Chapter 29 – the rant

1 10 2008

The description of Knox-Ardsley was based on the way the local grammar school pupils talk about the people from the nearby comprehensive.  Of course, Clouds’ school (Alexandra Lane) is a comprehensive, but Knox-Ardsley is from a rougher area.

The name “Tree Top Town” is an allusion to a certain classic video game, but it’s a pretty obscure reference.


Heroes this evening!  I can’t wait!

Current listening: the Smashing Pumpkins, “Zero”.


Vlad the Impaler can’t dance like me

2 07 2008

It has been a while since I updated this, partly because there hasn’t been a lot going on here that I thought people would be interested in reading about.  Paradoxically, another reason for the lack of updates is that I’ve been busy doing other things.

So what has been happening?  Well, I’ve done some papier-mâché for the first time since I was about twelve.  I’ve watched some very good Doctor Who, which was written by Russell T Davies, so he can write decent stories after all.  I’ve gone back to school to do some more music tech coursework.  A bird hit my window.  A boiled egg exploded.  I watched the 12 part KateModern grand finale, and enjoyed it very much (I only just started watching, so it’s kind of sad that it ended now.  Talk about Murphy’s law).

Super Smash Bros Brawl came out a couple of days ago, and I’ve become addicted, even though I’m completely hopeless at it.  I have unlocked several secret characters, but somehow I always mess up on multiplayer; I don’t have the reaction speed or something.  The only character I’m remotely good with is Mario.

More importantly, though, I’ve been working on my history project.  I’ve narrowed my topic down to organised crime in 18th century London, but I still haven’t decided on my question or found any relevant books.

My classmates have also chosen their topic areas: Catherine the Great, Anne Boleyn, Vlad the Impaler and Lady Jane Grey, which makes me wonder whether it would be easier to focus on a specific historic figure.  Jonathan Wild, perhaps, or Jack Sheppard.  I asked the school librarian for advice, and she provided me with several volumes on Victorian era criminals like Jack the Ripper, which wasn’t what I was after at all.  The girl who is studying Vlad the Impaler works at the local library (despite apparently hating books).  Maybe I should see what books they have on the subject of 18th century London gangs.

Updates on this blog are going to be irregular and occasional for a while.  I do have plans to change this, but it’ll be a while before I can put them into practice.

Multiple genres

14 05 2008

I’ve never been a fan of genre categorisation myself.  Ostensibly it helps you to find the sort of stories that interest you when you’re browsing a library or book/video store, but often the labels are too narrow, and stories are only ever given either one genre (e.g. steampunk, fantasy, thriller) or two (e.g. science fantasy, romantic comedy, action adventure).

I have this theory about genre – namely, there is no such thing as a story that has only one genre.  Every story will combine elements of other genres.  Take Star Wars – it’s not just a science fiction.  It’s got elements of fantasy (I actually think of it more as a fantasy than a science fiction) and action adventure, and even Western.  Or Harry Potter – they’re not just fantasy stories, they’re also school stories and contain mystery elements as well.

If you think about it, a lot of the categories we call “genres” are completely unrelated to one another.  For example, the presence of futuristic technology doesn’t preclude the story from featuring action, or comedy or romance.

So, because I have nothing better to be doing with my time, I have sorted various genres into more specific types:

1. Resemblance to real events

Stories are usually categorised by the simple premise, “did this happen in real life?”  If not, then it’s fiction.  If some of the characters really existed but the story is to a degree invented, it’s historical fiction.  If it’s all true, it’s non-fiction.  Pretty basic, but I thought it worth mentioning, especially since these are all-encompassing.

2. Possibility of actually occurring (at least in theory)

This is a common one, the main genres being fantasy (including subgenres such as supernatural horror) and science fiction (including subgenres such as cyberpunk).  Add to that stories which feature nothing that could not happen in real life, which is not normally considered a genre by itself, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, since a lot of people prefer those stories.  Note that just being set in the future and on another planet doesn’t necessarily mean science fiction; it could just as easily be a fantasy.  One thing you’ll notice is that categorising by whether or not magic or super intelligent androids exist in a story tells you pretty much nothing about the actual plot, so stories in these genres pretty much have to belong to at least one other genre.  Still, SF and fantasy stories pretty much exist in a kind of geek ghetto anyway, so whether or not they are correctly labelled as action adventure stories or romantic comedies is probably the least of their worries.

3. Emotions provoked

Stories are also grouped by what emotional response they get from the audience.  For example, horrors provoke shock, thrillers provoke tension, comedies provoke amusement, and so-called “weepies” provoke, well, weeping.  I would also tentatively lump action in with this, since they provoke a “woah, that was awesome!” response.  I’ve noticed that these stories seem to get sneered at a lot by critics (there are a number of notable exceptions), because apparently over-reliance on depressing or scary scenes is a cheap way of entertaining the audience.  In any case, like fantasy stories, these stories must have other elements to them or else there isn’t a plot.

4. Setting

All stories are set in a specified time and place, be it Renaissance France, America in the early 21st century, or New New York City in the early 31st century.  Works set in parallel universes and alternate histories also come under this.  Some of these get their own genre names, others don’t; it’s always struck me as a little odd that Westerns count as a genre in themselves, for example, since they’re just a specific type of period setting.  In any case, these don’t have anything to do with plot, either.

5. Plot

Of course, stories can be categorised by plot, and in fact often are.  This can be adventure, or romance, or drama, or mystery, or any number of other variations.  These are still not all encompassing, since many stories are a mixture of multiple plotlines.  In any case, the cleverest stories are those that take a recognisable plot and then subvert it, turning it into something totally different.

6. Presentation

Stories are also commonly categorised by the format they are presented in: animated, play, telenovella, platform game, graphic novel, rock opera, webcomic, stream of consciousness… the list goes on.  Obviously this makes sense in the case of gameplay, since it does not necessarily follow that someone who enjoys FPSes will enjoy RPGs; on the other hand, it doesn’t really tell you anything about what the story involves.  I mean, why would someone dislike a story when it’s presented in the form of an anime OVA, but enjoy the exact same story when it’s a live action movie?  It’s still got all the same elements, it’s just drawn instead of acted.  Of course, these categories are helpful if you’re specifically watching a movie because you like the art style, or because it’s got Orlando Bloom in it, or because you like the songs.

My conclusion from this is that all stories must be in a bare minimum of six genres (one for each type), but that really is the bare minimum; most will incorporate more than one of those.  Take Doctor Who:

Type 1: fiction, sometimes historical

Type 2: science fiction (with occasional fantasy elements)

Type 3: pretty much all of them combined

Type 4: anywhere and everywhere, but especially the UK in the near future

Type 5: varies from episode to episode, but drama, mystery and adventure are common.

Type 6: live action TV show

I reckon that could be applied to just about every story ever.  Now I just need to persuade libraries and bookstores to use it…

Manhunt 2 gets a UK release

14 03 2008

As reported by the BBC, Manhunt 2 will finally be released in the UK, albeit in an edited form, with an 18 certificate and a caution that it contains “very strong sadistic bloody violence”.

The game had been rejected by the BBFC twice, but the Video Appeals Committee has overruled them this time around.

 I’m just glad this whole fuss is over – it’s been raging since June last year – although I have no intention of buying the game, since I am not a fan of gory movies, and the Manhunt games are essentially gory movies in playable form.

Useful media studies words

13 01 2008

My aim here is to create a list of all the useful terminology used in media studies, with definitions.  These are the sort of words that really ought to be used in media exams.

  • aberrant reading – the interpretation of a text in a manner different from the way its author intended it to be decoded.   For example, people who think that Severus Snape from Harry Potter is cool and desirable, rather than cruel and bullying.
  • alternative – outside or on the edge of the mainstream.  Independant film and music are examples of alternative media.
  • agenda setting – the practice among news organisations of frequently selecting certain topics for publishing in order to influence the views of their audience.
  • anchorage – additional information designed to “anchor” the text to one specific reason, reducing polysemy and, consequently, reducing the risk of aberrant readings.  For example, if you put a caption on a photo, people will interpret the photo in a way that relates to that caption.
  • angle – the viewpoint from which a story is told.  May relate to the interests of the target audience, or simply the ideologies of the author.  For example, different newspapers may tell the same stories from either a left wing or right wing angle.
  • antagonist – the opposition to a hero.  Usually, the antagonist is a character, probably a villain, but they may also be a force of nature or an abstract concept.  The antagonist is the force that disrupts the equilibrium of the narrative.
  • archetype – a type, which most other examples of that type may be seen to be facets of.  For example, the heroic archetype may be seen in Gilgamesh, Perseus, Beowolf, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Neo, and many more characters.  Archetypes are easily recognised, much like stereotypes.
  • art film – an independant film that targets a well-educated niche audience.  Art films are typically not shown in mainstream cinemas, and may feature little known actors.  They are also typically low budget.  Art films are known to tackle controversial themes ignored by the mainstream film industry, and to challenge traditional cinematic form, for example, through use of surrealism and non-sequiturs.
  • audience – the people who read a media text; traditionally the consumers of media.  When you create a work, you usually target at a specific audience.
  • audience reception theory – a theory as to how audiences recieve media.  Examples include the hypodermic needle model, the two step flow model and the uses and gratifications model.
  • binary opposition – the construction of a text around opposing values, such as good and evil, or Star Wars‘ Jedi and Sith.
  • broadcasting – the transmission of texts to an audience using TV or the radio.  Broadcasting is sometimes contrasted with narrowcasting, in which case it means transmitting specifically to a large mass audience.
  • broadsheet – the largest newspaper format.  Broadsheets are widely perceived as more reliable than tabloid papers, adopting a more serious tone.  An example would be The Sunday Times.  Some papers are still considered to be broadsheets because they have retained the tone of a broadsheet but have changed paper sizes, for example, The Guardian.
  • caption – writing that describes the contents of a picture.  Captions may be used to provide anchorage.
  • celebrity – a famous person whom many people know, commonly called a “star”.  Celebrities include actors, presenters, singers, musicians, models, sporting personalities, writers, directors, producers, royalty or political figures and businesspeople.  Celebrities are symbols in that they have their own connotations – for example, Elton John is commonly associated with music, big glasses, homosexuality, songwriting, Princess Diana’s funeral, glam rock, etc.  Nowadays, plenty of people can become celebrities of sorts due to their online exploits, for example, Neil Cicierega a.k.a. Lemon Demon, singer/songwriter and creator of Potter Puppet Pals.  Notably, actress Jessica Lee Rose’s career was launched by her starring in web series lonelygirl15.  Meanwhile, participants in reality TV shows can gain minor celebrity status pretty much overnight.
  • censorship – the removal of information from a media text, on the basis that that information is undesirable.  For example, governments have been known to censor information which may be a threat to national security, or television companies may censor footage for reasons of decency.  Protestors like Mary Whitehouse and Jack Thompson are known for requesting the censorship of sex and violence from media texts.
  • chauvinism – the promotion of one concept over another.  Examples include nationalism and male chauvinism.
  • chiaroscuro – lighting with a high contrast between light and dark.  May be used to emphasise or draw attention to certain aspects of the text, or simply create a desired atmosphere.
  • chromakey – filming against a blue or green backdrop, then replacing all blue or green footage in that film with an alternative background.  Examples: weather reporters often use this to make it look like they are standing in front of a map.  Employed frequently in fantasy and science fiction films to create improbable settings.
  • Cinéma Vérité – an influential, French documentary movement from the 1960s which aimed to capture “truth” by provoking interviewees.
  • clip – a short piece of footage.
  • close up – a shot which provides a very close view of a character or object.  Handy for showing expressions, or allowing the audience to read onscreen writing.
  • code – a sign which must be decoded to create meaning.  Codes can be very obvious or hidden, and can be created by camera techniques, visual images, spoken words, connotations of signs, etc.  Decoding a text in a manner that differs from the manner the producer of that text intended it to be decoded produces an aberrant reading.
  • conglomerate – a large media organisation with worldwide influence and interest in broad areas, consisting of many smaller organisations.  EMI Group and Time Warner are examples of conglomerates.
  • connotation – meaning created through association.  For example, fig leaves have connotations of modesty, horns have connotations of demons and the colour red has connotations of passion and rage.
  • consumer – the audience recieving a media text.  Traditionally distinct from producers, new media have allowed many consumers to become producers.  This is known as participatory culture.
  • convention – the usual way to do something.  This may be to do with form (songs being around 3 minutes long, paintings being rectangular) or stock elements (gore is a convention of the horror genre, the “meet cute” is a convention of the romantic comedy genre).  Producers of media texts often have to tread a line between keeping to conventions in order to make a work identifiable and accesible, and defying conventions in search of originality.
  • convergence – the combination of several media technologies into one medium.  For example, current mobile ‘phones can do all sorts of things beside simply telephoning people – they can send texts, or play music, or take photographs, etc.  The ultimate example is probably the Internet – practically every form of traditional media has an online equivalent.
  • cult following – a niche audience that, whilst relatively small, is exceptionally loyal towards a text.  Cult works are often science fiction or fantasy.  Twin Peaks and The Prisoner are examples of texts attracting a cult following.
  • cut – the most basic type of transition between shots.  A cut is where one shot ends, and another usually begins.  More complex types of cuts include fades and dissolves, which may be used to indicate scene changes.
  • demographic – audiences categorised by specific features, such as working class females or 5-7 year old American children.
  • denotation – the simplest way to create meaning.  For example, if I were to paint a picture of a tree, it would denote a tree.
  • diegesis – the (fictional) universe of a work of fiction.  Much of what happens on screen in a movie or TV show is diegetic.  Non-diegetic elements are those that characters won’t be aware of, such as the logo or the soundtrack.  For comparison, diegetic music is music that the characters acknowledge, whilst non-diegetic music will be completely ignored and not made by anything onscreen.  Some films will play around with this – for example, music that is playing in the background in one scene, and then gets played on the radio in the next scene.
  • Direct Cinema – an American documentary style from the late 1950s.  Mainly filmed using handheld cameras, Direct Cinema aimed to objectively capture events without the intrusion of the documentary makers themselves.
  • discourse – an argument presented in a way that prevents other ideas from being brought into the argument.  What one discourse might refer to as cruelly imprisoning people, another might refer to as bringing criminals to justice  For example, an article about “chavs” and “yobbos” would not be likely to argue that the people it describes are unfairly persecuted victims of the British class system.
  • dolly – a device for moving a camera along on wheels.    Used for tracking shots.
  • equilibrium – stability within a story.  Over the course of the narrative, equilibrium is disrupted, and restored by the end of the story.  For example, in The Legend of Zelda, equilibrium is disrupted when the princess is kidnapped, and returns to normal once she has been rescued.
  • establishing shot – a shot shown at the the start of a scene to establish the location.  This is often a wide angled shot, so as to reveal as much of the location as possible.  Interior scenes may be established by an exterior shot.  Additionally, establishing shots may include famous landmarks to make their location recognisable.  For example, a movie set in Paris might show an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower.
  • format – the form which a text conforms to.  A standalone movie is a vastly different format from a television serial, for example.
  • gatekeeper – anyone within an organisation who decides what items will be published.  Usually used to describe journalism, but it technically applies to other industries too, such as the music industry.
  • genre – a category which media texts are divided into.  This is useful when trying to reach a specific audience, but can be quite awkward when people attempt to shoehorn a text into a genre it doesn’t fit.  Examples would be science fiction, hip hop music, Western, and documentary programme.
  • genre fiction – fiction written within a specific genre.  Often disparaged by literary critics, although perhaps injustly, since it is arguable that even the best literature will fit the conventions of some genre or other.  Dracula, The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice have all been termed genre fiction.  Genre fiction is an important aspect of popular culture.
  • globalisation – the way that global media results in world wide cultures becoming more and more similar to one another.
  • hegemony – the practice among powerful groups of dominating the media, asserting their ideology and dissuading audiences from other ideologies, through use of propaganda.
  • high culture – the culture associated with the upper classes, which is purportedly superior to popular culture.  High culture is associated with traditional media forms such as newspapers (where we have the contrast between high culture – broadsheets, and popular culture – tabloids), music (high culture – classical music, and popular culture – pop music) and books (high culture – classic literature, popular culture – the sort of books you can buy in airports).  Good luck finding a high culture video game, though.  It should be noted that high culture is not the same thing as cult popularity, even though fans of cult shows might call Star Trek: The Original Series or the original Doctor Who “classics”.
  • high key, low contrast lighting – lighting that has little contrast between dark and light areas, and tends to be brightly lit.  High key, low contrast lighting is normally used to create a cheerful, upbeat mood, as in old sitcoms.
  • hypodermic syringe model – an audience theory which holds that when an audience views a media text, they will act in a manner that is directly influenced by it.  For example, according to this theory, watching a film about being nice to people might cause the viewer to do an act of kindness in imitation of that film.  Likewise, listening to a radio broadcast about aliens might cause the listener to panic about the threat of alien invasion.  This theory has been criticised because it assumes that audiences will passively consume whatever text is thrown at them, without possibility of (e.g.) switching off the television, or even disliking the programme.
  • ideology – the values or beliefs which the producers of a text hold.  These are often very obvious in the text – for example, C.S. Lewis’ Christianity in The Chronicles of Narnia, or Russell T. Davies’ condoning of homosexuality in the revived Doctor Who.  An ideology can be held by an individual, a group or a society.  Reading a text which conflicts with one’s own ideology can provoke an aberrant reading, or even outright dislike of a text.
  • inoculation model – a specific variant of the hypodermic syringe model which suggests that if audiences are exposed to a media text for long enough they get used to it and it ceases to have any effect upon them.  For example, according to this model, an audience that has watched a significant number of violent films will become desensitised to violence and fail to be shocked by the concept.  Further more, the theory argues that the desensitised viewers will then happily accept real life violent acts as normal.
  • interactivity – the ability of two things or people to respond to one another.  There are two ways in which new media can incorporate interactivity: a person can interact with a technology (such as a video game) or with another person using that technology (such as email).
  • intertextuality – the way multiple texts draw upon one another to create meaning.  For example, shows like Dawson’s Creek have their own associated websites, and the Matrix series has all those spin-off games and stuff.
  • juxtaposition – the placement of two or more utterly distinct concepts in direct proximity to one another.  When done deliberately, juxtaposition is a valid tool used to create effect.  For example, Pink Floyd’s The Wall juxtaposes uplifting melodies with bleak or angry lyrics to conjure up a tone of insanity.  When accidental, however, juxtaposition can be jarring and off putting for audiences.  For example, showing a cheery comedy film followed by a bleak documentary would not be likely to impress audiences.
  • low key lighting – lighting that features many shadows to create a chiaroscuro mise en scène.  Common in film noir. 
  • mass media – media targeting a mass audience, the largest possible audience there is.  It is questionable whether the term serves any useful function nowadays, given that television shows mainly target niche audiences and even personal blogs now have the potential to be viewed by a very large number of individuals.
  • media imperialism – the strong influence exerted by Western media upon developing countries, which may result in the Westernisation of those countries.  This is what the term “globalisation” usually describes.
  • media studies – repeat after me: the study of “who said what to whom, through which channel and to what effect.”  A Google search tells me that this is actually a paraphrasing of a Harold Lasswell quotation referring to communications, but it sums up media studies.
  • mise en scène – pretty much everything you see on screen.  It includes properties, costumes, lighting, actors, and just about everything else really.  For example, if you wanted to make a Western film, your mise en scène would include a dry setting, with wooden stores and saloons and revolvers and wide brimmed stetson hats.
  • moral panic – put simply, a lot of fuss.  Something (rock ‘n’ roll, communism, gun crime, etc.) is perceived to be a threat to today’s society.  Consequently, the significance of the problem is blown out of proportion by the media, which provokes widespread hysteria.  Sometimes, governments pass legislation to to cope with the supposed problem.  The Video Recording Act (1984) was a reaction to the moral panic over “video nasties”, for example.
  • narrative – story, pretty much.  A narrative typically starts with stable equilibrium, which is then disrupted.  The narrative ends when the equilibrium is returned to.  Narratives are common in books, plays, TV shows and films, and may also be present in music videos, albums and video games, and many other media.
  • narrowcasting – the targeting of a broadcast to a specific “narrow” audience – in other words, a niche or target audience.  Channel 4 has demonstrated the value of aiming programmes at small, wealthy audiences as opposed to mass audiences.  More recently, a number of channels have sprung up to cater specifically to certain narrow audiences (e.g. the Sci-Fi channel and Cartoon Network), although these are becoming steadily more broad in their audiences.
  • new media – new media.  What it sounds like.  It’s actually quite a vague term, but it tends to be media which includes elements of convergence, digital technology and interactivity, as opposed to the traditional media.  New media include websites, video games and mobile phones, in contrast with old media like television and newspapers.
  • niche – a small specific target audience.  Finding a niche audience that is not currently catered for and targeting a text at it can result in success.
  • pan – a basic camera movement.  The camera turns left or right on a horizontal axis.
  • participatory culture – the culture where audiences are directly involved in the production of media, rather than simply consuming it passively.
  • podcast – a web media file that is syndicated over the Internet.  Basically the online equivalent to radio, although podcasts have a variety of other uses.  Video podcasts also exist.
  • point of view shot – a shot that shows the audience the scene from the perspective of a character.  For example, Jaws features several moments the audience can see from the shark’s viewpoint.
  • polysemy – the way that all images may be interpreted in a variety of different ways.  By extension, this can apply to other forms of text.  The more anchorage a text is given, the less open it is to polysemy.
  • popular culture – the culture of the people.  Popular culture is sometimes considered “low culture” in contrast with high culture, which looks down upon it, despite the two being obviously linked.  Popular culture consists mainly of concepts that enter the consciousness of the majority of people, spread by the media.  MTV, The Da Vinci Code and Xbox games are all examples of pop cultural concepts.
  • postmodernism – a broad cultural movement that sprung up as a reaction against modernism.  Postmodernist works are typically characterised by their frequent referencing of earlier works and their playing around with the conventions of their genre.  Pulp Fiction is an example of a postmodern work.
  • preferred reading – the way in which the creator of a text intends it to be read.  Any other reading is an aberrant reading.
  • producer – the creator of a media text.  As the Internet becomes popular, the line between producers and consumers is becoming steadily more blurred.
  • production values – the quality of a production – sets, script, properties, acting and all.  Generally speaking, the bigger the budget, the higher the production values.
  • propaganda – a text that aims to alter the ideology of its audience, turning it into something resembling the ideology of the creator of that text, who is known as the propagandist.  Propaganda is common in war time.  Well known examples would be the posters distributed during the First and Second World Wars which depicted characters like Uncle Sam and John Bull asking for help and kids saying, “What did you do in the Great War, daddy?”
  • property – commonly abbreviated to props, these are items that are used on stage or screen.  For example, an egg, a sword or a book.
  • protagonist – the main character of a work of fiction, also called the hero.  Commonly the character the audience is expected to sympathise with, the protagonist is opposed by the antagonist.  Protagonists are normally some sort of heroic archetype; when this is not the case, the protagonist is called an anti-hero.
  • PVR – a personal video recorder.  PVRs record television digitally, allowing audiences to watch programmes timeshifted.  Sky+ is an example.
  • representation – the depiction of something in a media text.  The way in which people or concepts are represented in a text will normally reflect the views of the author of that text.
  • semiology – the study of signs and the way in which they create meaning.  A sign which may outwardly be merely a symbol is frequently given meaning beyond its outward appearence.  Words are symbols too – so the word “cow” has the obvious meaning of a domesticated bovine, but it also has additional connotations.  These connotations will differ depending on the views and experiences of the individual, so that where one person sees a dog to have the connotations of cuteness, loyalty and intelligence, another person will perceive it to have connotations of aggression and stupidity.
  • serial – a media text which is released in episodes or installments, which, when experienced in order, tell one ongoing narrative, rather than being standalone stories in their own right.  Eastenders, Ugly Betty, Cardcaptor Sakura and Heroes are all examples of serials, as were Charles Dickens’ novels when they were first published.
  • series – a media text which is released in episodes or installments, each of which tells its own self-contained narrative.  Continuity may be maintained, or it may be ignored completely.  The Simpsons, RecessMonty Python’s Flying Circus and The Twilight Zone are all examples of series.
  • stereotype – a prejudicial assumption about what a type will resemble.  Stereotypes are not necessarily negative – for example, perceptions of the French as being great lovers, blacks as being cool and women as being more efficient and competent than men.  However, even positive stereotypes can be perceived as offensive by some people.  Like archetypes, stereotypes are used often by writers to create an easily recognisable character.
  • subgenre – a genre within a genre.  For example, Spider-Man may be broadly defined as an action movie, but it is more specifically an example of the superhero fantasy genre.
  • synergy – the use of one product to make another more successful.  Like the film?  Buy the toothpaste!  Common in large franchises such as Doctor Who, The Simpsons and Harry Potter.
  • tabloid – a half sized newspaper.  Tabloids are often much less serious than broadsheets, known for printing speculation and rumours about celebrities and television shows, and highly melodramatic crime stories.  The Sun is a famous example of a tabloid.
  • target audience – the audience which a specific work or product is aimed at.  For example, Doctor Who is pitched towards a UK family audience, whilst its spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures is aimed at a target audience of children.
  • text – an item of media that can be “read”.  In a media studies context, this does not apply solely to written words.  Books, photographs, films and television shows are all “texts”.
  • tilt – A basic camera movement.  Moving the camera up or down on a vertical axis.
  • timeshifting – recording a programme using a PVR and watching it at a later time.  Naturally, this makes advertising companies worried, since it means audiences may skip advertisements.
  • tracking shot – a shot where the camera moves horizontally.  Although basic, this can be difficult to pull off neatly, so a dolly may be used.
  • two step flow model – an audience theory which suggests that initially only a small portion of an audience will be directly affected by a text, but then a wider group of people will act in imitation of that portion.  According to this theory, for example, if a mass audience watches an advertisement for can openers, a small number of opinion leaders will buy them.  Gradually, more individuals will decide that, on second thoughts, they want one too, in imitation of those leaders.
  • uses and gratifications model – an audience theory which suggests that, rather than absorbing all media, audiences will seek out and respond to texts that meet their needs.  For example, an individual who is curious about shark fishing in the 18th Century might search for a website that is about shark fishing in the 18th Century, or a individual who wants to fit in with all his teenage emo friends might listen to Senses Fail.
  • viral marketing – advertising that relies on word-of-mouth to spread the news of a product, commonly using the Internet.  Examples include Cloverfield, Snakes on a Plane, and any arc word or phrase in a TV show such as Lost or Heroes.
  • voyeurism – deriving pleasure from watching someone who doesn’t know you’re watching.  Not necessarily for perverted reasons, although it often is.  Reality shows such as Big Brother rely on this, and it’s a major feature of many works of fiction, particularly those where we are shown details of the characters lives.
  • wiki – a collaborative website which users can easily edit.  Wikipedia and TV Tropes Wiki are both examples of wikis.  Wikis are a good example of participatory culture in action.
  • zoom – a rapid movement from a distant shot to a close up.  May be achieved through use of a zoom lens or digital zoom.  A slow zoom can be an alternative to a tracking shot, although it is not difficult to spot the difference between the two.  Often used to draw the audiences attention to a particular object on screen.

A safer Scotland with Xbox 360

24 12 2007

The BBC have reported that the Scottish government are spending £10,000 on anti-drink driving advertisements to appear in Xbox 360 games.  The adverts will appear on billboards in the background of online versions of Need for Speed: Carbon, Project Gotham Racing 4 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2008.

 The adverts will be “subtle,” but will get the message across “loud and clear”.  An example of this message is “Drink Drive.  Lose Licence.  Don’t Risk It.” accompanied by the Safer Scotland logo.  If the scheme is successful, this could be extended to other road safety messages as well.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson says, “With statistics showing that road deaths, particularly among young people, are continuing to rise, it is clear we must look at new ways of getting road safety messages across…  This is exactly the kind of initiative we should be trying…  It is innovative, it is new, and it is far removed from the more traditional methods we have been using. I believe that is what we need if we are to reverse the number of Scots families suffering the tragedy of a loved one being lost.”

Given that police recently caught nearly 150 drink driving under 25 year olds during the “annual festive drink driving blitz” (the what?), and that more than 70% of 15-25 year olds in the UK own a games console, I’m inclined to agree with him.  Whilst I may feel he’s placing too much importance on this latest scheme (and let’s face it, politicians are always doing that), I think this is a good way to get the adverts noticed.

 Remember kids: drink driving is dumb.  Don’t do it.  Especially not at Christmas.

Read the age certificates, dang it!

4 12 2007

This morning’s headline ‘news’ article from BBC technology: “Games content ‘concerns parents’“.

According to a survey conducted on behalf of Microsoft, more than 75% of parents in the UK, France, Italy and Germany were concerned about the content of the games played by their children.  About 44% felt that children should devote up to one hour a day to computer games, and 43% said that they were not aware of ratings systems to determine the suitability of games.  Over 50% of the children played on consoles, and 64% played mainly alone.

This survey has irritated me for several reasons.  Firstly, shouldn’t it be “games’ content”?  Apostrophes, people!  Sheesh, doesn’t anbody bother with proper punctuation nowadays?

Secondly, I feel that reports of this nature create a negative press for video games that they just don’t deserve.  I mean, if parents are concerned about the content of the games, why do they buy them?  I think that just reeks of lazy parenting.  OK, so there are some games that are obviously unsuitable for children, but the majority of games, such as Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Sonic the Hedgehog, are no worse than the average Disney film (most games are less disturbing than that transformation scene in Pinnochio).  Even many games like Halo 3, with more violent content, are still no worse than a 12A rated movie (Halo 3 is 15 certificate, in the UK at least).  Whilst there are games that are obviously unsuitable for children (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and BioShock spring to mind), these games are clearly labelled as 18 certificate, with a larger BBFC symbol than is present on the cover of a film, so how can people not know about the rating system?  Either these people lack common sense, or they lack the ability to actually look at something before buying it.

Deep breath, rant over.

The BBC also reports that the UK government has launched a study, headed by Doctor Tanya Byron, who states “Video gaming and the internet themselves are a very positive and important part of children’s and young children’s growing up and learning and development. But it is also about saying where are the risks?”

Except I’ll bet she actually said that last sentence with the proper punctuation, if that makes any kind of sense.

Paul Jackson, of the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers’ Association, said “We feel quite positively about this review. It’s clear the review is about making sure parents are properly informed about what their youngsters are playing and what they are accessing on the internet.”

David Braben, of Frontier, seemed less happy, saying “A review might be useful but it should not just look at one media, especially when media are intersecting.”  I agree that it does seem odd that the government are targeting video games specifically (although they are also looking into the Internet).

The industry’s reaction seems quite reasonable, and provides some interesting quotes.  For example, Paul Jackson said, “The key for us is to make sure parents understand age ratings. There is no difference between an 18-rated film and an 18-rated game.  I think the video games industry is this year’s whipping boy.  Too often we are blamed for everything from obesity to youth violence.  It is just not true and it’s not appropriate.”

I took the liberty of correcting some of the grammatical errors in that quote – they were making me wince.