Reading the media Part 2

Key concepts:

Narratives and Narrative Codes

All media texts tell us some kind of story and 'narrative' is the process of organising and telling the story. Most narratives have a common structure as is seen in the chart below.

Sometimes the narrative flow can be altered and, for example, made to go backwards, or 'jump' from place to place (flashbacks, real-time and so on) A narrative will often have a narrator or 'story teller' who mediates or manages the relationship between the narrative and the audience. (Remember this can be conceptual, it does not always have to be 'real'. A voice-over can be a 'narrator')

Look for things like pronoun use. "I" gives a sense of identification and intimacy, while "he, she, it" is a detached narrative style, used in documentaries and in news broadcasts.

There are all kinds of narrative devices and signals - captions, clocks and turning pages can denote differences between 'real time' and 'story time' in narratives on film and TV, whereas in a radio programme you may have music or sound effects.
trailers are often mini-narratives and title sequences and credits act as 'markers' for the audience.

Narrative sequencing involves particular codes:

An ACTION CODE advances the narrative and tells you what's coming next ( a car engine, a siren, an explosion, etcetera)

An ENIGMA CODE controls what the audience sees or knows. It sets up clues as to what is to come. The audience has to work it out. Enigma codes are very common in advertising. 

When the 'readers' recognise these codes, they get 'pleasure of the text' and this pleasure is enhanced and emphasised when there is overlap between the fictional narrative (what the audience is watching) and the 'real' narrative of day to day existence. In other words, the closer the makers of the text come to representing recognisable codes from the audience's own lives, the more pleasure of the text the audience gets.

It is argued that narratives work on establishing 'equilibrium' (balance) and 'disequilibrium' (imbalance), creating narrative tension and increasing pleasure of the text when balance is restored. Look at films like 'Independence Day' to see how this works.


Audiences react to narrative 'characters', especially when they are predictable. 
There was a famous piece of research by Vladimir Propp which established thirty 'typical' characters, some of which are listed below:

The hero who 'seeks' something 
The villain who hinders or competes with the hero
The donor who provides a magic talisman to help the hero
The helper who aids the hero in the quest
The heroine who acts as a reward for the hero and is the object of the villains schemes

'Male' narratives

have clear resolutions
are linear & predictable in the 'steps' of the developing story
hero overcomes the problem
have order and balance
(Look at any Schwarzenegger movie!)

Female narratives 

are open-ended
not clearly resolved
(Also called 'chick-flicks!)

V Pope 2003