You are on page 1of 17

Charlotte Miles 1

Using a music publication of your choice use a range of relevant critical sources to

analyse how ‘synthetic personalisation’ is used to create ‘imagined community’.


Charlotte Miles 2

Focusing on the representation of women, this essay intends to analyse how

‘synthetic personalisation’ is used to create an ‘imagined community’ in the Riot Grrrl

zine, Bikini Kill. The material this essay will focus on is the editors letter from the

American zine for young women called Bikini Kill published in the early 1990s (See

Figure 1, p.3). This essay will largely focus on Norman Fairclough’s concept of

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and the relationship between text and social

context. In this case, how the patriarchal society has led women to create a

community to share their personal experiences of prejudice and form a collective

identity of strong, independent women. The purpose of using CDA is to discover and

understand why women are engaging and challenging dominant and false

discourses of femininity. This essay will study Fairclough’s three-dimensional

framework for the analysis of CDA: text, discursive practice, and social practice.

Also, this essay will look at Fairclough’s concept of synthetic personalisation and

how Bikini Kill addresses its readers as though they were individuals through

linguistic tools such as vocabulary, punctuation, grammar and cohesion. To do this,

this essay will analyse Mary Talbot’s use of the concept in Synthetic Sisterhood and

compare it to how Bikini Kill uses language to construct a personal connection with

the reader.

Additionally, taking into account Benedict Anderson, this essay will concentrate on

how an imaginary community is established by Bikini Kill and their readers. To do

this, this essay will look at how Bikini Kill is a networking tool for women to form

active connections with each other through its intended target audience and content.
Charlotte Miles 3

Figure 1: Kathleen Hanna’s Riot Grrrl Manifesto for Bikini Kill zine from Sanders,

2015
Charlotte Miles 4

The purpose of this section is to provide the reader with a general understanding of

CDA, synthetic personalisation and a more specific understanding of the framework I

will employ in my analysis.

CDA, in the words of Caroline Coffin is, “an approach to language analysis which

concerns itself with issues of language, power and ideology” (2001, p.99). Put

differently, CDA is the study of texts to understand how discourses are made within

specific social contexts. One way in which CDA examines texts is by comparing what

is in the texts with what should be there, according to particular norms. Also, CDA

aims to explain how the way in which people interpret discourses forms their identity,

opinions and ideas.

According to Fairclough, “in CDA as I see it, being critical is not just identifying

features and types of discourse, it is also asking: why is the discourse like this? In

other words, being critical means looking for explanations” (2014, p.7). Put

differently, for Fairclough, when using CDA, it is important not just to focus on

discourse, such as the way texts are represented, interpreted and consumed but to

analyse how discourse relates to social contexts for example ideologies and power

relations. This is supported by Fairclough who believes “a focus on ongoing social

change is unavoidable in critical research generally and CDA in particular” (2014,

p.37).

Synthetic personalisation is developed from CDA and in the words of Helen Ringrow

is the “media discourse’s attempt to address the consumer as an individual through

communication en masse” (2012, p.13). This can be shown through linguistic

features such as how the text addresses the reader with the use of pronouns to

create a level of intimacy. Or, the use of presuppositions made by the text about the
Charlotte Miles 5

reader to place them in a community with a unifying identity such as advice or

solutions to problems.

Fairclough developed a model for how CDA relates to social context. This consists of

three different levels; text, discursive practice, and social practice. Fairclough

describes this framework as “an attempt to bring together three analytical traditions,

each of which is indispensable for discourse analysis” (1993, p.72). This is

represented in Figure 2:

Figure 2 from Fairclough, 1993, p.73

The first level is “the linguistic description of the formal properties of the text”

(Forough & Mohammed. 2011, p.109) which can be speech, writing, images or a

mixture of all three forms of communication. Fairclough believes that when we

choose certain words, this expresses a certain attitude. Also, that the words we

choose contains interpretations and can make us feel as if we are a part of a

community. Text can be analysed through the use of vocabulary such as meanings
Charlotte Miles 6

of words, wording of meanings and metaphors, grammar, cohesion and text

structure (Lawson. 2008, p.9).

Secondly, “discursive practice is itself a form of social practice, and focuses on the

processes of text production, distribution and consumption” (Lawson. 2008, p.5). In

other words, the way in which we compose our sentences and talk about a subject

are of importance and are subject to interpretation. Texts contain values and

attitudes that can change the readers view of the subject. Discursive practice can be

analysed through utterances, coherence of texts and intertextuality of texts (Lawson.

2008, p.8).

Social practice is the “relationship between language and society” (Wang. 2006,

p.66). Effectively, it means how discourses are shaped by social context. Fairclough

believes that language is a power tool which can be used to change a person’s

behaviour. Also, that language has the ability to create opinions and social

relationships and characterises our attitudes. “In reality, the three dimensions of this

framework overlap considerably, and any analysis of text will necessarily involve

some discursive analysis and vice-versa” (Lawson. 2008, p.6).

Additionally, this next section will take into account Benedict Anderson’s idea of an

“imagined community” in which the nation is a social construct, imagined by the

people who perceive themselves as part of that group (Anderson. 2016, p.49). Then,

this section will examine how Bikini Kill creates an imagined community of Riot

Grrrl’s to educate, empower and unite their readers.

According to Talbot, “every text can be said to have such an implied reader, an

imaginary addressee with particular preoccupations, values, notions of common


Charlotte Miles 7

sense, and so on” (1995, p.146). For Bikini Kill, their target audience was directed at

like-minded female adolescents, who are frustrated with the misogynist society such

as the dominance of male bands in the music industry, stereotypical images of

women perpetuated by the fashion industries and the objectification of female

bodies. Also, their content was targeted at female victims of child abuse for example,

rape, neglect and violence and self-abuse such as alcohol and drug addiction,

bulimia, anorexia and self-harm.

Anderson believed that a community was imagined because even though the

members of a nation will never know all of their fellow-members, in their minds they

have a shared connection (1983, p.6). This is shown through Bikini Kill and how the

readers will never meet all of their fellow-readers but they are all connected through

a shared belief of how women should be treated. Kearney says the imaginary

community of Bikini Kill “provides female youth with both a network of supportive

friends and a forum for discussing their personal problems, larger social issues,

visions for a better future without fear of censorship, silencing, or retaliation” (2013,

p.64). By focusing on personal experiences, Bikini Kill was a networking tool for

women to form active connections with each other and gives their readers a sense of

belonging.

The author, Kathleen Hanna, then suggests means through which the zine can

empower their readers to respond to these patriarchal challenges, including

enhancing diversity in the music industry, incorporating calls to action, and providing

insight into sexism’s most pressing problems. This is shown through Bikini Kill’s

content such as “poetry, stories, personal confessions, interviews, drawings,

collages, advice columns, political manifestos, and advertisements for riot grrrl
Charlotte Miles 8

products” (Kearney. 1995, p.85) Therefore, the point of views and topics discussed

in Bikini Kill are believed to be interesting and relevant to its readers because of their

shared experience of being a woman.

Following Fairclough’s three dimensional framework, this section will firstly analyse

the text in Bikini Kill through vocabulary, grammar and cohesion. This is to

understand how certain kinds of language techniques contribute to synthetic

personalisation and are used by the author to create a strong connection with their

reader. According to McCarthy, “introducing critical discourse analysis to language

teaching does not by any means cast doubt on the importance of vocabulary” (1991,

p.64).

For vocabulary, it would appear that the authors liberal use of violence-related

terminology in this letter such as “slapped, rapped, molested, chocked and killed” is

deliberate. Firstly, it helps the target readership, young women, to identify with the

writer’s views and emotions and establishes a connection in opinions. The author is

using violent yet honest language about the treatment of women to shock the

readers into action. By the author sharing their own personal experiences of sexism

such as “I can’t smile when my girlfriends are dying inside” and “I am tired of these

things happening to me” causes an emotional reaction by the reader. Secondly, it

helps the reader to identify with the subject of the discourse, women. Women are

presented as a strong community who have put up with the mistreatment of men and

society for too long such as “We need to acknowledge that our blood is being split”.

Furthermore, Talbot believes that “zine creators are responding to and engaging with

discourses of femininity in order to create new selves and new articulations of the

relationship between women” (1995, p.162). For instance, when the author says “I’m
Charlotte Miles 9

not a punching bag”, she is using the metaphor to engage and reject with the

dominant discourse of femininity that women are often used to help men release

their anger and frustration on. Another meaning could be that women are labelled as

scapegoats and blamed when something goes wrong. Also, the author uses the

metaphor “I’m not a fuck toy” to reject the discourse that women are often objectified

and are only viewed and used for their bodies.

Furthermore, for grammar Bikini Kill is dominated by action sentences such as “We

need to build lines of communication” and “We are creating the revolution”. Lawson

believes that are action sentences are more suited to a predominantly male

readership and that publications aimed towards women are more female, with an

ideal and emotive emphasis (2008, p.12). However, Bikini Kill uses both action

sentences and emotive language to present women as fierce and hardworking but

also to arouse feelings and engage support seen from sentences such as “We are

dying inside”.

Additionally, Bikini Kill is a highly-cohesive text in which the author establishes a

strong connection with the reader through the use of pronouns. In the first three

sentences, the author uses the inclusive pronoun “we” five times, “I” two times and

“us” once. Fairclough believes that by using pronouns the zine ‘is speaking on behalf

of itself, its readers, and indeed all right-minded citizens (2015, p.143). The author

addresses the reader as a friend and stresses that in this imagined community

everyone is treated the same. By using a direct address, the author “minimises the

social distance between herself and her readership, claiming common ground and a

social relation of closeness” (Fairclough. 2014, p.189).


Charlotte Miles 10

Bikini Kill doesn’t use vocabulary associated with possibility or negativity such as may,

probably or can’t but words symbolising certainty and positivity, for example “are”,

“need”, “want” and “can”. Fairclough says that “the verb, are is one terminal point of

expressive modality, a categorical commitment of the producer to the truth of the

proposition” (2015, p.144). Therefore, Bikini Kill is promising the reader that they can

and will be the revolution to patriarchy. Fairclough talks about how “words can be

preoccupied with growth and development such as the verbs increase, boost, develop,

cultivate, build, widen, enrich” (2015, p.133). Similarly, in Bikini Kill the text uses

vocabulary such as, “change”, “build”, “create” in order to put the readers into a

positive mind-set and to associate Riot Grrrl with progression. (See more on cohesion

in Appendix B, p.15)

Additionally, the informality of the language contributes to the construction of this

imagined community by matching the targeted audience with the vocabulary that

female adolescents might be supposed to use among themselves such as “cool”,

“girlfriends” and “bullshit”.

Moreover, by using “presuppositions and projected facts the author claims common

ground and sets themselves up as a member of the same social group as the reader”

(Fairclough. 2014, p.189). This is shown in Bikini Kill in which the author assumes

shared knowledge that relates to historical details about the patriarchal society and

female oppression, for example, “We are tired of boy band after boy band, boy zine

after boy zine, boy punk after boy punk” and “I see the connectedness of all forms of

oppression”.
Charlotte Miles 11

This section will analyse Bikini Kill on the second level, discursive practice, through

force of utterances and coherence of texts. For force of utterance, the intention of

Bikini Kill is to get a direct, active response from the reader. This is shown by the

author’s forceful demands for the readers to “help me”, “start a fucking riot” and “talk

to each other”. The text is not passive as the author wants the readers to get involved

in the Riot Grrrl community. This is shown by how the text even includes an address

for readers to find out more information about the zine.

Moreover, Bikini Kill is a highly coherent piece of text as it displays many elements

typical to the Riot Grrrl genre. This is shown through how Bikini Kill features feminist

issues such as traditional gender roles, ageism and objectification also seen in Riot

Grrrl zines such as Jigsaw, Cupsize and Girl Germs. Also, the language used in Bikini

Skill is similar to other Riot Grrrl zines, for example, the manifesto by girlVIRUS (see

Figure 3). Both of them repeat the word “we” and use the words “revolution” and “safe”.
Charlotte Miles 12

Figure 3 from girlVIRUS’ Facebook page


Charlotte Miles 13

In conclusion, this essay has analysed how ‘synthetic personalisation’ is used to

create an ‘imagined community’ in Bikini Kill. Focusing predominantly on

Fairclough’s concept of CDA, this essay first showed an understanding of the

framework of CDA with an analysis of the three levels; text, discursive practice and

social practice. Then this essay took into account this framework to examine how

synthetic personalisation is used in the editor’s letter of Bikini Kill. This was firstly

shown through an analysis of Bikini Kill on the text level through vocabulary,

grammar, cohesion and text structure. For instance, violence-related terminology

was used to shock the readers into action and cause an emotional reaction by the

reader. Also, this essay showed Bikini Kill to be a highly-cohesive text through the

use of pronouns. By using “we”, “I” and “us”, the author addresses the reader as a

friend and creates a feeling of closeness.

Then, this essay analysed Bikini Kill on the discursive practice level through force of

utterances and coherence of texts. For instance, forceful demands by the author was

used to get a direct, active response from the reader. Also, this essay showed Bikini

Kill to be a highly coherent piece of text as it displays many elements typical to the

Riot Grrrl genre such as similar content and linguistic features.

Additionally, this essay considered Anderson’s concept of an imagined community and

how this is established by Bikini Kill and their readers. This was shown through an

analysis of Bikini Kill’s intended target audience of like-minded female adolescents,

who are frustrated with the misogynist society. Also, through an analysis of Bikini Kill’s

content such as advice columns, stories and confessions and how these focus on

personal experiences to create a networking tool for women to form active connections

with each other. Plus, by how even though the readers will never meet all of their
Charlotte Miles 14

fellow-readers, they all feel connected to each other through a shared belief of how

women should be treated.

Ultimately, this essay has shown an understanding of how Bikini Kill has challenged

society’s dominant discourses of women and explored the ways in which the zine has

created new discourses of femininity. This analysis has shown that Bikini Kill

constructs an imagined community where the readers are close to one another and

they are represented as the same even though they will never meet.
Charlotte Miles 15

Appendices:

Appendix A – Punctuation

The frequent use of capitalisation of “BECAUSE” and punctuation such as full stops

and commas add expressive value, attributing to the writer’s passionate, frustrated

and motivational emotional state. Here, the surge of excitement felt by the author is

shown through how they are listing off reasons why women should get involved in

the Riot Grrrl community, indented to arouse the potential audience’s curiosity.

Appendix B – Cohesion

Also, Fairclough says that “cohesion can involve vocabulary links between sentences

– repetition of words, or use of related words (2013, p.108). This is shown through the

repetition of words such as “revolution”, “communication” and “sexism” to develop a

sense of urgency and emphasise the belief that women need to create this community

fast before another girl suffers from oppression.


Charlotte Miles 16

Bibliography:

B, ANDERSON. 2016. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread

of Nationalism. Verso

C, COFFIN. 2001. Analysing English in a Global Context: A Reader. Psychology Press

N, FAIRCLOUGH. 2014. Language and Power. Routledge

N, FAIRCLOUGH. 1993. Discourse and Social Change. Wiley

N, FAIRCLOUGH. 2004. Critical Language Awareness. Routledge

R, FOROUGH & J.R, MOHAMMED. 2011. Critical Discourse Analysis: Scrutinizing

Ideologically-driven Discourses. Islamic Azad University

M, C, KEARNEY. 2013. Girls Make Media. Routledge

M, C, KEARNEY. 1995. Feminist Riot Grrrls Don’t Just Wanna Have Fun. [Viewed on

9 May, 2018] Available from: http://cinema.usc.edu/assets/099/15986.pdf

A.J, LAWSON. 2008. One-on-One with Obama. The University of Birmingham.

[Viewed on 12 May, 2018] Available from:

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-

artslaw/cels/essays/writtendiscourse/andy-lawson-crit-diss.pdf
Charlotte Miles 17

E, MCCRACKEN. 1993. Decoding Women’s Magazines: From Mademoiselle to Ms.

Macmillan

L, MCLOUGHLIN. 2000. The Language of Magazines. Routledge

H, RINGROW. 2012. “Because we’re worth it” (?): Femininity and cosmetics

advertising slogans in a cross-cultural perspective. Queen’s University Belfast.

[Viewed on 14 May, 2018] Available from:

http://www.pala.ac.uk/uploads/2/5/1/0/25105678/ringrow2012.pdf

C, SANDERS. 2015. What I Learned from Bikini Kill’s Brand of Feminism by Courtney

Sanders. [Viewed on 12 May, 2018] Available from

https://www.cataloguemagazine.com.au/feature/what-i-learned-from-bikini-kills-

brand-of-feminism-by-courtney-sanders-4

A, SMITH & M, HIGGINS. 2013. The Language of Journalism: A Multi-Genre

Perspective. Bloomsbury Academic

M, TALBOT. 1995. Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self.

Routledge

W, WANG. 2006. Chapter 4 Critical discourse analysis, intertextuality and the present

study. [Viewed on 12 May, 2018] Available from:

https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstream/2123/1701/5/05chapter4.pdf