What is Representation?Representation is how the media re-presents reality. It is not simply anaccurate reflection of reality.People, places, events and issues areall things that can be given a specificrepresentation.
How do these popular media representationsrepresent the teenager? Is this a fair or accurate reflection?
Look at the trailer for Kidulthood– how does it represent youngpeople?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdoKD4gTQ2cHow are the youngpeople in YoungApprentice presentedto us?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzIW9GqXrsQ&feature=relatedWhat makes each representation different here and whatgoverns the representation chosen?
How is an image mediated?•Selection and omission –what we let people see aboutsomething in the first place –what makes it in and what iskept out!•Cropping – cutting bits awayfrom images we want to use•Anchorage – using words toclose down an audience’spossible understanding ofwhat they see
Create two captions for each image: one positive andone negative!
Key points to remember:•A representation is never the whole truth or the only truth about what is represented – it is only one version or perception of the truth•A representation is a media construction – an image made by a team of people, each of whom has some influence in shaping the final image. A representation reflects the views of its producers.•This shaping process is known as MEDIATION
For every representation there are some keyquestions to ask:• What is being represented and how?• How accurate and/or fair is it?• Who is making it and why?• Who is receiving the representation and what do they make of it?
Another way to analyse representation is to look atrepresentations using one or more of Hall’s (1997)three approaches or angles:•A reflective approach – looking at how far therepresentation actually reflects reality – how fair and accurateis it?•An intentional approach – looking at how therepresentation reflects the values and beliefs of the creator –why have they represented something this way?•A constructionalist approach – how has the medialanguage been used to convey a certain meaning – how hasthe representation been made?
Food for thought:“The media is not a window on the world” (StuartHall)“The media is a ‘distorting mirror’” (JohnPilger)“Representations, the construction ofversions of reality to stand in for reality”(Bateman, Bennett, Casey, Benyahiaand Wall)
Dominant & Alternative RepresentationsWhilst we have a range of differentrepresentations of any one group or event, somewill be more familiar to us than others – this isbecause some are more commonly and widelypromoted by the media.Representations that we come across frequentlyare known as dominant representations.Those we come across less frequently are knownas alternative representations. Often theseare found in less mainstream media and offer aview of a group or event that may challenge howwe normally see them!
What sort of images does the name Paris conjure up?
Chances are you have come up with some of thefollowing: Google Search: Paris
Why do you think we all tend to come up with the sameset of images for this city?Do you think this is an accurate picture of Paris?
Now watch this clip from a French film set in Paris calledLa Haine and comment on the image it presents to us ofthe city: La Haine extract
Why do you think the director chose to present thisimage?Is it any more authentic than the more picture postcardversions we tend to see?Does using a more unusual representation pose anyproblems to a media maker?
Postmodernists state that often, nowadays, our knowledge ofthe world – certain places and groups – is derived solely frommedia representations. Think about what you know ofAfghanistan and Iraq – personal experience or mediatedthrough the media?Often these media representations have created such a strongimage of the place that we think we know what it is reallylike.Postmodernists call this ‘fake’ knowledge of the worldhyperreality. Often, they argue, we no longer know what istruly real from the realities the media create for us! They seeus as existing within a world the media has largely created forus! We conflate reality with representations of reality.
Think about what the term Reality TV suggests to us andwhat we are actually given in programmes like BigBrother/ TOWIE/ Made in Chelsea…Should this notion of hyperreality and the way many ofus rely on the media for what we know about our worldand what we believe to be true cause us any concern?
The Power of Representations “Representation always involves ideology” (Nicholas and Price)One of the reasons representation is worth looking at isbecause representations are closely bound up withideologies – they encode certain messages about theplace, person or thing being represented.As well as being given an image, we are also beinggiven an evaluation of the thing represented – here’s abusinessman, isn’t he impressive! Here’s a hoody thug,s/he must be trouble!Representations are never neutral – they always comewith a positive or negative charge!
What ideologies are these representations setting up? dominant ideologies
Maid in Manhattan Trailer Real Women Have Curves
Dominant representations have such powerover people because of the amount ofexposure they are given in the media.Repetition = PowerThe more we hear a certain message, themore it is reinforced. Over time we willcome to accept the message as correct andcease to question its validity(naturalisation)
It is this dominance in the media of certainrepresentations that sometimes gives people cause forconcern – if the ideologies or representationsthemselves are biased, this could transfer through tothe audience and influence their thinking and actions.How might the hoodiethug representation ofyoung people affectpeople’s attitudes andactions towards thisgroup in real life? Isthis fair?
The most common form ofdominant representation is thestereotype.A stereotype is a ‘simple,generalised and exaggeratedrepresentation’ (Bateman,Bennett, Casey, Benyahia andWall). It works by taking a ‘fewcharacteristics, usually negative’and these are ‘presumed tobelong to the whole group’(source: as above)
It is easy to see the primarily negative aspects ofstereotypes. Tessa Perkins (1979) sets them out clearly:1. Stereotypes are always erroneous in content;2. They are about groups with whom we have little or no socialcontact; by implication, therefore, they are not held about ones owngroup;3. They are about minority (or oppressed) groups;4. They are simple;5. They are rigid and do not change;6. They are often based on a degree of historical and social truth.In other words they are often misleading and made bypowerful groups in society about those with no power andreflect their prejudices and are hard to shift once they takeroot. Oh, and they’re probably not based on a lot ofpersonal experience either…
It is easy to see how these, through repetition adnauseam in the media, may well pass on to audiencesfalse and negative ideas about the group or place theyrepresent and how this might lead to prejudice anddiscrimination in the real world.
A consistently negative representation can marginalise a group.Marginalisation canlead to a society feelingjustified in not changingthe lot the group beingrepresented and,essentially, keeps thatgroup in a low statuswithin society.
Note how the Nazis used imagery of Jews tohelp justify the Holocaust:
Absence is the mostextreme form ofmarginalisation in terms ofrepresentation. Barthescalled it ‘absent presence’.Even absence from representation meanssomething too – what does absence suggestabout a group?Can you think of any groups who many yearsago were largely absent or underrepresentedin the media?
However, it would be wrong to see all uses ofstereotypes as bad and evidence of some hugesocial conspiracy to give some groups of people abad reputation.
There are two different approaches to evaluating andexploring stereotypes, each offering a different perspectiveon the value of stereotyping:Psychological Approach:Interested in looking at stereotypes as mental constructs that reflectour attitudes – stereotypes were seen as rigid and almostunchangeable and part of the mechanism that developed and spreadprejudice, as often they were hostile to minority groups within society(sees stereotypes as bad)Sociological Approach:Sociologists ask, who benefits from the stereotyping of certain groups?Ideas and beliefs that are useful in this way to those who hold themare what sociologists call ideologies —convenient ideas that benefitsome groups at the expense of others. Looks at the way they areused/ what roles they fulfil (more positive view of stereotypes – canserve a useful function)
Here are some other ‘myths’ about stereotypes alwaysbeing bad that Perkins challenged:•Stereotypes are not always negative (e.g. The French aregood cooks).• They are not always about minority groups or the lesspowerful ( e.g. upper class twits).• They can be held about ones own group (We Northerners calla spade a spade)• They are not rigid or unchanging ( e.g. the "cloth cap worker”of the 1950s became the 1980s consumerist home-owner whoholidays in Spain).• They are not always false. (e.g. Media Studies teachers tendto be liberal/left wing in their politics‘)
The last point is worth noting.Tessa Perkins stated that allstereotypes contain ‘a grain oftruth’ – this is why they arerecognised and accepted byaudiences.We can’t dismiss them out of hand –their image may be exaggerated,limited, highly selective BUT theystill offer some true reflection of theworld we live in, no matter hownegative, and can’t be dismissedoutright…
Walter Lippmann (1922) alsooutlined four useful functions ofstereotypes in the media – fourreasons why so many media textsuse stereotypes to conveycharacters:3.An ordering process4.An economic short-cut5.A map of the world6.An expression of society’s valuesSo, don’t assume stereotypes are always bad news!
Representation and the AudienceWhat issues does this pose?Well, we may be concerned that the views we aremost exposed to are only those that the people inpower wish us to see and know about. This maymake us fear that the media could be biased andbe used to manipulate and limit our views on life.One media theory,developed by AntonioGramsci, a Marxist theorist,to explain this possibleabuse of the media isHEGEMONY.
Hegemony states that society isruled by a small powerful elite andone of their tools for governingpeople is the media – it essentiallyuses this to send out messages thatwill keep the status quo and filtersout messages that might lead todissatisfaction with one’s lot whichcould lead to unrest, rebellion andoverthrow of the powerful elite.Representation, according toGramsci, is a highly political act. It’sabout using the media to promotethe messages you want the massesto believe and accept.
Watch the following clips and see if you canexplain how hegemony might work throughthese clips to promote messages that reinforcethe status quo – how they keep the powerful inpower and reinforce the notion that others are oflesser status. Kelloggs Ad (1950s) Halo Shampoo (1953) Persil Washes Whiter (1960s) Clairol Loving Care Hair Colour Ad (1978) Lynx Ad (2006) Snickers Ad - Mr T (2006?) Weetabix - Dads Day Out (2012)
Hegemony also presupposes that audiences arepassive – powerless to resist media messagesand easily led.The HYPODERMICNEEDLE EFFECT assumesa passive audience. Itsuggests that the media islike a drug – once in thebody, we are powerless toresist its influence.
Hegemony essentiallysees the media as adictator - it seeks tocontrol and influencehow we see others andsupposes that theaudience are powerlessto resist.If this were the case,then we may well getvery concerned aboutthe type ofrepresentations we arebeing fed through themedia.
However, not everyone would agree with theseassumptions – supporters of active audience theoriessuggest that:Whilst we often consider what producers try to do torepresentations, it is equally important to considerwhat audiences do with representations.
A key theory here is Stuart Hall’s ReceptionTheory.
Reception Theory states that there are threemain responses the audience can make to amedia text:• A Preferred Reading – where the audience accepts the ideologies of the producer of the text• A Negotiated Reading – where we accept some of the ideologies but not all• An Oppositional Reading – where the audience rejects the ideologies of the text and possibly reads the text in a subversive way
Look at the following extract and explain what youthink the preferred reading would be and suggestsome oppositional readings and the type of personwho may respond to the text in this way. Spiderman 2 Scene
If Reception Theory and the active audience areright, what does it suggest about representations?•that the viewer has some power of choice over whether to go along with representations or not•that we needn’t worry as much about what representations are out there, as the audience doesn’t have to be brainwashed by them.•that audiences can always subvert a producer’s intentions by making an oppositional reading!
Representation Changes Over TimeAny consideration of representation needs to takeaccount of how a group, event etc is represented– what details create a particular image. It also needs to think about the possible effects arepresentation could have on different audiences– how different sectors of the audience mayinterpret it.Another aspect to consider is the historicalcontext the representation occurred in, asrepresentations often change to reflect the valuesof the culture that produces them.
Representations canalter over time. Inthe 80s this Athenaposter caused quitea stir – can youguess why?Would it have thesame effect today?Why / why not?
Not only can representations move from beingalternative to dominant over time as socialattitudes change, but they can also move fromdominant to alternative.Look at the extracts from the front page of TheWizard from 1950 and identify whatrepresentation was dominant then but wouldcertainly be alternative now and probablyoffensive to most people.
Now look at some more recentrepresentations of black people andcomment on the ideologies they transmit and how the representation has changed.
Representation is not static, it alters overtime to reflect changes in society. Suchchanges are often linked to changes in thepower status of the group beingrepresented.Generally speaking:more power = more positive representation
SUMMARY:• Representations are re-presentations of reality•They reflect a partial and possibly biased view of whatthey represent•Some representations are more common than others –dominant v alternative/ stereotypes – the latter are notalways bad•Hegemony is a theory that sees the media as part of theruling elite’s brainwashing machinery•If this is true, then concern over it depends on how weview the way the audience responds to the media’simages – passive or active•Representations change to reflect changes in society’sviews or attitudes•Generally, the more power a group has, the morepositive its representation•Marginalisation and absence mean something too!