Performative journalism

Immersion journalism looks at the experience that the investigator feels during a process and By doing this myself I put myself in a situation where my practice as research is going to be didactic and explainable especially when you consider how lucid comic performance can be in this field of investigative academia due to its relative newness as a field of interest for peer reviewed articles.

Performative journalism often requires a close up view of the subject and the writers life is significantly altered for the period of time conducting research. I think for me to be going to Edinburgh is an excellent way to conduct this performance as research and document the process too.

The reporter Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman famously created an early piece of immersion journalism: Ten days in a mad-house (1887) under the pen name Nellie Bly in which she was committed to an asylum to investigate the conditions. This was prompted by her dissatisfaction at theatre and arts journalism that was expected of female reporters at the time.

Another early piece of immersion journalism came from John Howard Griffin’s Black like me (1961). A piece in which he darkened his skin colour for a 6 week trip of the southern states of America in 1960 where racial segregation was still legal. This piece highlighted many social issues and paved the way for the end of segregation in America.

The German news anchor Hanns Joachim Friedrichs once argued that journalists that should remain neutral even in the event of something unequivocally good. However he broke this rule himself during the fall of the Berlin wall. He proclaimed that the gates were open when they were in fact closed. This prompted many East Berliners to storm the gates and cause them to open (Sarotte, M. E 2009) .

I think this is very interesting that a piece of performative journalism would be the cause for what many believe to be the beginning of the post post modern era which we as contemporary artists are currently in and are looking to dissect. Performativity and performative journalism may be at the core of the society and the semiotics of which we consume in 2019.

Many of the relevant cultural touch stones have been achieved during this period. through performative journalism. Perhaps due to the culture of 24 hour news and constant digital connection. Touchstones such as the Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson (2003), Louis Theroux’s When Louis met Jimmy (2000) and the follow up Saville (2016). Morgan Spurlock’s Super size me (2004) and many more. These have gone on to have significant social impact and political change such as the banning of supersized meals at McDonald’s and informing Operation yewtree for example.

Perhaps as the boundary between performer and non performer breaks down (Lavender, A 2016). The neutral performative journalist actually has an increased power and role in our society. Interestingly the trickster archetype is also often neutral making this role for a comedic performer an easy transition and the role also plays into the tricksters ability to highlight issues in the same way a journalist would.

This ability to highlight social issues may also explain why the meme culture has sprung up heavily around politics and social issues and does so at a rapid rate due to the quick nature of the easy output of memes. And may also explain why some of the performative documentation can be darkly humorous such as is the case in Louis Theroux’s weird weekends (1998).


Bly, N (1887) Ten Days in a Mad-house. The New York post. New York.

When Louis met Jimmy (2000) BBC2. April 13th

Sarotte, M E (2009). “Mary Elise Sarotte — How an accident caused the Berlin Wall to come down”.

Lavender, A (2016) Performance in the Twenty-first Century : Theatres of Engagement.

Griffin J H  (1962). Black Like Me. Collins. New York

Living with Michael Jackson (2003) ITV 3rd February

Saville (2016) BBC 2. 2nd October

Super size me. (2004). [film] Directed by M. Spurlock. United states of America: The Con.

Louis Theroux’s weird weekends (1998) BBC 2. 15th January



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