Bakom Rubrikerna (Behind the headlines) is a project that uses visual communication
and the idea of negative space to critique Swedish media, politicians, and the discourse
regarding refugees with different backgrounds (cultural, geographical, socioeconomical,
religious, political) and ethnicities. It explores the concept of selective sympathy and what
role media, especially newsprints, have in recreating harmful narratives around certain refugees.
During 2015, the biggest topic Swedish media (and all over Europe)
was the on-going migration from the terror in the Middle east and exposed
parts of north-eastern Africa.
Only during that year, the number of forcibly displaced humans worldwide to increased by 5.6 million (UNCHR, 2015) and the number of asylum seekers in Sweden reached an historic peak at 162,000 in one year. (Sweden., n.d.). The headlines depicted the treacherous terror of the “Death Sea” and a tidal wave of empathy hit Europe when the picture of 3 year old Alan Kurdi´s dead body, flushed up on a beach in Turkey, was published. But at the same time, media painted an image of “desperate” refugees doing anything (tearing down fences, marching on the highway, fleeing border controls and police forces) to enter EU. Top politicians warned about the chaos that came marching in with the refugee crisis. Far right movements and parties were quick to spread their seeds and flowered all over Europe.
Since then, questions about immigration, integration and criminality have never been far from medias spotlight. Often discussed as consequences of each other, these topics drive and influence citizens thoughts and ultimately, what party they chose to vote for. When I started working on this project early in February I was mostly interested in looking at how Swedish media has portrayed refugees and the refugee “crisis” since it started in 2015. I wondered how that discourse had affected our understanding of asylum seekers and the upswing in support for far right-wing parties.
But then, on the 22nd of February Putin´s armies invaded Ukraine.
Europe once again became the center of a human crises of enormous scale.
Less than three months after the invasion, over 5 million Ukrainians have
fled the country and another 7,7 million are displaced within Ukraine.
The news once again filled with discussions about refugees and refugee politics, but the rhetoric used this time is fundamentally different from the one used in 2015. Parties that before had advocated for closed boarders and stated that “Europe is full” changed sides overnight and suddenly wanted to welcome refugees with open arms. For what feels like the first time ever all parties in the Swedish Government, from left wing to far right-wing, where unanimous; these refugees needed our help, and they were going to get it. Even SD, whose entire party program is based on a Sweden with closed boarders and a homogeneous, nationality seem eager to provide whatever means necessary to help those fleeing Putin’s aggressions.
I asked myself; how can I, as a visual communicator,
highlight and underline structures of selective sympathy and
xenophobia in Swedish newsprints and in Swedish society?
It seemed thoroughly impossible for me to ignore the crisis happening as I am writing this text. The change in discourse around refugees, in media, from politicians and in everyday society, that we have witnessed during the last months needs to be addressed. Thus, the focus of my project moved away from being an investigation of how phrasing in media has affected xenophobia in Sweden, and now focuses on showing how xenophobia, orientalism and eurocentrism has affected Sweden’s reaction to refugees from different countries, cultures, and ethnicities.
I, as a white, middleclass, Swedish citizen, belong to the target audience for newsprints in Sweden. It is me, and people like me (privileged Swedes who has never needed to worry about fleeing war or conflict, and therefore receive their information about people going through these hardships through the news) that they are talking to. It is people like me that need to understand these dangerous structures of xenophobia if we want to see a real change in behavior.
My finale outcome, the newsprint Bakom Rubrikerna,
uses the idea of negative space and cut out poetry to reframe articles and put
the hypocrisy of European politicians and media in the spotlight.
It combines more experimental short “poems” with a few more in depth articles to provide my reader with a better understanding of the concepts, background and societal structures that feeds xenophobia and selective sympathy. The project critiques the Eurocentric and postcolonial thoughts that still exists in Sweden today. I also see it as a critique against the authority of newsprints and how their reflection of society is often seen as the truth, even though it is just that, a reflection.