Media studies theories

  • Created by: holly6901
  • Created on: 29-06-20 08:59

Media language theories

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Semiotics - Barthes

The media is full of signs to decode

Signs are either denotative or connotative

  • Denotation - what a sign actually is e.g. Heart=muscle
  • Connotation - what a sign represents e.g. heart=love

There are 5 types of signs

  • Hermeneutic/enigma code - An enigma code is a mystery within a text that is not immediately answered.
  • Proairetic/action code - Parts of a narrative which are related to things happening.
  • Semantic code - Something within a text that means something, often multiple meanings.
  • Symbolic code - A part of a text that 'stands in' for, or means something else.
  • Referential code - Where a part of a text refers to something outside of the text. 
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Narratology - Todorov

Every narrative follows the same pattern:

  • Equilibrium - Narrative starts with balance/normality
  • Disruption - an event causes unbalance in the narrative
  • Recognition - the unbalance is recognised
  • Restoration - an attempt is made to restore equilibrium
  • Resolution - a new equilibrium is restored

Questions to ask about a text;

  • What is the equilibrium at the start
  • What event causes the disruption
  • When and how is the disruption realised
  •  What disequilibrium do we get now
  • What is the attempt to restore the equilibrium
  • How is the equilibrium restored
  • What is the new equilibrium
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Genre - Neale

Neale believes media products of certain genres should contain certain things

  • Codes and conventions so the audience can clearly identify the genre
  • Different features to keep the audience engaged

Genres are created through a process of repetition and recognition leading to anticipation and expectation (Graham Burton, 2000).

Audiences like genres because:

  • Allows them to make informed choices
  • Allows them to understand a text more readily
  • Offers familiarity and comfort

Producers like genre because:

  • Guarantees a degree of success
  • Easier to target an audience
  • Provides a toolbox for them to experiment with
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Binary opposites - Levi Strauss

Binary opposites is the idea that in every story there is always two opposing forces for example

  • Good vs evil
  • Old vs young
  • Gay vs straight
  • Heaven vs hell 
  • Rich vs poor

Binary opposites have been found within numerous narratives, archaic and modern. Even the Bible features binary oppositions. Some examples include Angels vs. The devil, Heaven vs. Hell and Rich vs. Poor. Modern examples of The Titanic film (which reflects reality somewhat) involve rich vs. Poor once more, lower vs. Upper classes and of course, good vs. Evil.

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Postmodernism - Baudrillard

Baudrillard suggests the media used to be based on reality, however, we've had a loss of reality

We now have simulacra or artificial copies of reality 

Some people confuse the two or prefer simulacra to the real world

There are some main distinctive features of postmodern products

  • Irony - when you think something else should happen than what actually happens
  • Parody/homage - Homage – when a director copies things from a certain genre or media product to pay respect e.g. George from Humans was an AI creator in a sci-fi film. Parody – The same but for comedic effect 
  • Bricolage - sampling older media products in your own
  • Intertextuality - either a subtle or direct reference to another media product
  • Fragmented narrative - when the order of the narrative is played with
  • Self-reflexivity - some of the characters or a single character is aware they are in a media product
  • Common themes - what if, the future, technology, human existence e.g. sci-fi product
  • Loss of reality - more artificialness less realism. Verisimilitude = lacking realism  
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Character types - Propp

Propp suggests there are certain character types in every narrative (Examples in terms of Shrek)

  • Hero - Leader of the narrative, usually searching for something or on a quest e.g. Shrek
  • Villain - struggles against the hero, shows naturally evil traits positioning the audience to favour the hero e.g. Lord Farquad 
  • Donor - gives the hero something to help them on their quest but not necessarily a physical object e.g. dragon
  • Helper - supports and guides the hero at key points in the narrative e.g. donkey
  • Princess/prize - the reward for the hero at the end of the quest, could be an object or object-like character (Cinderella) or a key character in the narrative e.g Princess Fiona
  • Princess's father - Gives the task to the hero, key figure for the hero to persuade of his good intentions or could be competing with the hero e.g. the King
  • Dispatcher - sends the hero on a mission, may be a family member and could be combined with another role e.g. Lord Farquad
  • False hero - appears to act heroically and could be confused with the real hero e.g. Prince Charming
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Representation theories

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Theory of representation - Hall

Hall argues the process of representation is very complex.

It uses the shared language, signs and symbols of a culture to create a shared conceptual roadmap that the audience recognises

Stereotyping, the process of reducing a group of people to a few key traits, form a large part of this

These groups are normally constructed as different or other from the norm

A key example is in WaterAid, we see Claudia walking along a dry, dusty road and we recognise this as an African country due to the shared conceptual roadmap of Africa

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Alvarado built on Hall's theory of ethnic minorities being seen as "other". He came up with 5 types of "other"

  • Pitied - This is used in charity adverts to make minorities, such as African children, seem in need of help from the West
  • Dangerous - Ethnic groups can be seen as dangerous through the actions of a few e.g. Islam and terrorism
  • Exotic - ethnic minorities, such as Latinos, can be seen as exotic or sex symbols through racy costume and dance e.g. Shakira
  • Humourous - some ethnic groups, especially those with strong accents, can be portrayed as comedic figures e.g. Groundskeeper Willie from the Simpsons is portrayed as humourous through his bright red hair and thick Irish accent
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Theory of Identity - Gauntlett

The media have an important but complex relationship with identities.

People build their identity from the media products they consume

In the past, media products portrayed straightforward simple representations of identities, particularly gender e.g. Tide

Now we have much more complex representations of identity, especially in terms of gender e.g. trans, non-binary

There is a wider range for the audience to build their identities from  

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Feminism - Van Zoonen

Van Zoonen believes the media presents images of stereotypical women 

This reinforces societal views of gender roles e.g woman = housewife, man= breadwinner

The media reflects dominant social values (society's main beliefs) and male producers are influenced by this

She states society is patriarchal and therefore, oppresses women 

Feminism was mostly ignored in studies of mass communication until issues such as sexuality, verbal harassment, body beauty and the study of ‘women genres’ became more politically and socially important.

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Feminist theory - bell hooks

hooks believes white, upper-class men control society and the media and their view of society is what we see in the media

This means that people who are not white, male and upper class will not see their values in media products and means that whole groups of people and their values can be misrepresented or ignored.

It can also create prejudice and discrimination toward these groups. In particular, bell hooks believes that black women are seen as the lowest status in media representations because of their ethnicity and gender – a combination of misogyny and racism – which comes from historical racism, such as the slave trade, which has never gone away.

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Gender performativity - Butler

Feminism reinforces a binary view of gender relations in which human beings are divided into two clear-cut groups, women and men.

A person does not have a base layer of identity-based upon sex or gender which is then layered over with a performance of gender identity. There is only the performance. This reinforces and highlights Butler’s idea that “no one is a gender from the start”: it is performative and constructed.

Butler differentiates between a performance and performative. A sort of a chain reaction of behaviours exists which come to embody a person’s style.

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Postcolonialism - Gilroy

In the past, the British were key players in colonisation

Gilroy believes we can still see the effects and ideas of colonisation in the media today

People from ethnic minorities, particularly colonised countries are seen as "other" and are marginalised 

He believes white people are represented more successfully or powerfully 

WaterAid is a good example as it represents white people as being able to save Africans and therefore, being more powerful than them

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Male Gaze - Mulvey

Mulvey states that women in the media are viewed from the eyes of a heterosexual man

Therefore, these women are represented as passive objects of male desire

Audiences are forced to view women from the point of view of a heterosexual male, even if they are heterosexual women or homosexual men.

The Male Gaze suggests that the female viewer must experience the narrative secondarily

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Industry theories

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Power and media industries - Curran and Seaton

Newspapers should reflect the interests of an audience otherwise they will go out business. They should be liberal and anyone should be able to make one. 

However, this does not happen in practice due to cost and the press can be used as a propaganda tool to influence the audience. Because there are far fewer newspaper owners than there are readers, an audience only receives a small number of opinions.

Whilst many hoped the internet would make this fairer, due to lower costs, Curran and Seaton believe this hasn’t happened in practice as the big news organisations control the majority of online news.

(This happens in all media forms but is most prevalent in newspapers)

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Regulation - Livingstone and Lunt

Livingstone and Lunt think the needs of a citizen are in conflict with the needs of the consumer because protection can limit freedom. 

They noticed that regulating media to protect citizens from harmful content can limit freedom of expression.

Traditional regulation is being put at risk by increasingly globalised media industries, the rise of the digital media, and media convergence.

Ofcom is serving an audience who may be seen as consumers and/or citizens, with consequences for regulation: consumers have wants, are individuals, seek private benefits from the media, use the language of choice, and require regulation to protect against detriment

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Cultural industries - Hesmondhalgh

Most products are consumed when used and have to be bought again, but media products are bought once and continually used – they never wear out.

So, companies have to make a lot of money out of their products initially, because they don’t often resell the same product repeatedly.

This leads large companies to make products that are safe. They do this in certain ways

  • Vertically and horizontally integrating companies
  • Using stars and celebrities
  • Focusing on popular genres with the audience
  • Focusing on serials and franchises

They offer a much better guarantee the product will be successful, as similar products have been in the past – otherwise, they could lose a lot of money. However, these products can be repetitive and this process reduces innovation.

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Audience theories

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Media effects - Bandura

The media can influence people directly – human values, judgement and conduct can be altered directly by media modelling.

Media representations of aggressive or violent behaviour can lead to imitation which influences people.

The media may influence directly or by social networks, so people can be influenced by media messages without being exposed to them. Different media have different effects. The ‘new’ media offer opportunities for self-directedness.

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Cultivation - Gerbner

Exposure to television over long periods of time cultivates standardised roles and behaviours.

Gerbner used content analysis to analyse repeated media messages and values, then found that heavy users of television were more likely, for example, to develop ‘mean world syndrome’

This is a cynical, mistrusting attitude towards others – following prolonged exposure to high levels of television violence.

Gerbner found that heavy TV viewing led to ‘mainstreaming’ – a common outlook on the world based on the images and labels on TV. Mainstreamers would describe themselves as politically moderate.

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Reception theory - Hall

Extending the concept of an active audience still further, in the 1980s and 1990s a lot of work was done on the way individuals received and interpreted a text, and how their individual circumstances (gender, class, age, ethnicity) affected their reading. 

This was done through Hall's encoding-decoding theory. Where a media producer encodes a product and the audience decode it.

He also stated there were 3 readings an audience could take from a product

  • Preferred reading - The meaning the producers wanted the audience to take 
  • Oppositional reading - opposite to the preferred reading
  • Negotiated reading - Halfway between the two
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Fandom - Jenkins

Fans act as ‘textual poachers’ – taking elements from media texts to create their own culture. The development of the ‘new’ media has accelerated ‘participatory culture’, in which audiences are active and creative participants rather than passive consumers.

They create online communities, produce new creative forms, collaborate to solve problems and shape the flow of media. This generates ‘collective intelligence’. From this perspective, convergence is a cultural process rather than a technological one.

Jenkins prefers the term ‘spreadable media’ to terms such as ‘viral’, as the former emphasises the active, participatory element of the ‘new’ media.

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End of Audience - Shirky

Audience behaviour has changed due to the internet and the ability for audiences to create their own content at home thanks to the lower cost of technology. This new audience doesn’t just consume media, but also produces it – creating the term ‘prosumer’.

Amateur content made this way has different values to professional media producers, in that it promotes a connection between other amateur producers – they both deeply care about the products they make and can help them work together.

When they work together in this way, audiences can make more content than producers – Wikipedia is a good example of this.

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Uses and Gratifications - Blumer and Katz

It suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media. Bulmer and Katz believed that the user seeks out the media source that best fulfils their needs.

The uses and gratifications theory assumes the audience chooses what it wants to watch for five different reasons. 

  • Information and education - the viewer wants to acquire information, knowledge and understanding by watching programmes like The News or Documentaries.
  • Entertainment - Viewers watch programmes for enjoyment
  • Personal identity - Viewers can recognise a person or product, role models that reflect similar values to themselves and mimic or copy some of their characteristics.
  • Integration and social interaction - the ability for media products to produce a topic of conversation between people. For example, who is the best contestant on The X-factor who which was the best goal shown on Match of the day?
  • Escapism - Computer games and action films let viewers escape their real lives and imagine themselves in those situations
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Audience Classification - Young and Rubicam

Young and Rubicam use Cross-Cultural Consumer Characteristics to divide audiences into 7 groups

  • Explorer - Need for change, discovery and want to be different.

  • Aspirer - Look at how others view them, try products for the visual looks and focus on their status.

  •  Succeeder - Strong goals and tend to be responsible. They have an aggressive attitude to life as they look for control.

  •   Reformer - Intellectual and are tolerant. They don’t buy products just because they’re new. Their core is enlightenment.

  •  Mainstreamer - Fit in with the changes of society. Stick with value for money, what they know and save money. They strive for security.

  •   Struggler - Have the ‘You Only Live Once’ approach. They focus on the present and tend not to work hard or have any valuable skills. They consume alcohol, junk food and focus on brand choices. They seek escape.

  • Resigned - The older generation with unchanging values. Stick to what they’re familiar with and tend not to change with society as they stick with older and more nostalgic values. They aim to survive.

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Two-step flow - Katz and Lazarsfeld.

The theory concerns the distribution of information and contains two steps

  • opinion leaders get information from a media source.
  • opinion leaders then pass their own interpretation along to others such as friends and family members (the influenced).

Opinion leaders pay close attention to the media and its message. They are influential among their peer group as they are usually more informed then their friends or family.

The influenced are not as well informed and so look up to the opinion leaders and crucially trust their opinion and interpretation of the media.

Examples of Two-Step flow theory include elections for example in the 2017 UK general Prime Minister Teresa May did not take part in an election debate with six other party leaders. An opinion leader may have watched the debate and then told their friends who did not watch the debate that the Prime Minister bottled out as she was scared to debate with the other leaders.

Fashion magazines also offer a good example of Two-Step flow theory where they act as the opinion leader telling their readers what next seasons trends are.

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Other theories

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News Values - Galtung and Rouge

There are 12 factors that make events 'newsworthy' 

  • Immediacy - How recently it happened
  • Familiarity - Is it relatable and important to us
  • Amplitude - How many people  are involved
  • Frequency - Did it happen fairly quickly
  • Unambiguity - Is it easy to explain
  • Predictability - Did we expect it to happen 
  • Suprise - Is it rare on unexpected
  • Continuity - Is it an ongoing story
  • Elite nations or people - Did it happen in an important country or involve celebrities
  • Personalisation - Is it a personal or human interest survey
  • Negativity - Is it bad news
  • Exclusivity - Is it the only newspaper carrying the story
  • Image - Is there a strong image 
  • Balance - Is it being used to counter-balance other stories
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Music videos theory - Goodwin

Music videos demonstrate genre characteristics. For example, a video of a stage performance is typical for a metal/rock video, a dance routine typical for a girl/boy band and bikini clad woman by a pool and flashy sports cars in a rap video. Music videos can also be linked to film genres, this is also known as intertextuality.

There is a relationship between lyrics and visuals. This is either illustrative, amplifying or contradicting. Themes, mise-en-scene, and events of the video match the lyrics of the song, to help portray the message of the song. This can be seen in Riptide by Vance Joy

 There is a relationship between music and visuals. This is either illustrative, amplifying or contradicting. The cuts and edits of the video are in sync with the rhythm and beat of the song matching cuts or effects to specific drumbeats or notes. The demands of a record label will include the need of lots of close ups of the artist and the artist may develop motifs which recur across their work. This allows the record label to promote a set image of the band, which will help them target audiences empathise with the band. An example of visual style could be Lady Gaga as she is always wearing quirky clothes. 

 There is frequently referred to the motion of looking and voyeuristic treatment of the female body. The notion of looking includes men or women being portrayed seductively or if there is eye contact with the camera. The notion of looking can be referenced using props. For example, mirrors, television screens, cameras, telescopes, and magnifying glasses are all references to, these are commonly used. Voyeurism is widely used to sell the artist's music through sex appeal, a recent example being Miley Cyrus. Today it is only shown one angle, you do not see males doing it, only women. 

There is often intertextual reference to films, TV programmes and other music videos.   

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