Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Constructing 'the protesters'

"protesters...are beginning to flood the downtown core" (Toronto Star)

"protesters descend on the city" (CTV)
"Feeding the protesters" (Toronto Star)

I was talking to my students last week about how the G20 protesters are figured as people on the fringe, non-Torontonians, and, implicitly, non-Canadian. The first two quotes make the non-Torontonian and non-Canadian claims, I think. The protesters, who we know to be a menacing collective because the media's occasionally using the definite article ('the'), are not from 'here' because they are flooding or descending from some shadowy place of anarchy to transform the ostensibly safe-haven of Toronto into a zone of danger. (Euphemistically referred to as the 'security zone', of course, because Toronto cops surely aren't prone to violence, and dropping thousands of cops into an urban setting to quell protest has always had a calming effect. Clearly.)

The bit about feeding them also reinforces the sense that these people live dangerously on the margins. 'Feeding the protesters' not only frames a benevolent act of community as somehow brutish - it immediately recalls 'feed the animals', as in 'do not...' - but reminds us of the poverty (and all the things that poverty connotes - laziness, criminality, etc.) that characterizes many of the people who are protesting.

"Dress like a militant protester, you run the risk of being tear gassed" (Toronto Star)
"What the demonstrators are saying" vs. "What the public is saying" (Globe and Mail)

These distinctions also reinforce the split between protesters and the mainstream media's implied audience - non-protesters who are voyeurs and might have a perverse interest in the protesters, but can't possibly identify with them. The first article playfully infantilizes the protesters by reducing them to fashionistas ("militant and fabulous") who can be imitated as if they were Halloween costumes, while the second is even less subtle in drawing a clear distinction between the law-abiding citizen-readers and the fringe.

Because, clearly, one cannot oppose any aspect of the G20 Summit while also being a law-abiding citizen who reads the Globe and Mail or watches the CTV news.

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