Narrative Theory - 2010

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Presentation regarding narrative theory in Media studies

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Media Studies Narrative TheoryOnce upon a time

Shahbaz Ali BDC 2010

Story? Narrative? Plot?y What is narrative? y Story is the irreducible substance of a story (A meets B, something

happens, order returns), while narrative is the way the story is related (Once upon a time there was a princess...)"Key Concepts in Communication - Fiske et al (1983)

y While the term narrative certainly is not used as commonly as

story, most people know that it refers, in some way, to stories. Stories are endemic to our lives We are all storytellers

Where do we see/hear stories on a day to day basis?y y y y y y y

TV Programmes Novels or short stories Films Advertisements News is papers or on TV and radio Via the internet Through talk, gossip and chat.

What is narrative then?y Narrative has probably existed as long as human

beings; it is likely that the stone age artists who drew 18,000 year old cave painting in the Ardeche, in France, expected narratives to be woven around their images. y Because narrative seems to be such a truly universal aspect of the human race, it is impossible to completely discuss relevance to our existence. y In media studies, we need to have a good working knowledge of narrative theories and debates.

Aristotle and his three unities1.The unity of action: a play should have one main action

that it follows, with no or few subplots.2.The unity of place: a play should cover a single physical

space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.3.The unity of time: the action in a play should take place

over no more than 24 hours.

Freytag s PyramidThe Five Acts of Dramay Gustav Freytag was a 19th Century German dramatist and novelist. y He constructed his theory from the analysis of ancient Greek and

Shakespearean drama.y Freytag's dramatic arc is divided into five parts (acts). y Exposition, y Rising Action, y Climax, y Falling Action & y Denouement/Catastrophe/Resolution.

Freytag s PyramidThe Five Acts of Drama

Todorov s Theoryy Tzvetan Todorov is a Franco-Bulgarian philosopher. He has lived in

France since 1963 writing books and essays about literary theory, thought history and culture theory.y Todorov proposed a basic structure for all narratives. He stated that

films and programs begin with an equilibrium, a calm period. Then agents of disruption cause disequilibrium, a period of unsettlement and disquiet. This is then followed by a renewed state of peace and harmony for the protagonists and a new equilibrium brings the chaos to an end.y The simplest form of narrative (sometimes referred to as Classic or

Hollywood narrative).

Propp s TheoryCharacter Theoryy Vladimir Propps theory was formed in the early twentieth Century.

His Morphology of the Folk Tale was published in Russian in 1928.y It represented a breakthrough in both folkloristics and morphology

and influenced Claude Lvi-Strauss and Roland Barthes.y He studies Russian fairytales (over 100) and discovered that in

stories there were always 8 types of characters evident.

Propp s TheoryCharacter Theoryy These 8 different character types only do 31 things. y Once you have identified the character type (e.g., the hero) its easy to guess what they will do (save the maiden, defeat the villain, marry the maiden or whatever) because each character has a SPHERE OF ACTION.

Propp s TheoryCharacter Theory The charactersy The villain struggles against the hero. y The donor prepares the hero or gives the hero some magical

object. y The (magical) helper helps the hero in the quest. y The princess or prize the hero deserves her throughout the story but is unable to marry her because of an unfair evil, usually because of the villain. the hero's journey is often ended when he marries the princess, thereby beating the villain.

Propp s TheoryCharacter Theory The charactersy Her father gives the task to the hero, identifies the false hero,

marries the hero, often sought for during the narrative. Propp noted that functionally, the princess and the father can not be clearly distinguished. y The dispatcher character who makes the lack known and sends the hero off. y The hero or victim/seeker hero reacts to the donor, weds the princess. y False hero takes credit for the heros actions or tries to marry the princess. He did not state these characters were all separate people e.g. the provider could also be the helper.

Propp s TheoryCharacter Theory - Criticismy Propp's approach has been criticized for removing all verbal considerations from the analysis, even though the folktale's form is almost always oral, and also all considerations of tone, mood, character, and, anything that differentiates one fairy tale from another.

Propp s TheoryCharacter Theory Criticism and Defensey One of the most prominent critics of Propp is the famous

French Structuralist Claude Lvi-Strauss, who used Propp's monograph on the morphology of the Folktale to demonstrate the superiority of the Structuralist approach, and the shortcomings of the Formalist approach.y Defenders of Propp believe that such criticisms are largely

redundant, as Propp's approach was not intended to unearth meaning in the fairy tales he examined (as may be the case with Structuralist or Psychoanalytic analysis), nor to find the elements that differentiate one tale from another, but to unearth the elemental building blocks that formed the basis of their narrative structure.

Enigma CodeRoland Barthesy Roland Barthes (12 November 1915 25 March 1980) was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. y Barthes's ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and post-structuralism.

Enigma CodeRoland Barthesy Narrative will establish enigmas or mysteries as it goes along. Essentially, the narrative functions to establish and then solve these mysteries. y All stories have (or should have) a mystery that needs to be discovered. This ENIGMA and its DISCOVERY is the main function of a narrative.

Levi-Strauss and binary oppositions.y Claude Levi Strauss, a French theorist (not the jeans) gave media studies a number of influential theories that help us to understand how meaning is established quickly in openings. y Binary Oppositions create meaning through establishing what something is not. We understand the world through a system of power weighted oppositions.

Levi-Strauss and binary oppositions.y Narrative tension is based on

opposition or conflict.y This can be as simple as two

characters fighting, but more often functions at an ideological level e.g., in Westerns, what do the cowboys and Indians each represent?

Binary Oppositionsy y y y y y

Man White Young Hero West Good

vs vs vs vs vs vs

Woman Black Old Villain East Bad

Think of the last movie you saw....

Once upon a timey Many of us experience our first story at a very young y y y

y y

age, possibly beginning with the immortal phrase of countless fairy tales, Once upon a time What does this phrase really mean to us? Once = Once invites us into the narrative world which is set in the past; indeed, most narratives are recounted in the past tense. upon a time = Situates us in a world we know is different to our own, in a time that is not now.

Once upon a timey Write down quickly what story you expect to happen after the line

below. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Openingsy Openings are important. They are usually intended

to grab and hold the attention of the receiver of the text. People will walk out of the cinema, turn over the TV station and abandon a novel if it doesnt capture the attention immediately. y The extract is from George Orwells Nineteen Eightyfour. What makes this sentence intriguing is that the clocks strike thirteen. This immediately sets up a puzzle or an ENIGMA CODE as Barthes would call it. y We would probably expect a science fiction style narrative (the novel was written in 1949 and is an alarming vision of a time and place where the world has different rules.)

OpeningsyIn media studies, the opening of any film/TV show has

to orientate the audience quickly, giving them unambiguous signs about such things as: yWho is the hero and the villain (using realistic or believable characters or types of characters) yA recognisable setting yAn understandable style yA conventional narrative structure which includes cause-effect motivation. These elements are usually determined by the texts genre. How are these elements established in the pre-credit sequence of the 20th Century Fox drama 24?

Binary Oppositiony Binary oppositions can help establish who the good and the bad

characters are in 24 very quickly.yThe teenage girls are having harmless fun Vs. the young woman who

is hiding important information = Innocence vs. Evily The idea that we cannot conceive the concept of good without the

presence of bad with which to compare it to and therefore define it against.y Binary oppositions are obviously present in narratives because

fundamentally a narrative must be based on a conflict of forces, opposition between hero and villain.

24 Season 1, Episode 1y Theme of Espionage/Spying y This is established through: y The digital clock suggests technology and a digital y y y y y y y y

age. The use of satellites as a surveillance device. The code-card device that Jack suggests contains secret data threatening tone. Helicopter over a familiar city landscape eyes in the sky.High angled, establishing shot. Images of CTU (Crime Terrorist Unit) Agents image of man wearing black tie/suit. The contrast is established between the agents and the villains. Image of the spot light from the surveillance helicopter sweeping down into the shadowed streets where unknown activity is taking place. The streaking fuselage of a plane across the sky reminiscent of 9/11.

y Intrigue in the characters is established through: y The foreboding relationship between the agent in the

24

y y y y

y y y

suit and tie and Jack. The tone of his voice suggests impending destruction. The policewoman holding the gun in the darkened street unknown danger The family unit is all as it seems? The split screen depicting various characters and their activities during this 1 hour in the life of The senator s security man on the phone with Mrs. Palmer and David Palmer in the background sense of foreboding created through the telephone conversation. Kim and her friend being chased by two teenagers what is their motive? The mystery woman and mystery man who are they? Are they baddies? The seemingly beautiful man on the plane - who is he?

y Enigma Codes (puzzles we want solved) are

24

y

y y y y y y

established through: The use of simultaneous action delivered through split screen; we see what is happening at Jack and Terri s house, we see Jack at CTU and Kim s whereabouts on the run all at the same time. This creates a fuller picture of the implications of each of the actions. Split screen showing simultaneous actions of agent wanting to find stolen information and information being used by the criminals in the Mojave Desert. The policewoman where is she going? Who is she chasing? The teenage boys who are they, what are their motives? The burning plane why has it been blown up? Why is someone targeting David Palmer? (the Senator) Who is the woman on the plane? Who is the man asking her for information?

24

y The music intensifies the enigma and creates a tone of y y y

y

foreboding and threat. The technological sounding music emphasises the theme of espionage and digital involvement. The close-up of the woman burying something in the sand creates fear and mystery what is she hiding? Who is she endangering? The sound of the plane exploding and accomanying passenger screams creates fear and tension. This series of 24 is pre-9/11. This would create great pathos with a post 9/11 audience. The flickering digital 24 in the middle of the screen reminds the audience of the temporal time of the narrative and plot duration. 24 signifies the day will good triumph over evil within this time frame?

24

y Therefore: y In the opening of 24 Season 1, Episode 1 pre-credit y y y y y y y y y y

sequence established the following in less than 5 minutes: Enigma codes Characters, agents, extras Goodies and baddies how? Tone/mood Genre The back stories of Jack and Terri, and David Palmer and family. The setting of CTU as the show s base Simultaneous action Real time The theme of espionage/ spying / surveillance and the accompanying technology ( a recognisable theme).

24

y The tone and mood of the show is established largely

through the background music; this is a non-diegetic element of the narrative. This means it is not in the narrative world, the characters cannot hear the music unlike the sound of the mobile phones, gun shots, explosions, which they can hear and is a DIEGETIC element of the narrative.

y The word DIEGESIS means the narrative world; the

world of the story that exists for the characters and because of them. Voice-over, credits and other overlaid text are all non-diegetic elements.