Визуальный Интернет-юмор, как фактор



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Правительство Российской Федерации
Федеральное государственное автономное образовательное учреждение

высшего профессионального образования
«Национальный исследовательский университет
«Высшая школа экономики»

Факультет философии, отделение востоковедения


Магистерская диссертация

Визуальный Интернет-юмор, как фактор

развития общественности в Китае (2013-2014)

Студент группы MA-2

Мустафина М.О.
Руководитель ВКР

К.и.н., профессор Маслов А.А.



Москва, 2014 г.

Contents


List of Tables, Graphs and Figures …………………………………………...……….…...

3

Introduction…………………………………………………………………...………..…..

4

1. Public Sphere in China: Theoretical Basis, History and Reality……………..………….

12

2. The Internet as a Weak Public Sphere: Features, Regulations and the Adaptation to the Chinese Context…………………………………………………………………….………

23

2.1 Characteristics of the Chinese Internet infrastructure and cyberspace-regulating laws…………………………………………………….……………………………...……

23

2.2 Freedom of Speech Controversy ……………………………..….………………

27

3. Analysis of User-edited Humorous Images……………………………....……….……..

33

3.1 Results……………………………………………………………..…….……….

34

3.1.1 Critique of Officials……………………………………...…..…………......

35

3.1.2 Environmental Problems………………………………..……………....….

39

3.1.3 Censorship ……………………………………………………….…...……

41

3.1.4 Leaders…………………………………………..………..……….……….

44

3.1.5 Society……………………………………………………..……….………

46

Conclusion…………………………………………………………...……………..………

50

Primary and Secondary Sources………………………………………..……………..……

54

Primary Sources……………………………………………………..…..………..……

54

Secondary Sources………………………………………………….…………....…….

56

Internet-based Secondary Sources………………………………….…………..……...

57

Appendix I. Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Strengthening Information Protection on Networks……….…………………………...…..

60

Appendix II. People's Republic of China State Council Order No. 292……….………..…

62

Appendix III. List of Violations, Microblogging Community Management Regulations (Trial), Article 4………………………...…………………………………………………..

67

Appendix IV. Visual and Content Analysis of Images……………………………..……...

70

Appendix V. Examples of Images Analyzed………………………………………………

81

List of Tables, Graphs and Figures

Table 1. Number of Internet users in China, 2007-2013…………..……….......

24

Table 2. Table 2. Quantitative Data of Visual Analysis and Content Analysis of Images………………………………………………………………….……

47

Graph 1. Internet penetration among urban and rural population of China, 2008-2013………………………………………………………………………

25

Graph 2. Age structure of Internet users in China, 2009-2013…………..…….

26

Graph 3. Educational structure of Internet users in China, 2009-2013………………………………………………………………………….…

26

Figure 1. Example of Critique of Officials category………………..…….……

35

Figure 2. Example of Critique of Officials category………………...…………

35

Figure 3. Example of Critique of Officials category…………...………………

35

Figure 4. Example of Environmental Problems category…………………..….

39

Figure 5. Example of Environmental Problems category………………....……

39

Figure 6. Example of Environmental Problems category……………….…...…

39

Figure 7. Example of censorship category……………………………..…….…

41

Figure 8. Example of censorship category…………………..……………….…

41

Figure 9. Example of censorship category……………………………..…….…

41

Figure 10. Example of Censorship category (deleted image)……………..……

43

Figure 11. Example of Leaders category………………………….……………

44

Figure 12. Example of Leaders category……………………………………….

44

Figure 13. Example of Leaders category (deleted image)……………..…….…

45

Figure 14. Example of Society category…………………………………...…...

46

Introduction
The problem of freedom of expression in China has been topical since the times of Tian’anmen events of 1989, when the truth about the protests was successfully concealed. Since then the liberal journalists of the West (and by the West we mean here the USA and Europe) have been quite persistent in their search for grassroots political activity in China. With the Introduction of Web 2.0 method of Internet pages development, which introduced interactivity to the cyberspace: Web 2.0 allows commenting, editing and adding information by the users anonymously. However, China has found a way to, again, quite successfully control this type of platform, namely, online censorship. While technically textual analysis has been developed well in the years of Internet introduction which allows quick censorship, the technical side of automatic visual analysis is not quite well-developed yet. This and the increasing affordability of digital cameras and image editing software has made images the most popular content on the Internet, and moreover, this made images a tool for broadening the space for free expression under the conditions of censored cyberspace. The images acquired the immediate nature, became more linked to the time and place where they were taken, and therefore, more embedded in the context, as well as presenting some kind of content. These two characteristics of images – content and context – have now become the main object of anthropological interest. Favero argues that the new technologies ‘modify our ways of relating to and addressing the visual field’, as the world has witnessed the emergence of new ‘image-making communication practices’. New technologies enable the ‘translation of visions and abstract ideas into physical items’, as ‘each image carries on a surplus of meaning made up by its spatialization, its materialization of movement and memory, its insertion into a variety of maps, networks and relations’ [18; 178]. This is the reason for choosing this topic for development.

The rationale of the research is based on the growing interest of the public to the freedom of speech and democratic movement problems in China, which, being a powerful player on the international arena, is often accused of violation of human rights and freedoms. While not being able to express themselves freely, netizens find different ways of avoiding the censorship, and images is one of these ways. The study of images may reveal information about the trends in the Chinese Internet society, Chinese popular culture, and moreover, public opinion about politically sensitive issues. These peculiarities determine the interdisciplinarity of the paper, which, on the one hand, will look at the sociological aspects of the Chinese public sphere, on the other hand, will incorporate cultural studies knowledge.

The chronological borders were determined as 2013 – 2014. It can seem to be a very short period for investigation, however, since our attention is focused on the Internet content and the speed of updating information on the Internet is enormous, it would be hard to find to find data for analysis as web pages are refreshed very often, and it would also be extremely hard to systematize the huge amounts of information available.

For the examination of the visual content the following methodology was adopted:



  1. Nancy Fraser’s concept of weak and strong public spheres, which are, according to her, independent and can be in conflict with each other, incorporate different social groups and have different purposes: from influencing the government and taking part in decision making to existing for the sake of existence.

  2. Postmodernist understanding of images as texts. Postmodernist paradigm allowed the shift from verbal text to a visual one, as an image is considered a text, too. The visual anthropology looks for the meanings in the form of visual representation as well as the conditions under which this particular form of representation was chosen. As Yarskaya points out, visual anthropology is at the moment more focused on the activity providing the 'dialog of cultures' [31; 18]. A camera easily turns a viewer into a creator, and as an ordinary citizen takes a camera in their hands, the camera becomes a tool for expression of the needs and demands of this particular individual or a group, to which this individual belongs. This element of participation is what becomes a focus of a scholar's attention, as the product of such a participatory image-producing activity is the representation of the social processes of the contemporary reality. And therefore for the analysis of visual materials it is crucial to define the knowledge that is necessary for the understanding of the situation captured in the image.

Sztompka points out that from the point of view of dominant cultural features three successive historical epochs can be distinguished: oral, verbal, and visual [28; 6]. Oral epoch is characterized by the dominance of oral communication, which greatly limits the circle of possible communicators as they have to be close to each other. During the second epoch the circle of possible participants of the communication widened, as the recording of oral information enabled storing and transmitting the data. With the oncoming of visual epoch an image, visual representation has gained greater significance in transmitting the information, knowledge, emotions, esthetic perception and values. Images can influence not only the consciousness, but also the unconscious [28; 6].

This transition has become possible thanks to new media and the Internet technologies. In total, there have been three turning points in the process of new cultural epoch establishment: the invention of photography, which enabled the multiplication and zooming of images; the invention of a copy machine, which enabled the massive multiplication of the same image; and finally the invention of electronic registration, copying and moving of images with the help of television, computers and later Internet technologies. The last stage has broken the limitations of space and time, and has embedded an image into the urban environment, so that the visual perception has become an integral part, if not a replacement, of the textual perception. This domination of visual images has resulted in the formation of new ways of thinking and new ways of exploring the world. Sztompka even sees in the process of image domination a return of the cultures to the 'primitive pre-linguistic communities' [28; 10] in the West, but considers this process more or less natural for the Eastern cultures with ideographic writing system, which includes China.



However, sociology of the postmodernist society admits the unequal spread of the visual among the communities, which can be explained by the difference in the perception due to different cultural background, as it is considered that every culture predetermines the specificity of perception [28; 18]. According to Hall, different strain on vision, hearing and smelling in different cultures created by people, leads to absolutely different perception of space and absolutely different relations between the people, as ‘every culture creates its own perceptual worlds’ [28; 14]. There is also a factor of different conventional amount of visual content in a particular context pre-determined by its functions, such as political, familial, professional, entertaining, etc. In case of China, a culture with an ideographic writing system, the spread of visual is quite vast there, and the culture of visual expression is also well-developed. This allows us regard visual content posted on the Internet as representation of people‘s opinion and analyze the former with the purpose of revealing the latter.

  1. Theory of humor by Neuendorf, who argued it to be ‘an important additional filter through which individuals may view and cognitively process issues of contestation and importance’ [26; 8]. According to Gong and Yang, comic effects are usually achieved through ‘recontextualization’ and by ‘treating a low subject with mocking dignity’ and, conversely, ‘handl[ing] serious situations in a trivial manner’ [20; 12]. Another important characteristic of parody are: the self-entertainment, oriented and individual-based creation and consumption [20; 14]. Parody, or egao, serves also as a channel to vent his dissatisfaction with the established norms (the film, the social problems, etc.). As audiences laugh along, they identify with the critiques and laugh off their feelings of discontent as well. In a way, egao serves simultaneously as a means for critical expression and for emotional catharsis [20; 15].

For the primary sources the following materials were taken:

  1. China Digital Times (CDT) portal: an independent news portal, located in Berkeley, CA, which was established in 2003 as a blog and then grew into a big news-related organization. This paper used its section Drawing the News for picking up the most popular uncensored images 2013-2014 from Weibo for sampling. Only images with the logo of Weibo were taken for the analysis. It is unclear, though, what the choice of images for the section is based on, there are no evidence of the number of reposts in the pages.

  2. ProPublica project: 'an independent non-profit newsroom that produced investigative journalism in the public interest’ [12]. The organization is based in NY. The newsroom won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. The newsroom launched a project of tracking the deleted Weibo posts and registering them on July 24, 2013, and finished the project on August 4, 2013. The methodology they used was based on the double-response system, when the script they created checked the presence of a post by finding it, and then by receiving their response in an hour. As a result of the project 524 deleted images were revealed and presented on the website. For our sample we only picked those of them which contained humorous images.

  3. WeiboScope: a data collection and visualization project based in the University of Hong Kong. It does the same thing as ProPublica project: gathers responses from the posts of a group of users having the biggest number of followers. Before May 2014 Weiboscope showed the popular images in Weibo, but starting from May 2014 it has only shown the deleted posts. Therefore only the deleted posts of humorous content published firstly in the period May 28, 2014 – June 02, 2014, were taken for the analysis.

  4. The Internet in China, white paper published in 2010 by the Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China as a reaction to the Google’s actions in China after the company revealed the violation of private accounts by the Chinese censorship office.

  5. National People’s Congress Standing Committee Decision concerning Strengthening Network Information Protection: a legal document published on December 28, 2012 on the website of the government: www.npc.gov.cn.

  6. List of Violations, Microblogging Community Management Regulations (Trial): part of Terms of Use document basic for the registration on the microblogging service Weibo.

  7. Decree of the State Council of the People's Republic of China (No. 292): a legal document published September 25, 2000; the text is open at the website of the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China: http://www.mps.gov.cn.

  8. Survey Reports of China Internet Network Information Center: statistical data presented in a form of yearbook, with main information on traffic volumes, domain names, users statistics and content on the Internet. Free accessed at http://www1.cnnic.cn/.

The history of the topic development in academic circles cannot be said to be very rich. Partially it is due to the fact that Internet-mediated content has only recently started gaining popularity among visual anthropologists, partially because humor studies are still underdeveloped and the topic of Internet humor is still underestimated by the researches. The only significant work in this field is written by Haomin Gong and Xin Yang, who explore the impact of the Chinese digitized parody (恶搞 ègǎo) on the development of means of political expression in China. By egao they mean ‘a form of parody, with a level of inevitable comic and satiric effects. Like other parodic practices, egao usually imitates the parodied texts, or blatantly transplants parts or all of them into an entirely different text or context. By so doing, they create ironic incongruity that triggers humor and laughter and form varying kinds of polemical relationships with the texts and/or matters that they satirize’ [20; 4]. Through the analysis of a video parody … Gong and Yang stress the fact that the emergence of cyberspace has lead not only to the creation of new physical phenomena, but through paradoxical decentralization and personalization of the society gave a start to the formation of self-organized groups. At the same time the emergence of cyberspace was accompanied by the process of social re-stratification following the commercialization stage, which resulted in the cultural uncertainty and rise of the parody activities. The drawback of their article is its concentration on egao, which, although being a really popular genre of Internet activity, only refer to video products and do not include images.

The object of this study is the Internet-based visual humor as text representative of the state of the Chinese public sphere. The subject of the study is visual techniques and topics characteristic of the humorous images present in the medium of Chinese social networks.

The following hypothesis was proposed for the study: the expressive potential of Internet-mediated visual humor facilitates the establishment and active development of a separate Internet-based public sphere under the conditions of strict censorship policy.

To prove the hypothesis the following goal to identify the influence of Internet-based visual humor on the framing of public opinion and development of a separate Internet-based public sphere in China was set. The goal implies three research tasks:



  1. Choose an appropriate theoretical framework for the characterization of the Chinese public sphere;

  2. Examine the current state of Internet-based public sphere development in China;

  3. Identify the visual code used for the expression of the opinion about politically-sensitive topics.

Statistic analysis, visual analysis including semiotic analysis, structural analysis and discursive analysis, content analysis as well as classification were used as main methods of study in the current research.

The paper consists of three chapters. The first chapter explores the possible theoretical choices for the interpretation of public sphere concept in the context of Chinese political system. The second chapter focuses on the Internet cyberspace as a new platform for public sphere formation and concentrates on the current conditions under which netizens need to adjust their ways of expression. The third chapter is an empirical one and presents the results of analysis of images, making the conclusion about the main tools that are used by netizens for expressing politically sensitive topics in their works.



The paper contains 2 tables, 3 graphs and 14 illustrations.

Chapter 1. Public Sphere in China: Theoretical Basis, History and Reality
This chapter explores the theoretical framework of the concept of public sphere in the light of the possibility of its application to the context of China. The chapter outlines the main points of critique for different theories concerning the interpretation of the concept, provides a review of the main literature concerning this issue and substantiates the choice of Fraser’s interpretation of the concept for the further application of it to the Chinese context.

The creation of the public sphere concept has a long history which dates back to as early as Aristotle, who described it as ‘public life constituted in spatial-temporal setting of market place where citizens as equals gather to discuss matters of common concern in polis’ [41; 5]. This understanding of public sphere was prevailing in Europe until the Middle Ages, when the King or feudal lord represented the public, and when there public and private realms were no longer separated from each other. The context once more changed in the 17th-18th centuries when the public sphere started to emerge out of the private through discussions held in the bourgeois public. As Koçan comments on this point, ‘this public communication has a set of rules for exchange of points of view around issues of political concern. One main characteristics of this communication is that participants have a common interest in truth, which meant that they bracketed status differentials’ [41; 6]. The concept of the public sphere gained popularity in the 20th century thanks to Jurgen Habermas who in his work The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere stressed the political participation of the citizens as the inevitable component of the democracy again. According to Habermas, the main idea of the public sphere was in the existence of a medium between the private economic and social concerns of individuals and public concerns. Initially (in the epoch described by Habermas, i.e. European late 18th and 19th centuries) the public sphere involved organizations which managed the information and political debate, such as newspapers, and those which were legally ascribed the role of conducting political debate. Such as parliaments, political clubs, public assemblies, etc. The issues of general concern were openly discussed in the form of discursive argumentation, and therefore, as Kellner points out, the concept ‘presupposed freedoms of speech and assembly, a free press, and the right to freely participate in political debate and decision-making’ [23; 5]. With the coming of commercialization the public sphere has become a medium of mass consumption dominated by corporations. In the capitalist epoch the corporations has undertaken the function of public opinion formation which would fit their private interests. The functions of the media have also changed from facilitating political debate and opinion expression to ‘shaping, constructing, and limiting public discourse to those themes validated and approved by media corporations’ [23; 7]. In his critique of Habermas, Kellner, emphasizing the role of communication and language in power as means of manipulation and domination, argues that contemporary media has normative character and can to a great extent promote the progress in democracy development. Kellner notices that Habermas did not pay enough attention to the role of communication media such as the Internet in the public sphere functioning due to his concentration on the print media, and suggests that in the era of IT the new media technologies serve as a new basis for participatory democracy.



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