Representation (Year 10)




Over the next 3 weeks you will begin the first of two (Controlled) Investigations, which are both needed for your coursework portfolio. The task is research based and culminates with a 2hrs lesson in which you can use all of your notes to compile an 850 (max) words essay. Note that your work must contain a bibliography of resources using the MLA system. Any essay not containing a bibliography will automatically score 0.

Your question for this task was taken from the syllabus and is as follows:

Explore how far the representation of gender/ethnicity is challenged in Music Video A?

There are several tips that we would suggest in supporting you in this task. We have produced the following presentation to help support your understanding of representational issues:

Firstly, choose a text which is rich in textual detail and which has plenty to address. The video for Lady Gaga's Telephone is a good example:

Check out this NING forum link in which previous Y10/Y11 students debated the gender related representational issues relating to this text:

What is representation?

is the area of study where we look at how different groups of people, or places, or ideas, or whatever, are shown in the media. For example, how are black or Chinese or teenaged people usually presented? How is Hong Kong or Iran represented? How about Christian, Muslim or Buddhist belief systems?

Representation (Year 10) - Media@SIS


This is a very recogniseable representation - the young, aggressive black man. We have seen this representation many, many times; it is a STEREOTYPE. or what we might call a DOMINANT REPRESENTATION.

How is the representation constructed?
Think of the general representation as a building. It is made up of many different ‘bricks’ which we call SIGNS. Some of the signs in this particular image are the gun, the muscles, the tattoos, the designer-label holster, the stare, the ‘bling’, the crucifixes. The study of these signs is called SEMIOTICS.

A Dummy’s guide to SEMIOTICS.

One name that might be useful is SAUSSURE. Ferdinand Saussure - the father of semiotics - divided each sign up into the SIGNIFIED and the SIGNIFIER. Referring back to 50 Cent above, one signifier might be his gun. What is signified by this object is aggression, power, anger. These two things together - the signifier and the signified - equal the sign.


Charles PEIRCE took this idea a little further, saying that there were three different types of sign; the ICON, the INDEX and the SYMBOL.

An ICON looks like the thing it represents. You know which toilet to use (hopefully) because the symbols look like men and women.
Male toilet icon

An INDEX is somehow linked to the thing it represents. Why is the colour gold used to represent wealth? Because of the established link between gold and wealth. Here we see Michael Phelps advertising Visa; note the golden palette which functions as an idex of wealth or success.

Visa gold index

A SYMBOL is completely arbitrary. There is no logical connection between signifier and signified. We simply learn to understand the connection. Why does the heart represent love and not the lungs? How can a piece of paper represent financial value? Why does a man’s tie represent respectability? We have been taught to associate certain SIGNIFIERS -this man's clothes and hairstyle, for example - with certain SIGNIFIED things - respectability or competence, perhaps (or tedium, perhaps, depending on our SITUATED CULTURE; that is, the background we are born into and raised in, and the cultural, social, political, economic, historic or whatever environment which shapes us.)

Representation (Year 10) - Media@SIS


Good question. Rather a lot of people, as it turns out. For instance, check out the following sentiments expressed by a UCLA student about Asians and the huge, virally generated response:

Note that from a Theory of Knowledge (TOK) perspective, this would be considered as a classic case of fallacious reasoning. (A hasty generalisation based on a weak premise)

Representations like that of 50 Cent above are annoying or offensive to a lot of people. Are young black men often represented like that? Is it a dominant representation? If so, is it likely that people will expect young black men to be like that - violent, aggressive, criminal and so on? Do young black men, surrounded by that particular representation of masculinity, think that they SHOULD be like that?

There can be more specific examples. OJ Simpson was an extremely famous sportsman and actor in the US in 1994 when he was charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her new partner. His police photo (on the left) was reproduced on the cover of Time magazine, as shown here.

Representation (Year 10) - Media@SISRepresentation (Year 10) - Media@SIS

Note how the image has been darkened and shadows added. The SEMIOTIC CODES have been changed - in Sausurrian terms, the SIGNIFIERS have been changed.

Why was this done? The obvious effect seems to be to make him look ‘meaner’ or ‘darker’ and, ultimately, more likely to be guilty of his wife’s murder. This caused an enormous scandal and Time were ultimately forced to issue an apology. Subsequently, laws were introduced making such photo manipulation illegal in the media.

Why was this so offensive? The magazine producers seem to be making a link between Simpson’s colour and violence; the darker he is, the more violent he is likely to be. In Peircean terms, they are making his colour into an INDEX - black skin, it seems, indicates violence. Such ideas and representations, of course, have been around for a long time, and it is rather surprising to see a respected publication like Time reinforcing them.

Most of the representations we see are ‘normal’, DOMINANT representations. For example, there is a clear expectation that ‘beautiful’ women will look a certain way in Western culture, and great pains are taken to make women look that way, whether naturally or artificially.

The power of these dominant representations is often seen to be harmful. For example, it is often said that eating disorders might be a result of unreal expectations of beauty being broadcast by the media.

Make yourself 'pretty'...

People often try to construct ALTERNATIVE or SUBVERSIVE representations. Amy Winehouse is a popular British pop star. Her image or Star Persona, according to Richard Dyer’s Star Theory, can be analysed like any other media text.

Amy Winehouse

Note the mixture of signs which make up her image (or STAR PERSONA, in Dyer’s terms.) Some are traditionally feminine - the beehive hairdo, the heavy make-up, the earrings, the clothing which emphasises secondary sexual characteristics - breasts, legs and stomach. This is mixed with some traditionally male codes, though - she has several tattoos, some of naked women, which would more commonly be found on men. The result is a representation which has gained her a lot of attention, both negative and positive.

Such blending of male and female codes can also be seen in the star personae of such performers as Marilyn Manson or, for a while, Britney Spears. Why was there such a fuss when Britney shaved her head? Is it something to do with the appropriation of the ‘wrong’ icons (shaved heads are associated with toughness, maleness, aggression; entirely NOT the connotation of what we have come to recognise as Britney’s persona.)

Marilyn Manson Britney bald


BEYONCE AND L'OREAL; What's the problem? Why are Beyonce and L'Oreal being criticised? Were they wrong? Or does it not matter? Comment on the forum below, using media terminology!

- Why did they change it? Why does anyone care?

Keira Knightley's Incredible Inflating Physique
- Why was she so annoyed? Why did the producers of the posters do this? Should they have done it? Comment below, please!

Can your head be wider than your waist? Ralph Lauren and their over-zealous Photoshopping...