Representation in the Media

By definition, all media texts are re-presentations of reality. This means that they are intentionally composed, lit, written, framed, cropped, captioned, branded, targeted and censored by their producers, and that they are entirely artificial versions of the reality we perceive around us. When studying the media it is vital to remember this - every media form, from a home video to a glossy magazine, is a representation of someone's concept of existence, codified into a series of signs and symbols which can be read by an audience. However, it is important to note that without the media, our perception of reality would be very limited, and that we, as an audience, need these artificial texts to mediate our view of the world, in other words we need the media to make sense of reality. Therefore representation is a fluid, two-way process: producers position a text somewhere in relation to reality and audiences assess a text on its relationship to reality.

Extension/Restriction of Experience of Reality

By giving audiences information, media texts extend experience of reality. Every time you see a wildlife documentary, or read about political events in a country on the other side of the world, or watch a movie about a historical event, you extend your experience of life on this planet. However, because the producers of the media text have selected the information we receive, then our experience is restricted: we only see selected highlights of the lifestyle of the creatures portrayed in the wildlife documentary, the editors and journalists decree which aspects of the news events we will read about, and the movie producers telescope events and personalities to fit into their parameters.

Truth or Lies?

Media representations - and the extent to which we accept them - are a very political issue, as the influence the media exerts has a major impact on the way we view the world. By viewing media representations our prejudices can be reinforced or shattered.

Generally, audiences accept that media texts are fictional to one extent or another - we have come a long way from the mass manipulation model of the 1920s and 1930s. However, as we base our perception of reality on what we see in the media, it is dangerous to suppose that we don't see elements of truth in media texts either.

The study of representation is about decoding the different layers of truth/fiction/whatever. In order to fully appreciate the part representation plays in a media text you must consider:

Analysing Representation

The analysis of different sorts of representation forms an important part of Media Studies. The factors of representation most commonly addressed are: