Monthly Archives: March 2014

Allez Cuisine! (But with Masculinity)

It appears that television viewers crave something beyond cooking shows highlighting culinary techniques.  Nowadays, food-related programming’s value no longer lies in its ability to inform.  Rather, viewers obtain pure enjoyment simply by watching the glorification of food; they have no real intention to actually cook or eat.  In other words, they watch food porn (Bourdain).

Embracing food porn’s popularity, food-related programming now not only includes beautifully-arranged dishes but intense drama as well.  Made with a recipe of part cooking show, part competition, and part reality television, Iron Chef America is one of Food Network’s solutions to provide audiences with more engaging entertainment experiences.  An industry analysis and examination of semiotics reveal that production and structural components of Iron Chef America create a performance to highlight the masculinity of cooking and encourage audiences to abandon their preconceptions of cooking as feminine.

Iron Chef America, based off an originally Japanese production, pits a celebrity chef, called an Iron Chef, against a challenger chef in an arena titled Kitchen Stadium.  The Chairman, the mastermind behind the duel, presents the two chefs with a secret ingredient that they are to incorporate into five dishes within one hour.  All dishes are then scored by three judges in the categories of taste, originality, and creativity.  Ultimately, the chef with the highest points wins.  To help viewers make sense of the competition, there is also a commentator and a host to report what is going on during the battle (Sietsema).

Kitchen Stadium is not so much a large arena as a small studio in New York’s Chelsea Market.  To put size into perspective, the original Japanese version took place in a 9,100 square foot studio while the American version is filmed in a 375 square foot studio (Benwick).  The production constraint of studio size heavily influences how the show is constructed.  In addition to the chefs, their sous chefs, the judges, and commentators, there are approximately 127 crew members and 10 cameras on the production side that capture the battle and ensure it runs smoothly.  Then tack on thousands of feet of cable, 160 moving lights, multiple fog machines, over two dozen audience members, and pantries with over 800 pounds of food (Alfonsi).  The small, crowded space means that producers cannot invoke the same grandeur and larger-than-life feel as its Japanese predecessor.  However, the minimized space ultimately works in the show’s favor.  While there is a greater chance of mishap and difficulty getting all angles of the battle, the crowded space facilitates the drama and intensity intended for the show.  Chefs have to maneuver around not only kitchen fixtures but also production equipment and thus frequently run to and from work stations and cook franticly to make up for lost time.  This makes audience’s believe the extreme nature of the competition and that cooking is not such a simple task (Caldwell).  In addition, the physical barriers often force chefs to run around or leap over objects and subsequently chop or mix furiously to make up lost time.  As a result, the competition is given a masculine presentation with its requirement of physical ability in addition to cooking creativity.

The show’s major production constraint also aids Food Network’s aims to present the show as a professionally-made, serious construction.    Rather than try to mask the behind-the-scenes production, Iron Chef America embraces it.  It’s not uncommon to see cameramen in the backgrounds of shots or all the hardware necessary for the shoot left exposed.  Such transparency adds to the reality aspect of the show and highlights the pressures and commotion that chefs must endure on top of having to cook five dishes with a secret ingredient.  The chaos and disorder, commonly associated with masculinity, contrast directly with Food Network’s daily programming, where mainly female homemakers such as Ina Garten and Ree Drummond address viewers in pristine, quiet kitchens.  Any cameras or backstage workers are nowhere in sight, and viewers are made to feel as if they are truly in the host’s own kitchen.

Further signs of masculinity are reiterated through Iron Chef America’s main commentator, Alton Brown.  Brown’s approach to cooking, as seen on his show Good Eats, involves understanding science and using modern gadgets (Jones).  This more masculine approach sits in line with the macho take on cooking that Iron Chef America aims to present.  In his commentary, Brown also utilizes a play by play method reminiscent of sports games, and he also frequently utilizes instant replays.  As a result, the competition between the chefs is compared to masculine, athletic competitions such as football that one might see on networks geared towards men such as ESPN (Bignell).  This further distances viewers from the image of home cooking associated with by mothers and wives.

Further analysis of production routines and practices provides interesting evidence that Iron Chef America influences the audience’s perception that cooking can be masculine.  The Food Network typically shoots an entire season, roughly 26 episodes, in just three weeks.  This means that battles often occur back-to-back and that Iron Chef America is more staged than real, as no time can be wasted on mishaps or incomplete dishes (Alfonsi).  Chefs are told the secret ingredient ahead of time so that they can prepare recipes.  In addition, they only have to make one plate for each of their five dishes; the other plates for the rest of the judges are prepared by Food Network staff.  Such falsity interestingly contrasts with the masculine image that Iron Chef America aims to promote.  The chefs actually become actors as they try to fake surprise or confusion, and they most likely dramatize their actions and expressions (Sietsema).  The result includes wild movements and lots of noise, both of which tend to be associated with masculinity.  On the other hand, one may also argue that the pre-knowledge contributes to a lack of spontaneity which may decrease form the perception of masculinity.

Iron Chef America attempts to appeal to viewers’ hunger for drama by presenting a masculine side to cooking.  This is largely facilitated by elements surrounding the show’s production and structure.  As viewers being to focus less on actual cooking and more on the thought of cooking and eating, further analysis might include a look into audience’s reactions and receptions of Iron Chef America, especially in relation to whether or not the show even inspires them to cook themselves or appreciate food more.  The show assumes that most of its viewers have a very limited knowledge of cooking and food, but it might be examined whether viewers finish the show with enhanced knowledge or merely satisfaction with the depictions of food.  It is no wonder that the show opens with the lines “Go cook!” and ends with “Good eating.”

 

Works Cited

Alfonsi, Sharyn, and Sarah Rosenberg. “‘Iron Chef’ Secrets Revealed.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 25 July 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Benwick, Bonnie. “‘Iron Chef America,’ as Saucy as Its Predecessor.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Jan. 2005. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.

Bignell, Jonathan. Media Semiotics: An Introduction. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1997. Print.

Bourdain, Anthony. “Lust for the Gastronomic–from Zola to Cookbooks–is Nothing New, but Maybe It’s Time to Shelve It.” SFGate. Hearst Communications, Inc., 4 Nov. 2001. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.

Caldwell, John. “Cultures of Production.” Media Industries: History, Theory, and Method. By Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 199-212. Print.

Jones, Chris. “TV Chef’s Stage Shtick Not Always Palatable.” Chicago Tribune. Tribune Company, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Sietsema, Robert. “Iron Chef Boyardee.” Village Voice. Village Voice, 19 Feb. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Audience Analysis: The Real Housewives Franchise

Housewives

In his text, Audience-Oriented Criticism and Television, Robert C. Allen proposes three angles for understanding the encounter between a text and a viewer. The first is how a certain media text attempts to project themselves into a viewer’s daily world. The second is the reception theory: the contribution that real world viewers make to the meaning making process. And the third is the social context of the media viewing – meaning, how the viewer decodes meanings into their daily lives. Bravo TV’s The Real Housewives is a reality television series that began in 2006 in Orange County. Since then, the brand has expanded to six cities and various spin off shows. The Real Housewives of Orange County, Atlanta, New York City, New Jersey, Beverly Hills and Miami follow the everyday lives of housewives (and business woman) in the economic upper-class of America.

Allen’s first angle of text/viewer encounter is how the media attempts to interject themselves into the real daily lives of their viewers. To do this, The Real Housewives (and most reality TV shows in general) use the direct mode of address by placing their protagonists in a sidebar commentary. In this sidebar the main characters are given the opportunity to explain themselves or a certain situation while simultaneously positioning the viewer as a direct participant. The surrogate audience, or what Allen calls the characterized viewer, in the case of the Real Housewives is the interviewers who ask the characters questions during their sidebar commentary. The interviewer is offscreen and we don’t hear the actual questions they ask. We can infer that there is either an interviewer or producer behind the camera asking each housewife questions relative to their storyline.

Another form of characterized viewers are the characters who appear in scenes (who aren’t main characters). They are featured more as listener. A lot of scenes consist of these housewives going to lunch with other women who aren’t stars of the show. The main characters speak more and go on and on about their lives, while the other (less important) character just sits and listens. This is a form of a an onscreen characterized viewer who is active in the show but is really just acting like an audience member.

Real world viewers activate personal meanings to a text. But for the Real Housewives shows, it goes past a reader merely watching the show and then taking meanings away from it. Each housewife is extremely active on social media outlets as well as contributing a blog post each week to BravoTV.com giving their opinion on that week’s episode. The aftermath of each episode further impacts the meanings that a viewer can receive. After watching an episode I, as a reader, formulate an opinion of each character and the storyline that has just occurred. Hours later, I’ll go on Twitter, Facebook or BravoTV.com and see posts that could change those previously decoded meanings and opinions.

This show gives their viewers an escape from real life, even though it is the real housewives. These women live in fantasy worlds where they have tons of money, don’t work and spend their days eating lunch and shopping. Reality TV has an ironic way of portraying the exact opposite of reality. A lot of reality shows are staged or even scripted.

Another aspect of the reception theory is the textual gap. A textual gap is the interruption of a media text, whether is be with commercials, chapters etc. The Real Housewives is broadcasted on network television for one hour but the actual content makes up about forty five minutes of the show. Each ten-twelve minutes the show builds up tension within the plot, but then breaks to commercial for about two-three minutes to keep the tension/hype alive. Another aspect of a textual gap in the Real Housewives is the previously mentioned sidebar commentary. As a viewer, we don’t actually hear or see what the interviewer is asking the character in their sidebar but we fill in what they would have asked using our imagination and common sense. The show takes a break from the actual filmed content and cuts to one of the relevant sidebar interviews

The social context of media viewing explains the viewer’s translated messages and how they incorporate them into their daily lives and practices. The Real Housewives franchise has millions of viewers all around the world. The show gives off a highly unrealistic and fantastical lifestyle that is at times as sort of escape, but also can be an unrealistic expectation that people may receive as typical American lifestyle. The show, more often than not, falsely depicts the elitist class that only applies to a small percentage of the population. It is possible that this show is giving off false implications about upper class and American lifestyle in general. The reader receives the show’s messages of female dependancy on men and irresponsibility of money.

A world wide phenomena, The (Un)Real Housewives franchise attempts to give us a glimpse of the lives of the rich and famous. In doing so, its audience is receiving false and sometimes even immoral messages.

Bibliography:

Allen, Robert Clyde. Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1992. Print.

#Killer

 

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxyhfiCO_XQ

In the world of social media the“#” symbol is no longer indicative of standing for the word “number”.  Instead “#” has now been coined the term hashtag found most dominantly on twitter, facebook, instagram, etc. and it acts as a label for content, helping others who are interested in certain topic find content posted by others on the same topic quickly and easily (What is a Hashtag?). Hashtags are usually used for comic relief however, when the #FirstWorldProblems showed people complaining about their Wi-Fi or their car became a trending topic on twitter, the charity WATERisLIFE found the “#” to be no laughing matter . They instead responded to the trending topic with an ad campaign titled #HashtagKiller aiming to illustrate that there are more serious problems in poverty stricken countries. By employing a narrative analysis, I will analyze how the WATERisLIFE’s ad campaign #hashtagkiller, aims to bring awareness to first world privileged society to real problems in the world though the utilization of poverty stricken people in Haiti by analyzing the thematic, structure, and performative aspects engulfed in the video.

In the videos in the #HashTagKiller ad campaign, the charity WATERisLIFE features both children and adults from Haiti saying things like “When I go to the bathroom and I forget my phone #firstworldproblems”, as a way to exemplify how ignorant American’s sound when they deem these trivial situations as big problems and to draw their attention and money to problems in poor countries.

In the ad campaign, the structural composition of the video is told from the perspective of Haitian people who have undergone the 2008 hurricane.  The video switches from Haitian children to adults speaking both English and Haitian Creole. The relationship that all of the people who are featured in the video have is they are bound by surviving a natural disaster.  On the screen as each Haitian hurricane survivor is introduced a tweet by a person from the United States with the #FirstWorldProblems is then read aloud. Catherine Riessman states that in a narrative analysis “events are selected, organized, connected, and evaluated as meaningful for a particular audience” (1). By allowing another person who actually has issues such as their house being destroyed read a #FirstWorldProblem tweet, a meaning and theme is completely produced.

In #HashtagKiller, the video is riddled with the same theme throughout the video. Catherine Koehler Riessman says that a theme is ““what” is said more than “how” it is said” (Riessman 2). WATERisLIFE is trying to “end a hashtag rather than promote it” by showing real world afflictions (Hashtag Killer) .  One of the first scenes from the video features a little boy who states, “I hate when I have to write my maid a check and I forget her last name” yet the background shows the boy sitting in a house completely destroyed by the hurricane without any furniture. A slew of similar statements from other Haitians follow, with backgrounds that also largely contrast.  The theme is that people shouldn’t undervalue what they have because other people have less is strung throughout the two-minute video. There is a sense of ridiculousness in what is being said vs. what is being shown, illustrating that as people when we have too much we can grow unappreciative.

The performative aspect of the video, #HashtagKiller is persuading Americans to not look at their problems as life or death issues.  Instead, WATERisLIFE attempts to bring attention their campaign, evoking a sense of sympathy from the viewers with hope that they will donate to WATERisLife charity, and provide clean water to second and third world countries. The ad campaigns’ goal is to make people realize that what people in first world countries deem as problems are actually minuscule and completely irrelevant when you compare them to destitute and impoverished countries. The video itself even ends with the words, “#FirstWorldProblemsAreNotProblems” and then a hyperlinked button on the YouTube screen appears that reads “donate now” with one of the Haitian boys from the video fading into the backdrop and drinking clean water.  Riessman states performative media text “involves, persuades, and (perhaps) moves an audience through language and gesture, “doing” rather than telling alone” (Riessman 5).  The “donate now” hyperlinked button embedded in the video makes the viewer want to “do” something. It forces them to perform a self-analysis and look at their selfish flaws and the minuscule things they place value on and than gives them a chance to change. The Haitian people in the video are performing for the self-centered first world society, forcing us to realize that we have an internal problem that they needs to change.

The WATERisLIFE ad’s success is largely due to the fact that it includes a familiar aspect, “twitter” with an unfamiliar aspect, second and third world countries. A narrative is created by effectively setting up a structure that shows people who survived the hurricane in Haiti in 2008 and whom still have not fully recovered with tweets from 2012 to present day. By setting up that structure, a theme and performative aspect is able to be built. The theme which shows that society in the U.S. actually don’t know what real problems are as well as bringing to the forefront that there are people in the world who don’t even have houses or clean water, thus implicitly making us as able human beings feel compelled to help. The #hashtagKiller’s campaign fulfills all of the notions of a narrative analysis thoroughly.

Works Cited

Campbell, Anita. “What Is a Hashtag? And What Do You Do With Hashtags?” Small Business Trends. N.p., 11 Aug. 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2014. <http://smallbiztrends.com/2013/08/what-is-a-hashtag.html>.

“Communication Arts – 2013 Interactive Annual – Hashtag Killer.” Communication Arts. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2014. <http://www.commarts.com/interactive/cai13/hashtagkiller.html>.

Riessman, Catherine Kohler (2005) Narrative Analysis. In: Narrative, Memory & Everyday Life. University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, pp. 1-7.

 

Honest of Earnest?

In his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde presents a satire of the aristocracy in early 19th century England.  Friends Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff discover that they both lead false lives.  Jack discloses that he uses the name Earnest while in town with his fiancée Gwendolen, but he switches to the name Jack when visiting his niece Cecily in the countryside.  Similarly, Algernon created a deathly-ill, imaginary friend named Bunbury, who he regularly uses as an excuse to escape the town and visit the countryside.  In a series of charades fueled by both Jack and Algernon’s desire to be known as Earnest, the two men hilariously attempt to win Gwendolen and Cecily’s affection without revealing the double identity.  Ultimately, seemingly harmless white lies transform into complications (Wilde).  By applying a narrative analysis of The Importance of Being Earnest – and examining the thematic, structural, and performative aspects of the play – one can better understand Wilde’s criticism of Victorian society.  In the play, Wilde organizes, connects, and evaluates the sequence of events of revealing Jack and Algernon’s false identities to provide meaning to his audience, namely that the aristocracy is frivolous (Riessman).

Thematic analysis involves examining the context of the text and directly using language to infer meaning (Riessman).  The play’s three main themes include marriage, honesty, and identity.  Firstly, Wilde points to the loveless marriage in Victorian society.  Gwendolen and Cecily love Jack and Algernon respectively not because of personality traits but because the men call themselves Earnest.  The fixation on a trivial factor, which is not even self-determined but allocated by the individual’s parents at birth, shows the aristocracy’s superficiality.  In addition, there is greater emphasis on social status rather than love as a requirement for a marriage partner.  Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s mother, interrogates Jack on his family background and income to determine whether he can fits her family’s profile.  Algernon even refers to marriage as business rather than pleasure.  The thoughtless attitudes towards marriage, usually seen as a serious commitment, serve as further criticism.  The second major theme is honesty.  Like marriage, the characters deem honesty as unimportant.  Jack and Algernon are not internally torn about falsifying names, and lack of consideration for dishonesty – other than selfish, personal gains – also shows Wilde’s observation of low ethics amongst the aristocracy.  Finally, there is focus on identity.  Jack and Algernon lead double lives, but their dedication to make their fictional lives appear a part of reality forces readers to question the first impressions.  The aristocracy may appear to be a sophisticated, well-bred class, but their fundamental flippant behaviors, what lies behind their masking identities, are no better than the lower-classes they condemn (Wilde).  Wilde intentionally exposes his perception on such hypocrisy to deem it as intolerable.

In addition to thematic elements, structural elements contribute to Wilde’s critique.  The way the story is told influences how Wilde conveys meaning (Riessman).  Of note is the play’s sequence of events in relation to setting.  Act I is set in town, in a flat located in bustling center of London society.  The characters are in their natural setting, and their actions mimic that contentment.  They talk about maintaining appearances and keeping their reputations.  In this act, introductions to major characters are made, and the premise of the play is established.  Act II and III, however, are set in the countryside.  Paralleling how the characters have been taken out of the environment in which they are most familiar, incidents regarding Jack and Algernon’s double identities begin.  Act II, which includes the complicating action, is set in the country home’s garden, which is described as decadent and full of flora that give off feelings of glamor and glitz.  The similarity of the grand garden to the indulgence found in town serves as a transition between the two extremes of town and country.  This transition prepares the audience for the next act.  Likewise, the characters begin to realize complications in their antics.  In Act III, the climax of the story, the characters are finally fully immersed in the country, and correspondingly their attempts to continue their frivolity in the pure, serene countryside is met with trouble and conflict.  Relationships are outright questioned, and the women feel cheated by the men’s lies.  In this manner, Wilde demonstrates the aristocracy’s actions actually taint society (Wilde).  Act III is also shorter than the previous two acts, and the quick resolution and coda mimic the characters’ insouciant behavior (Riessman).

Finally, performative aspects of The Importance of Being Earnest enhance Wilde’s disapproval of the Victorian aristocracy.  It is of particular importance that Wilde wrote his manuscript as a play.  In this sense, he noves his audience through language and action (Riessman), and audience engagement helps to make them hold strong emotions to the characters.  For example, the audience knows that Jack and Algernon are lying about their identities, but Gwendolen and Cecily remain unaware for most of the play.  Such dramatic irony, constructed through performance, makes Jack and Algernon more deplorable.  Through performance, Wilde is able to convey tone.  The pompous tone and fancy dress of the wealthy characters contrasts with the simple country decorations on stage, enlarging dislike for the characters (The Importance).  Furthermore, Wilde chooses to focus heavily on cultural issues rather than historical or political ones (Riessman).  The limited focus most likely influenced his decision to make the play satirical and witty rather than more dramatic and sober.

While a narrative analysis offers much insight, supplemental analysis using semiotics would be recommended for deeper comprehension.  While thematic, structural, and performative aspects of the play reveal Wilde’s view of the 19th century aristocracy, there are also quite a few linguistic elements that contribute to the author’s efforts.  In particular, the play on the denotative and connotative meanings of the word “earnest” serves as a revealing contrast to the actual actions of the characters (Wilde).  Ultimately, though, narrative analysis of The Importance of Being Earnest serves as a good reference to the Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on the aristocratic stereotypes of Victorian England.  Additionally, it provides insight into his call for change of the aristocracy’s standard behavior and a return back to the true importance of being earnest.

 

Works Cited

Riessman, Catherine Kohler. Narrative Analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993. Print.

The Importance of Being Earnest. Dir. Anthony Asquith. Perf. Michael Redgrave and Michael Denison. General Film Distributors, 1952. Online Video. YouTube. Google, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

The Today Show: A Scripted, News Narrative

It’s 7 AM on a Monday morning; you are still half- asleep as you press the ON button to your television and bam! The infamous opening sequence of Today! rings through the house, you snap awake, and your morning has finally begun. For over 50 years, NBC has broadcasted Today, or The Today Show—a, daily, morning news broadcast. The morning show incorporates aspects of news broadcasting with that of a talk show.  In the past 10-15 years, Today has evolved into a four hour broadcast (originally two hours in length), appealing to people from all walks of life— ranging from the stockbroker on Wall Street to the stay-at-home mother. During the show’s run on television, Today has evolved into a staple for many American households. It is aired every morning, Monday through Friday, making its presence in everyday life reliable and familiar. The show runs on a routine basis, from the number of hours it’s aired each day, to the types of segments they incorporate, to the daily news anchors that appear on the show.

In my analysis of the Today Show, I will apply Narrative Analysis to further show that Today is a broadcast constructed by multi media giant NBC Universal dictating what they want their audience to know and hear, yet all the while portraying it in a light that persuades their audience to believe they are seeing what they want. As Riessman states, “what makes such ‘diverse’ texts narrative is sequence and consequence: events are selected, organized, connected, and evaluated as meaningful for a particular audience” (Riessman 1).  Although Today is advertised as a news production with real people and real stories, it runs as a show—with reoccurring anchors, reading from a constructed dialogue, dictating the stories the corporation wants the public to hear, all the while being wrapped up in a room full of lights, cameras, and production staff. The show’s popularity thrives off of the familiarity it has gained with its audience. Each and every morning, Today takes place in the same studio, with the same 6-8 news anchors, who over time become well known, reliable, and, most importantly, trusted. We, as an audience, trust what they are saying—a key to any news broadcast. Whether it be the latest health tip or breaking news out of the Middle East, we do not feel the need to double check their broadcast, the audience simply takes what they have to say for fact. It is this that brings the Today show its success.

Looking at a single broadcast of Today, one would see diversity over the course of the show. A closer look into the breakdown of the programming shows the media catering to the audience whom they believe to be watching at a given point in their broadcast. It’s deceptive, yet seamlessly brilliant. Each hour of Today is unique—with the content produced being focused towards different audiences. For the first two hours of the show, Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie co- anchor the show. Having a more “serious” premise, the initial two hours of the show focus on large media headlines, with guaranteed local newsbreaks and weather updates on every half hour. The regularity within the first hour gives essential structure to a viewer’s morning, with the viewer being aware or unaware of this occurrence. Essentially this portion of the show is geared towards the workingman and woman, who are looking to get their daily dose of news and weather before heading to work. The first two hours take a formal tone; with very sparse pop culture news, unlike the latter portion of the Today Show.

As the third hour of the Today Show approaches, Lauer and Guthrie retire for the day as Natalie Morales, Willie Geist, and Tamron Hall take the forefront, only this time the show takes a much lighter tone. While there are still news stories being broadcasted, the focus of the broadcast now shifts to fit the audience whom producers, and likely ratings, show are tuning in. Segments on international relations are placed on reserve, as segments on the latest YouTube sensation or Hollywood scandal are portrayed. Through this shift in media content, we see NBC Universal constructing, as Reissman points out, the narrative for their viewers. They are not portraying false, or incorrect news. The Today Show is simply constructed in a way to air news that is fit for their targeted audience. Likewise, the fourth hour of the Today Show, with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, presents no news or weather updates. The hour, broadcasted at 10 AM, is purely focused towards the stay at home mother. The segments on the show vary from beauty tips, to home and garden, with Kathie Lee and Hoda sipping wine as the share their latest Favorite things with their generally all female women demographic.

From the beginning of the Today Show to final hour, each morning a story is being carefully constructed and told to a loyal viewership. Reissman notes in the latter part of her article, that in doing so we get a narrative that is both personal and political (Reissman 6). As America watches their favorite hour of the Today show each morning, they are receiving a carefully put together program of news the producers feel is necessary to be told. It is a political tactic, but one that is generally unnoticed by many.  While Today may not be the everyday, scripted drama Soap Opera, it is a TV program. It is predictable, and routine, providing it’s audience with the reassurance that at 7:30 AM I will know whether or not to leave my house along with my umbrella, and by 10:45 I will have learnt how to cook the latest healthy meal for the family. With the essence of a news broadcast, Today is casted, scripted, and produced—but, then again, what news broadcasts are not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Reissman, Catherine. 2005. “Narrative Analysis.” In Narrative, Memory and Everyday Life, edited by Nancy Kelly et al. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield. pp 1-7.

 

“TODAY Video.” - Latest TODAY Show Clips, News, Video. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2014. http://www.today.com/id/49063771/ns/today-today_video/#54592624

Decoding Gossip Girl: Teen Show or Societal Critique?

    Ending its six year run on the CW in 2012, Gossip Girl is a hit television series that captured the hearts of youths around the globe. “You know you love me” became an expression heard in every high school classroom, and heartthrob Chace Crawford’s poster was hung on every teenage girl’s bedroom wall. Portraying the lives of five privileged youngsters stomping around the Upper East Side in their red-soled Louboutins, the show was predominantly viewed for its fluffy but controversial depiction of the glamorized version of “the Breakfast Club;”  but what is frequently missing from the discussion of the show is the decoding of its messages. Using semiotic and narrative analysis, I argue that Gossip Girl, while appeasing the dominant-hegemonic audience, which is the key to its success, also tackles a myriad of pressing societal issues including: gender roles, materialism, and socio-economics.

    Gossip Girl features five protagonists who exemplify several media stereotypes. Blair Waldorf is a cruel and calculating ice queen who rules the Upper East Side with her legion of headband wearing minions. Making the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art her throne, she is regarded as the power-hungry “Queen Bee,” a title that inspires fear and awe in the hearts of her peers. Still, to Blair’s disdain, her partner-in-crime, the “reformed bad girl” Serena van der Woodsen seems to always steal her shine. Serena is a stylish blue-eyed, blonde with long limbs and a smile that dazzles everyone. Despite her steamy past filled with boys and booze, she is adored by all for her kind, docile (feminine) demeanor, which serves as a stark contrast to Blair’s catty and aggressive (masculine) ways. Nate Archibald, the leading man is depicted as a lost, little rich boy (not a man) with no direction in life; he is chronically portrayed with a confused expression on his face, trying to piece together his broken home and volatile relationship with Blair, all the while entertaining lusty thoughts of Serena in his mind. Chuck Bass, sullied by extreme wealth and unlimited drugs, is the resident “bad boy with a heart of gold,” who isn’t afraid to go after what he wants, going as far as attempting to rape Serena in the first episode; he is later redeemed by his undying love for Blair Waldorf. Finally, the fifth protagonist, Dan Humphrey, serves as the “insider looking in;” he is a middle-class student who is driven to succeed financially as opposed to socially, in contrast to the other protagonists. Still, he is captured by the glitz and glamour of the lifestyle the other four characters lead, and ultimately falls in love with socialite Serena, a trope frequently seen throughout media.

    Gossip Girl’s success is majorly due to dominant-hegemonic ideals perpetuated by its producers and consumed by its audience. Every week, teens all around the globe tuned in to see what shenanigans these dangerously beautiful students would get into when there were no consequences and no limits (pun intended). The show was marketed for its sensationally steamy and wild scenes, but very little was discussed about the decoding of its messages. Why was Chuck Bass admired for his shrewd business sense that led to violent, sometimes deadly schisms within his family while Blair Waldorf was simply called a bitch for her Machiavellian ways? Why was Serena van der Woodsen admired for beauty as opposed to her acceptance into numerous Ivy League schools? Why was Nate’s journey to find himself so sorely looked down upon by his family? Why was Dan Humphrey so overly-zealous to become one of the elite? The question of whether money buys happiness permeates each scene, as it becomes clear that no amount of Prada booties and Anna Sui dresses could console Blair Waldorf when she finds out her kindergarten-sweetheart, Nate, cheated on her with her best friend. These messages, as Hull stated, “have a “complex structure of dominance” because at each stage they are “imprinted” by institutional power-relations.”

    Gossip Girl paints a narrative fantasy while still portraying realistic conflicts every individual faces during his or her coming of age. From its decadent settings that include the demure club The Box and the regal and pristine Park Avenue streets to the dream-like indie songs that become the pulse of Gossip Girl, the show visually and orally portrays how the world should be and how the producers “re-imagines,” as Reissman describes in her work, what the life of NYC’s elite is. At face value, the show is a colorful narration filled with overly-dramatic scenes and dozens of Fendi bags, but dwelling further into the storylines and decoding what signs we see, it is clear that Gossip Girl is a strong social critique. Although visually impressive and once a guilty pleasure of mine, at an older age, I find the conflicts and inner-turmoil of the characters more apparent than ever.

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding.” In Media Studies: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996. pp. 507-517.


Riessman, Catherine. 2005. “Narrative Analysis.” In Narrative, Memory and Everyday Life, edited by Nancy Kelly et al. Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield. pp. 1-7.

Gossip Girl

“Make Love, Not War”: Axe Peace Project

 

axe-peaceDuring this year’s Super Bowl, an alarmingly poignant ad was debuted by Axe Body Spray. The ad, following the story line of four heterosexual relationships, carries the message “Make Love, Not War,” and promoting their new product Axe Peace. This is part of Axe’s partnership with the organization Peace One Day, aiming to “rally the nation with love”.  According to the project, “when love is around, aggression melts away and the world is at peace”. Using narrative analysis, I argue that the company Axe provokes men to use Axe as a means to gain women, but more importantly employs women to be attracted to men who use Axe.

Structurally, the story in this ad is told through the images of the two soldiers and two foreign leaders. The soldiers are white, attractive men, perpetuating the stereotype of white males protecting their country against foreigners; something many American men watching the super bowl can connect to. In their own narrative, each soldier puts down their weapon and runs toward the girl that he loves. The men give up their violent, war ways, to be connected with the women they love, all thanks to Axe Peace. On the other hand, there are the two leaders, one of an Asian descent and another that appears to be Arabic. The two are leaders that reflect groups that the American people have been in conflict with before, yet another aspect in which viewers can connect on a personal level. In their introduction, these foreigners are shown to be hard and unkind, with a security guard bringing a briefcase with suspicious buttons to the Arab-like man, and the Asian man standing erect before a group of neatly rowed soldiers. But in an unexpected turn of events, the Asian leader has the soldiers project an image of him and the woman standing next to him inside of a heart, and the Arab man pushes a button in the suitcase that releases fireworks. Axe Peace is acting as a call to arms, taking stereotypical acts of war and turning them into demonstrations of love.

The structure of the narrative in this ad plays an important role in how this product is received. By making the ad part a collection of multiple narratives in which, as Riessman states “events are selected, connected, and evaluated as meaningful for a particular audience” (1), they are able to show to the viewer that Axe is not just a mundane body mist. Axe has the potential to cross cultures, to cross oceans, and to bring people not in hate but in love.  The narrative has a distinct sequence and consequence, man wears Axe, man gets girl. The construction of the characters suggest that they are men usually acquainted with war, aggression, and violence. With the help of Axe, they are able to escape from war by creating peace through love.

Using performative analysis, one may see clearly that the actions of each character and scenery surrounding them play an important role in how viewers perceive the advertisement. The gestures and demeanors of the men before they display their love acts suggest that they are hardened and aggressive. But once they show their women their love, they become softer, happier, and at peace. The setting of the ad  suggests war, which when greeted by love, is juxtaposed with peace; scenes of fireworks and hearts, smiles and hugs. What is interesting though, is that at no point is the product introduced during these love stories, not until the very end when the tagline appears and a dictator is shown having Axe applied to his chest in a sort of behind-the-scenes view. The viewer, throughout most of the narrative, is solely introduced to the idea of love over war. They know that, because these unique and unexpected acts of peace took place, that something must have been that catalyst for them. That catalyst is Axe body spray.

The women in this story are portrayed as damsels, falling for their male’s act of love, their act of letting go aggression. This is playing off the idea that women love when men show public acts of love, and that females are in need of a strong valiant man to sweep them off her feet. Axe is promoting the idea that it has the capability to do this, to fulfill what women want. To me, this ad, even though it’s a male product, is actually targeted to females. I think this is in response to their past ads, which have portrayed women as sex objects who rip of their clothes for their male counterparts. Men have already been sold the product, they already wear Axe, but will their campaign really be successful if the women the men are supposed to be attracting do not support the product? Stereotypically women are not stimulated by violence or acts of aggression, but by stating that Axe takes these aspects away, female archetypes will be intrigued. And if women are intrigued, they will become more accepting of the product, and possibly purchase it for their boyfriend or suggest that they buy it. The audience her is women. Let us not forget, this product is part of a campaign to promote peace, and if women love peace, they will certainly be intrigued by a product that not only promotes it, but also makes their men smell great while doing so.

Works Cited:

Axe. “AXE PEACE | Make Love, Not War (Official :60)” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 14 January. 2014. Web. 6 March 2014.

“#KISSFORPEACE Make Love Not War | AXE PEACE.” #KISSFORPEACE  Make Love Not War | AXE PEACE. Axe, 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

Riessman, Catherine Kohler. Narrative Analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

Critical Discourse Analysis: persuasion for legalization

Certain words and the content that is handpicked is significantly more persuasive than we realize. Diction is often used in order to place a slant on the information being shared. This specificity of language alters opinions. Deborah Cameron, in Chapter 9, Hidden Agendas, gives an example of a courtroom and how each side presents the information in order to further benefit themselves. Both sides can be telling the same story yet the words have different implications. The media is constantly using language in order to portray a story in a certain way. Often times the reader or viewer of the media does not realize how this changes their outlook on the subject. Media also can neglect to include certain information in order to influence the viewer or reader. One topic that currently is being debated is on the legalization of marijuana, in every argument specific words are used and certain information omitted in order to persuade the viewer or reader. Ruth Marcus, a writer for The Washington Post, wrote on the legalization of marijuana, it’s evident based on the language that she chose and the information she abstained from sharing that she is against this legalization. Through critical discourse analysis I intend of proving that Ruth Marcus uses her language and selection of information to influence her reader.

Marcus, shared the negative impacts of smoking marijuana, but she blatantly avoided the issues that have been raised in favor of legalization. She compares legalization to just the fad of the year saying “Marijuana legalization may be the same-sex marriage of 2014 — a trend that reveals itself in the course of the year as obvious and inexorable.” She compares it to a cultural wave, suggesting that all social issues are the same and will only be relevant for a short time period. Marcus also explains that states are only pursuing the issue because they “are certain to feel the peer pressure for tax dollars and tourist revenue” (Marcus). She focuses on the immediate economic benefits that legalizing would create. However, she ignores the fact that there is medicinal value and that the entire country treats alcohol and tobacco the same way. Her explanation implies the only interest states have in legalization is the immediate revenue rather than other moral issues that the people and those in leadership positions could be reckoning with.

She also notes that “the more widely available marijuana becomes, the more minors will use it. If seniors in fraternities can legally buy pot, more freshmen and sophomores will be smoking more of it,” but as of now there is no age restrictions in the illegal business, so this would add limitations are currently not in place (Marcus). Freshmen and sophomores have just as much access anyone else, for that matter young teens have just as much access as adults. She also acknowledges the thrill that comes from breaking the rules “Ha! I have teenage children. The laws against underage drinking represent more challenge to overcome than barrier to access” (Marcus). But if her position is that legalizing would present less of an societal objection to I than it would be less of a thrill. It would not change the laws for teenagers, but she claims “and it’s not as if the kids need encouragement” (Marcus).

Marcus also focuses on the effects of overuse of marijuana and the negative impacts that has, she notes that it can be known to drop IQ as low as 8 points. But she never notes the negative effects alcohol has when consumed in heavy quantities. She avoids discussing the lack of negative impacts found when consumed moderately and focuses on the negative impacts of overuse. But everything has negative impacts when too much is consumed, including alcohol, but also most foods.

While one aspect on Critical Discourse Analysis focuses on what’s not included, another is the words that have certain implications. Cameron notes a situation in the media in which this is evident. “In a sample of news reports dealing with disputes over pay and conditions on the workplace, they noticed a consistent patter in the words that were used to describe actions taken by workers and labor unions on one hand and employers or managers on the other. The workers were described as ‘demanding’ more money or better conditions, and ‘threatening’ to walk out of their ‘demands’ were not met; the employers were described as ‘offering terms and as ‘appealing’ to worker to accept their ‘offers’” (Cameron 124). Marcus takes advantage of this by saying that this legalization is ‘inexorable,’ and later ‘inevitable’ implying that it’s a negative movement that cannot be changed. Finally, she says “If this doesn’t make you nervous, you are smoking something. Maybe even legally” (Marcus). This claim makes anyone who disagrees with her concerned that they are in fact wrong. She blatantly is degrading her opposers into feeling as though they should reevaluate their beliefs on the subject.

While Marcus is persuading her viewers against legalization with the choices of her article, all media on this topic is comprised of biased words and content. All of the information she produced is correct, but she handpicked the information and word to best convey her ideals. While arguments for the other side select different words and statistics to include.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ruth-marcus-the-perils-of-legalized-pot/2014/01/02/068cee6e-73e9-11e3-8b3f-b1666705ca3b_story.html

Works Cited

Marcus, Ruth. “The Perils of Legalized Pot.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 06 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2014.

Cameron, Deborah. “Hidden Agendas.” Working With Spoken Discourses. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 123-41. Print.

From “Cardboard” to the “Best Pizza Ever”

 

D’s Pizza Turnaround

On December 21st, 2009, Domino’s Pizza uploaded an advertisement in YouTube called “Domino’s Pizza Turnaround”, in which the company was showing the negative comments its customers were expressing through different media due to the poor quality of their food. Although the message is clear, I find it interesting the way we take this information for granted and interpret it as a normal behaviors and objects. This study is not whether the viewers agree or disagree about the quality of Domino’s Pizza products, but a semiotic analysis about the way in which the viewers, with the use of signs, are able to decode the information that the company and society have already encoded to convey a message to try to convince consumers that after taking into account the criticisms about its pizza, Domino’s Pizza have improved it and made “their best pizza ever”.

The commercial contains signs that are in the commercial as well as outside the commercial. In both cases, this signs were socially constructed previously. This principle is very important because codes have to be recognized by the audience in order for the message to be successful (Hall 509, 511). I’ll begin with the sign ®. This symbol located next to the word “Domino’s” means “registered trademark” (en.wikipedia.org) and although not everyone might know the exact meaning of the sign, we are familiar with its connotations, which are something being official. In other words, as soon as someone sees that sign in this specific advertisement, that person knows that this is being published by the official Domino’s channel in YouTube, and not just that, but that no one else can use that name because it has been trademarked, therefore giving the audience a strong reason to believe the content in the channel is “real”, because it’s official. Then, to enforce the credibility of the channel, we are shown another sign: the check ✓. This check has been a symbol of correctness, now, social media platforms use it to show that a channel has been verified and is the official profile of a company or an artist, and not some impostor. Once again, the viewers are allowed to trust this ad. In regards to the signs that have been coded by the company, we have the Domino’s logo, which is represented by the pizza’s cardboard design. Then in the commercial shows posts done in social media networks, viewers know this by looking at the “hash tags”. The presence of the “hash tags” is crucial in the credibility of the advertisement because it implies that real people are involved in the commercial allowing the audience to identify with those that have written the comments giving it a sense of “reality” to the ad. The ad also shows other linguistic signs such as the names of executives. However, I would like to make a comparison between the linguistic “pizza” sign and the visual sign of a pizza. The ad provides us with the idea of a “pizza” in linguistics codes, while they show the improved pizza in visual code. This could be explained by stating that it is easier for the viewers to accept, and perhaps remember, a visual sign as the real one, while the written sign will always be seen as farther from reality (511). In regards to aural signs, the ad has people with an American English accent, making it clear who their audience is. The ad also contains upbeat music; it could represent the urgency and the rapid steps the company is taking to answer the request of its customers to improve their pizza. However it is not only about the images, but also how this images can be substituted, yet, keep the message that Domino’s intents to send.

Although Domino’s only shows its pizza, it wants for the message of great flavor to be transmitted to all its products. In this case, it would not only be the best pizza ever but, let’s say, the best chicken wings ever. Examples of paradigms could be “ the best chefs ever”; or president; or executives; or the best customers. They even praised and thank they their critics by stating that their harshest critics inspired them to improved their recipe. In other words, everything that has to do with Domino’s is the best whatever it is.

The syntagmatic sequence derives from two options expressed in the commercial itself. It is either to let those negatives comments about their pizza bring them down, or the get inspired and motivated to make a better pizza. Obviously, Domino’s used the one that would benefit his company; to improve its pizza. They went through the process of informing the executives about the negative comments, then, the executives tried to turn them into something positive by improving the flavor of the pizza. The sequence gives important to Adrienne, a subject in the focus group. The ad starts by having her saying that the pizza is bad and then it ends with her opening greeting the chefs who delivered the pizza to her house. Her face is not seen but a huge sign that says “To Be Continued” implying that the work of Domino’s to improve their food will continue, as well as the communication with its customers, yet, through what medium?

The medium is related to the audience, which is computer savvy. We know this not just by the fact that it was published in YouTube, but also the presence of social media, which seems to represent the public’s opinion for some if the people who sees to this ad will most likely write a post about it just like the ones in the ad. The platform chosen is important because as stated before YouTube gives the viewer the warranty that the channel is official, therefore the ad has some credibility. In terms the way the medium gives the company the convenience to convey the message is through the sudden transitions represented rapid action of the company to satisfy customers, it also shows the whole process of making “good” pizza and the advantage of being in different places in short period of time. In fact he ad is 4min and 20 sec long. This is done thanks to editing techniques, which allows the audience to decode the signs shown in the ad. Nevertheless the audience needs sustains a position encoded by the text.

The viewer owns the position of observer. It is not about one viewing the commercial, but it gives the impression of having entire access Domino’s world: premises and activities. An important one to point out is the one about the focus group. The viewer becomes part of the Domino’s team and at the same time can relate to that customer who is dissatisfied by the quality if the pizza. Due to the medium, the audience can be part of this through the computer or the phones, which allows the viewer to be at any location while being in Michigan virtually. In this case, the signs are not as meaningful without the technology the medium requires and provides to the viewer.

In conclusion, whether or not people believe Domino’s pizza, reality is that the company made clear that they needed to improve the quality of their food and so they did. Although Hall stated that if a sign is not put into practice then it is not successful (508), The main purpose of the encoders is to make sure that viewers understood the message they were trying to convey with use of socially constructed signs for the viewers to decode. All this signs together if to convince people to eat Domino’s which is the company’s optimum goal.
Works Cited

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding”

All Men Share the Same Dream

jagheritage

 

 

When Henry Ford started the first automobile mass production, no one ever imagined that these steel-wood combinations of vehicles would be the ultimate standards which will determine the abilities for men in the 21st century. However, few decades later from Ford’s era, we’re living in a society that will judge harshly on which brand of a vehicle you own. When judging men’s ability, it became rather significant for men to possess luxurious sports car brands such as Lamborghini or Ferrari. In this second analysis, I will be analyzing the luxurious automobile brand, Jaguar’s commercial, titled “Gorgeous”. By employing semiotic and critical discourse analysis, I argue that this commercial provokes men to strive for a superficial conception of success while employing and promoting all different kinds of stereotypical concepts of how to become successful in life.

The Jaguar’s television commercial is an excellent example that displays multiples of well organized and arranged televisual signs. The commercial contains critical messages in both visual and aural contents; it also displays messages through properties of the things represented (Hall, pg.511). In order to receive and decode the messages what the producers of the commercial originally send or encoded (Hall pg.508), it is critical to use semiotic and critical discourse analysis at the same time. It is essential to look at “words, images, traffic signs… and much more” (Seiter, pg. 31). Also, application of critical discourse analysis is a core step in my analysis, because I need to understand the role of the social world, and paradigm reality that is “understood as constructed, shaped by various social forces” (Cameron, pg. 123).

The commercial Gorgeous displays a simple outline in terms of the story. Here is the syntagmatic sequence of the commercial. The commercial starts out by displaying the common desires of average people. The main people in the commercial, which are mostly white men, are usually with sexually attractive white female figures. Symbols of luxurious life, including party, wine, beach, yacht and vacation are presented in the commercial, rather than common average life. The commercial indeed offers what a real successful man should strive for. These elements, which are mostly rooted in hedonism, are producer’s paradigmatic choices that symbolize recent generations’ definition of being “successful” in life. Meanwhile displaying the components of a successful life, Jaguar, the vehicle appears in the commercial. What this commercial wants to declare is the idea that Jaguar, along with other elements, is one the core elements of what a successful life should have, that others will gaze with envies.

Not only in the story-line, but the producers encoded all the little details and messages in visual, aural and textual contents of the media. In terms of aural contents, the commercial has two sets of sounds. One is the calm voice of the narrator, and the other is simple and quite background music. Narrative and firm voice makes it easier for people to believe what the narrator says. Moreover, the combination of two, the voice and background music, gives us the notion of documentary-like media which can possibly cause people to accept the contents more effortlessly.

From visual contents’ point of view, the media uses overlapping method in order to create Phantasmatic and illusionistic displays. Also, the visual contents are primarily dark, and they contain huge contrasts in hues. Noticeable amount of visual contents are in black and white, and slow-motion method is commonly used. Also, visual contents are less colorful than majority of other television commercials. These methods are mainly used in order to create luxurious visual effects and to enhance the elegance-looking quality of the media. The fuzziness, lack of continuation and clarity and lack of saturation give the notion of mysterious life of luxurious people make viewers to wonder about that kind of life. However, the clarity in the voice of narrator strongly and specifically suggests the answer to become one of the luxurious people. By positioning viewers in average society, the commercial targets viewers and it seduces viewers to buy the Jaguar.

Meanwhile, textual contents play a substantial role in giving the right messages in the commercial. Each and every word the narrative says is full of pride, firm and distinctive. The texts such as “Attention”, “Effort look effortless”, “Cares what gorgeous says”, “No love for logic”, “Doesn’t care what others think” (Jaguar, Gorgeous) directly suggest the ideas of what this commercial is aiming for, which is to set the standard for “Successful, Luxurious Life” that others would ambitiously hope to look for. Moreover, texts from the commercial target two different groups of people at once. First, they target the individuals who are already in the high class. They use words such as “Born that way”, “Gorgeous can’t be ordinary even if it tries” (Jaguar, Gorgeous) in order to emphasize the specialty that richness has by distinguishing the rich people from the average society. Not only the rich people, but the commercial also targets the people who are not yet in the high class as well. The last words from the narrator, “Gorgeous is worth it” (Jaguar, Gorgeous), play a huge role in the commercial, and they suggest average people that amount of money they invest in Jaguar will worth the value. There is no doubt that the Jaguar promotes quite expensive vehicles. Depending on which type you choose, they vary from 65K to 150K (Jaguar USA), which is quite a lot for a single vehicle. However, Jaguar wants to firmly promote that their products are worth the significant amount of money.

     Gorgeous is a well thought out and planned product of media. The producers’ strategies worked out really well. The commercial successfully grabs people’s attentions and they certainly make people to desire such luxurious lives. Through this commercial, various acceptances are allowed for the viewers. If your life is a great example of luxurious life, then the commercial makes you proud. If not, the commercial invites you to become one, of course, by Jaguar.

 

Bibliography

 

Cameron, Deborah. “Hidden Agendas? Critical Discourse Analysis.” In Working with Spoken Discourse. London: Sage, 2001 pp. 123-141

Hall, Stuart “Encoding, Decoding.” In Media Studies: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996. pp. 507-517

Seiter, Ellen “Semiotics, Structuralism and television” pp. 31-65

Jaguar USA https://www.jaguarusas.com

YouTube Gorgeous: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttRS1lwZ2iw

The Perfect Holiday Comes Wrapped in Blue

Tiffany’s and Co: “The Perfect Holiday Comes Wrapped in Blue”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OGltxRxN04

Our modern day society is driven by the consumption of goods and services. Our capitalist culture encourages consumers to increase their spending rates in the holiday season especially. To encourage Christmas shopping, companies like Tiffany & Co air a new Christmas commercial every year. By employing semiotics complemented by ideological analysis, I argue that Tiffany’s commercial “The Perfect Holiday Comes Wrapped in Blue” invites women to strive for a superficial concept of happiness as it imposes traditional stereotypes on love, relationships and family values.

“The Perfect Holiday Comes Wrapped in Blue” was aired last November and features different intercut scenes that take place in the Christmas season. The commercial portrays important visual signs that “connote codes… with varying degrees of closure, to impose its classifications of the social and cultural and political world” (Hall, 513). The advertisement begins by showing their most important and recurring symbol: Tiffany’s iconic blue box adorned with a red ribbon. The jewelry box is shown in the different scenes: the beautiful lady is holding it when she is laying down on the sofa, the husband is hiding it under the table whilst having dinner with his wife, a child is carrying it when playing…in an attempt to reinforce the idea that giving Tiffany’s jewelry for Christmas is essential for family’s happiness.

Tiffany & Co have chosen to portray high-class families made by heterosexual, young and beautiful couples with children and pets. The paradigmatic elements that represent their high status include luxurious houses in which the scenes take place, “haute couture” apparel and jewelry amongst other elements. Interestingly, the commercial reinforces the idea of having traditional families made of heterosexual couples with pets and kids. The advertisement emphasizes our society’s beauty ideals where portraying young, slim and beautiful women, which suggest that emotional happiness is dependent on physical appearance. By featuring scenes of tender children and playful puppies, Tiffany & Co attempts to recreate the stereotype of a happy, successful and united family.

The syntagmatic structure of the commercial is also very important as the “events only become meaningful when represented by signs, and signs are organized by codes which establish the frameworks of meanings that are brought to bear in decoding signs” (Bignell, 118).  The commercial has a cyclical structure as it begins and ends with the Tiffany’s box. The iconic blue box encapsulates many connotations: it is a symbol of luxury, elegance, style, tastefulness and exclusivity.   “The Perfect Holiday Comes Wrapped in Blue” shows different scenes of family life and love that take place in the holiday season.  The lightning, camera position and angle play an important role in the development of the clip as they purposely drift the attention of the viewer to enhance the most important visual signs, which are often the blue box or the jewels (examples include the ring and bracelet worn by the lady when decorating the Christmas tree or the necklace worn by the woman that is laying down on the sofa). One of the main filming techniques used in the commercial is the low angle-shots. In most scenes, the advertisers have decided to omit the faces of the female actresses to highlight and emphasize their lean and slim bodies, their beautiful dresses and most importantly the outstanding jewels that they are wearing to bring out the style, graceful and elitist principles of the brand. In order to stress the holiday spirit and encourage Christmas shopping, the camera focuses and includes several close-up shots of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, which can also symbolize the familiar traditions and connotations of this season. The warm lighting gives a feeling of familiarity, intimacy and amiability whilst the Christmas soundtrack in the background recreates a romantic and “dream-like” ambiance that represents the ideals of a Western fairytale.

Over the past years, Tiffany’s Christmas commercials rely on the same paradigmatic and syntagmatic choices and use recurring themes that make allusions to family ideals, relationships and elegance. The advertisements use similar sequences and structures to promote their Christmas jewelry. These are examples of other parallel Christmas commercials released in 2010 and 2009 by Tiffany & Co:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkZaVS0wrI8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Owddg6-6_w

However, other jewelry brands have adopted similar advertising techniques. By portraying utopian ideals on love, happiness and relationships they are able to target consumers in the holiday season. In 2013 Cartier released a short film that illustrates a beautiful and hopeful love story that ends with an unexpected yet poignant marriage proposal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toDuu5l5Y9w).

Tiffany’s commercial uses different visual signs that depict an exclusive and luxurious brand worn by successful, high-class and beautiful women. “The Perfect Holiday Comes Wrapped in Blue” can be decoded using the dominant hegemonic interpretation where accepting society’s generalizations on happiness, beauty, success, and love. On the other extreme, the oppositional reading will discard the “preferred meanings” and will question society’s stereotypes on beauty and physical appearance, economic success and heterosexual relationships as the means of happiness.

In this commercial, Tiffany & Co have portrayed a stereotypical depiction of love and happiness that is dependent on economic success. The advertisers want to reinforce the idea that receiving a gift from Tiffany will not only bring joy to the recipient but to the whole family. However, media texts are not representations of reality: they rely on the process of coding and decoding stories. Like Hall explained, “In actual discourse, most signs will combine both denotative and connotative aspects” that can be understood in different ways (Hall, 512). Thanks to the semiotic analysis I have been able to focus on the messages carried in the media text. However, in order to obtain a complete understanding of the commercial, I would have to include an analysis of the responses and reactions of the viewers.

Bibliography:

Bignell. “Television News.” Media Semiotics. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 109-35. Print.

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding: Chapter 36.” Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham: Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1973. 508-17. Print.

“THE PERFECT HOLIDAY COMES WRAPPED IN BLUE – CHRISTMAS 2013 TIFFANY & CO.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OGltxRxN04

 

 

The Hogwarts Project

 

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stone_ver5

Harry Potter is one of the biggest franchises produced in the history of Hollywood. Most children are familiar with the three characters: Harry, Hermione and Ron. The first movie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in 2001 followed by seven other movies. These movies are based on the seven books written by British novelist J.K. Rowling. I will examine this movie with the method of narrative analysis, which in the “human sciences refers to a family of approaches to diverse kinds of texts, which have in common a storied form” (Riessman 1). Narrative analysis seeks three main aspects: the theme, structure and the performance.

The most obvious theme of Harry Potter would be fantasy. The plot changes from film to film, but the main story line is that Harry is an orphan brought up by a mean aunt and uncle who find out that he is a wizard at the age of eleven. He then goes to the Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he meets his two best friends Ron and Hermione. Throughout the movies, the three of them are protecting Harry from Lord Voldemort, an evil wizard that killed his parents. This demonstrates another theme in the series: good vs. evil. It is a classic story between the young innocent child and the evil monster. Action is also shown in all the movies’ climaxes, when Harry fights Voldemort using his wand and other weapons. Lastly love and friendship is shown throughout the movies with the three main characters Harry, Ron and Hermione. By the end of the series the three become best friends who are willing to do anything for each other’s safety and happiness.

The characters in the film are all constructed through the plot. The first two main characters are Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. J.K. Rowling constructed these two characters by sticking to her theme of good versus evil. In this case, Harry is good (the hero) and is fighting for what is right and for the safety of others. In contrast Lord Voldemort is evil (the villain) who is fighting for everything that is wrong and for power over all of mankind. Throughout the movies he wants to kill Harry due to the prophecy that mentions…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives….” Because Voldemort did not want to share his powers he decided he must kill the one that is his “equal,” Harry.  These two characters foil each other, which allows the viewer to compare and contrast their characteristics. Harry’s character was constructed by being an innocent child who has never been loved. From the first scene in the movie the audience cannot help but feel sympathetic towards him because he is an orphan. His goodness is then shown throughout the movies when he gains friends, love and power. From the first movie, the friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermionebecomes inseparable. The characters of Hermione and Ron are constructed through this friendship, as they become Harry’s confidants. Furthermore, power is an aspect that is in-born in Harry through his parents, and he recognizes and practices it through the help of his teachers in school. Voldemort’s character is constructed from his first scene when he kills Harry’s parents. His evilness is shown when he produces his own enemies and through his looks. Voldemort is always dressed in black, is extremely white with a bizarre nose that scares little children. His face is snake-like, due to the horcruxes (objects that he has put in his soul) where he must rip their soul apart by killing someone. Voldemort does this seven times which is the cause of his disfigured body and face.

These movies follow a well-known structural pattern of many heroes that have to make a life journey, face challenges and make conquest.  The sequence of events in each movie has similar patterns, starting with Harry going to school. He then faces some sort of conflict, which he resolves throughout the movie. For example in the first movie Harry, Ron and Hermione suspect that someone is trying to steal the philosopher’s stone and they attempt to protect it. “The Stone is a mystical creation that produces the elixir of life, which grants longevity, and turns any item to gold.” They find out that the stone is present at their school, Hogwarts. This leads to the climax of the movie where there is a fight scene between Voldermort and Harry, ending with his win and happiness.

The narrator of this film is heterodiegetic, which means he is exterior (outside) of the story and is never on film. Speaking in third person, the narrator is also omniscient and has a detailed overview of what is happening in the story, while having insight on the characters thoughts and feelings. However, the audience is mostly narrated to from Harry’s point of view and his journey in the movies and to understand the reasoning behind his decisions.

 

The cultural and political setting of this movie differs from real life because most of it is fantasy. The movies begin with a realistic, mundane setting (in London) before the audience is transported to an imaginary setting (Hogwarts School), which plays off as an alternate universe. In this school, the headmaster Albus Dumbledore has the most authority and power in the school, followed by other professors and faculty members.

The Harry Potter franchise has been one of the most successful series of films in cinema today. The eight films have grossed millions of dollars over ten years. Narrative analysis is a “storied way of knowing and communicating in which ‘events are selected, organized, connected, and evaluated as meaningful for a particular audience.” From this method I was able to examine the series which gave me broader understanding of the theme, structure and performance of the movies but also taught me the method to apply this technique to other forms of media.

Works Cited 

Hall, Stuart. “Editor’s Introduction: Encoding, Decoding.” Encoding and Decoding in Television Discourse.” 1973.

Riessman, Catherine Kohler. Narrative Analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993. Print.

Narrative Analysis: Middle East

Middle East is a photographic essay about the endless cycle of war and the events, circumstances, and repercussions that arise in the countries that become war grounds. The essay is a personal narrative by war photographer Christopher Anderson, though he prefers to think himself as simply a photographer who captures war, that tells many stories. For one, Anderson narrates his motivation for his field of work and discusses the views and narratives, to an extent, of other war photographers. I would like to exercise a narrative analysis on Anderson’s essay based on Catherine Riessman’s typologies of thematic, structural, interactional, and performative analyses.

Riessman says that thematic analysis focus’s on what the narrative is saying and that this analysis is useful in finding common themes across “research participants and the events they report” (Riessman). In the case of Middle East, the participants would be war photographers, victims of war, people involved in the making of the essay, and the audience whom the essay is for, while the events reported are those that occur in and between countries involved in a war.  The essay begins with a quote by another war photographer, Phillip Jones Griffifths, that says “photographers are either mud people or sand people. I’m a mud person”. Anderson immediately disagrees with this statement and sets up an interesting discourse among war photographers. Anderson says that there are those who get mud and those who get sand; in other words, it is not a choice of the photographer, but a circumstance influenced by the temporal occurrence of war that determines where the war takes place and thus where the photographers must likewise situate themselves. Anderson says that his generation “got sand”, unluckily, and proceeds to list the names of many wars such as in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, and others that all were geographically based in desert-like regions, which complicate the act of photographic shooting. So while both photographers can agree on a preference for mud, Anderson introduces the varying views on wars occurrences. Anderson’s essay means to exemplify the similarities of war’s context, whether in mud or sand, because their reason for existence, which is always rooted in power or money, is the same.

Anderson mentions the danger of a particular war zone he once filmed in, where air raids and bombs would confine him and other war photographers to a specific geographic region. This created a collective in the actions and purpose of war photographers. They serve to document the truth of war, but are not exempt from war’s reality and are as susceptible to its dangers as any soldiers or civilians. This ties in to a more structural analysis of the essay, which Riessman says emphasizes the form of the narrative: how the story is told.

All war photographers have this in common; they use the same form, which is of course the photographic image, to tell a story. Through this visual image, a narrative of events is presented. However, Anderson tells his personal narrative through additional devices by implementing visual and auditory devices such as music, sound design, graphics, video game clips, and oral narration. I think the use of video game clips was interesting, setting up a discourse around the reality of war. A handful of clips are shown from war-like games, where soldiers fire guns and objects explode. These brief clips inserted between photographs are impactful and may seem unrealistic at first when contrasted next to real war photographs because of their graphic (animated) nature. However, Anderson says that his generation grew up on movies about war, which gave war an obscure, cynical, and unreal aura around it. But Anderson’s experience in the midst of warzones gave him a thrill that was so terrifying it was almost unreal, because the space between life and death is black and white in war rather than grey, he says. The impact of this realization showed Anderson the very real, very delicate balance of life in such situations, which he means to help others see through his essay.

Anderson said that previous to experiencing a war zone, he had romanticized the idea of its danger. His brief anecdote of how he came from a suburban area and sought the most drastic opposite of that mediocrity by participating in wars is meant to disillusion viewers from likewise romanticizing something as horrendous and real as war. Anderson says that it is not the gore that he can’t handle, but the events that result in that gore; the psychological damage and cynicism arising from the notion that humans are participating in such actions. That they are capable of waging wars, instilling fear and pain, and killing one another.  These oral narrations have different impacts based on the visual elements they’re tied to. Sometimes we can see Anderson when he is speaking and the truth is there in his face, but sometimes we see the photographs he has taken whilst hearing his narration, and the images support his words by presenting a different kind of truth rooted in evidence and representation.

These elements that Anderson uses to narrate his message sets up an emphasis on the interactional elements: the dialectic between teller and listener. Anderson is answering questions that the listeners of the essay do not hear, people who are offscreen and unheard. But the people who worked on the film are listeners, too, and had a different relationship with the teller. In this way, the listeners who prompted and influenced Anderson’s oral narrative manipulated what the actual audience listeners were given as a result. Similarly, analysis of the performative elements explores the audience’s implication in Anderson’s narrative. Obviously, his essay and even his role as a photographer embodies a kind of obligation to the public in the notion of him being the eyes for people in many places they don’t tread. Thus, war photographers attempt to bridge the geographic and metaphorical gap between the public and war; a gap widened by where war takes place and the dissociative lack of empathy that comes with this distance.

Overall, Anderson’s narrative essay reaches out to all of the audiences senses, from sight to sound, and his message regarding the reality of war’s unnecessary presence hopes to move enough people to end the pointless strife.

 

Bibliography

Anderson, Christopher. “Middle East.” Magnum in Motion RSS. Magnup Photos, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

Riessman, Catherine Kohler. Narrative Analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993. Print.

Sensationalizing the Transgender Community: Critical Discourse Analysis of Janet Mock on Piers Morgan

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Janet Mock is a transgender woman, a trans rights activist, and the author of the book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More. Earlier this year she was on the show Piers Morgan Live on CNN to talk about her life story and her book. In the first interview Piers Morgan consistently uses language that identifies Janet Mock as “previously a boy”, language that she later spoke about on twitter and found offensive. Mock claimed that Morgan was sensationalizing her life in order to attract viewers. In a second, much more tense interview, Morgan called back Mock and asked her why she found his words offensive. He consistently painted himself as a victim of oversensitivity and demanded that she tell him and teach him what she wants to hear. Critical discourse analysis focuses on the “hidden agenda of discourse, its ideological dimension” (Cameron 123). There are many ideological dimensions of the interview on Piers Morgan. In my critical discourse analysis of Janet Mock’s first interview with Piers Morgan, I argue that Piers uses language that not only greatly simplifies what it means to be transgender, but also language that rearticulates the ideology of gender as simply male and female, while ignoring all other possibilities.

The first course of critical discourse analysis is looking at representation of language. As Cameron states, “one issue that is significant is the labeling of the groups under discussion”, and the labeling of Janet Mock has been found offensive (Cameron 127). In this interview language is extremely important as it relates to highly personal aspects of Janet Mock’s life. The topic is presented with Janet having the underlying headline, “was a boy until 18”. Piers introduces Janet and her book, introduces her background life story, then asks interview questions about her living as a transgender woman and, mostly, her transition. Piers is presented as the interviewer while Janet is the interviewee who answers deeply personal questions about her transition and current love life. Piers uses very liberal language; he states that her birth name was Charles, and multiple times refers to her as having been born a boy then transforming into a woman through surgery. Piers asks if Mock felt that she had to “go through properly with this and become a woman” meaning “have an operation”. Piers then asks Mock about her current love life and what it was like telling her current boyfriend that “you yourself were a man”. This frequently used language supports the idea that being transgender simply means a person was born one gender but then became another later on in life. Here we see that “discussion is framed in a language of ‘them’ and ‘us’”, of labeling Janet Mock as unusual, the other, and as her transgender identity as one that is to be questioned and understood (Cameron 127).

As stated before, the interpersonal function of the interview is that Piers is the interviewer and victim while Janet is the interviewee and a trans woman who must educate Morgan and all other cisgender people on how not to offend transgender people. The reader is supposed to identify Janet as previously a boy, not a girl, and therefore supposed to believe that being trans is a very straight forward process of transition.

The use of language here has many interpretations. Through the language of the first interview we see a naturalized view of sex and gender and synonyms or overlapping concepts. Trans activists would argue that sex is what you are assigned at birth while gender is what you identify with. In the second interview Janet tells Piers, “I was born a baby. I was assigned male at birth” but that she never identified as male. Through Piers’s explanation of Janet being born as a boy then having surgery and becoming a woman we see that “reality is understood as constructed” or “shaped by various social forces” such as the show Piers Morgan Live (Cameron 123). The explanation that Janet was born a boy informs a view of gender as a dichotomy, with only two options of being either a boy or a girl. When the media naturalizes gender this way “reality is presented not as the outcome of social practices that might be questioned or challenged, but simply as ‘the way things are’” (Cameron 123). Trans people inherently challenge a supposed reality of two rigid genders, and when gender is naturalized as either male or female, we are led to conclude that to be transgender is to be unnatural. This explains the preoccupation with genitalia of trans people, as illustrated by the question Katie Couric asks trans model Carmen Carrera about her own personal genitalia. As seen in this other example, “it is not one instance, but the repetition of the same pattern in many instances and on many occasions that does the work of naturalizing a particular view of reality” (Cameron 129). Through these assumptions of gender it is presupposed as obvious that men are born with penises, women are born with vaginas, and that’s all there is to gender and sex. Anything else is completely outside the norm and is to be scrutinized, investigated, and demanded to be understood.

In conclusion I would like to propose an “interpretation of the pattern” of labeling transgender people as the other and using ignorant and offensive language to describe transgender people in order to “account its meaning and ideological significance” (Cameron 137). I again propose that through critical discourse analysis we can see how the language used by Piers Morgan to describe Janet Mock, and language used in other examples to describe transgender people focuses on an ideological reality of our society being shaped by a two gender dichotomy. Anything outside that dichotomy is hard to understand and therefore simplified into language that goes into the proposed reality of gender, of identifying transgender people as born one gender then having surgery and switching into another gender. This language uses many assumptions and offensive ideas about transgender people simply in order to categorize them into the ideological norm.

 

Bibliography

Cameron, Deborah. “Hidden Agendas? Critical Discourse Analysis.” In Working with Spoken Discourse. London: Sage, 2001.