Addressing the Ideologies of Digital Discourse:
The Sordid Story of Sexting
University of Bern, Switzerland
Sexting is a topic close to the hearts of my Swiss compatriots (or hosts), following two high-profile scandals last year: one concerning a government secretary, “Adeline Lafouine”, and the other a parliamentarian and city mayor, Geri Muller. With international coverage, these two cases clearly hit a nerve or triggered a twice-over sense of schadenfreude: locally, there was delight in state workers being caught out; further afield, there was an inevitable frisson in the apparent sullying of Switzerland’s squeaky-clean image (of itself). I want to use these two instances as a convenient point of entry into an analysis of discourses about digital discourse which inevitably weave together a range of social anxieties, moral approbations and cultural politics. I turn to a “convenience corpus” of regional and international newspaper articles (verbal and visual content) about sexting, some of which comment directly on the Swiss incidents, others refer more generally to sexting as a cultural phenomenon. With the help of these materials, I trace an analysis of the overlapping language ideologies, media ideologies and semiotic ideologies at work in news discourse about sexting. I intend to spend most of my time on the third of these disciplinary actions, thinking through the way sexting reinscribes popular beliefs about the nature, authority and truth-value of different semiotic modes. Ultimately, the cultural practices and meta-discourses of sexting highlight the near impossibility of distinguishing mediation from mediatization.
Crispin Thurlow is Professor of Language and Communication in the Department of English, University of Bern, Switzerland.