RepresentationAn introduction to a term you will write about in the TV Drama exam
What is Representation? the constructed and mediated presentation of people, things, ideas, places etc the process by which the media present the ‘real world’ (Rayner) The idea of representation is an important one in understanding meaning in media texts. In other words, everything in the media is a representation – everything we see is being represented. Individuals – Rylan Clark in X Factor 2012 Groups – Teenagers Places - New York Nations – Iran Ideas – Religion/the family Regions/Locations - the North of England
Questions to ask when analysingRepresentation: WHO or WHAT is being represented? HOW is the representation created? WHO has created the representation? WHY is the representation created in that way? What is the intention? WHAT is the effect of the representation?
The media re-presents people, ideas andevents. What we see in the media is insome way a ‘second-hand’ version – it isclearly not the thing itself. Therepresentation has been created orconstructed by the selection of specificmedia language elements. In addition,everything we see in a media text has gonethrough some process to get to us – this iscalled mediation.Representations are re-presentations
This is not a happy family – it is are-presentation of a happyfamily This is a professionally-taken and posed picture. Whilst there is no wayto know if the people in the picture are related, it is mostprobable they are not, but are professional models. The facial expressions connote happiness and the framingShows unity and physical closeness. The ‘mother’ acts as anurturer as she has her arms around two of the children and the‘father’, carrying the child, depicts a caring, masculine strength. The framing of the picture and the angle of the shot focuses our attention on their faces showing that their happiness is themost important aspect of this group and other visual cluesprovide an understanding of a range of ideals about family andgender roles: the female child is sweet and sensitive; the smallmale child is boisterous and a bit of a handful (althoughcontrolled by a strong yet gentle father); both parents arepatient, kind and conservatively dressed – not the kind of familyyou’ll see on Supernanny (C4).
A news photograph for example may appear to be presenting us with a factualimage but it has been through a process of construction:• the photographer has selected his/her position, lens, angle, exposureand framing before taking the picture• the picture editor will decide if the image needs to be cropped,enhanced or in any way altered before inclusion into the paper• an editor will choose which, of the many available photographs of theimage, will be the one chosen for inclusion in the newspaper and,importantly at this stage, the images which do not meet the needs of thetext will be rejectedEven then, further mediation takes place:• Will the photograph be large or small?• Will the photograph be on the front page or, less visible, on page 8?Placement choices like this, along with cropping and framing, act to focus theattention of the reader in a certain way.• What headline and text will be used to accompany the photograph?• Will the photograph have a caption?• Will it be positioned close to another photograph?The Construction and Mediation ofRepresentations
Each of these choices will have an impact on the idea that theaudience takes from the image:• a large photograph connotes importance as does placing iton the front page of the newspaper,• text can add either a negative or positive connotation to animage,• by placing pictures next to each other the audience can beguided into making connections between them.So, even in the most apparently factual representations, choices aremade which means that the image is not simply a recording of anactual event or a person. These images have been selecteddepending on the ideas that need to be communicated by the text.Every decision that is made about the person/place/objectrepresented is made for a reason and this selection process can addto, take away from and alter meaning at each stage of the process.A representation is the final product after all of the decisionshave been made. Meaning is made in the construction of therepresentation and the combination of all the choices come togetherin order for the audience to ‘read’ and interpret the informationprovided.
To summarise, the selection process is:•The decision over what is chosen to be represented and what isrejected;• The choices made when organising the representation:• The options taken to focus the audience in a certain way.All media texts are constructed in this way: factual programming on TV is shot and edited before being broadcast; every aspect of the mise-en-scene of a film text is carefully chosen in order that it creates the right impression on the audience; the words selected in newspaper and magazine articles are part of the construction of the final representations.A theorist called White spoke of the ‘gatekeepers’ - that is the peoplewho are part of the decision making process in the construction ofmedia texts. Magazine editors, journalists, writers, photographers,directors etc. all play a part in the creation of representations and act asgatekeepers selecting what information will be passed on and how it willbe communicated. They select what will (and will not) be representedand how.
A). Representations as Reflections (the reflective approach)Sometimes representations are assumed by an audience to simply replicatethe real world. Some audience members may perceive the News,Documentaries and Reality TV for example as portraying a straightforwardreality. News broadcasts present information as fact and great care is takento attempt to create an aura of authority and trust. Even with fictionalprogramming, the audience can often perceive what is presented as ‘real’.Soap Operas concentrate on making media language choices which give theappearance of reality as it is an expectation of the genre. Newspapers andmagazines discuss fictional characters and events as if they were real and,often, dramatic story-lines are discussed and debated as if they arehappening to people we know. This is not to say that the audiencenecessarily believes there is an Albert Square or an area in Manchestercalled Weatherfield but they need to believe that these places are in someway reflecting the world as it is. For the British soap opera, this idea iscrucial – it is one of the genre expectations the audience will have and itneeds fulfilling. Soaps need to generate an idea of identification within theaudience. The characters, places and events must be such that the audiencecan relate them to their own lives and experiences of the world. This is agenre convention and an important aspect of the success of soap operas.Audience Perceptions ofRepresentations
British soaps try to maintain the illusion of reality. This occurs through the use ofspecific media language choices in each of the five categories:1. Lighting – selected to appear as if diegetic. Light appears to come fromnatural sources – daylight, streetlights, lamps etc;2. Music – rarely non-diegetic. Pub jukeboxes and radios are often seen to be thesource of music which is often carefully selected to parallel the dramatic action;3. Editing - mainly straight cuts to create invisible editing;4. Camera work – predominantly eye-level shots. Mid-shots and close ups arethe main choice as they depict the action from the audience’s eye-level as if theyare there observing the scene. Extreme close ups are also used when the directorwants to show the significance of a specific item or facial expression;5. Mise–en-scene – soaps try to emulate a very ordinary setting. Extras areused to populate public areas and houses are decorated to look ‘lived in’. Dialogueis written to reflect real conversations and clothes chosen to reflect currentfashions.The genre, therefore, emulates a recognisable world which appears as if real. Ofcourse, in doing so, what is also created are ideas about values and ideologies– the attitudes, ideas about morality and acceptable behaviour are also portrayedas real.Representing the Real in BritishSoap Operas
B) Representations as Deliberate Constructions (theintentional approach)Sometimes, representations are seen to be a deliberateattempt to create associations and ideas for the audience.Michael Moore can easily be seen to have a political agendawith his documentary making. In Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004),his representation of President Bush was carefullyconstructed to create a specific idea of an idiotic and corruptman. He selected images and quotes carefully which wouldsupport his perspective and rejected images and quotes thatmay have challenged this idea of the US president. Hejuxtaposed these images with news footage, interviews andother images which would anchor his meaning and ensurethat throughout the film the idea of President Bush wasconsolidated.Audience Perceptions ofRepresentations
Representation in advertsising Advertising can be seen in this way too as the linking together of ideas and images to a product is used to persuade the audience to act in a certain way. Men’s shavers/razors are often represented alongside images of cars and planes. The colours used in the adverts are those with associations of masculinity: silver, black and red dominate in the advertising. Sporting celebrities such as David Beckham are used to endorse the products and the culmination of these elements in the representation are that razors are associated with strength and an idea of machismo and sophistication. However, there is nothing essentially masculine about the razor. It is simply a tool that is required for a specific purpose.
Women also purchase this tool but when it ismarketed to them pastel colours, curved shapes andwords with feminine association are used.Whether you use a Mach 3 or a Venus, the effectis the same, the removal of body hair.However, the way the products are representedcreates very different associations, all linked to ideasabout gender identity and expectations. These associationsare part of the representations of the product and are acalculated and deliberate appeal to the consumer group thatis targeted. Nothing forces the audience to accept therepresentations as presented.However, the producers can be seen to be attempting to, asfar as possible, create specific associations and ideas for theaudience.
C). The Constructionist ApproachA useful way of thinking about representation is thatthe meanings are created by the relationship betweenthe producers, the text and the audience:• The representation is constructed with a set of ideasand values (producer’s intent/intended meaning)• The context of the representation is part of therepresentation (media language choices, anchorage,media form, placement/ location, genre expectationsetc.)• The audience reacts to this representation and thisdepends on their own personal interpretational context:age, gender, political/ religious beliefs, nationality etc.(negotiated meaning)Audience Perceptions ofRepresentations
In The Day After Tomorrow (2004, dir. R. Emmerich)there is a representation of a group of British scientistswho assist the hero of the text (an American scientist)by providing him with information on the impendingecological changes that act as the main conflict for thefilm. The representation shows the British as living in alow-tech environment and this is in sharp contrast tothe technologically advanced laboratory used by theAmericans. The British are depicted in extreme periland the representation uses the stereotype of the ‘stiffupper lip’ mentality as they are represented dealingwith danger calmly and pragmatically. They salute theQueen and Manchester United and deal with the crisisby opening a bottle of well matured whisky.Representation in a film
This representation plays on a number of nationalstereotypes that may not be as obvious to the targetaudience of the film. (Even though Hollywood films aremarketed for a global audience the majority of their profitswill come from the domestic audience – that is otherAmericans). As a British audience watching this film, we maybe struck by the limited view of the British. Thisrepresentation will be interpreted differently depending onthe perspective of the audience.This is not to say that the director is ignorant about theBritish or that he deliberately constructed the British to lookweaker than the Americans. He would have used past textualexamples to base his representations on and his ownexperience of the British which would almost certainly not beas detailed or accurate as the knowledge the British haveabout themselves as a nation. Therefore, the representation’smeaning is dependent on who is watching, reading andinterpreting the text.
Q. Look at a text which represents you (your age group, your gender,your race, your religion). How accurate are these representations? Whodo you think is creating the representation? Is it someone like you?As Media students it is important to recognise how what we see inany media text is a constructed representation rather than a simplereflection of reality. Once this is recognised it is important toconsider the meanings created by these representations and boththe reasons why they are created the way they are and theeffects the representations may have. It is also important toconsider that most representations are constructed by someoneoutside the group that is being depicted.Dyer said: ‘How we are seen determines how we are treated, howwe treat others is based on how we see them. How we see themcomes from representation.’ Given the volume of representationswe are exposed to whilst accessing the media, it is unsurprising thatthey are seen to be influential in the way we the audience makesense of the world.Why do we need to considerrepresentations?
When discussing representations, you will needto consider HOW they are constructed throughthe media language choices made. However,you should also consider WHY they are createdthe way they are and impact of therepresentations: the meaning they create andthe effect on the audience which will mean youwill need to relate representation to the othermedia concepts such as audience, narrative,genre, institution and ideology.Exam Hint
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