Monday, June 2, 2014

Don't "Other" Me, Bro!

AP Photo of Evan Spiegel by Jae C. Hong.  Photo of Carl DeMaio courtesy of Politico.

You may not be familiar with the term, “Othering.”  It has to do with characterizing people as being of “The Other.”  Those individuals grouped as “The Other” are bad people.  They are not good, regular people like you and me.

It’s a subtle technique used in American culture to intensify group exclusion.  You belong to an identity group, and you want to be popular.  An easy way to accomplish this is to characterize non-group members as inferior outsiders.  The people not in your group become “The Other.”

As the 2014 midterm elections approach, we will see this technique employed in American political ads.  There will be the “(Insert Republican) is too extreme for (Insert State)” advertisements that have been a staple of the Democratic Party for the past 20 years.

But watch for something more subtle.  The graphic at the top of this post is combined from two news stories that were featured last week.  On the left is Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat and a recent entrant into America’s 1% culture.  On the right is Carl DeMaio, a candidate for Congress from California, running in San Diego’s CD-52.

The two hotlinks connect to news stories about these individuals, but the graphics are what are instructive.  One graphic displays a confident individual who knows he is a member of the popular culture and is secure in his identity group. The other displays a concerned individual who knows he is in danger and conveys anxiety.

Both are public figures, but one is subtly cast as “The Other.”  You don’t have to know the back story to understand that one of these individuals is in trouble and the other is not.

Our news stories either humanize or de-humanize individuals.  Here are some examples from the humanization side:

--Donald Sterling is battling dementia.

--Robert Byrd was doing what he had to do to get elected.

--Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is simply caught up in tending to his media dynasty.

And this is the dehumanization side:

Note the side-by-side comparison here and the fawning coverage here.

When you next come across a news story, take a moment to consider whether you are seeing “reporting” or witnessing “Othering.”

UPDATE 11/11/2014:
Carl DeMaio lost his bid for Congress.  That's a shame, but it shows "11th hour smears" are effective. 
UPDATE 6/15/2015:
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Todd Bosnich, the DeMaio campaign staffer who initiated the smear, has taken a plea bargain from federal prosecutors.  Mr. Bosnich says he fabricated the allegations against Mr. DeMaio and has entered a plea of "guilty" to obstruction of justice for lying to the FBI.