7 Media Grammar

Blair M. Taylor, David Thrumston, Bridget G. Sullivan, and Andrew Max Derby

How media is presented to the audience effects the meaning in every way. Within American culture, there is tendency to overlook all the processes that producers, of any kind, go through to deliver meaning and make an impact.  Media sources often want to get the consumers to see things in a certain light. The term Media Grammar refers to a set of rules or tendencies that each different medium uses to convey meaning. All media has its language. It is necessary for each media to have the grammar literacy. Thus, all media have unique characteristics, which will act as the distinguishing factor in the media” (Yuan).  In this chapter we will look at media grammar with in print, audio broadcast, digital media, television and film. Additionally, we will look at different media effects and how these forms of grammar can make an impact. This section includes ideas regarding audience and crowd manipulation, and the effects this has. 

Audio Broadcast Grammar 

Audio Broadcasts encompasses any form of media that is primarily consumed through listening. The most common example of this is Radio programming. Despite what you might think radio is actually heavily regulated and controlled, at least in the U.S.A, in 1934 Congress passed a communications act that created the FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, an organization that was tasked with policing and enforcing the rules of mass communication including radio and eventually the internet. The FCC quickly went about creating a strict set of guidelines for radio communication that has been enforced since.

According the FCC’s website one of the biggest prohibited forms of content in radio is obscene content and excessive profanity. Their guidelines say that “For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” (FCC) This, combined with a general negative view against excessive foul language has tempered radio into a much more “family friendly” media form. Violating these guidelines can lead to punishments ranging from having your broadcasting license taken away to being arrested depending on the severity of the violation. (FCC)

Interestingly enough there are no regulations against broadcasts designed to deceive or manipulate the general public, which is surprising considering that radio has proven to be one of the most effective tools available when it comes to mass manipulation. A great example of this is when in 1938 the Columbia Broadcast System aired a version of the novel “War of the Worlds” and nearly caused a mass panics. (History.com) It seems that our country has some very interesting double standards when it comes to radio broadcast grammar.

Digital Media Grammar

Digital media is any media that encodes a ‘machine readable’ formats. Digital media can be created, viewed, distributed, modified and reserved on electronic devices. For example, any form of digital message, picture, video, (video games) or any form of social media platform. Digital media is still developing every day for most places. Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, and North Korea are 6 countries that don’t allow social media. There’s about 4 billion people (mostly in developing countries) that don’t have access to the internet. In the research by World Economic Forum, it was found that the four main reasons people have stayed offline are infrastructure, affordability, skills & awareness & cultural acceptance, and local adoption & use. The World Economic Forum is trying to get the government to show new policies that will help with finances to set up public WIFI for those who can’t afford it.  (Luxton)

There are three mediums to Digital Media Grammar including, media grammar literacy, media content literacy, and media medium literacy. They all form a specific view for the audience to engage with.  “You need to have some understanding of specific workings of individual media.”(Meyrowitz) Media grammar literacy has the power to make individuals view a person, place, or thing, either in a certain way or in a way that the sender wants you to think. For example, in 2017 Kendall Jenner does a Pepsi commercial which is a controversy due to the fact they used imagery of marches from a protest for the Black Lives Matter Movement and how then Kendall Jenner a white woman hands a police officer a Pepsi can and he grins in approval, the crowd then cheers. People saying that “this is nothing from their experiences with protests.” The people saw it to be trivializing, Pepsi then apologized saying, that was not their intention to “make light of any serious issue.” That’s one example of how media grammar can make you perceive things in different ways than intended. (Wang) (Victor)

Tendencies of digital media that seem to not change are; the fundamental rules which then lead to mass marketing, having fame work, and pulling at emotion. The people taking in the information that commercials, etc. are throwing at us are the ones who decide if we like it. Ads that stick out to the consumers, such as catchy jingles or ones that trigger your emotion will be stuck in a consumer’s mind so when they see the product they will be more likely to purchase it. Many commercials nowadays include famous people and since consumers typically look up to said people they will want to be like them, and have the item that’s being endorsed. Even though media is changing on a day to day basis, these “fundamental rules” seem to work in marketing so they stick. (Jaques)

Television and Film Grammar

Film and television have certain tools and devices at their usage that other forms of media do not (Pavlik, 53). Due to the smaller nature of budgets in TV vs film, the devices are limited. Some examples of television and film grammar are how something is filmed. Most television sitcoms or situation comedies are filmed in front of an audience, and most use limited sets, set designs and camera positions. When these shows are not filmed live they use a laugh track where it creates an artificial audience to put emphasis more on the humorous aspects of a television show (Pavlik 53). Mostly sitcoms and game shows are the only ones filmed in front of an audience. The CBS show Two and a Half Men is an example of a show with a laugh track  while Family Guy and Modern Family do not.

In films since they do not have audience or crowd they are filmed with more camera work and set design then most television series’.  These camera angles make for unique film watching experiences. These include different types of cuts or scene changes. (Chandler). Another type of shot or filmed segment in television or film is a stock shot. These include views of a city skyline for a theme song or opening.  Another technique used in films and television is voice over (Chandler), when previously recorded audio of a character is used in a scene where they are not visibly present, in most versions it is when they have written a note or letter.  Another filming technique mostly used in crime drama shows or horror films is a jump cut or dramatic shift of scenes for effect (Chandler). All of these are editing techniques to enhance the film or TV show.  Voice over work is also usually the main source of audio in animated films.

These tools  and vocabulary used in film and television are very essential to understanding how each are made. While the jargon might be common to someone in everyday life, the individuals in these fields must master it. Film and televisions grammar and jargon are crucial to understanding them from an outside perspective. Hopefully with a few of these tricks, someone will be able to notice more film techniques and surprise their friends or family.

Media Effects

“People have gotten used to the use of media to the extent that they forget the social and cultural effects that the media has. People have overlooked the consequences of using the media” (Yuan).  These consequences seem obvious when you talk about violence in films and TV shows desensitizing youth, but are dramatically less discernible when you are discussing other forms of media such as newspapers. Let us stick to the newspapers for a moment, there is a common rule of lay out, that comes back to a psychological tendency with in humans to follow eyes. What is meant here is that naturally we look in the direction that others are looking, in the terms of layout this means that if there is a photo of a person the picture will be places so the face is looking at other material on the next page and not off the page. When an average front paper of a new paper is placed in front of us we do not think about how the creators of this are trying to get us to spend more time with the content.

Concepts such as crowd and audience manipulations are all too important but seem to get no attention (Crowd Manipulation). Could this be because these real practices paint media outlets with too dark of a shade? Wait, wait the word manipulation seems to have a dark allure to it but this word only really means to handle/ control skillfully. This form of manipulation, according to “Crowd Manipulation,” means to “engage, control, or influence the desires of a crowd”.  When you translate this idea in the terms of media most of the desires these companies want you have and then want to control is a higher need for consumption of their material. Media grammar techniques are ways in which they do this regularly.

Conclusion

All forms of media have different grammar tools, but the aim is to always get the viewer, to see and understand what the creator wants. This is not always a good thing; news station and other form of media can have political or other ambitions. Most media are bias to something, they are companies after all. It is the job of the reader the viewer or the watcher to detect and reflect these things. No matter if you are talking about advertisement companies using digital media to tug at heart strings, or if you are talking about crowd manipulation it’s important to understand who benefits from your understanding of media. Advertising companies are very successful at using media grammar tools to encourage sending. These concepts are only going to be more prevalent in the future occurring to statista by 2021 the average spending for advertising in the US will be up to $259.19 billion, from where it stands currently at $206.77 billion for 2017. So working out what the creator of media want you to see is only going to get more important.

Works Cited

Chandler, Daniel. “The ‘Grammar’ of Television and Film.” http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/short/gramtv.html.

“Crowd Manipulation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Nov. 2017, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowd_manipulation.

FCC. “Obscene, Indecent and Profane Broadcasts.” Federal Communications Commission, 13 Sept. 2017, http://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/obscene-indecent-and-profane-broadcasts.

Jaques , Liz. “Digital Media May Have Changed the Game but It Hasn’t Changed the Rules.” 19 Nov. 2015, http://www.newsworks.org.uk/Opinion/the-internet-may-have-changed-how-the-game-is-played-but-it-hasnt-changed-the-fundamental-rules.

Luton, Emma. “4 Billion People Still Don’t Have Internet Access. Here’s How to Connect Them.” World Economic Forum, 11 May 2016, http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/4-billion-people-still-don-t-have-internet-access-here-s-how-to-connect-them/.

Pavlik, John V., and Mcintosh, Shawn. Converging Media: Introduction to Mass Communcation. Oxford University Press, 2017.

Rehmeyer, Julie. “The Power of Being Influenced.” Science News, 23 Sept. 2013, http://www.sciencenews.org/article/power-being-influenced.

“U.S. Advertising Spending 2015-2021.” Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/272314/advertising-spending-in-the-us/.

Victor, Daniel. “Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter.” The New York Times,  5 Apr. 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/business/kendall-jenner-pepsi-ad.html.

Wang, Yih-heng. “Media Grammar Literacy.” 28 Jan. 2015, http://sites.psu.edu/comm411spring2015/2015/01/28/media-grammar-literacy-8/.

“Welles Scares Nation.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/welles-scares-nation.

Yuan, Yuan. “Media Grammar Literacy.” 27 Jan. 2015, http://sites.psu.edu/comm411spring2015/2015/01/27/media-grammar-literacy/.

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Introduction to Media Studies by Blair M. Taylor, David Thrumston, Bridget G. Sullivan, and Andrew Max Derby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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