100 MC assignment – term 1

Individual Assignment: Critical Reflection

Use the key concepts introduced in the module to critically analyze the media object that you produced during the 72-Hour Challenge.

Produce a 1500 word academic essay detailing your findings. You must remember:

–         to use the key concepts in this analysis

–         use the readings suggested to back up your own analysis

–         use the Harvard Referencing system to correctly lay out your bibliography

The “mediation” of a certain message from a “sender” to a “receiver” (Devereux E. 2003) is complex and active and requires a good understanding of the whole communication process, at its all levels. Therefore, in order to make a complete critical analyze of the media object produced at the “72 Hour Challenge”, the answers at some essential questions are to be found. Who is the “receiver” and what is his role in the process of communication? Does he play an active role in the “mediation”? What is the message and how is it transmitted to the target? In which way is it structured and why?

The “receiver” in the scheme of communication is the target audience; it is an essential element in the process of communication, having the role of receiving the intended message sent through the media object and perceiving its meaning, based on personal values, cultural and social background, giving feed-back.  Without a specific audience, the media process has no role and, therefore, becomes useless.

The concept of “audience” has been a key element of the work of Galtung and Ruge, who have introduced the term of “cultural connection” (Brighton and Foy 2007: 6), as an essential condition for the presented events to have a meaning to the selected target. However, in order to create the cultural bound, which leads to properly transmitting the intended message, the target audience has to be identified, as well as its characteristics.

In the case of the “72 Hour Challenge”, the audience is represented by the group of students who watched the video during the lecture and gave feedback by marking it at a scale from 1 to 10. In this group I include my team from 4C and me, because the term of “audience” does not have an abstract meaning and does not refer to a certain number of people who are standing behind a line, becoming useful only when the media object is presented, in order to give the required feedback.

The audience is made of all the people, including the media producers, who are constantly involved in giving a response to the received message and transmitting it to others, in an endless process. For example, if at a first level the audience of the media object which we produced was represented by the number of people who saw the movie during the lecture, after we post it on “YouTube”, the media object became public and free to see for all the people who were accessing this website and who became, unwillingly, audience.

However, any media object, in order to succeed its goal (which can be gaining publicity, making profit, or even winning a contest, like in our case), has to target a specific part of an audience and try to win its interest, mainly by sharing the same values and perceptions and valorizing them in the media object. This is “audience demographics” and is, according to Bird E. (2003: 4), essential in understanding the role of media, referring to the way “media articulate with such factors as class, gender, race, leisure and work habits and countless other variables.”

Having a clear profile of the target audience in our minds, we created the media object thinking about what it would be regarded as new for the people who watch it and, therefore, draw the attention and the interest. The target audience was, as I mentioned earlier, the students. Therefore, people between 18 and 25 years of age, more likely to be interested in sensational and fictional facts rather than a genuine representation of reality, and, nevertheless, easier to impress by the representation of the media object rather than by the message intended, no matter how suggestive this may be.

This deduction helped us choosing the genre of the film we decided to make and further build the story and create the characters. Genres, as Neale S. argues in the article “Screen” (Boyd-Barret O. 1995: 460), “do not consist only of films; they consist also, and equally of specific systems of expectations and hypothesis which spectators bring with them at the cinema.” This reveals the active nature of the audience in the process of media, as individuals which make use of the cultural background in order to make connections and anticipate the message delivered; they do that by imposing a specific set of expectations and by attributing the media object certain stereotypes.

Another term which relates to the concept of genre is “verisimilitude” (Boyd-Barret O. 1995), which means ‘probable’ or ‘likely’. Tzvetan Todorov (Boyd-Barret O. 1995: 462) identifies two types of verisimilitude, applicable to representations: the generic verisimilitude on one hand and, on the other hand, “a broader social or cultural verisimilitude”, which helps the audience identify the genre and anticipate the content.

My group and I have decided to make a trailer to a fantasy movie, about a world in which people have to embrace and make use of Evil in order to survive. However, as an article of Chatman S. argues (Boyd-Barret O. 1995: 477), “no individual work is a perfect specimen of genre. All works are more or less mixed in a generic character.” In the 72 Hour Challenge media object case, there can be seen a mixture of influences from action films, SF and fantasy.

Even though it is a trailer, the linear course of narration can be easily recognized. If we take the model of narrative structure of Tzvetan Todorov, we can easily notice that the media object can be applied on this structure.

The narrator’s first statement in the beginning of the trailer reveals the “equilibrium”, the usual order of things: “In a world where nature restricts mankind.” Surprisingly, this order is “disrupted” by an external factor, which in this case is the “power of Evil”: “What is womankind could control nature?” Immediately follows the “recognition” of the power, illustrated by a series of scenes which reveal the consequences of such a scenario: car accidents, explosions, ability to bend the spoon. However, the character (Victoria Chambers) does not accept this situation in which she is involved and desperately tries to fight against this “new order”. The succession of lines: “There’s no other way! No, there has to be! “clearly supports the idea. An interesting aspect, however, is that the end is not revealed and the expected “enhanced equilibrium” seems to have been eluded.  This is due to the representation of the media object and the intended message it wants to transmit by the producers (group 4C). By not revealing the end of the story, the trailer fires a hidden, but clear message: “If you want to find out more, watch the movie”.

This permanent dialog between the media producer and the audience, in terms of different messages being sent to the audience through the media object involves, however, two processes; Stuart Hall identifies them as “encoding” and “decoding” (Devereux E. 2003), and both refer to moments which are produced during the process of reading the media object. According to the Stuart Hall model, “both encoding and decoding suggest that we examine both the production and the reception of media messages.” (Devereux E. 2003: 82).

However, the process of decoding does not necessarily follow a moment of encoding (lecture, Dawkins S. 2009), as the audience can reconstruct and re-encode a meaning, depending on the individual culture and social background.  For example, we chose only women to play in this trailer as a reaction to the representation of gender and the dominant ideology that women are “less in evidence than males, and in many ways, are portrayed as weaker sex.” (Boyd-Barret O. 1995). However, a student who watched the trailer, bringing arguments based on his own values, may consider this as discrimination towards men and, in the end, the worst idea possible. This vision brings out a totally new meaning of the message.

Following the encoding\decoding model, an idea which has been encoded by the media producers (Group 4C) is presented to an audience and decoded by every individual who compounds that audience. However, bringing a different meaning to the intended message (in the example the representation of gender) means re-encoding it and, therefore, recreating the message: “’the moment of reception [or] consumption by the reader/hearer/viewer is regarded by most theorists as ‘closer to a form of construction’ than to ‘the passivity, suggested by the term ‘reception’ “. (lecture, Dawkins S. 2009).

“If the audience members interpret or decode the message in an accordance with the intended or preferred meaning, they are said in Hall’s terms to be ‘operating inside the dominant code’ “ (Devereaux E. 2003).

The question which can arise is how free people in understanding media are and how much does the social background influence their choices, independent from their will? The answer is simple. All people live their lives after well defined principles and values, which are commonly accepted and assimilated as general rules, on the basis that “this way is right.”

These are known as “ideologies” and can be defined as “the ideas that legitimize the power of a dominant social group or class.” (Devereux, E. 1998: 19-23 cited in Devereux E. 2003: 99). Karl Marx and Frankfurt school “developed a negative and largely deterministic understanding of ideology” (Devereux E. 2003: 99) and was believed to “serve to the creation of false consciousness among the exploiters.”

In media, the ideology manifests through the use of stereotypes, but which reveal conceptions which are applicable in the everyday life as well. Analyzing the media object, the common use of stereotypes can be identified. The concepts of Evil and Good, with Evil fully revealing its powers (going through the wall, bending the spoon) and the Man (represented as a Woman) struggling to defeat it is one idea which wants to be original, but is in fact an ideology implemented by a social consciousness and assimilated by the individuals. Furthermore, the way characters are dressed (the Evil in a leather skirt), the colours used (“black” which suggests death), or the sound effects, all diegetic and non-diegetic elements combining to create an illusion and integrate the audience in the story.

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