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G235: Critical

Perspectives in Media

Theoretical Evaluation
of Production

1b) Narrative
• To reinforce the key narrative
• To have a basic understanding of how
to evaluate your coursework against
key narrative theory.
• Tim O’Sullivan et al. (1998) argues that all
media texts tell us some kind of story.
• Through careful mediation, media texts offer
a way of telling stories about ourselves – not
usually our own personal stories, but the
story of us as a culture or set of cultures.
• Narrative theory sets out to show that what
we experience when we ‘read’ a story is to
understand a particular set of constructions,
or conventions, and that it is important to
be aware of how these constructions are put
• Narrative: The structure of a story.
• Diegesis: The fictional space and time
implied by the narrative – the world in
which the story takes place.
• Verisimilitude: Literally – the quality of
appearing to be real or true. For a story to
engage us it must appear to be real to us as
we watch it (the diegetic effect). The story
must therefore have verisimilitude –
following the rules of continuity, temporal
and spacial coherence.
• Bordwell and Thompson (1997) offer two
distinctions between story and plot which
relate to the diegetic world of the narrative
that the audience are positioned to accept
and that which the audience actually see.
They based this on Russian film theory:
• Fabula (story) is all the events in the
narrative that we see and infer. The fabula
is defined as the chronological series of
events that are represented or implied.
• Syuzhet (plot) everything visible and
audibly present before us. Syuzhet is
considered to be the order, manner and
techniques of their presentation in the
narrative .
The Structure Of The Classic Narrative
• According to Pam Cook (1985), the
standard Hollywood narrative structure
should have:
• Linearity of cause and effect within an
overall trajectory of enigma resolution.
• A high degree of narrative closure.
• A fictional world that contains
verisimilitude especially governed by
spatial and temporal coherence.
• Tzvetan Todorov (1977) is a Bulgarian structural
linguist. He was interested in the way language is
ordered to infer particular meanings and has
been very influential in the field of narrative
• Stage 1: A point of stable equilibrium, where
everything is satisfied, calm and normal.
• Stage 2: This stability is disrupted by some kind
of force, which creates a state of disequilibrium.
• Stage 3: Recognition that a disruption has taken
• Stage 4: It is only possible to re-create
equilibrium through action directed against the
• Stage 5: Restoration of a new state of
equilibrium. The consequences of the reaction is
to change the world of the narrative and/or the
characters so that the final state of equilibrium in
not the same as the initial state.
• In short as O’Sullivan et al (1998) suggest,
narratives have a common structure,
starting with the establishment of plot or
• This is then followed by the development
of the problem, an enigma (Roland
Barthes, 1977), an increase in tension.
• Finally comes the resolution of the plot.
• Such narratives can be unambiguous and
• Barthes (1977) suggested that narrative works
with five different codes and the enigma code
works to keep up setting problems or puzzles
for the audience. His action code (a look,
significant word, movement) is based on our
cultural and stereotypical understanding of
actions that act as a shorthand to advancing
the narrative.
• Adrian Tilley (1991) used the buckling of the
gun belt in the Western genre as a means of
signifying the preferred reading of an
imminent shoot out, and this works in the
same way as the starting of a car engine etc.
• According to Kate Domaille (2001) every story
ever told can be fitted into one of eight
narrative types. Each of these narrative types
has a source, an original story upon which the
others are based. These stories are as follows:
• Achilles: The fatal flaw that leads to the
destruction of the previously flawless, or
almost flawless, person, e.g. Superman, Fatal
• Candide: The indomitable hero who cannot be
put down, e.g. Indiana Jones, James Bond,
Rocky etc.
• Cinderella: The dream comes true, e.g. Pretty
• Circe: The Chase, the spider and the fly, the
innocent and the victim e.g. Smokey And The
Bandit, Duel, The Terminator.
• Faust: Selling your soul to the devil may bring
riches but eventually your soul belongs to him,
e.g. Bedazzled, Wall Street.
• Orpheus: The loss of something personal, the gift
that is taken away, the tragedy of losss or the
journey which follows the loss, e.g. The Sixth
Sense, Love Story, Born On the Fourth Of July.
• Romeo And Juliet: The love story, e.g. Titanic.
• Tristan and Iseult: The love triangle, Man loves
woman…unfortunately one or both of them are
already spoken for, or a third party intervenes,
e.g. Casablanca.
• The Russian theorist Vladimir Propp (1928)
studied the narrative structure of Russian
Folk Tales. Propp concluded that
regardless of the individual differences in
terms of plot, characters and settings, such
narratives would share common structural
• He also concluded that all the characters could be
resolved into only 7 broad character types in the 100 tales
he analyzed:
• The villain — struggles against the hero.
• The donor — prepares the hero or gives the hero some
magical object.
• The (magical) helper — helps the hero in the quest.
• The princess and her father — gives the task to the hero,
identifies the false hero, marries the hero, often sought
for during the narrative. Propp noted that functionally,
the princess and the father can not be clearly
• The dispatcher — character who makes the lack known
and sends the hero off.
• The hero or victim/seeker hero — reacts to the donor,
weds the princess.
• [False hero] — takes credit for the hero’s actions or tries
to marry the princess.
• Joseph Campbell’s (1949) influential work,
The Hero With A Thousand Faces,
developed the idea of the ‘Universal Hero
• Campbell’s work suggests that there is an
underlying structure of iconography,
themes, concepts and narrative structure
that is common to the religions, myths and
legends of almost every culture in the
• When brought together and broken down
into their constitute parts these myths can
be used to formulate a universal
monomyth that is essentially the
condensed, basic hero narrative that forms
the basis for every myth and legend in the
world and is, therefore, common to all
• Both George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg
were heavily influenced by Campbell’s
theories and Star Wars conforms to
Campbell’s model of the Monomyth almost
• Ordinary World – the ordered world that the hero will choose (or be
forced) to abandon.
• Call To Adventure – a problem or challenge arises.
• Refusal Of The Call – fear or reluctance may strike the hero.
• Meeting With The Mentor – the mentor is a key character.
• Crossing The First Threshold – the hero commits to the adventure.
• Test, Allies, Enemies – the hero must learn the rules that will govern
his quest.
• Approach To The Innermost Cave – the most dangerous
confrontation yet, perhaps the location of the treasure, or the object
of the quest.
• Ordeal – the hero must face his fear or mortal enemy who will seem
more powerful. Mental or physical torture may occur.
• Reward (Seizing The Sword) – the hero can celebrate the victory.
• The Road Back – vengeful forces controlled by the villain are
• Resurrection – perhaps a final confrontation with death.
• Return With The Elixir – return to the ordinary world with some
wisdom, knowledge or something else gained from the adventure.
• These structures are not unique to film
(notes about narrative in advertising and
articles is on the blog).
• In fact the structures presented are an
integral part of the majority of both
western and eastern cultures - details how
narrative works in society to inform the
audience of events, people, places through
mediated ideologies within them.
• Jonathan Culler (2001) describes
narratology as comprising many strands
'implicitly united in the recognition that
narrative theory requires a distinction
between "story," a sequence of actions or
events conceived as independent of their
manifestation in discourse, and
"discourse," the discursive presentation or
narration of events.
• E.g. Structure is different to theme –
narrative presents the form in which the
theme is mediated/discussed.
• Claude Lèvi-Strauss’ (1958) ideas about
narrative amount to the fact that he
believed all stories operated to certain
clear Binary Opposites e.g. good vs. evil,
black vs. white, rich vs. poor etc.
• The importance of these ideas is that
essentially a complicated world is reduced
to a simple either/or structure. Things are
either right or wrong, good or bad. There is
no in between.
• This structure has ideological implications,
if, for example, you want to show that the
hero was not wholly correct in what they
did, and the villains weren’t always bad.
• Levi-Strauss also looked deeper into the
way that narrative were arranged in terms
of themes within that were ultimately
always systematic oppositions .
• The order of events can be called the
syntagmatic structure of a narrative, but
Levi-Strauss was more concerned with the
deeper of paradigmatic arrangement of
• There is a choice of elements (paradigms)
and they are arranged/dealt with in a
particular way (syntagm).
Music Video – audio visual poetry?
• Michael Shore(1984) argues that music videos
recycled styles … surface without substance …
simulated experience … information overload
… image and style scavengers … ambivalence
… decadence … immediate gratification …
vanity and the moment … image assaults and
outré folks … the death of content …
anesthetization of violence thorough chic …
adolescent male fantasies … speed, power,
girls and wealth … album art come to turgid
life … classical storytelling’s motifs
• Andrew Goodwin (1992) argues that in
music video, “narrative relations are highly
complex” and meaning can be created
from the individual audio-viewer’s musical
personal musical taste to sophisticated
intertextuality that uses multidiscursive
phenomena of Western culture.
• Many are dominated by advertising
references, film pastiche and reinforce the
postmodern ‘re-use’ tradition.
• Sven Carlsson (1999) suggests that music
videos in general, videos fall into two rough
groups: performance clips and conceptual
• When a music video mostly shows an artist
(or artists) singing or dancing, it is a
performance clip.
• When the clip shows something else during
its duration, often with artistic ambitions, it
is a conceptual clip.
• Performance Clip
If a music video clip contains mostly filmed
performance then it is a performance clip.
A performance clip is a video that shows
the vocalist(s) in one or more settings.
Common places to perform are the
recording studio and the rehearsal room.
But the performance can take place
anywhere, from the bath tube to outer
space. Walking down the street is another
performance cliché, which is common in
rap videos.
• The performance can be of three types:
song performance, dance performance and
instrumental performance. Almost every
music video includes song performance.
Some videos combines song and dance
• Narrative Clip
If a music video clip is most appropriately
understood as a short silent movie to a
musical background, it is a narrative clip. A
narrative clip contains a visual story that is
easy to follow. A pure narrative clip
contains no lip-synchronized singing.
• Art Clip
If a music video clip contains no perceptible
visual narrative and contains no lip-
synchronized singing then it is a pure art
clip. The main difference between a music
video art clip and a contemporary artistic
video is the music. While the music video
uses popular music the artistic video uses
more modern, experimental music, such as
electro-acoustic music.
Standard music video
• Carlsson (1999) developed a mythical
method of analysis of music video -
centred on a "modern mythic
embodiment" . Viewed from this
perspective the music video artist is seen as
embodying one, or a combination of
"modern mythic characters or forces" of
which there are three general. The music
video artist is representing different
aspects of the free floating disparate
universe of music video.
• In one type of performance, the performer is not
a performer anymore, he or she is a
materialization of the commercial exhibitionist.

• Another type of performance in the music video

universe is that of the televised bard. He or she is
a modern bard singing banal lyrics using
television as a medium. The televised bard is a
singing storyteller who uses actual on-screen
images instead of inner, personal images. The
greatest televised bards create audio-visual
• The third type of performer is the electronic
shaman. Sometimes the shaman is invisible
and it is only her or his voice and rhythm
that anchor the visuals. He or she often
shifts between multiple shapes. At one
moment the electronic shaman animates
dead objects or have a two-dimensional
alter egos (as in cartoon comics), seconds
later he or she is shifting through time and
so on.
• “Media texts rely on cultural experiences in
order for audiences to easily make sense of
narratives”. Explain how you used
conventional and / or experimental
narrative approaches in one of your
production pieces.

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