Media Constructions: “Othering” and Nation Building Construct Occupy Protesters as a Threat to Capitalism

Welcome back to the second blog on Toronto’s Occupy movement. In this second blog, I will critically analyze the media coverage of Toronto’s Occupy movement. Specifically, I review newspaper articles from the Toronto Star that construct individual identities of two key players, Susan Ursel and Antonin Yvan Mongeau. Furthermore, the three key media scripts of gender, class, and the freak frame will be highlighted to show how Toronto’s Occupy protestors are often framed as a peripheral movement that threatens Capitalism and its wider social values by reinforcing the concept of nation building and Othering.

The first article that will be analysed was written by Heather Mallick in which she discusses Occupy Toronto lawyer Susan Ursel. In this case study it will be discussed how gender and class intersect to, on the one hand, positively construct Ursels identity and, on the other, construct the protestors as a threat. Ursel’s gender is positively constructed as someone who challenges norms and conventions in society by working in the patriarchal field of justice; “the kind of thing women lawyers could only approach before in a fragmented way while men could work at it full-tilt (Mallick 2011).” The variable of class is also used to positively frame Ursels identify; “Born to second- and third-generation immigrants, she is thoroughly rooted in her parents’ values: hard work, education and a stubborn public spirit (Mallick 2011).” Thus, the two frames of gender and class intersect to construct Ursel as a strong willed, sturdy, hardworking, lesbian, immigrant woman championing the rights of the Occupy protestors.

Ursel’s character is also framed as the personification of what it means to “make it” in a capitalist society. By constantly reinforcing Ursel’s status as a lesbian immigrant and her strong, grounded, hardworking ethic, Mallick is implicitly contrasting her against the protestors she is representing in court who are often constructed as either homeless (Rider 2011) or young and ideologically misguided (Gwyn 2011; Poisson 2011). Ultimately, this juxtaposition between Ursel and the protestor’s characters serves to construct protestors as a threat to capitalist norms and values and reinfores the concept of nation building. The protestors are constructed as a threat because being young and homeless is often associated with criminality and laziness which are in direct conflict with the principals of individualistic liberalism which value hard work and the accumulation of weatlth. Furthermore, this example promotes nation building in that the juxtaposition of Ursel and the protestors reinforces within the reader that being identified as young and homeless is negative and hard work and the acquisition of wealth is something to strive for.

The second article written by Jennifer Yang in which she discusses a man named Antonin Yvan Mongeau; the self-appointed de facto spokesperson for Toronto’s Occupy movement (Yang 2012). Mongeau is a man from a bourgeois upbringing, born to a wealthy business man father, who has since 17 lived an estranged life from his parents. Mongeau himself was once the owner of a lucrative website but now lives amongst the Occupy protestors at St. James Park. In this case study the variable of class will be applied to Yang’s construction of Mongeau’s character. Also identified within the script of this newspaper article is the freak frame which focuses on “non-mainstream values, beliefs, and opinions” of protestors (Boykoff 2007: 229).

The central theme in Yang’s article is framing Mongeau as “someone who identifies with the 99 per cent but has deep ties to the 1 per cent (Yang 2012).” This script is repeated a number of times; Mongeau’s rejection of his bourgeois upbringing to become one of the leaders of the Occupy movement. By rejecting the norms and values of Capitalist society and participating in dissent, Mongeau is characterised as a threat; “(For anybody that sees) what his father is, and they see what he’s doing, there’s a big, big question mark (Yang 2012).” This quote, left by Mongeau’s grandmother, invites the reader to link protesting with danger, and criminal activity. Somehow, Mongeau’s bourgeois father is considered to be normal while Mongeau himself is framed as a criminal for his rejection of mainstream capitalist norms and values. Simultaneously, Mongeau is also being constructed within the freak frame as a man who has rejected his capitalist roots and his now the antithesis to capitalism. Thus, the class and freak frame are employed simultaneously to portray Mongeau as a threat to capitalist norms due to his participation in Occupy Toronto. This article is an example of Othering because Yang clearly excludes Mongeau from society as unproductive because he rejects fundamental principles of capitalism.

Media representations of dissidents can drastically alter the way that the public conceptualizes the protestor’s goals, which can ultimately determine public support (Boykoff 2007: 217). The common framing of Occupy Toronto’s protestors in the newspaper articles discussed above is that the dissidents represent a threat to capitalist norms and values by participating in a movement directly opposed to corporate greed, globalization, and multinational corporations. Furthermore, in both case studies discussed above it is clear that through the juxtaposition of protestors with those who are considered bourgeoisie, that the authors are attempting to delegitimize the message of the Occupy movement through the use of various frames, specifically the freak frame.

Reference List

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard.” Pp. 248-60 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

Mallick, Heather. 2011. “Occupy Toronto’s Legal Conscience.” Toronto Star, November 19, pp. A1.

Morgan, Gwyn. 2011. “A History Lesson for Occupy Protestors and Those That Support Them.” The Globe and Mail, November 28, pp. B15.

Poisson, Jayme. 2011. “Inside Occupy Toronto: Imitation or Revolution?” The Toronto Star, October 15, p. A1.

Rider, David. 2011. “Occupy Toronto a Haven for Homeless.” Toronto Star, November 18, pp. GT4.

Yang, Jennifer. 2012. “The 1% Roots of Occupy Toronto’s Spokesman.” Toronto Star, February 4, pp. A1.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: