Critical Approaches: Unit 6 – Outcome 4

Alien/Aliens Genre Conventions and Feminist Theory Ridley Scott’s film Alien is a horror; it contains conventions that are followed by other films of its genre, it also has elements of sci-fi in it. The sequel Aliens is also a horror and along with sci-fi has a lot of traditional action elements as well.

A key convention of horror is isolation. When the characters in a movie are isolated the audience feel like the victim. The isolation in Alien and Aliens is the fact that they’re in space; they can’t escape from the ship. When the audience watch a horror they get a feeling of claustrophobia and anxiety. In the scene where Kane is being impregnated by the facehugger, we feel the suffocation that the character must feel. We also feel the tension, knowing that something’s wrong. Science Fiction films have a main concept of birth and life. This is shown in alien (especially in this scene) by having lots of symbolisation of the human sex organs throughout the film. On the facehugger’s underside there is a cavity that resembles a vagina. This was potentially done to reverse the rolls of a male and a female so that the female is actually impregnating Kane, whilst also having phallic like tentacle’s caressing and strangulating Kane’s neck. There is a strong connection between pleasure/reproduction and pain in this film. The tentacles are choking Kane but at the same time look warm and lubricated. The lung on the side of the creature is slowly respiring beside the character; but when it feels pain (when Ash makes an incision on the leg) the blood squirts out in an ejaculatory manner.

The horror convention of isolation is portrayed in the same way in Aliens. It’s not as simple as the whole crew safely climbing into the getaway ship and leaving everything behind, there’s always something in their way however there’s a stronger convention that comes through in Aliens. It’s a common reoccurrence in horror films to have a cocky character that isn’t afraid of the unknown; in Aliens the whole team of marines is unafraid and thinks that with their superior fire power they can annihilate the opposition “Check it out, I’m the ultimate badass!” ~Pvt. Hudson. We see the marines crumble as they try to take on the Xenomorph using guns and this relates back to the battle being fought in such a small space that they didn’t have time to operate, and the fact that they were deployed there means there was no easy escape. Thankfully the strong female protagonist, Ripley independently drove the armoured vehicle when the leader of the group, Lt. Gorman has a panic attack/breakdown at the control desk and loses the ability to keep the situation together. This scene is of key importance to the film because it represents the switch in power between male and female. The vehicle is angular and would be considered as masculine, but she dominates it and takes control, whilst keeping a cool head. Ripley driving through walls is symbolisation for ‘penetrating’ the barrier between masculinity and femininity, and showing the capability/equality of women. It also breaks the tension and horrific atmosphere because we can now see a way out, which changes the feel of the scene to a more action orientated one.

Alien and Aliens have broken certain horror conventions. Usually the survivor is a female, but also a virgin. This represents purity and the audience have it on their conscience that an innocent and weak female has had her naivety crushed by the occurrence in the film. However Ripley plays a strong woman who we know isn’t a virgin. This is interesting because she still isn’t objectified in the film apart from in a couple of scenes (In the beginning where she is scantily clad). She’s portrayed as a woman with experience, to take care of the men. This actually makes the male audience feel nervous and uncomfortable because they’re used to having power.

“It could well be maintained that it is woman’s sexuality, that renders them desirable – but also threatening – to men, which constitutes the real problem that horror cinema exists to explore, and which constitutes also and ultimately that which is really monstrous.” ~ Barbara Creed

This quote is from a book entitled ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ and supports the idea that men feel threatened by sexual women. Many would argue that she isn’t acting sexual throughout the film; however the role that she plays is extremely pro-active and striving for the final solution, the climax of the movie. The anatomy of the penis means that it is designed to penetrate barriers, which is what Ripley is doing throughout the movie. So whilst she is playing a masculine role and showing minimum flesh, she’s certainly playing a subconsciously sexual role.

Furthermore one of her outer motivations becomes to rescue Newt. This is a reflection of her inner motivation to play a motherly role again, as she discovered that her daughter had passed away. This plot point enables the audience to relate to a raw trait of femininity, to raise a child.

The difference in Alien and Aliens in terms of genre conventions is varied. The way horror is portrayed in both film is similar, this isn’t a bad thing as it enables Ridley’s character to grow ever stronger in tackling the situations. The introduction of an action element in Aliens means that they can justify the teams survival when there is more than one Xenomorph to fight, and also allows for more plot points. It was a brave decision to cast the protagonist as a woman in 1979 and it paid off hugely. Ripley’s character is one of the strongest female characters in film to date, and Alien blew up because of it. It’s debatable whether it was right of the director to show Ripley’s body off at the beginning and end of the film. It degrades her as a character and brings it all back to the male gaze using a woman’s body simply for objectification, but at the same time why do we see it as any different to seeing all of the males topless? I believe the director intended it mostly as a plot point, as all of the characters have just been in hyper-sleep or in the case of Alien then she’s just about to go into hyper-sleep, so she would have taken her clothes of for that.

Horror’s, sci-fi’s or action movies, it doesn’t matter how you read these films. The main relevance was the impact that they had on equality in media.

Sources

Websites

http://www.btchflcks.com/2011/10/ellen-ripley-a-feminist-film-icon-battles-horrifying-aliens-and-patriarchy.html#.UlXCd1Ae1Qc

http://projectnarrative.osu.edu/resources

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090605/ – Aliens

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078748/ – Alien

Books

The Monstrous Feminine – Barbara Creed

Critical Approaches: Unit 6 – Outcome 3

The mass media is a huge part of Western culture that is generally unavoidable. Even those who choose not to watch television or listen to the radio are subjected to endless advertising and marketing, changing the outcome of people’s decisions. The question of how media affects our psychology will not cease to be asked; this essay aims to define and break down the audience theories that address the subject.

An audience can be manipulated into receiving a message, for better or for worse. The ‘hypodermic-syringe model’ supports the theory that content creators have an agenda, suggesting that audience members absorb a message that they put out wholly. I can personally identify with having my identity changed by a film, when I watched the film Whiplash – about a jazz drummer trying to earn a part in one of his class – I ended up setting up my drum kit for the first time in over a year and learning jazz rudiments. This example might support the idea that media can influence your lifestyle, but I doubt that Whiplash was created to encourage has-been drummers. In most cases where the syringe model is consciously used, it will be for the benefit of the party employing it – not for the consumer. This leads to media being used as a chassis for an underlying message, which can be dangerous or ingenious depending on who takes advantage. Fox News is the perfect example of where the syringe model is abused to convey a message, though they only reach a particularly narrow minded audience. Fox News is always sure to concentrate on making terrorism seem like more of a threat than it is in America, which becomes obvious when E.D. Hill calls a fist bump between Barrack and Michelle Obama a ‘terrorist fist jab’. No country that respects it’s journalism would allow such absurd things to air.

Whilst the hypodermic syringe model focuses more on the motives of the media creator, Uses and Gratifications Theory (UGT) concentrates on the consumer, and why they would actively seek out certain media to satisfy specific needs. Whether human minds are as complex as we’d like to think or not, there is no denying that we work off a trigger system. If a film looks or sounds nice to an individual it’s because the creator behind it is tapping into your subconscious and flicking switches. A piece of media can be gratifying because of nationality, nostalgia, aesthetics, informative value and many more reasons; we seek them out for these same reasons, but we aren’t always aware of them in the first place. This method of studying an audience is beneficial as there are very few theories that support the idea of the consumer having a choice when it comes to media; however there are grey areas to be considered. The belief that an individual consciousness is comprised of every interaction with other ‘individuals’ would mean that nobody is truly individual – therefore when seeking entertainment, it is to satisfy a subconscious part of the brain that can recall say, David, telling you about how he likes dark red. At any rate, the reason behind having this preference to the colour red is trivial which makes the information about your preference to the colour red meaningless. UGT should not be used as a tool to shape art into what an audience will enjoy because audiences enjoy what their friend or brother enjoyed; it should be used to observe popularity and trends from a curious standpoint.

Consider reception theory, letting the reaction to media depend upon your whereabouts on the globe, cultural and linguistic background. This is a very logical train of thought; your personality is dependent on the language you speak and the culture that you reflect which makes this a prime area to study. As a middle class English bred human being I can look at Shaun Meadows’ ‘This Is England’ and instantly relate to the gritty feel of the film, the dialect being spoken and the generally British aura. If you were to show the same film to an upper class Spanish bred business student then it would carry a different message. Meadows captured an essence in that film, the key required to unlock that essence is being British. The danger of categorising people by their culture and nationality is remaining ignorant of other trends, making presumptions based on the wrong information.

Pornography is having an incredibly damaging effect on society as it’s becoming more vastly consumed by younger audiences. Porn is the perfect example for passive consumption of media because our instincts and sexual energies override the rational brain that can detect the misogyny and abusive behaviour whilst content is being consumed.

“The psychological, behavioural, and emotional habits that form our sexual character will be based on the decisions we make, whenever the sequence of arousal and response is activated, it forms a neurological memory that will influence future processing and response to sexual cues. As this pathway becomes activated and travelled, it becomes a preferred route—a mental journey—that is regularly trod. The consequences of this are far-reaching.” – William Struthers

Passive consumption is when the viewer is not engaging with the media on the same level as the creator, thus allowing the information presented to sink into the subconscious. Pornography is particularly unhealthy because it’s relatively unlimited, free and damaging to day to day relationships; passive consumption of video games has a less obvious and long term affect on the brain. Active consumption consists of absorbing media whilst bearing in mind who made it, what their motive was and whether there’s any prejudice, so that the content (which is usually make-believe) and it’s values don’t impact your consciousness negatively. British tabloids – sometimes more dangerous, the ‘trusted’ newspapers – are so full of false information that it would be almost impossible to abstract any solid values from the content making it important to consume this information actively.

Critical Approaches: Unit 6 – Outcome 2

‘The Railway Man’ was released in 2013. It is a film about an officer of the British Army who was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Singapore to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. Set in WW2, the film carries a modest colour pallet of browns, deep yellow/auburn shades and other autumnal colours. When compared to modern Hollywood pictures the production is humble and tasteful, requiring a certain attention span and an element of patience from the viewer; unlike blockbuster movies that use explosions, violence and any other reflex trigger in an obnoxious manner. Each film is unique and appeals to a different audience. There are many factors that affect moviegoers ranging from genre, to where in the world a film was produced. The films in question have to be marketed accordingly.

The Railway Man is a biographical war film that is based on a true story. Due to the content it naturally attracts an older group of viewers that might be more interested in history. Because the second Great War impacted the country on such a wide scale, it would be hard to pin an audience using the socio-economic status graph. Every class was affected and many people of all backgrounds lost family in the warfare, so we can assume that interest in this type of film would be common feeling. Regardless of interest in history, this film is fascinating because it highlights a huge variety of topics: relationships between older people, torture, slavery, comradery and mental health. It’s hard to get a solid idea of what young people take interest in from a personal point of view, because I socialise with filmmakers who are destined to watch cinema from a critical and appreciative standpoint. I couldn’t give a concrete argument implying that young people as a collective would struggle to be able to appreciate this production for what it is without getting bored by the slow pace, character development and subtlety of Jonathan Teplitzky’s creation, though this is what I firmly believe. This isn’t an attack on everyone who isn’t me, nor is it an attempt to call the youth ignorant, this is the age of the internet where every piece of entertainment is instant and people have a very, very small attention span.

Audience profiling is used to refine the type of people that are expected to watch a certain film and this goes further than socio-economics. The Railway Man follows the life of an English soldier, which generally suggests that it will attract mostly British people, probably not reaching most of the world on a massive scale. WW2 involved so many countries that there will be countless films made regarding geographically specific events – meaning that Germany, for example, will produce equally high quality content about the same time period; if it doesn’t involve an account of the UK then it’s extremely unlikely to become a hit in this country. The statistics from the opening weekend show that Teplitzky’s film made roughly 25 times more in the UK than it did in the USA, which shows the level of interest expressed towards the film when it was first released (It’s worthy to mention that it was shown on less screens in America. Once the film gained momentum in this country, it started making much more money overseas).

Earlier I mentioned the colours employed in the film. Naturally we aren’t drawn to a symbol for it’s colour alone, however, colour pallets are having a more powerful affect on people than in previous years. Advertising – especially when marketing to young people – uses bright, contrasting hues that clash with each-other to grab attention quickly, causing transcendent subconscious thoughts in our minds. Those bright (often obnoxious) colours are used in blockbuster movies to keep people entertained without considering narrative or indeed subtleties. When we look at films that are targeted towards an older generation, we notice that they frequently have a somewhat de-saturated wash over them, smooth colour curves and few directly contrasting colours. The reason is that pre-internet generations didn’t have instant entertainment, so had a more imaginative, patient attitude towards film, TV and every other walk of life. The font used in the poster for The Railway Man is blocky but not overtly bold, coloured a deep red which complements the cream shade behind it.

If a production has famous actors in, it will undoubtedly use them to sell the film. When looking at the poster for the railway man, Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman are thrown onto the main page with ‘Academy Award Winner’ printed above their names, whilst the equally good performance given by Jeremy Irvine is awarded a less important placement. Colin Firth is an older English actor who already has a prestigious reputation; he will instantly give the film a good name. When accompanied by an equally good acting talent, Nicole Kidman (who is instantly recognisable), this gives the film a large momentum before considering other factors. This was marketed with the actors at the forefront of the display. Nobody that watches the trailer or sees the poster needs to know who directed it, which demonstrates how products are created in the media industry. Naming the most popular people involved in the production – usually a producer’s credit – isn’t a bad thing as it provides a context for the film, reinforcing the codes and conventions of the genre. A commonly known example is the Steven Spielberg auteur signature, which appears at the beginning of so many movies that he had minimal input into. The last notable thing about the poster is the quotation from The Guardian. Whether looking at books, films or any medium that is critiqued, there are often quotes from newspapers printed somewhere. The film used a quote from The Guardian on the main poster because it’s a highly respected newspaper with an educated following, unlikely to be found among the lower classes or young people (according to the Socio-Economic Scale and a generalised view of the paper’s readers).

Critical Approaches: Unit 6 – Outcome 1

When producers of mass media content set out to create something, they define an audience for their product. This can be done by using various tools or databases such as BARB, or conducting research into who consumes what type of media. Audience profiling is a very broad topic that is affected by social class to sexual orientation and age, which is why it requires so much attention and consideration by media producers.

The easiest statistics to process and reference usually come from quantitative studies, as the results are kept in numerical form. Quantitative research results are usually shown in graphs and tables of data, logging a large number of people – which means it’s used for more general information. A popular service used to audience profiling statistics is BARB, the Broadcasters Audience Research Board. They provide industry standard TV audience measurement statistics, are non-profit and are owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and more companies. BARB came together because it was too complicated for the BBC to take their own audience research, whilst ITV and other broadcasters did the same. The information that BARB provide from watching 5100 homes is available through subscription on their website, and although they don’t provide audience analysis, they do provide viewing figures. A similar company known as RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) measure the radio audiences in the UK, but only produce results once a season, compared to BARB who publish results daily. The information provided is useful for any media producer who wants to find out about different trends across the country. The data is also used to establish the viewing/listening habits of all different classes, races and genders – though it is generalising and can never give a true account of viewing habits.

Qualitative research aims to refine results and go into more detail. Focus groups and panels of viewers receive screenings of programmes and films; within these groups there are different types of people that will give feedback. The media producer should have an objective when approaching a focus group, a news broadcaster looking to increase a TV anchor’s popularity for example. These groups usually have between 10 – 20 people that give direct feedback on the pros and cons of a production. Another example of qualitative research is the use of questionnaires. Questionnaires are even easier to conduct using the internet for tools like Surveymonkey, an online platform. For our final major project film about UFOs, we are conducting questionnaires to find out information like the level of interest in the subject and how strong people’s beliefs were in extraterrestrial life. Using Surveymonkey meant that we could reach a wider audience, instead of just asking peers and relatives; this is because you can share requests on social media. Face to face interviews can be used to gather detailed information, although they can be unreliable and provide biased opinions. It would take a lot of time to interview enough people to develop a balanced range of statistics, though mass media producers usually have the time and money to conduct such practices.

surveymonkeySUBGENRES

The socio-economic scale is used when identifying an audience by wealth class. The scale goes from A to E, A being upper class and E being lowest level of income earners. The Inbetweeners for example, is aimed at students which fall in class E because the storyline is based on the life of sixth-formers with trivial problems. The problem with the socio-economic scale is that it assumes that wealth and intelligence correlate – which is far from the truth. Placing students in class E underestimates their intellect by assuming that they want to watch un-thought provoking entertainment shows and the like. Another place that the scale falls down is in the fact that different age groups are placed within the same category. There could be an 18 year old in the same group as an 80 year old, though their viewing habits are surely much different. Similar to the socio-economic scale is geodemographic data, in the way that it targets where a person lives or where they came from. Comparing whether individuals fall into certain groups affected by a criteria, it is a form of quantitative research that tries to establish if people’s similarities exist because of their relative geography. The best example of where this is used is in advertising. Different areas of the country have particular standards and ethics that are affected by race, politics and age – so adverts need to be tailored. Google now have ‘Ad targeting’ tools, which allow you to target your advert to certain postcode regions, which would be used in politics; the south of England is notably more Conservative so it would be less beneficial for them to target that part of the country with their marketing.

Psychographics differ from geodemographics in the fact that they focus on personality traits, opinions, attitudes and lifestyles when gathering information about an audience, though they are used in combination to get data. Levels of health are documented up and down the country, so producers can get an idea of what will sell and where. The north-west has the highest rates of alcohol consumption and A+E admissions due to alcohol, so there is an indication that people enjoy that lifestyle. If there were a television show about health and fitness, you could assume that it would get less attention in the north-west than it would in a healthier corner of the country.

Audiences are also classified by gender and sexual orientation. Mainstream media is full of offensive content towards women and homosexuals, primarily, so conducting qualitative research into these groups would benefit a media producer when recording reactions to certain shows. Religious beliefs affect audience definition along with race and ethnicity. Some areas of the country are much more multicultural than others, so postcode region will affect what television and radio channels can be reached. In 2007 there were 300 languages spoken in London, leaving a huge audience for broadcasters. On digital radio there are channels in foreign languages, however they would not be accessible in the north of the country, where there are fewer foreign parties.