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

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War. Media representations of war are often mediated by how those in power want the public to perceive a war. Governments may use propaganda techniques to sway the public to support war, as was the case with anti-Nazi and pro-Nazi propaganda films during World War II. However, the realities of war can often challenge official government versions, as was the case in the Vietnam War, in which television pictures of the grim aspects of war influenced public policy about that war.
While Mathew Brady’s photos of the Civil War portrayed the realities of that war, some of the first motion pictures of a war occurred with the Spanish American War:
During the Gulf War, war was represented as what Garber, Matlock, and Walkowitz (1993) describe as a “media spectacle”—a nonstop, dramatic portrayal of bombs hitting targets and troops moving about in the dessert. This more anesthetic portrayal of war without shots of dying soldiers and civilians served to position audiences in a more detached stance than was the case with the Vietnam War. More, the dramatic “spectacle” element of the portrayal framed war more in terms of a dramatic conflict between good versus evil. And, as with the case with other “media spectacles,” these portrayals served to benefit the ratings of cable network news such as CNN.
Douglas Kellner, “Media Culture and the Triumph of the Spectacle”
In some cases, as in the Bosnian War, the media represents war in terms of conflicts evolving out of long-term ethnic/racial or religious hatred, representations that ignore the institutional or political agendas of certain actors (Allen & Seaton, 1999).
Then, during the Iraq War, to counter-act charges of media control and censorship during the Gulf War, the U.S. military employed “embedded reporters.” However, these “embedded reporters” could then themselves be controlled by the unit commanders in which they served, as opposed to independent reporters who were not controlled by the military.
Douglas Kellner, “The Persian Gulf TV War Revisited”
Media representations and the Iraq War
Iraq Journal: alternative, human images of the Iraq War
Polly Kellogg, Drawing on History to Challenge the War, Rethinking Schools;geturl=d+highlightmatches+gotofirstmatch;terms=media;enc=media;utf8=on;noparts#firstmatch

Thus, a major part of waging contemporary war involves managing the public relations and media representations of a war in ways that serve governments’ interests, as opposed to informing the public about interests and perspectives that challenge governments’ interests (Thussu & Freedman, 2003).

Donna Spalding Andréolle, Media Representations of "the Story of 9-11"

and the Reconstruction of the American Cultural Imagination
And, different films represent war in different ways, with some glorifying war in terms of “winning great victories,” and others portraying more realistic aspects of war in terms of the grim realities of death and destruction.
Monbiot, G. (2002). Both saviour and victim: Black Hawk Down creates a new and dangerous myth of American nationhood,” The Guardian,,3604,641062,00.html
Christopher Wisniewski, “The Spectacular War”
An extensive filmography of war films
Instructional unit: Images at War (Civil War and World War II)
Film Education: History and Film: representations of World War II
Film Education:  Violence within Context & Genre
Exploring The Sound of Music (exploring the role of Maria von Trapp in World War II)

Political media representations. Political parties, think tanks, and interest groups use the media to promote their agendas. They represent their candidates and policies through television ads, press releases, and promotional materials in ways that will appeal to and gain the identification of their targeted constituencies. They use discourses and cultural models that not only appeal to these constituencies, but to also create new ways of framing public policy. For example, conservative and neo-liberal politicians have employed a discourse of an intrusive, bloated “big government” to justify reductions in taxes and in government social services. These discourse and cultural models draw on narrative versions of history to portray the role of the government in quite different ways. Fred Block (2002) describes the narrative employed by conservatives beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s:
The United States was once a great nation with people who lived by a moral creed that

that emphasized piety, hard work, thrift, sexual restraint and self-reliance, but there came

a time in the 1960s when we abandoned those values. We came instead to rely on big

government to solve our problems, to imagine that abortion, homosexuality and the pursuit of sexual pleasure were OK, and to believe that God had died and that religion should play no role in our public life. According to this narrative, only a systematic effort to restore the old values—to reduce the role of government, lower taxes, restore the central role of religion and piety in public life, and renew our commitment to sexual restraint and traditional morality (p. 20).

This narrative is supported by a strict-father morality—the belief that people behave only

when they fear serious sanctions…. As a political doctrine, it translates into support for

capital punishment and other tough anticrime measures, opposition to welfare spending,

reduced government taxation and economic regulation, and finally, a strong national

defense so that any enemies can be punished appropriately (p. 20).
Block describes an alternative liberal narrative as reflecting a different version of the same events:

Starting with the New Deal and continuing into the 1960s, Americans realized that to have prosperity, they needed to place restraints on the pursuit of self-interest. The lesson of the stock-market boom in the 1920s and the crash and Depression that followed could not be clearer. When the market is left unregulated and the zealous pursuit of self-interest is elevated over everything, the results are catastrophic. But as memories of the 1930s faded, conservative intellectuals sought to expunge these important lessons from out collective memory. Religious and economic conservatives together sold Americans the snake oil remedy of untrammeled free markets and the glorification of “greed is good.” Since Americans are a decent people, this dismal brew of bad morals and bad economics had little immediate effective. But over twenty-five years, the consequence has been a collapse of our business morality (p. 21).

Students could examine these political cultural models or discourses as evident in representations of social issues by both conservatives and liberals on web sites for the:
Christian Coalition:
Republican Party;
Democratic Party:
Green Party:
Media and American Democracy Program: Analyzing television political ads
George Mason University: research links for analyzing media coverage of politics
Project Vote Smart: polling data links for analyzing public political opinion
A leading media critic, Noam Chomsky, argues that because much of the mainstream media is owned by corporate conglomerates (see Module 10), the media’s representations of political issues often reflects these corporate interests (Chomsky, 2002), excluding concerns of those with less economic power. For example, issues of welfare reform are framed in negative terms of people’s unfortunate dependency on the government, reflecting corporations unwillingness to pay taxes to support such programs, while corporation tax subsidy programs receive little attention (Chomsky, 2002).
Chomsky Archives
Journalists who are frustrated with their difficulty in reporting certain aspects of the news often turn to Blogs to share their “insider” perspectives on news events, reflecting a different representation of those events than found in official new sources. Students could go onto Blogs operated by or that include journalists to gain their perspective on the news.
Webquest: Judith Cramer, Teachers College, Columbia University: To Blog or Not to Blog
Webquests/units on politics and the media:
Webquest: Sociology Bytes Politics (it's 2060 and the old political parties have been replaced. The forces driving the new political parties come from different schools of sociological thought. You, the experts in sociological theory, have been selected by the three party candidates to generate their press releases as they relate to the major topics of the day.)
Webquest: Joe Braunwarth, News Media Webquest
Webquest: Cynthia Kirkeby, Watergate: The Role of Press in Politics
Unit: Rachel Klein and Javaid Khan, The New York Times lessons: Tabloid Traditions: Examining the Relationship Between Supermarket Tabloids and United States History
For further reading on politics and the media:

Adler, R. (2001). Canaries in the mineshaft: Essays on politics and media. Boston: St. Martin’s Press.

Bennett, W. L., & Entman, R. (Eds.). (2000). Mediated politics: Communication in the future of democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Davis, R. (2000). The press and American politics: The new mediator. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Fallows, J. (1997). Breaking the news: How the media undermine American democracy. New York: Vintage.

Giroux, H. (2002). Breaking in to the movies: Film and the culture of politics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Goldstein, K., & Strach, P. (2003). The medium and the message: Television advertising and American elections. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Graver, D. (2001). Mass Media and American Politics. New York: CQ Press.

Jamieson, K., & Campbell, K. (2000). The interplay of influence: News, advertising, politics, and the mass media. New York: Wadsworth.

Kolko, B. (Ed.). (2003). Virtual publics: Policy and community in an electronic age. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kuypers, J. (2002). Press bias and politics: How the media frame controversial issues. New York: Praeger.

McChesney, R. (1998). Rich media, Poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Sachlebe, M., Yenerall, K., & Schultz, D. (Eds.). (2004). Seeing the bigger picture: Understanding politics through film & television. New York: Peter Lang.

Stempel, G. (2003). Media and politics in America: A reference handbook. New York: ABC/CLIO.

Street, J. (2001). Mass media, politics and democracy. New York: Palgrave.

In summary, by examining media representations, students are learning to interrogate the ways in which the media constructs versions of reality that shape their lives and identities. In doing so, they are learning to recognize the power of media representations to go beyond simply mirroring cultural practices to actually create cultural practices and ways of thinking, just as “reality TV” has created a new, mediated-form of “reality.” By critiquing the functions of these representations as reflecting certain economic and ideological agendas, students may then learn how media institutions attempt to shape public policy (see also the role of think-tanks in Module 10). And, by creating their own alternative representations through media productions, students explore alternative, transformative ways of perceiving the world.
Instructional Activity

Teachers could create a webquest based on analysis of media representation of a particular phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession.

  1. Select a particular phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession.

  2. Find some websites with material containing examples of images, sound/music, intertextuality, language, and techniques that serve to represent this phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession in a certain manner.

  3. Determine what you want your students to learn from some activities designed to foster their critical analysis of the media representations of this phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession.

  4. Write out a list of guided activities that will help students learn to critically analyze the ways in which the media represents this phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession.

  5. Using Filamentality, Trackstar, or some other webquest-design tool, develop a webquest

For further reading on media representations:
Alvermann, D.E., Moon, J.S., & Hagood, M.C. (1999). Popular culture in the classroom: Teaching and researching critical media literacy. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Andersen, R., & Strate, L. (Eds.). (2000).  Critical studies in media commercialism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Beynon, J. (2002). Masculinities and culture. London: Open University Press.

Bernardi, D. (Ed.) (1996). The birth of Whiteness: Race and the emergence of U.S. cinema. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Branston, G., & Stafford, R. (2003). The media student's book. New York: Routledge.

Buckley, C., & Fawcett, H. (2002). Fashioning the feminine: Representation and women's fashion from the Fin De Si·cle to the present. New York: I.B. Tauris.

Burt, R. (Ed.). (2002). Shakespeare after mass media. New York: Palgrave.

Chermak, S., Bailey, F., & Brown, M. (2003). Media representations of September 11. New York: Praeger.

Clark, L. (2003). From angels to aliens: Teenagers, the media, and the supernatural. New York: Oxford University Press.

Considine, D.M., & Haley, G.E. (1999). Visual messages: Integrating imagery into instruction (2nd ed.). Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press.

Curran, J., & Gurevitch, M. (Eds.). (2000). Mass media and society. London: Arnold.

De Graff, J, Wann, D., Naylor, T., Horsey, D. (2002).

Affluenza: The all-consuming epidemic. New York: Berrett-Koehler.

Denzin, N. (2002). Reading race : Hollywood and the cinema of racial violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Dyson, A.H. (1997). Writing superheroes: Contemporary childhood, popular culture and classroom literacy. New York: Teachers College Press.

Frank, T. (1998). The conquest of cool: Business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 Frank, T. (2001).  One market under God: Extreme capitalism, market populism, and the end of economic democracy. New York: Anchor.

Gal, S., & Kligman, G. (Eds.). (2000). Reproducing gender. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ginsburg, F., Abu-Lughod, L., & Larkin, B. (Eds.). (2003). Media worlds: Anthropology on new terrain. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representations. New York: Routledge.

Kellner, D. (1999). Media Literacies and Critical Pedagogy in a Multicultural Society

Klein, N. (2002). No logo: No space, no choice, no jobs. New York: Picador.

Mason, P. (Ed.) (2004). Criminal visions: Media representations of crime and justice. New York: Millan Publishing.

McLaron, P., Hammer, R., Sholle, D., & Reilly, S. (1995). Rethinking media literacy: A critical pedagogy of representation. New York: Peter Lang.

Mirzoeff, N. (2002). The visual culture reader. New York: Routledge.

Morley, D. (2000). Home territories: Media, mobility and identity. New York: Routledge.

Perrine, T. (1997). Film and the nuclear age: Representing cultural anxiety. New York: Garland.

Quart, A. (2003). Branded: The buying and selling of teenagers. New York: Perseus.

Roediger, D. (1999). The wages of Whiteness: Race and the making of the American working class. New York: Verso.

Said, E. (1997). Covering Islam: How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world. New York: Vintage.

Semali, L. (Ed.). (2002). Transmediation in the classroom: A semiotics-based media literacy framework. New York: Teachers College Press.

Spretnak, C. (1997). The resurgence of the real: body, nature, and place in a hypermodern world. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Steinberg. S., & Kincheloe, J. (Eds.). (1997). Kinderculture: The corporate construction of childhood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Torres, S. (2003). Black, white, and in color: Television and Black civil rights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Whannel, G. (2001). Media sport stars: Masculinities and moralities. New York: Routledge.

Williams, L. (2002). Playing the race card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle Tom to O. J. Simpson. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wilson, L. (1999). The wired church: Making media ministry. New York: Abington.

Allen, T. & Seaton, J. (Eds.). (1999). The media of conflict: War reporting and representations of ethnic violence. New York: Zed Books

Beach, R., & Myers, J. (2001). Inquiry-based English instruction: Engaging students in literature and life. New York: Teachers College Press.

Bellah, R. et al. (1996). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley:  University of California Press.

Bellan, J., & Scheurman, G. (2001). Actual and virtual reality: Making the most of field trips.

Stevens, R. (Ed.). (2001). Homespun: Teaching local history in grades 6-12. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Block, F. (2002). The right’s moral trouble. The Nation, 275(10), 20-22.

Christenson, P., & Roberts, D. (1998). It’s not only rock and roll: Popular music in the lives of

adolescents. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Chomsky, N. (2002). Media control: The spectacular achievements of propaganda. New York: Seven Stories Press

Crowe, C. (1994). The coach in YA literature: Mentor or dementor. ALAN Review, 22, 47-50.

Entman, R., & Rejecki, A. (2000). The Black image in the White mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Frank, T. (2004). Lie down for America: How the Republican Party sows ruin on the Great

Plains. Harper’s Magazine, 308(1847), 33-48.

Garber, M., Matlock, J., & Walkowitz, R. (Eds.). (1993). Media spectacles. New York: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2001). Reading as situated language: A sociocognitive perspective. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 44, 714-725.

Hainsworth, G. (1998). Tinsel Town Teachers. Teacher

Hall, S., ed. (1997). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

hooks, bell. (2000). Where we stand: Class matters. New York: Routledge.

Gray, H. (1997). Watching race: Television and the struggle for "Blackness." Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Grindstaff, L. (2002). The money shot: Trash, class, and the making of TV talk shows. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jung, H. (2001). "Control yourself":  Emotion and person in an American junior-high school. Unpublished dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Henderson, L, Kitzinger, J., & Green, J. (2000). Representing infant feeding: content analysis

of British media portrayals of bottle feeding and breast feeding. British Medical Journal,

321(7270), 1196-1198.

Lacey, N. (1998). Image and representation. London: Palgrave.

Lidchi, H. (1997). The poetics and the politics of exhibiting other cultures. In S. Hall (Ed.). Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (pp. 151- 221). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Nixon, S. (1997). Exhibiting masculinity. In S. Hall (Ed.), Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (pp. 291-336). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ohmann, R. (2003). Politics of knowledge: The commercialization of the university, professions, & print culture. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.

Radway, J. (1987). Reading the romance. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Roediger, D. R. (2002). Colored white: Transcending the racial past. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Said, E.W. (1979). Orientalism. New York:  Vintage Books.

Sweet, S. (2001). College and society. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Thussu, D., & Freedman, D. (Eds.). (2003). War and the media:

Reporting conflict 24/7. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tobin, J. (2001). “Good guys don’t wear hats:” Children talk about the media. New York: Teachers College Press.

Walsh, K. (1992). The representation of the past: Museums and heritage in the post-modern world. New York: Routledge.

Wilke, M. (2002, May 13). Are Gay Stereotypes Gaining Ground and Losing Bite?

Teaching Activities: Media Representations (developed by students in CI5472, Spring, 2004)

Tom Deshotels and Josh Wetjen 

One possibility to encourage critical analysis of media in students is to have students produce an ad or short scene that portrays a social group in typical or atypical ways. You would need cameras available in class for student groups wanting to make a short film. What colors would they use? What camera angles would they shoot from? What relationship will subjects in the shot have to one another? How would they position different people in the ad? When students become responsible for portraying a certain group in a certain way through media, they will inevitably have to ask themselves how to communicate that information. When they inquire about these techniques they will gain understanding about media production and reflection of social identities. The teacher could assign stereotypical roles of people groups to different student work who would have to produce a media artifact for class affecting the assigned stereotypical reading.

Beth O'Hara and Mary Hagen

In studying media representations in my high school class, I would get the students thinking about how they are represented by reading portions of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, specifically the paragraph that reads:

"We fall into clans: Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants, Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America, Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, Shredders."

I would ask them to look at the various social divisions that their particular high school places them in, tell them of the divisions in my high school, eons ago: Brains, Jocks, Nerds, Cheerleaders, Potheads, Lushes, Populars. We could discuss if those divisions were hard and fast or if there was room for movement from group to group, if they liked being in those groups, what they gained from membership in one or the other. And then we would move to viewing and discussing how teenagers are represented in the media, in movies such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in television shows such as Boston Public, Joan of Arcadia, and MTV, and in advertisements, magazines, and on the web. I would have the students split into groups to study a particular way in which they are represented, ask them to challenge those representations, give reasons why those representations may or may not be accurate, have them act out what they have found. We could expand the study to other aspects of their high school lives, look at teachers, principals, secretaries, lunchroom and janitorial staff, bus drivers, coaches, parents and how they are represented, how they are "supposed" to be.

Erin Warren and Erin Grahmann

The main idea behind this set of activities is to examine the ways in which "bosses" (i.e. authority in the workplace) are portrayed in media--TV and movies specifically. We chose five (but feel free to pick more, less, or different ones): Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, Jack Gallo from Just Shoot Me, Mr. Lumbergh from Office Space, Mr. Peterman from Seinfeld, and Mr. Strickland from King of the Hill.
Start by showing clips of these bosses in action to set the stage. Form groups based on interest. The groups analyze salient characteristics and representations of these different bosses. Each group roleplays these bosses using their findings. Groups split and students reflect in a journal/freewrite about a real boss they have known. The activities culminate in a discussion comparing students' real bosses to the media representations. What are the similarities? Differences? Were student responses influenced by the media examples? How so? To the point: is your bias informed by media? How about a feminist lens: why are these bosses all wealthy white men?

Reid Westrem and Brock Dubbels

In Chapter Two of Seeing and Believing, Krueger and Christel mention the use of photojournalism in the classroom. Here's a sketch of a teaching activity that would blend photojournalism and media representations. Consider the "Politician" or "Presidential Candidate" as represented in news photographs. There will be plenty of opportunity to do so this campaign season. In class, students could discuss their associations with this type and describe the sort of campaign photographs they would expect to see in newspapers during the campaign.
At home they would browse news websites for political photographs -- individual newspapers such as the StarTribune and The New York Times typically have links on their homepages either to special campaign pages or to daily photo collections. Also, the Associated Press website would be an excellent source for news photographs. In fact, the AP wire would show what most editors can choose from in producing the next day's paper. Each student should print a few campaign photos and present them with commentary in small groups the next day. What images are being portrayed? How? What character traits are communicated? What are the candidates doing? What are they wearing? Are the photos seemingly "candid" and natural or do they seem to be staged "photo opportunities" -- and is it possible to tell? With whom are they pictured? How are the photos framed? Is there any evidence of bias? For example, is one candidate shown consistently as "friendly" or "strong," while another is shown as "goofy" or "awkward" or "angry" or "unpresidential" ... and what is "presidential" anyway? (A body-language analyst recently claimed that Gov. Dean was often shown looking angry, while Sen. Edwards has been portrayed looking friendly. Is it the man or the photograph?)
Next, students should track the photos chosen by different newspapers (StarTribune, PioneerPress, USA Today, NY Times). Do they find any patterns? Obvioiusly, satirists such as Jay Leno and the Saturday Night Live news anchors pick the photos of candidates that make them look stupid -- but are newspapers ever guilty of doing this? One can't fairly judge editorial decisions unless one knows what the possible choices were, and thanks to the internet the average person now has quite a bit of access to that larger pool of photos (and news stories).

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