An Introduction to Media Criticism

Hello reader, and welcome to my blog, Media Criticism Daily! My name is Rachel, I am a senior at Towson University majoring in Mass Communication with a dual track in public relations and advertising, I am also minoring in business administration. I chose this major to have a wide variety of skills to bring to the table once I graduate.towson

I am graduating in May of 2017 and I am very excited for what is next. Although from what I’ve heard “adulting” isn’t always easy, I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life. But, before I get to that new chapter, I need to successfully complete all of my classes this semester one of which include Media Criticism which is why I am here today.

I have the pleasure to be enrolled in the Media Criticism course here at Towson University. A couple of the objectives of this course are to “demonstrate critical thinking skills appropriate to the process of critiquing the media” as well as “attain greater competence in the practice of reviewing, critiquing and interpreting media content, production, consumption and cultural impact.”. To reach these objectives one must understand the purpose and meaning of media criticism.

Some may hear the word media criticism and think that it is just a way for people in the media business to critique different types of media on the things that they are sharing with the rest of society. However, media criticism is more important and influential than that. Part of the reason is because media plays such an important role in society today.

As I have mentioned above, media is incredibly influential and important in our society today. Media has the power to shape what we think as well as influence the choices that we make. Not a single day goes by where a person is not exposed to some sort of media whether it be billboard advertisement, television, movies, news or any type of content on social media.

The formal definition of media criticism is “the systematic and critical procesheads used to understand media texts as meaningful sociocultural symbolic forms and forces”. That is quite the mouthful right? Let me break this down for you into easier terms. Media criticism is an organized and orderly critique of a text in popular culture to show that media is a powerful force that has the power to shape culture and society. Media criticism provides us “tools” to evaluate media texts; these include the text itself, the production of the text, audience reception or response and its impact on society.

Now, for someone who had never had any exposure to media criticism before this class you may still puzzled by the easy definition of media criticism. When I mentioned “text in popular culture” I am referring to ANYTHING in the media. This can include but is not limited to broadcast, print ads, television shows, movies, Facebook, Pinterest, billboard ads and social media advertisements. Another item that can be quite confusing is the word “critique”. An important thing to understand about media criticism is that it is NOT necessarily negative, an opinion, or based on scientific research.

Like I said before, the media is one hundred percent unavoidable in our society today. Because of this fact, the ability to analyze and understand the media is critical. Media criticism seeks to uncover the underlying messages and ideas that a text is attempting to send us, these messages and ideas then help us understand how this texts shapes our society and culture. Media criticism contributes to a persons’ overall ability of media literacy, understanding the media. This is important because as I have mentioned the media has a significant impact on each and every one of our lives even if we do not think it does.

In order to further your understanding of media criticism I will provide an example of a media text and use a text-centered approach to analyze this piece of today’s media. The example that I am going to use is the television show Jane the Virgin.

jane

Jane the Virgin follows the life of Jane Gloriana Villanueva who is a religious, young Latina virgin who works as a waitress at a five-star hotel called the Marabella. Her story begins while she is dating her detective boyfriend, Michael and when Jane goes in for her routine visit at her gynecologist she is accidentally artificially inseminated by her doctor that has been going through a tough time. Jane’s mother, Xiomara, who had Jane at a very young age is worried that Jane would be destroying her life and dreams of becoming a writer if she were to bring the baby to full term. Jane’s grandmother, Alba, had instilled in her the importance of a young woman’s virginity which is why Jane has kept her virginity so she would not disappoint her grandmother, she encourages her to do what she thinks is best for her. The biological father of Jane’s child is Rafael, the incredibly wealthy owner of the rafaelsMarabella hotel where Jane works, who also happens to be Jane’s teenage crush. Rafael is a cancer survivor and was not sure if he would be able to have children after all of his treatments (this is why he had sperm saved) which was accidently artificially inseminated in Jane. Petra, Rafael’s scheming wife learns of Jane’s pregnancy with Rafael’s child and plots for her own benefit. Petra is having an affair with Roman Zazo who is Rafaels best friend but Petra wants to inherit money from a divorce so she needs to stay married to Rafael for 5 years. To save their marriage Petra suggests that Jane bring the baby to full term and then turn over custody to Petra and Rafael to live a life together as a “family”. Jane considers this at first but after hearing about Petra’s scheming ways and Rafael’s petra s.jpgplayboy past she decides to keep the baby. Time goes on and the Marabella is supposedly involved with a drug lord Sin Rostro, who we later find out it Rafael’s step mother, Rose. The show continues to follow Jane through her pregnancy where she falls in and out of love with both Rafael and Michael while the drama continues with Rafael’s hotel.

To someone that is not in a media criticism class, Jane the Virgin could be seen as a funny, drama filled television show that does not have any meaning other that what is shown in front of you. The text-centered approach that I will be using to analyze and critique Jane the Virgin is semiotics analysis through the use of Fiske’s levels of codes.

Semiotics is the study of how social production of meaning is constructed through a system of signs. Here we go again with the complicated and confusing terms.

Let me break it down for you, semiotics is interpreting and analyzing texts through “signs” these include symbolic signs, iconic signs and indexical signs. Symbolic signs are those in which need to be learn such as a red light at an intersection means stop. Iconic signs resemble what their meaning is. For example, a wheel chair access sign is what it seems it is from the picture. Indexical signs are cause and effect signs so dark clouds mean thunderstorm or bad weather.

Fiske’s level of codes is made up of three levels. The first level is reality and is interpreted using social codes such as appearance, dress, makeup, speech and behavior. Social codes embedded in Jane the Virgin include the way that michaelRafael dresses in comparison to Michael. Rafael is a billionaire hotel owner while Michael is a detective. The way characters’ dress in the show, for the most part signify their wealth. The way that the characters’ converse with one another represents the relationship between boyfriend and girlfriend, mother and daughter, mother and child, father and child and many other relationships.

The second level of Fiske’s Level of Codes is representation which is encoded by technical codes such as camera, lighting, editing, and sound. Jane the Virgin’s technical codes are very interesting; it is unlike any other show that I watch on television. The show is narrated by a third party character who we never see in person but this person knows what is going on between all of the characters. This narration is used to keep the viewer informed and created a connect to the telenovela style show that is filmed in the series. The show has a lot of sound effects that add to the drama and production of the show, when on-set of Jane’s father’s television show they make sure to add in the noises of a production set so the viewer knows where they are.

The last level of Fiske’s Level of Codes is ideology with is encoded by ideological codes. This level is the most important and gives the most meaning to the show. The first ideology that I have noticed in Jane the Virgin is materialism. Not only is there a large focus on the amount of wealth that Rafael has but Petra, his wife’s, goal in the beginning of the series is to stay married for five years so she can inherit 10 million dollars at the end of their divorce. Another example of materialism in Jane the Virgin is when Michael and Jane are buying a house they focus on the fact that having this house is the one thing that would make them happy.  One this that is interesting is that there is a hint of counter-materialism in the show when Jane has her and Rafael’s child Mateo and they discuss Mateo’s trust fund. This trust fund contains 15 million dollars, Jane feels that Mateo should not be raised as a stuck up rich child and has a problem with Rafael’s wealth.

Another ideology in Jane the Virgin is gender roles specifically feminism. Jane, time and time again jane mat.gifshows the audience that she is a strong Latina woman who doesn’t need a man as her side all the time. There is a point in the show where Jane decides that what is best for her and her child is to be a single mother and raise Mateo on her own without a father figure. Another feminist view is that Jane had the choice to keep her child or not in the beginning of the series. She was not pressured to make this decision based on society she did what she thought was right.

You may be thinking so what? But all of these codes connect and give us a better understanding of our culture and society as a whole. Media Criticism is important to understand what goes on around us and I hope that by reading my post you were able to grasp why I believe it is so important. Until next time!

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