WJEC AS-level Media Theories


Blumler & Katz’s Uses & Gratifications theory

  • Suggests that audiences are active and the media plays a 'function' for them - i.e. they use the media for different reasons
  • Main functions of the media
    • Escape
    • Entertainment
    • Education and information
    • Social interaction
    • Identification
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Richard Dyer's Utopian Solutions theory

  • Suggests that audiences use the media to experience perfection that they can't get from their real lives
  • Products which offer 'utopian solutions' to the audience's problems will be the most successful
  • Main audience problems and their 'utopian solutions'
    • Isolation - social interaction
    • Confusion - clarity
    • Boredom - excitement
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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

  • Suggests that there are main needs that every human has
  • Each must be fulfilled in order to achieve the one above


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Young and Rubicam's Audience Classification System

  • Suggests that all audiences can be classified by their diffferent personalities and behaviours
    • Content can be targeted to suit different audiences using these classifications
  • Main categories of audiences
    • Explorer - likes to discover new things and needs new experiences
    • Aspirer - materialistic but worries about what others think of their superficial qualities
    • Succeeder - enjoys control and likes prestige brands
    • Reformer - intellectual but anti-materialistic
    • Mainstream - likes family values, value for money, and security
    • Struggler - enjoys junk food/alcohol/gambling and needs to escape from their real life
    • Resigned - likes tradition, nostalgia, and survival
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Two Step theory

  • Suggests that there are two stages to audiences reacting to a text
    • First stage - the product is seen by powerful audiences ("opinion leaders") who decide their opinion on it
    • Second stage - everyone else decides to follow the opinions of the "opinion leaders"
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  • Suggests that audiences derive meanings from texts by recognising signs and their connotative meanings
    • e.g. a dove to signify peace
    • e.g. red to signify passion and love
  • e.g. Roland Barthes' Semantic Codes
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Post Structuralism

  • Disagrees with Structuralism (see the previous card)
  • Suggests that it is difficult for audiences to find true "hidden meanings" in texts because there are too many possible interpretations for each element of the text
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Claude Levi Strauss' Binary Opposites theory

  • Suggests that every good story revolves around "binary opposites" - i.e. two things that are totally different from each other
  • Examples of binary opposites
    • Good vs evil
    • Men vs women
    • Young vs old
    • Britain vs Germany (in old war media)
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Roland Barthes' Codes theory

  • Suggests that texts contain certain codes that audiences can interpret to help them understand the narrative
  • Enigma codes
    • Elements of mystery in the plot - questions which mean that the audience have to engage with the text in order to find the answers
    • Draw in and engage the audience
  • Action codes
    • Actions in the plot that help the audience figure out what's going to happen next
  • Semantic codes
    • Elements of a text which can be deconstructed and analysed to give the text meaning
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Tzvetlan Todorov’s Narrative Structure theory

  • Suggests that all stories follow a very similar structure
  • Equilibrium → Disruption → Battle for Equilibrium → New Equilibrium
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Vladimir Propp's Character Types theory

  • Suggests that all stories feature specific character types that play specific roles in developing the narrative
  • Propp believed that characters help audiences to understand the plot
  • Works well in conjunction with Todorov's Narrative Structure theory
  • Character types include:
    • Hero
    • Villain
    • Dispatcher (sends the hero on a mission to restore equilibrium)
    • Donor (givess the hero something to help them on their journey)
    • Helper (e.g. a sidekick)
    • Prize (usually a princess)
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Steve Neale's Genre theory

  • Suggests that audiences enjoy specific texts because of “repetition and difference” of the repertoires of genre elements used
    • An audience may enjoy a film because it fits all the conventions of a specific genre
    • They may also enjoy a film because it doesn't fit the conventions of a specific genre
  • Also suggests that genres are constantly evolving and go through a cycle in doing so
    • Form finds itself (e.g. Psycho)
    • Classic (e.g. Halloween)
    • Pushes the boundaries (e.g. Nightmare on Elm Street)
    • Homage (e.g. Scream)
    • Parody (e.g. Scary Movie)
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Robert Stam's Genre theory

  • Suggests that media often crosses over more than one genre
  • This makes genre difficult to define
  • Stam believes that genre is a construct made up by film theorists and institutions so they can classify films and make them easier to market and sell
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Rick Altman's Genre theory

  • Suggests that genre is composed of two different elements
    • Semantic elements - visual elements that are easy to identify (e.g. guns for action, blood for horror, flowers for romance, etc)
    • Syntactic elements - emotional theme elements (e.g. love, revenge, grief, etc)
  • It might be easier to identify one of these elements to identify the genre, but this could result in confusion
    • e.g. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scary Movie could both be identified as horror if only semantic elements were considered
    • If they were to be identified using syntactic elements as well, the comedic element of Scary Movie would be clearer
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Frankfurt School's Hypodermic Needle theory

  • A group of Marxist theorists believed that audiences are passive and controlled by the media
  • Institutions influence audiences' political and social views by directly "injecting" them with social messages via their content
  • Widely discredited for being too simplistic and assuming that audiences are gullible
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Antonio Gramsci's Hegemony theory

  • hegemony - leadership or dominance by one state/social group over others
  • Marxists believe that audiences are controlled by the media
  • Gramsci believes that ruling classes use hegonomic control in media texts to manipulate the beliefs of the working class
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"False Consciousness" Marxist theory

  • Marxists believe that the media is only used to pacify and keep the working classes under control (think 1984)
  • False consciousness - audiences are convinced that their lives are normal and that they will succeed if they work hard enough
  • If workers are in a state of false consciousness, Marxists believe that they are working in the middle and upper-classes' favour because they are less likely to rebel against them
  • Marxists want to see workers rebel against middle and upper-class media institutions
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Adorno's Commodity Fetishism theory

  • Believes that audiences are delighted with items because of how much they cost, not their quality
  • Too much importance is placed on owning expensive items because it makes consumers feel better about their lives
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Pluralism theory

  • The media offers a diverse range of ideas and content
  • Audiences are in control of media establishments - the institutions operate on a supply and demand basis where they only produce what audiences want
  • Media institutions are governed by fair, trustworthy people who do not have sinister motives or political agendas
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Stuart Hall’s Reading theory

  • Hall is a neo-Marxist who believes that the media try to control audiences but audiences react to texts differently depending on their background
    • Preferred reading - audiences accept the messages within the product
    • Oppositional reading - audiences reject the messages within the product
    • Negotiated reading - audiences partly accept and partly reject the messages within a product
  • He also believes that the more a specific representation is repeated in the media, the more naturalised and realistic it feels
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Baudrillard’s postmodern theory of Hyperreality

  • Audiences can't tell the difference between media and reality because of how surrounded we are with media products
  • This has lead to hyperreality - audiences accept and prefer the media's representation to reality
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Stanley Cohen's Moral Panics theory

  • The media has the power to incite a sense of panic about certain situations or people
  • They maintain hegemonic control by repeatedly reporting exaggerated stories 
  • Cohen originally investigated panic raised by newspaper reportings of teenage punks in the 80s
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Laura Mulvey's Feminist theories

  • Women are treated as objects in media products
  • Virgin/Whore dichotomy - women are only offered two roles: virgin or whore
    • Virgin innocent, weak, subservient to men, sweet, virginal, an object to be cared for
    • Whore - sexually promiscuous, sexually strong, provocative, a sex object
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Angela McRobbie’s Gender theories

  • Women are manipulated by the media into believing that they should behave in a certain way
  • The media tries to socialise women into specific gender roles
  • Some women's magazine articles promote positive roles for women (e.g. strength, power)
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Alvorado’s Four Key Racial themes

  • Exotic
  • Humorous
  • Pitied
  • Dangerous
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Colonialist theory

  • Media institutions represent people and places through the eyes of Westerners 
  • Western people and places will have more positive representations than non-Western people and places
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Andrew Wernwick's Vortex of Publicity

  • A good ad campaign sucks the audience in by leading them from one advertising ploy to the next
  • e.g. a website might link to a trailer, which would have a Facebook page link at the end, where there would be an app download link, etc
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