Miriam Whiting finds that discourse in media has cultural and historical significance.
Media can have a powerful impact on the way we view our lives, our family, and our culture. Miriam Whiting (Discourse and Society), a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics, explores this impact on Russian people through her analysis of discourse and demographics in Russian television melodramas. Her recently published article “‘You Will Be Happy:’ Demographic Messaging in Russian-Language Melodrama, 2009–2019” discusses how these melodramas convey pronatalist (meaning supporting birth) messaging within the images and dialogue of the films.
Whiting first became interested in this topic when she started watching the melodramas to maintain her Russian language skills—some of her favorites include I Am Happy (2010) and The Millionaire (2012). She noticed trends in the films, such as strong messaging surrounding women, children, and abortion. “Over time, what really stood out to me was a pronatalist message.” This message encourages women to carry pregnancies to full term instead of having an abortion—whether the women already have multiple children or are older or single.
Russia has a long history with abortion, legalizing it first in 1920, outlawing it in 1936, and legalizing it again in 1955. Soviet laws made abortions widely available, even serving as a form of birth control because contraceptives were often unreliable or unavailable,1 but “Russia has never really been overtly pro-abortion,” Whiting says. However, this period (2009–2019) of melodramas Whiting studied coincided with the institution of pro-family governmental policy, the Russian Orthodox Church’s more open condemnation of abortion, and other social and political factors. The demographic messaging in these Russian- and Ukrainian-produced films marks a distinct shift from historical trends that supported abortion in Russia.
Russian media, especially Soviet-era media, is often known for being government sponsored. Whiting explains that these melodramas, though not usually state sponsored, do portray government-approved, positive messages surrounding motherhood, fatherhood, and the Russian family. “What I found so interesting about these films is how the messages are repeated frequently and often using the exact same words.” Whiting continues, “They use a lot of visual images in connection, so it’s a multimodal discourse where you have images and language working together” to impact viewers.
Read about Whiting’s findings in “‘You Will Be Happy:’ Demographic Messaging in Russian-Language Melodrama, 2009–2019.”
- “Abortion Remains Top Birth-Control Option in Russia,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 28, 2008, https://www.rferl.org/a/Abortion_Remains_Top_Birth_Control_Option_Russia/1145849.html#:~:text=Part%20of%20the%20reason%20abortions,intrauterine%20devices%20didn%27t%20work.