Book review: Carnage and the media – Jean Seaton

February 6, 2009

Jean Seaton — Carnage and the media: The making and breaking of news about violence
Penguin Books, London, 2005 (pp 360) IBSBN 0-713-99706-0

[review published in Global Media Journal December 2008]

Jean Seaton is Professor of Media History and the University of Westminster, but her childhood was spent in the Smithfield meat markets of London. The story of her father’s family-run butcher shop opens Carnage with a fascinating memoir of the blood and stench of a local abattoir that stands as a metaphor for modern journalism.

Seaton’s historical journey begins with childhood memories of skinning rabbits, but covers a lot of ground: from the ‘bread and circuses’ of the Roman Empire, to iconic religious art in the middle ages, to the age of terror that we now inhabit.carnage_media

The central theme of Carnage revolves around our seeming fascination with violence, bloodshed, atrocity, war and crime and the ways in which the news media both nourish and condemn the audience’s taste for horror, disaster and the misfortune of others. There are well-established rituals in which both the news media and the audience participate, while constructing or watching violent events unfold within a news narrative. Over time, audiences are tutored in the appropriate responses — much like the way we used to cheer the cowboys with white hats and boo the black hats in the Saturday matinees.

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