During the 18th Century, lively debate in intellectually charged coffeehouses were reserved for affluent male patrons. As advances in the media began to accelerate, however, more diverse, inclusive forums emerged (McKee, 2005), and with the rise of the Internet, eventually culminated into the widely accessible, dialogic virtual spaces we are familiar with today.
Unlike the coffeehouses of Europe, the mediated public sphere is argued to be populated by apathetic citizens engaged by the trivial issues of popular media that is too commercialised, fragmented and over-reliant on the spectacle rather than the rational (McKee, 2005). Whilst there is truth to these arguments, it is often overlooked that consumption-oriented, low culture products can also contribute to meaningful discussions.
Consider, for example, the well-loved Australian cooking game show MasterChef. Certainly, the show has led to the rise of the self-professed Foodies who Instagram photos with the hashtag #masterchef, Facebook pages and blog posts dedicated to the ridicule of host Matt Preston and the development of a range of commercial products including books and cookware.
At the same time, however, MasterChef
has also brought to the forefront of public attention some serious social and political issues. For example, the promotion for its ‘Boys v Girls’ competition prompted much debate in social media regarding the personal and social implications of gender stereotyping in mainstream media as well as broader concerns over the underrepresentation of female chefs in Australia (Lee, 2013).
For example, one user wrote on the show’s Facebook page:
Ads and shows like these continue to condition people to think these out-dated and completely false stereotypes are reality and it continues to reinforce sexism in our society. Children see this ad and this show. What do girls and boys internalise from these messages? (Chung, 2013)
On the other hand, some users defended the concept:
MasterChef has also provoked outrage amongst religious groups after a digitally-altered image of the three hosts heaping spaghetti on the head of the Dalai Lama was released by the Herald Sun (Ross, 2011). This was believed to be offensive to the Buddhist belief system and raised questions regarding cultural sensitivity (Ross, 2011) and respect for religion in Australian society (Carbone, 2011).
In this way, it is important to overcome preconceived notions that popular texts exist only to serve for entertainment purposes. In actual fact, it is due to their everyday relevance that people can naturally formulate insightful opinions on the social and political issues raised and thus, participate more knowledgeably in the mediated public sphere.Giverny
Watch the full MasterChef ‘Boys v Girls’ promo here:
McKee, A., 2005, ‘Introduction: The Public Sphere’ in ‘Public Sphere: An Introduction’, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 1,2.
Lee, N., 2013, ‘MasterChef what are you thinking?’, Daily Life, retrieved 6 April 2014, <http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-culture/masterchef-what-are-you-thinking-20130422-2i9pw.html>.
Chung, F., 2013, ‘MasterChef: The Misogynists? Ten in the firing line over ‘sexist’ promo’, AdNews, retrieved 6 April 2014, <http://www.adnews.com.au/adnews/masterchef-the-misogynists-ten-in-the-firing-line-over-sexist-promo>.
Ross, N., 2011, ‘Dalai Lama silent on digitally-altered spaghetti photo’, Herald Sun, retrieved 7 April 2014, <http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/dalai-lama-silent-on-digitally-altered-spaghetti-photo/story-e6frf7jo-1226073987505>.
Carbone, S., 2011, ‘Lunch with Julia will cost you $6500’, The Age, retrieved 7 April 2014, <http://www.theage.com.au/national/melbourne-life/lunch-with-julia-will-cost-you-6500-20110613-1g0al.html>.
‘MasterChef Australia 2013: Coming Soon to TEN’ 2013, video, MasterChef Australia, retrieved 6 April 2014, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bNLX4VymO4>.