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Strange: Covid-19 and Public Responsibility: A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis of Blaming the Public during the UK’s Third Wave
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Louis Strange
Jun 16, 2021
Hi Galey, and thanks very much for watching and for the questions! I think you're right that the general level of involvement of the state in enforcing restrictions or making its presence felt seems to vary widely: I know from my experience in the U.K. during the early part of this year, looking at the U.S. we were often surprised how relatively "open for business" certain places seemed while we were in lockdown, whereas looking at Ireland, where for example pubs are only starting to open again now, it seems that the state has taken a much more cautious and more involved approach than in the U.K. For the publicity campaign I talk about, the fact it exists in the first place I think speaks to the symbolic importance of the NHS as a national institution in the U.K. - one of the last vestiges of the post-war, social democratic politics here. So in that sense, it's not unusual/marked, as people are used to the NHS and even protective of it, for example you get a text from the NHS to let you know when you can book a vaccine here. (Ironically, the Conservatives have since 2010 been trying to defund and hollow-out the NHS and move us toward a more privatised health system, so it's slightly strange to see them putting the onus on the public to "save the NHS"!) From a theoretical standpoint, then, I think this is a good example of how neoliberalism doesn't just cut back the state and "recede" from the public sphere, as has happened in both the U.S. and the U.K., but also actively works to push this ideology of "responsibilization" and the private individual not reliant on the state - maybe the use of the state to do the latter in the U.K. is where we diverge from the U.S. (at least as far as Covid publicity campaigns are concerned)? So, for me personally, when I see these adverts, I'm more struck by the irony (and cheek!) of the Conservative government telling the public to "save the NHS" than I am reassured. But it's interesting to think of the wide range of possibilities for uptake depending on context, as you point out. As for the "Protect the NHS from Tory Scum", I should have made it clearer that this is not part of the campaign proper, but a case of "subvertising" where an anonymous individual or group has taken the government campaign and subverted it by making a fake poster (and then installing it in a bus stop display) to protest against the "Tory scum". You're right that it would be really unusual - even unthinkable - to see the NHS or BBC use terms such as "Tory scum", but that's not what's happening here.
Louis Strange
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