supersize me key concepts

Presentation 4: The Key Concepts
Key Aspects of
Media Studies
• medium, purpose, form, genre, style, tone
• technical and cultural codes, anchorage
• narrative structure and narrative codes
• selection, portrayal, ideological discourses
• internal controls
• external controls
• target audience
• differential decoding
• individual, social, cultural,
economic, political events
and ideologies
Explanation of Concept Map
The concept map tries to show how the key aspects of media studies are
integrated. The map shows that the media are involved in a twin circuit of meaning
and capital.
In SQA Media Studies arrangements there are seven key aspects: Categories,
Language, Narrative, Representation, Audience, Institution and Technology. The
map has an eighth key aspect – Society.
The concept map tries to express the following: Media institutions, working under
internal and external constraints, select aspects of society for representation. Media
producers encode meanings in texts for target audiences through categories such
as genre, through technical and cultural codes, narrative and representation. How
audiences decode texts depends on the individual and social differences of
audience members. How they react has more or less influence on society.
Technologies of production, distribution and reception are central to these
processes. The arrow of time through the centre indicates that this circuit of
meaning is a continuous, dynamic process.
Basic Information
Directed, Produced, Written by: Morgan Spurlock
Starring: Morgan Spurlock; Alexandra Jamieson
Music by Doug Ray, Steve Horowitz, Michael Parrish
Cinematography: Scott Ambrozy
Editing by: Julie "Bob" Lombardi
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films; Roadside Attractions
Release date: May 7, 2004
Running time: 98 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $1,065,000
Box office: $30,000,000
Categories: Medium
The medium of “Supersize Me” is film
The film was also followed up by the book
“Don't Eat this Book”
Categories: Purpose
• Media texts can have a variety of purposes:
entertainment, information, education, artistic
expression, persuasion, propaganda, profit, …
Q. Which of these purposes do you think motivated the
makers of ‘Supersize Me’? Use evidence from the film to
justify each of your answers.
Q. Of these purposes which one do you think was most
important? Use evidence from the text to justify your
Categories: Genre
• One way of categorising documentaries is by the degree
of creative treatment of recorded material. Three
subgenres are:
– realist documentary: imposing minimal treatment on
recorded material i.e. ‘fly-on-the-wall’
– formalist documentary: imposing a particular narrative
structure on recorded material i.e. ‘fly-in-the-soup’
– subjective documentary: which express the
filmmaker’s personal vision.
• Any one documentary can mix these techniques.
Q. In recent years there has been an explosion of ‘reality
television’. What is meant by this term? What different
kinds of reality television have you seen on television?
Q. What kind of documentary is ‘Supersize Me’?
Categories: Documentary Conventions
• Most documentaries have different look and sound
from fiction films.
Q. What is the conventional look of documentary? In
other words, how does the documentary look
connote realism?
Q. How does sound connote realism?
Q. Do you think ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is a typical
documentary. Why?
Q. Does it use any techniques which are similar to
fiction films?
Categories: Tone
• A documentary (like any film) can have different
tones: serious, light-hearted, optimistic, pessimistic,
celebratory, condemnatory, resigned, critical,
uncritical, ironic, …
Q. Identify different tones in ‘Supersize Me’. What are
the purposes of these different tones? Identify how
these tones achieved are achieved through images,
sound and voice.
Language: Technical/Cultural Codes
You should already know how to describe shots in terms of
camera distance, camera angle, camera movement and
lighting. You should be able to analyse how shots are edited
by describing the transitions and whether or not continuity
editing is used.
Q. Analyse a sequence in terms of technical codes. Why have
these codes been used?
The film wishes to persuade us of the authority of the evidence
about fast food and the need to tackle the problem
Q. What cultural codes are used to connote authority?
Language: Anchorage
• Images or sounds on their own may have many
different possible meanings i.e. they are polysemic
• Anchorage refers to the ways that image and sound
are combined to reduce the polysemy of each on
their own. The meaning is pinned down or
‘anchored’ by the combination of sound and image.
Q. Analyse a sequence to show how images and
sound/music construct meaning and mood.
Narrative: Rhetorical Narrative
Typical features of rhetorical narrative are that it:
• Presents a reasoned argument
• Appeals to the emotions
• Addresses the audience directly e.g. to camera or by
• Uses repeated motifs to emphasise its argument e.g.
recurring images, sounds, phrases
• Suppresses, mocks or criticises contrary opinions
• Encourages the audience to act.
Q. Identify how ‘Supersize Me’ uses each of these features
to advance its argument.
Narrative: Argumentation Schemes
When we construct arguments about issues we use a
number of typical ways of arguing (argumentation
The fact that a scheme is used does not mean the
argument is valid.
Examples of argumentation schemes are:
Problem-solving: “If X is a problem, then do Y”
Numbers: “If number X is too large/small, then do Y to
reduce/increase X”
Authority: “As expert X says …”
History: “History teaches us that …”
Illustration: “As the situation in X shows …”
Comparison: “If X can do A then so can Y.”
Identify different argumentation schemes in which Morgan
Spurlock uses in 'Supersize Me'
Do you think that these arguments are valid? Justify your
Narrative: Narrative Codes
• One can analyse narrative in terms of overall structure.
However narrative can also be analysed in terms of
narrative codes which work moment-by-moment in a
• One of the most important is the enigmatic code.
Focusing on the enigmatic code lets us view a film as a
sequence of questions and answers. The film poses
enigmas (questions) which engage the viewer’s attention
and these questions may, or may not be, resolved
(answered) by the end of the film.
Q. What are major enigmas are posed in ‘Supersize Me’?
Are these enigmas resolved by the end of the film?
Representation 1
• Documentaries are not ‘a window on the world’.
Rather they select particular aspects of the world
and portray these in particular ways which reflect the
beliefs and values of the organisations which make
the film and of the audiences who watch.
• The film was made primarily for an American
audience so it uses narrative structuring familiar to
American audience from fiction feature films.
Representation 2
• In American mainstream fiction films we are usually invited to
identify with one special individual who is driven by individual
psychological forces rather than collective social forces.
• Such films often use a narrative structure which Joseph
Campbell has called the hero’s journey. In this a hero(ine)
undergoes tests and struggles before achieving his/her goals.
Joseph Campbell said we all have to undertake a hero’s
journey to find fulfilment in our own lives and that can be done
by ‘following our bliss’. In other words, to be truly happy we
must find what really motivates us.
Q. How has director Morgan Spurlock used these fictional
techniques to structure the film?
Q. Another aspect of American ideology is its ‘can-do spirit’. How
does the film reflect this spirit?
Audience: Target Audience
Q. ‘Supersize Me’ is aimed primarily at a US market. What
evidence is there for this in the film?
Q. What might put people off going to see the film?
Q. What steps have been made in the film to broaden its
Q. What other groups of people could be considered the
target audience for the film?
Audience: Mode of Address
The film uses various modes of address:
• Direct address to the audience with Morgan Spurlock's
voiceover and talking about his experiences.
• Uses ‘popular media’ human interest approach by
appealing to our emotions
• Uses ‘quality media’ approach by the use of rational
Q. Identify sequences in the film which make an emotional
Q. Identify sequences in the film which use rational
Audience: Preferred reading / differential decoding
• What is the preferred reading of “Supersize Me” in
relation to fast food?
• Different audiences have different reactions to the same
film because of age, gender, social class, ethnic group,
lifestyle, politics, religion, values, taste, education and so
• How might different people react to the film? (Which
groups of people might respond differently to the
intended, preferred reading?)
Institution: Market Context
Documentary features very popular in recent years:
– ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ (budget $6m est., US gross
– ‘March of the Penguins’ (budget $8m est., US gross
– ‘Bowling for Columbine’ (budget $4m, US gross
Often feature alternative viewpoints which receive little
coverage in mainstream news
Has encouraged companies to finance production and
distribute documentaries
Supersize Me cost just over $1m and grossed $30m
Institution: Internal Context
How does the internal context shape the text?
Can conceptualise the internal context of film
production as a struggle between the
allocative and operational
(productive/creative) levels of control
In film, this often comes down to who has right
of final cut
In ‘authored’ documentaries authorial control
and ‘authorial stamp’ must be considered
Morgan Spurlock as ‘Auteur’
Morgan Spurlock an ensemble of signs which connotes
‘ordinary guy’
Inserts himself into public debates
Staged encounters with authority (‘big shots’ do what
they want and don’t care about ‘ordinary folks’)
Mixes comedy and tragedy
Comic/ironic use of music
Funny, opinionated, sometimes eloquent
Expert editing and structuring of material with montages
of McDonalds, fat people, etc
Institution: External Context 1
How does external context shape text?
Documentary features very popular in cinemas in recent
Documetaries often feature alternative viewpoints which
receive little coverage in mainstream news
Should lead to more being made and gaining distribution
Successes in cinemas may affect reality tv e.g. Morgan
Spurlock (Super Size Me) has signed deal with US cable
channel FX to make 30 Days in which someone will
spend a month in an unfamiliar environment e.g.
prosecutor spends month in jail, Christian lives as a
Institution – External Context
Execs believe reality TV has made audiences
more accepting of documentary
HBO, Discovery, BBC (Storyville), C4 are
allowing filmmakers to experiment in styles,
formats, topics
TV wants topics that appeal globally
Want a point-of-view and narrative style that
borrows from reality formats
Budgets $0.25m..$1m per hour