A2 Media Studies: Post
Codes of the classic realist text
The classic realist text
• Film and TV drama programmes represent a fictional world by using key
codes. These codes can be called the codes of a classic realist text.
These codes are sometimes distorted in post modern media.
• The classic realist text is characterised by a coherent narrative, plausible
characters, and with a linear structure as text goes from beginning to
end, psychological realism and editing so that you accept the producer’s
editing so that time is compressed (say from 3 days to 1 hour) and space
is compressed (so that you accept intercutting from one space to
another eg the launderette and the cafe in Eastenders.
• You accept by intercutting that the actions in both places are happening
at the same time. The viewer always knows where he is in space and
time and in the logic and chronology of the narrative. If you are about
to go back in time, conventional sequences are used to explain this such
• The rules of continuity editing make you accept the way the programme is edited
and the meaning that you take from it. Eyeline matches, matches on action, shot
reverse shot and obeying the 180 degree rule.
• You accept that as you view a character the camera may cut from a long shot to a
mid shot. You accept that this is reality. You accept that if a character is looking at
something that the camera will show you what the character is looking at; you
accept that action may play out over two differently sized shots. You accept with
shot reverse shot that you can follow a discussion or piece of action by focusing on
one person then the next.
• TV grammar is used and accepted by audiences - ie you move from wide shots, to
close ups and the camera can be static or it can move. When you want to explore
emotion you tighten the shot size to highlight and focus on that character’s
innermost feelings and expressions; when you want to evoke mood, you use certain
styles of music; when you want an audience to laugh in sitcoms you use canned
• Its accepted that ‘passage of time’ is played out with dissolves,
fades, and wipes.
• Therefore, even though TV and ﬁlm drama are artiﬁcial
constructs of reality - you accept them. You understand the
codes and can get immersed into a plausible, believable world. It
appears as if you were watching reality, and that you were
engaged in a natural event.
• Shots, editing, sound, mise en scene and lighting should not draw
attention to themselves. They rather work together to create a
continous narrative line. The aim is to immerse you into the
drama, so you aren’t aware of the construction and suspend
disbelief so you believe that what you are watching is reality.
• Lets watch a clip from The Bill and look at what the codes are
of this text.
Questions to ask yourself are:
What techniques do you accept as reality?
How is the show constructed to make it believable ?
What do we mean by ‘realism’ in Media Studies?
• A difﬁcult concept, but we may start by considering the subject
from the point of view of the audience.An audience needs to
recognise and identify with a media text so that connections can be
made with their own lives and the world they live in. If the
connection is made, then the audience will get that elusive thing
called ‘pleasure of the text’.
• Of course, though, it is not a simple idea, because we need to ask
ourselves exactly what is media ‘reality’. Reality is almost always
SUBJECTIVE, because the maker of the text and the recipient (the
audience) imposes a kind of ‘ﬁltering process’ – the maker while
representing or encoding the text and the recipient while decoding
the text. So inevitably ‘reality’ is, to a greater or lesser extent,
Reality in TV / Film
• Assessing media texts in terms of reality is
therefore very difﬁcult, partly because of the
above point, but also because there are
many different kinds of ‘reality’. Here they
Realism in TV and ﬁlm
• Surface realism – ‘getting the details right’ or ‘making it look real’. in terms of locations, or setting, or
costumes and props, or even the right accent spoken by a character. It looks right, it sounds right so it must BE
• Inner or emotional realism – of characters. The audience ‘knows’ the character and identiﬁes with
him or her because the character behaves in a ‘realistic’ way or says the ‘right’ thing, or shows an identiﬁable
response or emotion.
• Plausibility of the narrative or plot. What happens in the text is credible – could happen ‘in real life’.
(If the plot is too far-fetched or ‘out of character’ then the audience won’t accept it. (Interesting idea here is to
look at the Harry Potter ﬁlms and ask yourself exactly why the ludicrous events succeed in capturing the
audience’s imagination. Harry Potter’s world is utterly ‘unreal’, but it’s made to seem to be real How is this
• Technical codes and symbols corresponding with what is expected and recognised by the
audience. (look at things like background music, canned laughter, computer SFX, Dolby surround sound) If it
sounds right, it’s real, even if it isn’t. (Have a look at the Lord of the Rings ﬁlm and see how ‘realistic’ that Orc
army sounds and looks!
• Increasingly, audiences are becoming more and more media savvy.This means
that they are more aware of the process of mediation and therefore do not
accept everything as reality. However, we do still “suspend our disbelief” and
adjust our perceptions to genres we know cannot be real, such as science
ﬁction and cartoons.We accept the conventions of these types of genre and
perhaps discard some of our criteria for a real text.
• Some audiences also enjoy postmodern texts, which deliberately emphasis that
they are constructed or surreal, such as the ‘Extras’ TV series, ﬁlms such as Kill
Bill, or post modern comedy such as Little Britain and Katherine Tate.
• In the postmodern world, media texts make visible and challenge ideas of truth
and reality, removing the illusion that stories, texts or images can ever
accurately or neutrally reproduce reality or truth. So we get the idea that there
are always competing versions of the truth and reality, and postmodern media
products will engage with this idea
• Depending on the form or the genre, the audience will apply
something called a MODALITY JUDGEMENT, which is Media-
speak for ‘is this the right or wrong way of representing reality in
this text’. For example, in the Simpson cartoon series, the
audience makes such a judgement and suspends disbelief because
the codes used in this text are so recognisable. It’s a cartoon, but
it becomes ‘real’ because it is encoded in such a realistic way.
• The postmodern trend is to re-work conventional genres, so that
they become real through irony or paradox. Look at TV’s Extras,
or the Mrs Merton character, or perhaps even ‘The League of
What are the classic
codes used in news?
• An authoritative presenter
• The use of ‘voice-over’ commentaries
• Recorded interviews with interviewees
• Visual evidence via location shots or archive ﬁlm
• These things created (and still create) a sense of ‘truth’ or authenticity,
but it must also be noted that editorial choices and values are still at
work in the creation of the news or documentary texts.What looks
like truth will almost certainly have been ‘ﬁltered’ or ‘massaged’ or
manipulated’ or (to use a current term) ‘spun’ by the editorial process.
What are the codes in
reality based shows?
• From the 1980’s came the ‘ﬂy-on-the-wall’ type of documentary, which has well-deﬁned rules, and this reality ‘verite’
style of ﬁlming is part of many TV programmes today:
• I’m A Celebrity
• The Apprentice
• America’s Next Top Model
• Ladette to Lady
• Property Ladder
• Come Dine with Me
• My Fat Gypsy Wedding
• What are the codes for these shows - so they are
What are the codes in
reality based shows?
• Events are ﬁlmed exactly as they happen, (seemingly) and edited
• Characters are natural and themselves, including their conﬂicts (as in Wife Swap or
the America’s Next Top Model)
• Characters talk ‘off’ camera to an interviewer who is not normally visible
• Images and pictures have voice over commentary giving the audience facts and the
slant of the programme
• Subjects agree in advance to be ﬁlmed, and therefore willingly participate
• Participants are often aware that producers want sensational footage and audiences
may realise this.
• By allowing subjects to appear as ‘themselves’, for example the camera tracks
professionals doing their jobs, perhaps with dramatic reconstructions of events or
real video action sequences.
What are the codes
factual police series?
• Eg take a look at this Police Camera Action
that I produced. It looks believable but was
constructed in a number of ways to
‘produce’ the editorial line and what you see
in the programme.
What are the codes for audience
participation shows like Dancing on Ice
and X Factor?
• Show clips from X Factor / Dancing on Ice
• Show Children in Need spoof