Introduction to Understanding Media Representations (Part 1)

Representation describes the ways in which media texts use ‘signs, symbols, images, portrayals, depictions, likenesses and substitutions…’ to represent an aspect of the world which we inhabit (Julie D’Acci, in Toby Miller [Ed.] Television Studies, London: BFL, 2002, p91).

We get the feelings of stability and security as a result of learning things via media representations. We can turn on the TV or scroll through our news feeds on our phones and feel connected and in-the-know. But media representations aren’t as simple as they may seem. These signs, images etc, that are constructed via the media to represent reality never present an objective window on the world. Many of our perceptions and our knowledge of people actually comes from the Media.


The illusion of experience – we feel like we know people we see in the media such as Taylor Swift. You may feel like you know a lot about things: celebrities, the British Court of Law, the British Civil Service and what a M15 agent does, but not because you’ve met these people or had experiences with them but because of the media representations that we’ve consumed, through both factual content and through film and TV dramas. The reality is  often largely different.


The Power of Media Representations

An Example: Jimmy Saville

This is a shocking example of recent times. The public believed they knew him well and even admired him. He was represented as a harmless eccentric and a compassionate charity worked who toiled away to raise money for hospitals and for under-privileged children. This image was shattered by the revelations that came about recently. But he got away with it for so long.

This was because he had such a powerfully positive public image that his victims believed that no one would believe them. This demonstrates the darker side of media representations – they are so powerful and persuasive that they can actually hide a whole array of human horrors.

This post is one of three. To see parts 2 (click here) or 3 (click here) click on the links.

These are notes from my semester one lectures and seminars.
I do not own the above image, it is from:

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