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This semester I learned what it means to be “media literate.” I learned how the media impacts our culture in various aspects. The way we talk, dress, and acquire morals is through the power of the media. I am more aware of how the media influences us as a culture and the decisions we make everyday. Acquiring these skills have allowed me to critique my fellow classmates. The blogs I’ve critiqued included Brittany Chucker, Brittany Young, and John Barr.

Brittany Chucker, I want to start off saying that your blog “Beauty and the Very Good Looking Man” overall is very appealing. You had an engaging introduction with dialogue from the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” The video is a good example of the ideology and power that Gaston has over Belle. He wants her to stop reading and pay more attention to him over the Beast. The three women in the video think Belle is crazy because Gaston is “gorgeous”, and why would you chose a beast over a gorgeous man?

This is an accurate example of how men and woman are attracted to the physical aspect of someone. Looks aren’t everything, I’m sure Belle would say. That is why she was pushed more towards the beast because of his kind heart instead of his looks.

I would say that Gaston is a similar example of a “dominant elite”. Gaston has the power and control over the town and also trying to control Belle. This leads to how our society and American ideologies are embedded through texts such as Disney films.

I agree with you that these films help share the imagination of children’s lives and how they perceive the world. I think there are distinct signs and symbols in Disney films that I did not understand when I was younger, but now I am more media literate as a young adult and understand these signs.

In particular, I learned that just like in the movie Beauty and the Beast, there are embedded ideologies throughout various media. I learned that what we watch and the characters we idolize, shape who we are as a person because we look up to them. Younger children for example, need positive role models in their lives because they are easily influenced by their surroundings.

On that note, I found a link to an online journal of women’s studies on the “Discourses of feminism and femininity in Disneyland.” This paper analyzes the film Beauty and the Beast and how Belle (the heroine) represents the concept of female ideology within a fairy tale. After reading this paper, you might learn more about how Disney utilizes its women in films and how they are represented. Thank you for this insightful blog post. I encourage you to check out my link on the discourse of feminism in Disney films.

Brittany Young, you engaged your audience immediately with questions to your Semiotics Analysis-CoverGirl blog. This is good because you immediately got them thinking about the topic of semiotics. I like how you stuck to the topic of semiotics in relation to Drew Barrymore’s CoverGirl ad. I like that you thoroughly examined one aspect of how fashion relates to semiotics and the signs shown throughout the ad. Also, explaining each signifier as well as the symbolic and iconic signs was a great example when interpreting the fashion ads. You further explained how the color red is commonly used in the fashion industry to draw attention. I agree with you that the fashion ad uses a dominant reading to its consumers.

I found a link that may help you further explain the semiotics of fashion. This article explains how fashion models are hiding their faces to make a bold statement about fashion. They claim portraying this image in fashion is “more symbolic than practical.”

Overall, the fashion industry is a great example of an identity-image producing media. The way the models dress and present themselves help consumers make meaning of the signifiers in fashion advertising.

John Barr, first off, I think your title”The Whole World..In Their Hands is very clever to relate how the media holds the power in the world. I agree with your statement that we ”buy in” to the ideology of the things we consume. As a culture, we want more and more things to satisfy our lives. Like you said, “Happiness has a price tag.” I agree that material things define us. This is creating an issue for young children and their parents. Children “nag” their parents for designer brands and expensive products because they want to be “cool” like everyone else. But, who is defines them is none other than the media!

“From cradle to grave,” the media is following every footstep. You addressed a great point in saying how young girls are represented in our society. Barbie Dolls as well as other toys have bodies that are not an accurate portrayal of how a young girls body looks. But, like you said, young children feel emotionally attached to these products and compare themselves to them.

You gave an insightful example of how we should care as a society about how money should not make up who we are as people. This was a great ending to a blog post because it makes the reader think about what they care about in relation to consumerism.

I learned a great deal in the media criticism class. I was weary about blogging at first, but now that I got the hang of it I thoroughly enjoy it. Im glad we were given the opportunity to read our classmates blogs and provide them with feedback. I will use the skills that I’ve learned throughout this course and continue reading and writing about the media to further my media literacy skills!

Ever wonder what political economists are thinking about? Mainly focusing on the role of ownership in the media industry, but they’re increasingly concerned about the topic of commercialization and advertising to children. Through synergistic practices such as cross-promotion, cross-advertising, and blockbusters, the Disney Corporation promotes this topic the best!

In order to fully understand how political economists analyze this topic, the concept of ideological criticism must be explained. Ideological criticism explains how ideas are embedded in and circulated through texts. Also, how they reflect the interests of dominant elites and how ideas become accepted as normal and natural while remaining unnoticed and unchallenged.

There is value in the assumptions associated with ideological criticism. First, there is value in understanding how media institutions, texts, and practices establish and sustain existing power relations. Second, informing and empowering the oppressed to strive for material changes to improve quality is ultimately important. Third, exposing and challenging dominant and often taken-for-granted ideas and values are necessary and confrontational.

So What Does All This Mean?

Political economists examine how production and distribution practices shape media texts through ideas embedded and circulated throughout various media texts. Furthermore, political economists focus on the issues of ideology of materialism or “consumerism” and its influence on our consumer culture.

As stated earlier, the Disney Corporation is a prime example of how the growing power and reach of global media conglomerates dominate the culture of consumption and advertising to children.

Who Owns What?

The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. This huge conglomerate is divided into theatre, radio, publishing, and online media. Disney owns and operates the ABC broadcast television network; cable television networks such as Disney Channel, ESPN, and ABC Family.  Disney operates four primary divisions: The Walt Disney Studio, Parks and Resorts, Disney Consumer Products, and Media Networks.

Institutional Level of Disney

Disney can be analyzed through the institutional level of ideological criticism. The institutional level focuses on language, words, and symbols of media texts through political economy, social/institutional power analysis, and multicultural ideological critique.

As seen in the film Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood & Corporate Power, there are hidden signs and symbols in the Disney films. Disney films demonstrate these symbols and words through its characters. For example, Disney creates its childhood culture through innocence, magic, and fun. Children are taught to act and dress like the characters they see through the films they watch.

The Disney Princess’s include: Snow White, Pocahontas, Aurora, Ariel, Tiana, Cinderella, Jasmine, Belle, and Mulan. An example of hidden signs and symbols can be seen in the film Aladdin. Jasmine the princess, seduces Jafar and distracts him away from Aladdin. Jasmine is dressed in a revealing red low cut top and flowing pants with her hair up and make-up on. She slyly walks toward Jafar and tells him he is “handsome” and that his beard is “twisted”.  This erotic behavior from the Princess displays the attitude that you can use your body to get what you want from men.  The deeper meaning of this clip should ask the question, “What is this teaching young children and how are they interpreting the way that Jasmine acts?” Because it is a Disney film and innocence and fun is the motto, they replicate what they see through the main characters and think it is the proper way to act.

Social/Institutional Power

Disney can also be analyzed through social/institutional power. This uses the critical theory of structuralism and the study of a whole text. We create wholeness or structure using various levels of perception. The perception that Disney wants to create is a fantasy world for children. Disney creates this structuralism and wholeness through its multiple medias: Film, Television, Disney parks and attractions, and Online media. This can come as a concern because Disney portrays “innocence” and “fun” to children, but in various films there is violence, sexuality, and language that are unsuitable for young children. Disney is so prominent in our society that children are raised on the culture of Disney and everything that comes with it.

Multicultural Ideology

Multicultural ideology refers to how these factors shape representations of gender, race, class, and sexuality to study ideologies embedded in texts. Disney uses a variety of characters from different races and class. For example, in the 2009 film titled The Princess and the Frog, the main character and princess Tiana is the first black princess to be in a Disney film. This shows that Disney is expanding in multiculturalism through its characters. Also, in the film Aladdin, Aladdin comes from a low-class as a street urchin and meets the princess Jasmine. Jasmine comes from a high-class background and is required to marry a prince. This example shows children that someone from another class and culture can show you a different perspective of the world. In the end, Aladdin and Jasmine fall in love and leave all differences of culture and class aside and share “A Whole New World” together.

From Cradle To Grave

Why is it important to examine media through the lens of a political economist? Well, from cradle to grave, children are being marketed and advertised to through the media. According to the film, Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood, children spend 40 billion dollars a year on products. They have power in the economy and are a huge component in brand marketing and product placement in the media. Children are being convinced every day that life is about buying and what you wear represents who you are as a person. Parents, as well as children, think that if they don’t buy the latest gadgets and clothes that they will be left behind.  This is a concern for political economists because they know the importance of selling and promoting products to children and therefore hold the power position.

It is clear that what children watch, shapes their world around them. There is an increasing dominance of advertising and marketing to children through synergistic practices.  As the largest media conglomerate in the world, Disney works its way up the corporate ladder in ownership, and there is increasing concerns for how its commercialization influences children’s lives. From cradle to grave, Disney will be a huge influence on children’s lives. From a political economists perspective, the children hold the future to the economy and promotion of consumption and materialism will continue to increase.

Every day we observe millions of signs. Signs often signify us to do something. There are signs everywhere we look. For example, some signs are television, billboards, banners, and commercial ads etc. How we disseminate this information around us is called encoding and decoding.

Encoding/Decoding Model:

Stuart Hall developed the encoding/decoding model. “The basic premise of Hall’s encoding/decoding model of communication is that the media apparatus has an interest in production, circulation, distribution/consumption, and reproduction rather than conveying a message.”  Hall’s encoding/decoding model focuses on the ideological dimensions of message production and reception in a capitalist world.

A major industry who’s main focus is production, distribution, and consumption is the fashion industry. Media and advertising in the fashion industry is highly influenced by signs and images.  The study of signs and images and how social production of meaning is constructed is called semiotics.

Semiotics and Identity:

Semiotics in the fashion industry describes a sense of identity. Consumers identify themselves with images and often replicate what they see through various ads. General types of signifiers in fashion are high status, sexuality, and young beautiful woman.

There are plenty of signifiers in fashion advertising. Some can have varying degrees of importance- hair color, hairstyle, eye color, body type, makeup, color, age, and race.

Texts are constructed from signs using codes commonly interpreted in a society:

There are multiplicities of codes embedded in texts. The fashion industry for example uses print ads to advertise their products to sophisticated consumers.

Glow by J.LO:

A print ad that displays several codes is the Glow by J.Lo ad. Glow by J.Lo is a women’s fragrance and is the first perfume to be endorsed by Jennifer Lopez. The tagline “Fresh. Sexy. Clean.” all have different scents to them: Fresh – Orange Flower Pink Grapefruit; Sexy – Rose, Sandalwood, and Soft Amber. Clean – Jasmine, Vanilla, Musk. Together, they create Glow by J.Lo.

This print ad can be encoded in a certain way, while the reader decodes it differently according to his or her personal background. This ad can be decoded to give meaning to the product and target a specific demographic audience.

The formal design of the ad shows simplicity and spaciousness of the white space around the images and associated with wealth and sophistication. Oftentimes, advertisements for expensive products are full of white space.

The fragrance bottle is tall, slim and translucent with a necklace around it saying J.Lo. The necklace is also made to look high-class because of the diamonds in the name. The bottle itself shows sophistication with the translucent color and diamond necklace around it. These light colors signify purity and sexiness, which make the product more appealing.

Also, J.Lo herself is displaying her body form in a sexy way. She looks like she is holding the sun in her right hand while her hair flows freely. She wants to show that her product can give you a “sunkissed glow” if you wear it, and because she is not wearing any clothes the product shows you need nothing more than a “glow” to feel beautiful.

J.Lo is wearing minimal makeup in this image with a subtle shade of glowing lip-gloss. This product is demonstrating that wearing less with a spray of “glow” will make you feel sophisticated and sexy.

While they have shared common meanings, signs in texts can be interpreted in multiple ways:

This next print ad is for Absolut vodka. Absolut vodka is a Swedish brand of vodka and unrefined containing some of the world’s finest raw ingredients: pure Swedish water and rich Swedish wheat.  The bottle is clear with blue bold font for the logo and a description of the vodka in cursive font below it.

On May 1, 2007, Absolut vodka announced its next groundbreaking global advertising campaign titled “In an ABSOLUT World.” The advertising challenges the status quo by presenting a bold and optimistic worldview. The global launch is supported by a fully integrated marketing campaign, including print, broadcast, out-of-home, public relations, on-premise promotions and viral activity.

“In An Absolut World”- Leaders can’t be trusted but the Absolut Brand can be!

This is an oppositional reading of the text. Meaning that it is decoded with opposite meaning.

There are several signifiers in this product ad such as two suited men and the speaker has a long nose. Washington DC is the background of this ad with the Absolut bottle in the right hand corner.

Absolut wants to show that “in an Absolut world” political figures extend the truth and therefore their noses grow. This is a parody of if you lie, your nose will grow and we all know that politicians will do anything to get elected and even lie to do so.

“Our consumers are intelligent, and we hope they have a gut reaction that sparks conversations and challenges them to think about their vision of an “ABSOLUT World,” says Tim Murphy, Senior Brand Director, The Absolut Spirits Company, Inc.

Meanings vary according to person, time, place, and content:

To clarify ambiguous nature of how we make meaning from texts, structuralism offers two basic approaches- syntagmatic and paradigmatic.

Syntagmatic is an understanding of the combination of signs and their meaning to make a whole. For example, we make meaning from the signs we see in order to identify with the image.

Another Absolut image is shown with a flat Absolut bottle that’s been smashed up against the pavement. A car is wrecked into a tree in the background of the ad. This shows that Absolut is trying to convey that drinking and driving can end up in a “absolute tragedy”.  As consumers we can make meaning from this image as “don’t drink and drive.”

The second approach to structuralism is paradigmatic.  Paradigmatic is an understanding of a set of associated signs that are, even though different, all members of a defining category.

For example, a group of signs that represent ideas that can be exchanged for each other can be a cap and gown. There are several different cap and gowns that students wear when graduating depending on their level of degree earned.

So why is it important to critically examine media texts?

It is important to understand media criticism and their various texts because it’s the basis of how our world around us influences our culture. The media through semiotics and the signs we see everyday determines our social construction of reality.

When we examine these texts, we are constructing our own meaning of signs through encoding and decoding. It is the consumer’s decision on how to construct the signification of these codes and signs to relate to the world around us.

Greetings! My name is Lauren Deares, I am a senior at Towson University and majoring in the Mass Communications field with a track in Public Relations. I am enrolled in a Media Criticism class this summer and will begin blogging about several issues concerning media and our society.

The course “Media Criticism” describes the theory and practice of media criticism intended for various audiences, including consumer-oriented criticism, social criticism and scholarly criticism. This course explores a variety of theoretical approaches and how they can be applied to better understand media texts.

Course Objectives Include:

–       Demonstrate critical thinking skills

–       Apply various media criticism theories and methods

–       Develop critical claims and employ arguments and evidence in support of these claims

–       Attain greater competence in the practice of reviewing, critiquing and interpreting media content, production,    and consumption

What is Media Criticism?

Media criticism is a systematic process used to understand media texts as meaningful sociocultural symbolic forms and forces. Furthermore, it is a critical analysis of some aspect of a popular culture text, news broadcast, or other media text.

In media criticism, a media critic makes an argument about a media text or a series of media texts. Every argument the critic makes must be presented as an informed opinion that is backed up with strong evidence. Now you may ask yourself:

Why Is It Important To Think Critically About The Media?

First, you must understand that we live in a media saturated environment. Media texts such as radio, television, and film forge our very identities; our sense of selfhood; our notion of what it means to be male or female; our sense of class; of ethnicity and race; of nationally, and sexuality.

Media images help shape our view of the world and our personal values. We consider what is good or bad, positive or negative, and moral or evil from the media surrounding us.

Every second we are being consumed by media, therefore, it is important to learn how to understand, interpret, and criticize its meanings and messages.

The media are forms of pedagogy which teach us how to be men and woman. They teach us how to dress, look and consume; how to react to members of different social groups; how to be popular and successful and how to avoid failure; and how to conform to the dominant system of norms, values, practices, and institutions.

One network in particular, MTV, targets a young age group through specific provocative television shows. For example, MTV’s shows Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant are reality shows that film young moms and their children.  The moms are faced with challenges such as financial difficulties, lack of education, unemployment, and the psychological struggle of raising a child at an early age.

These shows, while showing the difficulties, also show the ability of the moms to overcome their struggles and to successfully raise their kids. This can be misleading to the viewers of the show by portraying the situations as being acceptable and easy while overshadowing the true difficulties of being a teen mom. Unfortunately, some teens find this to be suitable for their lifestyle and end up emulating what they see on the shows. They figure that if these families can go through the hard times and make it, they should be able to make it as well.

In conclusion, I find the influence of television shows to be very strong to their viewers. If a show like Teen Mom expresses to its younger audiences that society finds it acceptable to do these things, then the viewers will too. However, if there were negative consequences the reactions of the viewers would be a lot different.  Some people look towards television as a way to entertain and live their lives. This media text is extremely influential to our culture in the way we relate to society’s norms, values, and beliefs.

As television simply being a constant flow of images and sound, we are always engaging in the power of this medium. Those who dictate media culture tend to “mainstream” themselves, conforming to what they see on television. People identify with the characters and people they watch on television thus creating identities similar to those on TV.

According to Douglas Kellner, media criticism is valuable to understand because it provides some tools that enable one to read and interpret one’s culture critically.  The focus of media criticism lends itself to a multiculturalist’s program that demonstrates how culture reproduces certain forms of racism, sexism, and biases against members of subordinate classes, social groups, or alternative lifestyles.

The choice is yours, to conform to media’s society or live by your own.