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A2 MEDIA STUDIES KEY CONCEPTS
The Key Concepts
When we analyse any kind of media text, there are some tools we use to help us. These are the key concepts of Media Studies and they are like your tool box for analysis. They are easy to remember and are a starting point for any analysis.
F.A.I.R Forms Audiences Institutions Representations
These four concepts are used to understand how meaning is being made and how and why a media text is effective.
Media Forms This means the type of media text or media platform that we are studying. For example, a TV programme is a different media form to a magazine or a website. The media language we use to analyse a media text will change with different media forms. For example if we were analysing a film, we would talk about camera movement, editing, sound, location, props and mise- en-scene, where as if we were analysing a CD, we would talk about image, font, colour, genre and representation.
Different media forms are then split into genres. Film for example can be split into horror, comedy, action, western or thriller. TV might be split into soap opera, documentary, game show or drama.
Different genres have different ‘codes and conventions’. For example, we know a science fiction film when we see one because there are spaceships and aliens, themes of discovery and technology, the future, time travel and robots. The dominant colours are metallic silver and neon blue or green. These codes and conventions are very different to a western where we would expect to see cowboys and saloons, horses, spurs, guns and maybe a cactus. The Narrative or story is also different; different themes and different types of characters too. The codes and conventions show us the type of narrative and genre and this helps us recognise and analyse the form of the text we are studying.
Media Audiences If the media is about MASS COMMUNICATION, then it’s very important to look at who a media text is communicating with. Different media companies have different audiences. For example, Kerrang! Radio has a different ‘target Audience’ to Classic FM or Choice. Different media texts can also have a different target audience. For example BBC1 make Newsround and News at Ten but the target audiences are clearly different. Media audiences can be broken down into different groups, this is called audience segmentation. You can segment audiences by age, race, gender, social class, how much education they have, where they live, what sort of interests they have or the subculture they identify with.
Audiences also respond to the media texts they watch, listen to or download. Media Studies is also concerned with audience responses. Sometimes audiences identify with certain texts, like teenagers may like ‘Skins’ because they identify with the characters. Or maybe they aspire to be like them, or are gratified by the story lines or action. Audiences also respond by participating like when they vote for The X Factor, or for a ‘eviction’ type programme.
Media Institutions. In Media studies, it is also important to consider the company or organisation that produce or broadcast the media texts that we receive. Different media institutions have different aims and visions and they often have different audiences or compete with each other for the same audience. Some media institutions are huge and they own lots of different media forms; Rupert Murdoch owns a company called ‘News Corp International’ which owns Sky TV, The Sun newspaper, The Times newspaper, FOX TV and 20th Century Fox films and lots more. Some people see this as worrying because increased concentration of ownership means that all our media content is getting more and more similar and its only real purpose is making money.
The study of institutions also includes looking at how a company makes its money. For example, a commercial institution like The Sun newspaper makes its money from advertising which means they need a very big audience to interest their advertisers. News articles are often cut or shortened to make more space for advertising to make more money for the institution. This worries some analysts, because it means that The Sun is not really concerned with news so much as advertising revenue and audience figures.
Another important part of institution is ownership and control. If an owner is able to control their institution and its content or audience then should there be a limit on how much one media conglomerate should be allowed to own?
This can seem complicated but it’s very simple once you get it and possibly the most important of all the key concepts. What we see and hear in the media is never real... It is a RE-presentation of reality. When we see young people in the media, they are being re-presented to us. How a person or organisation is represented is really important. A representation could be either positive or negative depending upon the way it is constructed. Costume, the language they use, the location are all part of how meaning is created. Another example might be with race. As Media analysts, we need to look at the representation of characters and organisations critically to uncover whether there is an unfair dominance of negative stereotypes.
Try watching an episode of The Wire or Skins and think about the representation of young people. Is it good or bad, fair or unfair, is it stereotypical or more balanced? Try watching an episode of Britain’s Next Top Model and thinking about the representation of women, is it positive or negative and why?
As you watch TV, read magazines, go to see films or listen to the radio, or read the paper or surf the net, try thinking about the key concepts. Why not stop and think – who is the audience and how are they responding? What are the stereotypes being used here and are the representations positive or negative? Which institution made this media text and how are they funded; what is their vision?
UNDERSTANDING MEDIA AUDIENCES
Researchers investigating the effect of media on audiences have considered the audience in two distinct ways.
The earliest idea was that a mass audience is passive and inactive. The members of the audience are seen as couch potatoes just sitting there consuming media texts – particularly commercial television programmes. It was thought that this did not require the active use of the brain. The audience accepts and believes all messages in any media text that they receive. This is the passive audience model.
The Hypodermic Model
In this model the media is seen as powerful and able to inject ideas into an audience who are seen as weak and passive.
It was thought that a mass audience could be influenced by the same message. This appeared to be the case in Nazi Germany in the 1930s leading up to WWII. Powerful German films such as Triumph of the Will seemed to use propaganda methods to ‘inject’ ideas promoting the Nazi cause into the German audience. That is why this theory is known as the Hypodermic model.
It suggests that a media text can ‘inject’ ideas, values and attitudes into a passive audience who might then act upon them. This theory also suggests that a media text has only one message which the audience must pick up.
In 1957 an American theorist called Vance Packard working in advertising wrote an influential book called The Hidden Persuaders. This book suggested that advertisers were able to manipulate audiences, and persuade them to buy things they may not want to buy. This suggested advertisers had power over audiences. In fact this has since proved to be an unreliable model, as modern audiences are too sophisticated.
Basically this theory stems from a fear of the mass media, and gives the media much more power than it can ever have in a democracy. Also it ignores the obvious fact that not everyone in an audience behaves in the same way. How can an audience be passive – think of all the times you have disagreed with something on television or just not laughed at a new so called comedy, or thought a programme was awful.
This theory also treats the audience as passive. It suggests that repeated exposure to the same message – such as an advertisement – will have an effect on the audience’s attitudes and values. A similar idea is known as densensitisation which suggests that long term exposure to violent media makes the audience less likely to be shocked by violence. Being less shocked by violence the audience may then be more likely to behave violently.
The criticism of this theory is that screen violence is not the same as real violence. Many people have been exposed to screen murder and violence, but there is no evidence at all that this has lead audiences to be less shocked by real killings and violence. Also this theory treats the audience as passive which is an outdated concept.
Two Step Flow Theory
Katz and Lazarsfeld assumes a slightly more active audience. It suggests messages from the media move in two distinct ways. First, individuals who are opinion leaders, receive messages from the media and pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content.
The information does not flow directly from the text into the minds of its audience, but is filtered through the opinion leaders who then pass it on to a more passive audience. The audience then mediate the information received directly from the media with the ideas and thoughts expressed by the opinion leaders, thus being influenced not by a direct process, but by a two step flow.
This theory appeared to reduce the power of the media, and some researchers concluded that social factors were also important in the way in which audiences interpret texts. This led to the idea of active audiences.
This newer model sees the audience not as couch potatoes, but as individuals who are active and interact with the communication process and use media texts for their own purposes. We behave differently because we are different people from different backgrounds with many different attitudes, values, experiences and ideas.
This is the active audience model, and is now generally considered to be a better and more realistic way to talk about audiences.
Uses and Gratifications Model
This model stems from the idea that audiences are a complex mixture of individuals who select media texts that best suits their needs – this goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
The users and gratifications model suggests that media audiences are active and make active decisions about what they consume in relation to their social and cultural setting and their needs.
This was summed up by theorists Blumier and Katz in 1974; ‘Media usage can be explained in that it provides gratifications (meaning it satisfies needs) related to the satisfaction of social and psychological needs’.
Put simply this means that audiences choose to watch programmes that make them feel good (gratifications) e.g. soaps and sitcoms, or that give them information that they can use (uses) e.g. news or information about new products or the world about them.
Blumier and Katz (1975) went into greater detail and identified four main uses:
Surveillance – our need to know what is going on in the world. This relates to Maslow’s need for security. By keeping up to date with news about local and international events we feel we have the knowledge to avoid or deal with dangers.
Personal relationships – our need for to interact with other people. This is provided by forming virtual relationships with characters in soaps, films and all kinds of drama, and other programmes and other media texts.
Personal identity – our need to define our identity and sense of self. Part of our sense of self is informed by making judgments about all sorts of people and things. This is also true of judgments we make about TV and film characters, and celebrities. Our choice of music, the shows we watch, the stars we like can be an expression of our identities. One aspect of this type of gratification is known as value reinforcement. This is where we choose television programmes or newspapers that have similar beliefs to those we hold.
Diversion – the need for escape, entertainment and relaxation. All types of television programmes can be ‘used’ to wind down and offer diversion, as well as satisfying some of the other needs at the same time.
Reception analysis is an active audience theory that looks at how audiences interact with a media text taking into account their ‘situated culture’ – this is their daily life. The theory suggests that social and daily experiences can affect the way an audience reads a media text and reacts to it.
This theory about how audiences read a text was put forward by Professor Stuart Hall in ‘The television discourse – encoding/decoding’ in 1974 with later research by David Morley in 1980 and Charlotte Brunsden.
He suggests that an audience has a significant role in the process of reading a text, and this can be discussed in three different ways:
1 The dominant or preferred reading. The audience shares the code of the text and fully accepts and understands its preferred meaning as intended by the producers (This can be seen as a hegemonic reading).
2 The negotiated reading. The audience partly shares the code of the text and broadly accepts the preferred meaning, but will change the meaning in some way according to their own experiences, culture and values EG These audience members might argue that some representations – ethnic minorities perhaps – appear to them to be inaccurate.
3 The oppositional reading. The audience understands the preferred meaning but does not share the text’s code and rejects this intended meaning and constructs an alternative meaning. EG This could be a radical reading by a Marxist or feminist who rejects the values and ideology of the preferred reading.
Audience theories are crucial for A2 as are Representation, Genre and Narrative.
Interactive audiences. The interactive role of audiences in programmes where audience participation is asked is increasing.
Audiences are asked to be a voter (X factor) or as an on screen member of an audience (Children in Need) or as a participant (Who wants to be a millionaire). This can be seen as audience power, but is it really? Sometimes the power of the audience seems to lie in being able to take part in a media text. Newspapers have always invited a reader response via letters, some of which are published.
Audience as producers Television has been a late starter in the participation stakes but is rapidly catching up. News is asking for CJs – Citizen Journalists – to send in pictures and stories. More and more documentary style programmes are made about so called ‘real’ people.
There are also the ‘make over’ programmes where ordinary people are invited to radically change their life with new clothes, new hair styles or by losing weight etc. The audience is even more active than ever before. It is becoming part of the production. Audiences seem to like seeing themselves on any genre of programme except drama.
Twenty first century audiences are creating their own distribution systems without mediation from institutions or companies. Websites such as My Space, YouTube, and blogs offer new possibilities for audiences. In fact it is what we do and what we spend our money on that gives an audience its value, and to some extent its power, not just what we watch.
Things that influence audiences include new technologies. For example the way broadband and the internet has reduced TV audiences. Digital transmission and production means there are many new channels and ways of viewing media texts not just on television but also via the internet.
Genre TheoryConventional definitions of genres tend to be based on the notion that they constitute particular conventions of content (such as themes or settings) and/or form (including structure and style) which are shared and belong to them. The attempt to define particular genres in terms of sufficient textual properties is sometimes seen as attractive but it poses many difficulties. For instance, in the case of films, some seem to be aligned with one genre in content and another genre in form. The film theorist Robert Stam argues that 'subject matter is the weakest criterion for generic grouping because it fails to take into account how the subject is treated (Stam 2000, 14).
Film theorist, Robert Stam, refers to common ways of categorizing films:
While some genres are based on story content (the war film), other are borrowed from literature (comedy, melodrama) or from other media (the musical). Some are budget-based (blockbusters), while others are based on artistic status (the art film), racial identity (Black cinema), location (the Western) or sexual orientation (Queer cinema). (Stam 2000,14).
Films can help to remind us of the social nature of the production and interpretation of texts. In relation to film, many modern commentators refer to the commercial and industrial significance of genres. McQuail argues that: The genre may be considered as a practical device for helping any mass medium to produce consistently and efficiently relating its production to the expectations of its customers. Since it is also a practical device for enabling individual media users to plan their choices, it can be considered to order the relations between the parties to mass communication. (McQuail 1987, 200)
Steve Neale observes that 'genres... exist within the context of a set of economic relations and practices', though he adds that 'genres are not the product of economic factors as such. The conditions provided by the capitalist economy account neither for the existence of the particular genres that have hitherto been produced, nor for the existence of the conventions that constitute them' (Neale 1980, 51-2). Economic factors may therefore account for the perpetuation of a profitable genre.
Narrative is simply a way of organising material so it makes sense. Edward Branigan (Narrative Comprehension and Film, p3) describes narrative not just as a chain of events or cause and effect, but as an;
“activity that organises data into a special pattern which represents and explains experience”
Film as Fairy Tale
Vladimir Propp, a Russian critic, active in the 1920’s, published his Morphology of the Folk Tale in 1928. While the Soviet cinema was producing excellent films, Propp was essentially interested in the narrative of folk tales. He noticed:
Folk tales were similar in many areas. They were about the same basic struggles and they appeared to have stock characters. He identified a theory about characters and actions as narrative functions. Characters, according to Propp, have a narrative function; they provide a structure for the text.
Characters that perform a function
The Hero – a character that seeks something
The Villain – who opposes or actively blocks the hero’s quest
The Donor – who provides an object with magical properties
The Dispatcher – who sends the hero on his/her quest via a message
The False Hero – who disrupts the hero’s success by making false claims
The Helper – who aids the hero
The Princess – acts as the reward for the hero and the object of the villain’s plots
Her Father – who acts to reward the hero for his effort
Actions as functions of narrative
A community/kingdom/family is in an ordered state of being A member of the community/kingdom/family leaves home
A warning is given to the leaders of the community or a rule is imposed on the hero
The warning is discounted/ the rule is broken
The villain attempts to discover something about the victim of the broken rule
The villain tries to deceive the victim to gain advantage The victim unwittingly helps the villain
A state of disorder The villain harms a member of the community/kingdom/family
One of the members of the community/kingdom/family desires something
The hero is sent to get what is desired
The hero plans action against the villain
The hero leaves home
The hero is tested or attacked/ he meets the test and is given a magical gift or helper
The hero reacts to the donor
The hero arrives at the place he can fulfill his quest
There is a struggle between the hero and the villain |
The hero is branded
The villain is overcome
The state of disorder is settled
The hero returns
The hero is pursued
The hero escapes or is rescued
The hero arrives home and is not recognised
A false hero claims rewards
A task is set for the hero
The task is accomplished
The hero is recognised
The false hero or villain is unmasked
The false hero is punished The hero attains the reward (princess/ kingdom)
To Propp events are not just about character and action but also about progressing the narrative.
CRITICISMS Propp’s theory of narrative seems to be based in a male orientated environment (due to his theory actually reflecting early folk tales) and as such critics often dismiss the theory with regard to film. However, it may still be applied because the function (rather than the gender) of characters is the basis of the theory. E.g. the hero could be a woman; the reward could be a man.
Critics argue that Propp’s strict order of characters and events is restrictive. We should rather apply the functions and events randomly as we meet new narratives. E.g. the hero may kill the villain earlier than Propp expects. Changing the traditional format will change the whole way the text is received.
Some critics claim there are many more character types than Propp suggests and we should feel free to identify them. E.g. the stooge in a sci-fi film, who is usually nameless and usually killed early on to suggest the power of the alien force, is a typical modern character type.
It applies to Fairy Stories and to other similar narratives based around 'quests' IT DOES NOTAPPLY TO ALL NARRATIVES.
WHY THE THEORY IS USEFUL It avoids treating characters as if they are individuals and reminds us they are merely constructs. Some characters are indeed there just to progress the narrative.
Tzvetan Todorov simplified the idea of narrative theory whilst also allowing a more complex interpretation of film texts with his theory of Equilibrium and Disequilibrium.
The theory is simply this:
◦ The fictional environment begins with a state of equilibrium (everything is as it should be)
◦ It then suffers some disruption (disequilibrium)
◦ New equilibrium is produced at the end of the narrative
Seems simple enough and easily applicable to all films! But theories can never be THAT easy! There are five stages the narrative can progress through:
• A state of equilibrium (all is as it should be)
• A disruption of that order by an event
• A recognition that the disorder has occurred
• An attempt to repair the damage of the disruption
• A return or restoration of a NEW equilibrium
Here narrative is not seen as a linear structure but a circular one. The narrative is driven by attempts to restore the equilibrium. However, the equilibrium attained at the end of the story is not identical to the initial equilibrium. Todorov argues that narrative involves a transformation. The characters or the situations are transformed through the progress of the disruption. The disruption itself usually takes place outside the normal social framework, outside the ‘normal’ social events. E.g a murder happens and people are terrified. Someone vanishes and the characters have to solve the mystery. So, remember:
• Narratives don’t need to be linear.
• The progression from initial equilibrium to restoration always involves a transformation.
• The middle period of a narrative can depict actions that transgress
everyday habits and routines.
There can be many disruptions whilst seeking a new equilibrium (horror relies on this technique).
Enigma codes Barthes identified a number of narrative codes referring to the realist text.
The most common of these is the Enigma code.
Enigma codes refer to audience desires to know what will happen next. This code sets puzzles, questions and resolves them within the text. ‘the function of the enigma code is to delay revelation, to dodge the moment of truth by setting up obstacles, stoppages, deviations ..delaying final disclosure until the ultimate moment’ (Stam et.al.) Narrative and Non - Fiction
APPROACHES TO REPRESENTATION
You will all be familiar with this term as a key concept to help you analyse an unseen media text, but this term is also used and an area of academic theory in Media Studies. You will need to become well read and confident in this area of theory and research. You will need to know all the related theory, debates, political, historical and social context.
Key areas for studying ‘Representations’:
◦ Two detailed studies of the images of particular groups or places across a range of media.
◦ Alternative images of these groups or places across the media.
◦ General issues of representation and stereotyping within the media.
◦ Problems of producing fair and accurate media representations.
◦ Representations and power in the Media.
◦ Reasons for dominant representations (e.g. historic, economic, social, political, etc).
Here are some notes outlining the key theories about Media Representations.
The Male Gaze – Laura Mulvey – Feminist Theory – Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema – Written in 1975
The cinema apparatus of Hollywood cinema puts the audience in a masculine subject position with the woman on the screen seen as an object of desire. Film and cinematography are structures upon ideas. Protagonists tended to be men. Mulvey suggests two distinct modes of male gaze – “voyeuristic (women as whores) and fetishistic – women as unreachable madonnas”. (Also narcissistic – women watching film see themselves reflected on the screen). (Film texts: Alien, Jackie Brown).
People who criticise her ideas say that she is ignoring the fact that all genders – male and female want to feel dominated and overwhelmed by the cinema experience. Also, she ignores the fact that men are capable of ‘metaphoric transvestism’ whereby they are able to view the film from the perspective of a woman. (Thelma and Louise, The Piano, Knocked Up, Brick Lane).
Lacan – Psychoanalysis and ‘The Mirror’
Lacan’s theory of ‘the mirror’ is an idea around the idea of identity. He considers the point at which a person develops a sense of self and conscious identity. He considers the point at which a child recognises their own reflection and begin to consider how others perceive them, modifying their appearance to satisfy their perceptions of how others see them. Mulvey extends this idea when she writes about ‘the silver screen’ which she suggest operates like a metaphorical mirror; reflecting back to the female viewer representations of female identity, but these representations are not genuine reflections of the viewer but rather male perceptions of idealised femininity.
Queer Theory – Judith Butler
Emerging out of field of Gender studies (the study of males and female roles historically, politically, socially etc). Queer theory challenges the idea that gender – being male or female – is part of the essential self, that it is fixed, immovable – in other words Queer theory suggest that our male or female gender does not control all aspects of our identity or how we perceive other peoples identity. In other words gender, particularly as it is represented in performance – on TV, Film etc, is fluid, flexible depending on the context in which it is seen. For example an audience can see Tom Cruise playing a “straight” pilot in The Right Stuff and interpret his gender, although male, as having very “queer” or “gay” attributes. The theory developed as a way of combating negative representations of gay sexuality in the Media. It combats the idea that people should be divided and categorised, indeed marginalised, due to their sexual orientation or practice and that a persons’ identity should not be limited to their sexual preference. It asks us to consider how the media constructs gay representation. (Apply to representation of gay sexuality in Knocked up...any others? What about Graham Norton? Alan Carr? Does Post Modern Irony regarding representation of gay characters relieve the audience of burden of moral responsibility regarding evolving attitudes a more flexible idea of gender?)
Subculture – Representation of Groups – Dick Hebdidge
In his book, Subculture and The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdidge said that a subculture is a group of like minded individuals who feel neglected by societal standards and who develop a sense of identity which differs to the dominant on to which they belong. Ken Gelder lists 6 ways in which a subculture can be recognised: 1) Often have negative relationship to work 2) Negative or ambivalent relationship to class 3) Through their associations with territory ( The street, the hood, the club) rather than property 4) Through their stylistic ties to excess 5) Through their movement out of home into non-domestic forms of belonging (social groups as opposed to family) 6) Through their refusal to engage with they might see as the ‘banalities’ of life. Other ways of recognising a subculture might be symbolism attached to clothes, music, visual affectations like tattoos etc. (Examples – Ben and his friends in Knocked up representing a subculture some of the values of which Alison and as such the America she initially represents might benefit from). Subcultural values often associated with being ‘cool’.
Anthony Giddens – Traditionalist vs Post Traditionalist views of society
Media representations of society can be seen as traditional or post traditionalist. Traditional societies are ones in which individual choice was limited by its dominant customs and traditions. Whereas post traditionalist societies are one where the ideas set by previous generations are less important that those of individuals. Post traditional societies no longer feel so dependent and limited to time and place. Giddens says, we are living in a post traditional society where we are much less concerned with precedents set by previous generations and that our options are only limited by what the law and public opinion allows. We have replaced seen/discreet systems with remote ‘expert’ systems, institutions and corporations.
Bell Hooks: Interconnectivity of race, class and gender.
Pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins. First major work “Ain’t I a woman? Lack, women and feminity” written in 1981. Focused on the perpetuation of systems of oppression and domination in the media paying particular attention to the devaluation of black womanhood. The idea of ‘lack’ or ‘otherness’ refers to the way that women and ethnic minorities are usually represented as ‘other’. Their primary purpose is simply to be other than the norm (usually a white male hero). They are therefore known more by the context of lack than by a realised or complex identity. This theory can be linked to ideas of the monstrous feminine found in feminist analysis of literature and art.
A sign, according to Saussure (1915/1966), is a combination of a concept and a sound-image, a combination that cannot be separated. But because Saussure does not find these terms quite satisfactory, he modifies them slightly:
I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified [signifié] and signifier [signifiant]; the last two terms have the advantage of indicating the opposition that separates them from each other and from the whole of which they are parts. (p. 67)
The relationship between the signifier and signified—and this is crucial—is random, unmotivated, unnatural. There is no logical connection between a word and a concept or a signifier and signified, a point that makes finding meaning in texts interesting and problematic.
The difference between a sign and a symbol, Saussure suggests, is that a symbol has a signifier that directly relates to it.
One characteristic of the symbol is that it is never wholly arbitrary; it is not empty, for there is a rudiment of a natural bond between the signifier and signified. The symbol of justice, a pair of scales, could not be replaced by just another symbol, such as a chariot. (p. 68)
We can now start looking at texts differently and can start thinking about how it is that signifiers generate meaning. How do signifiers generate meaning? And how is it that we know these meanings?
Sign: A Combination of Signifier and Signified
LANGUAGE AND SPEAKING
Texts (such as films, television programs, and commercials) are “like languages,” and the rules of linguistics can be applied to them. What a language does is enable the communication of information, feelings and ideas by establishing systems and rules that people learn. And just as there is grammar for writing and speaking, there are grammars for various kinds of texts—and for different media.
Saussure made a distinction that is useful, between language and speaking. Language is a social institution, made up of rules and conventions that have been systematized, that enables us to speak (or, more broadly, to
communicate). Each person “speaks” in his or her own manner, but this speaking is based on the language and rules that everyone learns. A television program such as Star Trek can be viewed as speech that is intelligible to its audience because the audience knows the language. That is, we know the signs and what they signify; we know the conventions of the genre, or what is acceptable and unacceptable.
We know the codes!
Sometimes there is confusion, and the code applied by the creator of a program isn’t the code used by the members of the audience. In such cases there is bad communication. What makes things complicated is the fact that, generally speaking, people are not consciously aware of the rules and codes and cannot articulate them, although they respond to them. An example of this kind of mix-up is a scene in a film or TV program that is meant to be sad but generates laughter in audience members.
It is obvious, then, that people are “speaking” all the time, even when they aren’t saying anything verbally. Hairstyles, eyeglasses, clothes, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and many other things communicate or “speak” (that is, signify continually) to those who are sensitive to such things and who are mindful of signs and signifiers. Maya Pines (1982) has offered this explanation of semiotics:
Everything we do sends messages about us in a variety of codes, semiologists contend. We are also on the receiving end of innumerable messages encoded in music, gestures, foods, rituals, books, movies, or advertisements. Yet we seldom realize that we have received such messages, and would have trouble explaining the rules under which they operate.
1. Semiotics is concerned with how meaning is created and conveyed in texts and, in particular, in narratives (or stories).
2. The focus of semiotics is the signs found in texts. Signs are understood to be combinations of signifiers and signifieds.
3. Because nothing has meaning in itself, the relationships that exist among
signs are crucial. An analogy can be made with words and grammar: It is the ways in which words are combined that determine what they mean. Language is a social institution that tells how words are to be used; speaking is an individual act based on language.
4. Texts can be viewed as being similar to speech and as implying grammars or languages that make the texts meaningful. Codes and conventions make the signs in a narrative understandable and also shape the actions.
CONNOTATION AND DENOTATION
The word connotation comes from the Latin connotare, “to mark along with,” and refers to the cultural meanings that become attached to words (and other forms of communication). A word’s connotations involve the symbolic, historic, and emotional matters connected to it. In his book Mythologies (1972), Roland Barthes, a distinguished French semiotician, addresses the cultural connotations of many aspects of French daily life, such as steak and frites, detergents, Citroen automobiles, and wrestling. Barthes’s purpose, he says, is to take the world of “what-goes-without-saying” and show this world’s connotations and, by extension, its ideological foundations.
Denotation, on the other hand, refers to the literal or explicit meanings of words and other phenomena. For example, Barbie Doll denotes a toy doll, first marketed in 1959, that was originally 11.5 inches high, had measurements of 5.25 inches at the bust, 3.0 inches at the waist, and 4.25 inches at the hips. The connotations of Barbie Doll, in contrast, are the subject of some controversy. Some scholars have suggested that the arrival of the Barbie Doll signified the end of motherhood as a dominant role for women and the importance of consumer culture, because Barbie is a consumer who spends her time buying clothes and having relationships with Ken and other dolls. The Barbie Doll doesn’t prepare little girls for the traditional role of motherhood in the way other kinds of dolls do—allowing them to imitate their mothers in caring for their “children.”
Comparison of Connotation and Denotation
Figurative Signified(s) Inferred Suggests meanings Realm of myth
Literal Signifier(s) Obvious Describes Realm of existence
A great deal of media analysis involves discovering the connotations of objects and symbolic phenomena and of the actions and dialogue of the characters in texts—that is, the meanings these may have for audiences— and tying these meanings to social, cultural, ideological, and other concerns.
Unlike social cognitive and priming effects, the cultivation effects analysed by American communications George Gerbner are honed through much longer exposure to the media. Gerbner and his colleagues carried out longitudinal surveys of people’s opinions on certain subjects- the key variable being how much TV they watched. Variations in opinions held by those who watched lots of TV compared with those who did not were measured to compare the ‘cultivation differential’. In practice, this means that those viewers who watch lots of TV are found to have different opinions about the world outside of t heir front doors than those who watch less TV. So TV cultivates the opinions of people who watch several hours of it each day, every day.
Gerbner identified a ‘mean world syndrome’ that affected heavy TV viewers. Put simply, the more TV you watch, the more likely you are to view the outside world as a hostile and dangerous. Why? Cultivation theory explains ‘mean world syndrome by equating its cultivation differentials with its TV- content analysis. In terms of the latter, Gerbner found that crime on TV was ten times worse than crime in the real world. He also found that TV had a ‘mainstreaming effect’ on people’s tastes and opinions.
TV has to cater for the broad tastes of mass audiences, so instead of innovative programming able to accommodate diverse cultural and political views, TV producers tend to fall back on tried-and-tested formulae. This mainstreaming effect cultivates a narrow minded view of the world to which TV viewers become accustomed and cannot see beyond.
So it would seem that TV addicts make a direct connection between what they see on the small screen and what they think is happening in reality. TV’s cultivating power means that it guides certain individuals into ways in dealing with the world beyond the box. The process of desensitization- becoming less shocked by what we see on TV- is a classic cultivation effect. The problem is, of course, is that TV realism is far removed from actual reality. Witnessing a drive-by shooting in the flesh would probably make us physically sick, and mentally scarred for life, whereas witnessing it every night on TV, we hardly bat an eyelid! More worryingly, the cultivating effects of indiscriminate TV viewing by very young children have been casually linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
But on a positive note, cultivation theory may go some way to explaining the ‘release-valve model’ of media effects in which an individual’s negative energy (anger, frustration, jealousy, hatred) is unleashed upon, say, moving pixels in video games, rather than real-life people.
Uses and Gratifications Theory
The argument underpinning this approach is that audiences use the media- not vice versa. Uses and gratifications theory moves away from fears of effects to fulfillment of needs. The theory goes like this. Human beings are deemed to have various social and physiological needs these needs generate certain expectations of the media (as well as the food we eat, the car we dive etc) that are then sort out and selected in order to rely those expectations, resulting in needs gratifications. An obviously analogy would be the act of eating a meal when we need to satisfy our hunger, and the subsequent gratification we experience if the meal meets our expectations. Likewise, we play video games and watch stand-up comedy on TV in order to gratify our need for excitement or laughter. The need always precedes the effect, meaning that media effects are self regulated, wholly beneficial and tailored to temporal moods and whims.
So uses and gratifications theory treats audiences as active and intelligent in their media choices and uses. It also reverses the assumption made by effects studies that audiences are held captive by the media. Instead, the media are like a set of tools that consumers freely utilise at any time to fix any necessity. Media technologies may even fulfill consumer needs in relatively superficial ways, when say; we turn on the radio as soundtrack to ironing our clothes. In this case, the radio helps to reduce boredom by gratifying the need for something interesting to which we may listen. It seems the media and its consumers can do no wrong!
The optimism espoused by uses and gratifications theory is not without its critics, though. One major criticism is a lack of consensus about what the most basic human needs actually are, and whether and whether these needs are universal or vary on an individual or cultural basis. The idea that media products are always able to satisfy consumer expectations is also questionable, and smacks of an uncritical defense of the media. Surely the media sometimes fall short of our needs and expectations when, for instance, we face a barrage of advertising in our email inbox or buy a ticket to the latest blockbuster movie and leave disappointed?
Theoretical Perspectives (Audience)
You will all be familiar with the term ‘Audience’ as a key concept to help you analyse an unseen media text, but this term is also used as an area of academic theory in Media Studies. You will need to become well read and confident in this area of theory and research. You will need to know all the related theory, debates, political, historical and social context.
Essential theory for study of Audiences at A2 Media includes:
◦ Textual representations of audiences and the public. Their role in phone- ins, documentaries, audience participation programmes, news, etc.
◦ Economic, social and political issues raised by the role of audiences in different media texts.
◦ Segmentation of audiences by the media.
◦ Theories of audience and how audiences read media texts.
◦ Political, social and economic functions of audiences: audiences as citizens, consumers and products.
◦ Audience power. How to use / influence / complain about / support the media.
◦ Influence of new technologies (e.g. digitisation, the Internet) on media – audience relations; the interactive audience.
Here is a glossary for some key theories to use and apply to chosen texts.
Read these notes and then see if you can apply these theories to media texts that we have studied or watch a music video and apply Dyers work on Fandom – particularly useful for discussing TV and
Dyer – Fandom and Utopianism
While some have suggested that fandom is a pointless pursuit of escapism, Richard Dyer suggests otherwise. Fandom is not merely a celebration of fascistic utopia, but rather an active pursuit of utopianism. Fans are creative. They form social communities; they share ideas and common values and produce political statements.
Gramsci – Power and Hegemony Gramsci is primarily concerned with power.
As a Marxist, he believed that society was structured unfairly. The rich upper classes were an elite in society who owned the means of production. This power gave them a control over the masses that work but do not receive their fair share of wealth. Indeed, 80% of the world’s resources are controlled by only 5% of the world’s population. Gramsci was interested in how this unfair status quo is maintained and reproduced.
Hegemony is the idea that the masses are controlled not through coersion or military force, but by ideological manipulation. The Media is one of the institutions in society, along with religion, politics and education that pass on a dominant ideology to the masses of conformity and consent. Indeed, Gramsci believed that the masses were manipulated into giving their consent to the unfair capitalist system.
Jenkins – Participatory Cultures (Convergence)
In the last ten years, there has been an unprecedented amount of technological development, particularly in new media technologies and the Internet. Jenkins has written extensively about ‘convergence culture’; due to multimedia technology, different media forms and technologies have converged. Audiences have become sophisticated ‘users’ of many different platforms of media which cross over. Jenkins stresses how audiences are no longer just consumers, they are also producers and users. They create and consume, participate and publish, download and upload, receive and share. Blogs, network sites, web 2.0 and wikis are just some examples of audiences as powerful creatives within the world of Media production and reception.
Hebdige – Subculture and Creating Meaning Hebdige wrote about style.
He suggested that subculture was all about resistance and political rebellion. Audiences were redefining signs and symbols and giving new meaning to cultural symbolism. For example – when punks ripped their jeans and customised their jackets they were quite literally ripping holes in capitalist American culture, which denim jeans had original symbolised; this icon of the cowboy and the western was now being stone washed, ripped and dyed. They used shocking symbols like the swastika and the skull and crossbones but re-defined their meanings. Hebdige went as far as to suggest that this anarchic subculture was expressing a revolution through style. This theory shows how audience and youth subcultures are creative and political.
The Media Effects Debate
There has been an enormous amount of debate over this issue. Some Media critics especially early on in the study of Media suggested that media texts have a lot of power and that the Media can be held responsible for negative effects in society. Most famously, Mary Whitehouse (a media commentator in the 70s) said that violent film was “a quagmire from which monsters were bound to emerge”.
Theories like the hypodermic syringe model add further weight to the idea that audiences are passive and vulnerable and subject to the meanings conveyed through media texts. However, this sort of fatalistic and simplistic view of media effects has been significantly challenged and is generally see as ‘flawed’ in more recent media studies. Increased participation and audience interaction with the media texts they consume has led other theorists like Raymond Williams to question critics like Mary Whitehouse. His encoding / decoding model shows that active audiences negotiate with the meanings they see in the media. The Uses and Gratifications model likewise suggests that audiences are active interpreters of media ideology. Annette Hill goes even further suggesting that violent film does a service to the world by creating safe environments for audiences to negotiate with social taboos and re-affirm them through self censorship.
'The Male Gaze'
Laura Mulvey on film spectatorship
Whilst these notes are concerned more generally with ‘the gaze’ in the mass media, the term originates in film theory and a brief discussion of its use in film theory is necessary.
As Jonathan Schroeder notes, 'Film has been called an instrument of the male gaze, producing representations of women, the good life, and sexual fantasy from a male point of view' (Schroeder 1998, 208). The concept derives from a seminal article called ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ by Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist. It was published in 1975 and is one of the most widely cited and anthologized (though certainly not one of the most accessible) articles in the whole of contemporary film theory.
Laura Mulvey did not undertake empirical studies of actual filmgoers, but declared her intention to make ‘political use’ of Freudian psychoanalytic theory in a study of cinematic spectatorship. Her studies of 'spectatorship' focus on how 'subject positions' are constructed by media texts rather than investigating the viewing practices of individuals in specific social contexts.
Mulvey notes that Freud had referred to (infantile) scopophilia - the pleasure involved in looking at other people’s bodies as (particularly, erotic) objects. In the darkness of the cinema auditorium it is notable that one may look without being seen either by those on screen or by other members of the audience. Mulvey argues that various features of cinema viewing conditions facilitate for the viewer both the voyeuristic process of objectification of female characters and also the narcissistic process of identification with an ‘ideal ego’ seen on the screen.
She declares that in patriarchal society ‘pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female’ (Mulvey 1992, 27). This is reflected in the dominant forms of cinema. Conventional narrative films in the ‘classical’ Hollywood tradition not only typically focus on a male protagonist in the narrative but also assume a male spectator. ‘As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence’.
Traditional films present men as active, controlling subjects and treat women as passive objects of desire for men in both the story and in the audience, and do not allow women to be desiring sexual subjects in their own right. Such films objectify women in relation to ‘the controlling male gaze’, presenting ‘woman as image’ (or ‘spectacle’) and man as ‘bearer of the look’. Men do the looking; women are there to be looked at. The cinematic codes of popular films ‘are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego’. It was Mulvey who coined the term 'the male gaze'.
Mulvey distinguishes between two modes of looking for the film spectator: voyeuristic and fetishistic, which she presents in Freudian terms as responses to male ‘castration anxiety’. Voyeuristic looking involves a controlling gaze and Mulvey argues that this has had associations with sadism: ‘pleasure lies in ascertaining guilt - asserting control and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness’ (Mulvey 1992, 29). Fetishistic looking, in contrast, involves ‘the substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous. This builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself. The erotic instinct is focused on the look alone’. Fetishistic looking, she suggests, leads to overvaluation of the female image and to the cult of the female movie star. Mulvey argues that the film spectator oscillates between these two forms of looking.
Mulvey’s article generated considerable controversy amongst film theorists. Many objected to the focus upon the passivity with femininity and activity with masculinity and a failure to account for the female spectator. A key objection underlying many critical responses has been that Mulvey's argument in this paper was that it tended to treat both spectatorship and maleness as the only kind of spectatorship - (male) and one kind of masculinity (heterosexual).
Later both Kaplan and Silverman (1980) argued that the gaze could be adopted by both male and female subjects: the male is not always the controlling subject nor is the female always the passive object. Teresa de Lauretis (1984) argued that the female spectator does not simply adopt a masculine reading position but is always involved in a ‘double-identification’ with both the passive and active subject positions.
What of gay spectators? Steve Neale (1983) identifies the gaze of mainstream cinema in the Hollywood tradition as not only male but also heterosexual. He observes a voyeuristic and fetishistic gaze directed by some male characters at other male characters within the text. A useful account of 'queer viewing' is given by Caroline Evans and Lorraine Gamman (1995). Neale argues that ‘in a heterosexual and patriarchal society the male body cannot be marked explicitly as the erotic object of another male look: that look must be motivated, its erotic component repressed’ (Neale 1992, 281). Both Neale and Richard Dyer (1982) also challenged the idea that the male is never sexually objectified in mainstream cinema and argued that the male is not always the looker in control of the gaze. It is widely noted that since the 1980s there has been an increasing display and sexualisation of the male body in mainstream cinema and television and in advertising.
Gender is not the only important factor in determining what Jane Gaines calls 'looking relations' - race and class are also key factors. Ethnicity was found to be a key factor in differentiating amongst different groups of women viewers in a study of Women Viewing Violence (Schlesinger et al. 1992). Michel Foucault, who linked knowledge with power, related the 'inspecting gaze' to power rather than to gender in his discussion of surveillance (Foucault 1977).
Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism.
As we now know the difference between reality and representations of reality- though never clear-cut- is the logic underpinning media studies of representation. Postmodernism, on the other hand, rejects the idea that there is any authentic reality or way of representing it. In other words postmodernism flies in the face of the realist assumption that there is a real world out there that can be represented by the media and other cultural forms. On the contrary, postmodern culture is marked by the loss of representative reality in a cloud of media-saturated imagery, simulation and nostalgia. There is no simple formula for defining post modernism. A glance towards history (not something modernists would encourage) may help to put post modernism in context.
Modernism and Post Modernism
The best way to understand postmodernism is to understand what went before it. Modernism refers to a period of experimental art, and ‘high culture’ from about from about 1890 to 1940. Modernist art and culture revolves around the notion that individual creativity is threatened by hostile environment of oppressive politics, industrialized economics, rampant urbanization and other social forces, including the mass media.
Baudrillard's postmodern world is one of radical implosion, in which social classes, genders, political differences, and once autonomous realms of society and culture collapse into each other, erasing previously defined boundaries and differences. If modern societies, for classical social theory, were characterized by differentiation, for Baudrillard, postmodern societies are
characterized by dedifferentiation, or implosion.
In Baudrillard’s society the realms of economics, politics, culture, sexuality, and the social all implode into each other. In this implosive mix, economics is fundamentally shaped by culture, politics, and other spheres, while art, once a sphere of potential difference and opposition, is absorbed into the economic and political, while sexuality is everywhere.
In addition, his postmodern universe is one of hyperreality in which entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of banal everyday life, as well as the codes and models that structure everyday life. The realm of the hyperreal come to control thought and behavior in ways that reality fail to do – simulated worlds are now more real than real.
In this postmodern world, individuals flee from the "desert of the real" for the ecstasies of hyperreality and the new realm of computer, media, and technological experience. In this universe, subjectivities are fragmented and lost, and a new terrain of experience appears that for Baudrillard renders previous social theories and politics obsolete and irrelevant. For Baudrillard, the "ecstasy of communication" means that the subject is in close proximity to instantaneous images and information, in an overexposed and transparent world. In this situation, the subject "becomes a pure screen a pure absorption and re-absorption surface of the influent networks".
Thus, Baudrillard's categories of simulation, implosion, and hyperreality combine to create an emergent postmodern condition that requires entirely new modes of theory and politics to chart and respond to the novelties of the contemporary era.
For instance, Baudrillard claims that modernity operates with a mode of representation in which ideas represent reality and truth, concepts that are key issues of modern theory. A postmodern society explodes this idea by creating a situation in which subjects lose contact with the real and fragment and dissolve.
In a similar fashion, Baudrillard, claims that in the media and consumer society, people are caught up in the play of images and spectacles that have less and less relationship to an outside, to an external "reality," to such an extent that the very concepts of the social, political, or even "reality" no longer seem to have any meaning. In such a state of fascination with image and spectacle the concept of meaning itself dissolves. Baudrillard implies that social theory loses its very object as meanings, classes, and difference implode into a "black hole" of non-differentiation. Fixed distinctions between social groupings and ideologies implode and face-to-face social relations recede as individuals disappear in worlds of simulation – media, computers, virtual reality itself. Social theory itself thus loses its object, the social, while radical politics loses its subject and power.
Hovering between nostalgia and nihilism, Baudrillard at once exterminates modern ideas and affirms a mode of symbolic exchange which appears to manifest a nostalgic desire to return to premodern cultural forms. Turning the Marxist categories against themselves, masses absorb classes, the subject of custom is fractured, and objects come to rule human beings.
For Baudrillard, in contrast to Marx, the catastrophe of modernity and eruption of postmodernity is produced by the unfolding of technological revolution. Consequently, it can be argued, that Baudrillard replaces Marx's hard economic and social determinism with a form of semiological idealism and technological determinism where signs and objects come to dominate the subject.
For Baudrillard society has reached the end of its history and is no longer developing new forms. Instead it is recycling old beliefs, ideas and ideologies and retreating into a world of pure simulation without meaning.
The critical theory of the Frankfurt School theorists and Herbert Marcuse argued that whilst capitalism had succeeded in raising the living standards of most of the population, the manipulation of false needs established by capitalist advertising and media is repressive. It leads to one-dimensional thought. It blocks people's ability to realise that they are being controlled. His view was that one of the most important mechanisms of control in capitalist societies is the manipulation of the conscious and unconscious.
Gramsci’s discussion of ideology makes sense because it fits in more with personal experience rather than the classical, inflexible, Marxist notions of ideology and false consciousness. Gramsci also sees the 'organs of public opinion' as vital to the struggle for dominance.
Gramsci's hegemony theory, added to and developing Althusserian Marxism and French semiology and psychoanalysis, as it was developed by British cultural studies, offers a powerful tool for a critique of the media and other cultural practices which serve the bourgeoisie's struggle for cultural hegemony.
The 'normal' exercise of hegemony on the now classical terrain of the parliamentary regime is characterised by the combination of force and consent, which balance each other reciprocally, without force predominating excessively over consent. Indeed, the attempt is always made to ensure that force will appear to be based on the consent of the majority, expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion - newspapers and associations - which, therefore, in certain situations, are artificially multiplied.
The majority of people, living in subordinate political positions, generally accept their oppression because they are living in someone else's ideological universe.