Everyone’s A Critic

The concept of a ‘public sphere’ was penned by Jurgen Habermas as a “place for citizens to debate about common concerns” (Carlisle, 2013). It is a place that is independent from state, the economy and is democratic. When this concept first arose it was only the “elite” or those of a higher social class what were able to participate. It also tended to exclude women and other minorities.Conflict, Disagreement, Discussion, Arguing However, the public sphere is now greatly mediated as people from all aspects of society are able to have input and debate on issues through the media as well as using it to provoke debate.

Television shows such as ‘Q and A’ and ‘Big Brother’ are both examples of a mediated public sphere. Whilst seemingly different, they get the audience to think about the state of society. ‘Q and A’ tends to appear to be a more sophisticated show than that of ‘Big Brother’ due to the topics broached such as gay marriage, economics, feminism, etc. and the fact it is aired on a government funded channel (Turnbull, 2015). However, ‘Big Brother’ has also provoked debate on gender, sexual identity, ageism and cultural differences. The attitude toward different shows is different. Though, has the public sphere been divided by class or gender? High culture versus pop culture. Serious versus trivial. Commercial or non-commercial. The media has the power to instigate a public debate on issues but it can be the public’s views on these issues that deem who can be heard, who can’t be heard and who can participate.

Viral again: The Salvation Army in South Africa is behind this advertising campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence.

A great example is the Salvation Army’s domestic violence campaign in response to the trivial nature of the blue/black or white/gold dress viral phenomenon. It picture a woman wearing the infamous dress, however the women is clearly heavily bruised. The caption, “why is it so hard to see black and blue” is confronting and reminds the reader that the issue of the colour of the dress greatly trivialised the more important issue of domestic violence and violence against women (Visentin, 2015). It highlights that the public sphere is powerful and has the ability to bring the world together in discussion but can overlook pressing issues that never truly go away, unlike the dress that had 5 minutes of fame. The Salvation Army was able to capitalise on the attention the dress was receiving to push a more important message.

It becomes clear from an example like this that mass media has trivialised the important issues and commercialised the more irrelevant “issues”. Whilst the accessibility to the media allows great discussion on more topics by more people, it shows that there is a clear divide in who can participate, who is excluded and whose voices aren’t heard. The power of the masses outweigh the little guy. It has detoured from the effect the media has on people but rather what are the people doing with that media and what message are they construed. It all plays back into semiotics.

Stay classy,

Tracy Bustamante


Carlisle, E. (2015). Problematic Practice of Public Sphere Theory. [online] Academia.edu. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/5305277/_Questions_and_Answers_or_More_Confusion_Q_and_A_and_the_Problematic_Practice_of_Public_Sphere_Theory_ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2015].

Turnbull, S. (2015). Media Effects.

Visentin, L. (2015). Why is it so hard to see black and blue?. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/why-so-hard-to-see-black-and-blue-thedress-used-in-domestic-violence-campaign-20150307-13xrz0.html [Accessed 1 Apr. 2015].


7 thoughts on “Everyone’s A Critic

  1. Hi Tracy!

    This post is really interesting and I enjoyed reading it. Your contemporary example of ‘the’ dress was well selected. The dress itself has been transformed from being at the centre of huge public debate about perception of colour (via the media and in person), to something that makes an audience member think about deeper issues. In other words, the media transformed something trivial and provoked discussion about important issues that concern the general public – a public sphere now surrounds the dress and this advertisement. By pinpointing the quote “why is it so hard to see black and blue”, and your following discussion, you highlight this idea the interactive and provoking components of the advertisement.

    The public sphere is problematic with commercialization. However, could it be argued that this campaign and advertisement is more about spreading awareness than making a profit? Are they using the media to spark debate about something that is extremely concerning to a lot of the general public?

    One more note, when you say that the public sphere includes people from “all aspects of society”, can it be argued that not everyone has a say all the time? For instance, if we are having a debate about this campaign in English, someone sitting nearby who does not speak the same language cannot contribute to the debate. Or someone who doesn’t have access to the internet for whatever reason, they may not even recognise the dress.

    This post is really intriguing! Thanks for writing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed reading this and think you made really good use of the example of the controversial dress; this was a really great idea to use this advertisement! I really enjoyed seeing the image within the writing as it gave a more creative and interactive effect for me as a reader. I also really enjoyed your style of writing as it gave an interesting, inquisitive effect. It has a good flow and the use of rhetorical questions really allowed me as your audience to think about what you were writing about, stay interested in the work and even form my own opinions on the issue being discussed!

    I love how you took a topic that once was so trivial, but however was turned into something so much more important, it really shows how the public sphere can change the meaning of something and spark debates!

    However, in order to make it a little easier to read I would maybe suggest creating more paragraphs to create a better flow of your words, particularly in the beginning of your writing, prior to the image in the middle, although what you’re saying is really good and well written, doing this can just make it that little bit easier to follow what you are saying and the points you are making!

    I would also maybe add some more images or maybe even videos where relevant to break up the lots of words (which we all have to do of course) because a lot of words and little images can make the reader loose focus, unfortunately! Doing this may gain the viewers interest and make them want to read more.

    Another suggestion I have is maybe rather than just rewording the points from the lecture, have more of your own opinion on the issues weaved throughout, this way when reading your piece of writing the reader can get a view of how you feel about the issues at hand, and then either agree or disagree with what you are saying, this creates more of a debate on your work, which creates controversy and conversation!

    You could also maybe add more examples throughout to give readers a clearer idea of what you are saying and the points you are trying to make (it would make it a little easier for us dummies to read!)

    However, I really enjoy how you managed to take the lecture points and make it your own though, I liked the spin you put on it and the way you interpreted the things that were said in the lecture. I feel as though you did a really good job at understanding what was being said and the meaning of the public sphere and the way you portrayed it was done excellently. Your writing really helped me to understand the meaning of the public sphere a bit better, so thank you for that!

    Well done really good work!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done on taking your own unique spin on this topic!
    Your ‘popular’ text choice is highly relevant to the modern public audience and although it may not be the holistic image itself that is recognisable, the clever appropriation of the dress is what produces a strong connection with the audience.
    As this blog is not just aimed at students in your degree, I fully understand feeling the want to recount parts of the lecture! As a reader however, I think that it helps to not get bogged down too much in the intricate and sometimes unnecessary details. If you feel the need to mention who the public sphere formerly excluded and the history surrounding it (e.g. for “elites”), then try and link that to a point that you’re trying to make. At the start of the post, it feels as though these details are added with no strong connection to your overall argument. Perhaps you could discuss the reasons why women were excluded and how things have changed in terms of the modern public sphere?
    You mention whether the public sphere has been divided by gender or class and this is a very interesting topic to bring up but then you go on to talk about the effect of public opinion on who is heard, without enough discussion on the relevance of this apparent ‘division’ within the public sphere. I do get a slight hint at what you are trying to convey but I think that through reinforcing a clear argument/ point that your writing will flow better and communicate much more easily with your audience.
    You have a taken a nice stance on the mediated public sphere.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m SO glad you used the Salvation Army’s campaign as an example of a cause for discussion in the public sphere as I’m a big fan of the image and the connotations it denotes. It’s such a clever awareness campaign that takes a trivialised Internet occurrence and shocks audiences into acknowledging real and important issues – in this case domestic violence.

    You argued that the public sphere succeeds in bringing trivial issues to our attention for the purpose of discussion, but fails to bring that same level of awareness to more serious issues. I think this a very important point to raise. Much more significant and damaging issues such as violence against women, the slaughtering of students in Africa and climbing rates of suicide (just to name a few) are often overlooked in the media and consequentially the public sphere, because Kim Kardashian got a new hairstyle or Madonna did something un-tasteful again.
    It’s a shame that the media targets those most easily influenced by popular culture to generate a profit without a thought to the minorities being affected by real world issues. In the society that we live in in real-world violence, devastation and destruction don’t sell and therefore we don’t hear about it as often as we should, meaning not enough is ever done to stop it.

    Once again this post was very informative, fluent and wonderfully written. You are able to engage your audience in a very effective way, great job!
    Keep up the great work Tracy! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

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