coherent critical perspective on media content
You apply the theoretical concepts to some example of media content that you select and that you identify in your Game Plan, due in class on September 19. You use the theoretical concepts to support your interpretation of meaning of the media content. In other words, you get to function as a serious media critic.
The assignment is also intended to help each class member develop a coherent critical perspective on media content that can be used again, well after the course concludes. Your critical perspective is expected to keep evolving after the course, as you fine tune it and as you gain experience and confidence in the evaluation of media content.
It’s important to keep in mind that the overriding intention of the entire course is to sharpen your critical skills, so that you start thinking about media content in new ways. The critical paper offers you the opportunity demonstrate those critical skills and to build a strong foundation that you can take with you at the end of the semester. It’s a valuable asset.
THE FORMAT OF YOUR PAPER:
· 10 pages, double spaced, computer generated. Your paper must have a standard title page and a set of References at the end. The title page and the References page are in addition to the ten pages that makeup the body of your paper. A sample title page is attached to these Specifications. You are required to use it as a model. You are required to provide a brief Abstract for your paper. We’ll ignore the APA requirement to place the Abstract right at the beginning of your paper; let’s place it on the Title Page as indicated in the sample below.
· Comply with the guidelines found in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) style guide. These guidelines are especially important as they pertain to source citations within the body of your paper and to the References at the end of your paper. Other style guides, including MLA, are not acceptable.
· Do not use a plastic cover for your paper. Do not submit your paper in a cardboard file.
· Do not use a paper clip to hold the pages together; use a staple. Every student should have a stapler as part of an academic tool box. I do not carry one around for your use in class. Staplers are available for your use in Morehead Hall, but you should have one of your own. Some class members may need to go long on the page count, going beyond the required 10 pages, perhaps including additional pages that include images, etc. This is fine, but it may mean that you will need the industrial sized, heavy duty stapler in Morehead Hall. Under very special circumstances, I will consider giving permission to use a metal clip, but this must be discussed well before the due date.
THE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE OF YOUR PAPER:
The structure of your paper must reflect the Encoding / Decoding concept presented by Stuart Hall in the essay you read on Canvas. You can accomplish this in one of two ways.
Four Sections with Subheadings: If you select this structure, you use Stuart Hall’s formula of Production, Distribution, Use, and Social Reproduction as clearly identified sections in your paper. Here’s the approach:
· Production: Where does the content originate? Where is it actually manufactured? What interesting and relevant things can you tell us about the production process and the creative team responsible for it? What’s the track record of the creative team? Can you find out the production budget and the profit numbers? How about ratings, box office sales, unit sales? How have audiences and critics / reviewers reacted to the product? This section positions your content as an industrial product, and so does the next section.
· Distribution (Hall calls it Circulation): Simply, where does the audience have to go to access this content? Network or cable TV? Premium cable outlets? Internet services like Netflix or Amazon? What are the various platforms that make the content available? DVD? CD? Streaming? Note that distribution (what Hall calls circulation) is very important, because it indicates reach and share-of-mind.
· Critique (Hall calls it Use): Remember that Hall employs the term Use to stress how audiences interpret the meaning of the product’s content. At this point in the Encoding / Decoding process, from Hall’s perspective, the audience experiences—or “reads”—the content’s symbolic codes and thereby generates the meaning of the content. Here, we do a bit of finessing of Hall’s concept. Given the nature of the paper assignment, the Use section becomes your critical interpretation of the content. YOU are the user. So, why don’t we modify the term Use and call it Critique?
In this Critique section, you get to make sense of concepts from our reading and from lectures and discussions to interpret the meaning of the content. Your perspective—your head—-becomes the instrument of examination; it’s your job to tell your reader the meaning that you discover in the content.
In other words, this is the most challenging section of your paper, and it is probably the longest section. Keep in mind, also, that this section is an argument that you’re making, so it is definitely rhetorical. You’re trying to convince your reader to experience the content the way that you experience it. You’re probably trying to convince your reader to either love or hate the content. You’re trying to win an argument. I’ve provided some tips for winning the argument at the end of these Specifications.
· Social Reproduction: This section gets a little tricky, because you may be examining a product that has simply not generated much social reproduction among audience members. On the other hand, keep in mind that social reproduction can be nuanced and even under the radar, far from your observation.
Think in terms of how audience members (including you) make use of the content as models of behavior or stylistics. There may even be news reports about some audience members acting out specific aspects of the narrative, perhaps adopting costuming. Behavioral responses are especially golden in this section, because behavior indicates penetration of the culture and significant share-of-mind.
One of the more bizarre current examples of social reproduction.
Now, here is a Big Warning: Do not, under any set of circumstances, make claims about “effects.” Don’t even use the word “effect” in this paper. In our field, media “effects” research is distinctly different from the cultural orientation of CMDA 210. You may observe behavior that seems to mimic the content you have chosen, but deal with that behavior as cultural phenomena, as if you were a cultural anthropologist. We can’t make claims about media “effects,” because the theories that we are using in this course simply do not allow us to do so. We’ll talk more about this issue in class.
An interesting, productive, and entertaining way for you to get a handle on the content’s social reproduction could include some audience interviews or observations. The potential value of this approach will be determined by the nature of the medium in which the content operates. We’ll talk about this option in class.
You collapse all four phases of the Encoding / Decoding formula into a well written essay with a structure that you determine, using the eight sample “A” essays at the end of our textbook (pp. 351-374) as inspiration. Given this option, your paper should still hit upon the four phases of the formula, but you have different options for creative expression. Don’t go this route unless you read all eight sample essays carefully, as well as other brief essays about current media content that I’ll handout in class.
TIPS FOR WINNING YOUR ARGUMENT:
· Use relevant concepts from O&M, lectures, and discussions, but use them wisely. Don’t just identify theoretical concepts for the sake of identifying concepts. Make sure they actually apply to your argument. Not all of the textbook’s concepts will be relevant to your critical project. Part of the game is to locate and apply the concepts that will support your persuasive argument.
· You must put your essay through several drafts. Your first draft should be written right off the top of your head, as if you were writing a long letter home. First drafts are usually horrible; at least, mine are. Most of the time, first drafts are self-indulgent, incoherent, and thoroughly unpersuasive. But a writer of criticism has to go through the torture and embarrassment of a first draft just to discover what the writer is trying to say. Get something down on paper, and then start making sense of what you have written, using critical theory.
· Use specific examples from the media content to illustrate the observations you make. The number three is the usual number of examples that turn up in this kind of student essay. You need at least three examples to support your observations, more if you care to expand. Strict adherence to the number three helps keep you away from the temptation to describe the entire bit of content, which is unnecessary and potentially boring for your reader. Your paper should not repeat in great detail the entire narrative of your content. Note how the sample essays avoid that trap. Read the sample student essays that O&M provide at the end of textbook.
· Avoid the passive voice whenever possible. Remember, you’re making an argument. You want to be declarative and forceful. Take the position that you have nailed the content; you have the definitive interpretation of the meaning. You’re tellin’ it like it is. You’re throwing punches in an academic boxing ring. So, avoid phrases like “In my opinion,” “I seem to think,” “I believe that,” “It would appear to me that,” etc. Good criticism has a declarative tone. It should be hard, if not impossible, for you to imagine anybody disagreeing with your argument. Criticism has an attitude. Adopt it.
· And good criticism almost always has an element of self-disclosure, often implicit. The critic often reveals some autobiographical aspect or values and beliefs, without even trying to do so. If you read good criticism, you develop some understanding of the person who is courageous enough to act on the need to write it. Remember: Your paper is objective in the sense that it’s based on disciplined observation and interpretation (this is where the examples come into play); your paper is also subjective, because you are revealing the meaning that you, as the instrument of observation, discover in the content.
· Don’t forget “interpellation” and Stuart Hall’s three reading positions: Dominant, Negotiated, and Oppositional. They could come in handy.
· Ott&Mack (O&M) must be used within the body of your paper, and the textbook must be included in your References at the end of your paper. The quality of your argument will also be judged by the other sources you include. These other sources will vary throughout the class, of course, but they should be there. Trade journals, academic journals, popular press pieces, etc., are all fair game. Wikipedia is not fair game, although Wikipedia may offer you some tips on other sources. Remember that Wikipedia is nothing more than a very helpful, often very cool, on-line encyclopedia. That’s all that it is. An encyclopedia citation, even from the legendary Encyclopedia Britannica (which operates on an entirely different intellectual level from Wikipedia) will undercut your credibility and weaken your argument, unless you are the one who wrote the entry.
· You may want use the concepts of genre and narrative in your paper, although it’s not required.
· Beginning now, as you start writing the first draft, you should consider me your editor, a role that I have played professionally. I like being an editor, so let me at your drafts as you proceed. I’ll be happy to meet with writers throughout January, February, and March, but access to your editor becomes very dodgy in late-March and early April.
· Get this writing project underway now, not later.
· Feel free to run your ideas by other faculty and staff members and the people who should be the harshest critics of your work: Fellow students.
· Two copies of your paper are required. One hard copy will be submitted in class at our April 18, 2019 meeting. An electronic copy is also required for submission as a pdf via our Canvas site, also on April 18, 2019.
SAMPLE TITLE PAGE WITH ABSTRACT
A Buddhist Rhetoric of Suffering:
Visualizing Gun Violence in the Police Procedural
School of Communication and Media
Montclair State University
Professor Harry Haines
Submitted April 18, 2019
ABSTRACT: This paper examines the visual codes used to represent gun violence in three television police procedurals: Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Blue Bloods. The paper makes use of Stuart Hall’s Encoding / Decoding concept in conjunction with Rhetorical and Cultural theories and argues that the visual codes constitute a rhetoric of suffering consistent with contemporary Buddhist thought.
CMDA 210-02 Spring 2019 UN 1070 T/Th 10:00-11:15
GAME PLAN FOR FINAL CRITICAL PAPER
SPRING SEMESTER 2019
YOUR NAME _______________________________________________________
Identify the example of media content that you will analyze for your Final Critical Paper: