Media language

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Created for the A Level Media Studies students at Ringwood School

Created for the A Level Media Studies students at Ringwood School

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  • 1. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Introducing the Key Concepts of Media Studies The Key Concepts are the single most important framework for the whole Media Studies course. They have evolved as a means of understanding a text by using a critical framework, rather than just making unconnected and meaningless observations. Throughout the course, you will need to refer to the Key Concepts and use the terms you learn when analysing media texts in your exams and coursework. One way of remembering the Key Concepts is to use the mnemonic ‘RAILING’: • Representations • Audiences • Institutions • Language • Ideology • Narrative • Genre However, it is important you do not see each Key Concept as separate and stand alone; in fact they work in unison. The best examination responses do not address each concept in turn, instead the concepts flow into each other as the text is being analysed. We will begin by looking at Language, one of the most important of the Key Concepts, and the closely related concepts Narrative and Genre. Media Language What is a media text? You will be used to associating the word ‘text’ with something written or printed. In Media Studies, the word ‘text’ is used to describe any media product such as television programmes, photographs, adverts, film, newspaper adverts, radio programmes, web pages etc. ‘Texts’ are therefore the main point of our study in understanding how media languages create meaning. One of the keys to understanding the meanings in text is the use of codes.KEY TERM CODES Rules or conventions by which signs are put together to create meaning. The English language itself is a set of codes: letters made up into words, words made up into sentences and sentences made up into paragraphs. Just as we learn to read the letters, words and sentences, so, too, we learn to ‘read’ media codes and languages. We learn that sounds or images can be put together in particular sequences, working as codes, to give particular meaning. Just as there is a great variety in the form and style of media texts, so the codes used to construct meaning are varied and frequently depend upon the form of the media text. In most cases, the text will use a variety of codes—visual, audio and written—that ‘fit’ together in a certain way to create a particular meaning. Most of us can easily ‘read’ a basic printed advert, but as Media Studies students we need to learn to break down and ‘deconstruct’ the image. As a Media Studies student, it is crucial your responses reflect what you have learned in class. Always think: could my response have been written by someone who has never studied the media? If so, you will need to rethink your approach. 1
  • 2. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Media Language: Image AnalysisLet’s start by looking at some images and describing what we see. This level of analysis is calleddenotation, an important term we will look at in more detail later. In theory, at the level ofdenotation, everyone should describe an image in exactly the same way. However, as we all have adifferent understanding of the world (because we have learned about it in different ways), this israrely the case in practice. ActivityLook at the image above. On a piece of paper, describe what you see in the picture. You will beasked to share what you have written with the rest of the class.Now, write down what you think is happening in the picture. Your interpretation of what ishappening will depend a lot on the assumptions you make about the society in which you live. Yourresponse will also be based on codes you implicitly understand. You will again be asked to sharewhat you have written with the rest of the class.Your second response will have taken into account the non-verbal communication (NVC) of the menin the photograph. NVC is an important code used by human beings to communicate, oftenunconsciously. It is possible to identify eight aspects of NVC:Facial expression: eyebrows are important here, e.g. fully raised eyebrows often indicate disbeliefwhereas fully lowered eyebrows communicate anger.Gaze: the focus of a person’s look. When two people’s gazes meet, this is eye contact andparticularly meaningful. What does the gaze of the men in the picture say about them?Gestures: try to talk to someone without moving your hands. Look at other people when they talkand see how they move their hands.Bodily posture: clearly a slovenly stance communicates something different to an upright oneBodily contact: this is restricted in western culture as it conveys intimacy unless it’s in aprofessional context such as at the doctor’s or shaking hands.Spatial behaviour: the distance between people gives you information about their relationship.Clothes and appearance: clothes make a statement about us. Even a hair cut tells you somethingabout a person. What kind of haircut will a hippy have, for example? Or a fascist?Non-verbal aspects of speech: examples are tone of voice or grunting a response.So we all interpret the world around us instinctively. How does this relate to image analysis? 2
  • 3. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Media Language: Image AnalysisWe would never question the need to read writing, yet we tend to assume that because photographsrepresent the real world they are somehow “natural” so all we need to do is look at them. This isclearly a fallacy. In fact, the word photography literally means “writing with light” and the firstobjective in Media Studies is to move from a passive consumption of images to an active reading ofthem. The object of analysis in Media Studies is to understand the meaning of a text (whether it be anovel, a film, a television programme, a still image and so on).When analysing images, it is common to distinguish between their form (how the image was created)and their content (what is in the image). One of the key elements in terms of form is the framing ofthe image.FramingFraming defines the position from which the image was created, i.e. it is the border between thespace we are allowed to see and that which is out of our sight. All frames have a shape—such as theA4 piece of paper these words are printed on. In terms of framing a still image, you can vary:Angle: the angle of vision refers to the camera’s angle in relation to the vertical. The most commonis the “straight on” position. Other commonly used angles are low angle, which is often used toindicate a position of power as the audience is forced to look up at the character and high angle,which means the audience has to look down on the character so often (but not always) suggestssubservience.Height: Simply, this is the height at which the shot is taken, usually eye-level, just under 2m.Level: This refers to the camera’s horizontal angle. As with the vertical angle, usually it is “straighton” but the camera can also be tilted on its side to the left or right to change the level.Distance: This refers to the distance of the object from the camera. There are seven categories:1. Extreme long shot (e.g. a landscape)2. Long shot (e.g. a group of people)3. Medium shot (e.g. one or two people)4. Medium close-up (e.g. part of a body)5. Close-up (e.g. face)6. Extreme close-up (e.g. part of face)Depth of field: This refers to the distance between the nearest and furthest area from the camerawhich is in focus. Deep focus photography will have the whole scene in focus, whereas aconventional photograph will focus on the main object with the background out of focus. Soft focuscan be created by using special lenses and layers.Lens type: wide-angle lenses make the scene appear deeper than it is; an extreme wide-angle willgive a “fish-eye” effect while a telephoto lens pulls objects closer together (e.g. two athletes mayseem to be running close together but when the shot is cut you see the true distance between them).Film stock: This refers to the speed at which the film responds to light. A fast stock will producegrainy images while a slow stock will require lots of light. Slow stock is the norm in cinema whilemost television companies use video (Digibeta) tapes. 3
  • 4. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Media Language: Image Analysis So far, we have looked solely at still images. In addition to what we’ve already looked at, there are six types of moving images: 1. Pan: (short for panorama): the camera moves horizontally from a static position; 2. Tracking (or dolly): the camera moves on tracks (or wheels) to give a smooth movement; 3. Tilt: the camera moves up or down vertically from a static position; 4. Crane: the camera is moved on a device that can move up and down and laterally (the ultimate crane shot is the helicopter shot) 5. Handheld: gives the frame a shaky look, often used as a point-of-view shot 6. Zoom: Technically not movement, but the change of the focal length bringing us closer or further away from the object in the frame. Your accompanying handouts look at camera angles and types of shot in much more detail. To return to our still images, we can now look at the form and say, for example, that an image is a high angle shot tilted to the right. This is description, not analysis. Analysis involves describing the features of an image and showing what these features mean. Before we can do this, we must look at the second element of an image: content. Content (mise-en-scene)KEY TERM MISE-EN-SCÈNE Literally meaning ‘Put into the Scene’, mise-en-scène refers to anything that goes into a shot, including sets, props, actors, costumes, camera movements and performances. It is often seen as the principal vehicle by which a film’s meaning is conveyed. There are three main components of mise-en-scene analysis: • The subject • The lighting • The setting The subject There may be more than one subject in an image and we bring our cultural knowledge to bear when looking at subject. For example, if the subject is a person, we would consider all aspects of NVC as we did earlier. The lighting This refers to how the image is lit. You will look at lighting in more detail later. For now think about: 1. Where is the lighting coming from: front, side, back, above or below? 2. Is the lighting of equal intensity? (unlikely) 3. Where is this light coming (or supposed to be coming) from? Three-point lighting is the commonest set up, made up of a key, fill and backlight. 4
  • 5. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Media Language: Image AnalysisThe key light is the main source of illumination and is directed on the subject, usually from 45degrees above and to one side of the camera. It is a hard, direct light which produces sharply definedshadows.The fill light is the soft or indirect light that “fills” in the shadows formed by the key light.The back light shines from behind the subject, usually to differentiate it from the background.The settingThis is self-explanatory; we have different expectations, for example, of a tropical setting whencompared to an Arctic one.So, now we have the tools to be able to look at an image and talk about its form and content on adenotative level. ActivityAnalyse the image above using what you have learned so far. Don’t forget to refer to form (i.e.framing) and content/mise-en-scene (i.e. lighting, setting, NVC). You should aim to write at leasthalf a side of A4.Now we have learned how to analyse an image on a denotative level, we need to look at connotation 5
  • 6. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelKEY TERM DENOTATION What an image actually shows and is immediately apparent, rather than the assumption the individual reader may make about it; the everyday or common sense meaning of a signKEY TERM CONNOTATION The meaning of a sign which is arrived at through the cultural experiences a reader brings to it As we said earlier, we have all learned about the world in different ways and therefore will have different ways of looking at it depending on our social background, age, gender, ethnicity etc. The way we interpret what we see is connotation, where we, the reader, add our own pieces of information. We fill in what is missing from the denotation stage and attempt to identify what message is being communicated. Connotations often rest on the individual ’reader’s’ response to a media text. When you looked at the photograph on the previous page and wrote your analysis, you probably naturally included connotation in your response. This is because when you look at the image, you instinctively understand that the denotative codes (framing, lighting, mise-en-scene etc) mean something and so you attempt to consider what this could be. Activity Complete the chart below: Denotation Connotation The colour white Virgins; surrender; innocence; cleanliness; honesty; purity (in the western world). A clenched fist A little black dress A red Ferrari A bald head The colour black 6
  • 7. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Before we move on, there are a couple of other terms we need to look at:KEY TERM ANCHORING (OR ANCHORAGE) fixing or limiting a particular set of meanings. One of the most common forms of anchorage is the caption underneath a photograph. Look at the picture opposite. It was taken in New York minutes after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 2001. The newspaper running this picture would have “anchored” it by writing a caption reflecting the anguish of the two women. Or the headline reflecting the horror would have anchored the picture. But imagine what other interpretations could be drawn if the picture was differently anchored. If you saw this picture in a newspaper and read the accompanying caption “Two fans are heartbroken by Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat” then your perspective would be very different. Cropping: The advent of digital photography means many people at home now have experience of cropping pictures on their home computers. Choosing to focus on one particular aspect of a picture, so by definition missing something out, will clearly have implications. Juxtaposition: Juxtaposition means “being placed side by side”. By placing information, written or otherwise, near an image is likely to influence your reading of that image. For example, an image of a craggy, handsome man juxtaposed with a mansion on the cover of a novel would suggest it was a romantic story. The same man, juxtaposed with a gun and the mansion, would probably suggest a murder mystery. Collage takes juxtaposition to extremes by placing numerous, usually unrelated, images together within a frame. Genre: You will look at this more fully later but genre provides audiences with a clear set of expectations which are used to interpret the text. For example, if we read a horror text, we’d be surprised if it didn’t include elements such as a big, creepy house, thunder and lightning, horrible deaths, monsters, supernatural powers etc. Iconography is the objects we recognise as belonging to a particular genre, e.g. A ten-gallon hat and six shooters are linked with the western genre. Activity On the next few page, you will find a poster for the perfume Opium, featuring the model Sophie Dahl. This advert was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2000 after receiving many complaints. With a partner, look at the image and make a list of the form and content features of the image. Then discuss and write down the connotations of these features. 7
  • 8. Once you have finished your list with your partner, write a full analysis of the advert based on whatwe have talked about so far. You should be at the stage where you are using the Media Studies termswe have learned and, in terms of analysis, offering more than someone who had never studied mediacould offer. Remember there are no right or wrong answers in terms of connotation, although youmust offer reasons for your response. Your response will be marked as an assessment.You may think your analysis of the image is fairly thorough. In fact, this is just the beginning ofanalysis as we will see when we look at our next topic: semiotics. 8
  • 9. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level SemioticsOne of the key theoretical tools to help us deconstruct media texts is semiology, more often referredto as semiotics. This is an attempt to create a science of the study of sign systems and their role in theconstruction and reconstruction of meaning in media texts. It is an excellent tool for analysingimages, but it can be problematic in the sense that some of the terminology often makes it seemobscure and difficult. What follows attempts to make basic semiotics as simple as possible for you tounderstand, but please bear in mind that this is a difficult topic and one you will be expected to haveto work at to comprehend fully. We will look at the work of three key figures: the Swiss linguistFerdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Charles Peirce (1839—1914), who coined the termsemiotics, and Roland Barthes (1913—1980), who applied abstract ideas to daily life and culture.Simply, semiotics is the “study of signs” but it is important to remember that this doesn’t just refer toformal signs (such as the ones found in the Highway Code), but any system of communication.Language, of course, is the most fundamental communication system used by human beings.Saussure said that a sign is the sum of the signifier and signified, i.e: SIGNIFIER + SIGNIFIED SIGNThe SIGNIFIER is the sign’s physical form in the real world while the SIGNIFIED is the mentalconcept evoked by the signifier. So, if we perceive a four legged animal with a very long neck (thesignifier), this evokes the mental concept of a giraffe (the signified). This combination creates thesign “giraffe”. In a similar way, the letters g-i-r-a-f-f-e placed together are a signifier (at least forEnglish speakers) leading to the mental concept of a giraffe (the signified). You can see here how inour own perception, the signifier and signified are inseparable, but they are separated for thepurposes of analysis. The basic act of signification operates at the level of denotation. Denotation isdealt with more fully elsewhere in this worksheet, but is simply about identifying a sign. Thedenotation of an image is what it actually is, rather than what meaning we give to it. For example, thecolour red is the denotation. The meaning we give to red, possibly danger, is its connotation.The relationship between the signifier and the signified is usually arbitrary (determined by chanceand universally agreed upon). For example, the fact that a four legged animal with a very long neck iscalled a giraffe in English is arbitrary. It could equally have been called an elephant or a lion. Ittherefore follows that if the signifier determined the signified than the word for a giraffe in Englishwould be the same in all languages; indeed there probably would be only one language. The fact thatsigns are arbitrary means they can have many meanings—they are polysemic. Not all signs areentirely arbitrary in nature. A photograph, for example, looks like what it represents. Signs such asthis were defined by Charles Peirce as iconic (see later).Our understanding of signs rarely stops at the level of denotation. Once we see a sign, we haveparticular associations with it which colour our understanding. For example, arachnophobes wouldhave negative feelings about the sign “spider” whereas a tarantula owner would have the oppositefeeling. These connotations mean that the original sign has become another signifier which evokes anassociated mental concept to create another sign which consists of “sign” + “associations” SIGNIFIER SIGNIFIED(physical form in real world) (mental concept evoked) SIGN (denotative) SIGNIFIER SIGNIFIED SIGN (connotative) 9
  • 10. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level SemioticsThere is social consensus for many connotations. For example, if you see a border collie dog, sittingdown, tongue hanging out with its head on one side (a denotative description), it is difficult to avoidthe connotation that the dog is friendly. Some signs carry particularly powerful connotations and arediscussed under myths under the section on Barthes later in this worksheet.One other thing to remember is that meaning cannot exist in individual signs because of theirarbitrary nature. Meaning is derived from context. For example, the word “dog” can mean a fourlegged animal or be a verb meaning “to pursue tenaciously”. Look at the following sentences:1. The dog barked loudly at the postman.2. The man said he’d dog Charles foreverIf we used the meaning “to pursue tenaciously” in the first sentence, it would obviously be nonsense.We understand the meaning of dog in this case by the difference between it and the other signs in thesentence. In other words, a sign gets its meaning from its relationship to other signs. To put it simply,what a sign is could be said to be due to what it isn’t!Langue and paroleSaussure distinguished between:• Langue, the rules of sign systems (e.g. grammar)• Parole, the articulation of the signs (e.g. writing)Langue is the supporting structure of any communication, often implicitly understood but hiddenbeneath the surface. Parole is the performance of the rules, referred to by Noam Chomsky as “whatthe speaker does”. To use the writing analogy above, langue is the grammar of English (the rules ofpunctuation, for example) and parole the piece of writing produced by a person who implicitlyunderstands the langue. It is helpful to see langue and parole as an iceberg: langue is the supportingstructure part hidden under the sea, parole is the visible part. “What the speaker does”* Parole “What the speaker knows implicitly”* Langue * Noam ChomskyHow does this relate to Media Studies? Take the Hollywood cinema industry, for example. There arecertain “codes” associated with Hollywood films, such as continuity editing, use of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds etc. All of this you will learn about later in the course. These codes act as theequivalent of the langue while the way these codes are actually used in a specific film is theequivalent of parole. Unless a person has learned about the media language of Hollywood films, thenit is unlikely he or she would know about the rules of continuity editing, for example. However,because most people can make sense of the editing when watching films (the parole) then theyimplicitly understand the langue, as indicated by Chomsky. 10
  • 11. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level SemioticsSynchrony and diachronySaussure demonstrated another way of structuring meaning: considering the vertical and horizontaldimensions of sign systems; synchrony and diachrony. Synchrony is the vertical dimension ofmeaning and diachrony is the horizontal dimension. These are useful in the study of language. Takethe quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet below: Synchronic dimension Diachronic dimension ‘O that this too too sullied flesh would melt’The synchronic dimension could be a particular word, say “sullied”, while the diachronic dimensioncould be the whole sentence as the diagram shows above. Analysis would usually focus on bothdimensions: what is the meaning of “sullied” in the context of the sentence?The relationship between the two dimensions is relative. We could argue that the letter “u” is thesynchronic dimension while the whole word “sullied” is the diachronic dimension, or that Hamlet issynchronic and Shakespeare’s collected works diachronic.When we look at a still from a film, or a freeze-frame of a video, we are, in effect, looking at thesynchronic dimension: the sequence from which the still is taken is the diachronic dimension.A useful way of remembering this is that synchronic is like freezing time (as in the example above)whereas diachronic is concerned with changes over time. If we analyse a text in a synchronic way,we focus on it as existing at one historical moment. If we analyse diachronically, we acknowledgethat what we are looking at arrives with a history, not something that is complete within itself.Theorist Warren Hedges defines the terms as follows:“A diachronic approach involves an examination of origins, development, history and change. Forexample if we examine the etymology of a word, or the development of a genre. Diachronicapproaches give us a history, like a motion picture documentary. They focus on how things changeover time.”“In contrast, a synchronic approach gives us a snapshot of a particular system at a particular momentin time. For example we might note how a word is distinguished from other words at the moment.Synchronic approaches focus on how a given system is at a given moment and how each part fits intothe system.”To expand on Hedges’ example of words: a synchronic analysis of the word “gay” in 2006 wouldfocus on how young people in Britain have adapted the word to mean “rubbish” or “worthless” inaddition to it meaning homosexual. A diachronic approach would ground the word “gay” in itshistorical context of meaning “happy” and follow the way it has evolved to mean homosexual andnow “rubbish” or “worthless” to British schoolchildren. 11
  • 12. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level SemioticsSyntagm and paradigmThese words are difficult but when understood give you the critical ability to open up a text todifferent interpretations. Therefore, it is important you work hard at understanding the concepts inorder for you to develop your analytical skills.SyntagmThis is a chain of signs, that is, an element which follows another in a particular sequence. Saussureidentified a syntagmatic relationship in language: language is linear so there is a relationship betweenthe words: “the cat sat on the mat”. This syntagmatic level can be seen as the structural level fromwhich a text can be broken into its constituent parts. For example, the sentence “the cat sat on themat” is a syntagm that can be reduced to an analysis of individual words within the sentence,particularly the subject (cat), object (mat) and verb (sat). In terms of film or television, a syntagmaticanalysis would involve an analysis of how each shot, scene or sequence relates to the others. If youwere analysing a still image, syntagmatic analysis would focus on the spatial relationship betweenobjects. Roman Jakobson used the word “combination” when defining syntagm.ParadigmA paradigm is a class of objects or concepts which are all members of a defining category butmarkedly different in themselves. To use the example of language, the vocabulary of a language is aparadigm. The use of one paradigm over another (i.e. the choice of one word rather than the choice ofanother word) shapes the meaning of a text. For example, take the syntagmatic sentence:IRA terrorists overran an army post in Northern Ireland.If a journalist writes that sentence, then he or she chooses each “sign” from a range of alternatives.That is, instead of “IRA terrorists”, the journalist could have chosen to write “IRA scum”, “IRAparamilitaries”, “IRA freedom fighters” or “IRA lunatics”. Each of these choices would havesubstantially altered the meaning of the text. Equally, the journalist could have chosen to write“Ulster” or “the occupied counties” rather than Northern Ireland. As it stands, an analysis of thesentence may result in speculation that it was written by an English (or at least Unionist) journalistdue to the choice of paradigms. So a paradigm releases one sign choice at the expense of all others,just as the selection of an England footballer deselects all others from the paradigm “footballerseligible to play for England”. To change the selection is therefore potentially to change the widermeaning, which is crucial when it comes to analysis in Media Studies.Roman Jakobson used the word “selection” when defining paradigm. You can think of syntagm andparadigm as two axes (we will use the example above): Syntagmatic axis IRA terrorists overran Paradigmatic axis freedom fighters liberated guerrillas freed active units attacked paramilitaries occupied 12
  • 13. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level SemioticsSo, by their very nature, paradigms expand the possible meanings of a sign. For example, a televisionnewsreader may introduce a 6pm news bulletin by saying “Good evening”. (syntagm). Otherpossibilities in the paradigm of this greeting include “Hi”, “Hello” “G’Day” or no salutation at all.Thinking about these rejected alternatives helps to reveal the contribution which “Good evening”makes to the text as a whole. Paradigmatic analysis focuses on the creation of meaning by thedeselection of the signs in the paradigm. In this case, the paradigm locates its meaning in thespectrum of formality. By recognising that the newsreader has rejected “Hi”, “Hello” etc, we come tounderstand more about the newsreader’s level of formality and friendliness.In television and film, paradigms include ways of changing shot (such as cut, wipe, fade, dissolve)and camera angles. The chosen genre is in itself a paradigm. So, by thinking about why a directorchooses not to use a cut, but uses a dissolve instead, we can start to reveal more about the waymeaning is created.It is important to recognise that there can be more than one paradigm for a sign. For example, theword “cat” can belong to the paradigm “mammal” “domestic animal” “lazy animal” or “cat family”.In the sentence “the cat sat on the mat”, the syntagm prevents confusion by limiting the number ofmeanings. We instinctively realise that the paradigm must be “domestic animal” as, for example, “thewhale sat on the mat” (mammal paradigm) or “the lion sat on the mat” (cat family paradigm) seeminappropriate, if not absurd.To summarise: paradigmatic elements are those from which you choose (to use a restaurant analogy:starters, main courses, desserts). The syntagm is the sequence into which they are arranged, i.e. thethree course meal.All of this is particularly useful in image analysis. For example, the use of a cat in a double glazingadvert relies on the paradigm “domestic animal” combined with the syntagm which places the catnext to the double glazed window. This communicates that the product is effective in eliminatingdraughts. The syntagm “cat and window” could suggest the cat belongs to the “lazy animal”paradigm as it is looking outside, doing nothing. However, the name of the product (double glazingcompany) anchors the meaning of the paradigm as “domestic animal” as its function is to eliminatedraughts.Placing a dog in the same position would not have the same effect, even though it too belongs to the“domestic animal” paradigm. The syntagm “dog and window” has different associations, such as adog waiting for its owner to return home or wanting to go for a walk.Commutation testIn semiotics, the replacement of one sign by another is called a commutation test and illustrates howpowerful syntagms and paradigms can be in analysis. By substituting objects for other signs in thesame paradigm and decoding the new meaning, we can isolate what contribution the original sign ismaking to the meaning of the image (just as substituting the paradigm “Good evening” for “Hello” or“Hi” in the newsreader example gives us an insight into the formality of the programme). As JohnFiske puts it: “the meaning of what was chosen is determined by the meaning of what was not.” ActivityStudy the poster for Marlboro Cigarettes on the next page and then answer the questions underneaththe image. 13
  • 14. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelThe significant paradigms in the image above are: the stallion and, separately, the rider.Try the commutation test by changing the sign within the relevant paradigm. In other words, changethe stallion for something else relevant to the paradigm (a mule, perhaps).What effect does this change have on the advert? Think carefully about what this tells you about theadvert itself (i.e. what does the meaning of what not was chosen tell you about what was chosen).Do the same with the rider. Change him for something else within the paradigm of “human beings”.(Often, when a gender is changed, the effect is ridiculous but you can be sure that any alterations tothe meaning of the image is caused by gender and our assumptions about it.)Again, what effect does this change have on the advert? What does it tell you about the advert itself?Based on your commutation test, discuss what you think are the connotations of the word“STALLION”. What does your commutation test tell you about the way the advert has beenconstructed? (don’t forget the syntagmatic relationship that helps anchor this). 14
  • 15. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelHopefully, you are able to see that by using the commutation test, we can learn a lot about themeaning of a text based on the choices its creator has not made. The commutation test demonstratessemiotics at its most powerful and is a particularly effective way of unmasking myths (see later). ActivityThis time, you are going to try a commutation test without any direct input from the teacher.Decide yourself what are the significant paradigms in the CD cover above. Remember, they can bemore varied than merely paradigms of content: design features and camera angles also operate in aparadigmatic way. Consider this quote from Fiske and Hartley when referring to commutation tests:“The effects of each substitution are considered in terms of how this might affect the sense made ofthe sign. This might involve imagining the use of a close-up rather than a mid-shot, a substitution inage, sex, class or ethnicity, substituting objects, a different caption for a photograph etc.”Then, carry out a commutation test by changing the sign within the significant paradigms you haveidentified.Once you have done this, consider what this tells you about the CD cover and the way it wasconstructed.Write down your “reading” of the CD cover. There is no right answer but the commutation testshould help you focus your response.What we are doing when we identify paradigms is beginning to see the text in one of its primarycontexts: what is missed out or what might have been. We are beginning to expose the matrix or gridof relationships from which all texts are produced, the master set of permutations from which anyspecific combination has been constructed. From this point on, the text is open in the sense that youhave exposed its inner workings, even if this means you recognise it as being closed in that many ofthe possibilities that you have recognised have been denied. This puts you in a strong position.In the A2 part of the course, you will take this a step further to consider alternative views of texts,based on ideological positions such as feminism, Marxism, post modernism, post structuralism andpost colonialism. 15
  • 16. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level ActivityA good way of demonstrating how well identifying paradigms can be when analysing an image is tothink back to the Sophie Dahl perfume advert you looked at earlier in the course. If you identify theparadigm of “human” and change the gender of Sophie Dahl to male, then this reveals a lot about theway in which the advert represents women (which would have been a good way of beginning to thinkabout how the advert deals with the issue of gender representation). In fact, the thought of a man inthe same position is almost comic: a fact seized upon by the manufacturer of Newcastle Brown Ale,which parodied the advert by creating a “male” version (see image below).When a media text deliberately makes reference to another media text and the audience is expected tounderstand the reference, it is called intertextuality. This can possibly lead to confusion if thereference is not understood. For example, someone unaware of the Sophie Dahl advert could see theadvert below and identify the paradigm of clothing. The decision to use a white suit, rather than ablack suit or shirt and jeans, may then be taken to be significant in relation to the type of person thedrinks manufacturer is appealing to. One conclusion could be that Newcastle Brown sees its drinkersas colonial types. In fact, anyone who knows the Newcastle Brown brand would recognise this aswildly inaccurate; the choice of the white suit is almost certainly to mimic the translucency of thenaked Sophie Dahl in the original advert. 16
  • 17. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelCharles Peirce, the other great pioneer of semiotics, created a tripartite categorisation of signs:• Iconic• Index• Symbol Symbolic (or arbitrary) signsA symbol is a sign that represents an object or concept solely by the agreement of the people who useit. Therefore, symbolic signs have no obvious connection between the sign and the object. Forexample, the word DOG has no obvious link with a furry animal usually domesticated as a pet. Itonly works because we understand the rules that say the letters D-O-G, when put into a certain order,mean or ‘signify’ that furry animal. If it was a different ‘we’, for example a group of French people,then the ‘rules’ would be different and we would use the letters C-H-I-E-N to signify the animal.Internationally, the colour green is used in traffic signs to signify ‘go’. This is a symbolic or arbitrarysign because the world as a whole has agreed to its meaning. The colour pink could equally havebeen chosen if this had been agreed upon.This means some symbolic signs can have several meanings that are contested, or about whichpeople might not agree. For example, the Union Jack has a variety of meanings depending upon whois using it—a group of football supporters, the monarchy, the Unionists in Ulster, the British NationalParty etc. Iconic signsOn the other hand, iconic signs always resemble what they signify. There is a physical similaritybetween a photograph, or a good drawing, of a dog and most people’s experience of these animals.Therefore, unlike the symbolic word ‘DOG’, the photo or drawing is an iconic sign.We are familiar with iconic signs in our everyday lives, for example a wheelchair is used to signifyfacilities for disabled people and we can usually find the men’s and women’s toilets wherever we arein the world by looking for the iconic signs on the doors. Indexical signsIn a sense, indexial signs lie between symbolic and iconic signs. Indexical signs have some sort ofdirect connection with what is being ‘signified’. For example, smoke is often used as an indexicalsign for fire and a tear running down a cheek can be an indexical sign for sorrow.In the same way, a thermometer is an index of ‘temperature’ and a barometer an index of ‘weather’. 17
  • 18. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Reading signsYou must remember that the three categories of sign are not mutually exclusive—in fact, a sign canvery well be all three categories at the same time. For example, take the crossroads sign: This road sign is symbolic because it is in the shape of a triangle, which we have arbitrarily agreed indicates a warning. The cross in the middle is iconic, in that its shape is determined by the shape of the object it represents, a crossroads, and the sign is also indexical because it is related to the physical presence of the actual crossroads farther along the road.Media texts can have several possible meanings depending upon the way in which the signs are readand the background of the individual ‘reader’. This can be seen through the use of the ‘men at work’ road sign in Britain. The image in the sign is iconic as it looks like a man at work. However, that is to some extent determined by our culture and conventions inherent in our society. For example, it could equally be an image of someone trying to put up an umbrella. In a rural culture, it could be the sign of someone shovelling manure rather than mending the road. In rural cultures where women do such menial work, it could signify a woman shovelling manure.When signs are open to different interpretations, they are said to be polysemic. This ambiguity can bepotentially disruptive and one way of trying to control the meanings made by a reader is anchoring,as we saw earlier.Finally, we will look at Roland Barthes, whose crucial contribution to semiotics was his definitionand exploration of myths. Barthes looked at how signs take on the dominant value system of aparticular society and make these values seem natural. The dominant value system of a society isknown as ideology, that is, a way of looking at things shared by the majority of that society.To oversimplify grossly in order to give an example , the political ideology of the west is largelybased on democracy, freedom of the individual and the belief in a free market economy, i.e.capitalism. This ideology is not one shared by all parts of the world, where different dominantpolitical ideologies (e.g. communism, a system which sees wealth shared) exist.Barthes used the example of a flower with red petals, green leaves and a thorny stem— a signifierevoking the mental concept of rose at the denotative level. However, rose can also signify the mentalconcept of romance, particularly if it is red and placed in the context of St Valentine’s Day. Romanceis a myth that defines heterosexual love as tender and caring; the female is passive and the maleactive in the relationship. We have already seen how the original denotative sign can become thesignifier for a second-order system of signification, creating a connotation. Barthes showed thatSaussure’s sign can become a signifier to create, not only a connotation, but a myth.Because it is virtually impossible to understand “a red rose on Valentine’s Day” (denotation) asanything other than meaning “romance” (connotation), it seems that what appears to be a denotation(“a red rose on Valentine’s Day”) is actually a connotation (“romance”). In other words, Barthespointed out that signs can disguise themselves, a trick that allows myths to structure the meaning ofthe communication without appearing to do so. Myths position the audience in a specific relationshipwith a sign and simultaneously disguise themselves. 18
  • 19. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelFor example, consider an after-shave advertisement that includes an image of a fast car: in this textthe fast car connotes masculine power and is part of a system of signs which create the myth ofmasculinity. Masculinity is a social creation, gender, rather than a biological definition. To bedefined as masculine in the West, the male needs to be strong (have muscles), physically skilful,rugged and adept in the use of technology. The use of cars in advertising (they are almost alwaysfast) often symbolises these aspects of masculinity.In order to deconstruct this particular use of the myth, we could use a commutation test bysubstituting the car for a bicycle. A feminist reading of the car in the text may emphasise that thecar’s speed signifies men’s lack of sexual staying power. This sort of reading helps thedeconstruction of the text because it helps emphasise that the association—in this case, speed withmasculinity—is not natural but a social construct. Looking at readings alternative to the consensus(such as Marxism, Post-Colonialism, Feminist etc) will be emphasised at A2 Level.The identification of myths, because the appear natural, can be difficult, but they are a potent way ofmaking meanings in society.Binary oppositionsOne of the most powerful creators of a sign’s meaning are binary oppositions. Here, signs arecontrasted with signs which have meanings that operate in opposition. For example, town andcountry, man and woman, child and adult, public and private, civilisation and savagery.Binary oppositions are not natural descriptions but cultural creations. Some theorists claim that thewest uses binary oppositions such as white-good, black-evil to perpetuate and legitimise westernpower structures that favour “civilised” white men.The following adjectives could be applied to town: artificial, polluted, over-crowded, exciting,commercial, dangerous. The following could be applied to country: natural, clean, deserted, boring,non-commercial, sage. These lists are essentially connotations of both town and country. Takentogether, they form myths of urban and country life.The media often use binary oppositions to structure their representations. So a portrayal of a town,for instance, may use pollution as a starting point. A text that uses binary oppositions usually assignsa positive value to one side against the other; by stating that one side is good, it follows that the otherside is bad. ActivityOn the next page, you will find five images. The first three are all stills taken from a Lynx (men’sdeodorant) advertising campaign in Britain. The bottom two are adverts for men’s aftershave.With a partner, look at the first three images separately and then together. What myths can youidentify? Discuss your own personal interpretation of the adverts. Is this advertising campaigntongue-in-cheek and harmless or does it help to reinforce western myths about gender? Go back tothe Sophie Dahl advert. Can you identify any myths? Does the advert reinforce myths or dosomething different? Look at the two aftershave adverts. Can you identify any myths? What is yourown interpretation of the adverts?By analysing the media language in the adverts, you have also been looking at the Key Concept ofrepresentation. Bad responses in Media Studies look at the Key Concepts as single entities: studentswrite about language, for example, then audience, then representation etc. The best responses “flow”more with Key Concepts naturally linking to each other. Bear this in mind when doing written work. 19
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  • 21. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelWe have looked in some detail at how to analyse still images, yet we have not looked in any detail atthe analysis of moving images.The relationship between still and moving images can be understood at a very early age: the “stickperson” animated by flicking quickly through the pages of a book is a common trick learned byyoung people. The rapid juxtaposition of images, each slightly different from the previous one, givesthe illusion of movement. The same principle is used in the cinema; a still image (or frame) isprojected momentarily on to a screen to be immediately followed by another and so on.EditingThe word ‘edit’ often means to ‘cut out’ but in audio-visual texts it refers to the join between shots.The purpose of conventional editing is to make this join as smooth as possible—invisible, in fact.The need for a narrative flow, to tell a story, led to the development of the continuity system ofediting. This was perfected by the film-makers in Hollywood and is one reason why this particularpart of the USA has dominated film production in the Western world ever since.Continuity editingOne objective of continuity editing is to create a coherent cinematic space in which the action cantake place. Early cinema placed the camera as if it was in a theatre’s stalls, and the players acted infront of it. This was clearly very limiting with no different camera positions or movement. Once thecamera moves, whether the movement is seen on screen or if it’s done between cuts, it is essential theaudience know where it has moved to, or they would become disorientated. To prevent confusion,the following rules are used; these rules form the codes of continuity editing. If the audience did notunderstand them, they would become disorientated. The fact that audiences understand these rulesunconsciously, and cannot describe them (unless they’ve studied film or media) is a testimony totheir effectiveness.The 180-degree ruleThe 180-degree rule was established as the best way of facilitating continuity of cinematic spacewithin one scene. By staying on one side of the imaginary axis, the ‘axis of action’, which is formedthrough the subject(s) in the scene, the audience will always have a clear idea of where the charactersare in relation to one another and where they are within the scene. If, however, the 180-degree line iscrossed and the camera remains facing the characters, then everything appears the other way around.See the diagram below. The camera can be positioned anywhere to the right of the two men (the axis of action) and the man in the light hair will always be on the left. But if you cross the 180-degree line, the light haired character suddenly appears on the right. This could confuse an audience! 21
  • 22. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelEstablishing shotThe position of the 180-degree line is usually established by the first shot of the scene, the‘establishing’ shot. This creates the ‘axis of action’ and it is necessary that the characters and thespace are seen within this shot.Re-establishing shotOnce a scene’s space has been established, a number of medium or close-up shots may follow, whichwould fragment the space. In the case, a ‘re-establishing shot’ might be required to re-anchor theaudience’s perception of the scene’s space.Shot/reverse shotOnce the scene has been established, medium shots can show each end of the 180-degree axis,although they must always stay on the same side. The angle of these two shots from the axis of actionmust be the same. This technique is usually used in filming conversations between characters; forexample, an over-the-shoulder shot could show one person talking, cut to over-the-shoulder of thisperson would show the other listening. This is a shot/reverse shot pattern.30-degree ruleWhenever a camera position is changed, it must move at least 30 degrees in relation to the shot’ssubject(s) from its previous position in order to make the movement obvious. Anything less tends tohave a jarring effect.Eyeline matchWhen a character looks off-screen followed by another shot, the second shot shows what thecharacter is looking at.Match on actionIf a character starts to move in a particular direction, it is possible to cut to a shot where the characteris still moving but has covered space that was not shown. Because of the 180-degree rule, and theconsistency of the character’s direction, audiences tend not to notice the missing space and time.The cutIn terms of editing, there a number of ways of getting from one shot to the next. The most common isthe cut, where one sequence of film is immediately followed by another. You can also:Fade-out: the scene simply fades to black—it has endedFade-in: the scene appears from a black frame, which signifies the beginningDissolve: the second shot fades-in and is superimposed over the first shot, which fades out, usuallytaking less than a second. This usually suggests a passage of time or links two shots together. Intelevision, this is often referred to as a mix.Wipe: The second shot flows horizontally across the first, as if it were a curtain being pulled acrossthe frame giving the effect of an abrupt conclusion to the scene. Editing packages often allow you touse lots of different (often cheesey) wipes, such as the second shot wiping off the first through a pageturn, or flying in as a shape from different areas of the screen.Continuity editing appears to be invisible as audiences assume there is a spatial relationship between 22
  • 23. Ringwood School Media Studies A Levelone shot and the next. This was proved by Soviet film-maker Lev Kuleshov in the 1920s. Kuleshovfilmed an actor with a neutral expression on his face and cut this together with various other imagessuch as a baby or a bowl of soup. When audiences watched the result and were asked to note theemotion of the character, they commented on how hungry he appeared when his face followed theshot of the soup and how loving and fatherly he appeared after the shot of the baby. The shot of theactor, of course, never changed. The audience assumed the shot of the actor and the object occupiedthe same space. In reality, of course, they do not.When we analyse moving images, we must comment on the effect that the juxtaposition of differentimages has upon the creation of meaning. Four relationships between images at the edit should beconsidered:Graphical relationships: Graphics refers to a shot’s brightness and the patterns of line, shape, volume,depth, movement and stillness. The focus of analysis is on whether the graphic properties of shots areedited to create either continuity or contrast.Rhythmic relationships: These are created by the length of a shot, how long a shot runs before theedit. If a sequence consists of shots of the same length, then a rather monotonous rhythm will becreated; conversely, a series of long shots followed by rapid editing is likely to create an excitingeffect. Some documentaries use “long take”, that is, very little editing, in order to create a sense ofreality.Spatial relationships: As already discussed, continuity editing uses various rules, such as the 180-degree rule, to create coherent space.Temporal relationships: These are about how on-screen time is constructed. It is unusual for on-screen time to match ‘real time’. A text can take place across any length of time; from a few hours tocenturies. Editing is often used to cut out redundant actions: for example, a character may stand up toleave the room; an immediate cut shows the character exiting by a door—the movement to the dooris taken out. This is an ellipsis.Linear and non-linear editingBefore the development of digital technology, editing had to be carried out in a linear fashion. Inother words, the film had to be made in order from start to finish with shots placed next to each other.The development of digital technology allowed images to be digitised, giving the editor access to allthe footage at all times. This gives the editor the flexibility to change what has already been made orthrow away parts of the film and start again.Continuity editing is not the only editing system. Montage is distinguished from continuity editingby its discontinuity. Montage is a series of shots that establishes connections based on a conceptualrelationship. One definition of montage is: the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated shots or sceneswhich, when combined, achieve meaning (as in, shot A and shot B together give rise to a third idea,which is then supported by shot C etc). ActivityYou are about to shown a series of television or film clips.In each clip, look at how continuity editing is used to ensure the audience does not becomedisorientated. Look at the edits and camera angles and write down anything you note.You will see each clip more than once. 23
  • 24. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelSoundSound is important for the audience to make sense of what they are seeing. Even silent films hadsome kind of sound effects as well as musical accompaniment, often from a man playing the organ inthe cinema! Sound plays more of an important role in films and television programmes than youprobably realise and is as crucial as visuals.Sound will be something you need to think carefully about for your coursework. It is difficult to getsound right—even professional organisations constantly encounter sound problems. It is thereforeunrealistic to expect to be able to make an amateur film with excellent audio, especially as many oftoday’s cheaper camcorders do not even have the facility to add external microphones. ActivityOne of the key roles of sound is to tell the audience how to react at different points in a film ortelevision programme. Distinctive sound devices are used for particular genre. In fact, sound is animportant device in establishing the genre for an audience and getting them in the mood for watchingsomething.Listen to the five sound-track examples and jot down in the spaces provided which genre youperceive them to be from. In the Why? section try to describe the kinds of instruments you hear.Sound track no. Genre Why?12345 24
  • 25. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelThe type of sound you have just heard, the sound track, is an example of what is known as non-diegetic sound. In other words, it is sound that comes from outside the world of the film orprogramme. Theme music throughout the programme/film can similarly be defined as non-diegeticand is often used to tell the audience what is going to happen next. For example, in the film StarWars, the evil force of Darth Vader is known to be present because his theme is played. Even if he isnot on screen, his influence can be indicated through music.The opposite of non-diegetic sound is diegetic sound. This is the sound that comes from the world ofthe film/programme.There are four dimensions of sound to be analysed:Dialogue (or monologue): the most obvious diegetic sound—what characters are saying onscreen.Dialogue is usually carefully mixed to make it clear. It is either recorded at the same time or may beadded later (post-dubbed).Sound effects: non-verbal, diegetic sounds, the source of which is clear to the audience. These areoften post dubbed. The sounds of a fist fight, for example, are usually added later.Ambient sounds: background sounds, again diegetic, which add to the atmosphere. Often called spoteffects, an example of ambient sound is the noise of insects or birds in a country scene, or traffic in acity scene (whether the insects, birds or traffic are actually seen or not).Non-diegetic sounds: not originating from the on-screen space, such as sound track or voice-over.As we have just seen, music is particularly effective as non-diegetic sound and is often used to evokea period or genre. Remember that music is not always non-diegetic. If it is coming from a radio, or aband, then it is part of the diegetic world of the film. In the opening of Touch of Evil, which you sawearlier, Orson Welles tried to ensure all the music was diegetic. Music can be heard coming from theradio and out of bars etc. This is part of the diegetic world of the film.NarrationThere are, of course, many different types of dialogue, including narration. Sometimes the story istold by one of the characters at the start of the film and then it drifts into dialogue and returns to avoice-over narration at the end. This happens in American Beauty and The Big Lebowski, forexample. Here are some different types of narration: This often acts as an expository device. In other words, it puts things Voice over in context and explains what people will see. The narrator here can see all and hear all, hence the name Voice of Voice of God God. It is unlikely the narrator will be seen on screen. Used in programmes such as Dawson’s Creek when a character Epistolary voice leaves a letter for someone and we hear their voice reading it. This is when we hear what someone is thinking and when they Subjective voice imagine conversations. Six Feet Under is interesting as it uses dialogue from corpses to act like a conscience for the characters. 25
  • 26. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelSound can be used in many different ways for artistic effect. Here are two terms you need to knowabout: Synchronous sounds are matched to what is viewed. For example, if you see someone play the piano, you hear a piano playing. This adds to theSynchronous realism of film and also help to create a particular atmosphere. For example: the “click” of a door being opened may simply serve to convincesound the audience that the image portrayed is real, and the audience-may only subconsciously note the expected sound. However, if the “click” of an opening door is part of an ominous action such as a burglary, the sound mixer may call attention to the “click” with an increase in volume; this helps to engage the audience in a moment of suspense.Asynchronous Asynchronous sound effects are not matched with a visible source ofsound the sound on screen. Such sounds are included so as to provide an appropriate emotional nuance, and they may also add to the realism of the film. For example:a film maker might opt to include the background sound of an ambulances siren while the foreground sound and image portrays an arguing couple. The asynchronous ambulance siren underscores the psychic injury incurred in the argument; at the same time the noise of the siren adds to the realism of the film by acknowledging the films (avowed) city setting. Choosing to use sound in an asynchronous way can be very effective. You are about to watch a scene from The Godfather that makes good use of asynchronous sound. Watch the scene and be prepared to talk about the effect the use of sound has on you. ActivityThese activities are designed to get you thinking about how important the use of sound is in film:1) You are about to watch a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Firstly, you will watch thescene with no sound. Then you will watch it again twice—this time with sound. Be prepared to talkabout how effective the use of sound is.2) You are about to see a montage of images taken from the Baz Luhrmann film of Romeo andJuliet. You will watch exactly the same montage a number of different times, but the musicaccompanying the sequence will change each time. Forgetting what you already know about thestory of Romeo and Juliet, think about how your view of the relationship between the twocharacters changes emotionally depending upon which soundtrack is used.3) You are about to watch a scene from James Cameron’s Titanic. How important do you think therole of non-diegetic sound is in this scene? How important do you think the role of non-diegeticsound is to the film as a whole?Now you have learned a little about sound, be sure to comment on it in analysis. It is easy to getcaught up in talking about visuals as the mind tends to process this information first and the soundgets put somewhere in the background. But, as we said earlier, sound is crucial to a film. StevenSpielberg says “half the success” of Jaws is simply down to John Williams’ inspired theme. As wehave seen, sound plays a major role in Psycho, from the chilling score during the shower scene tothe diegetic sound of a knife slashing into flesh (achieved by simply thrusting a knife into a melon!) 26
  • 27. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelSo far this term we have looked closely at the skills needed to analyse media texts and you havelearned quite a lot about image analysis. A lot of what you have learned about moving images will beapplied practically when we start talking about your coursework and you start storyboarding, filmingand editing a practice piece.In How To Study Television (1995), Selby and Cowdery offer a comprehensive framework foranalysing texts. This uses media terminology and is methodical in its approach. In effect, theframework is a summary of all the work we have done on media language so far. It is therefore ahelpful way of revising. Although the framework originated from a study of television and themoving image, it can also be applied to still images and, in part, to radio or sound texts.Let’s look at the framework and finish off our introduction to media language by analysing somemoving image texts. Selby and Cowdery split the tools needed for deconstructing a text into twogroups: technical codes and mise-en-scène codes: Technical codes Mise-en-scène codes• Shot size • Setting• Camera angle • Props• Lenses • NVC (non-verbal communication)• Composition • Dress• Focus• Lighting• Film Stock• Film colour• Sound/music/sound effects• Colour e.g. golden = warmNB Sound/music/sound effects and colour were not included in Selby and Cowdery’s book and havebeen added later.A range of possible connotations of each code is given below to help you see how this model can beapplied in practice:Technical codes Denotation Connotation Shot size—e.g. long shot A character shot from far away seems removed from the audience, distanced, isolated and alone Camera angle—e.g. low-angle shot A low down shot, looking up, implies the subject is powerful, more important than the audience Lenses—e.g. telephoto lens Selecting and focusing on one object or subject gives it exclusive importance Composition—e.g. symmetrical framing This implies the filmed space has order and that the inhabitants of it are organised and tidy 27
  • 28. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelTechnical codes Denotation Connotation Focus—e.g. blur In a still image (e.g. advert), a blurred background and a focused image of a car imply speed Lighting—e.g. low-key state The lighting implies a sombre feeling without the need for speech Film stock—e.g. grainy/speckled/under- This gives a documentary or ‘realist’ effect exposed Film colour—e.g. Technicolor, overall If the colour of a film is unusually bright, it has a finish fantasy feel; if it’s grey its connotation is dullness Sound/music/sound effects—e.g. solemn The soundtrack emphasises a solemn feeling music Colour—e.g. character wearing white White has connotations of purity and innocence, implying the character shares theseMise-en-scène codes Denotation Connotation Setting—e.g. affluent, well-decorated, The inhabitants are successful, probably young; middle class home with hi tech gadgets they are proud and have wealth and good taste Props—e.g. a muddy bike in a house Character enjoys open spaces; indifferent to getting dirty. Not concerned about bike in house NVC— e.g. hunched shoulders, head The character is vulnerable, unhappy or hanging down depressed Dress—e.g. a young character wears a The character rejects fashion in favour of brown, chunky cardigan comfort (and perhaps security).This approach should give you confidence with Module 1, your unseen media text examination.Although it is important to apply critical frameworks to the study of media texts, the danger of doingso is that you can end up producing a mechanical response that sounds like it has been written by acomputer. Like in English, you can easily make the mistake of “spotting” or “listing” what’s thererather than analysing effects. The examples on the next page show you how you need to try todevelop your analysis beyond the superficial. 28
  • 29. Ringwood School Media Studies A LevelImagine you are analysing a scene from a film. You may write:The woman wears a red dress. Therefore she is sexually charged and passionate. She lives in ahigh-rise flat so she must be poor. There is a bottle of wine on the table so she must like to drinkalcohol.This is far too simplistic. What if the red dress is one she wears for work? In any case, it doesn’tnecessarily follow that she is feeling ‘sexy’ at this moment. Nor does the flat have to be hers.The following is better analysis (although there may be other ways to respond to the same material):The woman wears a red dress. The colour could connote passion and lust, but her non-verbalcommunication seems to suggest otherwise. She appears tired, perhaps having just come homefrom work. The bottle of wine and a single glass that sit on the table connote that she leads ahectic life and may find some comfort in relaxing with a drink after work. Overall, the image,which looks like an attempt to capture a realistic moment, has a documentary feel to it and couldperhaps be commenting on the damaging nature of twenty-first century lifestyles.You can see how the quality of analysis is lifted using media language terms. As the courseprogresses, you will learn lots of other technical media terms and theories that you should introduceinto your writing. For now, it is important to practise using the terms we have learnt so far. ActivityLater in the course, you will look at how narrative, genre, institution, audiences and values andideology all contribute to the effect a media text has on the person ‘reading’ it. For now, you shouldconcentrate on using what you have already learnt to begin analysing some moving image texts.You are about to be shown FIVE short film clips. You will be shown each clip FOUR times.Do not write anything during the first showing of each clip.When you watch the clip for a second time, write down anything you note about technical codes (i.e.shot size, camera angle, composition, focus, lighting, sound, music, sound effects etc).When you watch the clip for a third time, write down anything you notice about the mise-en-scène(i.e. setting, props, non-verbal communication, dress).Watch the clip for a fourth time and add anything you missed earlier. What genre do you think eachfilm is? How can you tell? Don’t forget, we are all the subjects of socialisation; our differentexperiences and interactions mean one person’s reaction to a text will be different to another’s. Thisdoesn’t make one person ‘right’ and one person ‘wrong’, so don’t be afraid to say whatever you wantas long as you can make a reasoned argument for your particular point of view.A class discussion on each clip will take place before the next clip is shown.The clips are:1. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)2. Trainspotting (1996)3. The Virgin Suicides (1999)4. American Beauty (1999)5. The Wicker Man (1973) 29
  • 30. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level AssessmentYou will be shown the opening of a film THREE times.Do not write anything during the first showing.Make notes during the second and third showing, focusing on how the director uses technical codesand mise-en-scène to create effects.Write an analysis of the opening of the film, commenting on how effective you think the opening is.Don’t forget to try and use as many technical terms as you can.This format is similar to the one used for the Unit 1 examination, although you could be asked toanalyse a moving image, printed material or even an extract from a radio programme.Later on, you will be expected to comment in greater depth, but for now focus on what you havelearned about media language so far. 30