The Public Sphere of Imagination: What really happened to the Malaysia Air flight MH370?

The devastating case of the missing Malaysian air flight MH-370 is drawing to a close, or so that’s what they say. ‘They’, being Malaysian officials and authorities. After more than two weeks of searching land and sea, the Kuala Lumpur officials sent an SMS to families of the 239 onboard reading: “We have to assume beyond all reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and none of those on board survived”, reported The Guardian (2014). The Malaysian prime minister and Malaysia airlines concluded that all evidence suggests the place crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

The widespread disbelief in the public and media sphere is continually rising, as more Facebook statuses, tweets, blogs, YouTube videos and memes are being uploaded to the internet, all expressing skepticism and distrust of the information the public is being given.

BCM lecturer at UOW Marcus O’Donnell discussed on Monday 23 March (2014), “myth naturalizes history”. The peculiar thing about the missing Malaysian air flight is that although it is not the first plane to go missing or crash unexpectedly- that is, without sending off any warning or danger signals- I believe it is not a part of history that myth has naturalised.

Sure, metaphors and parallels can be drawn, but realistically, in the 21st century where fears of terrorism are paramount and the sequel to the Cold War is possibly-or-maybe not in production right now, it would be way too easy, and naïve, to accept that the crash and burn of flight MH370 just happened.

This is where the Public sphere of Imagination becomes apparent. Berkowitz (2009) explores the reciprocal relationship of journalism and popular culture; “the flow goes both ways, so that neither journalism nor popular culture is as distinct as producers and audiences would have once believed”.

The infusion of pop culture and media users into the reporting of the missing Malaysian flight is identical to Berkowitz’s experience with the online news article about the suicidal man and the readers’ debate in the comments- which part is journalism and which part is opinion?

While initially the public relied on journalists for updates on MH370, eventually the news and theories start flowing from the public sphere, the media users, the audience. This is where the public sphere of imagination takes form. Suddenly officials are responding to the outpour of opinions from the public. A profound example would be the SMS sent to families.

Airline officials claimed they sent text messages “as a last resort to ensure that family member did not hear the news first from the media”. Mind = blown. Officials are now working to beat the media to revealing information.

Another instance of how the conspiracy theories surrounding the missing flight are making an impact on the political and public sphere is the protests in Beijing. Family members and friends alike protested in Beijing this week at the Malaysian embassy after receiving the conclusive news from Officials, demanding the truth. From the aforementioned Guardian article, a remarkable quote;

“Chinese authorities- which normally crack down on street protests- facilitated the march, closing off to traffic the main road taken by protestors”.

Even if authorities aren’t completely listening to the response of the public, they are certainly beginning to as they are watching and letting it happen. To me, this seems to be the workings of the public sphere of imagination.

In Tenenboim-Weinblatt’s (2009) article ‘Where is Jack Bauer when you need him?’, she explores “intertextuality as a way to account for the complex interactions within the contemporary media environment”. On that note, here, have a meme created for flight MH370 referencing famous tv drama/mystery/sci-fi show “Lost”.

[References, sources, images and websites have been linked appropriately throughout the post for further research and referencing.]


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