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2018 B. Aubrey Fisher Award

Wednesday, February 28, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christina Yoshimura
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By Sharon Downey, Immediate Past Editor of WJC

Each year, WSCA honors the outstanding article published the previous year in the Western Journal of Communication. For 2017, the B. Aubrey Fisher Award Committee was comprised of qualitative, quantitative, and critical scholars in communication theory, rhetorical theory, and intercultural communication. After reading 33 essays, reviewers quickly settled on one stand-out article.  

This essay begins with the bizarre murders of three young boys in Arkansas in 1993, and the eventual conviction of three teenage males who were community rejects, Goth dressers, and alleged members of a Satanic Cult. It would take 18 years, 4 HBO documentaries, and celebrity support to uncover new DNA evidence, investigator wrongdoing for eliciting a false confession, prosecutorial misconduct, and juror misconduct before the teenagers were exonerated and set free in 2011. The authors analyzed public, legal, and media discourses surrounding the West Memphis Three case to explain rhetorically how such a perversion of justice could have occurred.

Their answer lies in the symbolic and psychological processes of “monster-making,” or how our culture tends to create a monster to be blamed for horrific, unexplainable events. It involves much more than Burke’s concept of “scapegoating,” which names and then destroys an “enemy” to restore cultural harmony. Instead, borrowing from psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, it requires “projective identification,” a complex psychological process where, first, we unconsciously reject the things we don’t like about ourselves; then, second, we project those undesirable elements onto another vessel. Third, we then achieve collective identification when we redefine that “other” as the enemy; and, finally, we destroy that enemy to purge ourselves of corruption and disorder. This “persecutory othering” connects victims and victimizers in an abiding relationship because we rhetorically have transformed the “other” out of the “enemy within us.” This perspective on the making of a monster helps us cope with mass tragedies but remains tragic because, as usual, the enemy is us.  Theoretically, this essay critiques and expands our understanding of Burke’s guilt cycle and how identification occurs.

On behalf of the Fisher Award Committee, I am delighted to present this year’s award for the article entitled, “Hunting our bad selves: Projective Identification and the case of the West Memphis Three,” by co-authors Roger Davis Gatchet, from West Chester University, PA, and Amanda Davis Gatchet, from Montgomery County Community College, PA. 

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