“Textual Analysis Is Limited When It Comes to Studying the Relationship Between Media Industries, Governments and Consumers. Other Approaches to the Media Are Also Necessary.”

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Advertisements are all around us. In our daily routines we are constantly dealing with advertisements whether we are conscious about it or not. As an audience, we are interacting with advertisements via the media in some form or another. One particular example is television commercials. But to understand the affects advertisements have on society as a whole, researchers have adopted two different methodologies with two different approaches; Textual Analysis and Critical Political Economy.

Textual analysis is an approach which focuses more on the text. It deals with how interpretation of the text works; how audience members come to understand the text and how meaning is made. McKee (2001, p.140), suggests texts can be in any form, for instance radio programmes, television programmes, films, newspapers, magazines etc, and if we want to understand the role that the media play in our lives and precisely how its messages participate in the cultural construction of our view of the world then we have to understand what meanings audiences are making of the different variety of texts.

As soon as we describe a programme, magazine or book as a ‘text’, we are implying a certain approach to it, and a certain way of making sense of it, including the fact that we do not think it has a single correct interpretation. We know that every television programme, film or magazine article can be interpreted in many different ways by viewers. For instance ‘wipe off 5’ commercials by TAC (Transport accident commission), viewed by different groups of people would interpret the commercial differently. Some audiences may find the adoption of ‘shock tactics’ inappropriate as the images are too graphical, others may think the commercial is great because it depicts reality and creates awareness for drivers at all ages. These are only a few interpretations conducted within my family and there may be a vast majority of people that have different views to what has been said. But the important thing is to understand that none of these interpretations is ‘correct’, they are all feasible interpretations of the same text. Because there is no simple single correct interpretation of reality, it becomes very important to understand how media texts might be used in order to make sense of the world we live in.

When interpreting different commercials, there is no way that we can attempt to understand how the text might be interpreted without identifying the given context. Taking the ‘Sprite Zero’ commercial for example, there are literally hundreds of things that you could say about that text. You could be discussing the actors, the lighting, the setting, what they are doing, the clothing, and the digital effects (basketball court turning into swimming pool)…There is literally no way to discuss and identify all likely interpretations of the text but given a specific context we are able to “make a educated guess of the likely interpretation of the text” McKee (2001, p. 140).

McKee (2001, p.145), defines context as “a series of intertexts, related texts”. By identifying the context, we establish useful information which structures the way we interpret the text. Along with context, McKee (2001, p.146), suggests three ways to understand any element of a text “The rest of the text, The Genre of the text and the wider public context in which a text is circulated”.

Semiotics at its essence is the study of how meaning is made. It describes how culture and language work together to produce meaning systematically. According to Turner (1997, p.311), all meaning producing activities are gathered under the one conceptual framework known as “signification”. Semiotics analyses signification by reducing all communication practices to their most basic unit: “the sign”.

Signs are assumed to be composed of two parts: the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the physical form of the sign for instance the written word, the photograph, the sound. The...
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