Bloggingheads on Norway’s Terrorist Attacks

27 07 2011

Oslo

I’m sharing a very interesting discussion about the Norway shootings that recent took place on Bloggingheads. See here.

Bloggingheads.tv is a political, world events, philosophy, and science video blog discussion site in which informed participants engage in a conversation that is recorded with webcam and then podcasted to viewers. Essentially, the dialogues work much like a Skype conversation except that they are recorded. Typically, the conversations are about an hour long. Each week, several blogging heads conversations are released. The regular weekly segments on Bloggingheads include “Values Added”, which is about the intersection between religion and politics (in the United States) and “Science Saturday”.

The political conversations deal with fairly topical matters. Not surprisingly, the terrorist incident in Norway is high on the agenda this week. You can expect to hear about Anders Behring Breivik and the Islamophobic discourse that inspired him to go on his killing spree.

Normally I don’t like discussions of international affairs on Bloggingheads because they are so damn America-centric: 99% of the participants are American academics and journalists. Typically, the producers at Bloggingheads arrange for the two participants in a conversation to be from the two different political parties in the US: one of the speakers is a Democrat, the other is a Republican. I suppose that this seems to very fair and balanced to an American producer, but to my mind it is actually really parochial.

The apparent assumption is that there aren’t non-Americans who are informed about world events and capable of speaking intelligently and in English about them. The reductio ad absurdum of the bloggingheads approach to non-US news was when two Americans (a journalist and an academic philosopher) discussed a Canadian federal election in a dialogue in which a great deal of ignorance about the Canadian political system and its terminology was demonstrated.

The operating assumption at Blogginghead is that events outside of the United States are suitable for American academics to study and discuss but that the subjects of the discussion aren’t allowed or aren’t capable of participating. Granted there probably are cases where it wouldn’t be feasible to get someone from the country or region under discussion to participate: it might be hard to find an English-speaking academic in South Sudan capable of conversing for an hour with an American political scientist about developments in their country. At the very least, such a conversation might dilute the brand of Bloggingheads: people listen to their dialogues because you get to hear smart, educated, and quick-witted people chat in fluent English about important events. Moreover, there would be problems with broadband access and time zones conflicting. But surely none of these considerations apply to events in developed countries!

What you get in a typical Bloggingheads dialogue is unilingual Americans talking to other unilingual Americans about Japanese tsunami or European immigration patterns or some other topics of which they have little direct knowledge. At the very least, this is a sign of a producer too lazy to search for non-American commentators. At worse, it is the product of a mindset that reduces non-Americans to the level of the tribal peoples studied by patronizing old-school anthropologists.

This sort of parochialism might have been acceptable before the internet, but it seems out of place today. The wonderful thing about the internet is its ability to overcome physical distance. It is sad to see old-school American parochialism being translated into the new medium of Bloggingheads.

In the case of the Norwegian shooting, however, the producers at Bloggingheads arranged for a Norwegian political scientist (Hans-Inge Langø) and an American journalist (Eli Lake) to share their perspectives.

I hope that this is the start of a trend and that Bloggingheads continues to be less parochial in its selection of guests. Perhaps future Bloggingheads weekly dialogues on world affairs could be between one American and one non-American participant.

The world affairs dialogues on Bloggingheads are funded, in part, by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ensuring that these dialogues include people of more than one nationality would, in my opinion, be appropiate in view of Andrew Carnegie’s belief that communication between peoples of different nationalities would foster world peace.

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