22 March 2012

I have been invited to take part in the Religion in the Digital Age: Media, Performance and “Spectacular Activism" seminar at New York University from 25-26 June.

The title of the paper and abstract follow:

Freedom to offend: The use of antagonism in the performance of free speech on YouTube

On the popular video-sharing website YouTube, issues of free speech and censorship are often at the forefront of discussions about criticising religion. Over the last three years, these issues have been particularly prescient as some users have participated in 'Everybody Draw Muhammad Day', making depictions of Muhammad ostensibly in protest of censorship. This movement has used offensive images and antagonistic speech towards Muslims to assert a right to free speech. The recent video "Youtube starts banning 'religiously offensive' videos" (Thunderf00t, 2012) by the popular atheist user, Thunderf00t, highlights how, in many ways, offensive language has become inextricably linked with 'free speech' on YouTube. With 309,698 views and 11,406 comments within the first week of its posting, the video presents a criticism of YouTube policy regarding hate speech about religion while, at the same time, also negatively representing Islam as a censoring agent. Using a case study discourse analysis of positioning (Harré & van Lagenhove, 1998) in this video, I will investigate how users justify offensive language about and attacks on Muslims by presenting a storyline in which free speech is threatened by both Islam and Neoliberalism. Analysis of the video talk and comments will show that defence of all offensive language as free speech can become a means of cultural hegemony, particularly as users employ pejorative images and talk about Muslims to support their right to express themselves.

NB Video shown in this presentation may include YouTube user depictions of Muhammad.
Harré, R., & van Lagenhove, L. (1998). Positioning Theory: Moral Contexts of Intentional Action. London: Blackwell Publishers. T
hunderf00t. (2012). Youtube starts banning 'religiously offensive' videos Retrieved March 3, 2012, from http://youtu.be/H1ho8tunttg