Oooh! Oooh Oooh! Look at this!
Here are two moments from two different television series.
If you look at the cinematography both are using the trick of having the subject of the shot in a different room from the camera to add depth and layers in a supa-stylish, I’ve been to film school, way. The feel of the shots may be very different (a combination of angle, mise-en-scène and narrative) and so is the industry context, the business mechanism, that created them but the end result is that the audience are watching two, well constructed, television dramas.
One is the product of a socialist public service broadcaster (that outsources production to independent production businesses – called, confusingly, Capital). The other is the product of a capitalist group of media producers which extols the virtues of communism (Deutschland 83). Of this more much later!
If you can write about the way the audience understands and responds to these two products (Media Language), The story they tell (Narrative), The type of product they are (Genre) the things that the producers are showing the audience and making them think about (Representation), the reasons why these products have come to exist (Industry) and the reasons why the audience watched them (um-Audience) then you’ll do O.K. in the exam. Oh – and you will need to know the social, political, economic and historical contexts for both production and reception for good measure.
These are two good CSPs. You need to know generally about the series and in detail about the first episodes. What makes them good is that there is loads that you can write about them.
What makes them really daunting is that you can write loads about them.
In the actual exam you will be expected to write a 25 mark, 700 word-ish (two and a half sides-ish) answer on one specific aspect of your CSP studies. That means you might have spent hours learning about the representation issues but you get a question on Hesmondhalgh and industry. A good course is one where you get a chance to show off the knowledge and skills you have accrued. This A level course is bound to leave much out of its final exams so you might not get a chance to show what you are really good at. This is why high stakes terminal examinations based on a rigid but broad syllabus are a bad thing. Well that’s my opinion.
What you want to know is what you should write about if the exam asks you about those pesky areas. I will attempt to help you.
Social, Political, Economic and Cultural Contexts.
I thought I’d put this first to lead you into the products.
Capital is, weirdly, actually a period drama. It might be less historical-looking than Poldark but it is set in 2007. This means that it is set before the financial crash and two years after the 7/7 bombing attacks. This is why the title is a pun – a play on words – as it is set in London, is a critique of capitalism and the tension is ratcheted up with the ever-climbing capital created through the rising values of the houses.
It was commissioned for the BBC (a public service broadcaster) as part of a series called “State of the Nation” which aimed to reflect on the ways Britain had changed in recent years. This explains the way the series focuses on both Roger and Arabella Yount (the wealthiest people in the street who have links to the world of capitalist high-finance) and the Kamal family (where there is a tension between Shahid and Usman’s Muslim fundamentalist-tinged politics and Ahmed’s integrated pragmatism (btw did you note that Adeel Aktar played Faisal in Four Lions – the complete opposite in character type as he is a rather simple-minded terrorist in that one). The series looks at the way London has become very polarized; with extremes of rich and poor, has become multi-cultural (with an immigrant underclass) and how working class areas have now become gentrified and expensive.
The PSB nature of the BBC (see my notes on Auntie Beeb here) means that it has a duty to reflect on the changing state of the country and it is also the place where audiences expect to see quality drama to justify the hypotheticated tax that they pay in the license fee.
Here’s a useful review of episode 1.
This show is the one of the few CSP items to reflect the globalised nature of media production and distribution. In a U.K. context it reflects that trend for sophisticated telly consumers to watch non-English product (which started with the BBC’s showing of the Danish series “The Killing”).
Deutschland 83 was the first show broadcast as part of Channel 4’s “Walter Presents” series (also streamed).
The other way to look at context is to think about the way this is a German show which is a period drama set during the Cold War. It is actually a look at the way Germany was a divided nation until quite recently and the way the two Germanys are not fully reconciled with each other. It also acknowledges the way that U.S. and U.S.S.R conflict played out through events in Germany (culminating in the near-nuclear war resulting from the Able Archer NATO exercise in 1983 – which is the key event in the whole series).
Episode 8: Able Archer. Reference: In 1983 the NATO Able Archer military exercise led members of the USSR Politburo to believe that NATO was about to attack the Warsaw Pact. They readied missiles and bombers. One of the closest points the world has come to nuclear war.
The show sold itself effectively to the U.S. and the U.K. but suffered a dramatic fall in viewers in Germany. This points to the way that the series effectively uses “cool nation branding” (Katja Valaskivi) to create a stylised and attractive representation of a place to sell product abroad.
It also points to the way the series tries to deal with the unresolved issues of partition and reunification. Martin is a Stasi officer and spy. The Stasi imprisoned over 100,000 people and killed 1,400. Many still find them unforgivable. On the other hand there are many East Germans who feel nostalgic for the DDR. It even has a name, “Ostalgie”. Easterners often feel that they have lost out in the new Germany and the old communist state looked after its citizens in a more orderly way than the democratic-capitalist state they now live in. This is one of the big tensions in current German life.
For more context check out this BBC documentary.
Here is a useful recap of the events in episode 1.
This is a mixture of the things in front of the camera (mise-en-scène) and the way that it has been shot (cinematography), the way it has been put together (editing) and the EFFECT of these on the audience. Some technical language will help you write about this in a succinct way and help you sound as if you actually know something.
Here is a crash course in these three areas.
To write about lighting properly be able to write about high key, low key and back lit scenes.
Some good words and phrases to help you describe colour are also useful (saturated, monotone, desaturated, pastel, neon, cast, tone and colour palette).
Extreme long shot/establishing shot: This shot is usually outside. It establishes the time and location to the audience.
Long shot: This allows the audience to see the character from head to toe. It shows the relationship between the character and the environment they are in.
Mid shot: This enables the audience to see the character from waist up. This shot familiarizes the audience with the character because it shows more detail of the character than a long shot.
Two shot: This shot has two characters in it. It shows the relationship between the two and the action that they are in involved in. Usually used in chat shows.
Close up: This shot shows the head and shoulders of the character. It allows the audience to see the characters emotions. Also, it can be used to show a significant object to the narrative.
Extreme close up: This shot draws the audience in. It is an intense shot as you can only see the character and no background or other characters.
High angle: When the audience views the subject from above, looking down. Often used to create a sense of scale – the position suggests subjects look small/vulnerable.
Low angle: The opposite of a high angle shot, we look up at a certain subject creating a feeling of importance or foreboding.
Eye level shot: An eye level shot familiar with soap operas. We view the scene as spectators, as if we are actually there in the programme which gives a sense of realism.
Canted angle or Dutch tilt: The shot is not level which makes the audience feel that something is wrong.
Crane shot: This is where the action is filmed in a vertical direction; the camera attached to a crane. This can often add depth to a scene; as well as getting multiple characters in shot.
Tracking shot: This shot is done using a track and dolly. When the camera tracks towards a character it serves to draw the audience into the action. When the camera tracks away from a character it signifies the ending of the action and that the next bit of action is coming.
Sideward ‘Crab’ shot: This follows the movement of a character to allow the audience to keep pace with the action.
Zoom: This shot creates the movement of going in towards the character and moving out from the character. It can simulate a tracking shot.
Arc shot: This is a full or semi-circle around an object or character/s. This allows the audience to see the full reactions of the characters and increase the intensity of the narrative.
Tilt shot: This is the movement of the camera either up or down on an axis. An upward tilt usually conveys power or status; and mixed with a point of view shot can show how a character perceives another character in terms of authority.
Panning shot: This is where the camera is mounted on a tripod and moves from left to right. Used with a point of view shot, it can be used to show a character searching a room.
Point of view: This shot is used in reference to a close up. It engages the audience and shows them what the characters motives are.
Over the shoulder shot: Can you work out what this is? You can! Go on!
Deep Focus– A technique of photography that permits all distance planes to remain clearly in focus, from close-up ranges to infinity.
Rack Focus/Selective Focusing– The blurring of focal planes in sequence, forcing the viewer’s eye to travel with those areas of an image that remain in sharp focus.
I’m really simplifying here but straight cuts link shots together in time, fade outs and dissolves show that passage of time or the end of a sequence and crosscutting is a way of showing more than one story happening at the same time. Jump cuts throw the audience to something that is not in sequence (these are a mainstay of advertising and music videos which demand audience attention).
Oh and MOTIFS are physical things in the world of the story. They are the building blocks of THEMES which are the big concepts which the audience wind up thinking about.
So now we have this, what can we do with it?
In this shot the combination of monotone, blue cast, POV shot, and the addition of a central box reticule signify to the viewer that this is a scene shot at night by a camera (we later see that it is a phone). The fact that the house is lit, combines with the other elements to carry connotations of surveillance and the poor framing signifies the amateur (and so illicit) nature of the photographer. The effect of this on the viewer is to highlight the genre nature of the product (crime) through the creation of an enigma. The square reticule is a motif which builds the theme of envy in the episode.
In this long shot the use of one point, or single point, perspective (beloved by Stanley Kubrik – see this supercut), kaleidoscopic and super-saturated colour palette and choice of music signify to the viewer the life-changing event that is occurring. Martin is dramatically learning the difference between capitalist West Germany and his home in the DDR. This reinforces the audience understanding of his status as an under-prepared, and so atypical, spy-hero. The use of the Eurythmics 1983 “Sweet Dreams” reinforces the motif of superabundant consumer products to build the theme of temptation (both for consumer items and, later, for Yvonne) in the episode.
Here’s another way of using media language to read an image.
In this long shot we see a big, expensive car in the foreground (emphasising the way money dominates the city) with Quentina, the traffic warden centrally placed but partially obscured. Her clothing and gesture may indicate she has power but she is actually doing a job that most English people avoid (traffic wardens are regularly abused and hated). This is reinforced by the Polish builders Bogdan and Piotr whose clothing signifies their role as builders (another group working for low wages in an expensive city). The open door behind them is in the facade of No 92 which is the most opulant of all the houses in the series but coming out of the door is the child-minder carrying the Yount’s youngest child. This motif, someone other than the parent taking care of the child, builds a theme in the episode where the Younts use their money add luxuries to their lives which they have begun to see as necessities and cannot imagine coping without despite their close proximity to far poorer people.
Here are some still images for you to practise on and use in any media language/semiotics essay.
Wait up though! Look at these two stills.
In both of these the shows move away from traditional, naturalistic drama and use visual language that the audience expect from media products such as adverts. In this way they remind the viewers that they are T.V. shows (Self-reflexive) and point to their own constructed nature.
For Deutschland 83 you also need to be able to write about how the show is an example of postmodernism. Just like the Peter Blake’s album cover for Sergent Pepper the show is a bricolage of items taken from elsewhere.
The music has been sourced from 1983 to locate the show in time but it has all been selected to present a particular electro-pop aesthetic. The show uses real footage of Ronald Reagan and Eric Honeker as well as real clothing, cars and props from the time.
Fun Fact: The music score for the series was created by Reinhold Heil (who also produced 99 Luftballons – heard twice in episode 1 and on both sides of the border). He was interrogated by the Stasi as he tried to smuggle classical music across the border (just like the opening scene; which he felt was very realistic). Each week had a playlist of music so the audience could enjoy the show’s period setting.
This pushes Deutschland 83 further in the self-reflexive stakes than Capital but might explain why Germans began to feel uneasy with the show. They already had Atomic Blonde and other U.S. media products using Cold War Germany as a fantasy playground without a German show seeming to gloss over the past.
For the following sections I will give you more note-like information based on the sheets the board made available with the CSP list.
Both of these series use the conventions of particular types of narrative (either conforming to or subverting them).
Which narrative techniques are used to engage the audience in the opening episode of Capital?
- Time shift: Petunia’s entire life with her husband is represented in a few minutes through montage (similar to Pixar’s UP), quickly building backstory and placing the character at a point of crisis.
- Begins with dramatic irony – omniscient perspective (the audience see the unknown photographer) and the audience is asked to link the postcards to the surveillance. Audience also knows there are multiple postcard receivers before the characters do.
- Dramatic irony: Period drama. We know there is about to be a financial crash. Roger is counting on his bonus. His failure to get it is the start of crash-y events in the show.
How does the use of the narrative conventions of the crime drama – use of enigmas, restricted narration etc. – position the audience?
- Audience given privileged (omniscient?) position: Dramatic irony. We know the houses are being photographed before the characters do. We also know Conrad steals information from Roger’s computer.
- Enigmas: Episode 1 we do not know the identity of the postcard sender. The use of music also adds an air of tension to otherwise ordinary scenes in the opening episode causing the viewer to suspect multiple characters.
- Who the hell is Iqbal?
- Why does Piotr look so grumpy while Bogdan is conducting his phone/IRL relationship in their squat-like accommodation?
- Why does Smitty want the postcards?
- Restricted narration: We are only given a fragmentary narrative. This often leaves out important exposition such as who contacted D.I. Mill?
Capital is characteristic of contemporary TV narrative style in its use of multiple story structure.
- Style established by Steven Botchco in the series Hill Street Blues (1981 to 1987).
- The show appears to be sequential and there are sequences edited which take the viewer from one set of character to another through camera movement. Other scenes appear to cross-cut between storylines.
The ways in which the narrative structure of Capital offers pleasure to the audience.
- Dramatic irony again.
- The way the show uses (often subverting) the conventions of a crime-thriller to promise information such as character and plot reveals.
Narratology including Todorov
Equilibrium is disrupted by multiple events in the multiple story lines:
- The postcards which lead up to the DVDs
- Petunia’s diagnosis.
- The Yount’s dependence on Roger’s bonus and his failure to achieve it.
- Quentina’s romance and then arrest.
Can I now mention Andrew French here? He plays Kwame, the man Quentina gives her money to. Once upon a time I was in a play by Caryl Churchill called A Mouthful of Birds. I had play a pig that a businessman fell in love with. That businessman was Andrew French!
How does the use of the narrative conventions of the spy thriller and crime drama – use of enigmas, binary oppositions, restricted and omniscient narration etc. – position the audience?
- Spy Thriller: Walter mentions 007. More like John le Carré or Len Deighton characters (realistic anti-hero not hero).
- Enigma codes: Only some information is revealed to the viewer. Feature of spy and crime drama.
- Binary oppositions: Good vs bad. D83 regularly subverts binary oppositions.
- Restricted narration: Example – Martin steals the documents. The audience don’t know when the General will return.
- Omniscient perspective: Example – The audience know about Lenora’s plan before Martin does.
The narrative of Deutschland 83 has been controversial – particularly in Germany -through its use of binary oppositions to contrast East and West Germany
- Controversial: Protagonist is a Stasi officer. Stasi are still hated – over 100,000 political prisoners and 1,400 deaths.
- Usual narrative of spy stories focuses on the west and NATO. The Warsaw Pact countries are usually the villains of the piece.
- Does this mean it subverts binary oppositions (good and evil)?
The role of the hero and effect of audience alignment with Martin Rauch, a Stasi Officer
Hero: Joseph Campbell – Monomyth. Hero’s Journey. Martin literally has to leave on a quest.
Highlights division in Germany’s recent past (currently Germans are encouraged to think of themselves as one country with shared experience).
Which side are the audience supposed to be supporting?
The narrative of Deutschland 83 can be defined as postmodern in its self-reflexive style
- Everything is artificial in media. Even the narrative.
- East Germany: Retro. “Ostalgie” East German nostalgia.
- West Germany: Katja Valaskivi – ‘Cool Nation’ branding; a branding that has understood how the national is also foreign and exotic. Martin is faced with the German “economic miracle” in the supermarket scene.
Narratology including Todorov
- Episode 1: Martin’s equilibrium quickly established. Job, ideology, family and girlfriend.
- Disruption: State kidnapping.
- Recognition: Learning to spy.
- Attempt to repair: Stealing the documents.
- New equilibrium: Martin’s ongoing status as a spy.
Conventions of the T.V. mini-series.
- This promises a particular set of pleasures due to form. Three episodes. Not as long a commitment as a series (which is longer but will have a definite end) or a serial (which is ongoing, such as a soap opera). Similar pleasures in repeated, time-specific (set the date) viewing. The use of enigma (or “cliff-hanger”) endings to episodes.
- Mini-series are usually an event. They have higher production values and higher artistic values. They are usually shown at a prime-time when broadcast and usually have trailers and advertising to build up anticipation.
Definition of the series as a hybrid genre, belonging to the drama, social realism and crime genres
- The choice of style, actors and framing is drama.
- The choice of story lines (Quentina for example) is social realist (attempting to realistically represent society and social problems). Other social realist elements include the Polish builders living in terrible conditions and the identity tensions in the Kamal household.
- The music and some of the action belong to the crime genre. In episode 1 however the only crime we see being committed is when Mark hacks into Roger’s computer to steal account information.
Genre theory including Neale
- Genre pleasure comes form “repetition and difference.”
- Guarantees meanings and pleasures for the audience.
- Offsets the cost of production by guaranteeing an audience.
The difference comes in the form of hybridizing the genre. This is due to the way the show is adapted from John Lanchester’s novel.
The show promises guaranteed meanings and pleasures as a crime drama, as social realism and as a form of satire (Arabella stands out as a satirical comic creation).
The mini-series adaptation of a well-known novel is a way the BBC often offsets cost of production.
Conventions of the TV series and the way in which this form is used to appeal to audiences
- Usually dramatic appeal (character, narrative)
- Episodic narrative. Traditionally consumed weekly (cliff-hanger endings and other devices). Online it is possible to binge-watch.
- Characters may be introduced through stereotype but have space to develop (Medhurst’s stereotype theory).
- Appeal of event television/watercooler moments (community of audience).
- T.V. series has more dramatic scope (time) than feature film
Definition of the series as belonging to the spy thriller genre
- Sub-genre of spy stories/films. Most (post-Bond) have fantastic elements to them. The spy thriller is more realistic.
- Usually contemporary. Some have a period setting.
- Audience identifies with the spy (spy as hero/protagonist) rather than seeing spying as treason.
- Spy thriller golden era during the cold war – based on reality as both NATO and The Warsaw Pact used intelligence to try to outmanoeuvre each other.
Conventions of the period drama and reasons for its popularity
- Period dramas use the past as a form of escapism.
- Part of the pleasure is knowing how events fit into history (a form of dramatic irony – the audience know elements of the future).
- This links to the idea that period dramas are comforting. D83 may be about potential nuclear war but the audience know that Able Archer did not cause WW3 therefore anxieties are focused on character.
- Recent period settings create audience pleasure in recognition (once familiar elements or recent cultural elements). Ostalgie – nostalgia for the DDR.
- There are theories that period drama problems seem simpler than contemporary ones.
Analysing the use of specific genres to discuss wider issues in society
- Which side is the audience supposed to identify with? Martin is from the DDR. NATO is the enemy.
- Tobias Tischbier lives in the west but is not seduced by it. Heroic stance (especially as we know what happened to the DDR).
- Ostalgie is rooted in the feeling some eastern Germans feel that the DDR was a more cohesive society than modern, capitalist Germany. They feel it looked after them.
- Is spying an acceptable way for states to conduct themselves? Recent U.S. spy controversy as part of the Snowdon leaks (U.S. was spying on German politicians – their supposed friends).
Genre theory including Neale
- Genre pleasure comes form “repetition and difference.”
- Guarantees meanings and pleasures for the audience.
- Offsets the cost of production by guaranteeing an audience.
D83 is much more of a genre product than Capital. It sells audience pleasures and aims for industry success based on exploiting genre. More on this in the Industry section.
- Similar to previous spy films/series. USP is the recent period setting and Martin’s side in the cold war.
- Martin fulfils the role of the naïf. He is an innocent and learns along with the audience. Well used narrative across genres. Less used in the spy genre (most spies are highly trained and competent in fiction).
- Spy thriller promises tension.
- Well established spy thriller audience.
Capital provides a wide range of representational areas to explore; the family, place, nation, class, ethnicity, race and issues.
This fits with the promise hinted at through the choice street name. Pepys Road is a reference to Samuel Pepys the Restoration diarist. The novel aims to be a distillation of London at a crucial point in history.
Negative and positive use – or subversion – of stereotypes
The Kamals are a demonstration of stereotype theory. Using Dyer we can see that they have been stereotyped by bot the novel writer (Lanchester) and Peter Bowker who wrote the series (Dyer: those with power stereotype those without). You can also see how Medhurst’ theory (stereotypes are a handy initial shorthand for producers and audiences) applies here. The Kamals are initially presented as a sterotypical corner-shop owning Pakistani family. As Episode 1 continues the family begin to take on more layers and more nuance. The family are also an example of Perkins’ theory that stereotypes are based on some form of truth. Yes there are a large number of Pakistani family run corner shops. Yes there are identity tensions in the British-Pakistani community.
In the novel Roger is presented as an old-Harrovian (and a tall one at that). In the series Toby Young plays Roger as a working class boy made good. He has married above himself in both looks and class and has become completely immersed in the world of high-finance and luxurious living. As a result the representation subverts the previous representation (upper-class bankers) in a way which fits the post Big-Bang City of London (where the working classes learned to make money in finance).
Representations of family and their ideological significance – Capital constructs its representation of nation in part through contrasting images of the family.
Every household in Pepys Road is some kind of family:
- The Younts: Nucleated but reliant on money and paid help.
- The Kamals: Extended family but the matriarch is overseas.
- Petunia: Estranged from her daughter and living alone.
- Quentina: Living in a communal house full of other immigrants. Finds family in the church.
- Bogdan: Living in barracks-like accommodation. Able to have some kind of relationship only by exerting effort (but succeeding).
Each family is symbolic of class and status concerns.
Representation of place – London and by implication, the nation
The regular establishing shots (some aerial) help to make the street into an any-place. The animated sections show how there are special circumstances creating pressure here.
The show reminds the viewer of an earlier representation of London (still running), Eastenders. In fact many set-ups are very Eastender-y. The way similar buildings house a wide variety of people is similar to the 80s concept for the soap opera (there were yuppies living next to working class families and immigrant families in that too). Both shows aimed to reflect the nation to itself (social realism).
Analysis of how the representations convey values, attitudes and beliefs about the world
Ideologies: Huge variation. Naked capitalism (the Younts), Aspects of Muslim fundamentalism (Shahid).
Asks questions about values: Quintina’s story represents issues concerning refugee status and also status and dignity. Every character can be read through values, attitudes and beliefs (both audience and character); how do we feel about age and terminal illness? How do we feel about extremes of wealth?
Theories of representation including Hall
- Who is doing the representing: Those who are closer to the Younts than the Kamals to be honest!
- Stereotype and type theory (see above).
- Selective representation: Limited to place – London stands for the whole nation.
- Dominant Ideology: The series does not seem to actively target capitalism despite the fact that it is set just before a huge financial crash.
Theories of Feminism including Van Zoonen and hooks.
This is not an area that the board asks you to look at but they do ask you to look at theories of feminism for Deutschland 83. It stands to reason that you should prepare for this too.
Firstly if you are considering Van Zoonen’s key concerns (power and discourse) it is important to remember that this is a media product that has been shaped by a male set of creative producers. The original novel was written by John Lanchester and adapted by Peter Bowker. The series itself was directer by Euros Lyn. Lyn has made a name for himself directing shows with rounded female characters (Happy Valley and Broadchurch to name two) but both Van Zoonen and hooks are interested in the role of women in shaping the product that features them and, therefore, for Van Zoonen, the way they conform to, or reshape, the discourses concerning women.
Despite this there are a wide variety of female characters in the series which means that representational issues are easy to write about. Each woman can be read as having a satirical, political or symbolic function and each one links to the discourses of motherhood, domesticity and desirability in interesting ways. I think it passed the Bechdel Test because Petunia and Mary have a couple of conversations (without mentioning her late husband or Smitty).
To help you out here are three!
Arabella’s accent and looks place her in an interesting position compared to her husband Roger. She is upper-middle class and more attractive than him. She is also not economically active (doesn’t work) and has paid help to assist with looking after the children. What is important is to note that she is, for most of episode one, an unsympathetic character. The audience are meant to find her attitudes and behaviour awful. There are a variety of negative stereotypes that she appears to embody; the recent Yummy Mummy, the lady that lunches, the trophy wife and even the (very 1980s) Sloane Ranger. All of these labels are a way of criticizing women on the basis of class. Arabella is often the most comedic individual in the series and her decision to leave Roger with the children is designed to produce a particular preferred reading (that Arabella is not pulling her weight in their marriage).
It is interesting to see how different she appears in the scene where she visits the Kamal’s shop for the first time. The fact that she has never been there shows the audience how isolated she is within her cossetted existence but she also appears genuinely moved when Ahmed and his wife give her a bunch of coriander for free from their kitchen. She is unfamiliar with a world where actions are not motivated by money or any other thought of gain.
It is noted by Roger that Arabella’s major function is to spend his money. Most notably on housing improvements which are undertaken by Bogdan (a case of “trickle-down economics” in the society of the series). She rejects his sexual advances (which are pretty perfunctory) because she feels he has been giving her a “sermon on thrift”.
In these ways an analysis of Arabella’s character from a Van Zoonen perspective would focus on the way women are represented as being useful through functionality. Arabella is represented as failing in her duties as a mother and lover and so deserves the negative response she receives from the audience.
Petunia is the first character that the audience is properly introduced to in the series. The montage sequence which depicts her married life puts emphasis on her domestic and maternal roles (she even, implausibly, is shown lighting the gas cooker in her wedding dress) but is now a widow.
Again Van Zoonen’s approach would focus on the way that Petunia is now surplus to requirements. Her functions of wife and mother in the discourse of domesticity have ceased and now she is waiting to die (a situation that is hastened along in the episode). Whilst she is represented as being quite a strong character she is also represented as being out of place and out of time; sitting on a pile of unearned and unwanted capital (in the form of her house) and out of step with the new multi-cultural city she is in. In one way she could be read intersectionally (hooks). Is Petunia unwanted because she is old or unwanted because of her gender (or the combination of both).
Quentina is a character that you can use to demonstrate your understanding of hooks. Do the misfortunes that befall her stem from her gender, her race, her immigrant status, her poverty or a combination of all of them (this is one messy intersection)? Note that she has taken on one of the most loathed public duties and that she finds solace in the church (the traditional refuge of the dispossessed). At the end of the episode, despite the hope the audience have of her salvation through love, she is placed in a cell (a strong image with a wide number of connotations).
Deutschland 83 provides a range of representational areas to explore from the national and regional to political structures and gender roles. All of the areas tend to overlap with representations of a nation’s historical past allowing students to consider how representations reflect social, cultural and historical circumstances.
Representation of national and regional identity.
- Stylisation of the German past – “cool nation” signification.
- West looks design-cool. Gerneralmajor Edel’s house.
- East evokes Ostalgie. Trabants. The gymnasium stained glass window.
- West Germans more influenced by U.S. (Yvonne’s music choice).
- Both sides of the border are represented as being Germans. Shared culture.
Representation of gender: male hero and spy, the female ‘love interest’ etc., the way characters signify wider issues in society.
- Traditionally male spy-hero.
- Yvonne is presented as temptation (Martin reacts by phoning Annette – causes problems immediately).
- Lots of child/parent dynamics
- Subverts conventions.
- Lenora as a senior member of the Stasi (cover as cultural attaché in Bonn).
Analysis of how the representations convey values, attitudes and beliefs about the world – both contemporary and past.
- Representation of consumerism. Coffee. Supermarket. Stylised comparison scene.
- DDR characters (Tobias and Lenora) represented as motivated by concern for DDR citizens as a whole (Ostalgie – DDR cared more for its citizens communally).
- Alex Edel: Reads Green Party literature. Surprised by Martin/Moritz wholehearted support for NATO. Represents anti-establishment German opinion.
- Yvonne Edel: Also anti-establishment. Father wants her to study/perform traditional music. Sings last verse of song in a folk/pop style (and without shoes). Representation of German youth culture.
Theories of representation including Hall
- Countertypes: Martin as Stasi officer (Stasi usually depicted as villains).
- Selective representation: DDR repression limited in Episode 1. (other than Martin’s finger) Series avoids negative representation of DDR. Avoids taking a side.
- Dominant ideology: West won the cold war. Show is a product of capitalism. DDR represented as flawed.
- Constructed reality: Period drama. Bricolage. Clearly constructed.
- Hegemony: Western capitalist society produces the show. Communism therefore represented as flawed.
Feminist theories including bell hooks and Van Zoonen (role of women)
Note that this is a series written by a woman (Anna Winger). It just passes the Bechdel Test because Lenora and Ingrid talk about coffee and her kidney in the kitchen. The world of the military is very male but spying is a rather more equal opportunities affair.
- Van Zoonen more useful (power and discourse). Some discourses are positive and some negative. Some representations are progressive and some are regressive.
- Varied set of women represented from mother to super-spy.
- Bad aunties! Lenora is a Machiavellian spy-mistress and Renata has alcohol issues (no-one bats an eyelid when she is spiked).
- Contrasting women presented as love interest. Annette good (cares when Martin goes missing). Yvonne is “the forbidden woman” (Walter Luzzolino in the into).
- Nina the assassin (women as dangerous – Lenora, Renata, Yvonne and Frau Netz, the secretary, all cause problems for Martin).
- Military is male. Spying more gender-neutral.
The central way into an institutional approach is to consider Capital as a BBC programme and to examine how it can be seen to fulfil the demands of Public Service Broadcasting. In addition to the remit to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ this could also be examined as part of the need to represent different groups, nations and regions.
Capital is a Kudos production for the BBC, an independent company which also produces successful programmes for other broadcasters.
Kudos specialises in TV series which can be sold or remade for the US market, making it typical of contemporary media institutions which operate globally rather than nationally.
Look at my BBC notes for help here. You will also need to think about how this links to Cultural industries including Hesmondhalgh (pronounced hes-mo-gulch).
Hesmondhalgh’s major points that link to Capital:
- Media industries are powerful factors in our lives but usually need to be recognised as profit making businesses. Kudos is a private company which works for a PSB to provide content which can be sold in a global market.
- Often media products seem to be artistic, anti-establishment or rebellious but this is part of the industries competing with each other for the audience’s attention (Often part of the strategy is defining themselves as cultural, and artistic and the audience expects non-conformity from the arts). Capital needs to appear artistic and anti-establishment to justify the BBC’s existence using a hypotheticated tax. The quality of the artistic product offers a socialized artistic experience where all payers of the license fee gain access to high quality cultural product no matter where geographically or financially.
- Making media products is a risky business. Cultural industries will use a wide variety of strategies (genre, series, distribution) to minimise risk. Capital uses the status of the BBC to sell the product abroad in order to generate income. Use of internationally recognised talent (Toby Jones) helps sell the product.
Some confusion by the board here – so we have to be clear.
- There are two industry contexts you need to know.
- German and USA (domestic)
- The UK
German and USA (domestic)
- Why both?
- The show was a coproduction between RTL and Sundance TV.
- Although most of the production was RTL (in Germany) much of the financing was Sundance (USA)
- The series premiered in the United States on 17 June 2015, on Sundance TV, making it the first German-language series to air on a US network
- In Germany, Deutschland 83 began to air after the U.S. run on RTL 26 November 2015.
- Hugely important film festival.
- Set up by Robert Redford (and named after his most famous character).
- The biggest festival for independent film makers
- The TV channel was started by Redford to show the best films from the festival.
- Now also creates its own TV content.
What the board says:
“It is a co-production of AMC Networks’ Sundance TV and RTL Television (German and American), positioning it to exploit the national and global market.”
“It can be argued that Deutschland 83 was a deliberate attempt by the German media industry to develop a prestige series which could take advantage of the new openness to ‘foreign’ products abroad.”
Make sure you are clear: It is a co-production. AMC own Sundance TV but do not own RTL. RTL is owned by Bertelsmann (the German $20bn European media giant – one of the eight biggest media companies in the world). AMC is only operating at $2bn per year (the junior partner here). RTL alone is three times the size of AMC.
- RTL is using AMC, and the Sundance reputation and reach, to access the US market. Increased potential profit.
- The use of genre and serialisation helps to sell the product and maintain audience. Reduces risk.
- Use of 80s set period drama taps into fashionable time period (music and style) and popular format. Helps to sell to international market. Reduces risk.
- Risk is spread by multi-national production and broadcast.
- The narrative twist (hero as Stasi spy) helps to sell the product as artistic and non-conformist. Reduces risk.
So you can say that the show is the product of capitalist and globalist industry but that means it is a high quality drama to compete in its niche.
In the U.K.
- Walter Luzzolino.
- Italian T.V. producer who works for Channel 4.
- Created the “Walter Presents” Video On Demand Service for Channel 4.
- Aims to bring the best of world T.V. To a U.K. audience.
- Deutschland 83 was the first show (2016).
The shows are introduced by Luzzolino who acts as a guide and tastemaker.
Here are two places to go for more information.
The show was a reduced risk as it had already been shown in two countries and the strategy had already been shown to work by the success of The Killing and other European shows on the BBC.
E.U. Quota regulations.
- To counteract U.S. cultural domination U.K. Television companies have (under E.U. regulations) a duty:
“to ensure that, where practicable and by appropriate means, a majority of the transmission time of broadcasters established in the Member State is reserved for European works.”
Articles 4 and 5 of the Television without Frontiers (TWF) Directive
This should mean we have loads of European T.V. shows on our screens!
- However the U.K. is a major producer of television content. The U.K. is the second biggest T.V. content exporter in the world and The BBC is the single biggest content producer in the world.
- This means that it can easily fill its quota without buying content from non-English speaking countries.
Issues of audience are also relevant throughout the other theoretical frameworks. In media language, the use of different formal structures to position the audience to receive and interpret meaning is central, while the study of representations has at its heart the reinforcement of social and cultural values for audiences. The study of institutions is also indivisibly linked to the need to define and attract specific audiences.
• The production, distribution and exhibition of Capital shows how audiences can be reached, both on a national and global scale, through different media technologies and platforms, moving from the national to transnational through broadcast and digital technologies.
Look back at the industry notes.
• The way in which different audience interpretations reflect social, cultural and historical circumstances is evident in the analysis of Capital which is explicitly linked to contemporary issues.
This really asks you to think about Hall and representation.
• The advertising campaigns (trailers, websites at home and abroad) for the series demonstrate how media producers target, attract and potentially construct audiences.
Look at the BBC page for help with this.
• Cultivation theory including Gerbner
For this you need to be able to write about how audiences may use their viewing of Capital to inform them as to the “State of the Nation.” In psychogeographic terms do they understand that this is a constructed product but see it as being truthful in the way it aims to represent the world. The social realist element of the show is important here. Additionally do they forget that this is a period drama and view it as a representation of the present (out by over a decade). If they do then pre-crash London is read as being contemporary London; which is not the case. The capital has changed even more (rents have skyrocketed, following house price rises, making life for those at the bottom even worse and Brexit concerns have changed the dynamic again.
• Reception theory including Hall
- Readings by particular groups. Those who accept the preferred reading will accept the Dickensian, satirical “State of the Nation” representation. Negotiated readings will accept parts but view other characters as un-realistic or caricatured (Arabella?). Oppositional readings will reject the whole representational structure. Given the wide range of representations it would seem odd to find those who were able to produce an oppositional reading.
The board says: Issues of audience are also relevant throughout the other theoretical frameworks. In media language, the use of different formal structures to position the audience to receive and interpret meaning is central, while the study of representations has at its heart the reinforcement of social and cultural values for audiences. The study of institutions is also indivisibly linked to the need to define and attract specific audiences.
The production, distribution and exhibition of Deutschland 83 shows how audiences can be reached, both on a national and global scale, through different media technologies and platforms, moving from the national to transnational through broadcast and digital technologies.
See the industry notes.
The way in which different audience interpretations reflect social, cultural and historical circumstances is evident in the analysis of the series which are explicitly linked to contemporary issues.
See the Audience notes.
The reception of the series in Germany, Europe and the US
See the context information and the industry notes.
The advertising campaigns (trailers, websites at home and abroad) for the series demonstrate how media producers target, attract and potentially construct audiences.
The C4 page helps here.
Cultivation theory including Gerbner
This depends on who you are. If you are not German the “cool nation branding” will have an impact on your view of the series. If you are German, and East German at that, you will probably view it differently. If you are young it may affect the way you view the past. If not then the audience notes on reception will help.
Reception theory including Hall
- Audience positioning: depends on feelings towards events depicted. Preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings depend on audience experience (i.e. East Germans will view the show differently to U.S. audience).
- Encoding and decoding: See constructed reality notes. Bricolage depends on recognition.
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