Sunday, 5 June 2011

Collective Identity Stuff...

Collective Identity

You must refer to two or more media and you must bring in some historical references, even if the question doesn’t ask for them directly. You should be able to show awareness of how representation has changed or developed.

Likewise, while the question may not refer directly to collective identity, you will have to refer to theory.

Representation - Gurevitch and Roberts in Stuart Price's "Media Studies" book 1993: "Mediation is the process of the representation of events through the media."
Thomas De Zengotita (2005) – Almost everything we know about the world comes to us through some sort of media and this influences our view of the world and even our self-definition.

One aspect to consider is WHY that particular representation has been created. Remember that the working classes had been pretty much marginalised in popular film until the late 1950s/early 1960s. There were exceptions like Love on the Dole (1941), but in most films, the working class knew their place, supportive of the middle or upper classes – as in the World War Two dramas like Went the Day Well and The Way Ahead. This type of representation could be seen to reinforce Gramsci’s theory of hegemony: much of the media is controlled by the dominant group in society and the viewpoints associated with this group inevitably become embedded in the products themselves (representation of class, for example), even if the promotion of these views isn’t conscious, dominant views come to be seen as the norm - hence the marginalisation in the representation of the working class in British cinema until the late 1950s.

Note that the ‘angry young man’ films sprang up from novels and theatre of the period, so they were already reflecting a genre, if you like. Note the conventional centrality of the male character to films like Room at the Top and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. Despite the working class milieu, these were major films and would be vying with Hollywood product of the time, and would comfortably fit in with the social realist American cinema of Elia Kazan, as well as the French New Wave. They were aimed at the traditional cinema-going audience and would open in major cinema chains, something which only popular working class films can do today because of the dominance of Hollywood.

Note how the representation of working class life was so obviously different on the small screen on Coronation Street. What does this tell you about the aims of the makers and their intended audience?

How has representation of the working class changed in soaps? You need to state the influence of early Brookside, but the success of Neighbours with its focus on young members of the cast has probably been influential too.

Soaps’ appeal to women:
Soaps were originally conceived as dramas to appeal to women – serialised domestic dramas on US radio from the 1930s sponsored by various advertisers, including soap powder manufacturers– rooted in popular serialised novels for women from the 19th century. Maintained popularity until 1950s – transferred to TV.

Soaps… focus on female characters not as mysterious or peripheral figures of crime and action series, but as everyday people coping with the problems of life (Glaessner, 1987).

Geraghty (1991) – four elements explain why TV soap appeals to women:

1) Central female character the audience can identify with
2) An acknowledgement of the importance of domestic sphere in people’s lives
3) An emphasis on the importance of relationships
4) The privileging of fantasy linked to the private sphere.

Note also Hobson (1982) talking about Crossroads, claimed soaps gave the female viewers a ‘cultural space’ in the dominant patriarchal society that they could call their own.

Soap narrative appeals to women because there is no real beginning, middle or end (Modleski, 1997); Soap is ‘an infinitely extended middle’ (Fiske, 1987). They mean that there is often no real resolution to stories and this reflects the position of women in a patriarchal society: men succeed, but for women, success is endlessly deferred – they are less likely to succeed, like likely to achieve resolution.

Why the increase in crime stories in soaps? Why the blurring of the line between middle and working class characters (particularly in Eastenders)? How do they attempt to appeal to a multi-cultural audience?

At the same time, look how the credits of Coronation Street have recently changed – as if the makers of the show are playing on nostalgia and affection for the past – and it’s true that the audience for Coronation Street is generally older than for Eastenders. So who is constructing what particular kind of working class identity here and for what purpose?

What do the popular working class films (and stress you are discussing popular working class films) of recent years have in common? The use of traditional working class visual signifiers (and audio, in terms of brass band music); family dysfunction and hardship caused by loss of employment; accent; males having to overcome stereotypes (or is that a stereotype in itself). What is the representation of women like? Are any of the films directly political? As with many films, American money was needed to help the production so to recoup costs they had to be successful on the foreign market. What seem to be quintessentially British films also have a universal appeal. Why was the Full Monty (which was later turned into an Americanised Broadway musical) a success in America?

Another aspect you must refer to is that certain tropes used in the representation of working class life have roots in writing and illustration from the 1840s (in the works of writers such as Mrs Gaskell, for example) and photography of the late 1800s. These images seem to have been culturally ingrained in the collective consciousness of what working class life is: cobbled streets, terraced houses in the shadow of smoky factories, men in big coats and caps, northern accents.

According to Eley (1995), the images and stereotypes of the ′traditional working class culture′ as they are presented in many films refer back to ′a historically specific formation of the period between the 1880s and the 1940s′. And… the north of England has been identified since the nineteenth century in the popular imagination as the “land of the working class.” (Rob Shields, 1991) and these films use the iconography of working class social realism – presumably because the image of ‘working class’ in the collective consciousness is just that!

Thomas De Zengotita defined representation by saying, “Almost everything we know about the world comes to us through some sort of media and this influences our view of the world and even our self-definition” (2005) and we need to go beyond this and note that representation of working class in film and on TV often uses tropes that we have seen before and they may well be shaped by earlier representations of working class life that the film-makers have seen in other films or, at least, in other texts. The 1960s working class sitcom, The Likely Lads, was set in Newcastle but filmed in London but the makers wanted to show back lanes, which are one of the visual signifiers of the working class industrial north. Rather than film the scene on location, however, they found the back lanes a few hundred yards from the studios in London…

Watching Made in Dagenham, we can see the workers leaving the factory on foot and riding bicycles. Where have we seen this image of working class life before? It may well be an accurate depiction of Dagenham in the late 1960s but the scene certainly reminds me of a similar one at the start of Saturday Night, Sunday Morning. Arthur Seaton’s checked shirt in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning would seem to have connotations of working class masculinity and Ken Barlow’s (factory working) brother wears one in the first episode of Coronation Street. Is this why Robert Carlyle wears one in the Full Monty? Is it a post-modern intertextual homage?

The issue of identity has moved on and theorists, like Blulmer and Katz and Hall and Morley have recognised that audiences are active consumers of the media. Gammon and Marshment (1998) stress the role of the audience in the construction of meaning from texts and suggest there is a range of interpretations offered by any text. Audience response to soaps, for example, is rich and varied, as befits active viewers See, for example, The Broadcasting Standards Commission to research audience attitude to the British Soap Opera in 2002, where even viewers placed in the ‘fanatic’ category understand the programme makers are creating dramas and not reflecting real life.
However, in terms of collective identity, you need to look at Gauntlett and other key theorists.

Foucault – Identity is a shifting, temporary construction.

Gary Giddens (1991) claims that mediated experiences make us reflect upon and
rethink our own self-narrative in relation to others: the self is not something we are born with, and it is not fixed. Instead, the self is reflexively made- thoughtfully constructed by the individual. We all choose a lifestyle.

Henry Jenkins (1992): We need to interact in order to form our identity - with other people – or with the media; this can involve partaking in an event (in reality, or virtually) with people with whom we feel affinity helps us to form collective identity.

David Gauntlett (2002) suggests that the media disseminates a huge number of messages about identity and acceptable forms of self-expression, gender, sexuality and lifestyle. At the same time, the public have their own robust set of diverse feelings on these issues. The media's suggestions may be seductive, but can never simply overpower contrary feelings in the audience. It seems appropriate to speak of a slow but engaged dialogue between media and media consumers. Neither the media nor the audience are powerful in themselves, but both have powerful arguments.

Media products provide numerous kinds of 'guidance' - in the myriad suggestions of ways of living which they imply. We lap up this material because the social construction of identity today is the knowing social construction of identity. Your life is your project. The media provides some of the tools which can be used in this work. Like many toolkits, it contains some good utensils and some useless ones; some that might give beauty to the project, and some that might spoil it. (People find different uses for different materials, too, so one person's 'bad' tool might be a gift to another.)

Gauntlett (2002): in contrast with the past - or the modern popular view of the past - we no longer get singular, straightforward messages about ideal types of male and female identities. Today, nothing about identity is clear-cut, and the contradictory messages of popular culture make the 'ideal' model for the self even more indistinct.

Note the way, in the age of web 2.0, that collective identity is also reflected in the use of websites, blogs etc that use these images of working class to create a community amongst fans e.g.;; (currently running this story: “Tens of thousands of people living in Britain think Weatherfield actually exists according to a survey by”),; There are also the inevitable facebook pages:; and the soaps are, of course, on Twitter, officially and unofficially.

Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group notes that the audience does not exist as a silent mass with a collective identity, but as active, thinking, reflective, creative audiences who share cultural experiences in common – and this is surely all the more so when viewers can re-evaluate their relationship to the text by interacting with each other through conversation or through fan sites.

Is representation further mediated through critics? For instance, negative interpretation of the representation of working class life in, say, Billy Elliott, by middle class critics for not considering the importance of the role of women in the miners' strike - though I realise, the impact of such criticism on the actual working class (and most others) is negligible.


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