You are on page 1of 14

Analyzing media texts Advertising, television and film.

. Media content analysis is the deconstruction of pieces of media with tendency towards either quantitative or qualitative research methods. Quantitative research methods within Media Content Analysis point to a far more structured and consequently restricted form of gathering information from clips of media. Qualitative methods involve a viewing of the clip and then unstructured open discussions and debate on the themes and effects of the clip. Media content analysis was introduced as a systematic method to study mass media by Harold Lasswell ( !"#$% initially to study propaganda. &oday it helps you define and understand your media profile by evaluating issues% messages% advocates% critics% media and 'ournalists by giving qualitative ratings to print% broadcast and online coverage and recommending () action and response. *hat are the advantages of media content analysis+ Media content analysis benefits research using combined methods. ,ome parts of the mass media may provide sociologists with useful data to see how society reacts to the media and how companies use the media to promote consumerism. Media content analysis can be used to analyse the ideologies of those who produce them and how they try to spread this ideology. Media content analysis loo-s directly at communication via te.ts or transcripts% and hence gets at the central aspect of social interaction. /t can allow for both quantitative and qualitative operations. MCA can also provide valuable historical0cultural insights over time through analysis of te.ts. Media content analysis allows a closeness to the te.t which can alternate between specific categories and relationships and also statistically analyses the coded form of the te.t. /t can be used to interpret te.ts for purposes such as the development of e.pert systems (since -nowledge and rules can both be coded in terms of e.plicit statements about the relationships among concepts$. Media content analysis is an unobtrusive means of analysing interactions and it provides an insight into comple. models of human thought and language use. *hen done well% is considered as a relatively 1e.act1 research method (based on hard facts% as opposed to 2iscourse Analysis$. *hat are the disadvantages of media content analysis+ Media content analysis relies heavily upon researcher interpretation. Mass media analysis may also not correspond to the interpretation of other researchers as it is about how you operationalise the

information acquired. &here is an assumption that the audience is simply a passive consumer of the message given out by mass media% and that there is no attempt made to e.amine how they actually interpret the te.t if this is the format mass media is presented in. Media content analysis may produce a distorted image of society. &his may mislead the public or adversely affect the socialisation of children. Media content analysis can be e.tremely time consuming and is sub'ect to increased error (particularly when relational analysis is used to attain a higher level of interpretation$. Media content analysis is often devoid of a theoretical base% or attempts too liberally to draw meaningful inferences about the relationships and impacts implied in a study. /t is inherently reductive (particularly when dealing with comple. te.ts$ tends too often to simply consist of word counts. Media content analysis often disregards the bac-ground in which something has been produced. *hen loo-ing at media content analysis it helps to thin- of questions such as the ones below as they get you thin-ing 3what is the subliminal message in the media+4 and 3how is this influencing how / thin-+4 How do children4s &5 programs portray violence% racial or gender differences+ How prevalent is 6 on certain types of programmes if 6 equals se.% violence% homose.uality% smo-ing% drug or alcohol use+ *hat types of news stories are prevalent in the evening news% on the front page% on maga7ine covers+ *hat percentage of (&5 or newspaper$ news is 8 crime% accidents% promotional% human interest+ How do commercials differ between different types of programming+ &o what e.tent do different (maga7ines% &5 shows$ reflect the target mar-et of advertisers+ *hat categories or sub'ect matter are prevalent among8 bestselling boo-s% hit movies or music% popular video games+ Mar.ists might thin- that media content analysis allows us to see how the media controls us to further enslave us to -eep us from questioning what is going on9 that the media is used to distract us

from the bigger issues of the day9 that mass media is a social constraint9 that the media alienates people from society ma-ing them feel inadequate and that :the media is chewing gum for the brain.; (Marcuse$ A <unctionalist may view mass media analysis as instilling norms and values that society can relate to9 that it helps promotes businesses and meritocracy and that it shows how well society is functioning and helps to -eep you feel motivated. &e.tual analysis is a way for researchers to gather information about how other human beings ma-e sense of the world. /t is a methodology = a data=gathering process = for those researchers who want to understand the ways in which members of various cultures and subcultures ma-e sense of who they are% and of how they fit into the world in which they live. &e.tual analysis is useful for researchers wor-ing in cultural studies% media studies% in mass communication% and perhaps even in sociology and philosophy. Let>s open with a straightforward description *hat is te.tual analysis+ *hen we perform te.tual analysis on a te.t% we ma-e an educated guess at some of the most li-ely interpretations that might be made of that te.t. *e interpret te.ts (films% television programmes% maga7ines% advertisements% clothes% graffiti% and so on$ in order to try and obtain a sense of the ways in which% in ... Analyzing Media Texts - ADVERTIZI !"

Analyzing Media Texts" Television. &his piece will start with a confession? when / loo- at &5 critically / can4t help thin-ing about matters of a textual nature. *hat interests me the most about tele= vision studies are questions of aesthetics% ideology% discourse% narrative% genre% representation% camera wor-% music% casting% editing% the script% authorship and so on. /n short% / can4t get enough of the te.t. #$ere did it all %egin& / guess semiotics was originally to blame for my current predilection towards the te.t. @ohn <is-e and @ohn Hartley4s Reading Television was one of the first academic boo-s on television / ever read. &he way it loo-ed at &5 was suggested in its title% 3reading4 television almost li-e a literary te.t% but how refreshing it was to find a boo- that too- television (and the study of it$ seriously. &he semi scientific discourse that semiotics initially brought to the study of television (and popular culture in general$ was crucial to its gradual acceptance into the academy% slowly giving the whole enterprise some greatly needed academic credibility. @ust as importantly% it also allowed television studies to s-ilfully dodge the inevitable ques= tion about whether television was actually worthy of critical attention at all. As Mythologies" A )oland Barthes4 !C# seminal account of popular culture A made so clear% semiotics could be applied to any cultural form (from wrestling matches to washing powder$% so that the question of whether &5 merited critical attention suddenly seemed unimportant and even irrelevant. &he 3decoding4 of every cultural form was suddenly allowed9 you were not necessarily saying it was 3Dreat Art%4 you were simply e.posing the mechanics by which your chosen te.t operated. (At least that was our story and we were stic-ing to it$. /mportant te.tboo-s li-e )obert C. Allen4s edited Channels of DiscourseE in !F# followed% e.panding the study of television further by introducing primarily te.tual methodologies such as semiotics% ideology% genre% narrative theory% post= modernism and psychoanalysis more forcefully into the field. However% the boo- that most famously brought these varied approaches to the television te.t together was probably <is-e4s Television Culture.G &his boo- became the bible of television studies for more than a decade% introducing students to the te.tuality of television through a combination of critical approaches. However% <is-e4s te.tboo- was also significant because it addressed the notion of the 3active audience.4 <ollowing on from wor- li-e ,tuart Hall4s groundbrea-ing !#E article% 3Hncoding02ecoding in &elevision 2iscourse%4C <is-e demonstrated how various audiences could interpret television programmes in a number of different ways. Hven a programme li-e Charlies

Angels (,pelling=Doldberg(roduc= tions0ABC% !#IA !F $% which was 3deeply inscribed4 in 3patriarchy%4 could almost become a feminist te.t in the minds of certain viewers9 particularly those who chose to ignore how scantily dressed its female detectives were and preferred to focus on their 3success4 and 3aggressiveness.4I Although <is-e is careful to -eep the heart of his discussion around actual tele= vision programmes% the 3audience revolution4 had a huge impact on the perception of te.tual analysis in television studies. Charlotte Brunsdon and 2avid Morley4s !#F semiotic analysis of a television programme in Everyday Television Nation- wide# was quic-ly followed in !FJ by Morley4s 3Nationwide Audience%F a boo- that implicitly aimed to reveal what was lac-ing in his and Brunsdon4s original (te.tually orientated$ account. &he main criticism that audience researchers made about te.tual analysis is well -nown% but it might be worth briefly restating it here% as it is important to -eep in mind how te.tual analysts reacted to these arguments. /f audiences can read a te.t in a number of ways% then what is the validity and relevance of one te.tual inter= pretation+ A te.tual analyst may give their reading intellectual credibility through the application of a dense theoretical discourse (li-e semiotics or psychoanalysis$% but it is still only one interpretation among many. /f they offer this interpretation as conclusive and definitive% they are also in danger of falling into the trap of prescribing a 3universal reader4? i.e. implying that readers% regardless of age% gender% social class and race% will read a te.t in exactly the same way. Hven when they might not suggest that a reading is universal% they could un-nowingly imply that a certain section of the audience (an 3implied4 or 3ideal4 reader$ would read it in this way. However% without any audience research or empirical evidence to bac- up these assumptions% te.tual analysis is simply a matter of guesswor- A offering unfounded and possibly misleading interpretations on behalf of an audience who is not allowed to spea- for itself. 2espite Hall4s crucial insight that there are various ways in which a &5 programme can be interpreted% his concept of a 3preferred meaning4 (read? that of the 3dominant ideology4$ still betrays a dangerous assumption about readership? i.e. the belief that we can ever be sure of what meaning is 3preferred4 or how a &5 programme was originally 3encoded4 (echoing aspects of the 3/ntentional <allacy4$. )eception studies also called into question the limits of traditional te.tual analysis. Knowing where a 3te.t4 starts and ends seems increasingly difficult to ascertain% a problem clearly heightened in the multi=media age.H.tra=te.tual material% such asproduct merchandising% 252 e.tras% fan7ines% and /nternet sites% made te.tual analysis frustratingly unsure of its ob'ect of study. ,uch criticisms inevitably too- their toll on a method of research that was clearly finding it difficult to -eep pace with the changes that characterised cultural criticism in the late= twentieth century. As a consequence of these arguments% tele= vision studies gradually started to shun its te.tual origins. Boo-s li-e @ustin Lewis4 The deological !cto"us criticised the 3tyranny of

the te.t4 and particularly the 3te.tual determinism4 that it identified with an approach li-e semiotics.! As Lewis put it? A friend of mind LsicM as-ed if he had any idea what :semiology; meant% replied ingeniously that it might mean :half an ology.; &his is precisely what this -ind of te.tual analysis amounts to? it interrogates the sign from the point of view of the signi= fier and ignores the realities of the signified. J &o be fair% Lewis had a point. (erhaps the readings offered by some te.tual analysts were a little too rigid and deterministic at times. *hile splitting the 3signifier4 from the 3signified4 was a crucial step in interpreting the production of meaning in a te.t% the connection between the two was in danger of becoming a little too confidently prescribed. However% what too- place over the years that followed was that all forms of te.tual analysis were seen as increasingly untenable. <or many% te.tual analysis became the remnant of an embarrassing (literary and even Leavisite$ tradition that was now despised and ridiculed% and was regarded by some as intellectually simplistic and passN. / even questioned the validity of my own research% wondering if / had simply chosen the wrong field or career pathway. Hmpirical history% audi= ence and reception studies% institutional policy% politics and society too- the central ground as colleagues around me tal-ed in a language / recognised as coming from the ,ocial ,ciences rather than the Arts and the Humanities. &e.tual analysis may not have been completely outlawed by the television academy% but / did increas= ingly feel / now harboured a love that dare not spea- its name. 'o ($ere are (e no(& My personal feeling is that te.tual analysis in television studies is currently under= going a resurgence. /nitially wounded by the criticisms against it% te.tual researchers now seem to have re= e.amined its methods and procedures% and are gradually helping it to regain some of its pride and integrity. By accepting its limi= tations and becoming less prescriptive% they have introduced a self= refle.ivity and transparency that all healthy methodologies must have if they are to gain critical respect. ,o much pride has returned that now even the questions that te.tual analysis shied away from in the past (such as issues surrounding quality$ have slowly begun to emerge (see% for e.ample% Deoff Mulgan% Charlotte Brunsdon "and @ason @acobs E$. &he conference from which this very 'ournal was born was entitled 3American Quality &elevision4 (&rinity College% 2ublin% A E April% "JJG$% astatement that would have been unthin-able less than a decade before because of its implicit 'udgment of the te.t. &he influence of post=structuralism has clearly helped te.tual analysis re= e.amine its methods and procedures% a cultural movement that e.plicitly embraced the plurality of the te.t% and the

many% comple. ways in which meaning is produced. As Hllen ,eiter puts it? (ost=structuralism emphasi7es the slippage between signifier and signified A between one sign and the ne.t% between one conte.t and the ne.t A while emphasi7ing that meaning is always situated% specific to a given conte.t. . .. &heories of psychoanalysis and of ideology% under the influence of post=structuralism% focus on the gaps and fissures% the structuring absences and the incoherencies% in a te.t . &e.tboo-s li-e Alan McKee4s Textual Analysis C and Karen Lury4s nter"reting Tele- vision I now offer students clear and contemporary introductions to the field of te.tual research. ,imilarly% the recent series of television boo-s from the British <ilm /nstitute (see Creeber% # &oby Miller% F Michele Hilmes% ! and @ohn ,inclair and Draeme &urner"J$ have included a number of different approaches to television% not least wor- of a deeply te.tual nature. /n a section unashamedly entitled3&e.tual Analysis4 in Miller4s anthology% Hartley ac-nowledges both the method4s strengths and wea-nesses% but also stresses the 3disparate disciplinary and discursive strands4 that have become 3characteristic of contemporary television studies.4" )eflected in @ohn Corner4s recent article% 3&elevision ,tudies? (lural Conte.ts% ,ingular Ambitions+4"" is this gradual acceptance of the interdisciplinary nature of television studies that now seems prevalent. Harlier boo-s such as )obert Hodge and 2avid &ripp4s Children and Television"E helped to pave the way for this inter= disciplinarity% e.plicitly combining te.tual analysis with other methodologies (in this case% audience research$% so that they were able to produce a greater insight into how meaning might be generated by television. &here are certainly a growing number of historical accounts of television that bring together empirical historical research with te.tual analysis. )ecent studies such as @acobs4 The nti#ate $creen"G combine te.tual analysis with detailed archival research% to produce a compelling and illuminating account of television4s past. 2avid Lavery4s edited collection% This Thing of !urs%"C is a good e.ample of a new interdisciplinary approach to television programmes. *hile many articles are te.tually informed (including psychoanalytic% feminist% postmodern% genre and linguistic analysis$% the anthology also includes chapters based on audience and reception research. *hat has become increasingly clear from such wor- is that one methodology is probably not enough to do 'ustice to the comple. array of themes% issues% debates% conte.ts and concerns that are involved in a discussion of any single piece of television. &e.tual analysis on its own is rarely enough% but when it combines with the wider conte.tual or 3e.tra=te.tual4 nature of the sub'ect% it can still offer insight and inspiration. &he implicit critical philosophy of Lavery4s edited collections on single televi= sion programmes% such as Twin %ea&s (Lynch0<rost (roductions0ABC% !!JA !! $%"I The ' (iles ("Jth Century <o.

&elevision0&en &hirteen (roductions% !!EA"JJ"$"# and )uffy the *a#"ire $layer (Mutant Hnemy /nc.0"Jth Century <o. &elevision% !!#A"JJE$%"F is that any te.t can be viewed from an almost endless number of different 3reading positions.4 &hese positions% while clearly contestable% can still offer interesting e.plorations of the programmes% and continue to inform and generate wider debate. *ithin the pages of one boo- students can instantly recognise the contradictory nature of the sub'ect. Kim A-ass and @anet McCabe4s Reading $ex and the City"! is another e.ample of this recent trend% revealing the disparate views by which a rich and comple. programme li-e $ex and the City (,e. and the City (roductions0HBO% !!FA"JJG$can be interpreted. *e might call it 3dialogism4 and 3heteroglossia4 in action% but% whatever term we use to describe it% these edited boo-s e.plicitly recognise the te.tual plurality and post=structuralist ambiguities of meaning% as well as ac-nowledging and e.ploring wider matters of a conte.tual and e.tra=te.tualnature. /ncidentally% /.B. &auris recently commis= sioned a new series on contemporary television% with several titles e.plicitly focusing on a single=te.t. And t$e f)t)re& /f te.tual analysis is to survive into the future% then it (li-e all methodologies$ must learn from past mista-es. &o question the notion of 3quality television4 is clearly an important contribution to the field of cultural analysis. However% we must never allow the 3quality debate4 to ta-e us bac- to a time when unchallengeable and unchangeable canons were allowed to be sub'ectively and arbitrarily constructed. Por can we let it allow us to imagine that we can ever be sure where 3quality4 actu= ally lies (other than when referring to it as a specific genre that both audiences and the industry might recognise$. *hile / welcomed Mar- @ancovich and @ames Lyons4 +uality %o"ular TelevisionE for its interesting collection of articles% / was a little surprised that the introduction paid so little attention to the use of the word3quality4 in the boo-4s title (e.cept for the briefest mention of (ierre Bourdieu on page E$. Pot only might this lac- of investigation of the term suggest to media students that 3quality4 is something that they can un=problematically define and categorise% it also seemed li-e a missed opportunity to address and e.plore a significant issue of debate within television studies as a whole. /f te.tual analysis is to regain its credibility in academia% then it must continue to self=refle.ively e.amine the procedures and methods by which its own 'udgements are made.*hether consciously or not% edited boo-s such as these do produce canons of sorts and we must be acutely aware of the choices and 'udgements by which they are inevitably assembled. (erhaps part of the problem with some te.tual analysis has been a reluctance to e.amine its methods and practices too closely. *hile the 3social science4 origins of audience research meant that

methodology was already a central component of its historical development% the literary origins of te.tual analysis meant that forms of methodology seemed less pressing or important to its scholars. As a result% te.tual analysis has sometimes been shoc-ingly poor at e.plaining and accounting foritself. *hat it could learn from audience and reception studies is a clearer set of procedures% a self=refle.ive sense of its own methodological development and a more self= conscious understanding of its limitations and critical assumptions. As / frequently tell students% simply stating that 3/ will carry out te.tual analysis4 is rarely enough. *hat type of te.tual analysis are you intending to carry out+ How will it be done+ *hat problems do you e.pect to encounter% and how will you attempt to deal with these+ *hat will be the validity of your conclusions% and what do you hope to achieve through this approach that other methodologies could not produce+ &hese are 'ust some of the questions that any section on methodology should address. <or it is now crucial to see te.tual analysis as a methodology in its own right% one that needs to be as critically evaluated and routinely assessed li-e any other. However% / do have a great deal of hope for te.tual wor- in television studies in the future. At a recent symposium / attended at *arwic- Qniversity (3<rom the Pational to the &rans= Pational? Huropean &elevision and <ilm in &ransition% # May "JJC$% / was struc- by the confidence of the younger academics present to loo- at television te.tually. &he MA and (h2 students / met there seemed to be free of the sort of an.ieties that / once associated with te.tual research. As they were not at least concerned with whether television was worthy of study or not (they simply accepted that it was$% so they seemed more than happy to tal- about and discuss television from a number of critical angles. &his was stri-ingly different from my own (h2 e.perience% when / felt li-e / had to constantly 'ustify and e.plain my own te.tual approach to television. ,imilarly% / recently attended the 3Cultures of British &elevision 2rama4 conference (Qniversity of )eading% EA C,eptember "JJC$ where Christine Deraghty4s inspiring paper (3&elevision 2rama A 5iewing% *riting% &eaching4$ spo-e about returning to the te.t% particularly in relation to issues of quality and canonisation (she even dared to suggest that a &5 canon was desirableR$. *hile once such a talmay have been heavily contested and criticised% here it was met with a warm sense of approval and critical understanding. At the time of writing /4ve 'ust finished editing a boo- called Tele-*isions, an ntroduction to the $tudy of Television to be published by the B</ in "JJI (where some of these arguments are e.plored further$. &he main title of the boo- was an attempt to suggest that television can still be a 3visionary4 medium% but it was also a deliberate nod towards television4s interdisciplinary nature (offering various 3visions4 of television$. Although such an introductory te.tboo- can never e.pect to be comprehensive% / hope that each chapter offers students a different way of approaching and

assessing that thing we call 3television.4 Of course% audience analysis is represented% as is history% industry% institutions% technology% globalisa= tion and so on. But te.tual analysis is stronglyfore= grounded. &his is because / believe it still has an important and crucial contribution to ma-e to the field as a whole. Pot only is it where contemporary television studies began (so to under= stand it is to partly understand the sub'ect4s comple. historical development$% but it is also the place where many students begin their wor-. ,o let us encourage a new generation of students to e.plore and e.amine the 'oy of the television te.t if thatis what they choose to do. But let us also ma-e sure that they do not repeat the problems and mista-es of the past. Analyzing Media Texts" *I+M Text)al Analysis" ,)estions to As- of *ilm &e.tual analysis of film requires observing and questioning all the elements that create meaning within the piece% such as acting% directing% lighting% cinematography% mise en scene% etc. Besides noticing the individual elements that create a film4s meaning% te.tual analysis also involves understanding how the film fits into the larger conte.t of its social% historical% cultural and political environment. ,o te.tual analysis also requires researching a film4s genre% audience as well as its historical% institutional% and socio=cultural significance. /t4s only in combining both that we can create a thorough understanding of the film. <or the oral students are e.pected to complete a J minute presentation that addresses these two areas of focus? . Analy7e and )esearch the film as a whole focusing on the film4s genre and audience as well as its historical% institutional% and socio=cultural significance. ". Complete a close te.tual analysis of a specific scene. Be sure to cite specific e.amples from within the film that relate to its larger frame wor-. !etting 'tarted" .st. (reveiw the questions for each of the sections below that address the areas that must be included in the presentations. /nd *atch your film and then focus on what you thin- is important about the film. As you ta-e notes on the film% refer bac- to the questions. Be conscious of the many aspects with in the film that

create meaning. 0rd <ocus on one scene that seems to really illustrate your interpretation of the film. /f possible consider creating a screen shots of particular shots that illustrate your points and can be referred to during you presentation. 1t$ Begin your research and ta-e notes in order to e.plore areas of genre% history% institutional and socio=cultural conte.t etc as they relate to your selected film. (lease cite your research in order to show where your information came from. Qse the following concepts to focus your research and analysis. Hach area must be addressed in your presentation. 2art . I. !enre and A)dien3e. *hat tradition or genre is it in+ ". *hat are the features determining genre+ E. *hat other wor- might it be connected to+ G. *ho made this+ *hy+ C. *hat can we tell about its4 creators+ I. How does it fit within the director4s other wor-+ a. 2oes it share significant narrative or thematic concerns+ b. 2oes it share particular visual or technical elements+ #. *hat is the film4s theme+ F. *hat is the target audience+ How does it address its audience+ II. 4istori3al and Instit)tional *a3tors. *hat are the institutional factors that may be important+ a. as a production of a specific producer (i.e. *alt 2isney$% institution (2isney ,tudios$% specific economic factors (,tudio <ilm$% or a political bac-ground+ (Q.,. politics !C!$ ". *hat is the film4s historical significance+ a. as a document of its time+ b. as a part of history of film+

III. 'o3io-3)lt)ral 3ontext . *hat is the film4s socio=cultural conte.t+ c. as a wor- from a specific country+ d. As a wor- from a specific culture+ e. As a wor- representing a specific part of its society+ f. As a wor- made for a specific audience+ g. As a wor- made for a specific reason+ 2art / IV. arrative . How is this film constructed according to narrative0story being told+ ". /s the narrative organi7ed by plot or time sequence% or some other way+ E. 2oes the film use other principles than narrative sequence as a structure (for instance% an argument+ G. *hat is the nature of our engagement with the story or characters+ V. *ilm +ang)age and Re5resentation . How are characters and issues represented+ ". *hat is the style and effect of acting and performance+ E. How is meaning created by camera angles% shots% and camera movement+ G. How is meaning created by editing and sequencing+ C. How is meaning created by lighting% shade and color+ I. How is meaning created by sound and music+ #. How is meaning created by location and set design+ F. 2oes the film ma-e use of symbols% metaphors% or allegories+ ,hare are they and how do they wor- within the conte.t of the film+ !. How is meaning created by technical elements such as production design% mise en scene% composition% special effects (matte paintings% models or animation% computer generated images8.etc.$