Author

Shane Perry

Date of Award

5-2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Laura Lindenfeld

Second Committee Member

Nathan E. Stormer

Third Committee Member

Michael J. Socolow

Abstract

In the past twenty years, documentary productions as journalistic endeavors have dramatically increased while not being held to the same ethical standards as journalism. One ethical issue is that colonial and neocolonial discourses are inherent in Western documentary productions. Neocolonial discourses are ideologies that are shared in a dominant nation justifying indirect intervention and imposition of a foreign nation. In this thesis, I argue National Geographic's Search for the Afghan Girl (2003) engages in neocolonial discourse through the process of Othering (a process of reducing a person to an object rather than as a self-thinking, co-existing human being capable of equal interaction). The Search provides a case study example to examine the subtle language of Othering in documentary productions that advocate for humanitarian assistance. Other post-9/11 documentary productions posit similar stories and advocacies such as Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (Briski & Kauffman, 2004) and The Beauty Academy of Kabul (Mermin, 2004). Each production situates an American going to a third-world or developing country and producing a documentary about a marginalized subject in that country. Each production advocates the role of education for the marginalized as the redeeming factor for the documentarians' intervention. Moreover, each production lacks a degree of transparency about the producer's role in engaging these particular subjects and the role these stories play in the larger discourse of neocolonialism. Transparency is one of the fundamental principles of journalistic ethics because of conflicts of interests. The Search is an excellent example of problematic documentary ethics because it is produced by one of the world's largest and oldest scientific and education institutions, the National Geographic Society. Furthermore, National Geographic has a history of engaging in colonial and neocolonial discourses through their magazines and their co-construction of the Other via the focus of their productions. Therefore, the Search, as a case study, is exemplary for examining the role of documentary productions in post-9/11 neocolonial discourse.

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