Comunicar Journal Blog

What is the Role of Media in Creating Young Japanese Hermits?

Let me introduce you to a mini documentary about young Japanese hermits called hikikomori. Hikikomori live in seclusion stretching months, even years, without a proper occupation. Movies and video games comprise their daily life, and they do not have a social life outside of the Internet. How do they become like this? How can Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory help us to understand the inner world of hikikomori?

Hikikomori are people who have rejected the outside world or external reality. What Freud teaches us to think about “reality” is not really about whether something is subjective or objective, rather, he thinks reality as an “obstacle”. In his psychoanalytic theory, humans primarily seek pleasure and organize their activities around this goal. But in many moments in life pleasure isn’t readily available, so the individual must work his or her way around and has to directly manipulate the external environment in order to secure the source of pleasure. Following this thinking, we are all the time living in our own fantasies until a problem arises, that’s our point of contact with the world, which is reality.

Narcissism is another keyword in his theory. Let’s take narcissism as “love for oneself”, and define love as “an individual’s relationship with a source of pleasure”, that means the narcissist takes oneself as the source of pleasure. It is well-known that Freud is all about sexual pleasure, and I think he’s right about auto-eroticism of the human body. Auto-eroticism means we can generate sexual pleasure just by fiddling with our own bodies (e.g. masturbation or day-dreaming). And since our bodies are immediately available to ourselves, we don’t have to deal with the external environment at all to experience pleasure. This is why narcissism is dangerous because of the self-sufficiency of the body which grants “labour-free” pleasure to ourselves, causing us to lose incentive to come in contact with the outside world and other people.

I think there is a weighty element of narcissism in hikikomori. And the contemporary media environment supports this personality trait. When movies, video games, and convenient store foods can satisfy their need for pleasure, why take pains to deal with reality? Reality is painful, because work demands labour, just as walking strains our muscles. The documentary addresses this as well, attributing the cause of hikikomori to parental negligence or violence which is broadly tied to high society expectations and intense competition. Parents, who out of ignorance or pressure abuse their children to “succeed”, puts too much of a dose of reality to their children early on, and the intense amount of pain causes the children to avoid dealing with reality later on and become hikikomori. They prefer to live in a sheltered existence where all is pleasure and no pain, often out of fear.

Switching gears to McLuhan, if media technology is extension of the human body, then should we think movies and video games as auto-erotic, narcissism-inducing machines that ultimately have the effect of isolating individuals from the outside world?


Subtitles: A Distraction for Foreign Viewers?

In an increasingly globalized environment, where viewers consume more foreign audiovisual content than ever, Kruger, Doherty, and Soto-Sanfiel’s study tackles an important issue. When viewers engage materials composed of foreign languages, subtitles become the necessary tool for communicating meaning over the language barrier. But do subtitles, commonly presumed as distraction, in fact lessen the enjoyment of such materials?

“Original Language Subtitles: Their Effects on the Native and Foreign Viewer” concludes that subtitles do not significantly reduce immersion; not only did they not act as distraction to the viewers, they on the other hand increased transportation [to fictional reality], character identification, and perceived realism. Such result is agreeable since subtitles are attached to the characters’ faces which, even if they demand additional visual attention from the viewers, only strengthen identification.

There is, however, a serious limitation of this study that may affect how generalizable the results are to audiovisual narratives in general. The study employs the American investigative medical drama series, House, MD (2011), as audiovisual material for viewing. This could be limiting due to the nature of television drama. This form of audiovisual narrative advances its plot mainly through dialogue. And since subtitles are within the province of the dialogue and only direct more attention to it, viewers are bound to have higher immersion. Conversely, feature length films tend to rely more on visual elements to make meaning and advance the narrative. In this regard, subtitles, now a competitor of visual attention, would be driving viewers away from the narrative.

The authors are sensible of this limitation and have stated in brief such concern in the last section. Considering this is such an important study in a globalized setting, this limitation shall be treated with extra attention.


The Rise of New Media Influencers

Salcudean and Muresan’s article “The Emotional Impact of Traditional and New Media in Social Events” provides insight into the interweaving of traditional and new media in reporting social events, through the case study of the Bucharest nightclub fire that took 64 lives on October 30, 2015. Although the article focuses on the emotional layer of the blending between traditional and new media news reporting, it nonetheless touches upon a paradigm shift in the public sphere brought about by this blending.

As the article points out, new media content are being picked up by traditional media is because (1) it is much more convenient for journalists to pick up ready-made user-authored content for news reporting, and (2) the monetary incentive which has to do with the increase in rating and traffic. What is first and foremost interesting to the reader is the way in which the inclusion of new media in news reporting changes the mode of discourse in the public sphere, particularly regarding the question of whose voices get privileged in civil debates. In the traditional public sphere, which is generally sustained by traditional media, the usual determinants of whose voices would be heard lie along the lines of race, class, and gender. The increased involvement of new media content in news reporting, however, introduces the Facebook algorithm as an additional determinant. The quote from journalist Nick Denton speaks for itself: “We [journalists] were slaves to the Facebook algorithm.” Facebook algorithm places the most popular—hence to a certain degree “the most important”—information and/or opinions in the spotlight. And the algorithm has its own set of rules, which has to do with virility and the affective quality of information and opinions. Therefore, in addition to traditional news outlets, the use of data from, which is the important platform for social media monitoring in Romania, is especially fitting in this article to highlight and recognize the impact new media has on news reporting.

The blending of social media and mainstream media allows a new class of influencers in the public sphere. For instance, in the case of the Romanian nightclub fire, artist Tudoe Chirila, who occupies first place in the Zelist ranking, had huge influence in mobilizing young people to protest against the political class in the street. As a result, days of civil pressure from the streets coerced Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign. This shows a fundamental shift of political power in the public sphere, which is brought about by the blending between traditional and new media news reporting.


Youngsters’ Watching and Tweeting Habit Calls for Media Education

Torrego-Gonzalez and Gutierrez-Martin’s research indicates there is a massive ground yet to be covered for critical media education in younger generations. “Watching and Tweeting: Youngsters’ Responses to Media Representations of Resistance” sampled youth audiences’ Twitter response to two films loaded with political implications—“V for Vendetta” and “The Hunger Games”. The finding is rather disheartening. The sampled tweets show that many youth audiences only stop at expressing their preference of the film or descriptions of plot details, rather than engaging in serious, in-depth political reflection intended by the films.

Social media can be a powerful tool with its ability to reach and mobilize incredibly large populations. Its transformative power was witnessed in the Arab Spring movements. In this case, however, its power to strike up serious political conversations as a second screen media seems to be limited. Social media can be a powerful tool to reflect and educate, but few seems to know how to harness it.

Some scholars like Henry Jenkins, as mentioned in the article, view digital cultures in a positive light. In Jenkin’s theory of Convergence Culture, it is theorized that the emergence of participatory culture and collective intelligence, which is central to Gee’s idea of “affinity spaces,” will grant media users a new form of media power. It is true that Web 2.0 users are given a voice, but the research finding reveals the potential of the voice is yet to be realized.

Indeed, many factors can contribute to this outcome, including the nature of Twitter as a social media platform as well as the individual film’s presentation itself; but as media scholars, what can be done to change this scene is to push for more substantial media education. Providing guidance to youths in how to critically engage such films not only will increase their appreciation of the media, but what is more important is the construction of a far-reaching public sphere that is well-informed and politically aware. With this goal in mind, hopefully media education can inspire younger generations to make better use of the new-found media power with social media.


Torrego-Gonzalez and Gutierrez-Martin. “Watching and Tweeting: Youngsters’ Responses to Media Representations of Resistance.” Comunicar 47 (2016).

youth tweeting.jpg


The Transformative Image: Revisiting an Old-school Concept

Andres et al. provide an insightful analytical framework to examine how the photograph of Aylan Kurdi engenders social transformation on the Syrian refugee crisis. The iconographic and iconological analyses in the article verify the power of visual images to provoke strong emotions—by mobilizing social conscience, they induce solidarity. “An image for solidarity is an image that can be appropriated by citizens to enable them to express themselves, to denounce and to recreate” (Andres et al. 2016). The process in which the widely circulated Aylan photograph turns into a solidarity movement operates in a grassroot communication model, in which citizens participate by engaging the image in a chain of resignification.

The semiotization of the Aylan photograph must proceed within the rules of the medium—photography—which Andres et al. have addressed in their iconographic analysis. The way in which photography is produced and reproduced is central to the medium’s ability to make meaning and induce social change. With that in mind, Walter Benjamin’s conceptualization of photography as mechanical reproduction of art presents three aspects that complement with Andres et al.’s framework.

Benjamin’s conceptualization is located within the context of photography, by capturing still images, reproduces real life situations, which in this case is the historical context of Aylan washed up drowned on a beach in Turkey amid the Syrian refugee crisis.

The first aspect of pictorial reproduction that has to do with the capacity to induce solidarity is that photography can bring out aspects of the original that is unattainable with the eye yet accessible through the lens. When one encounters the Aylan photograph, the naked eye may not perceive the full emotional impact one does through the lens, due to the lack of photographic technique such as the emphatic subjectivity of the low angle and the sense of impotence induced by the shallow depth of field. Such process reproduction of the scene assists in amplifying the beholders’ emotional response, thus mobilizing social conscience.

Second, technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. The wide circulation of the Aylan image is attained largely due to the reproducibility of the photograph. And without vast dissemination channels such as social media, the image may only be seen on a few newspapers. Reproducibility of the photograph coupled with dynamic media networks make the image available in the public sphere, which is prerequisite for solidarity.

Third, mechanical reproduction permits replicas to meet the beholder in his own particular situation. Although reappropriation of the image sparks ethical debates, it contributes to the formation of solidarity when audiences actively engage with the image within their own contexts. An individualized view of the issue makes it meaningful to every beholder in their own distinct approaches. The bottom-up assemblage of individual will burgeons into a collective solidarity movement.

In Benjamin’s original conceptualization, mechanical reproduction was shed in a negative light for its destruction of the original’s “authenticity.” Today, pictorial reproduction becomes central to positive social change, with its unique capacity to get “closer” with citizens, ultimately leading to meaningful social action.


(Image taken from Thierry Ehrmann’s flickr)


  1. de-Andres, Susana, Eloisa Nos-Aldas, and Agustin Garcia-Matilla. “The Transformative Image. The Power of a Photograph for Social Change: The Death of Aylan.” Comunicar 47 (2016). Accessed March 13, 2016. doi: 10.3916/C47-2016-03
  2. Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen, 675-94. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.