The Symbolic Violence Censoring Free Speech

Words by Anetha Sivanthan

[Editor’s note: This blog piece is the first in a series of four. To finish the series, please head to Ane’s blog: Unravelling Contemporary Violence]

War and terror are the tangible indicators of subjective violence often inspiring a myopia towards the everyday symbolic violence infiltrating our communication. Jordan Peterson’s viral interview with Cathy Newman promulgated 2018 into a digressive shift from the rhetoric of Othering, everyday sensationalism, fear of harassment and fake news inside the language of news media to executing a rational onscreen debate.

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Source: Newman’s Channel 4 interview ‘meme-fied’. Photo Source: Know Your Meme

Channel 4 viewers of the now iconic ‘gender pay gap debate’ were left astounded by Cathy Newman’s combative journalistic techniques against her interviewee, the clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. However, the most monumental moments were crafted by Peterson’s calm demeanour and anecdotally grounded answers to Newman’s subjective interrogation on the pay gap discussion. As Peterson discusses the crisis of masculinity, Newman steers the subject to criticise Peterson’s male audience on his YouTube channel. She points a ‘decisive’ finger at Peterson’s empirical observation of YouTube appealing to a male-oriented consumer market, while Tumblr attracts more females.

The interview espouses a reductionist approach eschewing Peterson’s ‘multi-varied analysis’ of the pay gap which expresses different contributing variables such as: personality, age and occupation.  Although, Newman not only reflects uncomfortably embarrassing journalism for Channel 4, she extrapolates Peterson’s statements for the mere purpose of sensationalism. She distorts his remarks adding her favourite aphorism, ‘so you’re saying’ to almost all her responses: ‘so you’re saying women want to dominate’ and later, ‘you’re saying it doesn’t matter.’ The busy, confrontational tone shuns Peterson’s important psychoanalytical perspective on gender and the significance of having political conversations over tenacious sensationalism is neglected.

The symbolic violence founded in Newman’s language rejects the empirical reasoning of Peterson’s argument in favour of portraying him as a sensationalised image of the Old Right. She emulates Zizek’s notion of the master-signifier where in speech, the ‘appearance of égalité is always discursively sustained by an asymmetrical axis of master verses servant’, thus within the dialectic of communication one will always attempt to dominate the other.  Nonetheless, as Peterson and Zizek note it is in exchange, regardless of being aggressive and imbalanced that we exercise our right to offend in the pursuit of truth and alternate meanings.

The interview labelled ‘gamechanger’, is a slap in the face to the media’s inherent predisposition to sensationalise and hyperbolise political opinions deviating from mainstream ideas. Newman’s attempt to sensationalise through language’s symbolic violence has satirically backfired with her ‘so what you’re saying’ now subjected to numerous ‘meme-ifications.’ Furthermore, Channel 4’s other examples of these interrogational style of interviews have been brought into contestation, especially with regards to journalist Krishna Guru-Murthy’s explosive 2013 interview with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino in the infamous interview, stated he was ‘shutting {his} butt down’ and reminded Guru-Murthy, ‘I am not your slave and you’re not my master.’

Subsequently, how do we repudiate news media’s symbolic violence contained within this master/slave paradigm to formulate a discursive that seeks balanced conversations on prevailing questions about gender, religion and politics? Balanced conversations are essential to removing the discourse that seeks to ‘Other’ and subversively, the fear of harassment associated with declaring ‘non-conformist’ opinions. The imperative for balanced political conversations is more evident than ever in an alarmingly fractious society.







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