Ally's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘media criticism

When Dr. Nichols (my Media Criticism professor) announced the name of the documentary we would be watching, Killing Us Softly 4, the only thing I could think of was the famous Fugees’ song, Killing Me Softly With His Song.  But after reading the lyrics to this 1996 hit, its meaning has no correlation to the meaning of the movie.

Killing Us Softly 4 is the most recent documentary by Jean Kilbourne regarding the portrayal and abuse of women through advertising.

Many of Kilbourne’s critics say she reads way to much into ads.  I partially agree with this.  Some of the ads shown in the film are a little distasteful and objectifying but has she ever thought that women do work in the advertising industry and those women create and approve these ads.

The female body has been transformed into beer bottles, kegs, and cars in order to sell a product.  Kilbourne finds this insulting, I think some are creative.  She should be flattered that the female figure is one artists want to recreate.  She should be a little more particular about which ads she choose to react to or lash out against.

I found her take on the representation of black women very interesting.  If women that are not Caucasian do not display any Caucasian features they are not considered pretty or beautiful.

Most of the time, black women are portrayed as wild animals in jungle-like settings.

But, if non-Caucasian women do display Caucasian features they are thought to be exotic.

Sarah & Poppy Burge

In the film, Kilbourne mentioned that a growing number of young girls are receiving boob jobs and other cosmetic procedures for their birthday and graduation presents.  This is sadly true.

Recently, Sarah Burge – Human Barbie – was in the news for giving her daughter, Poppy, a boob job voucher, along with many other pricey presents, for her 7th birthday!

I do not agree with the message Burge is sending to her daughter, especially at such a young age.  Girls are faced with beauty messages a lot while growing up.  These messages tell them that they will never be pretty enough, skinny enough, or busty enough!


Dove Campaign For Real Beauty

To fight these messages Dove created a campaign for real beauty to remind girls and women that they are pretty without all the products and procedures.

It seems like Kilbourne has been on a mission to remove women from ads for 40 years but advertisers know that sex sells.  I don’t see her winning this battle.



Ideological criticism is best defined as examining how a text is produced and structured, how it interacts with our life experiences, and helps us to understand the dominant ideas and values circulating in our social world.  There is value in informing and empowering those who are oppressed to strive for material changes in order to improve equality; this is known as counter-hegemony.

This approach to analyzing the media is different from those mentioned in my past blogs entries because it focuses more on the production of a text and the power of the media.

Ideology is a set of ideas that gives some account of the world, usually used to maintain hegemonic power (a type of power elites can maintain over masses, which is enabled by the consent of the dominated).  Some forms of ideology include patriarchy, capitalism, and materialism.

Political economy, a form of ideological criticism, then focuses more on how media institutions, texts, and practices establish and sustain existing power relations.  In other words, political economy is more specific to the ideology and power of media institutions.

Political economists examine the role of ownership in the media industry, the production and distribution of products, the trend of deregulation, and the hegemonic power of conglomerates like Disney.

Today, many political economists are concerned about the amount of commercialization aimed at children.  You can buy your children all the products in the world, but you can’t buy back their childhood!

Friendly Disney Mouse or Economic Power House?

The documentary “Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood, and Corporate Power” discusses how many children are raised on Disney movies but how that could be a bad thing.  Did you know that Disney owns most of the media we consume? TV stations, magazines, movies, radio stations, and amusement parks to name a few.

The fact that Disney controls that much media means that viewers and consumers of their products are getting a limited view of the world, only seeing what Disney wants them to see.  Think about it.

The film also reminds viewers of the messages Disney sends through their movies.  For example, if a girl was to kiss a beast, it will become a prince.  This is in turn saying to young boys that they can be the beast or be mean to girls because in the end they will still get the girl so what is the point of being nice and respectful?

Disney is also telling young girls that they will always need a prince to save them.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White were all saved by a prince.

This demonstrates the ideology of patriarchy, when we are in a time when women are seeking equality in all aspects of life.  Although they create strong female characters, Disney movies may never give girls the motivation to pursue dreams outside of the role of housewife while they are young.

A Must Watch For Parents.

Another documentary that demonstrates the concerns of political economists is “Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood.”  Some words that came to mind while watching this: sad, pathetic, worrisome.  This film made me really think about how to raise my future children.

The film states that “kids are getting older, younger.”  Advertisers are attempting to create cradle to grave brand loyalty, and the scary thing is, they are succeeding.

Imagination is gone, imitation is the new form of entertainment.

My mom always tells this really embarrassing story about how I used to ride my bike around our house and talk to myself.  Don’t judge me.  I didn’t live in a neighborhood and my sister always wanted to play army men or something that didn’t interest me.  I would pretend my bike was a car and I was picking my kids up from school and all kinds of different scenarios.

Today, if kids don’t have the Harry Potter wand, Star Wars lightsaber, or a fully functioning cell phone, they are completely lost as to how to play without those things.  What ever happened to sticks for swords and your thumb and pinky to your face as a fake phone?

There is “a brand in front of the child’s face every second of everyday.”  I didn’t believe this statement but after watching this film I began to pay much more attention to toys, advertisements, and other products.  Everything is plastered with cartoon characters and incentives for kids.  These products are also being sold to parents’ insecurities.

The ideology identified in this film is materialism, the need for products and things in order to have a happy and successful life.

I believe it is important for us to examine a culture that is commercialized because products now consume our lives, advertising is everywhere!  We endorse products without even knowing it.

When cartoon characters, such as those from “Finding Nemo,” are on kid’s cups, diapers, and clothing, we think we are just buying a shirt but we are really advertising and endorsing the film and the company.

It is important to learn and understand these things because then we can learn how to distance ourselves and get back to the way our culture used to be without so much materialism.  This would allow people to use their imagination, which in turn can help ourselves and the planet.  An example of this comes from General Electric’s “ecomagination” campaign.

Creativity allows people to think outside the box and allows kids to learn more.  For example, are kids are not just memorizing information for a test, or do they really learn and remember what they have been taught?

Corporations like Disney and GE can be viewed as hegemonic forces that have an immense amount of power and control over what consumers view and buy.  If we do not learn how to be media literate and examine texts through the lens of a political economist, we will lose all imagination and self-control.

I became very intrigued by a particular TV series during high school, only to find out that many of my peers in college would also be mildly obsessed with this crime drama.

Click to watch the opening credits.

I am an avid “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” viewer.  Sadly, I know when the marathons are on the USA Network – Tuesdays, and sometimes Sundays, if you are interested.

Produced by Dick Wolf, SVU has been airing on NBC since 1999 and reruns have been picked up by many other networks.  The show has been categorized into the drama, crime, and mystery genres on the Internet Movie Database, IMDb.  This TV “show introduces the Special Victims Unit, a new elite squad of NYPD detectives who investigate sexually related crimes.”

Detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler are the main characters.  Olivia is known for being great with kids, although she doesn’t have any of her own.  Elliot has a temper problem and he loses self control when children are the victims.  There is a lot of sexual tension between the two but it has never been played out on camera.

Olivia and Elliot work tightly with Detectives Fin Tutuola and John Munch, along with their Captain, Donald Cragen.  The crimes could never be solved without the help of medical examiner, Dr. Melinda Warner and psychologist, Dr. George Huang.  And the cases could never be closed without the expertise of the A.D.A., who has changed multiple times throughout the series.

I think it would be best to critique SVU through the use of narrative criticism, the “systematic study of texts and how they are structured into a cause and effect chain of events with a beginning, middle, and end.”

John Fiske’s article, “The Codes of Television,” and Vladimir Propp’s eight roles of action will be helpful in analyzing SVU.

First, Fiske defines three levels which encode television texts. Level one, reality, is encoded by social codes such as appearance, environment, and behavior.  Level two, representation, is encoded by technical codes such as camera work, lighting, and music.  Then, the codes from level two transmit the conventional representational codes, which are used to express conflict and dialogue.  Lastly, level three, ideology, is decoded by ideological codes such as race, class, and materialism.

More simply, everything during a TV show is done purposely to confirm the social rules or conventions of the viewers.  For example, what the viewer thinks detectives should look like, how criminals should act, or the layout of a police station.

Fiske said in his article, “Codes are links between producers, texts, and audiences, and are the agents of intertextuality through which texts interrelate in a network of meanings that constitutes our cultural world”

To decipher the codes used in SVU viewers must pay attention to how the characters are dressed, how their make-up is done, and their gestures. The detectives are normally put together and dressed nicely, while the criminals are normally ratty-looking and their make-up makes them look dirty or disheveled.

The camera angle, lighting, and background music during a scene all add to the mood, but also shape the viewers perceptions of the show and the characters.  The music is dark and heavy in the beginning of the show and while the crime unfolds but the music and sound effects are lighter and more upbeat when the case is solved or the victims are at peace with their situation.

On a sound side note, while growing up my mom would always tell me to turn the channel when any “Law and Order” introduction began to play.  I later associated the “dun-dun” sound at the end of the intro with something that was bad.

The setting and the narrative, or the way the story is told and unfolds, are decoded by viewers and can place the show into a specific genre.

Lastly, the ideological codes may be harder for viewers to decode.  Things like race, class, patriarchy, and individualism can be subtle.  There have been many episodes where patriarchy plays a huge factor, as the male criminal felt powerless, therefore hurt or even killed someone to regain him dominance.

Using Propp’s eight roles of action, viewers can identify the role and purpose of each character in the text.  The eight roles include: the villain, the hero, the donor, the helper, the princess, her father, the dispatcher, and the false or anti-hero.

In my opinion the characters in SVU represent about six of the roles.  For those who know the characters well, I think most would agree with my selections.  The villains would be the criminals, also known as the “perps.”  The heroes would be all involved in solving the crimes, but more specifically Olivia and Elliot.  The donors would be Dr. Huang, Dr. Warner, and the A.D.A.  The helpers would be Fin, Munch, and Captain Cragen, who also plays another role as the dispatcher.  Lastly, the princesses would be the victims.

So now you are probably asking “so what, why can’t I just watch the show for what it is?”  I believe it is important for viewers to critically examine media texts, especially crime dramas such as SVU, because we need to remember that it is just that, a TV show.  Yes, the things that happen on the show happen in real life, but a lot is added.

While writing this, my family was watching Disney Pixar’s “The Incredibles.”  At the perfect moment, the mother said to her children, “Remember the bad guys on the shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings?  Well, these guys aren’t like those guys.  They won’t exercise restraint because you are children.  They will kill you if they get the chance.  Do not give them that chance.”

All forms of media have an impact on their audience but hopefully viewers are able to decipher between TV and the real world and not be too influenced by a show.  We can’t all walk around thinking we are detectives and try to save the world, one “perp” at a time.

“We are immersed from cradle to grave in a media and consumer society and thus it is important to learn how to understand, interpret, and criticize its meanings and messages,” said Douglas Kellner in his “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture” article.

Kellner continued to say, “Media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values: what we consider good or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil.”

Are you a consumer or the consumed?

I am finally a senior at Towson University, majoring in public relations, minoring in communication studies, and working toward a certificate in marketing.

My communication minor led me to a class called Media Criticism.

This class is intended to encourage students to identify, distinguish between, and apply various media criticism theories and methods used in media criticism nad attain greater competence in the practice of reviewing, critiquing and interpreting media content, production and consumption.

From what I have learned in class, media criticism is simply a systematic study of media which helps media consumers to think seriously about their consumption habits and how media shapes all aspects of their lives, and develop skills in media literacy.

Kellner wrote “critical media literacy is an important resource for individuals and citizens in learning how to cope with a seductive cultural environment.  Learning how to read, criticize, and resist socio-cultural manipulation can help empower oneself in relation to dominant forms of media and culture.

More simply put, consumers should be able to read and critique the media they are consuming, that way they are able to distinguish between fiction and reality because media has a strong influential power.

It is important to think critically about the media because the media we consume can give us a warped sense of our culture and values.

Television consumption statistics are very eye-opening and with so many people consuming media so often, we should know how to analyze what we see.

The mass media today shapes our culture and defines our social classes.  When Britain began studying culture, they found a focus on social structure.  Then, when the U.S. adopted this practice, they were interested in the power of the audience.  That doesn’t mean that people in America do not look upon the media as a source of social status. People walk, talk, dress, and act a specific way because of their culture.

The OC housewives have accepted the affairs and divorces that come with their luxurious lifestyles.

A television “text,” or program, that I think best demonstrates how our perceptions, values, and culture are influenced by television is Bravo’s “The Real Housewives” series.  This “text” follows multiple women from different cities in their supposed everyday lives.

In particular, I think “The Real Housewives of Orange County” leads people to believe that they can act just like  these flawless, bleach blondes, when unfortunately many people are not able to lead such a life.

In one episode, Alexis, a God-fearing housewife devoted to her husband and children stated that they live in an area where most married couples cheat on each other and most marriages end in divorce.

This sends a message to viewers that an affair is normal and accepted in that area, and that marriage is not valued.  Most viewers are unable to relate to these women but feel as though they are living vicariously through their rich, drama-filled lives.

These housewives are accustomed to their wealthy lifestyles and refuse to let anything disrupt their families and fortunes.

Another example comes from “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”  This “text” gives female viewers in particular the perception that it easy to live in a mansion, dress to the nines on a daily basis, and never work a day in your life.

Housewife Teresa’s world was turned upside down when the economy crashed.  She is now writing cookbooks and working with her husband to make money for their family.  She refuses to give up her costly lifestyle, although many people today are struggling with their finances as well but are forced to change their purchasing and living habits.

I find the concept of media criticism interesting because most of the time people watch television as an escape from reality and as down time, they want to unwind and not have to think about the media they are consuming.  This  makes it easy for producers of the “texts” to create media which would influence society and culture.

I hope to learn more about the tactics used during the production of the “texts” because the producers are the masterminds behind influencing our culture.

If you are interested in reading more about media criticism check out this website.

July 2018
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