Genre 5: Arts Reviews

The arts review genre is virtually absent in 2010 and 2012, but is significant in 2012 in texts mentioning BP. In this year, the BP story is referenced in a part-fictionalised documentary film, and two non-fiction accounts of oil companies as well as an unrelated film about events whose PR handling is compared with that of the BP oil spill (BP events as exemplar of a “disastrous” PR campaign). In addition, a different item in the news report genre covers a protest at the Royal Shakespeare Company and refers to a song written about the BP oil spill events: an excerpt from this article is cited at the start of this book. In these examples, the arts review genre exhibits many of the characteristics of evaluative writing: the writer is strongly present in the texts, and the lexis shows high levels of affect, judgement and appreciation (Martin & White, 2005).

Based on Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name, writer-director Jennifer Baichwal’s film explores the complex issue of debt, both moral and financial. This includes BP’s failure to deal with its environmental transgressions, and the years-long dispute between two poor rural clans that keeps the members of one family virtual prisoners in their own home. (The New York Post, 27.4.2012, my emphasis)

In this book’s more than 600 pages you may sometimes be tempted to utter, as did BP’s hapless chief executive Tony Hayward, disastrously, during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, “I’d like my life back." (The New York Times, 27.4.2012, my emphasis)

In both of these fragments the journalists are exhibiting judgement not only about the works they are reviewing (in Martin & White’s (2005) term, “Appreciation”) but about the crisis events themselves (what Martin & White would classify as “Judgement: social sanction”). Reviewers choose whether to endorse or distance themselves from the viewpoints expressed in the works they review, which may or may not be in line with the political perspective of their publication. So both dominant and resistant views are given voice in review pages, but clearly positioned as non-factual and non-news by being placed outside the news pages. This is also the case with letters pages, where readers’ views are positioned as “other” (Cook, Robbins, & Pieri, 2006). I mentioned earlier that the choice of news media genre in itself has semiotic meaning. Publications as a whole might offer a platform for a range of voices and views about the crisis, but placing some within the front “hard” news pages and others in review and letters pages is a way of bracketing, or making “other” certain voices and the opinions they express.

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