THE CODES OF TELEVISIONTelevision uses a system of verbal,nonverbal, and representational codes tocommunicate meaning to the viewingaudience.John Fiske’s codes of television are rules andconventions shared among members of aculture which are used to create meaningswithin the cultureSo what Fiske is saying is that even “reality”is encoded (or that’s how we make sense ofreality).There is no such thing as “raw” reality.Do you agree? There are three levels to the codesof television:• reality• representation• ideology Level 1 – REALITYReality: it is already encoded by social codessuch as dress, make-up, speech andgestures; it is the product of cultural codes.Fiske gives the example of a tree reflected ina lake… … this may be the settingfor a romantic sceneLevel 2 – REPRESENTATIVEFilm then electronically encodes“reality” by technical codes such as:• Camera movements and the adjustments ofangles, framing and focus can be used to give adesired effect. The usual camera distance intelevision is mid-shot to close-up, which bringsthe viewer into an intimate, comfortablerelationship with the characters on the screen.Villains are usually shown in extreme close-up. • Lighting of objects and people can affectthe mood in which they are perceived.Villains are often shown in a harsh, whitelight. Heroes are shown in softer, yellowishlight. • Editing is a way to adjust the rhythm andcontinuity of a scene to give it more of a naturalflow, making the average shot about 7 seconds.• Music can also suggest changes in mood andemotions. For example, background music maydrop from major keys showing a programme’sheroes to minor keys for scenes with villains(Fiske).Conventional RepresentationalCodesThese are transmitted by camera/lighting/editing/sound/music:They would include:• Setting• Costume & make up• Narrative• Conflict• Action• Dialogue• CharactersConventional RepresentationalCodes con/tdAlso Casting:This is an aspect of encoding that is unique inthat viewers may know actors and theirbehaviours from other programmes. Actorsare real people and some bring an inter-textualmeaning from their public lives.e.g. Hart to HartFiske uses a scene in the show Hart to Hart.He compares the settings, costumes, make-up, action anddialogue used for the heroes and villains:• The hero’s cabin has curtains and flowers where as the villain’ssetting features sharp angles and hard lines.• The villains appear dressed less tastefully. The heroine’s lips wearbrighter lipstick and appear fuller than those of the villainess.• The hero and heroine co-operate and display a closenessphysically in scenes where as the villains tend to disagree and pullapart from one another.• The dialogue is written to let the heroes joke and use metaphors.These techniques can all play on the viewers’ sympathy for theheroes. Level 3Ideology (shaped by representation).Representational codes are organized into “coherence and socialacceptability” by ideological codes:• Individualism• Patriarchy• Race• Class• Materialism• CapitalismIn the Hart to Hart example, when the criminal is caught or prosecuted,the ideology of law, and good winning over evil is coded. This meansthat viewers of altering social positions may interpret the programmesdifferently.
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