Doerr, Nicole and Gardner, Beth Gharrity (2022). ‘After the Storm: Translating the US Capitol Storming in Germany’s Right-Wing Digital Media Ecosystem’, Translation in Society, 1(1): 83–104. https://www.jbe-platform.com/content/journals/10.1075/tris.21008.doe.
Nicole Doerr, a Senior Reseach Fellow at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research (KHK/GCR21), along with co-author Beth Gharrity Gardner explore a nuanced understanding of translation in their article, ‘After the Storm, Translating the US Capitol Storming in Germany’s Right-Wing Digital Media Ecosystem’, which appeared in Translation in Society. In the article, translation is understood as a cultural re-narration of political events, ideas, or ideologies from one cultural sphere to another. The authors assert, ‘We think that our conceptualization of translation deepens knowledge of the political semantic positioning of activists behind storytelling and related discursive forms, including visual aesthetic translation practices’.
Dealing specifically with the storming of the US Capitol on January 6th, 2021, the investigation looks at how this event has been construed in the German media, particularly on the right wing. Importantly, the re-narration of events is viewed as a re-casting of the roles of those involved, which can create an entirely different conception of the motives, drives, and intentions behind this internationally significant event. Reformulating the rioters/insurrectionists as the victims or heroes of the event has wide-reaching consequences which can motivate similar movements abroad.
The re-narration may have begun in the US right-wing media, but it has certainly spread to other countries. In Germany, the authors observe, ‘voices across the right-wing sites we studied positioned themselves as ideological translators in mediating between a valid right-wing ideational regime and a transnational community of traditional politics that is united in marginalizing and attacking right-wing communities’ (3). Through this process, the right invites itself to feel disadvantaged, persecuted, and attacked. The truth of the matter is lost in translation, as it were. The power of this type of storytelling cannot be underestimated because of its propensity to propagate from media sources to the digital community at large through social media platforms. The stories have a cultural resonance with the power to influence, and sometimes even to incite.
The article also engages with the complex process of ideological legitimization, whereby ideological positionings are interpreted as ‘practices of re-narrating political events in ways that allow commentators to establish their own standing as credible intermediaries between competing political stances, actors, ideologies, or ideational regimes’ (5). The authors wish to understand the influence that these processes can have on intercultural translation of social movements.
How are actors re-imagined (insurrectionists–heroes; violence–benevolence)? What are the actual contents of the translated sequence of events? Doerr and Gardner set out to answer these questions in a methodology that both engages with existing literature on the subject, and at the same time offers a new ‘critical case study’ on the narrative framework of this kind of cultural translation. The methodology itself presents findings in three parts: How were the events of Jan. 6th narrated in German-speaking right-wing media? What narrative tropes were used to present an alternative version of events, suggesting a marginalization of right-wing actors? How did specific stories about the storming form an ideological consensus?
The study fundamentally problematizes the power of political storytelling across borders and evaluates the lasting influence derived from re-narration. In their conclusion, the authors assert, ‘our central contribution is to provide a critical, narrative account of far-right activists and their ideological work as translators bridging multilingual audiences to appeal to German-speaking far right activist communities’ (16). As an integral part of political activism, cultural translation presents an imminent challenge by introducing competing narratives with a type of appeal that can easily (and dangerously) percolate through transnational audiences. Doerr and Gardner suggest that the influence of online communities be taken very seriously in future research, as the complex practices for ‘communicating and constructing the boundaries of ideological communities’ (18) represents a powerful way for brokers and arbiters of counternarratives to sway their audience in one direction or another.