Hello my fellow Media Critics!
I am so excited to be with you for another episode of Media Criticism. During our extensive commercial break, I have been learning more about important theories, approaches, and assumptions that helps us to analyze media text. (Remember, our goal is to completely understand the message through its various symbols and encrypted coding.)
Think of it as a pretty lady who is playing hard to get. Although you physically see her standing before you, in order to understand her and her ways you must dissect her; pay close attention to her behavior, movements, and even the way she dresses. Television programs, commercials, and print ads are the same, it takes time to dissect every part of the text and to get a full understanding of what the producers are trying to convey, but it can be done!
A scholar by the name of Stuart Hall developed a theory entitled “Encoding and Decoding.” This theory was created to help us interpret various types of messages. Hall says the producer encodes the messages, while the audience decodes the messages. Are you still with me? Well here is a little cheat-cheat if at any time it becomes a bit hazy:
Encoding= producer encoded
Decoding= audience decodes
Are you ready to decode your first media text? Of course you are!
The Disney image above exhibit’s Walt Disney’s nine most popular princesses in a disabled state. Some of them are in wheel chairs because, either their foot has been amputated, or they are paralyzed from the waist down. Some are on crutches because their leg has been amputated, while the others’ arms have been amputated. Although all of them are still in their gorgeous gowns, hair properly groomed, flawless make-up, and dazzling jewelry, a question is posed above their heads written in the famous Disney signature, asking “Do you still like us?”
While it is a question, I believe it is a rhetorical one. We know Walt Disney is famous for creating the most beautiful, physically fit, long hair princesses who, to the untrained eye, seem flawless. But we also know that Disney has been in many controversial battles concerning body images and the messages that they are sending to children everywhere.
The company has embedded into children’s mind’-s what is socially acceptable concerning body images. As children get older, the desire to be like the princesses is greater and what was once just a cartoon is a role model or blue print of what society should look like.
This ad is showing us how the characters would appear if they conformed to what the general population is asking of them. I believe Disney is saying “If you do not want our characters to be “perfect” but instead they were the exact opposite would you still like us, would you still desire to be like us if we were disabled? Could Disney be making a statement that is saying “we make our characters the way we do because if they were any other way they would not be liked or admired.” Again what does that say to society? Is Disney sending a message that imperfections are ugly and not popular?
Perhaps, Disney is showing us that we live in a society where being disabled is a sign of weakness or needing help. But because our culture teaches us that we are an individualistic culture being disabled is frowned upon and that is why they create their characters the way they do.
The film, Consuming Kids is a great example how those in power spread messages through popular cultures and it is how those who receive the message interpret them. You should definitely add it to your list of things to watch.
Congratulations! You have now analyzed your first media text! How does it feel? Great,- right? Now before we take another commercial break, I want to show you how you would apply an approach to a media text.
The semiotics approach would best help you to analyze the image. Semiotics is the discipline for interpreting and analyzing texts. It is the study of how social production of a meaning is constructed through a system of signs that are embedded in all text. Semioticans and common people, like you and me, use this tool to understand how reality is socially constructed. There are also four assumptions that go along with semiotics that help to dissect a media text.
Assumption #1- Test are constructed from signs using codes commonly interpreted in a society.
Assumption #2- While they have shared, common meanings, signs in texts can be interpreted in multiple ways.
Assumption #3- Texts are, by nature, ambiguous and meanings of signs can be unstable. Meanings depend on who is producing and who is interpreting.
Assumption #4- Meanings vary according to a person, time, place, and context.
And like always Media Critics, let’s remember it is important to critically examine media texts and how one’s criticism might help them to better understand the text and its influences on an audience/culture. If one is aware of what exactly the encoder is conveying then it becomes the decoder’s decision how to interpret the message and to accept or reject what the encoder is saying. This is how social norms are constructed.
Until next time my new semioticans!