NarrativeThe way meaning is constructed in the media.
How is meaning conveyed in this ad?Opposition – connoting the difference between thisproduct and other ‘inferior’, but very similar brands:Gender m/f Historical (prehuman/human)Biological (human/non-human) Textural (rough/smooth)
Claude Levi-Strauss a leading early C20structuralist anthropologist (pioneered studyof language as system of signs, codes andstructures) intro idea of:BINARY OPPOSITIONSHe noticed that pairs of oppositions appear inmany myth systems and language.
Early westerns used white hats to signifygood and black hats to signify evil.
punk straight tidy scruffy conformer outsider Law abidingtroublemaker citizen going about her business Newspapers in particular use binary oppositions to imply a specific reading of the text.
Saussure – pioneering semiologistHad similar ideas about how oppositions areused in language and media texts.Deconstructing a text (image or film)involves trying to see which parts are inopposition
e.g. Titanic: First class vs. steerage How does the movie value the two opposite worlds?
Signs are only really understood withreference to their difference fromother signs in the language systemIn advertising planning meetings aproduct is often brainstormed in termsof its difference (e.g. NOT Levi’s, NOTBMW etc) to work out a clear identityfor the product. (Now we even haveads saying ‘x is better than y’)
Texts and signs cannot be fully understood if viewed in isolation (without reference to other signs).E.g. the meaning of black and white film changed once colourfilm became available.What was once the norm came to be used to show ‘past’, ‘oldtimes’ or imply seriousness e.g. Schindlers List filmed in blackand white.
Signs haverelationshipsamong themselves. e.g. words can rhyme Colours can be echoed (rhymed?) across a film, pop video or advert.
Here we can return to the connotations of colouras exemplified by the different outfits Julia Robertswears in Pretty Woman (US 1990)
General Theories of Narrative•Making narratives or stories is a key way in whichmeanings get constructed in the media – andoutside them.•Both factual and fictional forms are subject to thisshaping.
Most of us ‘tell stories’ all the time:gossiping about friends; telling jokes; filling family photo albums with appropriate events and some highly constructed characters:Proud graduate Hard-pressed student NOT
Stories create sense and meaning in theworld.Narrative theory suggests that stories inwhatever media and whatever culture sharecertain features.But particular media are able to ‘tell’ storiesin different ways.
Media theorists looked at myths folk tales to find theorigins of our most common ways of organising a story.You can apply these structures to modern media andyou will get marks for referring to them:
Propp – Characters ‘classic villains’ etc useful whenanalysing texts rather than just saying ‘the baddy’ or ‘blokewith the scar’ also shows audience identifies with characterroles rather than their psychological make up.Eight character roles in the ‘heroic wondertale’:1. the villain,2. the hero, seeks something motivated by initial lack3. the donor, provides an object with some ‘magical’property4. the helper, aids the hero5. the princess, reward for the hero and object of thevillains schemes6. the father, rewards the hero7. the dispatcher, sends the hero away8. the false hero
(Vladimir Propp’s Theory) reminds us that, thoughcharacters in stories may seem very ‘real’, especially incinema and television, they must be understood asconstructed characters, who have roles to play for the sakeof the story and so often get perceived very quickly as‘hero’, ‘villain’, ‘helper’ and so on with many accompanyingexpectations. (Branston and Stafford, 2006, p25)
This structure is still useful as we arestill familiar with ‘fairy tales’.
Propp’s 31 functionsI. Member of family absents self from XV. Hero transferred to object of search:home: XVI. Hero and villain in direct combat:II. Interdiction announced: XVII. Hero branded:III. Interdiction violated: XVIII. Villain defeated:IV. Villain tries to meet: XIX. Initial lack liquidated:V. Villain receives information: XX. Hero returns:VI. Villain attempts trickery: XXI. Hero pursued:VII. Victim deceived: XXII. Rescue of hero from pursuit:VIII. Villain harms family: XXIII. Unrecognized, hero arrives home orVIIIa. Member of family lacks or desires: other country:IX. Hero approached about lack: XXIV. False hero:X. Seeker decides on counteraction: XXV. Difficult task:XI. Hero leaves home: XXVI. Task resolved:XII. Hero tested: prepares for magical XXVII. Hero recognized:agent: XXVIII. False hero exposed:XIII. Hero responds to test of donor: XXIX. Hero given new appearance:XIV. Hero gets magical agent: XXX. villain punished: XXXI. Hero marries and ascends throne:
Di could be said to have had her life told throughdifferent narrative constructions in the media. An earlynarrative ended as ‘lack’ (unhappy childhood,loss ofmother,desire to fit in, few formal ed qualifications) wasresolved by magical transformation into a ‘princess’ –signified by this kiss on balcony repeated over and overin the media.
Many modern narrativesplay with our expectationsby reversing them orupsetting our beliefsystem.e.g. when the ‘hero’ turnsout to be ‘ the villain’
What characters are constructed by non- fiction media e.g. the weather forecast?Cold front –’to Warm front – ‘comingblame’ or ‘villain’ to the rescue’
Todorov – Narrative structuresequilibrium, disequilibrium, newequilibriume.g. news stories often set up adisequilibrium:‘workers today voted to reject apay offer of 1%’begins with a disruption to anequilibrium but we only know oneside of the balance.
Barthes –Suggested narrative worked with 5different codes.The most useful one is that anenigma code works to keep settingup little puzzles to delay the storiesending e.g. how will Tom Cruise getout of his predicament? What is inthe box? EtcTeasers and puzzles are used infactual media too…
Look out for narrative shape in news storiesand factual programmes:‘Once upon a time’ in the news – setting thesceneJudgements made after an event as if certainactions caused it or led up to a narrativeclosure:Diana death – tragically unexpected or result ofracey lifestyle?Reporters are trained to construct a ‘good story’Close ups and editing can emphasise aspectsand set up enigmas and disequilibria.Long news stories in particular tend to becomestructured into a narrative – hero vs villain etc.Madeleine McCann story…
Applying Todorov – 1st Gulf War Saddam as cause of thedisequilibrium (ignored other motivations for Saddam’sinvasions of Kuwait).As war ended we were directed to see a return to equilibrium‘happily ever after’ tanks roll home, soldiers welcomed back tofamilies, ‘job well done etc (ignoring ongoing instability and PTSdisorder, grieving widows etc)Applying Propp – Saddam structured as ‘villain’, Stormin’Norman as ‘hero’, John Major as ‘helper’?Applying Levi-Strauss – oppositional structures in GW1:East WestBarbaric CivilisationDespotism DemocracyScud missiles Patriot missilesBackward ‘dirty’ technology Futuristic ‘clean’ technologyThe past The futureSee p31-33 Branston apply activity 3.2 to Maddy McCann story
Watching Crime Drama is a pleasure although we’re not as cleveras them we can ‘catch up’ through ‘Watson or Lewis’ charactersand feel glad we’re not as slow as them!We piece together the story through evidence offered by the plotbut we should not feel as if the plot has ‘cheated’ i.e. key pointsrevealed that we could not possibly have guessed at. The butlercannot possibly at the last minute, suddenly be revealed to be apoisons expert.
Also important part of Narrative Construction is‘who is telling the story’ e.g. ‘HOODWINKED’ isseveral different points of view based on the Storyof RED RIDING HOOD.First person ‘I’ should not reveal things that ‘I’could not possibly have known.Flashbacks are sometimes used to get around thisor mislead the audience.Third person narrative = ‘once upon a time’ etc
Using Narrative codes in AdvertsAds often group events into cause then effect order (Someads are, however, non narrative and simply make a series ofclaims about the product, list prices or set a mood linked tothe product)Ads quickly create characters, actions and enigmas throughsigns and stereotypes.Propp: Traits to give us a sense of the ‘real people’ anddiscernable hero (usually the product)Todorov: Some sense of initial situation, then disruption,then happily resolved by the product.Levi-Strauss: Characters in opposition e.g. Hair Gel adhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwcMU7gbaIsYoung OldHip UncoolYoung ParentalSexy Asexual