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A2 Media StudiesCritical Perspectives in Media Exam



A2 Media Studies

Critical Perspectives in Media Exam


Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Coursework


Revision Guide

A2 Media Studies Exam – Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Coursework


In Section A you answer both 1(a) and 1(b).


Question 1(a) will ask you to discuss the development of your skills from AS to A2 in relation to one or two of the following aspects:

  • Digital Technology
  • Creativity
  • Research and Planning
  • Post-production
  • Using conventions from real media texts


In the exam you should spend about 30 minutes answering question 1(a). In order to do well on this question you must remember to:

  • Discuss both your AS and A2 coursework
  • Demonstrate progress from AS to A2
  • Refer to specific examples from your coursework productions
  • Use terminology


Digital Technology


Think about the different digital technologies you used at AS and A2, this is likely to include cameras (still/video), editing software, image manipulation software.


  • How has digital technology helped you capture your ideas for media production?
  • How did digital technology allow you to be creative?
  • What benefits do digital technologies offer? Are they any disadvantages?
  • How did digital technology influence your work in post-production, e.g. in the creation of video effects, or editing images?


Think about the different digital technologies you used at AS and A2 and evaluate the use you made of them. You need to discuss what digital technology allowed you to do, e.g. editing techniques you used, your use of digital cameras, editing images, adding sound to a video.


Identify two or three examples for AS and for A2. Remember you need to show progression from AS to A2. 




  • How were you creative during your AS and A2 coursework?
  • What elements of your coursework are original?
  • What media texts influenced you?
  • How did technology help you create the product you imagined?


Try to think of specific examples of creativity. You may want to discuss coming up with ideas for your product, or creative/inventive use of technical elements such as camerawork, editing, sound, and mise-en-scene. You could also consider how you used creativity to solve problems. Evaluate the effectiveness of your creative choices.


How has your creativity progressed from AS to A2? Was your Foundation production more reliant on conventions than your Advanced portfolio? Did the different briefs at AS and A2 encourage you to be more creative?


Research and Planning


  • How did your research into genre help you with your production?
  • How did your research into audience contribute to your production work?
  • How did your research into institutions responsible for the production and regulation of the media influence your production work?
  • What pre-production planning techniques did you employ (scripting, storyboarding, shot-listing, etc.)?
  • How effective was your planning – how did it help you in the production phase?
  • What did you learn from planning your first production that helped you to improve your planning for the second?
  • How did you use audience feedback to influence your production work while it was in progress?


Consider the research and planning activities you did at AS and A2. What was the purpose of these activities? How successful were they? How did your research and planning skills develop from AS to A2? 




Post-production means everything you do after filming for video work, and everything you do after gathering material (photos, text) for print work.


  • How much of your text was created only in post-production?
  • What technologies did you use to modify your raw material? How did this change the meaning of your work?
  • How did you use sound in post-production?
  • How did you encode meaning in post-production?


Remember to think about the type of technologies you used, what they allowed you to do, and how your skills developed from AS to A2?


Using conventions from real media texts


  • How and why have you used media conventions?
  • How successful was your use of conventions?
  • How and why have you broken/challenged conventions?
  • How successful was this?
  • How has your use of media conventions developed?


Remember you need to consider how your use of media conventions developed from AS to A2.


Question 1(b) will ask you to select one of your coursework products, either AS or A2 and analyse it relation to one of the following specified theoretical concepts:

  • Narrative
  • Audience
  • Genre
  • Representation
  • Media Language


You will need to spend about 30 minutes answering question 1(b) in the exam. In order to do well you should:

  • Demonstrate your understanding of media theory
  • Relate theory to a range of specific examples from your coursework product
  • Use theoretical and production terminology well


Narrative Theory


Todorov argued that narratives follow a common structure of equilibrium, disequilibrium, and resolution. The significance of Todorov’s theory lies in the state of equilibrium and the resolution. What is the status quo at the beginning? How is the narrative resolved? What has changed? What ideological messages does this suggest?

What structure does your narrative have? What values are embodied by the equilibrium, and the way the narrative is resolved?


Propp identified a group of characters common to the narratives of folk tales who perform essential functions in the development of the story. They are: hero/subject (character searching for something), villain (opposed the hero), donor (provides an object to help the hero), dispatcher (sends the hero on the quest), the false hero, the helper, the princess (the hero’s reward), and the father (who rewards the hero).

Did you use any of Propp’s character types? How did you signify the character types you used? Why did you choose to use/not use these character types? 


Levi-Strauss argued that stories move from one stage to the next by setting up conflicts between two opposing elements that have to be resolved. Pairs of binary oppositions structure narratives. Often one element within a pair will be dominant over the other.

What binary oppositions are used? Are any elements of the pair dominant? What message does that suggest? How do the binary opposition relate to the main theme of your product?


Barthes argues that the meaning of a text is produced through five ‘codes of intelligibility’. The enigma code is the questions that the narrative answers. When we want to know what happens next we are responding to the enigma code. The action
code is the events that move the narrative forwards. The semic
code refers to the elements which signify meaning. The symbolic code relates to the pairs of binary opposites that express the key meaning of the text. The cultural
code refers to things which are common knowledge.

What elements of the narrative codes would be used to make sense of your narrative? What questions would the audience want answered (enigma)? What signifiers are used (semic)? Link your discussion of the symbolic to binary oppositions?



Audience Theory

Uses and Gratifications, Blumler and Katz 

This model suggests that audiences have expectations which they expect to be satisfied by media texts.


The audience needs are:

surveillance – telling us about the world around us, personal identity – influences how we see ourselves and our place in society,

personal relationships – develop relationships with media characters; aids social interaction,

diversion – provides escapism from daily life

Which of these needs are likely to be satisfied by your product? Are there any other pleasures your product offers? 

Encoding Decoding Stuart Hall 

The preferred reading of the text is encoded using technologies and conventions of the medium (technical and professional codes).

Audience members will respond to the text in different ways. The possible responses are:

dominant – the reader shares the text’s code and accepts its preferred reading

negotiated – understands the text’s code, generally accepts the preferred reading but modifies it according to their social position and experiences

oppositional – understands the code but rejects the preferred reading. The audience member will be reading the text from an oppositional position (e.g. a feminist reading).

What is your preferred reading? How did you encode it through your use of technical aspects (camerawork, editing, sound, mise-en-scene)? What different readings might the audience produce?

Social Context, David Morley 

Reception theory – ‘the politics of the living room’. The meaning of the text will be constructed differently depending on the audience member’s position in society.

Differences based on things like social class, gender, and ethnicity, may determine an individual’s cultural tastes.

People from different social groups will have a knowledge of the codes of different types of media text

How might the social background of your audience members effect their interpretation of your product?


Genre Theory


Media institutions use genres as it allows for product differentiation. This means different genres of products are produced to appeal to different target audiences.

What is the genre of your product? Who is the target audience? What different genres in your chosen media might appeal to different audiences?


Genres are like myths. Genres tell a society about itself. The popularity of a genre suggests it reflects the values of society.

What values are suggested by your product?


Genre supervises the relationship between the producers and the audience. Genre guides the production of the text by the producers, and the interpretation by the audience. 

How did you use genre when producing your product? How did genre make it easier to for you to communicate meaning to the audience?


Genres are made up of not just groups of films, but also audience expectations, and discourse including marketing, and media discussion. Genres help audiences understand texts.

What expectations might your audience bring to your product? How would genre help them make sense of your product? 


Representation Theory


Meaning is constructed by the creation and interpretation of signs. A sign is made up of the signifier (the object, word, etc.) and the signifier (the meaning it creates). Representations are constructed through signs which signify a meaning. Signs can be polysemic, meaning they have more than one meaning (polysemy).

What signifiers did you use to convey meaning to your audience? What other meanings may the signifiers signify?


Female characters tend to be displayed for the visual pleasure of male characters and male spectators. For Mulvey, men look, women are looked at. Women are the object of the gaze (looked at), whilst male characters/spectators are the subject of the gaze (or the bearers of the look – the people looking). Women connote ‘to-be-looked-at-ness‘, and are the focus of a clearly male gaze. Mulvey identifies an important process whereby women are coded as the object of the gaze (and represented sexually). Her work has been criticised for only focusing on the male, heterosexual spectator, and ignoring the possibility of the male providing visual pleasure. Dyer has also questioned her distinction between object of the gaze=passive, subject of the gaze=active. A postfeminist perspective may view the position of object of the gaze as a position of power, and the subject of the gaze as a submissive position.

What are the differences in how males and females are represented in your product? Which characters provide visual pleasure? How does this relate to Mulvey’s argument? Which characters are represented as looked at (objects of the gaze) and which characters are shown to be looking (subjects of the gaze)?


Dyer suggests that stereotypes perform a number of functions in media representations. He argues that stereotypes reinforce the idea that there are big differences between different types of people.

Do you use stereotypes? What messages do the stereotypes convey?


Baudrillard is a postmodern theorist. He argues that representations no longer refer to real things. The representation has become more real to us than the reality, and has actually replaced it. Simulacrum – when a copy replaces the original. For Baudrillard images are now hyperreal – they have no relationship to the real. Celebrities are a good example of hyperreality – their media image constructs a reality which does not refer to an actual reality. Baudrillard would question the concept of representation as a process which represents the real.

Do your representations refer to a reality, or do they refer to other representations? 


Media Language – this is the way the medium you used communicates meaning to its audience.


How does the structure of your narrative reflect the genre of your product? Is your narrative determined by the medium you use, e.g. how does your narrative structure reflect the conventions of the music video? 


How did you use generic codes to communicate to the audience? What are the specific generic codes of the medium you used? With music videos you need to consider the generic codes of music videos generally, generic codes of the genre of music, and possibly generic codes of the mode of the narrative (e.g. romance).

Technical Aspects 

How did you make use of camerawork, editing, sound, and mise-en-scene to communicate meaning to the audience? 


How did your use of media language allow you to construct representations?


Remember – Question 1(a) you must discuss both AS and A2 products. Question 1(b) choose either AS or A2. For both sections you need to have specific examples from your coursework products to support the points you make.

There is quite a lot of overlap between the different topics you may be asked on, so many examples could be adapted to the specific focus of the question.


All resources for Section A of the A2 exam are in the Media Shared Area in a folder called A2 Media Resources Summer 2010.


If you have any questions, or have completed practice exam questions you would like me to mark email me.










Take one hour to complete the questions below.

Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Production

In question 1(a) you need to write about your work for the Foundation Portfolio and Advanced Portfolio units and you may refer to other media production work you have undertaken.

1(a) Describe how your creativity developed through the production of your coursework. Refer to a range of examples in your answer to show how these skills developed over time.          


In question 1(b) you need to choose one of your media productions to write about.


1(b) Analyse media language in one of your coursework productions.


Take one hour to complete the questions below.

Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Production

In question 1(a) you need to write about your work for the Foundation Portfolio and Advanced Portfolio units and you may refer to other media production work you have undertaken.

1 (a) In your own experience how did your post-production skills develop through your coursework productions?


In question 1(b) you need to choose one of your media productions to write about.


1 (b) How would you expect an audience to respond to your coursework production?




Take one hour to complete the questions below.

Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Production

In question 1(a) you need to write about your work for the Foundation Portfolio and Advanced Portfolio units and you may refer to other media production work you have undertaken.

1(a) Describe how you developed research and planning skills for media production and evaluate how these skills contributed to creative decision making.  Refer to a range of examples in your answer to show how these skills developed over time.          

In question 1(b) you need to choose one of your media productions to write about.


1(b) Analyse media representation in one of your coursework productions.


Take one hour to complete the questions below.

Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Production


In question 1(a) you need to write about your work for the Foundation Portfolio and Advanced Portfolio units and you may refer to other media production work you have undertaken.

1 (a) “Digital technology turns media consumers into media producers”. In your own experience, how has your creativity developed through using digital technology to complete your coursework productions?


In question 1(b) you need to choose one of your media productions to write about.


1 (b) “Media texts rely on cultural experiences in order for audiences to easily make sense of narratives”. Explain how you used conventional and/or experimental narrative approaches in one of your production pieces.


Take one hour to complete the questions below.

Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Production

In question 1(a) you need to write about your work for the Foundation Portfolio and Advanced Portfolio units and you may refer to other media production work you have undertaken.

1(a) Describe how your use of media conventions developed during the production of your coursework. Refer to a range of examples in your answer to show how these skills developed over time.          

In question 1(b) you need to choose one of your media productions to write about.


1(b) Analyse the role of genre in one of your coursework productions.

Take one hour to complete the questions below.

Section A: Theoretical Evaluation of Production

In question 1(a) you need to write about your work for the Foundation Portfolio and Advanced Portfolio units and you may refer to other media production work you have undertaken.

1 (a) Describe the development of your skills in digital technology and post-production in your coursework. Refer to a range of examples to explain how your skills developed over time.


In question 1(b) you need to choose one of your media productions to write about.


1 (b) In what ways did you create a narrative in your coursework production?

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MEST 3 Section B

Renier ppt 19 05

Categories: Uncategorized

MEST 3 theories – section B

Dyer’s (1979) theory that the powerful often stereotype the less powerful. e.g. Hegemonic institutions such as The Sun who often stereotype vulnerable groups such as teenagers who are portrayed to be violent and hedonistic.

Chomsky’s (1988) theory that hegemonic institutions such as the Hollywood factory are related to Political Economy.

Butler’s (1990) theory that hetrosexuals gain much more representation in media as compared to homosexuals.

Del Sola Poole’s (1977) theory that new media has utopian qualities – Mention ‘Public Sphere’ and the opportunity of people representing themselves through new media such as E-Media. 

Laura Mulvey’s (1995) theory that males are often the subjects whereas females are often the objects – The ‘Male Gaze’ – Females are viewed voyueristically.

Habermas’s (1991) ‘Cultivation theory’ that violence and sex in media has caused people to be ‘desensitised’ due to repeatedly viewing it.

The ‘Uses and Gratification’ theory – “What do we do with media?” Relates to active audiences. Relationship of media and personal lives, escapism etc

The ‘Hypodermic needle’ theory – Relates to passive audiences. The idea that the media influences are thinking and opinions

Categories: Uncategorized

Mest 3 Section B

Categories: Uncategorized

Mest 3: How has globalization and cultural imperialism affected media representations of minority groups?

globalization and cultural imperialism



Aberrant Decoding……………………………………………………………… 2

Anime…………………………………………………………………………………. 3

Auteur Theory…………………………………………………………………….. 4

Roland Barthes…………………………………………………………………… 5


Binary Oppositions……………………………………………………………… 7

Codes and Conventions……………………………………………………… 8

Feminism……………………………………………………………………………. 9

Freud and Psychoanalysis………………………………………………… 10

  1. ………………………………………………………………………………. 12

The Hypodermic Syringe Effect…………………………………………. 12

Ideology……………………………………………………………………………. 16

Institutions………………………………………………………………………… 18

Intertextuality…………………………………………………………………….. 20

Claude Levi-Strauss………………………………………………………….. 21

Laura Mulvey and the Male Gaze………………………………………. 22

Marx…………………………………………………………………………………. 24

Moral Panics…………………………………………………………………….. 26

Media Violence…………………………………………………………………. 28

Narrative…………………………………………………………………………… 29

CS Peirce…………………………………………………………………………. 35

Postmodernism…………………………………………………………………. 30

Vladimir Propp’s Narrative Roles and Functions Theory…….. 31

Reading a text…………………………………………………………………… 32

Realism…………………………………………………………………………….. 33

Representation…………………………………………………………………. 34

Semiotics………………………………………………………………………….. 34

Uses and Gratifications Theory…………………………………………. 36

Applied Media Theory Multiple Choice Test……………………….. 37

Media Theory Applied in an Essay…………………………………….. 45


Aberrant Decoding

Texts can be read in a number of different ways (see preferred reading), some texts are more open to a variety of readings than others. Texts that may be read in a number of ways are known as polysemic texts. When someone misreads texts, either intentionally or not, this is known as aberrant decoding. An example of this would be a mentally ill person playing music backwards to see if there was a hidden message from the Devil for them.


A teenager in Oakton, Virginia, was obsessed with The Matrix; he bought posters, a long leather trench coat and finally a 12-gauge shotgun, similar to the one used by Neo in the film. Josh Cooke then entered his parents’ bedroom on February 17th, 2003 and shot both his mother and father dead. The teenager claimed that his parents were not real, just part of The Matrix. This would be an extreme example of aberrant textual decoding. The teenager lacked what the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called cultural competence; the ability to understand art forms and distinguish them from reality.

Media Debate

In media studies, examiners like to see students engaging in contemporary media issues, theories and debates. A debate arising from aberrant decoding relates to the issues of textual censorship and the freedom of the individual to make informed choices. Total immersion video games such as Manhunt are increasingly popular with young audiences. Manhunt, which can be extensively researched on the Internet, has been the cause of great controversy. The game is banned in New Zealand, Australia and parts of Canada because of the intense levels of brutal violence players are encouraged to use in order to reach the higher levels; victims can be slowly killed with plastic bags, wire and wooden stakes. The game was linked to the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, 14, by his friend Warren LeBlanc, 17. Giselle Pakeerah, the victim’s mother, claimed that LeBlanc had been ‘obsessed’ with the game after the former pleaded guilty in court. A moral panic was created and big UK retailers refused to stock the game and withdrew it from sale. Sales of the game rose as young players wanted to know what was so terrible about it! It eventually came to light that it was the victim, not the killer who had been obsessed with the game. The media debate in this case is; should young people have access to such violent material, which may cause fatal aberrant decoding? Some countries have decided to ban all video games such as Greece in 2002. Are the fears of contemporary censors really justified?



Cartoons and animations have been thought of as essentially entertainment for children. Walt Disney tried to appeal to a wider audience with Fantasia, but the public were unsure of what it was all about, and the film was not an outstanding success. In Japan, animation has appealed to all ages, both in moving image and print media formats. It is not unusual to see adults reading comics on the bullet train to work in the morning. In the 1980’s so called adult animations, known as anime began to be noticed by film buffs in the West. The breakthrough movie was 1988’s Akira that received numerous awards from around the world. In 1995 Ghost in the Shell was released and has been seen as one of the main influences on the Wachowski brothers who used a lot of the images and iconography from the animation in their 1999 blockbuster, The Matrix. Therefore, the use of anime is a good example of intertextuality to discuss in any essay.


Anime has a distinct style and with its adult audience, some of the themes covered can be quite explicit and shocking to younger consumers. Cartoon does not mean childish entertainment in the world of anime. A mass audience is slowly developing across the world as global communication increases contacts. In 2002 Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away received an Oscar for best animation. Anime has come of age.

Going Further
Anime is a very popular media form that is culturally determined by its Japanese roots. Most media production is in the USA, leading to what many critics have called cultural imperialism –American values and ideologies are increasingly dominating the global village referred to by Marshall MacLuhan. It is not uncommon to see young people in remote parts of the world imitating rap and hip hop stars and using the latest ‘gangsta’ slang from Los Angeles. Is globalisation just another word for Americanisation? Anime is a distinctly Asian art form that is popular in the West, therefore is a good example of a contemporary media development that is reversing the trend of cultural imperialism. Anime as an art form has a fan base that is often IT literate (‘geeks’) and therefore students can find a wealth of material for research on the Internet, making anime an ideal subject for an extended research project. Related to anime is the concept of genre. Anime has very distinct and diverse genre forms such as hentai, mecha, kodomo and sentai. An interesting cultural aspect of anime and its print media form, manga, is the erotic nature of many representations. This eroticism is particularly unacceptable in the West because it involves young people, leading to calls for some of the material to be censored.

Research sentai as a genre form on the Internet and discuss whether it should be censored in this country.

Auteur Theory

Most Hollywood films come from a factory-line production: producers, editors, special effects, set designs are all made in-house by a giant media institution like Time-AOL-Warner. The bottom line is the driving force in Hollywood: will the film and its spin offs make money for the institution? There is little room for artistic taste in this free for all, and directors tend to be at the whim of the studio executives. Directors in Hollywood tend to be mere workers for contract, not gifted artists. Every so often a director breaks free of this stifling Hollywood system and manages to have a serious input into the look and feel of a film, its mise-en-scène, its themes, its style and its script. These brave individuals have become known as auteurs; good examples would be Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola and Sir Ridley Scott. Classical auteur theory stated that Hollywood, with its mechanical system of film production, tended to have fewer genuine auteurs than European art cinema. Auteurs tend to be interested in themes that repeat across a range of different films in different genres, for example the British director Michael Powell tended to be interested in defining what being English really meant, this focus may be found in a number of his films such as A Matter of Life and Death and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. There are many problems with auteur theory that can be researched independently, for example, how many films does a director have to make before he or she becomes an auteur? Is the art director often overlooked when considering main directorial input? Can auteurs make popular movies? Is Spielberg an auteur or a populist?


Going Further

To perform well in media studies students need to refer extensively to actual contemporary texts they have studied, as opposed to generalised, blanket statements about ‘the media’. An excellent example of a contemporary auteur is Quentin Tarantino. A really interesting extended research study into the claims of Tarantino’s many fans that he is an auteur could focus on his most notorious film texts: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. Tarantino has also directed an episode of the popular TV crime series CSI, bringing his own style to the production. Actually defining the Tarantino style would be an interesting project, looking at the subtle changes that have taken place in the auteur’s recent productions.

Roland Barthes

Barthes was a French media theorist who was writing from the 1950s through to the 1970s. Barthes’ work is complex and many layered, so any summary will inevitably miss much out. Writing about semiotics, he described all texts as complex bundles of meaning, which can be unravelled to create a whole range of different meanings. Barthes unravelled or deconstructed a number of texts and came to the conclusion that texts may be open (with numerous semiotic threads to pull) or closed, with only one obvious thread to grasp. Texts that can be read in a number of different ways are known as polysemic texts. The threads referred to, Barthes called narrative codes. He identified four different narrative codes but the one you will find most handy to refer to in any essays or examinations are the enigma codes. Enigma codes are to be found in all successful texts from Bob The Builder to CSI. The most obvious aspect of enigma codes is that they are constructed primarily to attract and hold the attention of the audience, normally by creating a mystery or puzzle which the audience want to see solved – why has this man been murdered? Working on the London Underground, workers unearth a strange, ancient, deformed skull; Why is it there, what did the creature look like? What is that dark shadow in the trees? Enigma codes can take many different forms and some are more successfully applied than others. Enigma codes are constructed in order to attract audiences, so are a form of advertising designed to pull in more customers: Barthes’ analysis could be interpreted by Marxists like Gramsci and Althuser as evidence that media texts are essentially capitalist, bourgeois products designed by the ruling class to extract money from the proletariat.


Going Further
Another important aspect of Barthes’ work is the context in which audiences receive texts. Each individual will bring his or her own experiences to bear when decoding a text, making each person’s experience of it different. Texts become networks of meaning, rather than a given and linear form, with the author’s intentions of primary importance. When audiences have been exposed to a communal trauma, they will tend to experience similar responses when exploring a text. A good example to refer to when considering the importance of wider context is the film text The Siege, made in 1999. In the text Arab terrorists are responsible for numerous bombings (including hostage-taking in a school) in New York, so the US Army has to enforce martial law and starts arresting and torturing Arab suspects in detention centres. Non-Arab Audiences interpreted the film as primarily a harmless action/adventure genre text at the time of its release. The same film would be interpreted very differently in the light of the events of 9/11, Guantanamo Bay and Beslan; indeed, could the film actually be financed or made in the present state of fear and the ‘War on Terror’ and the self-censorship that prevails in the liberal media establishment? The fear that the text would be seen as inflammatory, racist or discriminatory would probably have stopped production before the first reel of film was exposed.

Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard, a French media theorist, has been dubbed the prophet of postmodernity. Baudrillard’s best-known work is a series of essays called Simulacra and Simulation, in which he examines the power of representations in the pre-modern, modern and post-modern worlds. If you watch the first ten minutes of The Matrix you will see Neo/Anderson reading Baudrillard’s essays, a telling insertion by the directors, hinting at the narrative to follow. According to Baudrillard in the pre-modern world (before 1500) audiences were rarely confronted with representations of the real because the technology was simply not available, so there could be no confusion between the virtual and the actual. In the modern world (1500-1900) industrialisation and mass production allowed an endless series of representations to enter the collective consciousnesses of the audience, but it was still more than likely that people could distinguish between the simulation and the real. In the post-modern world, audiences are so saturated in representations, that these now precede perceptions of the actual, subtly changing them in the process. An example of this can be seen in how many victims of 9/11 described their trauma as the twin towers collapsed as “ a film…” This small comment has enormous consequences when one considers it fully – a simulation of the real (a film) was the reference point for something actual, a bizarre reversal of normality. Baudrillard goes on to explore where this phenomenon might take humanity, and concludes that it is a ride that we must simply enjoy for the time being! As media products such as video games become ever more sophisticated, will the possibility arise that some people will choose to spend their lives in the predictable comfort of cyberspace rather than in the actual world of relationships, pain, mishaps and confusion?
Another interesting aspect of Baudrillard’s description of post-modern society is the multiplication of simulacra: texts that are copies of each other, with no hard bed rock reality behind the original creation. A good example of a simulacrum is the tribute band phenomenon: groups of talented musicians spend hours impersonating music, gestures and clothing of an original band, some making a good living out of this simulacrum! When one considers that many of the original bands were cynical marketing exercises in the first place, the mind begins to recoil at the level of simulation happening. Baudrillard discovered more and more simulacra appearing in post-modern societies, from themed pubs, theme parks, computer simulation ‘God games’ (The Sims), virtual online communities – all ‘realities’ that have no actuality behind them. A study of Baudrillard’s ideas can be extremely disconcerting as you realise the degree to which post-modern societies have no anchor to anything substantial. Baudrillard’s prophetic role is assured, and his questioning of where the world of simulacra may end is of critical importance to media students who want to really think about the societal consequences of their studies. The best text that explores many of Baudrillard’s questions is The Matrix: study the French master, then see the film again, and it will become clear how much the film owes to his works.


Binary Oppositions

The French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss examined how narratives unconsciously reflect the dominant ideologies of a society through oppositions in the text. For example, in I, Robot, we find a constant opposition between the virtual and the real, between machine and human, between logic and belief, dark and light, simulacra and reality. Why do we find these binary oppositions in so many contemporary science fiction texts? Our society is being profoundly affected by technology and many people are worried about where our world is heading. Will carefully crafted software replace teachers, and therefore schools? Will machines quietly take over the reins of control and destroy mankind, a theme picked up in many contemporary texts such as The Terminator trilogy?


Another contemporary dread relates to environmental collapse, with a fear that Mother Nature will take her revenge on humanity. This fear can be seen in many contemporary factual documentaries about killer asteroids, freak weather conditions, killer earthquakes, the coming ice age/killer drought, super volcanoes and mega tsunami. Experts set out the science, and then the CGI department creates lifelike simulations of Los Angeles being consumed by magma, or London being engulfed by a huge North Sea storm surge. This popular hunger for Biblical doom is fed by Hollywood with texts such as The Day After Tomorrow, Twister, Dante’s Peak and Armageddon. These texts all set up binary oppositions that neatly structure the narrative of each text: man against nature, man against machines, settled prosperity against refugee poverty, prophetic challenge against arrogant political inertia, normality against disruption, control versus chaos and so forth.


Examination Tips

Many students refer to binary oppositions in very vague terms in their answers to set essay questions. To tighten up your answer, always refer to the original thinker behind the concept, Claude Levis-Strauss, and then explain that binary oppositions reflect contemporary ideologies and fears, with specific and named examples to show your understanding. Here are two examples of how exemplification and detail can transform a response:

1)    “…In I, Robot we see binary oppositions at work such as robots against humans…”

2)    “In I, Robot we can see Claude Levi Strauss’s binary oppositions at work such as the hero, Detective Spooner and the ‘evil’ robot Sonny, representing good humanity versus cold, evil machine. This reflects contemporary fears of the increasing power of technology…”


Answer two would score considerably more points in an examination because it is engaged and exemplified properly, whereas response one is partial and implied.

Codes and Conventions

These are the rules that media texts generally stick to, whatever the type or genre. A good example of a print media text that uses recognisable codes is The Sun newspaper in Britain, which always has a bold splash head, a page-three model and a huge sports section. Codes and conventions are connected to the key concepts of institution, genre and audience. Institutions like codes and conventions because economies can be made and the planning of productions are streamlined and cheaper. An example of this would be a morning TV chat show where the physical set and narrative format of the show says pretty much the same. A good example is Trisha Goddard: watch three episodes and analyse what stays the same in each one, it is surprising how little changes apart from the guests, but even these begin to look alike! Innovation is risky and can cost an institution a small fortune if it upsets audience expectations. Audiences feel comforted and familiar with certain codes and conventions, actively seeking out generic texts for their own use and gratification. Horror fans go to see the latest text expecting gore, scares and the thrill of being seriously frightened. ‘Rom-com’ fans go to see the boy meets girl plot, expecting narrative resolution or “They all lived happily ever after” by the end of their two hours.


Texts like James Bond movies, have clearly defined codes and conventions: there is always a struggle between good and evil, there are beautiful women, fast cars, gadgets, slick puns, Bond’s controller, M, and Bond’s technical expert, Q, and there is always a happy ending. All Bond movies stick to these codes and conventions because that is what audiences want, and a happy audience means big profits for the institution that has financed the film. A Bond movie where Bond starts to behave differently, crying when he is hit, for example, would simply not work for many audiences. Texts that break codes and conventions could be seen as post-modern and subversive. Looking at the espionage genre we can see the Austin Powers texts as post-modern, self-reflexive texts that consciously mock the codes and conventions of the Bond genre.


Going Further

The study of codes and conventions in certain genres can make an excellent basis for an extended piece of personal media research. Identifying codeas and conventions is fairly straightforward; identifying and analysing texts that break these is far more stimulating and can lead to some high marks being awarded. An analysis of audience pleasures whilst watching spoof texts such Not Another Teen Movie (teen genre), Scream (horror), Galaxy Quest (Sci-fi), Austin Powers (espionage genre), Team America (action/adventure), Airplane! (disaster genre) would make an excellent research project. Audiences feel very clever as they spot one scene after another from previously viewed texts.



Feminists interpret the media in terms of gender representation; how are men and women represented? There are three basic types of feminism, and therefore three different approaches to feminist criticisms of texts.

1. Liberal feminism
The roles of women are generally passive in media representations, and this creates little girls who feel the need for male protection, and little boys who have a tendency to fight and try to assert themselves to win the attention of the female. The media therefore has a vital role in the socialisation (upbringing) of children, and the way the genders are represented is of crucial importance if women are to feel good about themselves when they grow up.

2. Socialist Feminism
Socialist feminists see women as the exploited, and men as the exploiters. Men use the media to control women and therefore representations of women as homemakers, cleaning, cooking and tidying, are repeated so that women will come to believe that these functions are natural. The control of women by men is known as patriarchy, and socialist feminists say it is their duty to challenge patriarchal representations.

3. Radical Feminism
Radical feminists take the socialist position further and say that women are kept in their place by the threat of or actual exercise of male violence. “All men are rapists!”  was how one radical feminist put her case. Women are depicted as sexually available, and the male gaze is essential for the success of any female star. Women can be portrayed as strong, such as Carry-Anne Moss’s Trinity in The Matrix, but they still depend on men and still have to be physically attractive. Has there ever been a female star who has been anything other than slim and attractive? No!, because the patriarchy still see women as sexual playthings, and use the media to perpetuate this image.


Feminism was particularly strong in the 1970s and 1980s, with women such as Andrea Dworkin taking the lead. Since the start of the new millennium, the attention of many academics who focus on gender studies have shifted their interest to how men are represented in the media.

Examination Tip

Many students write simplistic statements about gender that examiners find irritating and an indicator of limited ability. The typical simplistic statement is “…until the 1960s women stayed at home and looked after children, but we now live in a post feminist world where women are represented as powerful and equal to men…” A close examination of how women are represented in pre 1960s texts reveals a much more complex picture which is very different from the baby boomer myth. A good example to study is the character of Clarissa Saunders in Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) by Frank Capra – a woman who is in control from the first frame.
Freud and Psychoanalysis

Freud was a groundbreaking doctor who wrote about the human mind at the turn of the 20th Century. Many of his ideas have been rejected recently, but his influence as a pioneer of the science of psychology is enormous. Freud’s ‘big idea’ is that sexuality governs the human mind, and therefore affects everything we do and think. Freud’s belief that all men are secretly in love with their own mothers and all women are really little girls in love with their fathers, known as the Oedipus and Electra complexes, was not received well at the time it was first published. Freud used his famous couch and gently perceptive questioning to reveal his patients’ mental problems or neuroses. Freudian psychology plays a large part in Laura Mulvey’s ‘Male Gaze’ media theory.

Going Further

Freudian interpretations are similar to Marxist ones in that both are adopting a structuralist approach to human organisations and behaviour. Society, according to Freud was pre-determined by psychological structures with their own logical outworking, so deeply ingrained that individuals were the playthings of these forces. The individual was therefore not considered to be responsible for his or her actions in the face of these culturally pre-determined structures. Most people only glimpsed at the true underlying meaning of their actions through slips of the tongue and dreams. If a science teacher was describing an organism, she might accidentally describe it as an orgasm because she had been reading a survey in a women’s magazine before the lesson. The Freudian slip would indicate that her mind was elsewhere for an instant!


Was Freud right in stating that sex was the most important drive in human life? Recent surveys of the nature of Internet cyberspace usage suggests that a staggering 70% of sites are directly linked to pornographic representations, mainly of women. The pornography industry is worth hundreds of millions of pounds every year, covering all aspects of the mass media from print, through to film and new media sources. These figures strongly suggest that Freud was partially correct in identifying sexuality as a key aspect of being human.

The human obsession with sexuality could be linked effectively to the uses and gratifications theory that stresses the way audiences use media texts to generate pleasure; the romantic comedy genre has proved remarkably successful in recent years, with texts such as Bridget Jones’ Diary leaping the bridge from written text to multi million dollar film franchise. Gender theory also links well to a Freudian analysis of media consumption: why is it that men are the biggest customers for explicit pornography? Laura Mulvey linked male pleasure from narrative cinema with the male relationship with the mother in the first hours after birth; hence the fascination with breasts in many men!


To Discuss

  1. Why are men more likely to purchase media texts from the top shelf than women?
  2. Analyse a poster for a romantic comedy aimed at women, discuss the use of iconography and positioning of subjects, how does it attract the target audience?
  3. To what extent does a study of advertising support the phrase ‘sex sells’?





Genre gives the audience expectations and determines the way they interpret the text. Genres are used in a whole variety of texts from tabloid newspapers, radio chat shows to soaps. A well known genre is that of horror. The audience expects to be scared, and the mediators play with these expectations. Mise-en-scène is vital in helping an audience determine the generic expectations.


Characters are often generically determined in certain texts. Audiences recognise these key elements of a genre and respond accordingly, if they read the text in the way the mediator prefers. These key elements can be called paradigms and two types have been identified:

  1. Iconographic: signs and symbols

2. Structural: how structures in the text deal with issues such as ideology and gender.

Generic subversion is becoming stronger and stronger in contemporary texts. A good example of this subversion is in the film Scary Movie where virtually every generic code is first identified, then played with, to the delight of many audiences.


Genres tend to become ‘tired’ over time, with audiences becoming less interested. The theorist Christian Metz identified four phases in this process: the initial phase, the classical phase, the declining phase and finally the parody phase. The disaster genre is a good example with The Towering Inferno in the classical phase and Airplane! as the final parody. To survive, genres mutate and join with others to form hybrid genres, such as Blade Runner, which was a hybrid of the Sci-Fi and Film Noir genres.

Going further

Genre can be linked firmly to the key concept of institution in media studies. Genres appeal to certain target audiences, for example, soap operas tend to have a gendered appeal (to women), which allows institutions to precisely market goods and services to this audience during commercial breaks. Genre also allows institutions to save money by standardising production – using the same sets, actors and scriptwriters for a series keeps costs down in a business where costs can spiral upwards and audiences can become easily bored. When costs can be accurately predicted, financial planning is easier and long-term contracts can be awarded to suppliers and actors. This generic approach to production can lead to predictability and can stifle creativity, as happened under the old Hollywood studio system that began to collapse in the 1970s.


A contemporary development has been genre hybridisation and the creation of cross genre texts where different genres are combined together to create a newer, fresher genre, which appeals to a new audience. A good contemporary example is the popular TV series CSI that combines the police procedural, crime and whodunit genres to create a new genre. Genres are no longer separate and unique, they increasingly lend and borrow from other texts; this is known as intertextuality and can be seen as a defining aspect of post modernism.


Genre can link naturally with the key concept of audience. Audiences like genre texts and actively seek them out for their own pleasure. Genre texts are reassuring to audiences because of their familiarity and promoting a God-like understanding of knowing roughly what the outcome will be. Audiences know what to expect and usually get it from a generic text. A genre that pleases audiences is reality TV; a good contemporary example is Big Brother that has predictable elements such as interactivity, where the audience votes unpopular members of the house out, and engineered disputes between the different characters, which are focused on in the editing phase of the production. The producers of the show call the genre a format, which seems to have become an interchangeable term.


Discussion Questions

1)    Which genres on television are most popular with audiences? What reasons are there for certain genres being popular?

2)    If genre texts are predictable, why do audiences continue to consume them?

3)      Has genre hybridisation become more common in contemporary texts? Why may this have happened?



The Hypodermic Syringe Effect

This media theory is all about the way an audience receives a text. Essentially, the audience are passive receivers of media messages that they interpret uncritically. The theory is popular when there is a media panic, such as the case of Jamie Bulger, a toddler, who was brutally murdered by two other children. The two killers’ defence rested on the fact that their young minds had been corrupted by ‘video nasties’ that showed horrible violence as fun. There were even echoes of the manner of the killing in a film called Childsplay 3. The tabloid newspapers made a simple link between the violence the two child-killers had seen and their behaviour. This link is questionable. Most people can see the difference between reality and texts; only a small minority indulge in aberrant decoding of texts.


A good historical example of the hypodermic syringe effect was when Orson Welles staged a radio show that reported in a very realistic way, a Martian invasion of New Jersey and New York on October 30th 1938. Welles warned listeners that the production was a fiction based on a work of literature (H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds), but people who tuned in after the warning thought they were actually hearing a real account of an invasion. There were scenes of panic; traffic jams leaving city centres, and even some looting. The audience were uncritically accepting Orson Welles’ narrative and responding. The day after the show Welles was forced to make a public apology. One question that needs to be addressed is that of the influence of context. In 1938 many people expected a terrible war and there were fears of an impending war, even in America. Did the general air of panic, stoked up by the media, create the perfect setting for Orson Welles’ famous stunt?

A good example of a contemporary application of the hypodermic theory is the connection between anorexia nervosa and media representations of ideal bodies. This has been exhaustively researched for women, but can also apply to men who see ‘six packs’ and ‘pecs’ as essential and so spend a fortune at the local gym in order to appear like the idealised versions of masculinity seen in magazines such as Men’s Health.

Going Further

The hypodermic syringe theory is part of a wider media issue called the effects and uses debate. The early exponents of the effects theory were known as the Frankfurt School, and they analysed the power of the mass media in capitalist societies such as the USA and in totalitarian societies such as Nazi Germany. Drawing on Marxist methodology, the Frankfurt school emphasised the power of the media to influence a largely passive audience; to inject ideologies that supported the stats quo and those who benefited from it – the elite.


Connected with the wider effects debate was the growing fear of the influence of television on society in the 1960s. Groups were set up in the US and UK to monitor the effects violent or sexually explicit material was having on audiences. One such group was the National Viewers and Listeners Association, which has become MediaWatch. These groups want to see much greater awareness in the general public about the power and influence of the media in our society.


Another dimension of the effects debate is connected with psychology. The famous psychologist B.F. Skinner coined the term behaviourism, explaining that people’s behaviour could be critically influenced by psychological manipulation. If dogs can be made to drool when a bell is rung for food, could people become more peaceful and democratic if exposed to positive messages in the media? Advertisers were quick to see a profit from modifying consumers’ buying behaviour in favour of their clients’ products rather than their competitors’ A famous experiment that was conducted by Bandura and Walters in 1963 was the ‘Bobo doll’ experiment. Children watched adults attacking a doll on film, and were then filmed copying the behaviour when left alone with a similar doll. Violent behaviour was being learned and refined in the young by watching media texts – this was fuel for those who wanted to censor the media and possibly led to age restrictions on certain violent or explicit material. Critics of behaviourism and of Bandura’s work have pointed out a number of problems:

  • Animals and children are not the same! Children are hugely more sophisticated than even the highest primates and monkeys – simple behaviourism is too crude to explain what is going on in a child’s mind.
  • Children from violent backgrounds will act out violent scenes more readily than those from peaceful homes – violence has been cultivated in them already.
  • People try to unconsciously please experimenters – to tell them what they want to hear. Did the children receive subtle hints that attacking the doll was what the scientists wanted?
  • Tracing the subtle cultural effect of media texts is harder to do than assess violent acts in children – how can we ever quantify the long-term cultural effects of certain media texts?

Discussion Questions

1)    Should younger audiences be protected from violent or sexually explicit material in the media? Come up with three arguments in favour of age-related censorship, three against.

2)      There is a growing movement to restrict young people’s exposure to the media by limiting access to TV and games consoles in bedrooms – is this a good idea?





Every media text has an underlying set of ideas that shape it. In the contemporary world, so-called political correctness has a major impact on textual construction. When someone breaks the ideologically accepted norms of society, a backlash is the result. A good example is the case of the BBC presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk, who hosted a talk show. Kilroy-Silk made anti-Arab comments in a Sunday newspaper and was forced to resign from his post because he was felt to hold politically unacceptable views by the institution. Dominant ideology is that set of ideas that the majority of the people accept. Examples of dominant ideological views are the following:

  • Women should behave modestly.
  • People should look after their family first.
  • Children need a lot of love and care to grow up properly.
  • People have a right to earn as much as they can.
  • People who earn a lot should not show off by parading their wealth too ostentatiously.

Another good example of someone who it could be argued broke the ideological rules was the media baron Robert Maxwell. He lived a very lavish lifestyle and used other peoples’ pension contributions to keep his many failing business enterprises afloat. When the Maxwell empire collapsed, thousands of people lost their life savings and were left penniless in their old age. Maxwell, it was asserted, was a fraud who destroyed families and didn’t face his accusers.


Hollywood films have clear ideological roots, most are about heroic individuals who go through testing and struggle and eventually win through against all odds. Some good examples of this individualistic ideology can be found in the Die Hard trilogy where John McClane defeats terrorists, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. One decent man saves the Roman Empire in Gladiator.  Hollywood hates random or accidental deaths, so an enemy or perpetrator is always present, and people are saved from certain death situations at the last minute. Justice must be seen to be done.

Going Further

To grasp the importance of ideology in media texts, the term discourse needs to be understood. A discourse is a set of hidden, ‘agreed’ rules about what is acceptable in a given area of study. In science for example, experiments do not mention the mood or disposition of the experimenter, because this is not part of the scientific discourse. Research has shown that the personal attitudes of an experimenter can and does have a profound effect on the ‘scientific’ results produced. For example, much of the work of the famous sexual behaviour researcher Alfred Kinsey was highly weighted in favour of normalising homosexual behaviour – he had homosexual tendencies himself and may have had a clear interest in the outcome. Kinsey rejected data that did not support his views, thus his research is widely questioned today. In the media, similar discourses are created, where certain ideas cannot be expressed because they are not part of the discourse. When terrorism is discussed in a TV news magazine text such as Newsnight, the discourse does not allow an interviewee to agree with terrorist acts; the discourse only permits discussion of how to stop terrorism. In political discussions in the media, far Left or Right opinions are outside the ‘normal’ discourse and once again are not allowed to be discussed. This leads on to the concept of political correctness, which is influencing every aspect of life today. The media widely practices self-censorship where certain ideologies are now considered dangerous and beyond the agreed discourse. To question politically correct views on race or gender can lead to suspension or even having employment terminated. A good example was the ending of Robert Kilroy-Silk’s media career when he wrote an article condemning Arab culture as sexist and backward. To avoid offending minorities, we see examples of increasing self-censorship in many media institutions such as the BBC. A good contemporary example of self-censorship in the media is the furore over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in many European newspapers in 2006. The cartoons were deemed offensive to a religious minority and violent protests occurred across Europe. The originator of the controversy was a writer, Kare Bluitgen, who could not find anyone to illustrate a children’s book about Mohammed because the artists and illustrators were scared of offending Muslims and being physically assaulted. A Danish newspaper published the cartoons to show that self-censorship must stop. The response from Islamic nations worldwide was headline news, with Danish flags burned and their embassy in one country fire bombed! The events were described by the Danish Prime Minister as the biggest crisis in Denmark’s history since World War Two. Ideology is a very sensitive aspect of media studies and can easily cause offence; there is no painless way of looking at the subject, and freedom from bias is arguably impossible.


Discussion Questions

1)    Are certain opinions so outrageous that there should be no discussion of them permitted in the mass media? If so, what are these ‘forbidden opinions’?

2)    Is political correctness a good or a bad cultural development?

3)      Are we now subject to the whims of a self-appointed thought police, as predicted in George Orwell’s vision of                          the future, 1984?




These are the bodies that make, distribute and show media texts. Increasingly, with the march of globalisation, huge media businesses are being created, such as the Time/AOL/Warner group, one of the biggest in the world, with a turnover of $380 billion, followed by Disney, Viacom and Bertelsmann. Large multinational corporations such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation likewise increasingly own newspapers and magazines such as The Sun and The Times. In the UK one of the biggest media institutions is the BBC, a public broadcast service.


Institutions tend to be run by white, middle-class men and the products their institutions create reflect the passions and interests of these men. If political correctness is important to the governors of the BBC, then lots of non-white newsreaders and reporters suddenly appear on TV screens, if red-heads are in, then lots of red-headed women stars appear. Institutions such as Coca Cola also have huge advertising budgets that they use to place their product on screens. The media is increasingly seen as a business with huge potential for profit making; The Lord Of The Rings trilogy will make well over $3 billion for Time/AOL/Warner for example. Institutions shape the way we see the world, but remain shadowy, secretive organisations that few know anything about. Check out the Mediawatch website for more details.

Going further

An important concept students need to understand is that of public service broadcasting institutions. PSBs include the BBC, ITN, Channels 4 and 5, and the Welsh language channel S4C. PSBs can be commercial or government-funded: ITN is a commercial institution, whereas the BBC is funded through the licence fee that is paid by all households who own a television. There are a number of important principles that govern the way PSBs operate as media institutions:


  • They must appeal to a broad audience
  • They should be available to all
  • They should be independent of government
  • They must cater for minority interests
  • They must educate as well as merely entertain


Some PSBs are given specific instructions when they are created, and are checked or audited regularly to see that they are carrying out their brief. A good example of a media institution that has a specific brief is Channel 4, which has to provide programming that will specifically appeal to minority groups in society, such as cultural or sexual minorities. Channel 4 has developed a strong identity as an ‘alternative’ channel where risky or offensive programming has taken place. A good example of such a risky programme was the most complained about programme in British broadcasting history, Brass Eye, which was a mockumentary series that satirised moral panics about Britain’s decline, crime and paedophilia.


Independent institutions are commercial, but can make programmes in the style, and on subjects of their own choosing. Larger commercial and PSB institutions can buy the products of the ‘indies’ and save on production costs. A good example of an independent media company is EMAP, which is one of the largest publishers of magazines in the UK.


To Discuss

Some media commentators are convinced there is a silent conspiracy controlling what audiences see and read in the media, and ultimately, the way most audiences may therefore see the world. Left wing critics such as Noam Chomsky argue that media institutions, being commercial organisations, are committed to capitalism and are generally supportive of business and government. Conservative critics such as Melanie Philips argue that a liberal establishment that is committed to secular values, multiculturalism, egalitarianism and state power controls the media in Britain. Which side do you agree with? Present your arguments with clear evidence from contemporary news media such as newspapers and news magazine programmes from TV.




Many media texts make direct or subtler references to other texts. A good example of this intertextuality can be found in The Matrix. There are many references to other texts such as Alice in Wonderland, with references to the rabbit hole, and being offered a magical key to another dimension of reality. You can also find references to the French media theorists Baudrillard and Michel Foucault as well as connections with Greek literature, Buddhist scriptures, and Biblical allusions. Many of the actual concepts of The Matrix came from comic books, anime art work and there might even be a direct copying of a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor fights The Master on Gallifrey, in a digital universe called The Matrix!


Intertextuality raises a host of issues, the most important being that of authorship; to what extent is any text wholly new, or original? Where does a text start and where does it end? What is text and what is context? An example of intertextuality is a recruitment poster encouraging ethnic minorities to join the Army, referring playfully back to a famous World War One recruitment poster. Some texts deliberately play with intertextuality, teasing the audience to spot the references; this has been called one of the codes and conventions of a post-modern text. A good example of such a playful, post-modern text is The Simpsons. Watch a couple of episodes and see how many intertextual references you can spot, particularly to other films and directors.

Going further

Important concepts students need to understand about intertextuality are genre, hybridity and bricolage. If we take a well-known text such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, we can see references to other texts such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, zombie movies such as Night of the Living Dead, and comedy texts such as Scream! By combining a number of different genres, a hybrid genre has been used, meaning recognisable genres have been combined to create the horror/comedy genre. When different elements of texts and genres are added together to create a new effect, this could be described as bricolage. The easiest way to remember all these concepts is to visualise an artist’s palette, with a number of different paint colours. The artist could use the colours alone to create bold effects, or could combine a number of related colours to make more subtle tones and shades. In this analogy, the artist is the media producer, the colours are texts and genres, and the masterpiece will probably employ bricolage effectively.



Claude Levi-Strauss

Levi-Strauss was a French linguistic theorist who wrote many books on how meaning and culture relate.  Narratives we relate to each other unconsciously reflect the ideologies, obsessions and fears of our society. These narratives are constructed using opposites such as dark and light. If we take the example of the science fiction genre, we can see Levi-Strauss’s point clearly. The popular film about global warming The Day After Tomorrow (2003) shows the fears of the society at work perfectly; the Earth’s climate has been dramatically affected by pollution. We see in the text many binary oppositions that relate to the obsessive fear of destruction: normal weather and extreme conditions, calm, orderly behaviour and wild uncontrolled madness, scientists and journalists, political masters and bewildered ordinary people, and so forth.


Going further

Media students often make a simple mistake when writing an essay in the examination; they make broad, non-specific references to theories and theorists and fail to tie this securely to textual examples they have studies. Taking a case study of a popular text, cheaply available from the Internet and high street stores, that of I, Robot. This text is aimed at a mass audience, and has proved popular across the world, taking nearly $350 million. At the heart of this text is a structure (Levi-Strauss was a structuralist) based on clear binary oppositions of human versus machine. The hero (a reference to Propp could be applied here) is a human, and the supposed villain is a robot called Sonny. The hero is black; the robot is white, an interesting reversal of their opposing roles in the film, and also a reversal of semiotic codes and conventions. Another key aspect of the binary oppositions is the individual, Will Smith’s character Detective Spooner, against the corporation, represented by the real company US Robotics. Smith plays a quirky, opinionated maverick character, always on the edge of being disciplined by his superiors. The corporation works like a disciplined machine; the building where the company headquarters is housed is in fact a living example of artificial intelligence, called Vicky, a super-computer that is using the NS-5 robots for its own ends. Other binary oppositions in the text are control by rational computers against control by emotional, faulty humans. Remember to use contemporary examples in your answers – you may refer back to historic texts, but only to support or compare with your main investigation, which is anchored in the contemporary world. There arises an important question at this point: what is contemporary? AQA examination board places contemporary texts in a five year period preceding a student’s entry to the course. Some teachers like to focus on older texts that were iconic and spoke to their generation – gently remind them that they should be focusing on texts that have meaning for present day audiences!


Laura Mulvey and the Male Gaze

Laura Mulvey is an academic who approaches media texts, mainly film, with a feminist, psychoanalytical approach; a woman’s point of view and a psychiatrist’s perspective. Mulvey wrote a very influential article called ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, stating that the representation of women in films is closely connected with the pleasure men receive when they look at a beautiful woman. This pleasure relates back to the male child’s first experiences of a woman, his mother. Mulvey’s point is well illustrated in the work of the great British film director, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s women are always beautiful, and strangely, often end up as passive victims. Male film directors enjoyed depicting the torture of women because it fulfilled deep seated psychological needs. Many films were essentially directed by and for ‘peeping toms’. Mulvey wanted to see more positive representations of women on the screen, ones that empowered them, rather than ones that enforced negative stereotypes of helplessness and dependency.

Going Further

According to Mulvey, most mainstream Hollywood film invariably adopts the position of the male’s gaze: camera shots linger over legs, lips, breasts, but do not follow the same cinematographic rules when focusing on men. Men are often represented as active, women as passive. Cultivation theory states that by slowly dripping ideologies into audiences’ minds, they adopt them without realising what is happening. The male gaze is so manifest in many media texts that women are made more passive. Mulvey’s position is that to put the picture straight, male scopophilic (watching) pleasures need to be denied; mainstream Hollywood has to go, to be replaced with avant-garde film making, which can empower women and bring down the patriarchal dominance in media production. When traditional narrative film making has ended its dominance of the industry, then women can start to create film that embodies the female gaze, and audiences will be freed from the shackles of patriarchy.


Critics of Laura Mulvey point to the popularity of ‘patriarchal’ texts with both genders; many women are not bothered or even conscious of any male bias in film: they want to be entertained, not empowered. Terje Skjerdal objects to the way Freudian psychoanalysis is used by Mulvey to understand film, and her dismissal of all mainstream Hollywood production as patriarchal, pointing to texts such as Thelma and Louise (1991) as evidence that gender issues can be represented positively and can empower women, just as effectively as avant-garde cinema. Some mainstream texts such as Ridley Scott’s horror Sci-Fi text Alien (1979) represent women as powerful, capable and highly competent, in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, who alone among the crew of a space ship with a killer alien on board manages to kill the alien and survive.

Discussion Point

Analyse a contemporary film text from the last two years and see if the camera is indeed following the male gaze theory. Can you find examples of the female gaze in any contemporary film? Bring your findings to class and be prepared to discuss whether you agree or disagree with Mulvey’s view that narrative cinema is essentially patriarchal and oppressive to women.



Marxist ideologies are primarily about class and the domination of small, powerful groups in society. Karl Marx believed that one day the ordinary people would rise up and take control of society, creating a fair and equal system where everyone was accepted and given equal respect. The revolution never happened, but the way Marx analysed society became very powerful and is still useful today, even though Communism has failed. Marxist critics such as Gramsci have noted how dominant ideologies reflect the values most likely to keep the middle classes in power and control. The people who control the big media institutions such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation use their power in the media to promote ideas that will sustain and support the system that made them rich – Capitalism. People like Ralph Nader and Michael Moore question the dominant capitalistic system and find a block on their work. Michael Moore, who wrote a bestseller Stupid White Men – a critical book that exposes George Bush as a crook, found it very hard to have his work published because it contained messages highly critical of the American Way. Representations of the poor, communists, women, disabled, gays and so forth, all reflect the dominant ideology that excludes minorities. White, middle-class men control the media, so the media reflects their value system. The Marxist position is highly biased, but is a powerful tool and worth mentioning in any examination answer, particularly when thinking about why certain people are represented in certain ways.

Marx – Going Further

An investigation of Marxist interpretations of the media leads most students to the work and ideas of Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci coined the key term hegemony to describe the relationship between the ruling class and the ruled. To control society, particular social groups struggle to influence the consensus view or the more widely used term, ‘common sense’.  These groups use the media to persuade others to accept and adopt their views, but never finally succeed totally in achieving complete dominance – the struggle is perpetual.  A good case study showing the hegemonic principal at work is the way feminists have influenced the way society has seen gender, politics and work. A hundred years ago women were seen in a very different way – they did not have the vote, had limited legal rights and lived in a more patriarchal society where their life choices were more limited than today. Through various media such as books, magazines and television and also through direct political action, women changed the perception of their role in society to one of greater equality. The dominant or hegemonic view is now that the sexes are equal and the discourse is limited to discussing how this can be further enhanced. A text that argued women were emotional and irrational and needed male guidance to steady them would probably not be made in 2007 –it would be airing views that were outside the permitted ideological discourse. The writer Dr Laura Schlesinger aired views that were outside the permitted gender discourse and found herself ostracised from airing her views that women should submit to men on the mainstream American media chat shows.

A Marxist analysis of who produces most of the media texts consumed in the developed world shows that five major companies control the majority of production. This places enormous power in the hands of unelected shareholders in these companies. These institutions will tend to support the status quo because it has served the shareholders well in the past. As globalisation continues, more and more audiences will ‘get what they’re given’, which will be heavily encoded with American values and produced by wealthy media companies such as the Fox network.


Discussion Questions

1)    Were the Marxists right in asserting that many media texts encode hegemonic values that support the status quo?

2)    Have minority ideologies such as gay rights now become hegemonic? How does the media promote such ideologies?

3)    Do liberal or capitalist elites control the media?


Moral Panics

When the media become obsessed with a threat to the Western way of life (capitalism), or to people’s health or security, a moral panic results. A moral panic in the 1980s followed after the Jamie Bulger case, when two children battered a toddler to death. The two murderers had seen a range of videos that depicted horrible violence. A number of videos were banned and age limits strictly enforced as a result of the moral panic. Some recent examples of moral panics have been an ongoing campaign against foreign migrants in the tabloid press, stressing their cultural differences and the amount of money needed to support them while their requests are looked into.


After the 9/11 disasters, fundamentalist Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorists became the focus of the moral panic, on both sides of the Atlantic. More recent moral panics could be the fear of paedophiles (Ian Huntley), amoral professionals (Dr Harold Shipman) and the SARS epidemic, which was reported as another possible plague that would destroy the world as we knew it. Moral panics and people so disgusting that society despises and hates them, known as folk devils, were identified by the media theorist Stanley Cohen.

Moral Panics – How They Work

Moral panics can be broken down into three distinct phases: Phase one is the initial event and its immediate interpretation. Phase two involves the mass media fanning the flames. Phase three is the resulting social control. Here’s how it could work in a fictional example. Anti social behaviour orders (ASBOs) and tagging are discovered to be the only way teenagers can be initiated into a secret elite urban gang, called Kaos, so thousands deliberately try to create as much havoc and mayhem as possible in order to join. Kaos is cool, and everyone who wants street credibility wants the club tattoo on his or her wrist. A mini crime wave ensues. A right wing national newspaper exposes the gang and its activities and demands stiffer penalties for anti social behaviour. Gang membership rockets across the country. appears on the Internet to recruit more members, causing copycat violence across many areas. Hits on the Kaos website reach 5 million within a week. The magistrates’ courts cannot cope with the huge numbers appearing for arson, theft and robbery, and demand action. The government then passes amendments to the Conspiracy Act in order to put an end to the activities of the gang. Kaos membership peaks at 100,000 until the leaders are found to be public school boys who set up the club as an ironic post-modern joke for their media studies coursework about cultivation theory and the hypodermic syringe effect. The boys become overnight celebrities, but the press deems them folk devils and after being expelled, they are sent to a young offenders’ institution. The new Secretary of State for Education removes media studies from the curriculum in a bold move to keep the right wing press happy and persuade them that she is getting tough on yobs and soft curriculum subjects.


Going further

The media theorist Stanley Cohen named those who threaten ‘our’ way of life, or deviate from the dominant ideology as folk devils. The Jews became just such folk devils in Nazi Germany, with many children indoctrinated into a belief that the Jews were behind all that was bad in German society. Today, the paedophile is the ultimate folk devil, with rumours that one has moved into an area likely to spark off rioting. One paediatrician had her practice vandalised because of the misunderstanding by local people caused by her clinic’s name. Can you think of any other groups in our society who are branded as fiends, or threats to ‘our’ way of life?



To Discuss

  • Are moral panics ever justified?
  • Do moral panics inevitably cause freedom to be curtailed in some way?
  • How are moral panics beneficial to media institutions?


Media Violence

Every few years, a media text will feature some particularly graphic violent act and will spark off a media debate or panic. In the 1970’s kung fu movies such as Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon were blamed for so-called copycat violence when throwing-stars were used at British football matches. The occult horror film The Exorcist was reported as the most violent and disturbing film ever made and there were calls to have the text censored in the UK. In the 1980s so-called video nasties were seen as destroying the fabric of society and many were banned as a result. The film Childsplay 3 was blamed for the Jamie Bulger murder. Another film that was seen as simply too violent for audiences was Quentin Tarantino’s movie Reservoir Dogs, which showed a policeman having his ear cut off by a psychotic criminal. It is clear that this debate will not go away. Media violence seems to be acceptable where it is shown to be bad, or where right overcomes evil. In 1999 The Matrix was released to critical acclaim, but some criticisms of its depiction of violence, such as a soldier having a knife buried in his skull by Carry-Ann Moss-Trinity. A contemporary debate about media violence is focused on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which features large doses of calculated violence, committed by the actress Uma Thurman. It seems violence against the helpless or children are the most unacceptable type, even in the permissive New Millennium.


The media and violence debate – going further

In the tabloid newspapers where the violence-censorship debate is most vigorous, a simple adding up of violent acts watched is linked to an upsurge of violence in society in general. The simple answer is then to restrict what is available in the interestes of decency and public order. A good example is the release of a video game based on Tarantino’s violent masterpiece Reservoir Dogs in 2006.  Players can perform ultra violent acts on police officers such as cutting off their fingers, ears, and ultimately blowing a hole in their heads. The game was immediately banned in Australia and New Zealand, but was given an 18 certificate and released in the UK. The New Zealand censors wrote: “(The game) encourages the player to perform – and showcases in slow motion – the most extreme forms of violence and brutality for the purpose of entertainment.” Here is an example of linking a media product directly to acts of violence; the question is clear for a media student – is there a link or not? If acts of violence watched are added up, the question arises, how does one define a violent act? Are the commonplace acts of torture and abuse found in childens’ cartoons such as Ed, Edd and Eddy really violent, or just simulated for entertainment? When Robots have their heads ripped off in I, Robot, are we seeing violence or mechanical interaction? The media influence on the young has been referred to in the hypodermic syringe section, but students should make it clear that they are aware of an unresolved debate about the effects of the media in society.


This is a key concept in media studies, one that can be quite complex when looked into. Different media texts use different narratives; a tabloid newspaper would start its narrative with a big impact headline, whereas a film text would keep its biggest impact sequences until the end. Soap operas tend to operate using open-ended narratives; the stories rarely have closure because following episodes keep the stories ongoing, and the audience interested. Most texts have linear narratives, the story has a beginning, middle and end, organised in sequence. A classic film that broke the linear rule was Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, where the hero was killed in the first part of the narrative and reappeared in the second and third parts! The Russian media theorist Vladimir Propp wrote in great detail about the various types of narrative functions; he observed 31 different functions, based on his research into Russian fairy tales.


Remember that every text has a narrative, including print media. When looking at print media, think about the way the reader’s eye is drawn into engaging with the text, this is the textual narrative. Narrative is intimately connected with audience. An effective narrative is one that repeatedly engages the audience fully with the text.


Tzvetan Todorov’s Narrative Theory

Tzvetan Todorov’s narrative theory is really very simple. Most stories or narratives start with a state of balance, wholeness, equilibrium and harmony; the characters are at peace, all is well. If you have seen The Lord of The Rings (2001-3), the narrative starts in the Shire, with Bilbo and Frodo living in the rustic peace of Hobbiton. Todorov then noted that something or someone from outside disrupts the peace and causes a state of disequilibrium or imbalance. There follows a struggle at the end of which equilibrium and harmony are restored, but it is a new type of harmony, changed from the original state. If we apply Todorov’s theory to The Matrix, we have Thomas Anderson working as a software writer and part-time hacker, he is called by Morpheus to be reborn into the real world, and the film ends with Anderson in a new role and world as Neo. Todorov’s model applied to the Lord of the Rings works very well, with the outsider Gandalf bringing news of Sauron and Saruman’s growing force, to the final scenes showing harmony restored once more to the Shire with Sam Gamgee returning to the peace of his little village, but a world where no elf, wizard or ring-bearer dwell…






This is cutting edge theory and the term post-modern is a hard one to define. Without going into lots of complicated theory, here are some of the qualities of post-modern philosophy:

  1. According to the French media theorist Lyotard there are no more ‘big pictures’ or meta- narratives, all truth has become relative.
  2. Morality is culturally derived and therefore relative; your right maybe my wrong.
  3. The way you see something is more important than what you see.


Here are some qualities to look out for in post-modern texts:


1)           Self-reflexivity and subversion: texts that refer to themselves are known as self-reflexive, for example, in a movie, when an actor looks directly at the audience and says, “Hey, don’t worry, it’s only a film!” Post-modern directors like to position their audiences at some distance, as if to compel them to realise that what they are seeing is only a constructed reality. A good example of this is the 2000 film Snatch by Guy Ritchie, where the editing is so obvious and is even referred to throughout the film.


2)           Intertextuality: many post-modern films make playful references to other texts, teasing the audiences to spot the references. This is done constantly in the popular TV animations The Simpsons and can also be seen in The Matrix where lots of references to Baudrillard, Lewis Carol, and martial arts films are made, to name but a few. The best example of intertextuality can be found in the blockbuster Shrek, see how many you can spot.


3)           Mixing genres and periods: post-modern texts often deliberately mix up different genres and periods to create interest in their audience. A good example of this is in A Knight’s Tale where the high culture of medieval literature (Chaucer) meets the popular culture of the 1970’s bands Queen and Thin Lizzy.


4)          Using representation deliberately: audiences have become very sophisticated, post-modern directors like to show how fragmented our world has become, how we  make sense of the world through media images, that are themselves copies of other texts. Life has become a hall of mirrors, which image is real?

Propp’s Narrative Roles and Functions Theory

Vladimir Propp was a Russian media theorist, known as a formalist, who analysed over 100 Russian folk tales and realised that certain characters recurred in completely different stories: the villain, hero (heroine?!), the gift giver, the sender, the false friend, the helper, the princess (prince?!) and her father, the king?  Propp also realised that certain narrative themes were used again and again: preparation, complication, transference, struggle, return and finally recognition. Propp’s narrative functions are complicated and cover 31 different functions, some of which apply, some of which don’t, depending on the narrative. Read any good Media Studies textbook to find out more.

Let’s apply Propp’s theory to The Matrix: the hero is Anderson/Neo, the villain is Agent Smith, the sender/helper is Morpheus, the false helper is Cypher, the princess is Trinity, but where is the heroine’s father? Propp’s analysis still works on a general level, but do not force narratives into a Proppian mould. Most of the fairy tales Propp based his analysis on were created in a male dominated world where women played a fairly passive role, hence Trinity saves the hero in The Matrix. Feminist ideology has had an important effect on narrative construction, thus making Propp’s analysis less applicable. Nevertheless, Propp’s analytical system still works remarkably well despite the passage of years.


Examination Advice

Weaker students often misapply Vladimir Propp’s narrative theories, by forcing them inappropriately onto texts, with the result that quite silly answers are produced. How, for example, could Propp’s theories be applied to a print media car advertisement with a dark background and a bright red sports car approaching the reader? It has been done, because Propp is easily understood and weaker students like to feel secure with simple ideas, applying them wherever and whenever they can. The sports car becomes the hero and the wild road the villain, which is of course rather silly! The same problem applies to Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory: whenever an alluring female is employed in a media text, the weaker student trots out the tired clichés about women being sex objects: it is so dull and predictable, and annoys weary examiners! This leads on to general advice about answering the question set, not preparing an answer and hoping that the right question is on the paper. Carefully reading the question is so easy, yet so few students actually do it. Break the question into three parts: the instruction (what am I being asked to do?), the topic (what is this about?) and the key phrase or word (what am I being asked to focus on?). When you have understood the question, then stick to it and do not waver until you have nailed it down with the PEE (!) rule: make a Point, provide a detailed Example from a contemporary text you have studied, and Explain how this example illustrates your point.


Reading a text

When a text is created, the institutions and director want the audience to read the film in a certain way. For example, EastEnders the soap opera is supposed to be a slice of real life in East London, the audience’s reading is supposed to focus on the realism of the mise-en-scène, thinking ‘this is like real life!’ This is known as the preferred or hegemonic reading of the text. After going backstage or studying media language and analysis, an audience will see the text in a different way; their reading will be a negotiated one. Instead of becoming engrossed in the interplay of characters, which is the preferred way of reading the text, a negotiated reading will focus on camera angles, use of mise-en-scène, dialogue and so forth. An oppositional reading of a text is where an audience will disagree strongly with the ideology of the text. In EastEnders Christians are represented in a very negative way, as hypocrites, whereas gay people are routinely depicted as sensitive people, in touch with their emotions. An evangelical Christian who sees homosexuality as a sin may therefore make an oppositional reading of EastEnders, seeing the representation as part of the contemporary rejection of traditional standards of morality. Another example of oppositional readings would be a modern audience’s reading of a famous documentary Triumph of the Will, a propaganda film made for the Nazis by Leni Riefenstahl in 1934. The preferred reading of the text is simple; Hitler saved Germany and is leading the nation to victory. The negotiated reading focuses on the wider context and the imaginative use of moving cameras. The oppositional reading of the text would focus on the poisonous ideology, and seeing the text as pure racist hate, better consigned to the trash bin of history. Audiences will often interpret texts in very different ways depending on their background, education and what is happening at the time they are viewing the text.

Preferred or Hegemonic Reading

The way an audience is supposed to understand a text, the way of the mediator, is known as the preferred or hegemonic reading. When an audience reads a text differently it is called a negotiated reading. An audience that reads a text completely differently is sometimes an oppositional reading, or even an aberrant reading. If we take the example of I, Robot the directors want us to see the text as a science fiction narrative about the challenge robotic advancements will cause as the machines outpace their inventors. This theme is woven into the narrative structure of a police drama about the suspected murder of a top industrial designer. The text can be read on a simple level as a high octane blockbuster with lots of action and spectacular CGI. A negotiated reading would look at the context of the film, considering how the impact of technology was being encoded into binary oppositions in popular texts. An oppositional reading would consider the outrageous use of product placement in the text, with close ups of branded footwear and computer companies’ logos as evidence of globalisation and institutional synergy. Three people could be watching the same film, but from entirely different perspectives.


Realism (verisimiltude)

This is an important area concerned with representation in various media texts. Firstly, all texts are mediated and therefore not realistic. Most texts, notably those from the Classical Hollywood era, pretend that they are showing you reality by transparent, continuity editing techniques. Characterisation, mise-en-scène and narrative all conspire together to create an illusion of realism, or verisimilitude. Of course, what we are seeing is someone’s highly mediated version of reality. Many students become bogged down with issues of realism, when often there is a simple and obvious truth; what we are seeing is all mediated, the mise-en-scene has been carefully selected, the lighting adjusted for effect and actors put in costumes. Media texts are by their very nature unreal!


After the Second World War Italian filmmakers, influenced by Marxist ideas that cinema should reflect social and class reality rather than bourgeois (middle class) fantasy, created a type of film that used non-professional actors and simple unrehearsed dialogue to show life as it ‘really’ was. The question here is whose reality are we seeing; merelya marxist reality, instead of a bourgeois one? This school of cinema was known as Italian Neo-Realism, and a good example is Pasolini’s  Gospel According to Saint Matthew where Jesus looks rather dull and Saint John has a bad haircut and pimples. A British example of social realism is the mod classic Bronco Bullfrog where two incoherent teenagers find love in a monochrome Hackney in 1969 East End of London. Realism has become less of an important concept, especially since the advent of CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery. In texts such as The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  audiences clearly know that what they are seeing is not real, but the text still works because audiences are prepared to suspend their disbelief.



The way a subject is shown to the audience is the essence of representation. Richard Dyer’s typographical theory stated there were four aspects to representation.


  1. Re-presentation: What type of media language is being used to portray the subject? If a person is shown with lighting below the face, contrasting and sinister shadows are shown, making the subject appear sinister, for example.


  1. Being representative of: the media uses types to communicate. Often these types are stereotypes; so all East End men have shaved heads and intimidate people with violence. All motorcyclists are rebels that wear leathers and speed dangerously. Careful selection of mise-en-scène is used to convey meaning and reinforce stereotypes.


  1. Institutions create texts for profit, not accuracy or realism. Many audiences prefer to be entertained rather than think, so stereotypes are used repeatedly because they comfort. Countertypes (where stereotypes are challenged or subverted) do not go down well with many audiences. Many audiences would feel cheated after seeing a James Bond film where Bond turned out to be gay!


  1. Audiences’ responses to representations: audiences can make preferred, negotiated or oppositional readings of texts.


There are some important questions to ask whenever you see a representation:

  • Who or what is being represented?
  • Who is doing the representation?
  • Is the representation fair, truthful and accurate?
  • Does the person being represented have any opportunity for self-expression, or are words put into their mouth by editing, mise-en-scène and so forth?



Semiotics is complicated; it involves the study of signs and meanings. This sounds simple, but the more one looks at semiotics, the more it becomes very difficult to fully understand. If we take a sign found next to an old person’s home (red warning triangle, two bent over people, one with a walking stick in black on white) as an example, we have two aspects: the sign itself and what the sign means, in this case drivers beware of elderly people crossing the road slowly. A study of this initially simple sign reveals a lot more, for example stereotypical and ageist representations of the elderly. Ferdinand de Saussure stated that signs use codes and conventions that mean certain things to certain audiences, for example, red is associated with warning and white with good in Western societies. In Western semiotic codes, red also represents blood, whereas in China red signifies good luck! A very successful advertising campaign for HSBC bank used this issue of cultural relativism in a recent campaign. Meaning therefore has a culturally conditioned aspect; it can change over time as well, in response to wider social contexts. Science meant progress until the atomic bomb was exploded in 1945 and the Nazi extermination camps were discovered; science then meant the possibilities of extermination and annihilation. Scientists generally had more positive connotations in 1936; in 1946 they began to take onmore sinister associations.
C.S. Pierce

Pierce contributed to the study of signs, symbols and meanings, known as semiotics. Pierce believed that the essence of semiotics lay in the study of language or linguistics. Language dominated the way human beings thought about the world, either freeing them, or imprisoning them to think independently. Pierce identified three categories of signs: iconic, indexical and symbolic.

  1. Iconic: a sign that represents something else. A photograph of a cat is not a cat, but it makes us think of one.
  2. Indexical: a sign that has a direct link to something else: a thermometer is an index of temperature, so most car dashboards have one, to indicate the temperature of the water, rather than the words “water temperature in your radiator” – which would take up a lot of space.
  3. Symbolic: formal signs are used to indicate meaning, so a cross is    used to represent the crucifixion of Christ.

Applying Pierce to a real example, let’s look at the pop diva Madonna. Iconic signs are where what is represented has a direct connection to reality, for example a photograph of Madonna looks like the person it represents. An indexical sign is one where there is a less direct link; a cartoon of Madonna with her famous girdle and fishnets: the face may be hidden, but most people would be able to identify her quickly. A symbolic sign is where cultural connotations give a sign meaning, for example Madonna may signify post modernism and the power of changing surface images in England, but she may mean decadence and moral decay in Iran!


Uses and Gratifications Theory

Many audience theories have focused on the effect media texts have on audiences, seeing them as essentially passive, a group to whom things are done by mediators. A good example of this passive audience theory would be the hypodermic syringe model. Uses and gratifications turns the spotlight on a different area; what does the audience do with the text, rather than what the text does to the audience. Media theorists Blumler and Katz put forward the idea that audiences put media texts to their own uses, instead of being manipulated by them. Here are four distinct uses to which audiences put texts:


1. To reinforce personal identity: texts can be used to judge how to behave in reality.


2. To find companionship and meaning by being part of a group: going to the cinema and discussing the latest movie with friends would be a good example of this. Watching soap operas is another example where people actually feel part of Walford or Emmerdale, if their own lives are rather lonely.


3. People also use media texts to find out about current affairs, news and weather and how they should respond to changes taking place. For example, many people read the Financial Times in order to discover stock prices and company fortunes.


4. Finally, people use the media to communicate with each other. The Internet is of course the biggest way this is done, it is a medium that is increasingly being used by advertisers. Interactive TV is also taking off, with millions of people pressing the red button on their remote control to vote on who should be removed from the Big Brother house, or who should be crowned Queen of the Jungle!



Applied Media Theory Multiple Choice Test


1. What is aberrant decoding?

a) Misinterpretation of a text

b) Purposely changing a text’s meaning

c) Not knowing what a text means

d) Not understanding a text


2. A text that may be read in a number of different ways could be called a

a) Polysemitic text

b) Polyseptic text

c) Polysemic text

d) Multi layered text


3. Who was Pierre Bourdieu?

a) A teenager who shot his parents

b) A French semiotic writer

c) A French sociologist

d) A culturally competent film director


4. Examples of successful anime films are

a) Akira and Fantasia

b) Ran and Ghost in the Machine

c) Akira and Quadrophenia

d) Ghost in the Shell and Akira


5. Which of the following is NOT an auteur?

a) Roland Barthes

b) Francis Ford Coppola

c) Orson Welles

d) Ridley Scott


6. Who described texts as complex bundles of meanings?

a) Michael Powell

b) Claude Levi-Strauss

c) Sigmund Freud

d) Roland Barthes


7. Which pair of qualities would constitute a binary opposition?

a) Love and death

b) Life and light

c) Despair and darkness

d) Logic and science


8. Which text deliberately played with generic codes and conventions?

a) The Sun

b) Scary Movie

c) Die Another Day

d) Lord of the Rings


9. What would be typical of the tabloid newspaper genre?

a) Detailed reporting

b) Coverage of foreign news

c) Splash headline

d) A racing supplement


10. How would feminists describe the representation of women in many media texts?

a) Fat and hairy

b) Lazy and vain

c) Strong and sexually manipulative

d) Passive and vulnerable


11. Which type of feminism is most extreme?

a) Socialist

b) Liberal

c) Ultra

d) Radical


12. Who is known as the father of modern psychology?

a) Barthes

b) Frank

c) Felipe

d) Sigmund Freud


13. In the Electra Complex

a) Girls fantasise about falling in love with their fathers

b) Boys secretly desire their mothers

c) Men gaze at women and want to control them

d) Men use violence to achieve their ends


14. What is patriarchy?

a) Control of the media

b) Men controlling women through negative stereotyping

c) Women controlling men

d) The upper class controlling the poor


15. How do classical Hollywood texts persuade the audience that they are seeing reality?

a) Using jump cuts

b) Using documentary style

c) Fast editing

d) Continuity editing


16. Italian Neo Realist directors used

a) Method actors

b) Professional actors

c) Non-professional actors

d) Cartoons


17. Who staged a radio show that supported the hypodermic syringe effect?

a) Orson Welles

b) H.G. Wells

c) Peter Jackson

d) Alfred Hitchcock


18. What factors are vital in helping an audience determine a text’s genre?

a) Mise-en-scène

b) Sound

c) Narrative

d) All of the above


19. Which ideological statement is NOT currently acceptable?

a) Women should behave modestly

b) Disabled people are being punished for their sins

c) Children have rights

d) Gender should not affect a person’s rights


20. What is one way media institutions DO NOT influence audiences?

a) By direct advertising

b) By product placement

c) By ideological messages

d) By drawing attention to their role in productions


21. Which of the following is NOT a big media institution?

a) Yorkshire TV

b) Viacom

c) Time/Warner

d) Bertelsmann


22. Which intertextual references are to be found in The Matrix?

a) Baudrillard, Dickens, Foucault

b) Buddhism, Christianity, Spiritualism

c) Baudrillard, Buddhism, anime

d) Anime, Dickens, Hardy


23. Who first defined binary oppositions in media texts?

a) Laura Mulvey

b) Peter Jackson

c) Pierre Bourdieu

d) Claude Levi-Strauss


24. Which type of camera use is employed to create realism?

a) Hand-held

b) Panning

c) Zoom

d) Steadicam



25. The director Alfred Hitchcock depicted women as

a) Sexually provocative

b) Passive victims

c) Housewives

d) A threat to the patriarchy


26. Women are represented in certain ways because men decide this. This theory is known as

a) Freudian

b) Psychoanalytic

c) The Male Gaze

d) Marxist


27. Representations of minority groups are often negative because

a) The audience prefers visually pleasurable images

b) The media tries to promote a positive vision of the world

c) Media institutions are controlled by the powerful; minorities could pose a          threat to their dominance

d) Audiences do not want to know about minorities


28. Whose values are dominant, according to Marxists?

a) Blacks

b) Asians

c) Women

d) White, middle class men


29. Following the Jamie Bulger case there was a media panic. What was the perceived threat?

a) Children out of control

b) Video games

c) The Internet

d) Films with adult themes being watched by children


30. Who wrote Stupid White Men?

a) C. S. Pierce

b) Vladimir Todorov

c) Michael Manson

d) Michael Moore


31. Who wrote ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’?

a) Michael Moore

b) Todorov

c) Baudrillard

d) Laura Mulvey


32. Which film was linked directly to the Jamie Bulger murder?

a) Childsplay 2

b) The Exorcist

c) Childsplay 3

d) Chucky’s Revenge


33. Which famous text broke the linear narrative rule?

a) Pulp Fiction

b) Citizen Kane

c) The Life of Brian

d) Deliverance


34. What is a linear narrative?

a) A storyline with no ending

b) A narrative with little closure after a number of developmental episodes

c) A narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end

d) A narrative using a fixed line to anchor the dialogue


35. Why might a Christian make an oppositional reading of EastEnders?

a) Because of the representation of Christians as gays

b) Because ‘Christian’ is used as a semiotic shorthand for ‘hypocrite’

c) Because Muslims are depicted unfairly

d) Because the institution may persecute them


36. How are gay people represented in the BBC soap Eastenders?

a) As kind, sensitive people in touch with their emotions

b) As hypocrites

c) As perverted freaks

d) As deviants to be wiped out in a mad slaughter


37. Institutions like their audiences to understand the texts they produce in a certain way. This is known as

a) An oppositional reading

b) A negotiated reading

c) A preferred reading

d) A typical approach


38. Who was depicted positively in Triumph of the Will?

a) Gays and women

b) Nazis and women

c) Jews and gays

d) Women and gays


39. Which Russian media theorist wrote about narrative roles?

a) Todorov

b) Propp

c) Antonov

d) Chernenko


40. Which film was reported as being the most violent and disturbing ever made?

a) Childsplay 3

b) Reservoir Dogs

c) The Wicker Man

d) The Exorcist


41. The study of signs, symbols and meanings is

a) Semiotics

b) Binary oppositions

c) Representation

d) Symbolic interpretations


42. The Simpsons, The Matrix and Shrek all contain a vital defining aspect of postmodernism

a) Self-reflexivity

b) Genre mixing

c) Intertextuality

d) Use of deliberate, ironic representation


43. Vladimir Propp defined a number of different narrative functions, how many?

a) 41

b) 31

c) 29

d) 32


44. C. S. Pierce defined three types of semiotic systems, they were:

a) Direct icons, indirect icons, oppositional indices

b) Icons, indexes, signs

c) Iconic, stylistic, signifier

d) Iconic, indexical, symbolic


45. What sort of sign would an outline of a cloud be on a weather map?

a) Iconic

b) Indexical

c) Symbolic

d) Representational


46. Why are stereotypes used in media texts?

a) As a familiar semiotic shorthand that audiences can identify with

b) To enable mediators to subvert accepted norms and values

c) To challenge audiences

d) All of the above


47. What is the final phase of Todorov’s narrative theory?

a) Equilibrium

b) Altered equilibrium

c) Closure

d) Disequilibrium


48. The uses and gratifications media theory states that audiences are:

a) Active

b) Passive

c) Tertiary

d) Representational


49. Audiences use the media to:

a) Communicate

b) Find meaning for their lives

c) Represent themselves

d) Represent others


50. What is a countertype?

a) An oppositional depiction of a group who have been stereotyped previously

b) A representation that is wholly negative

c) A generic character

d) An indexical sign





1. (a)

2. (c)

3. (c)

4. (d)

5. (a)

6. (d)

7. (a)

8. (b)

9. (c)

10. (d)

11. (d)

12. (d)

13. (a)

14. (b)

15. (d)

16. (c)

17. (a)

18. (d)

19. (b)

20. (d)

21. (a)

22. (c)

23. (d)

24. (a)

25. (b)

26. (c)

27. (c)

28. (d)

29. (d)

30. (d)

31. (d)

32. (c)

33. (a)

34. (c)

35. (b)

36. (a)

37. (c)

38. (b)

39. (b)

40. (d)

41. (a)

42. (c)

43. (b)

44. (d)

45. (b)

46. (d)

47. (b)

48. (a)

49. (a)

50. (a)


Media theory applied in a short essay

What media theories, issues and debates are raised by the popularity of The Matrix?


The Matrix first hit the screen in 1999 and quickly became a cult classic, two sequels were eagerly awaited. The sequels were disappointing. Why was the original Matrix so popular?


One reason the The Matrix was so popular with audiences was the concept of being manipulated. A huge media institution financed the film, which in turn showed an all-encompassing computer program manipulating audiences. Real audiences are manipulated by mediating institutions such as Time-Warner. The Matrix film has become an icon of Post-modernism, a film that works on many philosophical, even religious levels. The Matrix was what is known as a polysemic text, and this was part of its appeal to sophisticated audiences. Less sophisticated audiences just sat back and watched the cutting edge computer generated images and the great action sequences. The Media Violence debate was raised by some of the depictions of killings in the text: was it healthy for younger audiences to watch their heroes wielding guns and killing with such style?  The Wachowski brothers’ excuse was that none of the killings were actually happening, and everything was mediated and constructed anyway!


Some audiences were so obsessed by the film, that they came to believe The Matrix was some kind of prophetic text that was saying more than was intended by the Wachowski Brothers. Web sites were devoted to decoding The Matrix, books were written exploring the philosophical ideology behind the text, some took their interest too far. The culturally incompetent believed the The Matrix was reality and indulged in Aberrant Decoding; lives were taken in the USA by one such devoted fan.


Some media commentators felt that the killings associated with The Matrix were clear evidence ofunnecessary violence; the mediators were manipulating the audiences. However, other commentators saw the huge profits that were generated by merchandisers as evidence of the Uses and Gratifications Theory; people were using the text for their own pleasure and identity. When teenagers went out and bought knee-length black leather coats, they were identifying with Neo and Trinity and showing their appreciation for the text.


Another reason for the success of The Matrix was the rich Intertextuality that underpinned the film. There were references to French media theorists Baudrillard, Foucault, to Buddhism and Christianity, to Alice in Wonderland, and many others. One major influence in the creation of the look of the production was Anime, Japanese adult animation. Looking at anime classics such as Ghost in the Shell and Akira we can see the influence of the East on this most Hollywood of productions.


The Ideology of The Matrix was popular with audiences too. The belief that machines are quietly taking over the world underpins the Narrative of The Matrix, a fear shared by many today. Against this grimly efficient enemy, stands one lone individual, who eventually challenges the whole world order. We see some great Binary Oppositions in the text, with men and machines used as
Semiotics shorthand for good and evil.


One of the great performances in the text was that of Carry-Anne Moss who played Trinity, the heroine in the film. Although a strong and decisive character, Trinity was still played by an attractive woman, an actress who would appeal to the men who made the film and those who watched it. Feminist critics such as Laura Mulvey saw the representation of Trinity as evidence of the continuing power of the patriarchy. The male gaze was still all-important in the way women were depicted in media texts. Trinity played an interesting variation of Propp’s Narrative Roles and Functions Theory princess figure; she was both saved by Neo and finally saves him by declaring her love for him.


The Matrix, apart from being a thought provoking text about the meaning of life, was also a great action movie that followed the codes and conventions of this spectacularly successful Genre A hero arises, he challenges the enemy, and finally triumphs after going through a number of trials. From the opening sequences of Thomas Anderson’s life, through the struggles as he is rescued from the matrix, to the establishment of a new equilibrium as he goes to Zion, we see Tristan Todorov’s narrative theoretical principles working to entertain audiences in the same way as the peasants who listened to the storytellers as they spun their stories in the depths of the Russian winter. Despite all the sophistication of The Matrix we still see the proven techniques of a successful narrative being used.


Most writers mention the use of bullet time when writing about The Matrix. The ability to freeze action, to show an actor from 360 degrees, and to see this in startling detail, was the hallmark of the film. Audiences were astonished at the Realism that the computer generated images made possible.


To conclude, The Matrix was not a great film as Citizen Kane was, but it was an important one, a cultural landmark rather similar to Easy Rider in 1969. It has become iconic to ‘Generation X’, as have the characters of Neo, Morpheus and Trinity in their trench coats, shades, armed to the teeth and looking so cool. The text was a massive and unexpected hit for the relatively inexperienced directors, the Wachowski brothers. It is a shame that the sequels lacked the cutting edge feel of the original, but this simply highlights the importance of the text. A post modern classic, and if you haven’t seen it yet, do so, you’re in for a treat!



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Handout 1.3Dynamic Shot                      Camera Angle              Static Shot        Extreme close-up shotClose-up shotMedium

Handout 1.3

Dynamic Shot




















Camera Angle















Static Shot

  1. Extreme close-up shot
  2. Close-up shot
  3. Medium shot
  4. Medium wide shot
  5. Wide shot (full shot)
  6. Extreme wide shot (long shot)













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