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Media Studies

Number 020

Ideology from Representations for A2 Media The aims of this Factsheet are to: • Discuss how binary oppositions can provide a framework for discussing representations and ideologies • Provide examples of analyses based on: o Representations of Good and Evil/Heroes and Villains o Representations of Masculinity and Femininity • To demonstrate how representations can lead to ideological readings

Once you have identified the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ within texts, you can begin to identify the ideological values being communicated. Sometimes these values are ones which are associated with a specific audience and/or genre. In the case of What Women Want, its genre as a romantic comedy and the assumption that its target audience will be dominantly female may help to explain the stereotypical ‘feminine’ values of the film. In the case of the other texts, their values can be seen to reflect the dominant value systems of the producing culture.

The Importance of Binary Oppositions One idea from AS Level studies that can be useful when considering representations and ideologies is one that may be more familiar from narrative studies – that of binary opposition.

Unstable Binary Oppositions In many contemporary texts, simple binary oppositions are often depicted as complex and unstable. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is based on the opposition of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, This simple opposition is based on Vampires (and demons) being evil and the Vampire Slayer (and her gang) representing good. However, this binary opposition was destabilised several times during the run of the television programme. This can be shown by considering the way some of the main characters moved between being heroes and villains:

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Some common binary oppositions that can be found in many media texts are: Hero…………………………………..Villain Good…………………………………….Evil Right………………………………….Wrong Darkness……………………………….Light Man………………………………….Woman Creation…………………………Destruction Narratives are often based around the conflict between these oppositions which, in conventional narratives, usually resolves with one side of the opposition winning in a final battle of some sort. For example: • In Batman Begins (Nolan; 2005), Batman has to fight two villains to protect Gotham and ultimately he wins • In Cold Case (Sky TV), Detective Rush has to investigate an old crime and in each episodes she battles against lies and deception to get to the truth and a killer is brought to justice • In What Women Want, (Meyers; 2000) Mel Gibson is a womaniser but after complicated events and misunderstandings he eventually learns the value of meaningful relationships In conventional texts, the binary oppositions represent specific ideologies or values. One side of any binary opposition tends to hold a higher cultural value than the other and can be seen to win within the narrative.

Angel – a vampire who became Buffy’s boyfriend. However, after they slept together he turned evil only to return as ‘good Angel’ after Buffy had ‘killed’ him.

Faith – another Vampire Slayer and so potentially one of the heroes. She was jealous and aggressive and after accidently killing a human she joins forces with a villainous character. Later (in Angel), after going to prison, she resumes her position as one of the heroes

Spike – Initially an evil vampire who, after losing his ability to kill people, falls in love with Buffy. They have a relationship but it does not last but he ends up being her most loyal friend and ally and eventually sacrifices himself to save the world

Willow – Buffy’s best friend who learns magic - initially to help Buffy fight evil. She becomes addicted to magic and, after her lover is killed, she increases her power and becomes murderous culminating in a final battle between her and Buffy. She goes away to recover and comes back as part of Buffy’s team once more.

Activity Complete the following table identifying what represents ‘good ‘ and ‘bad’ values in each text. Extend this table by adding some texts of your own. Text

‘Good’ values (the winner of the battle within the text) ‘Bad’ values (the loser of the battle within the text)

Batman Begins

Battling crime, violence (against criminals), revenge for violence against the family

Cold Case

Murder and deceit

What Women Want Family, true love, commitment within relationships, Womanising, sexism, lad-ish behaviour respect between men and women Your texts??


Media Studies

020 Ideology from Representations for A2 Media

Exam Hint:- A common mistake in exams is that students focus on describing how representations are constructed – often focussing on media language. Whilst this is a necessary starting point, it is important to consider why the representation has been constructed the way it has. Consider the way the representation creates positive and/or negative ideas and values. This can then be linked back to other media concepts: e.g. How do the values relate to genre expectations? Do these values relate to ideas about the target audience? Are these representations linked to institutional values?

‘Evil’ Willow

‘Good’ Willow

Complex Gender Representations ( buffy_season4_willow_promo_10.jpg)

One of the most useful areas of study when applying binary opposites is gender because, historically, our culture has constructed masculinity and femininity in opposition to each other. For example:

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The position of characters within the good and evil opposition is not fixed and stable, rather it is fluid and unstable. Buffy the Vampire Slayer demonstrates that good and evil are not simple qualities in a person, but may depend on circumstances, aspects of the environment or specific events. This means that the ideologies of good and evil are equally as unstable.

Traditional Ideas of Masculinity

Traditional Ideas of Femininity

Heroes and Villains/Good and Evil in Phone Booth As in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Phone Booth (Schumacher, 2002) shows how difficult it is to identify clear cut differences between good and evil. In Phone Booth Stu Shepherd is held hostage by an anonymous sniper who manipulates a series of incidents designed to humiliate Stu in order to force a confession from him that he is a dishonest person and has sought an affair with a young actress. images/pic/VAS/0000-0164~HerosStrong-Man-Posters.jpg)

Phone Booth complicates the usually simple binary opposition of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’. The sniper’s actions are criminal and cruel and so he seems to be villainous. However, Stu is a liar and a cheat and it is difficult to see him as the ‘hero’. Both characters are part hero and part villain and the film creates complicated responses in the audience. There is a pleasure created when Stu confesses his crimes which places the sniper in the heroic position as he has motivated Stu to become a better man – even if we cannot agree with the methods he has used to achieve this. The sniper uses ‘evil’ actions to create a ‘good’ outcome but Stu is not an ‘evil’ character. He is depicted as someone who represents the worst qualities of the modern age but this means the audience can feel sympathy for him because in many ways he represents ‘us’. Phone Booth makes it very difficult to know for sure who we feel has ‘won’ in this film. Consequently, the ideologies of the text are equally as complicated. Many modern texts question and challenge the black and white nature of binary oppositions in similar ways. and so it is necessary to try to dig deeper in your analysis of representations.

Strong Aggressive Large and muscular Powerful Sexually Active Short hair Breadwinner/Professional

Weak Passive Small and dainty Powerless Sexual Object/Sexually Passive Long hair Domestic

Activity Make a table for yourself continuing from the one above detailing traditional masculine and feminine qualities, behaviours, expectations of appearance etc. Consider how the two genders have conventionally been seen as embodying oppositional traits. Conventionally, masculine traits have been seen as more valuable than feminine ones – they have been ideologically valued. Many modern texts, however, play with the simple notions of gender and create more complex representations which cannot be reduced to these fixed oppositions and so they challenge the values we place on gender attributes. However, masculinity and femininity are no longer simple oppositional ideas. The roles of women and men have changed in recent decades and so have media representations of them.

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Media Studies

020 Ideology from Representations for A2 Media

Gender in Phone Booth At the start of the film Stu embodies many traditionally masculine traits. He is brash, aggressive, competitive and ambitious. He is shown as a sexual predator in his attempt to seduce Pam and is working towards becoming a cheating husband. These qualities however are the ones which the sniper seeks to change and, during the course of the film, Stu can be seen to be forced into more ‘feminine’ behaviours and ‘feminine’ qualities are shown to be valued: • He is forced into discussing his relationships and his feelings •

He loses his masculine power as the situation drives him to tears

He has to accept his own lack of power as the sniper has complete control over his actions

In a conventional thriller, we might expect that Stu would be able to assert his masculinity in order to get himself out of the situation. Here, however, we are shown a man who needs rescuing - but before this can happen he has to become more feminine. Even the ‘masculine’ police force has been shown to value ‘feminine’ qualities. The lead police officer has had his masculinity challenged on several occasions throughout the film but he is still able to take charge of the situation. He has been shown acting on instinct and manipulating the discussions with Stu – behaviours which are conventionally seen as being more feminine than masculine. In addition to the destabilised ideas of hero and villain, the film destabilises ideas of gender as Stu is criticised when he behaves in a conventionally masculine way and is only ready to be saved once he is able to adopt feminine behaviour traits. In these ways Phone Booth challenges the values usually placed on masculine attributes and offers rewards in the narrative to the male characters who are able to integrate feminine traits into their behaviours.

Gender – Female Action Heroes The image from Aliens (Cameron, 1986) also plays with gender in a similar way. It juxtaposes the idea of the maternal (feminine) in the way Ripley carries the child protectively and the idea of violence (masculine) as she is carrying a large machine gun. As they represent opposing gender attributes, these ideas do not sit comfortably together

Activity (

In this image from Ultraviolet (Wimmer, 2006), both masculine and feminine qualities are being represented within the one character. Violet is represented with long hair, a short jacket and a flat stomach which is a traditional sexual representation: she is the object of desire. However, she is also taking the role of the hero. Her aggressive expression and the manner in which she points the guns are, according to stereotype, masculine.



• Does Ripley look more masculine or feminine in this image? o Which media language choices create a feminine image and which a masculine one? • In what ways can this image be seen as positive representation of women? • In what ways could this be a negative representation of women?

On one hand, this image can be seen as a positive representation of the woman as an active, goal-oriented protagonist especially when compared to the more passive representations that were dominant in the past. It suggests that women are capable of being tough but within this representation they still have to conform to the stereotype of physical beauty that society expects of them.

In both these examples the mixture of binary opposites has played a role in both reinforcing and undermining gender stereotypes. Both Ultraviolet and Aliens undermine the traditional stereotype that women are physically weak and cannot take care of themselves but each image also reinforces some traditional ideologies about women: that they are sexual objects (Ultraviolet) or have essential nurturing/maternal qualities (Aliens).

Tasker coined the phrase Rambolina to describe these physically tough yet beautiful characters and points out that, even though they have broken the stereotype of being a passive woman, they have only achieved this by becoming more masculine. The Rambolina stereotype seems to offer women the freedom to deviate from cultural norms of feminine behaviour but it is actually enforcing cultural ideals of beauty and the dominance of masculine values.


Media Studies

020 Ideology from Representations for A2 Media

Undermining Gender– Marilyn Manson Some media texts take this instability regarding gender roles and values even further. As the name of both the band and its lead singer, ‘Marilyn Manson’ was chosen specifically to create a collision of binary oppositions that do not sit comfortably together. On the simplest level, this male rock star has adopted a woman’s first name. Marilyn is a reference to Marilyn Monroe whilst the surname refers to Charles Manson an infamous murderer – again a collision of binary opposites as the name creates associations of both beauty and a ‘beast’. In this image Marilyn Manson combines femininity and masculinity and yet is neither recognisably a man or a woman. Here an image has been created which does not simply show a combination of gender roles as seen in the examples from Ultraviolet and Aliens but this image embodies both genders (a male with breasts) whilst simultaneously being de-gendered (the lack of genitalia). Manson has created an image which dispenses with gender all together. (

In doing so, gender expectations and the values which accompany them are subverted. The binary opposition of gender has not just been destabilised here, it has been radically undermined. Historically, gender roles were seen as absolute and fixed. Ideas of good and evil were clearly understood so heroes and villains could be relatively easily defined. In modern society there is less certainty surrounding these ideas within the culture and some media texts reflect this in their representations. Some texts act to consolidate (reinforce) dominant ideologies by conforming to traditional ideas and values whilst others challenge or question these values by destabilising the oppositions or by denying the opposition and, therefore, the traditional ideas and values. In your own readings of media texts, be prepared to try to look beyond simply spotting ideologies through the identification of positive or negative representations. Investigate the representations by trying to see if binary opposites are used in simple ways to act as a point of conflict or if they are complex, challenging traditional values and ideas. Alternatively, you may find it impossible to make a single ideological interpretation. This is not necessarily a problem but may indicate that the text may be reflecting the ideological uncertainties that exist within the culture. Exam Hint:- Theories, ideas and textual analyses must always be used to answer the specific question you are attempting in the exam. Don’t be tempted to write about theory for the sake of it. This may show the examiner what you know but they are more interested in what you understand. You can demonstrate understanding by choosing theories that add to and support your response to the question and showing how you can apply them to the texts you are writing about.

Acknowledgements: This Media Studies Factsheet was researched and written by Steph Hendry Curriculum Press. Bank House, 105 King Street, Wellington, TF1 1NU. Media Factsheets may be copied free of charge by teaching staff or students, provided that their school is a registered subscriber. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other means, without the prior permission of the publisher. ISSN 1351-5136


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