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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
Ringwood School                                                               Media Studies A Level

                              Media Language: Image Analysis

Let’s start by looking at some images and describing what we see. This level of analysis is called
denotation, an important term we will look at in more detail later. In theory, at the level of
denotation, everyone should describe an image in exactly the same way. However, as we all have a
different understanding of the world (because we have learned about it in different ways), this is
rarely the case in practice.

  Activity




Look at the image above. On a piece of paper, describe what you see in the picture. You will be
asked 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 is
happening will depend a lot on the assumptions you make about the society in which you live. Your
response will also be based on codes you implicitly understand. You will again be asked to share
what you have written with the rest of the class.

Your second response will have taken into account the non-verbal communication (NVC) of the men
in the photograph. NVC is an important code used by human beings to communicate, often
unconsciously. It is possible to identify eight aspects of NVC:

Facial expression: eyebrows are important here, e.g. fully raised eyebrows often indicate disbelief
whereas fully lowered eyebrows communicate anger.
Gaze: the focus of a person’s look. When two people’s gazes meet, this is eye contact and
particularly 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 talk
and see how they move their hands.
Bodily posture: clearly a slovenly stance communicates something different to an upright one
Bodily contact: this is restricted in western culture as it conveys intimacy unless it’s in a
professional 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 something
about 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
Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level

                               Media Language: Image Analysis

We would never question the need to read writing, yet we tend to assume that because photographs
represent the real world they are somehow “natural” so all we need to do is look at them. This is
clearly a fallacy. In fact, the word photography literally means “writing with light” and the first
objective in Media Studies is to move from a passive consumption of images to an active reading of
them. The object of analysis in Media Studies is to understand the meaning of a text (whether it be a
novel, 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 of
the image.

Framing

Framing defines the position from which the image was created, i.e. it is the border between the
space we are allowed to see and that which is out of our sight. All frames have a shape—such as the
A4 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 common
is the “straight on” position. Other commonly used angles are low angle, which is often used to
indicate 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) suggests
subservience.

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 “straight
on” 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 camera
which is in focus. Deep focus photography will have the whole scene in focus, whereas a
conventional photograph will focus on the main object with the background out of focus. Soft focus
can 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 will
give a “fish-eye” effect while a telephoto lens pulls objects closer together (e.g. two athletes may
seem 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 produce
grainy images while a slow stock will require lots of light. Slow stock is the norm in cinema while
most television companies use video (Digibeta) tapes.


                                                                                                           3
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
Ringwood School                                                                Media Studies A Level

                              Media Language: Image Analysis

The key light is the main source of illumination and is directed on the subject, usually from 45
degrees above and to one side of the camera. It is a hard, direct light which produces sharply defined
shadows.
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 setting

This is self-explanatory; we have different expectations, for example, of a tropical setting when
compared 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 a
denotative level.

  Activity




Analyse 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 least
half a side of A4.

Now we have learned how to analyse an image on a denotative level, we need to look at connotation


                                                                                                     5
Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level
KEY 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
           sign
KEY 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
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
Once you have finished your list with your partner, write a full analysis of the advert based on what
we have talked about so far. You should be at the stage where you are using the Media Studies terms
we have learned and, in terms of analysis, offering more than someone who had never studied media
could offer. Remember there are no right or wrong answers in terms of connotation, although you
must 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 of
analysis as we will see when we look at our next topic: semiotics.


                                                                                                      8
Ringwood School                                                                    Media Studies A Level

                                                Semiotics

One of the key theoretical tools to help us deconstruct media texts is semiology, more often referred
to as semiotics. This is an attempt to create a science of the study of sign systems and their role in the
construction and reconstruction of meaning in media texts. It is an excellent tool for analysing
images, but it can be problematic in the sense that some of the terminology often makes it seem
obscure and difficult. What follows attempts to make basic semiotics as simple as possible for you to
understand, but please bear in mind that this is a difficult topic and one you will be expected to have
to work at to comprehend fully. We will look at the work of three key figures: the Swiss linguist
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Charles Peirce (1839—1914), who coined the term
semiotics, 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 to
formal 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                      SIGN

The SIGNIFIER is the sign’s physical form in the real world while the SIGNIFIED is the mental
concept evoked by the signifier. So, if we perceive a four legged animal with a very long neck (the
signifier), this evokes the mental concept of a giraffe (the signified). This combination creates the
sign “giraffe”. In a similar way, the letters g-i-r-a-f-f-e placed together are a signifier (at least for
English speakers) leading to the mental concept of a giraffe (the signified). You can see here how in
our own perception, the signifier and signified are inseparable, but they are separated for the
purposes of analysis. The basic act of signification operates at the level of denotation. Denotation is
dealt with more fully elsewhere in this worksheet, but is simply about identifying a sign. The
denotation of an image is what it actually is, rather than what meaning we give to it. For example, the
colour 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 chance
and universally agreed upon). For example, the fact that a four legged animal with a very long neck is
called a giraffe in English is arbitrary. It could equally have been called an elephant or a lion. It
therefore follows that if the signifier determined the signified than the word for a giraffe in English
would be the same in all languages; indeed there probably would be only one language. The fact that
signs are arbitrary means they can have many meanings—they are polysemic. Not all signs are
entirely arbitrary in nature. A photograph, for example, looks like what it represents. Signs such as
this 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 have
particular associations with it which colour our understanding. For example, arachnophobes would
have negative feelings about the sign “spider” whereas a tarantula owner would have the opposite
feeling. These connotations mean that the original sign has become another signifier which evokes an
associated 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
Ringwood School                                                                 Media Studies A Level

                                               Semiotics

There is social consensus for many connotations. For example, if you see a border collie dog, sitting
down, tongue hanging out with its head on one side (a denotative description), it is difficult to avoid
the connotation that the dog is friendly. Some signs carry particularly powerful connotations and are
discussed 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 their
arbitrary nature. Meaning is derived from context. For example, the word “dog” can mean a four
legged 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 forever

If 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 the
sentence. 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 parole

Saussure 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 hidden
beneath the surface. Parole is the performance of the rules, referred to by Noam Chomsky as “what
the speaker does”. To use the writing analogy above, langue is the grammar of English (the rules of
punctuation, for example) and parole the piece of writing produced by a person who implicitly
understands the langue. It is helpful to see langue and parole as an iceberg: langue is the supporting
structure part hidden under the sea, parole is the visible part.


           “What the speaker does”*

                                                 Parole
                                                                            “What the speaker knows
                                                                            implicitly”*

                                                 Langue
                                                                          * Noam Chomsky



How does this relate to Media Studies? Take the Hollywood cinema industry, for example. There are
certain “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 the
equivalent of the langue while the way these codes are actually used in a specific film is the
equivalent of parole. Unless a person has learned about the media language of Hollywood films, then
it 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 they
implicitly understand the langue, as indicated by Chomsky.


                                                                                                       10
Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level

                                              Semiotics

Synchrony and diachrony

Saussure demonstrated another way of structuring meaning: considering the vertical and horizontal
dimensions of sign systems; synchrony and diachrony. Synchrony is the vertical dimension of
meaning and diachrony is the horizontal dimension. These are useful in the study of language. Take
the 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 dimension
could be the whole sentence as the diagram shows above. Analysis would usually focus on both
dimensions: 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 the
synchronic dimension while the whole word “sullied” is the diachronic dimension, or that Hamlet is
synchronic 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 the
synchronic 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 acknowledge
that 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. For
example if we examine the etymology of a word, or the development of a genre. Diachronic
approaches give us a history, like a motion picture documentary. They focus on how things change
over time.”

“In contrast, a synchronic approach gives us a snapshot of a particular system at a particular moment
in 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 into
the system.”

To expand on Hedges’ example of words: a synchronic analysis of the word “gay” in 2006 would
focus on how young people in Britain have adapted the word to mean “rubbish” or “worthless” in
addition to it meaning homosexual. A diachronic approach would ground the word “gay” in its
historical context of meaning “happy” and follow the way it has evolved to mean homosexual and
now “rubbish” or “worthless” to British schoolchildren.
                                                                                                       11
Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level

                                                         Semiotics

Syntagm and paradigm

These words are difficult but when understood give you the critical ability to open up a text to
different interpretations. Therefore, it is important you work hard at understanding the concepts in
order for you to develop your analytical skills.

Syntagm

This is a chain of signs, that is, an element which follows another in a particular sequence. Saussure
identified a syntagmatic relationship in language: language is linear so there is a relationship between
the words: “the cat sat on the mat”. This syntagmatic level can be seen as the structural level from
which a text can be broken into its constituent parts. For example, the sentence “the cat sat on the
mat” 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 syntagmatic
analysis would involve an analysis of how each shot, scene or sequence relates to the others. If you
were analysing a still image, syntagmatic analysis would focus on the spatial relationship between
objects. Roman Jakobson used the word “combination” when defining syntagm.

Paradigm

A paradigm is a class of objects or concepts which are all members of a defining category but
markedly different in themselves. To use the example of language, the vocabulary of a language is a
paradigm. The use of one paradigm over another (i.e. the choice of one word rather than the choice of
another 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”, “IRA
paramilitaries”, “IRA freedom fighters” or “IRA lunatics”. Each of these choices would have
substantially 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 the
sentence may result in speculation that it was written by an English (or at least Unionist) journalist
due 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 “footballers
eligible to play for England”. To change the selection is therefore potentially to change the wider
meaning, 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 and
paradigm 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



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Ringwood School                                                                 Media Studies A Level

                                              Semiotics

So, by their very nature, paradigms expand the possible meanings of a sign. For example, a television
newsreader may introduce a 6pm news bulletin by saying “Good evening”. (syntagm). Other
possibilities 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 the
deselection of the signs in the paradigm. In this case, the paradigm locates its meaning in the
spectrum of formality. By recognising that the newsreader has rejected “Hi”, “Hello” etc, we come to
understand 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 director
chooses not to use a cut, but uses a dissolve instead, we can start to reveal more about the way
meaning is created.

It is important to recognise that there can be more than one paradigm for a sign. For example, the
word “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 of
meanings. We instinctively realise that the paradigm must be “domestic animal” as, for example, “the
whale sat on the mat” (mammal paradigm) or “the lion sat on the mat” (cat family paradigm) seem
inappropriate, 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. the
three course meal.

All of this is particularly useful in image analysis. For example, the use of a cat in a double glazing
advert relies on the paradigm “domestic animal” combined with the syntagm which places the cat
next to the double glazed window. This communicates that the product is effective in eliminating
draughts. 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 glazing
company) anchors the meaning of the paradigm as “domestic animal” as its function is to eliminate
draughts.

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 a
dog waiting for its owner to return home or wanting to go for a walk.

Commutation test

In semiotics, the replacement of one sign by another is called a commutation test and illustrates how
powerful syntagms and paradigms can be in analysis. By substituting objects for other signs in the
same paradigm and decoding the new meaning, we can isolate what contribution the original sign is
making 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 John
Fiske puts it: “the meaning of what was chosen is determined by the meaning of what was not.”

  Activity
Study the poster for Marlboro Cigarettes on the next page and then answer the questions underneath
the image.

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Ringwood School                                                                 Media Studies A Level




The 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, change
the 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 the
advert 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 to
the 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 been
constructed? (don’t forget the syntagmatic relationship that helps anchor this).

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Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level

Hopefully, you are able to see that by using the commutation test, we can learn a lot about the
meaning of a text based on the choices its creator has not made. The commutation test demonstrates
semiotics at its most powerful and is a particularly effective way of unmasking myths (see later).

  Activity




This 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 be
more varied than merely paradigms of content: design features and camera angles also operate in a
paradigmatic 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 of
the sign. This might involve imagining the use of a close-up rather than a mid-shot, a substitution in
age, 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 have
identified.

Once you have done this, consider what this tells you about the CD cover and the way it was
constructed.

Write down your “reading” of the CD cover. There is no right answer but the commutation test
should help you focus your response.

What we are doing when we identify paradigms is beginning to see the text in one of its primary
contexts: what is missed out or what might have been. We are beginning to expose the matrix or grid
of relationships from which all texts are produced, the master set of permutations from which any
specific combination has been constructed. From this point on, the text is open in the sense that you
have exposed its inner workings, even if this means you recognise it as being closed in that many of
the 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 and
post colonialism.

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Ringwood School                                                                Media Studies A Level

  Activity
A good way of demonstrating how well identifying paradigms can be when analysing an image is to
think back to the Sophie Dahl perfume advert you looked at earlier in the course. If you identify the
paradigm of “human” and change the gender of Sophie Dahl to male, then this reveals a lot about the
way in which the advert represents women (which would have been a good way of beginning to think
about how the advert deals with the issue of gender representation). In fact, the thought of a man in
the 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 to
understand the reference, it is called intertextuality. This can possibly lead to confusion if the
reference is not understood. For example, someone unaware of the Sophie Dahl advert could see the
advert below and identify the paradigm of clothing. The decision to use a white suit, rather than a
black suit or shirt and jeans, may then be taken to be significant in relation to the type of person the
drinks manufacturer is appealing to. One conclusion could be that Newcastle Brown sees its drinkers
as colonial types. In fact, anyone who knows the Newcastle Brown brand would recognise this as
wildly inaccurate; the choice of the white suit is almost certainly to mimic the translucency of the
naked Sophie Dahl in the original advert.




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Ringwood School                                                                   Media Studies A Level

Charles Peirce, the other great pioneer of semiotics, created a tripartite categorisation of signs:

•     Iconic
•     Index
•     Symbol



                                  Symbolic (or arbitrary) signs

A symbol is a sign that represents an object or concept solely by the agreement of the people who use
it. Therefore, symbolic signs have no obvious connection between the sign and the object. For
example, the word DOG has no obvious link with a furry animal usually domesticated as a pet. It
only 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 arbitrary
sign because the world as a whole has agreed to its meaning. The colour pink could equally have
been chosen if this had been agreed upon.

This means some symbolic signs can have several meanings that are contested, or about which
people might not agree. For example, the Union Jack has a variety of meanings depending upon who
is using it—a group of football supporters, the monarchy, the Unionists in Ulster, the British National
Party etc.




                                              Iconic signs

On the other hand, iconic signs always resemble what they signify. There is a physical similarity
between 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 signify
facilities for disabled people and we can usually find the men’s and women’s toilets wherever we are
in the world by looking for the iconic signs on the doors.




                                            Indexical signs

In a sense, indexial signs lie between symbolic and iconic signs. Indexical signs have some sort of
direct connection with what is being ‘signified’. For example, smoke is often used as an indexical
sign 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’.




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Ringwood School                                                                Media Studies A Level

                                           Reading signs

You must remember that the three categories of sign are not mutually exclusive—in fact, a sign can
very 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 read
and 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 be
potentially 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 definition
and exploration of myths. Barthes looked at how signs take on the dominant value system of a
particular society and make these values seem natural. The dominant value system of a society is
known 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 largely
based 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 dominant
political 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 signifier
evoking the mental concept of rose at the denotative level. However, rose can also signify the mental
concept of romance, particularly if it is red and placed in the context of St Valentine’s Day. Romance
is a myth that defines heterosexual love as tender and caring; the female is passive and the male
active in the relationship. We have already seen how the original denotative sign can become the
signifier for a second-order system of signification, creating a connotation. Barthes showed that
Saussure’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) as
anything 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, Barthes
pointed out that signs can disguise themselves, a trick that allows myths to structure the meaning of
the communication without appearing to do so. Myths position the audience in a specific relationship
with a sign and simultaneously disguise themselves.

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Ringwood School                                                                   Media Studies A Level

For example, consider an after-shave advertisement that includes an image of a fast car: in this text
the fast car connotes masculine power and is part of a system of signs which create the myth of
masculinity. Masculinity is a social creation, gender, rather than a biological definition. To be
defined 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 always
fast) often symbolises these aspects of masculinity.

In order to deconstruct this particular use of the myth, we could use a commutation test by
substituting the car for a bicycle. A feminist reading of the car in the text may emphasise that the
car’s speed signifies men’s lack of sexual staying power. This sort of reading helps the
deconstruction of the text because it helps emphasise that the association—in this case, speed with
masculinity—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 of
making meanings in society.

Binary oppositions

One of the most powerful creators of a sign’s meaning are binary oppositions. Here, signs are
contrasted with signs which have meanings that operate in opposition. For example, town and
country, 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 the
west uses binary oppositions such as white-good, black-evil to perpetuate and legitimise western
power 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. Taken
together, 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 assigns
a positive value to one side against the other; by stating that one side is good, it follows that the other
side is bad.

  Activity
On the next page, you will find five images. The first three are all stills taken from a Lynx (men’s
deodorant) 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 you
identify? Discuss your own personal interpretation of the adverts. Is this advertising campaign
tongue-in-cheek and harmless or does it help to reinforce western myths about gender? Go back to
the Sophie Dahl advert. Can you identify any myths? Does the advert reinforce myths or do
something different? Look at the two aftershave adverts. Can you identify any myths? What is your
own interpretation of the adverts?

By analysing the media language in the adverts, you have also been looking at the Key Concept of
representation. Bad responses in Media Studies look at the Key Concepts as single entities: students
write 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.

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20
Ringwood School                                                                 Media Studies A Level

We have looked in some detail at how to analyse still images, yet we have not looked in any detail at
the analysis of moving images.

The relationship between still and moving images can be understood at a very early age: the “stick
person” animated by flicking quickly through the pages of a book is a common trick learned by
young people. The rapid juxtaposition of images, each slightly different from the previous one, gives
the illusion of movement. The same principle is used in the cinema; a still image (or frame) is
projected momentarily on to a screen to be immediately followed by another and so on.

Editing

The 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 of
editing. This was perfected by the film-makers in Hollywood and is one reason why this particular
part of the USA has dominated film production in the Western world ever since.

Continuity editing

One objective of continuity editing is to create a coherent cinematic space in which the action can
take place. Early cinema placed the camera as if it was in a theatre’s stalls, and the players acted in
front of it. This was clearly very limiting with no different camera positions or movement. Once the
camera moves, whether the movement is seen on screen or if it’s done between cuts, it is essential the
audience 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 not
understand them, they would become disorientated. The fact that audiences understand these rules
unconsciously, and cannot describe them (unless they’ve studied film or media) is a testimony to
their effectiveness.

The 180-degree rule

The 180-degree rule was established as the best way of facilitating continuity of cinematic space
within one scene. By staying on one side of the imaginary axis, the ‘axis of action’, which is formed
through the subject(s) in the scene, the audience will always have a clear idea of where the characters
are in relation to one another and where they are within the scene. If, however, the 180-degree line is
crossed 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!
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Ringwood School                                                                    Media Studies A Level

Establishing shot

The 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 the
space are seen within this shot.

Re-establishing shot

Once a scene’s space has been established, a number of medium or close-up shots may follow, which
would fragment the space. In the case, a ‘re-establishing shot’ might be required to re-anchor the
audience’s perception of the scene’s space.

Shot/reverse shot

Once 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 action
must be the same. This technique is usually used in filming conversations between characters; for
example, an over-the-shoulder shot could show one person talking, cut to over-the-shoulder of this
person would show the other listening. This is a shot/reverse shot pattern.

30-degree rule

Whenever a camera position is changed, it must move at least 30 degrees in relation to the shot’s
subject(s) from its previous position in order to make the movement obvious. Anything less tends to
have a jarring effect.

Eyeline match

When a character looks off-screen followed by another shot, the second shot shows what the
character is looking at.

Match on action

If a character starts to move in a particular direction, it is possible to cut to a shot where the character
is still moving but has covered space that was not shown. Because of the 180-degree rule, and the
consistency of the character’s direction, audiences tend not to notice the missing space and time.

The cut

In terms of editing, there a number of ways of getting from one shot to the next. The most common is
the cut, where one sequence of film is immediately followed by another. You can also:

Fade-out: the scene simply fades to black—it has ended
Fade-in: the scene appears from a black frame, which signifies the beginning
Dissolve: the second shot fades-in and is superimposed over the first shot, which fades out, usually
taking less than a second. This usually suggests a passage of time or links two shots together. In
television, 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 across
the frame giving the effect of an abrupt conclusion to the scene. Editing packages often allow you to
use lots of different (often cheesey) wipes, such as the second shot wiping off the first through a page
turn, 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
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Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level

one shot and the next. This was proved by Soviet film-maker Lev Kuleshov in the 1920s. Kuleshov
filmed an actor with a neutral expression on his face and cut this together with various other images
such as a baby or a bowl of soup. When audiences watched the result and were asked to note the
emotion of the character, they commented on how hungry he appeared when his face followed the
shot of the soup and how loving and fatherly he appeared after the shot of the baby. The shot of the
actor, of course, never changed. The audience assumed the shot of the actor and the object occupied
the same space. In reality, of course, they do not.

When we analyse moving images, we must comment on the effect that the juxtaposition of different
images has upon the creation of meaning. Four relationships between images at the edit should be
considered:

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 are
edited to create either continuity or contrast.

Rhythmic relationships: These are created by the length of a shot, how long a shot runs before the
edit. If a sequence consists of shots of the same length, then a rather monotonous rhythm will be
created; conversely, a series of long shots followed by rapid editing is likely to create an exciting
effect. Some documentaries use “long take”, that is, very little editing, in order to create a sense of
reality.

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 to
centuries. Editing is often used to cut out redundant actions: for example, a character may stand up to
leave the room; an immediate cut shows the character exiting by a door—the movement to the door
is taken out. This is an ellipsis.

Linear and non-linear editing

Before the development of digital technology, editing had to be carried out in a linear fashion. In
other 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 all
the footage at all times. This gives the editor the flexibility to change what has already been made or
throw away parts of the film and start again.

Continuity editing is not the only editing system. Montage is distinguished from continuity editing
by its discontinuity. Montage is a series of shots that establishes connections based on a conceptual
relationship. One definition of montage is: the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated shots or scenes
which, 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).

  Activity
You 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 become
disorientated. Look at the edits and camera angles and write down anything you note.

You will see each clip more than once.

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Ringwood School                                                               Media Studies A Level

Sound

Sound is important for the audience to make sense of what they are seeing. Even silent films had
some kind of sound effects as well as musical accompaniment, often from a man playing the organ in
the cinema! Sound plays more of an important role in films and television programmes than you
probably realise and is as crucial as visuals.

Sound will be something you need to think carefully about for your coursework. It is difficult to get
sound right—even professional organisations constantly encounter sound problems. It is therefore
unrealistic to expect to be able to make an amateur film with excellent audio, especially as many of
today’s cheaper camcorders do not even have the facility to add external microphones.


    Activity

One of the key roles of sound is to tell the audience how to react at different points in a film or
television programme. Distinctive sound devices are used for particular genre. In fact, sound is an
important device in establishing the genre for an audience and getting them in the mood for watching
something.

Listen to the five sound-track examples and jot down in the spaces provided which genre you
perceive them to be from. In the Why? section try to describe the kinds of instruments you hear.

Sound track no.                    Genre                                 Why?

1



2




3




4




5




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Ringwood School                                                                   Media Studies A Level

The 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 or
programme. Theme music throughout the programme/film can similarly be defined as non-diegetic
and is often used to tell the audience what is going to happen next. For example, in the film Star
Wars, the evil force of Darth Vader is known to be present because his theme is played. Even if he is
not 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 of
the 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 be
added later (post-dubbed).

Sound effects: non-verbal, diegetic sounds, the source of which is clear to the audience. These are
often 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 spot
effects, an example of ambient sound is the noise of insects or birds in a country scene, or traffic in a
city 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 evoke
a period or genre. Remember that music is not always non-diegetic. If it is coming from a radio, or a
band, then it is part of the diegetic world of the film. In the opening of Touch of Evil, which you saw
earlier, Orson Welles tried to ensure all the music was diegetic. Music can be heard coming from the
radio and out of bars etc. This is part of the diegetic world of the film.

Narration

There are, of course, many different types of dialogue, including narration. Sometimes the story is
told by one of the characters at the start of the film and then it drifts into dialogue and returns to a
voice-over narration at the end. This happens in American Beauty and The Big Lebowski, for
example. 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.



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Ringwood School                                                                Media Studies A Level

Sound can be used in many different ways for artistic effect. Here are two terms you need to know
about:

                        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 the
Synchronous             realism of film and also help to create a particular atmosphere. For
                        example: the “click” of a door being opened may simply serve to convince
sound                   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 of
sound                   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 ambulance's 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 film's (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.


  Activity
These 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 the
scene with no sound. Then you will watch it again twice—this time with sound. Be prepared to talk
about 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 and
Juliet. You will watch exactly the same montage a number of different times, but the music
accompanying the sequence will change each time. Forgetting what you already know about the
story of Romeo and Juliet, think about how your view of the relationship between the two
characters 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 the
role of non-diegetic sound is in this scene? How important do you think the role of non-diegetic
sound 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 get
caught up in talking about visuals as the mind tends to process this information first and the sound
gets put somewhere in the background. But, as we said earlier, sound is crucial to a film. Steven
Spielberg says “half the success” of Jaws is simply down to John Williams’ inspired theme. As we
have seen, sound plays a major role in Psycho, from the chilling score during the shower scene to
the diegetic sound of a knife slashing into flesh (achieved by simply thrusting a knife into a melon!)


                                                                                                     26
Ringwood School                                                             Media Studies A Level

So far this term we have looked closely at the skills needed to analyse media texts and you have
learned quite a lot about image analysis. A lot of what you have learned about moving images will be
applied practically when we start talking about your coursework and you start storyboarding, filming
and editing a practice piece.

In How To Study Television (1995), Selby and Cowdery offer a comprehensive framework for
analysing texts. This uses media terminology and is methodical in its approach. In effect, the
framework is a summary of all the work we have done on media language so far. It is therefore a
helpful way of revising. Although the framework originated from a study of television and the
moving 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 some
moving image texts. Selby and Cowdery split the tools needed for deconstructing a text into two
groups: 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 = warm


NB Sound/music/sound effects and colour were not included in Selby and Cowdery’s book and have
been added later.

A range of possible connotations of each code is given below to help you see how this model can be
applied 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
Ringwood School                                                                 Media Studies A Level


Technical 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 these



Mise-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 doing
so is that you can end up producing a mechanical response that sounds like it has been written by a
computer. Like in English, you can easily make the mistake of “spotting” or “listing” what’s there
rather than analysing effects. The examples on the next page show you how you need to try to
develop your analysis beyond the superficial.

                                                                                                        28
Ringwood School                                                                  Media Studies A Level

Imagine 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 a
high-rise flat so she must be poor. There is a bottle of wine on the table so she must like to drink
alcohol.

This is far too simplistic. What if the red dress is one she wears for work? In any case, it doesn’t
necessarily 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-verbal
communication seems to suggest otherwise. She appears tired, perhaps having just come home
from work. The bottle of wine and a single glass that sit on the table connote that she leads a
hectic 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 could
perhaps 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 course
progresses, you will learn lots of other technical media terms and theories that you should introduce
into your writing. For now, it is important to practise using the terms we have learnt so far.

     Activity
Later in the course, you will look at how narrative, genre, institution, audiences and values and
ideology all contribute to the effect a media text has on the person ‘reading’ it. For now, you should
concentrate 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 each
film is? How can you tell? Don’t forget, we are all the subjects of socialisation; our different
experiences and interactions mean one person’s reaction to a text will be different to another’s. This
doesn’t make one person ‘right’ and one person ‘wrong’, so don’t be afraid to say whatever you want
as 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
Ringwood School                                                               Media Studies A Level

  Assessment
You 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 codes
and 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 to
analyse 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 have
learned about media language so far.




                                                                                                    30

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Media language

  • 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 Analysis Let’s start by looking at some images and describing what we see. This level of analysis is called denotation, an important term we will look at in more detail later. In theory, at the level of denotation, everyone should describe an image in exactly the same way. However, as we all have a different understanding of the world (because we have learned about it in different ways), this is rarely the case in practice. Activity Look at the image above. On a piece of paper, describe what you see in the picture. You will be asked 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 is happening will depend a lot on the assumptions you make about the society in which you live. Your response will also be based on codes you implicitly understand. You will again be asked to share what you have written with the rest of the class. Your second response will have taken into account the non-verbal communication (NVC) of the men in the photograph. NVC is an important code used by human beings to communicate, often unconsciously. It is possible to identify eight aspects of NVC: Facial expression: eyebrows are important here, e.g. fully raised eyebrows often indicate disbelief whereas fully lowered eyebrows communicate anger. Gaze: the focus of a person’s look. When two people’s gazes meet, this is eye contact and particularly 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 talk and see how they move their hands. Bodily posture: clearly a slovenly stance communicates something different to an upright one Bodily contact: this is restricted in western culture as it conveys intimacy unless it’s in a professional 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 something about 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 Analysis We would never question the need to read writing, yet we tend to assume that because photographs represent the real world they are somehow “natural” so all we need to do is look at them. This is clearly a fallacy. In fact, the word photography literally means “writing with light” and the first objective in Media Studies is to move from a passive consumption of images to an active reading of them. The object of analysis in Media Studies is to understand the meaning of a text (whether it be a novel, 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 of the image. Framing Framing defines the position from which the image was created, i.e. it is the border between the space we are allowed to see and that which is out of our sight. All frames have a shape—such as the A4 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 common is the “straight on” position. Other commonly used angles are low angle, which is often used to indicate 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) suggests subservience. 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 “straight on” 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 camera which is in focus. Deep focus photography will have the whole scene in focus, whereas a conventional photograph will focus on the main object with the background out of focus. Soft focus can 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 will give a “fish-eye” effect while a telephoto lens pulls objects closer together (e.g. two athletes may seem 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 produce grainy images while a slow stock will require lots of light. Slow stock is the norm in cinema while most 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 Analysis The key light is the main source of illumination and is directed on the subject, usually from 45 degrees above and to one side of the camera. It is a hard, direct light which produces sharply defined shadows. 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 setting This is self-explanatory; we have different expectations, for example, of a tropical setting when compared 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 a denotative level. Activity Analyse 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 least half 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 Level KEY 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 sign KEY 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 what we have talked about so far. You should be at the stage where you are using the Media Studies terms we have learned and, in terms of analysis, offering more than someone who had never studied media could offer. Remember there are no right or wrong answers in terms of connotation, although you must 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 of analysis as we will see when we look at our next topic: semiotics. 8
  • 9. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Semiotics One of the key theoretical tools to help us deconstruct media texts is semiology, more often referred to as semiotics. This is an attempt to create a science of the study of sign systems and their role in the construction and reconstruction of meaning in media texts. It is an excellent tool for analysing images, but it can be problematic in the sense that some of the terminology often makes it seem obscure and difficult. What follows attempts to make basic semiotics as simple as possible for you to understand, but please bear in mind that this is a difficult topic and one you will be expected to have to work at to comprehend fully. We will look at the work of three key figures: the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Charles Peirce (1839—1914), who coined the term semiotics, 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 to formal 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 SIGN The SIGNIFIER is the sign’s physical form in the real world while the SIGNIFIED is the mental concept evoked by the signifier. So, if we perceive a four legged animal with a very long neck (the signifier), this evokes the mental concept of a giraffe (the signified). This combination creates the sign “giraffe”. In a similar way, the letters g-i-r-a-f-f-e placed together are a signifier (at least for English speakers) leading to the mental concept of a giraffe (the signified). You can see here how in our own perception, the signifier and signified are inseparable, but they are separated for the purposes of analysis. The basic act of signification operates at the level of denotation. Denotation is dealt with more fully elsewhere in this worksheet, but is simply about identifying a sign. The denotation of an image is what it actually is, rather than what meaning we give to it. For example, the colour 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 chance and universally agreed upon). For example, the fact that a four legged animal with a very long neck is called a giraffe in English is arbitrary. It could equally have been called an elephant or a lion. It therefore follows that if the signifier determined the signified than the word for a giraffe in English would be the same in all languages; indeed there probably would be only one language. The fact that signs are arbitrary means they can have many meanings—they are polysemic. Not all signs are entirely arbitrary in nature. A photograph, for example, looks like what it represents. Signs such as this 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 have particular associations with it which colour our understanding. For example, arachnophobes would have negative feelings about the sign “spider” whereas a tarantula owner would have the opposite feeling. These connotations mean that the original sign has become another signifier which evokes an associated 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 Semiotics There is social consensus for many connotations. For example, if you see a border collie dog, sitting down, tongue hanging out with its head on one side (a denotative description), it is difficult to avoid the connotation that the dog is friendly. Some signs carry particularly powerful connotations and are discussed 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 their arbitrary nature. Meaning is derived from context. For example, the word “dog” can mean a four legged 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 forever If 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 the sentence. 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 parole Saussure 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 hidden beneath the surface. Parole is the performance of the rules, referred to by Noam Chomsky as “what the speaker does”. To use the writing analogy above, langue is the grammar of English (the rules of punctuation, for example) and parole the piece of writing produced by a person who implicitly understands the langue. It is helpful to see langue and parole as an iceberg: langue is the supporting structure part hidden under the sea, parole is the visible part. “What the speaker does”* Parole “What the speaker knows implicitly”* Langue * Noam Chomsky How does this relate to Media Studies? Take the Hollywood cinema industry, for example. There are certain “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 the equivalent of the langue while the way these codes are actually used in a specific film is the equivalent of parole. Unless a person has learned about the media language of Hollywood films, then it 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 they implicitly understand the langue, as indicated by Chomsky. 10
  • 11. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Semiotics Synchrony and diachrony Saussure demonstrated another way of structuring meaning: considering the vertical and horizontal dimensions of sign systems; synchrony and diachrony. Synchrony is the vertical dimension of meaning and diachrony is the horizontal dimension. These are useful in the study of language. Take the 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 dimension could be the whole sentence as the diagram shows above. Analysis would usually focus on both dimensions: 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 the synchronic dimension while the whole word “sullied” is the diachronic dimension, or that Hamlet is synchronic 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 the synchronic 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 acknowledge that 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. For example if we examine the etymology of a word, or the development of a genre. Diachronic approaches give us a history, like a motion picture documentary. They focus on how things change over time.” “In contrast, a synchronic approach gives us a snapshot of a particular system at a particular moment in 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 into the system.” To expand on Hedges’ example of words: a synchronic analysis of the word “gay” in 2006 would focus on how young people in Britain have adapted the word to mean “rubbish” or “worthless” in addition to it meaning homosexual. A diachronic approach would ground the word “gay” in its historical context of meaning “happy” and follow the way it has evolved to mean homosexual and now “rubbish” or “worthless” to British schoolchildren. 11
  • 12. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Semiotics Syntagm and paradigm These words are difficult but when understood give you the critical ability to open up a text to different interpretations. Therefore, it is important you work hard at understanding the concepts in order for you to develop your analytical skills. Syntagm This is a chain of signs, that is, an element which follows another in a particular sequence. Saussure identified a syntagmatic relationship in language: language is linear so there is a relationship between the words: “the cat sat on the mat”. This syntagmatic level can be seen as the structural level from which a text can be broken into its constituent parts. For example, the sentence “the cat sat on the mat” 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 syntagmatic analysis would involve an analysis of how each shot, scene or sequence relates to the others. If you were analysing a still image, syntagmatic analysis would focus on the spatial relationship between objects. Roman Jakobson used the word “combination” when defining syntagm. Paradigm A paradigm is a class of objects or concepts which are all members of a defining category but markedly different in themselves. To use the example of language, the vocabulary of a language is a paradigm. The use of one paradigm over another (i.e. the choice of one word rather than the choice of another 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”, “IRA paramilitaries”, “IRA freedom fighters” or “IRA lunatics”. Each of these choices would have substantially 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 the sentence may result in speculation that it was written by an English (or at least Unionist) journalist due 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 “footballers eligible to play for England”. To change the selection is therefore potentially to change the wider meaning, 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 and paradigm 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 Semiotics So, by their very nature, paradigms expand the possible meanings of a sign. For example, a television newsreader may introduce a 6pm news bulletin by saying “Good evening”. (syntagm). Other possibilities 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 the deselection of the signs in the paradigm. In this case, the paradigm locates its meaning in the spectrum of formality. By recognising that the newsreader has rejected “Hi”, “Hello” etc, we come to understand 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 director chooses not to use a cut, but uses a dissolve instead, we can start to reveal more about the way meaning is created. It is important to recognise that there can be more than one paradigm for a sign. For example, the word “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 of meanings. We instinctively realise that the paradigm must be “domestic animal” as, for example, “the whale sat on the mat” (mammal paradigm) or “the lion sat on the mat” (cat family paradigm) seem inappropriate, 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. the three course meal. All of this is particularly useful in image analysis. For example, the use of a cat in a double glazing advert relies on the paradigm “domestic animal” combined with the syntagm which places the cat next to the double glazed window. This communicates that the product is effective in eliminating draughts. 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 glazing company) anchors the meaning of the paradigm as “domestic animal” as its function is to eliminate draughts. 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 a dog waiting for its owner to return home or wanting to go for a walk. Commutation test In semiotics, the replacement of one sign by another is called a commutation test and illustrates how powerful syntagms and paradigms can be in analysis. By substituting objects for other signs in the same paradigm and decoding the new meaning, we can isolate what contribution the original sign is making 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 John Fiske puts it: “the meaning of what was chosen is determined by the meaning of what was not.” Activity Study the poster for Marlboro Cigarettes on the next page and then answer the questions underneath the image. 13
  • 14. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level The 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, change the 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 the advert 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 to the 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 been constructed? (don’t forget the syntagmatic relationship that helps anchor this). 14
  • 15. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Hopefully, you are able to see that by using the commutation test, we can learn a lot about the meaning of a text based on the choices its creator has not made. The commutation test demonstrates semiotics at its most powerful and is a particularly effective way of unmasking myths (see later). Activity This 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 be more varied than merely paradigms of content: design features and camera angles also operate in a paradigmatic 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 of the sign. This might involve imagining the use of a close-up rather than a mid-shot, a substitution in age, 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 have identified. Once you have done this, consider what this tells you about the CD cover and the way it was constructed. Write down your “reading” of the CD cover. There is no right answer but the commutation test should help you focus your response. What we are doing when we identify paradigms is beginning to see the text in one of its primary contexts: what is missed out or what might have been. We are beginning to expose the matrix or grid of relationships from which all texts are produced, the master set of permutations from which any specific combination has been constructed. From this point on, the text is open in the sense that you have exposed its inner workings, even if this means you recognise it as being closed in that many of the 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 and post colonialism. 15
  • 16. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Activity A good way of demonstrating how well identifying paradigms can be when analysing an image is to think back to the Sophie Dahl perfume advert you looked at earlier in the course. If you identify the paradigm of “human” and change the gender of Sophie Dahl to male, then this reveals a lot about the way in which the advert represents women (which would have been a good way of beginning to think about how the advert deals with the issue of gender representation). In fact, the thought of a man in the 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 to understand the reference, it is called intertextuality. This can possibly lead to confusion if the reference is not understood. For example, someone unaware of the Sophie Dahl advert could see the advert below and identify the paradigm of clothing. The decision to use a white suit, rather than a black suit or shirt and jeans, may then be taken to be significant in relation to the type of person the drinks manufacturer is appealing to. One conclusion could be that Newcastle Brown sees its drinkers as colonial types. In fact, anyone who knows the Newcastle Brown brand would recognise this as wildly inaccurate; the choice of the white suit is almost certainly to mimic the translucency of the naked Sophie Dahl in the original advert. 16
  • 17. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Charles Peirce, the other great pioneer of semiotics, created a tripartite categorisation of signs: • Iconic • Index • Symbol Symbolic (or arbitrary) signs A symbol is a sign that represents an object or concept solely by the agreement of the people who use it. Therefore, symbolic signs have no obvious connection between the sign and the object. For example, the word DOG has no obvious link with a furry animal usually domesticated as a pet. It only 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 arbitrary sign because the world as a whole has agreed to its meaning. The colour pink could equally have been chosen if this had been agreed upon. This means some symbolic signs can have several meanings that are contested, or about which people might not agree. For example, the Union Jack has a variety of meanings depending upon who is using it—a group of football supporters, the monarchy, the Unionists in Ulster, the British National Party etc. Iconic signs On the other hand, iconic signs always resemble what they signify. There is a physical similarity between 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 signify facilities for disabled people and we can usually find the men’s and women’s toilets wherever we are in the world by looking for the iconic signs on the doors. Indexical signs In a sense, indexial signs lie between symbolic and iconic signs. Indexical signs have some sort of direct connection with what is being ‘signified’. For example, smoke is often used as an indexical sign 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 signs You must remember that the three categories of sign are not mutually exclusive—in fact, a sign can very 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 read and 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 be potentially 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 definition and exploration of myths. Barthes looked at how signs take on the dominant value system of a particular society and make these values seem natural. The dominant value system of a society is known 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 largely based 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 dominant political 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 signifier evoking the mental concept of rose at the denotative level. However, rose can also signify the mental concept of romance, particularly if it is red and placed in the context of St Valentine’s Day. Romance is a myth that defines heterosexual love as tender and caring; the female is passive and the male active in the relationship. We have already seen how the original denotative sign can become the signifier for a second-order system of signification, creating a connotation. Barthes showed that Saussure’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) as anything 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, Barthes pointed out that signs can disguise themselves, a trick that allows myths to structure the meaning of the communication without appearing to do so. Myths position the audience in a specific relationship with a sign and simultaneously disguise themselves. 18
  • 19. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level For example, consider an after-shave advertisement that includes an image of a fast car: in this text the fast car connotes masculine power and is part of a system of signs which create the myth of masculinity. Masculinity is a social creation, gender, rather than a biological definition. To be defined 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 always fast) often symbolises these aspects of masculinity. In order to deconstruct this particular use of the myth, we could use a commutation test by substituting the car for a bicycle. A feminist reading of the car in the text may emphasise that the car’s speed signifies men’s lack of sexual staying power. This sort of reading helps the deconstruction of the text because it helps emphasise that the association—in this case, speed with masculinity—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 of making meanings in society. Binary oppositions One of the most powerful creators of a sign’s meaning are binary oppositions. Here, signs are contrasted with signs which have meanings that operate in opposition. For example, town and country, 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 the west uses binary oppositions such as white-good, black-evil to perpetuate and legitimise western power 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. Taken together, 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 assigns a positive value to one side against the other; by stating that one side is good, it follows that the other side is bad. Activity On the next page, you will find five images. The first three are all stills taken from a Lynx (men’s deodorant) 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 you identify? Discuss your own personal interpretation of the adverts. Is this advertising campaign tongue-in-cheek and harmless or does it help to reinforce western myths about gender? Go back to the Sophie Dahl advert. Can you identify any myths? Does the advert reinforce myths or do something different? Look at the two aftershave adverts. Can you identify any myths? What is your own interpretation of the adverts? By analysing the media language in the adverts, you have also been looking at the Key Concept of representation. Bad responses in Media Studies look at the Key Concepts as single entities: students write 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 Level We have looked in some detail at how to analyse still images, yet we have not looked in any detail at the analysis of moving images. The relationship between still and moving images can be understood at a very early age: the “stick person” animated by flicking quickly through the pages of a book is a common trick learned by young people. The rapid juxtaposition of images, each slightly different from the previous one, gives the illusion of movement. The same principle is used in the cinema; a still image (or frame) is projected momentarily on to a screen to be immediately followed by another and so on. Editing The 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 of editing. This was perfected by the film-makers in Hollywood and is one reason why this particular part of the USA has dominated film production in the Western world ever since. Continuity editing One objective of continuity editing is to create a coherent cinematic space in which the action can take place. Early cinema placed the camera as if it was in a theatre’s stalls, and the players acted in front of it. This was clearly very limiting with no different camera positions or movement. Once the camera moves, whether the movement is seen on screen or if it’s done between cuts, it is essential the audience 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 not understand them, they would become disorientated. The fact that audiences understand these rules unconsciously, and cannot describe them (unless they’ve studied film or media) is a testimony to their effectiveness. The 180-degree rule The 180-degree rule was established as the best way of facilitating continuity of cinematic space within one scene. By staying on one side of the imaginary axis, the ‘axis of action’, which is formed through the subject(s) in the scene, the audience will always have a clear idea of where the characters are in relation to one another and where they are within the scene. If, however, the 180-degree line is crossed 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 Level Establishing shot The 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 the space are seen within this shot. Re-establishing shot Once a scene’s space has been established, a number of medium or close-up shots may follow, which would fragment the space. In the case, a ‘re-establishing shot’ might be required to re-anchor the audience’s perception of the scene’s space. Shot/reverse shot Once 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 action must be the same. This technique is usually used in filming conversations between characters; for example, an over-the-shoulder shot could show one person talking, cut to over-the-shoulder of this person would show the other listening. This is a shot/reverse shot pattern. 30-degree rule Whenever a camera position is changed, it must move at least 30 degrees in relation to the shot’s subject(s) from its previous position in order to make the movement obvious. Anything less tends to have a jarring effect. Eyeline match When a character looks off-screen followed by another shot, the second shot shows what the character is looking at. Match on action If a character starts to move in a particular direction, it is possible to cut to a shot where the character is still moving but has covered space that was not shown. Because of the 180-degree rule, and the consistency of the character’s direction, audiences tend not to notice the missing space and time. The cut In terms of editing, there a number of ways of getting from one shot to the next. The most common is the cut, where one sequence of film is immediately followed by another. You can also: Fade-out: the scene simply fades to black—it has ended Fade-in: the scene appears from a black frame, which signifies the beginning Dissolve: the second shot fades-in and is superimposed over the first shot, which fades out, usually taking less than a second. This usually suggests a passage of time or links two shots together. In television, 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 across the frame giving the effect of an abrupt conclusion to the scene. Editing packages often allow you to use lots of different (often cheesey) wipes, such as the second shot wiping off the first through a page turn, 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 Level one shot and the next. This was proved by Soviet film-maker Lev Kuleshov in the 1920s. Kuleshov filmed an actor with a neutral expression on his face and cut this together with various other images such as a baby or a bowl of soup. When audiences watched the result and were asked to note the emotion of the character, they commented on how hungry he appeared when his face followed the shot of the soup and how loving and fatherly he appeared after the shot of the baby. The shot of the actor, of course, never changed. The audience assumed the shot of the actor and the object occupied the same space. In reality, of course, they do not. When we analyse moving images, we must comment on the effect that the juxtaposition of different images has upon the creation of meaning. Four relationships between images at the edit should be considered: 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 are edited to create either continuity or contrast. Rhythmic relationships: These are created by the length of a shot, how long a shot runs before the edit. If a sequence consists of shots of the same length, then a rather monotonous rhythm will be created; conversely, a series of long shots followed by rapid editing is likely to create an exciting effect. Some documentaries use “long take”, that is, very little editing, in order to create a sense of reality. 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 to centuries. Editing is often used to cut out redundant actions: for example, a character may stand up to leave the room; an immediate cut shows the character exiting by a door—the movement to the door is taken out. This is an ellipsis. Linear and non-linear editing Before the development of digital technology, editing had to be carried out in a linear fashion. In other 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 all the footage at all times. This gives the editor the flexibility to change what has already been made or throw away parts of the film and start again. Continuity editing is not the only editing system. Montage is distinguished from continuity editing by its discontinuity. Montage is a series of shots that establishes connections based on a conceptual relationship. One definition of montage is: the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated shots or scenes which, 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). Activity You 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 become disorientated. 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 Level Sound Sound is important for the audience to make sense of what they are seeing. Even silent films had some kind of sound effects as well as musical accompaniment, often from a man playing the organ in the cinema! Sound plays more of an important role in films and television programmes than you probably realise and is as crucial as visuals. Sound will be something you need to think carefully about for your coursework. It is difficult to get sound right—even professional organisations constantly encounter sound problems. It is therefore unrealistic to expect to be able to make an amateur film with excellent audio, especially as many of today’s cheaper camcorders do not even have the facility to add external microphones. Activity One of the key roles of sound is to tell the audience how to react at different points in a film or television programme. Distinctive sound devices are used for particular genre. In fact, sound is an important device in establishing the genre for an audience and getting them in the mood for watching something. Listen to the five sound-track examples and jot down in the spaces provided which genre you perceive them to be from. In the Why? section try to describe the kinds of instruments you hear. Sound track no. Genre Why? 1 2 3 4 5 24
  • 25. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level The 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 or programme. Theme music throughout the programme/film can similarly be defined as non-diegetic and is often used to tell the audience what is going to happen next. For example, in the film Star Wars, the evil force of Darth Vader is known to be present because his theme is played. Even if he is not 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 of the 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 be added later (post-dubbed). Sound effects: non-verbal, diegetic sounds, the source of which is clear to the audience. These are often 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 spot effects, an example of ambient sound is the noise of insects or birds in a country scene, or traffic in a city 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 evoke a period or genre. Remember that music is not always non-diegetic. If it is coming from a radio, or a band, then it is part of the diegetic world of the film. In the opening of Touch of Evil, which you saw earlier, Orson Welles tried to ensure all the music was diegetic. Music can be heard coming from the radio and out of bars etc. This is part of the diegetic world of the film. Narration There are, of course, many different types of dialogue, including narration. Sometimes the story is told by one of the characters at the start of the film and then it drifts into dialogue and returns to a voice-over narration at the end. This happens in American Beauty and The Big Lebowski, for example. 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 Level Sound can be used in many different ways for artistic effect. Here are two terms you need to know about: 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 the Synchronous realism of film and also help to create a particular atmosphere. For example: the “click” of a door being opened may simply serve to convince sound 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 of sound 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 ambulance's 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 film's (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. Activity These 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 the scene with no sound. Then you will watch it again twice—this time with sound. Be prepared to talk about 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 and Juliet. You will watch exactly the same montage a number of different times, but the music accompanying the sequence will change each time. Forgetting what you already know about the story of Romeo and Juliet, think about how your view of the relationship between the two characters 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 the role of non-diegetic sound is in this scene? How important do you think the role of non-diegetic sound 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 get caught up in talking about visuals as the mind tends to process this information first and the sound gets put somewhere in the background. But, as we said earlier, sound is crucial to a film. Steven Spielberg says “half the success” of Jaws is simply down to John Williams’ inspired theme. As we have seen, sound plays a major role in Psycho, from the chilling score during the shower scene to the diegetic sound of a knife slashing into flesh (achieved by simply thrusting a knife into a melon!) 26
  • 27. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level So far this term we have looked closely at the skills needed to analyse media texts and you have learned quite a lot about image analysis. A lot of what you have learned about moving images will be applied practically when we start talking about your coursework and you start storyboarding, filming and editing a practice piece. In How To Study Television (1995), Selby and Cowdery offer a comprehensive framework for analysing texts. This uses media terminology and is methodical in its approach. In effect, the framework is a summary of all the work we have done on media language so far. It is therefore a helpful way of revising. Although the framework originated from a study of television and the moving 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 some moving image texts. Selby and Cowdery split the tools needed for deconstructing a text into two groups: 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 = warm NB Sound/music/sound effects and colour were not included in Selby and Cowdery’s book and have been added later. A range of possible connotations of each code is given below to help you see how this model can be applied 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 Level Technical 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 these Mise-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 doing so is that you can end up producing a mechanical response that sounds like it has been written by a computer. Like in English, you can easily make the mistake of “spotting” or “listing” what’s there rather than analysing effects. The examples on the next page show you how you need to try to develop your analysis beyond the superficial. 28
  • 29. Ringwood School Media Studies A Level Imagine 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 a high-rise flat so she must be poor. There is a bottle of wine on the table so she must like to drink alcohol. This is far too simplistic. What if the red dress is one she wears for work? In any case, it doesn’t necessarily 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-verbal communication seems to suggest otherwise. She appears tired, perhaps having just come home from work. The bottle of wine and a single glass that sit on the table connote that she leads a hectic 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 could perhaps 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 course progresses, you will learn lots of other technical media terms and theories that you should introduce into your writing. For now, it is important to practise using the terms we have learnt so far. Activity Later in the course, you will look at how narrative, genre, institution, audiences and values and ideology all contribute to the effect a media text has on the person ‘reading’ it. For now, you should concentrate 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 each film is? How can you tell? Don’t forget, we are all the subjects of socialisation; our different experiences and interactions mean one person’s reaction to a text will be different to another’s. This doesn’t make one person ‘right’ and one person ‘wrong’, so don’t be afraid to say whatever you want as 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 Assessment You 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 codes and 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 to analyse 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 have learned about media language so far. 30