16 September 2009

Plausible deniability; or, are you stupid enough to buy their excuse?

Being the first part in a series on the modus operandi and rhetorical strategies of Christians of a Fundamentalist Persuasion...

Barthes on Signs and wonders; or, How to mean more than what you say

... je suis chez le coiffeur, on me tend un numéro de Paris-Match. Sur la couverture, un jeune nègre vêtu d'un uniforme français fait le salut militaire, les yeux levés, fixés sans doute sur un pli du drapeau tricolore. Cela, c'est le sens de l'image. - Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1970, p.201)

The semiologist Roland Barthes is at his usual barber for his regular haircut. In his chair, Barthes is handed an issue of Paris-Match magazine while the barber attends to his task. On the cover that greets him, a photograph of a black soldier saluting the French tricolour. It is obvious, the myth and ideology, the PR line that this photo peddles. It is clear to any lay Frenchperson. But as a sociologist, Barthes proceeds methodically to explicate this intuitive, commonsensical reading of the photograph - and many others in the book:

The sign presented to us is that of a black soldier in a French army uniform saluting the flag. The wonder is its signification: French imperialism, French greatness, the idea that the French empire treats all its subjects equally, that there are no colonies but one all-embracing La Patrie. The image that forms the sign is carefully constructed and reconstituted as a beachhead so that it is co-opted into a secondary level of signification - one where myth and ideology is found. The denotation - what we see when we see the image - is that of a black person saluting the flag, but the connotation is that of French imperialism and greatness...

Semiotics: 101 ways to say what you mean and then deny you said it

The field of advertising may be seen as Practical Semiotics, where advertisers engineer innuendo and a surfeit of meaning to supplant the literal sign which is presented to their readers. And the joke goes that all advertising is about sex or selling the idea of attractiveness...

Take Zoe Tay's "I Swallow" ad, for example. In advertising, as it is with semiotics, there is always a fail-safe, a retreat position. Barthes calls this the alibi: "I wasn't being ideological, myth might innocently claim, I was somewhere else doing something innocent."

Accused of imperialism, the Paris-Match cover insists it is merely a photograph of a young man who happens to be black saluting a flag which happens to be a French flag. Accused of raunchiness, the beauty company insists it's just Zoe Tay saying "I swallow", nothing more. The halo of light about the head of George W Bush? An artifact of lighting in a photo, nothing more! The photographs of Obama in Kennedyesque poses? Just a mere coincidence...

When caught, the mythmaker says, "Remember, I didn't say it, I didn't imply it; you inferred it." The mythmaker denies, when caught red-handed, that objects and events always signify more than themselves; that they are always caught up in systems of representation and secondary meanings. The mythmaker appeals to our 'common sense' to take them for what they are, to say they only meant what they said and nothing more, to put on the outrage of someone who finds they are never taken for their word.

These denials are plausible enough inasmuch as they are take literally. Yet if understood within a methodical analysis of the conjunction of context, meanings and representations, signs and their significations are hardly ever unintended - and the denials lose all plausibility.

Plausible deniability; or, Fun with fundies

Singa Communications Limited, on 9 September 2009, unveiled its Singanews initiative at Kum Yan Methodist Church for an ATRIA "New Media Breakfast" event.

After the report was leaked online, the accusation floating around is that this news portal is a shill for Fundamentalist Christian (COOS) interests, despite claims by its directors that it is a secular organisation, that ostensibly, this has nothing to do with any Christian agenda.

Is this denial plausible? Have an entire faction of bloggers read too much into this un-launch?

Context is everything. Context is king. Context builds secondary-level meanings and significations above what is said.

The unveiling is not an official launch. It is not a soft launch either. This is a secret, closed door un-launch, given that this New Media Breakfast has gone unreported in the usual Christian blogs or even the Christian Post Singapore.

The New Media Breakfast is organised by ATRIA, which stands for "Apologetics through Rich Applications". Its modus operandi? "Evangelical apologetics focuses on presenting biblical realities evident in life is a reasoned explanation, and involves a researched defence of biblical truth. ATRIA widgets will invite an exploration of the foundations of faith that touch on areas as diverse as archaelogy, astronomy, biblical prophecy, spiritual experience and Christian lifestyle."

But maybe this image will give a fuller picture:

As a keynote speaker at an embargoed, explicitly Fundamentalist Christian conference organised by an organisation that nurtures fundamentalist apologetics, this news portal really wants to say we're reading too deeply - it's really secular.

In her keynote address, Thio seemed to have talked mostly about her experience with the media and the need for a more sympathetic media of their own and the need for Christians to speak out. You can read this as having nothing at all to do with the next keynote speaker's unveiling of a major secular news portal... but it will depend on how stupid you are.

All directors of Singanews, a secular portal, are Christians.
Matthew Yap (enough said?)
Basskaran Nair (identifies himself as a Christian and Christian philantropist)
Lee Chong Kai (Former All Saints Home CEO. Graduate of a "Rhema Bible Training Centre")
Victor Ho Kok Yin (director of Bright Arrows, 40% owned by COOS)

Singanews, a secular portal with a 100% Christian directorship, made the decision to have its unlaunch at a Christian media conference.

Singanews, a secular portal, chose to have its unlaunch at a church, to a group of Christians. As opposed to any other religious place of worship. As opposed to any other public area. As opposed to having a public launch.

You do the math.