Representation and Audience Theory ... One step further
Media Representation TheoryRepresentation refers to the construction inany medium (especially the mass media) ofaspects of ‘reality’ such aspeople, places, objects, events, culturalidentities and other abstract concepts. Suchrepresentations may be in speech or writing aswell as still or moving pictures.
What does representation mean? The easiest way to understand the concept of representation is to remember that watching a TV programme is not the same as watching something happen in real life. All media products re-present the real world to us; they show us one version of reality, not reality itself. So, the theory of representation in Media Studies means thinking about how a particular person or group of people are being presented to the audience.
Media Representation TheoryThe term refers to the processesinvolved as well as to its products.For instance, in relation to the keymarkers of identity -Class, Age, Gender and Ethnicity(the cage of identity) -representation involves not onlyhow identities are represented(or rather constructed) within thetext but also how they areconstructed in the processes ofproduction and reception.
Representation and gaze – Who is doing the looking? How do men look at images of women? How do women look at images of men? How do men look at images of men? How do women look at images of women?
Representations as constructionsA key concern in the study of representation is with the way inwhich representations are made to seem ‘natural’.All texts, however realistic they may seem to be, areconstructed representations rather than simply transparentreflections, recordings, transcriptions or reproductions of apre-existing reality. However, representations which become familiar through constant re-use come to feel natural and unmediated.
Representations are judgedRepresentations require interpretation - wemake judgements about them based upon ourown experiences and backgrounds.
Representation involves selection Representation is unavoidably selective, foregrounding some things and back grounding others.
Key Questions about Specific Representations• What is being represented?• How is it represented? Using what codes? Within what genre?• How is the representation made to seem true, commonsense or natural?• What is foregrounded and what is backgrounded? Are there any notable absences?
Key Questions about Specific Representations• Whose representation is it? Whose interests does it reflect? How do you know?• At whom is this representation targeted? How do you know?• What does the representation mean to you? What does the representation mean to others? How do you account for the differences?• How do people make sense of it? According to what codes?• With what alternative representations could it be compared? How does it differ?
Television and representation‘Television is... the most rewarding medium touse when teaching representations of classbecause of the contradictions which involve amass medium attempting to reach all theparts of its class-differentiated audiencesimultaneously...’ (Alvarado et al. 1987)
Typing in representationThe director wants the audience tobe on the side of the protagonistand hope that the antagonist willfail. This means that the audiencehas to identify with the protagonist– they have to have a reason to be‘on his/her side’. But directors onlyhave a couple of hours to make youidentify with the protagonist –so, they have to use a kind of‘shorthand’. This is known as typing– instead of each character being acomplex individual, who would takemany hours to understand, we arepresented with a ‘typical’ characterwho we recognise quickly and feelwe understand.
Character typing There are three different kinds of character typing: An archetype is a familiar character who has emerged from hundreds of years of fairytales and storytelling. A stereotype is a character usually used in advertising and marketing in order to sell a particular product to a certain group of people. They can also be used ‘negatively’ in the Media – such as ‘asylum seekers,’ or ‘hoodies’. A generic type is a character familiar through use in a particular genre (type) of movie.
Why is Representation Theory useful? The way certain groups of people are represented in the media can have a huge social impact. For example, would people’s attitudes to asylum seekers change if they were presented differently in the media? When media producers want you to assume certain things about a character, they play on existing representations of people in the media. This can reinforce existing representations. At other times, media producers can change the way certain groups are presented, and thus change the way we see that particular group. Changing these representations can also create depth in a character.
Audience theory: How do audiences receive texts?Whether you are constructing a text or analysing one,you will need to consider the destination of that text, i.e.its target audience and how that audience (or any other)will respond to that text.For A-level you need a working knowledge of thetheories which attempt to explain how an audiencereceives, reads and responds to a text.
Effects TheoryOver the course of the past century or so, media analysts havedeveloped several effects models, i.e. theoretical explanations ofhow humans ingest the information transmitted by media texts andhow this might influence (or not) their behaviour.Effects theory is still a very hotly debated area of Media andPsychology research, as no one is able to come up with indisputableevidence that audiences will always react to media texts one way oranother.The scientific debate is clouded by the politics of the situation:some audience theories are seen as a call for more censorship,others for less control. Whatever your personal stance on thesubject, you must understand the following theories and how theymay be used to deconstruct the relationship between audience andtext.
The Hypodermic Needle Model Dating from the 1920s, this theory was the first attempt to explain how mass audiences might react to mass media. It is a crude model and suggests that audiences passively receive the information transmitted via a media text, without any attempt on their part to process or challenge the data. (Dont forget that this theory was developed in an age when the mass media were still fairly new - radio and cinema were less than two decades old. Governments had just discovered the power of advertising to communicate a message, and produced propaganda to try and sway populaces to their way of thinking.)
The Hypodermic Needle ModelThe Hypodermic Needle Modelsuggests that the information from atext passes into the massconsciousness of the audienceunmediated, i.e. theexperience, intelligence and opinion ofan individual are not relevant to thereception of the text. This theorysuggests that, as an audience, we aremanipulated by the creators of mediatexts, and that our behaviour andthinking might be easily changed bymedia-makers.
Two-Step Flow Theory The Hypodermic model quickly proved too clumsy for media researchers seeking to more precisely explain the relationship between audience and text. As the mass media became an essential part of life in societies around the world and did NOT reduce populations to a mass of unthinking drones, a more sophisticated explanation was sought. Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet analysed the voters decision - making processes during a 1940 presidential election campaign and published their results in a paper called ‘The Peoples Choice’.
Two-Step Flow TheoryTheir findings suggested that the informationdoes not flow directly from the text into theminds of its audience unmediated but isfiltered through "opinion leaders" who thencommunicate it to their less activeassociates, over whom they have influence.The audience then mediate the informationreceived directly from the media with the ideasand thoughts expressed by the opinionleaders, thus being influenced not by a directprocess, but by a two step flow. Thisdiminished the power of the media in the eyesof researchers, and caused them to concludethat social factors were also important in theway in which audiences interpreted texts.
Uses & Gratifications TheoryDuring the 1960s, as the first generation to grow up with televisionbecame grown ups, it became increasingly apparent to mediatheorists that audiences made choices about what they did whenconsuming texts. Far from being a passive mass, audiences weremade up of individuals who actively consumed texts for differentreasons and in different ways. In 1948 Lasswell suggested thatmedia texts had the following functions for individuals and society: • surveillance • correlation • entertainment • cultural transmission
Uses & Gratifications TheoryResearchers Blumler and Katz expanded this theory and publishedtheir own in 1974, stating that individuals might choose and use atext for the following purposes (i.e. uses and gratifications):Diversion - escape from everyday problems and routine.Personal Relationships - using the media for emotional and otherinteraction, e.g. substituting soap operas for family life.Personal Identity - finding yourself reflected in texts, learningbehaviour and values from texts.Surveillance - information which could be useful for living e.g.weather reports, financial news, holiday bargains.
Reception Theory Extending the concept of an active audience still further ... ... in the 1980s and 1990s a lot of work was done on the way individuals received and interpreted a text, and how their individual circumstances (gender, class, age, ethnicity) affected their reading. This work was based on Stuart Halls encoding/decoding model of the relationship between text and audience - the text is encoded by the producer, and decoded by the reader, and there may be major differences between two different readings of the same code. However, by using recognised codes and conventions, and by drawing upon audience expectations relating to aspects such as genre and use of stars, the producers can position the audience and thus create a certain amount of agreement on what the code means. This is known as a preferred reading.
Names in Narrative Theory Meaning: Roland Barthes - texts may be open (i.e. unravelled in a lot of different ways) or closed (there is only one obvious thread to pull on). Barthes also decided that the threads that you pull on to try and unravel meaning are called narrative codes. Structure: Tvzetan Todorov - texts are constructed around the basic scaffolding of equilibrium, disequilibrium, new equilibrium Character: Vladimir Propp - produced a character typography of characters and their actions (31 character types in all) Conflict and resolution: Claude Levi-Strauss - recognised the constant creation of conflict/opposition propels narrative. Narrative can only end on a resolution of conflict.