The Public Sphere and ‘Black Comedy’

The public sphere is a theory that German sociologist Jurgen Habermas proposed in 1962 which can be summarized as a ‘social space in which different opinions are expressed, problems of general concern are discussed, and collective solutions are developed communicatively’.

The emergence of new media has enabled new public spheres to form in our society which has allowed issues to be widely presented to the public, provoking discussion and debate amongst different groups. This has revolutionized our use of the media and how society operates in relation to people engaging with and responding to current issues. Media such as music, movies, music videos are all forms of entertainment, but they have also been utilized to present issues to audiences and provoke debate in the public sphere.

You may have heard of the ABC series ‘Black Comedy’.

The show creatively explores racial politics as a conduit to exchange ideas and feelings about Indigenous identity, heritage, slang, cultural misconceptions and stereotypes with audiences, which is uniquely addressing issues of causal racism in society. This series has provoked debate in the public sphere through its presentation and discussion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social disadvantage, issues and experiences as a comical form of light-hearted entertainment. This is where the power of the series comes from as an Indigenous actor in the series Deborah Mailman reflects “Humour is a wonderful vehicle for breaking down barriers. It’s looking at an indigenous experience through the realm of humour. It allows audiences to understand some of the issues.”

In its entirety, this series is a public sphere as it is a space where societal issues regarding Indigenous people can be represented and provoke discussion and debate amongst the public.

This form of interaction between the media and the public is also existent on platforms such as Facebook. Not only can the media provoke debate about issues, as the series ‘Black Comedy’ has done, but people can also use the media to debate and discuss current issues. For instance, people can post what they think of something on Facebook. This could be a racist rant or it could be counteracting others point of view on such topics, people can inform others of terrible customer service they experienced, people can involve in comment wars and debate about controversial issues etc.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that the media can be utilized to create a space for engaging the public with issues through mediums such as TV series, and that everyday people can also inform others of issues through platforms, that there are different forms of public spheres which can trigger debate and deliberation within society that may then influence social, political and remedial action.

 

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