Comment Paper – 9: Documentaries


Cover of "Fahrenheit 9/11"

Cover of Fahrenheit 9/11

I strongly agree that disgusted, negative effects in political documentaries can lead to the action (LaMarre & Landreville, 2009) or at least to the gaining of knowledge. Although Whiteman argues that mass media has “minimal effects” on voting and public opinion behavior, I think political documentary films can tickle the electorate’s emotion by influencing their action. I believe political documentaries have two sides effect depending on a producer. The first side effect will be producers can manipulate the audience behavior. The second side effect is electorate can gain the knowledge and understand the producer’s intention.

I lack of information about the history of documentaries, but was surprised to know that the Soviet government used the documentaries as a propaganda tool in the beginning of the 20th century (Whiteman, 2004). As a person who grew up during the Soviet time, I can say Russian mass media successfully continue to use documentaries for political reasons. For example, last week the Russian NTV channel’s short documentary film about the opposition meetings in Moscow gathered thousands of protest groups behind the NTV TV’s main office. Protestors were angry with the content of the documentary: NTV journalist presented the fact that active protester have been paid for the meeting by the American government. I think if it were a news report the effect would not be same. In addition the NTV documentary was published on YouTube and new media’s interactive effect played a crucial role in organizing the protest against the NTV channel. This ties governmental control.

After the Arab uprising, Kazakh state TV channels also started to show documentaries about American and Europe based NGO’s activities in Central Asia. The manipulation of the people’s mind with documentaries is very obvious. All these documentaries were shown at prime time and were repeated two or three times. On the other hand, if documentaries can lead to gaining knowledge, the audience can easily find the truth which was behind the content of the documentary. This realization brought a question to my mind. If we can say that disgusted documentaries helps to bring knowledge, can it produce negative effects on the producers as well?

Unfortunately, I did not find the definition of the specific effects of documentary films in the scholar’s article.  However, I did find that the definition of politically colored documentaries rely on their similar form. I found the same characteristics in political documentaries: narrator’s tone, negative pictures, and tragic music. Interestingly, these characteristics fit to the Russian version of the Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary which I saw in Kazakhstan. It is a pity that American communication scholars mostly focus on the media effect on national policy and not on international policy. Thus, I witnessed the selling of the Fahrenheit 9/11 pirate version next to religion literature in many mosques in Central Asia. Michael Moore’s film was very popular among the Muslim community, and they used the facts in the film to justify Islam as a religion of peace. In my opinion this fact can explain Stroud’s argument about the relationship between people’s beliefs and their information exposure decisions (Stroud, 2007, p. 416).

In short, a political documentary has specific attribute which can impact not only audience but also a producer itself. Moreover, documentary film fragments in Internet (for example, mobile phones, tablets, virtual world etc.) can transmit very fast and help to educate the electorate by sharing and adding comments on it. The hybrid form of the documentaries did not discussed by scholars, but when there is a disgusted message coupled with new media, the documentary film can lead electorate to seek the truth and motivate them to action.

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