MAC 212 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Media Studies, Semiotics, Survival Skills

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Theoretical Foundations
1. Why start with difference?
a. Difference is fundamental to how we understand the world
i. how our brains work
1. Our brains put things into categories
ii. how language works
1. “Meaning-making” is central to media studies
b. The aspects of society that we study in this class - race, gender, etc. - are
differences we create, maintain, challenge, tear down, and reorganize
i. Argument:
1. These differences don’t simply exist -- they are created.
c. Danish Commercial (Denmark)
i. Break down the walls that seperate us because we may have differences
but we are more alike than we think
2. Constructivism
a. Theory about the relationship between representation and reality
i. There is a material world out there (reality), but it only makes sense (is
made “meaningful”) through language
1. Therefore, OUR PERCEPTION OF REALITY IS ALWAYS
SHAPED BY CULTURE
a. According to the third account of differences (Hall), culture
is shaped by meaning which is shaped by language,
therefore, culture is shaped by language
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i. In that sense, then perception of reality would be
shaped by language
3. Semiotics
a. Theory of how words or images convey meaning
b. A sign (word or image) has two parts
i. Signifier
1. The material aspect of the sign
2. Ex: The thing that you hear, see, touch, etc.
ii. Signified
1. The concept that the signifier refers to
a. An IDEA -- not an object
2. What the material makes you think of
c. Signs are arbitrary
i. There is no necessary relationship between the signifier and the signified
1. We recognize stars as a pointy shape with 5 points but that’s not
actually what a star looks like
a. The signifier doesn’t actually resemble the signified
d. Bodies are signs
i. Categories we put them into
ii. Attributes that we give them
1. We make assumptions about a person based on what we see on
their body
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a. Ex: We assume (usually bad) things about people with
tattoos
4. Discourse Theory
a. A theory about the relationship between how we represent things and the social
and historical forces around that representation (how things are represented based
on societal beliefs?)
i. Context, power, history, etc.
ii. How we talk about things is “political”
1. Ex: the difference between riot and uprising
a. They mean the exact same thing but they have very
different connotations
iii. Discourse is SHAPED by social structures and SHAPES social structures
1. Discourse is a terrain of struggle
a. People fight over how we talk about things
i. Ex: underage women vs children, detention centers
vs concentration camp
5. The “Other”/othering
a. The “Other” is a designation that is meant to demarcate what is abnormal and/or
inferior, etc.
i. In terms of groups of people, we create our identities in opposition to the
Other
1. We know who we are because we’re not THEM
2. Hall : “Strategy of splitting”
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