Critical theories

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1 Critical Theories By Jamie Beadle, Tabitha Beerling and Joel Felix 2 Reception Theory Stuart Hall conceived the idea of an encoding/decoding model of the relationship between text and audience Text is encoded by a producer only to be decoded by the reader (viewer), although this may produce majorly different readings To make sure the correct message is being received, a producer can put in place certain conventions which will help a reader decode the text Passive audiences were the first idea of mass media audiences, and they were seen to be nothing more than a mindless collective that believed everything they were told These are the ‘couch potato’type of people They were thought not to use their brain in any way shape or form when viewing television, but rather just consumed the text The Nazis in the 1930’s used this idea in their Hypodermic Model; they encoded messages to inject ideas into their audience with the belief that only one message could be derived, rather than think that their readers would have different reactions to what they saw Many thought they could simply inject an idea in a passive audience who might then act upon them Spoon-feeding the message to an audience Stuart Hall – Cultural Theorist 3 Active audiences are a newer, fresher idea that views the audience as a collection of individuals who all think in different patterns It is considered to be a better way to view an audience as it provides more realistic ideas about what the producer is dealing with A singular model of reader is not possible – people are all different, with different values and beliefs which are affected by a great multitude of things, and understanding how to better tap into these thoughts will help a producer to convey the right message This model stems from the idea that audiences are a complex mixture of individuals who select media texts that best suits their needs – this goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Bulmier and Katz (1974) used the phrase ‘Media usage can be explained in that it provides gratifications (meaning it satisfies needs) related to the satisfaction of social and psychological needs’ In 1975, they went as far to determine the four separate uses 4 Uses Gratifications Theory • Surveillance - Our need to know what is going on in the world This relates to Maslow’s need for security By keeping up to date with news about local and international events we feel we have the knowledge to avoid or deal with dangers • Personal Relationships – As social creatures, humans have a need to interact with one another Forming virtual relationships with characters helps to convey a synthetic version of this, and ensures that the preferred message is being received • Personal Identity – Humans have a need to define ourselves as individuals One of the ways we do this is through judgement of other people and their actions This is also true of judgments we make about TV and film characters, and celebrities Our choice of music, the shows we watch, the stars we like can be an expression of our identities One aspect of this type of gratification is known as value reinforcement This is why we choose to watch programmes which have similar beliefs to our own • Diversion - The need for escape, entertainment and relaxation All types of television programmes can be ‘used’ to wind down and offer diversion, as well as satisfying some of the other needs at the same time 5 How We are Applying… As a thriller-genre opening scene, we have decided that our specific aim is to create a diversion for the audience; an escape from the real world We play on the use of unresolved questions to get our preferred reading from the audience To help create this diversion, we have employed several techniques These include the use of high angle and low angle shots to establish a natural hierarchy We generally see the killer in either a low or high angle shot – never eye- level We felt that this was a good way to convey that we are not equal with the killer, and to give him a sense of mystery and danger Who killed this man, and why? Thriller openers commonly have a question presented to the audience from the very start to create a mystery For this reason we chose not to have faces portrayed in our film – we felt that denying our reader the satisfaction of seeing the killer’s face would keep them more engaged with what was being conveyed, and would help to keep them interested throughout 6 Narrative Functions (Characters and Actions) Vladimir Propp, a Russian critic, first thought of this theory due to his love of narrative folk tales, which led him to find they were similar in a variety of ways He found that characters provide structure for text and have a narrative function 7 • The Hero - A character seeking something • The Villain - Opposes or actively tries to block the hero’s quest • The Donor – Provides an object (which commonly has magical powers) • The Dispatcher – Sends the hero on their quest • The false hero – Disrupts the hero’s success by making false claims • The Helper – Aids the hero • The princess - The hero’s reward and objects of the villain’s plots • Her father – Rewards the hero for his efforts • The Fool – Comic Relief 8 How We are Applying… As we have not introduced any characters into our plotline at this point, the only truly applicable character function is that of ‘The Villain’ Whilst our murderer is the villain, in a sense he creates the quest for our future hero We can then link him into the function of the dispatcher As Propp was primarily speaking of folk tales many of the narrative character types he describes fits in with them; we have used this and shaped them to fit a more contemporary audience, keeping a sense of what he is suggesting throughout Man’s death is starting point of the quest Again, our decision to not reveal the killer’s face is significant This is because ‘the Dispatcher’ would normally be a familiar, authorative figure in the plot, with identity revealed and no real enigma to him Our unconventional link between dispatcher and villain has served to only increase the suspense that would be prevalent throughout the film 9 The Equilibrium Tzvetan Todorov proposed that every story – regardless of genre or plot – starts with an equilibrium in which everything is working in harmony; however, something happens to disrupt this equilibrium By the end of the plot, this disruption is commonly resolved The status quo of this equilibrium sees potentially opposing forces in a sense of precarious balance This is very familiar to a film audience, and can be applied to many ‘mainstream’ narratives currently in the media Tzvetan Todorov 10 How We are Applying… In a sense, we are not applying this theory to our opening scene There was no sense of established equilibrium from the outset We are thrust into the world of the killer without mention of a hero, and without even knowledge that he has killed someone until the end of the sequence However, the equilibrium we do establish is that of complete mystery When the body is shown, we have tried to create a shock which will bring the audience into a state of suspense and tension This in a way mirrors the effect of an equilibrium being disrupted; a sense of calm that is removed by an event/revelation The hints we give the audience such as the bloody knife should convey the message This, however, cannot be assured The shock/finality of seeing the body would increase suspense to see the issue resolved 11 The Proairetic and Enigma/Hermeneutic Code Roland Barthes The enigma/hermeneutic code is a theory that suggests a text, whether that be from television or film, carries a signifier (sign) to a mystery designed to draw the audience in It works by posing a question that is subconsciously registered by the audience, creating an unresolved conflict/puzzle which keeps them interested until the end of the text The proairetic code suggests that an audience anticipates an action’s resolution This theory implies that a reader of a text will stay focused until the issue or action has been met with an adequate conclusion – a sense of closure must be given to the audience, and if the question remain unanswered until the end of a text it is likely they will stay concentrated until that point 12 How We are Applying… We create an enigma within our sequence through a variety of methods The film footage we have already attained not only conceals the killer’s face, but it utilises lighting and sound which creates the air of eerie mystery The question is a forceful, unrelenting presence throughout the plot Who has killed the man, and why did he kill him? The unresolved question would keep our audience on edge Shots such as the one on the left keep the audience drawn in as they are both interesting and not altogether obvious The question, though kept in the foreground, is not eluded to more so than through our killer’s actions, and so the finality of seeing the body would preferably give our audience two reactions Reaction 2; Relief but Question – They would be relieved in a sense because they have seen the body, and the question is finally made clear However, there is still a question, and they would be drawn in to see that question answered Reaction 1; Frustration and Suspense – As we have not revealed the killer’s identity by this point, the audience would be frustrated This would hopefully make them stay engaged to find out who this man is


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