Objectives: After completing this module, you will be able to:
- identify the specific ways in which media representations uses images, sound/music, intertextuality, language, and techniques to construct a version of reality associated with a particular phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession.
- apply these specific aspects of media representations to analysis of a media text.
- be familiar with websites/texts that contain examples of texts illustrating certain types of media representations
- construct a webquest that involve students in analyzing media representation of a particular phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession.
What Are Media Representations?
Media representations are the ways in which the media portrays particular groups, communities, experiences, ideas, or topics from a particular ideological or value perspective. Rather than examining media representations as simply reflecting or mirroring “reality,” we will be examining how media representations serve to “re-present” or to actually create a new reality.
For example, beer ads portray drinking beer as a primary component for having a party. SUV ads create the impression that driving an SUV as an exciting, outdoor adventure. And, perfume/cologne ads imply the using perfume/cologne makes one sexually appealing. These ads all create idealized experiences associated with the uses of these products, experiences that may not jive with alternative perspectives on these experiences:
Similarly, the Disney Corporation, one of the major producers of film and television, represents stories and fairy tales for children primarily in terms of White, Western, middle-class values. And, DisneyWorld/Disneyland creates artificial realities that represent different “worlds”—other “lands” in ways that sanitized and idealize any political, cultural, and ideological differences constituting the unique cultures of those worlds. For example, “Safari” boat trips represent Africa as a primitive jungle experience. For a discussion of the role of Disney in constructing their own representations of different realities, go to the following site and click on the video:
Why Study Media Representations?
Why study media representations? Media representations shape adolescents’ perceptions of experience—their beliefs about gender, class, and race, their assumptions about what is valued in society, and their notions of urban, suburban, and rural life. However, it is important to recognize that adolescents are not simply passive dupes who accept all of these representations without some interrogation. As James Tobin (2001) argues, students are able to resist these representations, resistance that is often specific to adopting stances valued in certain context, particularly is they can parody or adopt creative alternatives to representations.
Creating a critical context in the classroom where students practice interrogation of representations helps them acquire a critical stance. In adopting this stance, they learn to examine the underlying value assumptions inherent in a representation and whether they accept or reject those assumptions. For example, in studying local television news representations of urban landscapes as rife with crime and danger, leads them to challenge these representations as serving to reify suburban viewers presuppositions about the city as dangerous and problematic, beliefs held by many suburban adolescents.
Students learn to adopt a critical stance by recognizing how the media serves to “mediate” or define ways of defining the world and their own identities. For example, the so-called “reality” television shows portray ways in which the sensationalized, edited forms of television itself defines what program participants assume to be appropriate ways of behaving on television. Audiences may then assume that these program participants are behaving in a manner considered to be “normal”—normal in terms of how television represents “reality.”
Adolescents may also recognize that media texts represent idealized role models or identities that shape their own self-images. For example, in the program, “Merchants of Cool,” adolescent females who are preparing to be “supermodels” draw their sense of identities from images of fashion magazine models, images that mediate their own self-perceptions.
Adolescents may also recognize the ways in which their perceptions of gender, class, and race may be shaped by norms portrayed in the media. For example, in analyzing the portrayal of diversity on television, students may note the lack of diversity on television in terms of white, middle-class identities as the norm. Research on the level of diversity of characters and people in prime-time children’s television programs by Children Now found a lack of diversity:
According to Children Now's study, Fall Colors 2001-02, prime time remains overwhelmingly white, with people of color appearing largely in secondary and guest roles. Whites account for 73% of the prime time population, followed by African Americans (16%), Latinos (4%), Asian/Pacific Islanders (3%) and Native Americans (.2%).
These findings were similar to those of other studies:
In its 1999 State of Children's Television Report, the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 40% of children's programming on network and cable channels had no diversity, while 32% had "a little" and 28% contained "a lot." In 2001, Tufts University Professors Calvin Gidney and Julia Dobrow found that 70 to 80 percent of lead characters on children's programs in the 1996-97 season were either Anglo or Nordic
The lack of diversity as well as the portrayals of people of color engaged in deviant social practices influences children’s racial perceptions:
When asked to cast television roles from a collection of photographs of diverse people, children had very definite ideas of what a "good" person and a "bad" person looked like. After choosing an African American for the part of a criminal, one white boy said, "he just looks like the type of criminal that would probably steal or something." Children who chose Latinos for the criminal role explained it was because he "looked mean" or "like he could kill someone." When casting a white person for the part of a police officer, one African American boy stated that he did so because, "he looks intelligent" (Children Now, 1998).
Using analysis of representations to construct their own representations. Another important reason for studying representations is that students can then think about ways in which they create their own representations of experiences, topics, issues, groups, world, etc. For example, in studying how ads use images to represent phenomena, students can then create their own ads employing images in a similar manner. Rather than simply studying different types of video shots, angles, or editing techniques, for example, students learn about these characteristics of film as they use video production tools to best represent their intended meanings.
Students can use multimedia software tools such as Adobe PremiereTM and Avid CinemaTM for video editing; Adobe Photoshop for image editing; SoundEditTM for sound editing; Adobe PagemillTM, Claris HomePageTM, and Netscape Navigator/ComposerTM for web site authoring; and Microsoft PowerpointTM, HyperstudioTM, AuthorwareTM, or StoryspaceTM for hypermedia presentations. These tools can be used for larger projects in which students collect, store, edit, and construct links between many images, sounds, texts, or video. For example, one high school student used the computer-based video-editing program, Adobe PremiereTM, to create QuicktimeTM videos as part of inquiry project on romance:
My artifact was a video that I created by cutting parts of the movie Days of Thunder and pasting them together. I then played the movie to the song “The Distance” by Cake. While I was watching the movie to find clips, I was mostly looking for scenes that involved two people who were romantically involved. I was also looking for action scenes because I was trying to relate the social worlds of sports and romance. The video part of the artifact turned out great. It contained scenes that I felt showed a direct relationship between sports and romance. The clips included many shots of race cars whizzing by. There were also many shots of the two main characters separated. What I was trying to do was show how the two worlds related to each other. I felt that I was successful in doing so, because I thought that my artifact showed how athletics can play a big role in romantic relationships. (Beach & Myers, 2001, p, 87)
Students may also use audio or visual tools to represent their perspectives. In creating documentary representations, they may conduct audio, photo, or video interviews to capture people’s perceptions of a world or experience. For example, one student used photos to capture her relationships with her friends:
It is a tradition that all my friends come over before the dance and get ready together. Then we take a group picture of all of us on my porch and go to the dance. . I also have included pictures of friends in the hallway. The hallway in school is where most of the socializing gets done, either before homeroom, during classes, or after school. It is noticeable that the two girls are friends because they have their arms around each other. . . The other picture that I have is at Hi-Way Pizza. The two girls look like they are good friends to me because they have chosen to come out together and spend time with one another. The two girls also have matching coats in the background of the picture which could suggest that they went shopping together before. (Beach & Myers, 2001, p. 95)
As they are creating these representations, students are learning how to critique representations through critically examining their own uses of tools.
Studying Media Representations