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Page 1: Narrative theory


Narrative Theory

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Lesson Objectives

To understand a range of narrative theories.

To be able to apply narrative theory to the analysis of a media text.

To evaluate the usefulness of narrative theories.

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Put these events in order

Detective investigates Crime conceived Crime discovered Detective identifies criminals Crime committed Crime planned

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The story is…

a) Crime conceived b) Crime planned c) Crime committed d) Crime discovered e) Detective investigates f) Detective identifies criminals

Could the story events be arranged in a different sequence to make the narrative more interesting?

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The plot could be…

d) Crime discovered e) Detective investigates f) Detective identifies criminals a) Crime is conceived b) Crime is planned c) Crime is committed

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Narrative Story vs. Narrative Plot

all events referenced both explicitly in a narrative and inferred (including backstory as well as those projected beyond the action)

the events directly incorporated into the action of the text and the order in which they are presented

Narrative Story Narrative Plot

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Section A: Theoretical Evaluation You will be asked 2 questions about your

coursework. Question 1(a) will ask you to describe and

evaluate the development of your coursework from your AS Production to your A2 Production.

You will be asked to do this in relation to one or two of the following areas: Digital technology Creativity Research and Planning Post-production Use of media conventions

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Question 1(b)

Question 1(b) will ask you to choose one coursework product (either AS or A2) and evaluate it in relation to a theoretical concept.

The exam will specify one concept from the following: Genre Narrative Representation Audience Media Language

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Definitions of Narrative

Narrative is defined as “a chain of events in a cause-effect relationship occurring in time” (Bordwell & Thompson).

Narrative is ‘a way of organising spatial and temporal events into a cause-effect chain of events with a beginning, a middle, and end that embodies a judgement about the nature of events’ (Branigan).

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Narrative Theory

Narrative theory analyses the way in which media texts communicate meaning about events.

Narrative theory can be applied to range of different media including film, TV. Photographs, and magazines.

Narrative analysis of internet based media is more problematic, though may still be relevant. For example, you could consider how someone’s Facebook profile creates a narrative about their life.

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Read the chapter on Narrative Theory. Note down key points about the

following theorists: Branigan Propp Barthes Todorov Levi-Strauss

How useful do you think their perspectives are?

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Edward Branigan

Branigan argues that narrative is ‘ a way of organising spatial and temporal data into a cause-effect chain of events with a beginning, a middle and end that embodies a judgement about the nature of events.’

What is Branigan saying? Can you think of an example?

Branigan’s key point is that the narrative will embody a judgement – ideology and narrative.

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Vladimir Propp

Propp suggests that there are a limited number of character types that share a function.

When an audience reads a media text it deploys its knowledge of these character types in order to decode the meaning of the text.

Can you relate any of the character types to the characters in your coursework products?

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Tzvetan Todorov

Equilibrium – disequilibrium – resolution. How might this be used to analyse the

ideology of a media text?

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Roland Barthes

Barthes identifies 5 narrative codes which readers use to decode texts.

He emphasises the active role of readers in creating meaning, and their ‘culturally formed expectations’.

The narrative codes are: Action Enigma Semic Symbolic Cultural

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Claude Levi-Strauss

Narratives are structured by pairs of binary oppositions.

How can this be used to analyse media texts?

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Postmodern Narratives

Some theorists suggest that postmodern narratives are different from previous narrative structures.

Characteristics of postmodern narratives include: Irony, playfulness, and black humour Intertextuality Pastiche Metanarratives Extreme self-reflexivity Temporal distortion Hyperreality

Linda Hutcheon argues that postmodern narratives can critique contemporary society by calling attention to the constructed nature of the society.

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Review Theorists

Theorist Key Words





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Narrative Analysis

Apply one of the narrative theories to the analysis of the music video.

Narrative analysis involves considering how a range of elements (including mise-en-scene, editing, camerawork, sound, as well as events) create meaning for the audience.

Narrative analysis focuses on how the meanings made by the audience are constructed?

How useful is this approach?

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Equilibrium – the geeky girl is in love with the boy next door who only sees her as a friend.

Disequilibrium – the boy’s girlfriend cheats on him?

Resolution – the geeky girl is transformed into a beautiful girl and gets together with the boy.

What sort of values are reinforced by this narrative structure?

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Propp – character types

Hero – character who seeks something – Taylor Swift

Villain – character who the hero must overcome – the girlfriend

Princess – the boy – he is the reward for the hero.

What effect does the use of these character types have?

Why might the hero and villain be female? What values are reinforced by this?

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Levi-strauss – binary oppositions The video involves a number of pairs of

opposites reflecting (and resolving) the narrative conflicts.

There are different sets of oppositions between the jock/the geek, and the cheerleader/the geek.

These oppositions identify the central ideological messages of the video.

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Male Sociable Popular Sport Object

Female Studious Unpopular Reading Subject

Jock Nerd

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What are the key conflicts? Which values are dominant in the pairs? How are the conflicts resolved? What messages are conveyed through

this narrative?

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Barthes – Narrative Codes

Action – Viewers are expected to connect different pieces of narrative (e.g. The boy is shown arguing on his phone – viewer assumes it is with his girlfriend).

Enigma – Will the jock and the geek get together?

Semic – glasses, book, notepads, red car, uniforms, white dress/red dress

Symbolic – conflicts between male/female, popular/unpopular, different types of femininity

Cultural – the video draws on stereotypes/cliches of teen movies – jock, cheerleader, geek, girl next door, prom, etc.

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Postmodern approach - Pastiche Frederic Jameson argues that postmodern texts

are characterised by pastiche. A pastiche is an imitation of another genre or

text. Jameson argues that "Pastiche is...the imitation

of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language.”

Linda Hutcheon disagrees with this view arguing that postmodern texts use pastiche in a knowing way acknowledging the constructed nature of representation.

Does the cliched nature of the video act as a critique of the values it promotes?

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Applying Narrative Theory

In pairs analyse one of your AS or A2 coursework products using narrative theories.

Work through either theoretical approach and consider how useful you find them.

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How useful is narrative theory? Consider how useful you think each of

the following perspectives is: Propp Barthes Todorov Levi-Strauss Postmodern Theory