlimited right of divorce. Women voices were banned from radio and female singers barred from television.
As a part of modernization, many Islamic countries encourage women to unveil, but in Iran 're-veiling' made mandatory for women as a precondition to appear in public spaces, where women presence were quiet visible. Being marginalized after revolution, Iranian women learned how to overcome obstacles of the veil and they constantly tried to reinvent strategies to overcome existing powers. However re-veiling and segregation and public space helped many conventional and religious women to enter public spaces.
Following the presidential election in June 13, 2009, Iran entered a new phase in its political history. Wide range of protests occurred against the disputed victory of the present Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and in support of opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi. The protestors (given different titles by their proponents including Green revolution , Green Wave, Sea of Green , Persian Awakening ) arranged massive demonstrations in streets , universities and even in definite realms of pro-governmental groups like Namaz-e Jome ( Friday pray). The role of Iranian women in opposition movement was so obvious that even the first victim of street harshness was a female, 26-year Neda Agha-Soltan, music student who was brutally killed in a gunshot at Tehran. Here we are not pondering the reason for increasing 'female presence' in Iran's public space, but we need to analyze how the western media discourses misrepresent this 'women presence ' in public sphere as part of their discursive war (of course ideological also) against 'Islam' and 'nuclear Iran'.
Scope and significance of the study
Even though colorful and richer, representations of Iranian women in western media discourses are prejudiced and politically motivated. The western media simplified or even nullified political content of the Green Movement in Iran and created an over whelming visual trope. Colorful photograph of young and pretty Iranian women wearing colorful and lose headscarf usually pinned far back from her forehead to frame a sweep of dark or highlighted hair, occupied most of the media reports. The photographs were highlighted to show people's desire for a 'change' to western style democracy. But it is not as simple as a desire to transform from a 'pre-modern society to western style democracy, that desire itself has the underpinnings of complex historic and political process that western media discourses ignored or failed to address. Western discourses were prejudiced about 'Islam' and 'women inside Iran '. Hijab is often represented as a political oppression in the west, indirectly claiming western society is more 'democratic' and ‘modernized’. The monolithic western media images solely concentrated on female body, ignored emerging women leadership, their role as a voter and influence of art and popular culture in political performances.
The scope and significance of the study lies in finding out how the Iranian women conquered enclosed political space in Iran. The question leads us to complexities of internal polity of Iran and historical struggles initiated by the various women movements in Iran, such as unveiling which does not mean 'democracy', 'modernity' and ‘women freedom’ as the western media texts represented.
Objectives of the study
The objectives of the study are to
- Analyse the stereotypic images of opposition movements in Iran, in the western media
- Analyse the western media discourse that used 'glamour' and 'fashion' as synonyms of revolution
- Find out how western media discourses sidelined protesting religious /veiled women to achieve their ideological ends.
- Analyse how the pro-governmental powers tried to control the public political and social behaviors using distorted media images and manipulated western media images to justify their claim of 'antinational' and 'foreign' involvement in revolution.
- Study the representation of the body of Iranian women in western media texts
- Analyse how western Orientalism has helped the western media discourse in the misrepresentation of Muslim ‘Other’
Popular photographs that appeared in the online editions of major news papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and news agencies AP, AFP during the Iranian polls were taken for analysis
Limitations of the study
This study has a number of limitations. The research is limited to news paper and agency reports that appeared in the main US newspapers. Reports on television which of course had a greater impact is not taken as population for this study. Interviews of activists in Iran, which is very much fruitful for the study, can be done only on a limited scale due to restrictions. Similarly the media reports from UK and other parts of the West are not included in the study.
Semiotic analysis is used to analyse the photographs of the Iranian women, which were circulated in the western media during the Green Movement in Iran. Semiotics originates primarily in the work of two people, Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce. Saussure showed that there are two components to every sign. One is the vehicle which expresses the sign called the ‘signifier.’ The other part of the sign is called the ‘signified.’ The signified is the concept which the signifier calls forth when we perceive it. The sign is the inseparable unity of the signifier with the signified, since in fact we never have one without the other.
Although linguistic signs comes directly from Saussure, semiotic analysis of images and other non-verbal signs is made much more effective by some of Peirce’s distinctions. Roland Barthes (Cobley.P, 1996) is the French critic who has contributed the other ideas in semiotics. His ideas take us closer to the semiotic analysis of contemporary media. We use signs to describe and interpret the world, it often seems that their function is simply to ‘denote’ something, to label it. When we consider advertising, news, and TV or film texts, it will become clear that linguistic visual and other kinds of signs are used not simply to denote something, but also to trigger a range of connotations attached to the sign. Barthes calls this social phenomenon, the bringing together of signs and their connotations to shape a particular message, the making of ‘myth’. Media texts often connect one signified idea with another, or one signifier with another, in order to attach connotations to people and things and endow them with mythic meanings. Barthes used semiotics as tool for analysing aspects of everyday culture and studied a wide variety of cultural phenomena from wrestling matches to Greta Garbo and from Citroen’s latest car to steak and chips (Cobley.P, 1996)
Images of revolt
Figure 1. Protesting Iranian woman
Fig 2. Iranian woman showing ink-mark on
finger after casting vote / GettyImages
|Figure 3. Loose scarf as symbol of protest|
|Figure 4. Chic Mousavi supporter during elections|
Figure 5. Portrayal of Ahmedinejad’s supporters during pol
Roland Barthes in his essay The photographic message (1997) deals with newspaper photographs in semiotic terms. He says that the news photographs always denote something, but the connotations are always significant and interesting. The connoted message of these iconic signs depend on what is denoted, but always tells something deep like providing a mythic significance that includes and shapes the decoding of a photograph’s connotation.
Press photographs are generally selected from among a number of images and might have cropped or ‘worked upon’ to change colour, contrast or any other aspect. Thus news photographs are ‘treated’ pieces that cater to professional, aesthetic or ideological norms carry several aspects of connotation (Barthes, 1977) Thus each photograph need not be a natural image but images selected to give a particular connotation. The photographs also gain meanings from the newspaper context, which also includes the reader’s expectations of the newspaper. Usually pictures appear along with the news and thus the have a wider connotation with reference to the totality of the news, as Barthes says, ‘the text loads the image, burdening it with culture, a moral, an imagination’ (Barthes, 1977) The caption just below the photograph also provide linguistic meanings that shape the reading of the picture. The photographs that appeared along with the news stories in western media about Iranian polls underlines Barthes’ argument. The colourful and richer, representations of Iranian women in western media discourses were prejudiced and politically motivated. It simplified or even nullified political content of the Green Movement in Iran and created an over whelming visual trope.
Colour rich photographs of young and pretty Iranian women wearing colorful and lose headscarf usually pinned far back from her forehead to frame a sweep of dark or highlighted hair, occupied most of the media reports.
The above news photographs denote people's desire for a 'change' to western style democracy. The Gucci sunglasses (Fig.2) and the coloured scarf of the woman and her assertion of political participation through the display of ink marked index finger, gives a wider connotation that Iranian women has a strong political will, and their desire for change is so strong. The photographs shown have a rich display of colour, and colour is used as a metaphor, to denote the changing political opinion in Iran. Another point to be noted is the way photographs were taken. They have centred women either in close-up or a big close-up. The colours are accentuated, not only the white colour of the body, but also the coloured dress they wear. In (fig.3.) even though the woman protester is wearing a chador and a burqua, the green scarf on her forehead and the white mask is focussed, and colours accentuated. Similarly in (fig.5), the tri-colour flag that covers the mouth is in focus; the pink headscarf’s in (fig.1& fig.2) and the green marks on the woman’s face in (fig.4) adds what Barthes calls ‘trick’ effects. These trick effects with colours intelligently intervene to load a bunch of connotations about the inherent desire for freedom and democracy in Iran.
Another is the pose of women in all these photographs, which are against the Islamic religious and cultural prescriptions. Barthes also regards ‘pose’ as a coding system (Barthes, 1997) that creates connotations. Different emotions and state of mind like ire (fig.1), self assertion (fig.2), defiance (fig.3), and jubilation (fig.4) which are against conservative Islamic codes are connoted through different poses of women. The choice of which pose to photograph someone in is a choice of what to denote in the picture, but also a choice of about which cultural codes are brought to bear when constructing the connoted meaning of the photograph (Bignell, 2002)
The third one is the ‘objects’ that images carry, to load connotations. The loose head scarfs (fig.1; fig.2; & fig.3), the Gucci sunglasses (fig.2 & fig.4), and the pink lipstick(fig.2) are objects that connotes the liberated new women of Iran, and their long desire to break the conservative religious rebukes.
The inner meanings of hijab
But it is not as simple as a desire to transform from a 'pre-modern society to western style democracy, that desire itself has the underpinnings of complex historic and political process that western media discourses ignored or failed to address. Western discourses were prejudiced about 'Islam' and 'women inside Iran '.
Hijab is represented as a symbol of political oppression in the west, indirectly claiming western society is more 'democratic' and ‘modernized’. The monolithic western media images solely concentrated on female body, ignored emerging women leadership, their role as a voter and influence of art and popular culture in political performances. The images of the Mousavi supporters and that of Ahmedinejad’s supporters tell the visual elements used by the western media to unleashed a malicious campaign against Ahmedinejad. The photograph showing Ahmedinejad supporters in black chadors portray him as antidemocratic, conservative and anti-modern.
The visual culture of today's media-centric world is determined by the television and cinema. These media define the images about body and beauty, and they are even capable of subverting the pre-conceived notions of society in this regard. The advent of the global television, that has changed visual culture of the people around the world, through purposeful selection and transmission of images, has also contributed to redefine the perception of body image. The western media in turn reinforced this through frequent bombarding of these selective images through news, television programmes and films. The narratives of such reports broods around sex, even though not explicitly, channelling the audience to a cleverly crafted sensuality underneath. Thus through a planned and sustained effort the global television and its agenda setters have made sensuality the denominator of the new visual culture. It is this sensuality which is manipulated by different media interests and even the hegemony to lure people and to retain the status quo; be it sports (as you see in the footages of synchronised swimming, or rhythmic gymnastics) or politics (as suggested by the pictures of beautiful Iranian women). The number of news channels available today prove that politics is hotter than sports. The western hegemony has cleverly identified this, and has added sensuality as a hidden news value to make news more hotter. The new found fascination of the western media in the adorning of hijab and the body image of Arab women in general is thus a strategy of hegemony, to attract people to follow their propaganda. This can also work well in getting the messages across a big cross-section, especially those who are not interested in politics.
Hijab even though it is symbolic of the historicity, religious ideology and identity of Iran virtually becomes a tool of political propaganda and manipulation in the hands of the western hegemony. For many decades the western media has been portraying a sensational picture of Iran, which is focussed on sexual repression and violence against women. The highly religious and conservative moralist policies of the State that imposes strict regulations, its ideological opinions on women and sexuality etc. has been viewed as political repression and suppression of women's rights by the government. Thus body images Iranian woman assumes greater significance, as 'simultaneously a physical and symbolic artefact. This is greatly evident in the above photographs of Iranian women circulated by the western media. Thus the beauty of women engaged in political actions, fascinates (lures) the viewers and creates an interest in the news. Here it is to be noted that the women supporters of the Mahmoud Ahmedinejad are photographed with their black chador (Fig.5) and that of the opposing Mir Hussein Mousavi were portrayed in their coloured hijabs, and fashionable attires.(Fig.4) Mousavi was supported by the western media, and the campaign of unpopularity against Ahmedinejad through various media including You Tube, Twitter and Face Book, used these photographs to garner public support. For the western media and the hegemony the body images of chic women protesters wearing fashionable attires represented the new democratic spirit of Iran represented by Mousavi. Iran's history tells that wearing of the hijab has been accounted a political act during various regimes. In 1936 Reza Shah banned the hijab, in an effort to modernize Iran and women were forcefully unveiled by the police in streets, but Iranian women protested against Shah's regime, adorning the black chador, as a symbol of self-assertion and protest. As Nima Naghibi puts it the political protest of women in Iran continues through veiling and unveiling. Women continue to be focal point of every political protest; political parties too nurture the political visibility of women, as a symbol of political strength. Thus contemporary media has made women a symbol of political strength, and represents women as a controversial political subject. While political process tries to extend visibility and legitimacy to women, media tries to sensationalise it, thus political participation of women and their representation by the media becomes controversial terms. Here the fact is that media often tend to ignore the cultural and historical backgrounds of the women they symbolise. Thus as Butler J.(1999) says 'women’s lives were either misrepresented or not represented at all'.
Orientalism explains the various branches of thought and the methodology through which the West had its tryst with the East. According to Edward Said, Orientalism itself is a discourse, and it is through which the west dominates the uncivilized 'Other'. It defines Orient as primitive, weird, exotic and devoid of political will and self-government. According to Said, discourse is the system through which hegemony weaves its own ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’, it interweaves social and power relations. Thus representations that comes as part of the discursive practice is made with other ingredients along with ‘truth’. Thus the 'Other’ was created by the West as its alter ego which is barbaric, irrational, despotic, and inferior. When coming to the situation in Iran, it is the 'Muslim Other', which the western hegemony is trying to interpret, and is done mainly through the media discourse. One typical example is, as Edward Said has pointed out, the 'fundamentalism', a word which has more association with Islam in the contemporary global political context. The media discourse has interpreted it in such a manner that Islam and fundamentalism are mutually interchangeable words. Thus it shows a tendency to reduce Islam to a handful of rules, stereotypes, and generalisation about faith , its founder and all of its people, then the reinforcement of all the negative facts associated with Islam- its violence, primitiveness, atavism, threatening qualities- is perpetuated' (Said, 1997)
Here our point of concern is the misrepresentation of western media discourses regarding the 'political visibility’ of Iranian women during so called Green revolution in Iran. Orientalist belief asserts that ‘political visibility’ is impossible for 'a Muslim woman’ living in country like Iran. If they have achieved such a ‘visibility’ in public space, it might be due to their ‘urge for westernization'. What was disregarded in western media reports was the role of Iranian women as a ‘political subject’ , and agents of change for their religion, by re-reading and re-interpreting Quran. Ascendancy of Iranian women as 'political subject’ has complex historical relation with ‘state’, ‘religion’ and 'family', which is not perceived in the representations of the western press, which are primarily 'ahistoric'. Another example is the recent coverage of the Egyptian protest by the western media. It has largely suppressed and filtered women's presence in the massive upsurge. Presence of Egyptian women in protest was 'silenced’ and they were represented as ‘traditional ’passive’ Muslim women. On the other hand 'Iranian’ women’s visibility in public space was misrepresented as ‘urge for westernization’. Both these images in western media , about women from two Islamic countries , was well fed by the ‘orientalist’ notion about Islam and Muslim women .
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