Solid Understanding of Key Concepts
Once you begin studying Media you'll quickly become familiar with essential terminology. So let's start: any media text is made up of GRANITE. Confused?
Every media text belongs to a Genre or type (a horror film, dance track, teen magazine)
Within that text, a person, place or object is being Represented in some way, shape or form.
There will be an intentional Audience for that media text, and they will make sense of it using personal and shared experiences.
Every media text contains a Narrative, a story that is structured and read by audiences in a preferred way.
The text didn't evolve from bacteria, however, it was constructed by a media Institution from a particular Industry for financial purposes, and it has elements of their Ideology (values system) embedded within the text.
It was produced using some Technology (hardware) and most likely edited using software (DTP) which is itself a type of mediation.
This is Evidenced through the use of Media Language, the tools used by producers to create the actual text itself. And everything else not covered by key concepts can be addressed here.
So let's look at each concept in a bit more detail. The 'Guide to Theorists' elaborates on a lot more detail, and you can download and save the pack.
Is a concept defined by producers, it is a boundary which helps us categorize a text by identifying common visual and aural codes and conventions which, over a period of time, are understood by audiences. There are several theorists who talk about genre, especially in the context of film, however, each industry has its own library of genres that are recognisable and can be chosen by audiences.
Stuart Hall states that producers use a series of repeated codes and stereotypes that are used to aid an audiences' understanding of the text. In particular, he talks about the process of encoding and decoding, stating that audience experiences determine how a media text is read, as well as examining the context and expectations of the media text in question. Search 'audience reception theory' and 'dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings' to know more or see our guide to theorists.
A producer constructs a media text for consumption. Within the text are a bundle of ideas, codes, messages and meanings waiting to be decoded. The way in which the messages are decoded depends on several factors and beliefs held by the audience. Meaning is negotiated by the audience in a process of mediation.
ENCODING AND DECODING THEORY
The producer will have a particular hope for how the text will be received by audiences. This is known as the dominant or preferred reading of a text. Put simply, the audience will look at the text without interference and totally accept the meaning created.
There are other factors, however, to consider; this can be best described as noise. If we consider noise as personal beliefs/ideals, language and visual/audio noise then this can affect an audience's reading of a text. Imagine, you're watching a sitcom and all of a sudden, as the one liner is delivered, your signal experiences interference and you miss the line - this can lead to you not understanding the full message or joke, so your interpretation of the text is altered (but this is not the only way meaning is lost). The canned laughter may cause you to smile and laugh because you accept that it a comedy and a convention of your experience, but meaning has been altered; imagine that you heard the joke clearly but didn't find it funny because of your religion or own personal ideology, or the joke is delivered by someone that you really can't stand (for all you Russel Brand fans), then part of the meaning is lost.
Really, the list could go on, but the intended meaning is not going to be fully accepted, therefore there is a process of negotiation by the audience with some ideas cleanly extracted, and others dismissed. This negotiated reading is probably the most common, especially in such an information-rich age where people have multiple perceptions of reality and personal experiences.
Now go one step further and imagine that the audience totally rejects the idea/message, perhaps the text is shown in a foreign country or to a culture with completely conflicting beliefs. Imagine that the joke accidentally incites hatred and creates disgust amongst viewers. Not possible, you're thinking, but this kind of thing happens all the time. One of the best examples is the cartoons of a Dutch artist about the prophet Mohammad. Culturally, within Holland, many who held patriotic beliefs and subscribed to the ideology of the newspaper they appeared in may have accepted the cartoon as amusing satire. However, those of the Islamic faith were outraged and protests occurred across the globe. Whilst the producer of the text must have known that his views might offend, the context of comic strip in a newspaper had the opposite affect - we can call this an oppositional reading.
The other meaning, less popular but nonetheless very likely in terms of cultural ideology, is known as aberrant reading, where the audience decodes a completely different view or idea that was originally intended. You can debate whether the prophet comic strip incident is an example of this, but is probably best seen in auditioning on reality TV shows where the judges and audiences are laughing at a contestant who clearly believes that their singing/act conforms to a shared ideology.
All media texts are directed towards an audience, so understanding audience theory is essential before beginning any Media Studies tasks. There are many ways to categorize an audience, but before we look at phrases like demographics and social class, let's consider the main theories about audience reception. see Critical concepts. There are several audience theories, including the effects theory*, uses and gratification, the two-step flow model and hypodermic syringe model.
If the word Todorov and Propp don't ring any bells, then don't worry. Through studying folklore and narratives, theorists came up with many ways to interpret texts and explain their functions, including Barthes and Levi-Strauss. Essentially, the narrative is examining the story and organisation of a media text. You will become familiar with Barthes' enigma codes, be an expert at highlighting binary opposition in films like Blade Runner and The Terminator, quote Vladimir Propp whilst watching Star Wars and cursing Syd Field after watching a really unoriginal Hollywood blockbuster.
Refers to the set of values, beliefs, and ideas held by an Institution, organisation or audience. The way that a text is produced and interpreted is therefore heavily influenced by the producer of the text and can affect the way in which it is read (see Hall in representation above). Therefore, remember that most media texts are produced for profit and entertainment. Consider ideology and hegemony when you examine news programmes and think about how Institutions care more about branding and recognition rather than audience pleasures and satisfaction. This is explored in more detail on the theorists page.
The proliferation of items such as smartphones, tablets, HD TVs and digital radios and convergent gaming devices has changed the way that we consume traditional media products. Mainstream media texts are pushing the boundaries with how technology is used, and social media has become integral to the success of many products. Audiences also drive demand for new technologies (demand pull) but institutions like Apple (iPad) and Samsung (VR GEAR and wearable tech) are also good at proliferating their technology so it is desirable (technology push), and this illustrates the reliance upon audience and producer co-working together to satisfy demands. Eventually, this results in a cultural shift, whereby society is changed by our daily interaction with the media through these new mediums and devices (technological determinism).
Want to know more? Check out the media theory page.
It is essential you understand the key terms: denotation and connotation; signs, symbols, and icons; camera shots, movement and angles; mise-en-scene; editing (sound and video); codes and conventions. Why not check out the textual analysis toolkit?