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Module 5: Studying Media Representations Objectives: After completing this module, you will be able to

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4. Define the intended audiences for these representations:

- What appeals are made to what audiences?

- Whose beliefs or values are being reinforced or validated?

- How are certain products linked to certain representations for certain audiences?

5. Define what’s missing or left out of the representation:

- What complexities or variations are masked over?

- What is included and what is excluded?

- Find alternative or counter-examples

6. Consider the potential influence of stereotyped or essentialist representations of gender, class, race, or age on people

- List descriptions of others or oneself and note instances of stereotyping/essentializing

- Note how consumer practices reflect the need to live up to representations

- Examine stories, TV shows, or mini-dramas in ads

In analyzing representations, students can focus on the following aspects:

- images. The images employed that reflect certain positive versus negative value orientations based on cultural codes and archetypal meanings, for example, uses of dark or black colors to portray an urban area as dangerous or threatening (Lacey, 1998). In this semiotic analysis of representation, students are examining how the meaning of images as signifiers (wearing jeans vs. suits) creates certain signified or implied meanings (casualness/formality/dress for success) based on certain codes that link the signifiers with the signified meanings. For example, in reading the semiotic meaning of t-shirts, students draw on codes for interpreting the signs on t-shirts (Cullin-Swan, B., & Manning, P. K., “Codes, Chronotypes, and Everyday Objects,” )

These codes are culturally constituted. Stuart Hall (1997) cites the example of the meaning of traffic lights—the fact that the signified meanings of red and green are culturally determined based on a code system that indicates that in certain cultures, red means “stop” and green means “go.” The difference between red and green is what signifies the meaning based on the cultural code. To determine how images are representing a social or cultural world, you need to determine the code system underlying the media texts.

- sound/music. Media texts represent social worlds through the uses of sound or music. They may represent certain regions of the world by using music associated with those worlds, for example, Samba or Calypso music to represent South American worlds. These uses of sound or music are often based on audience’s prior knowledge of certain types of music as associated with certain types of experiences or worlds.

- intertextuality. Media representations also depend on audiences’ knowledge of intertextual links between the current texts and other previous texts using the same images, language, sounds, or logos. For example, understanding the Energizer Bunny battery ads, in which the Energizer Bunny suddenly appears at the end of an ad, requires a prior understanding of previous Energizer Bunny ads. Audiences understand the meaning of certain representations because they have knowledge of these intertextual lnks. They enjoy fact that they are “in the know” about the intertextual references being made. In analyzing media representations, you therefore need to determine the intertextual links being employed to previous texts, and how these links are being used to represent a world in a certain manner.

Dan Chandler’s discussion of intertextuality:
Gunhild Agger, Aalborg University, Intertextuality Revisited: Dialogues and Negotiations in Media Studies
- language. In studying how language is used to represent experience, you are studying how language actually serves to create realities or worlds. The hyperbolic, idealized language of advertising is used to create worlds in which flaws or problems are instantly dealt with or solved. The language of sports commentary is used to dramatize the significance of a game to keep viewers watching the game.
Language is also used in media texts in ways that voice or “double-voice” certain discourses or cultural models. As noted in Module 4 under Critical Discourse Analysis, language references, mimics, or parodies legal, religious, scientific, business, romance, economic, or medical discourses. For example, political ads about education that employ the words “accountability,” “results,” “bottom line,” or “major investments of tax dollars,” are voicing a business discourse or cultural model in describing education. This language is being used to represent issues of education in terms of a business model in which being “accountable” to “results,” i.e., test scores, is the primary goal. Thus, schooling is being represented in terms of the discourses of business. By noting the types of discourses being referred to in the language, you can then determine the uses of certain discourses to represent worlds in certain ways.
In defining these discourses, you are also determining how audiences are being positioned to accept certain representations as “normal” or “common sense” constructions of reality. You may then describe how you are being positioned by these discourses by asking the question: “What does this text want you to be or think?”
One approach to studying language use is uses to represent or construct worlds is to study language use in cartoons. In cartoons, language is often used to mimic or parody certain discourses. The humor of cartoons is often derived from the juxtaposition of two totally disparate worlds or discourses that usually have little to do with each other. By identifying the particular discourse(s) being ridiculed in a cartoon or similar groupings of cartoons, students could then discuss other examples of how that discourse(s) functions in their own lives.
Students can find many cartoons on the Web. For example, they could go to The New Yorker collection of cartoons at and under “search,” type in a certain discourse, such as “business,” and study the consistent patterns in the language employed in cartoons related to business—as reflected in the language of the following two New Yorker cartoons:

“I don’t know how it started, either. All I know is that it’s part of our corporate culture.”

“The little pig with the portfolio of straw and the little pig with the portfolio of sticks were swallowed up, but the little pig with the portfolio of bricks withstood the dip in the market.”
The first cartoon pokes fund at the use of the popular notion of a “corporate culture,” language that reflected the human resource management discourse. The corporate/business world is juxtaposed with the quite different practice of wearing polo hats. The second cartoon draws on the discourse of accounting/stock-market, juxtaposing that discourse with the totally different world of the “Three Little Pigs” children’s literature.
Some cartoons play one discourse off against the other. The following two cartoons employ the discourse of romance—the uses of language to build a romantic relationship--is set against other discourses.

“We’re a natural, Rachel. I handle intellectual property, and you’re a content-provider.”
In this cartoon, the discourse of romance is juxtaposed against a legal discourse.

“I wasn’t anybody in a previous lifetime, either.”
In this cartoon, the discourse of romance is juxtaposed with a discourse of religious beliefs in “previous lifetimes.”
Students can search for cartoons on any number of different Web sites:
Students could also study the use of language in parody on the following sites:

The Onion—a journal/site that ridicules current political coverage
Modernhumor: the contains different types of humor and parody:
False advertising
Song parodies
For further information on this topic, see an article by Laura Shin, “Laughing all the way to the Cartoonbank” USAWeekend, July 13, 2003

- technique. Different types of techniques may be employed to represent phenomena in different ways. For example, the close-ups of faces employed in soap operas emphasize the emphasis on the important of relationships and emotional conflicts communicated through nonverbal cues. Carmen Luke argues that these techniques are gendered in that they represent gender in different ways:
Semiotic Elements Feminine Masculine
camera angles close-ups: private space long & wide shots: public space

soft-focus regular focus

top-down shot: small stature bottom-up shot: large stature
color secondary, soft pastels primary, dark, metallic
pacing slow fast
lighting soft, subdued, intimate bright, glaring, public
sound soft sounds, slow music hard sounds, fast music
- content analysis. In studying media representations, students could conduct content analyses of media texts. Doing content analysis involves creating a set of categories or coding system for analyzing the types of certain phenomenon in a media text. These categories focus on the surface aspects of a text in terms of the types displayed that indicate the ways in which that text is representing a certain phenomenon. For example, you might analyze the representation of topics on the evening news in terms by counting the number of minutes devoted to different types of topics: crime, local events, national news, health news, weather, sports, etc. Or, you might analyze the gender role portrayals on children’s cartoons, as well as the ways in which cartoon characters’ interact with each other: through physical/violent interaction versus through language or through a combination of physical and language interaction. In doing content analysis, you need to attend to both the surface meaning of images/language, as well as the latent or underlying meanings, that require your interpretation of what certain patterns in the result indicate about the representations employed (Sweet, 2001).
Methods for conducting content analysis:
Examples of studies employing content analysis:
Studies of content analysis of media texts
Gender differences in toy commercials:
Gender differences in children’s commercials:
Analysis of children’s toy-linked cartoon shows:

Representation and Censorship
Another topic related to media representation is that of censorship. Censorship often evolves from objections to the ways in which a certain phenomena is represented in ways that threaten or challenge certain beliefs or ideas. When the rock group, The Dixie Chicks, objected to George W. Bush’s arguments for the War on Iraq, there were numerous calls for censoring playing their songs on radio stations because people objected to their criticism of that war. There has been considerable controversy about the often highly sexist, violent messages in gangstar rap songs/videos, leading some to call for censorship of these songs/videos.
Students could study censorship cases to examine how particular media representations were perceived to be threatening or challenging to particular beliefs or values. One useful site is The File Room, an interactive archive of censorship cases from throughout history.
Other sites related to censorship:

National Coalition Against Censorship
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Freedom Forum
Index on Censorship

People for the American Way

Project Censored

Organizations which recommend some forms of censorship:

American Family Association
Christian Coalition
Family Research Council
Focus on the Family

Representations and Public Relations/Promotions

Media representations are also used in public relations or promotional campaigns to portray some phenomena in a positive light. For example, casino gambling has been promoted as not simply an experience involving gambling, but also as an enjoyable, exciting, even romantic experience.

To study the ways in which Internet web sites represent gambling in Minnesota casinos go to these different casino web sites. Note the uses of images, intertextual links, and language.
Black Bear Casino
Grand Casino, Mille Lacs/Hinckley
Jackpot Junction Casino
Mystic Lake Hotel/Casino
Treasure Island Resort and Casino
The images employed in these sites represent gambling in terms of a glamorous pastime associated with entertainment and pleasurable vacations. For example, the Treasure Island site employs imagery of a tropical, Caribbean vacation escape associated with the activity of gambling:
Tropical Rain Forest Casino

Make yourself comfortable beneath a rain forest canopy as you double the stakes at the blackjack tables or try your luck at one of The Island's many slot machines.


Caribbean Village Casino

Feel the tides shift amid the ornate windows and balconies of this tropical island village as you play The Island's video craps, video roulette and more.


Caribbean Marketplace Casino

Stroll along bright facades welcoming you to new attractions. Wander into the new Island Pearl Gift ShopSM or Casino Host Office. Or just relax at one of the many new high stakes blackjack tables or slot machines in this open-air atmosphere.


Sapphire Sea

This is the entrance to start gaming after a bus ride. 

A great addition to our non-smoking casino area, Sapphire Sea is the place to enjoy clean air and the hottest new slot machines.  Have a cocktail at Barracudas smoke-free bar.  A convenient coat check and  Tours Desk are also located here.
  The intertextual links and language employed here draws on the discourse of romantic travel in a tropical world with the world of casino gambling.
Gambling is also represented through magazine ads and on-line casino sites in equally glamorous ways. Susan Link, in her CI5472 Spring, 2002, analysis of the representations of gambling examined these magazine ads:
Another form of literature with deceptive advertising in favor of casinos is magazines. Magazines like Casino, Casino Player, and Gaming Times all have articles that create an idea that they are educating the reader on how to beat the casino. In one edition of Casino Player some of the articles that lead you to believe this are: 2002 Loosest Slots Awards, The Wizard of Odds, Ask the Bishop (streaks and trends), Inside the Sportsbook, Players Club Spotlight, and JV’s Poker Room. Each of these articles gives the reader insight into the players’ strategies and how to break the casino and the system. The ads in this magazine also create a sophisticated image; it is an appealing image of elegance.  Aces High Casino, Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, Harrah’s, Foxwoods of Connecticut, and The Grand Casino all feature ads that encourage high class with a big payout. The slogan for the Sheraton Casino and Hotel is “ Tunica’s loosest slots stay here. You should too.”
Each casino encourages people to stay at their casino for the free perks, elegant accommodations, and loose slots with high payouts. This, in turn, should bring the casinos revenue through gambling of on-site guests. The free perks and shows they have entice people to stay there so that they will gamble on site. Ads and magazines create enthusiasm for gambling and promote an image that is lavish and high class. People want to stay there and be a part of the action-packed image that they create.
The message is clear- gamble at these casinos and win money. The reality is that the casinos could not afford casinos and advertising of that nature without gambling losses of the people who attend the casinos. The reality is much different than the message and image that is created. The advertising is intriguing, yet deceptive. The underlying meaning is still the same- spend your money.
The message is the same whether it is through a casino or on the Internet.  Internet gambling has gone from being non-existent ten years ago to a multi-million dollar industry in 2002. The image of easy access gambling is prevalent in the online industry. The advertising image and message are deliberate; online gambling is the easiest to access, and because there is no large edifice to support it financially, it has the best odds. The reality is that this type of gambling is an easy addiction. Advertisers notice and capitalize on the accessibility of online casinos, so they use propaganda that shows those same “things”.
According to 2002 Gallup Poll, 75% of adults believe that internet gambling should not be legal. The people polled cite reasoning for this disapproval as accessibility to those who are underage and convenience for those who are pathological gamblers to enable their habit (Gallup). Pathological gamblers will cost America over $80 billion a year, as opposed to drug abusers who only cost the American Taxpayers $70 billion a year (Gambling 235), and people are informed that online gambling is addictive, costly, and problematic, but people are still vulnerable to the advertising because of the convenience and message. Reality is much more ambiguous than it appears. 


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