Audiences’ understanding of a media product’s narrative is vital. The
audience need clarity of what’s happening, whether it is at the end – all
questions are answered, or understanding characters and their motives.
For meanings to be interpreted correctly by audiences, narratives can
function in many ways:
OPEN – questions remain unanswered eg. a cliffhanger, the end of the
first part of a serial.
CLOSED – all questions are answered, e.g. a magazine
LINEAR – the narrative is in order, it makes sense.
NON-LINEAR/FRACTURED – out of order e.g a film trailer or use of
SINGLE STRANDED – one storyline in the media text
MULTI-STRANDED – several storylines weaving into an overall narrative
eg. Soap operas
There are a number of theories we can apply to narratives in media products.
Roland Barthes—narrative codes
This French critic devised five different narrative codes that we can use when
analysing media products:
The audience will recognise an action code in a media text as it is used to
indicate what is the next logical step. It advances the narrative eg the buckling of
a gun belt in a Western film signifies the start of a gun fight.
Look at the following…. What do you think they indicate?
Packing of a suitcase?
Starting of a car engine?
Whistle of approaching train?
Mystery Code or Enigma code:
This code is used to explain the narrative by controlling what and how much
information is given to the audience. It grabs the audience’s interest and attention
by setting up an enigma or problem that is resolved during the course of the
narrative. Eg, someone’s murderous hand in the opening sequence – who does it
The Semic Code
Basically, this code is all about signs and meanings in a text that tell us about its
narrative and characters. Eg, in a horror film, the supernatural would be signified
by the fear of light/garlic, an increase in body hair etc.
The Cultural Code
This code is used in order for the narrative to make sense to a culturally and
socially aware audience. It makes reference to elements from the real world that
the audience will recognise, eg Aston Martins and Martinis in James Bond films.
Code of Oppositions
This code refers to a narrative that relies on binary opposites, eg, black v
white, hot v cold, male v female, nature v civilisation, war v peace etc.
YOUR TASK, QUESTION 2:
Consider both your AS music magazine and a product from
your A2 coursework (but in isolation)
Identify which of Barthes Narrative Codes you have used.
How does the audience make sense of your narrative thanks
to these codes?
Claude Levi-Strauss (1970)—binary opposites
Alike to Barthes, theorist Levi-Strauss (the man, not the jeans) also worked
with the idea that there are binary opposites within media texts. He studied
the myths of tribal cultures and discovered how there were underlying
themes in these myths, such as darkness v light, good v evil. In media we
look at his work to find out the underlying themes and symbolic oppositions
in media texts. For example men v women, good v evil.
QUESTION 3: IDENTIFY ANY BINARY
OPPOSITIONS IN ONE OF YOUR MEDIA
Tzvetan Todorov— Equilibrium and disequilibrium
Todorov looks at the way narratives are structured. He suggested how in
many narratives there is a change. The narrative begins with the
equilibrium or balance or harmony. But then this is then disrupted by
something known as an ‘agent of change’ which brings unbalance to the
narrative or unpredictability causing disequilibrium. For the audience to feel
that all is well, the equilibrium or balance must be restored.
As boring as it is, watch the Dr. No trailer to see if you
can identify Todorov’s Equilibrium theory.
Vladimir Propp (1968) - Propp’s Morphology
Propp came up with the idea of how fairy stories have certain stages to it. He then
applied the same theory to different genres and realised that in many cases it was
accurate. Altogether there are 31 stages to Propp’s Morphology, but we can
condense it into six stages…
Preparation the scene is set
Complication a problem occurs or some evil takes place
Transference the hero receives help (often a magic object) and goes
on his quest
Struggle there is a fight
Return the hero succeeds in his mission
Recognition the villain in punished and the hero is rewarded