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Media Glossary

Anchorage: The way words anchor the meaning of an image in a

particular way.
Arbitrary signifier: A signifier that communicates meaning through
being learned, such as words in a language. They have no
resemblance to what they represent, unlike iconic signifiers.
Audience: Those who use a media text, whether watching, listening
or reading.
Binary Opposition: The idea that media texts and narratives work
through opposing elements in conflict such as Youth and Age or
Culture and Nature, a theory developed by anthropologist Claude


Code: A set of conventions through which we make sense of a media

text. Various codes include visual, technical, auditory and written.
Connotations: The ideas and feelings associated with a text- more
personal than denotation.
Conventions: Expected elements of a media text because of its
Cut: The usual way of going from one shot to another in a film or
television text.

Denotation: What is actually shown in an image.

Determinant: A Media Determinant is a factor that influences the
shaping of a media text. These include institutional, audience and
social determinants.


Diegetic Sound: Sound that arises from what is being screened

(Non-diegetic sound includes super-imposed sound sources such as
music and voice-overs).
Effects Theory: A theory of Media Audiences that suggests the
media can have a harmful effect on peoples behaviour, especially
young people and children. This is a Passive Theory of Audience.

Film Noir: A genre characterised by low key lighting and lots of

shady characters, it started in the 1940s and was based on popular
American crime novels with hard-bitten private eyes and dangerous
femmes fatale.
Frame: The edges or border of an image, where the producer of the
image has decided to set its limits. (Note that each single image in
a film is also called a frame)


Genre: The categories in which we put media texts, such as

Western, Comedy, and Science Fiction.
Graphic Match: When a transition is enhanced by matching
elements of one shot with the next, such as a globe cutting or
dissolving to another round object taking up the same amount of
space in the frame.
High Key Lighting: Film and Television lighting that eliminates
shadows by the use of a Key Light.
Hypodermic Needle Theory: A Passive Audience Theory that
suggests audiences passively take in what the media produce- linked
to Effects Theory.
Iconic signifier: A signifier that communicates through visually
resembling what it signifies, such as an image or an icon.

Iconography: The visual conventions of a genre, such as space

ships and futuristic weapons in a science fiction film.

Ideology: A system of beliefs that frame and influence behaviour.

A societys Dominant Ideologies will often be re-enforced by the
mainstream media and subverted by more radical media institutions.
Image: A visual representation.
Indexical signifier: A signifier that communicates through
indicating what it represents, such as a smile indicating happiness.
Institution: A media institution is an organisation, and we need to be
aware of issues such as how an institution is funded, controlled and
Intertextuality: Aspects of a media text that can only be fully
understood by reference to a different text, such as when an advert
deliberately refers to a film.


Low Key Lighting: Sometimes called Chiaroscuro lighting (Literally

Bright/Dark lighting), when the key light is deliberately not used in
order to create strong shadows and dark corners, as first used in
Film Noir in the 1940s.
Media Text: Any one media product that can be analysed and
deconstructed by media students, such as an advert, a soap opera
advert, a film or a newspaper. It does not have to be written or
contain writing, though often will.
Mise-en-scne: How a scene is organised, lit and framed for the
camera, literally placed in scene.


Narrative: Almost interchangeable with story, but emphasising the

construction and structure of a text that tells a story. Elements of
narrative structure include Enigma (raising questions), Complication,
Climax and Resolution. Todorovs theory of narrative includes the
idea of Equilibrium and Disequilibrium, so a narrative will only begin
when an equilibrium is disrupted, and ends when the equilibrium is
restored or changed. Propps theory is based on the idea that all
stories are based on a limited number of characters and their
functions within the narrative.
News Values: The characteristics of a news story that make it
newsworthy, including: Recency, Closeness to Home (or Ethnicity),
Continuity, Conflict, Celebrity (or Elite People), Elite Nations, Size
Polysemic: A word from Semiology that describes a text that has
many possible meanings or ways of being interpreted, such as an
uncaptioned (or unanchored) image.


Primary Use: This is when an audience member is giving 100%

attention to a media text. There is also Secondary Use, such as
doing homework in front of the television, and Tertiary Use, when
you are aware of a text but not consciously using it, such as a radio
on in the next room. Cinema can be called a primary medium for this
reason, and radio a secondary medium.
Representation: The act of communicating through the use of
symbols or codes standing for things, people or events. In Media
Studies we need to realise that a representation is different from
the reality represented, and that representations are controlled by
media institutions.
Semiology: Or Semiotics, the study of signs and how they signify
or represent reality.
Shot: A single take of a film or television camera between


Sign: A combination of Signifier (the symbol or code used to

represent something) and Signified (or what is represented).
Stereotype: Easily identifiable character often based on a history
of clichd and usually negative representations of a social group.
Sub-genre: A development from and within a major genre, so that
Slasher movies form a sub-genre of the Horror genre.

Technical Codes: Codes that result from the way in which a media
text has been constructed, and would include lighting, editing,
transitions, special effects etc.
Transitions: The ways in which a film or television text move from
one shot to another. The most common transition is the cut, but
there is also the dissolve (when one shot merges with the next), the
fade (when a shot gradually goes to black and the next shot
emerges from the black) and the wipe (when a shot is replaced by
the next shot using a moving line or graphic).


Uses and Gratification Theory: An Audience Theory based on the

idea that audiences use the media to meet four basic needs:
Escapism (or entertainment), Surveillance (or information),
Identification (or comparing your situation with that of a media
representation) and Socialising (or being able to talk with friends
about a shared experience). This is an Active Audience Theory,
unlike Effects Theory and The Hypodermic Needle Theory.
Visual Codes: It is important to recognise the various visual codes
that are at work when denoting an image, including Dress Codes,
Object Codes, Background Codes, Position Codes, Expression Codes
and Gesture Codes.
Voice-over: Speech added to film and television images after
shooting in the form of a commentary.