Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Eval Q2 Representations

How does your media product represent particular social groups?
[addition, March 4th: see Anne Billson's article discussing whether women in horror reflect feminist or misogynistic views; in the same edition of Film Guardian there is also a feature with Helen Mirren discussing her representation in the media when younger and now she's 65
addition, March 16th: see 'only 7% of film directors are' ...  post for a handy bit of very accessible theory, linked to gender representation and feminist analysis of the film biz]

When working on this question you are essentially practising the skills required to tackle part of your 1st exam question (deconstructing a 4-5min UK TV drama clip with reference to 1 from 7 possible areas of representation). Instead of second-guessing someone else's decision making process, and efforts to encode a preferred reading, you're detailing and dissecting your own decision-making process.

This question boils down to:
  • tackling each of these 7 areas/identities (just don't state 'these are the important areas of representation'; they simply coincide neatly with your exam!)
  • discussing use of binary oppositions, arche-/stereo-/countertypes
  • before tackling any area, brainstorm the stereotype/s for this; you're always assessing representations against their reflection and/or challenging of stereotypes (eg youth as immoral thugs, 'hoodies')
  • putting your choices into context of budget, genre, narrative, and especially target audience
  • applying specific media terminology (shot denotation, semiotic terms, narrative theory) as you do so
  • in this context, direct (audio-)visual evidence is vital; as images within your post, or within a video
  • its vital you provide detailed denotation of your characters, and analyse/justify WHY you made the choices you did
  • its just as vital to make clear links to existing films using pics of characters from other films
Use the coursework pack for help on this; the section on audience helps with suggestions on how you might briefly address identities absent from your production for example. This is copied in at the end of this post.

MEGAN: Some excellent research on use of Yorkshire as a location within films, tho' lacking in multimedia and uses terms such as 'final girl' without providing a definition. The images of cast would be more useful if put beside images of characters from existing movies.
CHRIS: Lacks a little detail but uses images of and clips from existing texts well to help back up his analysis.
EMMA: Some good detail on teens, tho' doesn't really address WHY these choices are appropriate for the target audience - its not just about description but also analysis & justification of your choices.
ROB: Plainly needs more multimedia, not least images, tho does provide pics of his characters AND of ones from existing texts, and details the main an/protagonists (tho' should be clearer on their roles in the film).
BECKY: I'm not a fan of embedded Word docs to answer Eval Qs, but if done for 1 or 2 only this can work well, as it does here. Becky's approach is straightforward: she details every main character, providing good denotation and comparing directly to characters from existing texts. An excellent answer.
ROAM: Some good detail, but the lack of imagery to illustrate the points being made is problematic, and the hyperlinks are not well selected.

There are many ways you could structure this; this is one suggestion (you should find 99% of this material already in your blog...) - and remember, you can do this as a video:
  1. List the characters shown in your opening, and provide a brief summary of their role/character
  2. List the 'Factors Which Influenced Our Representations' (see notes on Audience in cwk pack; make sure to cite genre conventions too!)
  3. Tackle each character separately (if you have a group at a party, treat them as one unless they have very particular roles)
  4. Add a subheading of the character's name + add, in CAPS, either COUNTERTYPE or STEREOTYPE in brackets after their name
  5. Provide a still image of the character + a 2nd still image of a comparable example from existing media texts (use blogger's caption tool to add basic info) [see point 7]
  6. [please read note after this list for more tips on how to analyse representations] Break down, using 1 or more of the 7 suggested areas of representation, what makes your representation counter- (if challenging the convention) or stereotypical (following convention). Consider: costume, make-up, shot selection + editing, use of sound/music, accent and dialogue (in/formal? slang? broad/refined accent etc), perhaps name (intertextual reference?). You could do this as a Word doc (or using Photoshop) with the image centred and lines/arrows from details (signifiers) with symbolic significance (connotations). If you want to extend your analysis, you could apply Stuart Hall's concept of 3 levels of reading; the 'meaning' of a text is not simply down to what the creator/s have attempted to encode, but rather also depends on the knowledge/values of the person consuming the text. Could your representations be read in different ways? Might a teen aud react differently to a stereotypical pensioner aud for example?
  7. Where appropriate, provide an image of an archetype (eg Psycho's Marion Crane as 'scream queen', Halloween's Laurie Strode as 'final girl') - if you haven't already, make sure you clearly link your choices into genre conventions. Don't be shy about including material (possibly best to simply provide hyperlinks) from earlier in your blog.
  8. Summarize: on the whole, have you used stereo- or countertypes ... or a balanced mix of both? Are you happy with your choices here? Would you have liked to change any aspects of this if you'd access to a wider possible cast?

Most slashers represent heterosexuality as 'normative' (they're part of the cultural reinforcement of this as normal, and anything else as abnormal). Many killers, starting with Norman Bates, have repressed homosexual urges, which are thus represented as monstrous or evil - rather negative! Consider how economics, or capitalism, pushes filmmakers (such as yourselves) to keep recycling the same cliched stereotypes (which cumulatively [taken together] are very, very influential on how the general audience thinks): a romantic sub-plot helps bring in females whilst female nudity helps draw in males; having a gay lead character not only potentially loses this but might alienate parts of a mainstream audience, so the risk is generally avoided, and gay representations remain marginalised and rarely seen in mainstream cinema of this type. Hardly a positive outcome.

Discussing representation within any text, whether created by you or someone else, involves:
  1. initial denotation of character under discussion
  2. note the aspect/s of representation under discussion
  3. note the common features of the main stereotype/s for this (eg male homosexual: effeminate; Northern English: unsophisticated, rural, relatively poor; female gender: emotional, physically weak, victim, needs rescued [think Propp here] by heroic male, passive)
  4. assess the representation/s against this - you may find a single character has many stereotypical but some countertypical elements - discussing what factors might have influenced this depiction (eg genre, format, audience, production company, budget)
  5. at every stage, precise and specific denotation is vital; without this you're merely speculating
  6. make it clear WHY you've chosen to represent in this way
  7. consider whether your target audience successfully followed your preferred reading - remember, its a good thing within the Evaluation to be self-critical and pick out bits of your production that you're not, in retrospect, 100% happy with, think may lead to an oppositional reading or negative/unwanted response

binary opposition
preferred/negotiated/oppositional reading (Stuart Hall)
general semiotics: signifier/ied, denote, connote, polysemy
narrative enigma + other aspects of narrative (look back to Narrative handout)


Consider core and secondary audiences.
AGE: 15-24? 15-34? Your lower starting point will be influenced by the notional BBFC rating you ascribe to your work (also compare to similar films) – the BBFC’s website has some very student-friendly features to help you with this. You could reference your work from General Studies of course! There is also a double-DVD-ROM set in the library produced by the BBFC. You may argue your film potentially appeals to younger viewers, increasingly able to circumvent these age restrictions through downloads for example, and motivated to do so by aspiring to be like their older peers (eg tweenagers). Are your cast reflective of your target audience age? Do you employ any slang, music or other cultural references which might be primarily familiar to a youth audience?

How important is the youth audience to the film industry? (You should be able to find articles which demonstrate that cinemas target your age group more than any other)

ETHNICITY: If your product does include non-Caucasian characters, this will help reinforce its appeal to a multi-ethnic audience. However, you should not argue your text specifically targets a narrow Caucasian audience, many mainstream productions continuing to sideline non-Caucasian talent but not commercially suffering for this. As always, think of real-world examples here, especially if you are restricted to an entirely Caucasian cast.

There is an interesting flipside to this: a range of low-budget, straight-to-DVD films principally targeted at an African-American audience (especially within the horror and crime/gangster genres) produced by and starring the likes of Snoop Dogg. The impact of Asian horror over the past decade (eg The Ring), not just through the remakes, might be something to consider.

GENDER: many genres are seen as gendered: sci-fi, action-adventure and horror as primarily male-oriented, period dramas and rom-coms as female, for example. This is true up to a point – film producers don’t want to exclude half the available audience! The tough, resourceful female character (‘final girl’) at the centre of many horrors (and sci-fi/horror: Alien’s Ripley) helps to draw in a female audience notwithstanding the crude, exploitative stereotyping of the invariably topless ‘scream queens’. The comedy aspect of rom-coms helps males to overcome their reticence – and in both cases, especially for a youth audience, the movie-as-date factor cannot be overlooked! Do make some explicit consideration of how you have chosen to represent gender here. You might want to consider the male gaze theory here.

Can you use any examples from the work on the AS exam here?

SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROUPINGS: In crude class terms, ABs are ‘upper class’, C1 upper-middle class, C2 lower-middle class, and DE working-class (see handout for more precise detail). Typically, a complex, challenging text, perhaps relying more on dialogue than action, might be pitched to some part of an ABC1 audience (as are broadsheet newspapers like The Guardian), while a conventional slasher, often with middle-class characters, might target a C2DE audience (somewhat in line with a tabloid like The S*n). If you are employing countertypes within a horror you might argue this would help to draw in the C1s.

Some horror films, especially when not centred on teens, gain sufficient critical credibility to draw in that sophisticated ABC1 audience – think of Silence of the Lambs. Plush period dramas typically appeal to ABC1s (the BBC has attracted criticism for super-serving this audience with its high-budget adaptations of the classics), while the typically more basic fare of rom-coms are generally pitched to a less wealthy audience. Again, it is worth commenting on the class profile of your characters.

NATIONALITY/REGION: Whilst producers will not wish to restrict their potential audience to a particular part of the UK, nonetheless the southern English accent and setting retains something of a hegemonic status. Films featuring northern English, Midlands, Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish accents do face a greater challenge at the box office – although the huge success of Billy Elliot, The Full Monty and others proves this barrier is not insurmountable. This aspect may influence the company you identify as distributor (look at distributors for Warp, WT, & Film4 productions as examples), but again you should stress you’d hope to tap into a UK-wide audience, whilst perhaps recognising the potential limitations on foreign sales.

The contrasting fortunes of the similarly-budgeted films Son of Rambow and Mickybo & Me [a WT film] – both now in the library – illustrate the commercial advantages of featuring southern English characters, while This is England is more typical of the fate of social realist movies than hits like TFMonty. Once again: address representation – are you stereotyping yourselves?! Using recognisable regional stereotypes could help a film’s prospects beyond the area it reflects.

FANS OF… Perhaps linking back to your pitch, what existing films would you expect your potential audience to be fans of? If you were designing a promotional poster which film/s might you try and reference to help communicate the idea, but also to derive reflected glory/appeal from?

SEXUALITY: Just as a typical film will still centre on Caucasian characters, so will heterosexuality be the default mode for any romantic aspects. Again, do not say you are targeting a heterosexual audience, but simply consider if you’re including anything which could help to draw in the ‘pink pound’ – being careful about stereotyping! Its not uncommon to see token, heavily stereotyped, gay characters, notably the usually very camp gay best friend in many rom-coms.

PSYCHOGRAPHIC PROFILE: You could also describe a typical would-be punter in terms of wider lifestyle and interests (e.g. a lager-drinking Sky Sports subscriber, S*n-reading Guy Ritchie fan, or a Sky Arts-subscribing, Guardian-reading liberal interested in classic literature and history) – and if you really want to challenge yourself, do a little research on ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ (there is a fairly good Wiki on this). You could also look at the box-office performance of recent films comparable to your own in terms of genre/narrative.

TYPICAL AUDIENCES FOR THIS GENRE: Research audiences for your genre. If you can find articles exploring aspects such as age range, typical gender etc, great – but at the very least have a look into the institutional side of this: box office figures especially. Is yours a currently successful/popular genre?

You could try some kind of opinion poll or questionnaire (you could use a blogger gadget for this) to test out whether your supposed target audience is accurate.

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