Macken-Horarik, M. “The children overboard affair” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 26.2 (2003), 1-16

In this paper Mary Macken-Horarik focuses on the need for a way to analyse the “symbiosis of visual and verbal stories in media treatment” (p. 1) of subjects such as asylum seekers and the now infamous children overboard event. What is meant here is that in order to completely and fully evaluate a story in the media the “visual, verbal, typographic and layout” (p. 1) components must be examined; individually but also how they affect the whole. The author uses the children overboard event to emphasise the importance of this and demonstrate how both image and text contribute to the meaning of a “multimodal” (p. 6) text, that they are mutually dependent (p.7). To begin, Macken-Horarik gives a brief summary of the proceedings and it becomes clear that it was based on “fourth-hand” information (p. 4). However the newspaper headline treated it as fact and used an image to support this. The fact that “captions explaining the date and the details of the photographs” had been removed (p. 4) highlights the “combined effect of visual and verbal narratives” (p. 14). By altering or completely removing the accompanying words the image has been changed completely and can now be shaped by and also shape the text of the article. Macken-Horarik describes three ways, or “strategies” (p. 7), where the verbiage (9) and visual combine to create certain views or connotations surrounding the people involved in the event. The first of these is “Genericisation-Specification” (p. 7). The political leaders and other high-ranking officials are described as being “individuated” (p. 8) whereas the asylum seekers are genericised and “symbolically removed from the reader’s world of immediate experience.” (p. 8) This is compounded by the ban of photographs that serves to maintain the asylum seekers’ emotional distance from the population of Australia. Here it is the lack of visual information that is a key component in creating a particular discourse. The second strategy is “categorisation” (p. 9) which can be broken down into functionalisation, where someone is defined by what they do, and identification, where the definition is based more on who a social actor is. Identification can be further separated into classification, relational identification and physical identification. Finally, the third strategy is role allocation (p. 11). Here the reader is introduced to the actor/goal components of an image (p.11) where the boat people are shown to be the victims and portrayed in a negative way. The verbiage in the text supports and encourages this view where “the navy plays a primarily active role in relation to the boat people.” (p. 12) This is evident in the visual where a female sailor is shown to be rescuing two asylum seekers. Through both language and image selection the refugees are shown to need rescuing as a result of their illegal activities and to be deliberately placing themselves in danger. As a result the audience of this newspaper article is exposed to a particular discourse.


One response to “Macken-Horarik, M. “The children overboard affair” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 26.2 (2003), 1-16

  1. okay, I don’t know why the little emoticons came up instead of the page numbers….

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