AQA Media Studies. Feminist Theory and the CSPs.

This is a work in progress. I am posting it up so far to help my students. I will be working on this over the next few days

The AQA syllabus is built around blocks of what the board call “enabling ideas”.  These are, literally ideas that enable you to have a discussion about the relationship between media industries, media producers, media audiences and media contexts. 

In order to show that you are engaging with these ideas you have to write about them through interacting with unseen material and media texts that you have studies (the CSPs),

Lots of students put the CSPs first – this means that they don’t engage with the questions, or the enabling ideas, properly. 

Each of these pages is built around the ideas first and will link them to CSPs second.

What is a Film Sequence? How should I write about Sequences? Eduqas A Level Film Studies. Example answer-y bit too!

I made virus-based promises.

Here’s the first article to help you!

If hope it helps!

A Level Media Studies and Film Studies. Virus related WTF-ery and some promises.

Viruses eh?

One day everything is going breezily along and then. . .


OK serendipitous moment here. Albert Uderzo died yesterday, He was the original artist for Asterix and Obelix. In 2017 the Asterix comic “Asterix and the Chariot Race” (not drawn by Uderzo – ‘cos he retired) featured a masked character called,


If you are confused, they weren’t being all Nostradamus style predictory people – it is the name for a particular group of microscopic beasties which include the four viruses which we refer to as “having a cold” and the new virus-on-the-block COVID-19 (which sounds like a far-right skinhead organisation and I’m sure is just as fun at gatherings).

I hope you, and yours, dear reader are well.

You may well, also, be really, really confused.

At first it seemed easy. Teachers can use mock grades and predictions to help the exam boards work out a grade for you.

And this might be all you need. You may have an unconditional place somewhere. Or your grade-dependent place suddenly became unconditional.

But there are snaggles.

What if you hadn’t applied anywhere yet? You wuz thinking, “I’ll get my grades. Make, like a bank. Apply next year when I’ve sorted out my head-space.”

What if you were counting on your fabulous coursework to boost your grade? I’m not being sarky here. I know loads of students who write ho-hum essays but their films are staggeringly good; good enough to add at least one more grade.

Or what if you hadn’t really got your head around how to tackle the exam papers when the mocks came around but you get it now?

The exam boards are scrambling to get something in place for this.

It looks like you will be able to sit exams in September or October if you want. But this isn’t the whole deal with a grade in these subjects.

Making practical coursework? Some of you will already have it. Some of you won’t. What is really clear is that none of you should go out and start filming stuff now!

It’s a really bad idea.

Stay at home.

Stop spreading this virus like gossip in a high-school movie.

giphy a

So gawd knows what the system will be to assess you on doing something that you haven’t done the doing of yet. I am sure your teachers are in touch with you about all this – keep in contact with them.

In the meantime it looks like you might have to study from home.

This is where I break out the Pony Promise gif I’ve been sitting on for a while.


I will continue to post up material to support AQA A level Media Studies and Eduqas Film Studies students.

Over the next few days I’ll roll out the following pages:

Media: Pages which focus on theory, and “enabling idea” areas and then link them to a variety of CSPs. First up – Feminism (Van Zoonen and hooks).

Film: WTF is a sequence? And how should I write about it in an exam? How to write short exam answers – with a focus on silent cinema and F.W Murnau’s “Sunrise”.

In the mean time, make sure you,


And when we come out the other side of this we’ll all be as fabulous as Gigi,


That’s Billie Lourde, who is Carrie Fisher’s daughter. She’s great in Booksmart. Yeah – you should go and rewatch Booksmart too!

Hack! How to write better essays for AQA A Level Media Studies Paper 2 plus some student questions.

I’ve posted a new page where I give you all some help with the big questions on paper 2. I’ve tried to give you a simple formula to use (given recent info by the board) and it features a story about a toilet!

It also seems to be the time of year when I get requests.

K.S. asks:

do you have blogs on Letter To The Free CSP, Ghost Town CSP, No Offence CSP, The Killing CSP and Score CSP? I don’t think there is however I would hate to miss them as your others are really helpful!

I teach in a partnership so I don’t have resources on the CSPs K.S. mentioned (can you imagine how incredibly awkward it would be? The person I work with is fab. He used to produce Parkinson. He’s set up an interview thingy with Mark Cousins and Steven Spielberg. Gary Barlow made him scrambled eggs to try to get back on the telly. Can you imagine if I effectively said, “You do a fantastic job – but I’ve put together some resources which directly undermine your authority and status as a professional. You’re welcome. Anytime!”).

I can however give you a gif of Terry Hall and co wearing natty christmas jumpers.


H.S. writes

I have recently discovered your blog and have found it to be super useful for my approaching A2 exams. I was wondering if you could, if possible, explain how to approach the unseen 8 mark question- discussing structure and key tips etc

O.K. – So this refers to the question 1 on paper 1 which is worth 8 marks.

You have to “analyse how media language constructs meaning” in the product you are given. Mostly you’ll be applying Semiotics but you might also look for Genre theory elements, Structuralism and Postmodernism. Narrative stuff is hard in a still image!

This was concerning me loads too until I did a webinair thingy recently and the saw how the board reward all kinds of, ahem, “insensitive readings” (basically wrong analysis) as long as the candidate is trying to apply the skills and knowledge thay have learned. As the examiner said, “they only have ten minutes to complete the question so we reward application.”

Your school teacher may be more of a stickler but the examiners will give you some leeway!

Let’s put it into practice.

Check out this . . .


First – try to work out what is going on. What is the purpose of the product? Then you can work on how it creates meaning.

This is pretty obvious in it’s purpose. It is an advert that is supposed to sell Levis jeans. But remember they are aiming to sell to adults – even though there is a kid in the picture. And what is the tack that the ad, and the brand, is taking?

1: Start with the anchorage.

There are three pieces of anchorage in the product. Firstly there is the brand name but there are two other uses of language. One is a slogan which has an American pioneer feel to it with its use of Biblical referance, “Go Forth” – which also means “leave here” (hence the running away) and the second is the larger text. These anchor the meaning of the image and shape the way the audience read the picture.

2: Now look at the semiotics of the images, (genre, structuralism and postmoderism if appropriate).

The image of a child running away is full of semiotic signifiers of youth. The kinetic image of running, the size of the figure and the hair all tie the product to the cultrural codes of childhood whilst the sunlight (lens flare and hair) build asscociations with summer, freedom and childhood holiday photographs (this use of sunlight and light saturation as well as the pastel gold/brown colour palette is generically used in fashion advertising for this reason). It is also used to create a feeling of nostalgia. The text produces a binary opposition: suits stand for business and adulthood which is bad but Levis stand for freedom and youth.

3: There’s loads more to say but you need to move on to the meaning.

The typeface indicates that this is designed to feel home-spun and anti-corporate (even though it is produced by a huge corporation). It is designed to link ideas about childhood to other ideas about America and Americana. The longer slogan makes the reader think about the company’s pioneer heritage. This means that the advert is combining ideas about freedom, which are cultural, personal and nationalistic, into one product and it is making clear the values it sits in opposition to through the text.

Hope this helps H.S.!

Evaluate! In AQA A Level Media Studies.

princess bride.gif

Sorry everyone – I promised to explain what the board means by “evaluate” a few weeks ago – but I didn’t!

So I will now.

For the rest of the world “evaluate” means:

to judge or calculate the quality, importance, amount, or value of something.

If you are being asked to “judge or calculate the quality, importance, amount, or value” of a theory area, or theorist, this comes with some pretty big problems. Apart from early theories (such as effects theory or hypodermic needle theory) it is unlikely that you, a humble A Level student, will have the mad skillz to take apart, say, Butler’s work on gender.

Luckily AQA doesn’t really mean evaluate in the way that the rest of the world does.

In the recent webinair I took part in it became clear that what the board means by evaluate is:

The possible ways in which the work of a theorist or theoretical area can help our understanding.

That’s soooooo much easier!

If you are asked to evaluate Judith Butler using the magazine extracts then you write about what the theories around gender performativity reveal about the producers of the mags, the subjects of the articles and the audience’s attitudes and beliefs. How the magazines reflect Bultler’s idea that, “gender is a kind of imitation”.

mag 1

You would need to write about the rigidity of gender performativity presented in Men’s Health, the emphasis on physical strength and the links made to aspiration. You would include exploration of the use of secondary material (such as the choice of cover star and his presentation, in imagery, as Domonic Toretto rather than Vin Diesel) You may want to speculate that the audience is invested in these gender ideas and subscribe to the patriarchal belief system that created them and that Hearst is clearly part of that powerful system of image creation and control. You may also want to speculate that the identity markers of gender, sexuality, class and education shape the way that the audience regressively responds to the old fashioned certainty of the gender performativity presented in the magazine.

mag 2

You would also need to write about how Iceberg Press, a niche and marginal producer, has created a magazine which presents gender fluidity on the cover and within the articles. You may want to speculate that the intended audience’s identity markers of gender, class and education mean that they are more open to fluid interpretations of gender and are looking for a wider range of gender performativity. You might also want to speculate on how this magazine shapes progressive attitudes and beliefs.

Note that this is not really evaluating Butler but it is looking at what Butler gives a media student when they look through the lens of the theory.

Now that’s a bit easier!