Representations in the Media: Messages and Values

In media education, it is a well-known fact that “media do not provide audiences with a transparent window on the world” (Buckingham, 2003, p. 3). They don’t present reality, even the documentaries or the news do not present reality. Instead, they “re-present reality” (Stewart, Lavelle & Kowaltzke, 2001, p. 37). Therefore, what audiences receive is a mediated version of the world.

The production of media texts involves a lot of thinking and effort in terms of choosing incidents, making them into stories, and creating characters. The production of media texts also involves a lot of people: the scriptwriter, the cameraman, the editor, the director, and so on. All these people and the institutions they work for have their own values and cultures; and the constructed images offered by them inevitably reflect the values and cultures of these people and/or their institutions. These constructed images (media representations) ascribe meaning to objects, places, people and social groups, and invite audiences to see the world in some particular ways and not others.

bond.jpgFor example, a closer look at how men are represented in Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty and in any James Bond movie can help us see how representation of men can differ from one media text to the other. The Full Monty excludes its male characters from places of work, leisure and commerce and reduces them to a child-like status. However, in Michael Apted’s The World is Not Enough, James Bond finds one more opportunity to re-confirm his patriarchal territory and virility through daring action.

There are currently different approaches to the analysis of how representations work in media. One of these approaches is employed by Barry Jordan and Mark Allinson in their book Spanish Cinema: A Student’s Guide. Jordan and Allinson suggests examining the portrayal of social groups in films in four categories:

Presence and Absence:
Some films acknowledge only heterosexuality whereas gay and/or lesbian characters gain visibility in films like Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain, All About My Mother.

The depiction or the presence of a specific social group is stereotypical. For example, Native American Indians are mostly depicted as savages in classical Hollywood Westerns.

Positive and Negative Images:
apollofight1.jpg This is whether a social group is depicted negatively or positively in a film. For example, in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series, Rocky’s attack against African-American boxer Apollo Creed (an embodiment of black power) can be taken as a metaphorical attack against black power and is claimed to have “spoken to white viewers who saw black workers as a threat to their jobs” (Ryan & Kellner in Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2006, p. 327).

Specific Representational Strategies:
These are the techniques, styles and conventions of film making. For example, in Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960), the camerawork, lighting and editing while Norman secretly watches Marion through a peephole on the wall highlights male gaze. In a similar manner, the montage in bathroom murder scene reduces Marion to the status of a victim.

That is the reason why media offer us representations of things in life; in other words, constructed images of things in life. A representation can be a single image, a sequence of images or a whole program; written words, spoken words or song lyrics.

© Ali Nihat Eken, İstanbul, 2007

Barry, J. & Allinson, M. (2006). Spanish Cinema: A Student’s Guide.
Buckingham, D. (2003). Media Education. London: Polity.
Pramaggiore, M., & Wallis, T. (2006). Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Stewart, C., Lavelle, M., & Kowaltzke, A. (2001). Media and Meaning: An Introduction. London: BFI.


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