Welcome to my blog! My name is Tyler McGee, I am a student at Towson University. I am majoring in mass communications with a focus in journalism. I have always been interested in the media in all forms. I have always been curious who chooses what we watch, how we watch it, when we watch it and more questions that would take days to write. That is why I took the class media criticism this fall, to get some of those questions answered.
Let’s Get Into Media Criticism
What is media criticism you ask? Well media criticism is the process of understanding media and the symbolism behind it. It has a lot to do with the questions I mentioned I have had earlier. Analyzing what it is that the media is showing us, when, how, and why. This is important for people to think about because at face value you really do not see what you are consuming from the media. Once, you start to question, analyze, and criticize the media then you aren’t just consuming anymore.
There are four different approaches to media criticism, including audience, social world, audience, and text. So far we have focused on the text aspect of media criticism. The text approaches we have focused on are semiotics/structuralism, narrative criticism, and genre criticism. Semiotics/structuralism deal with the signs in media text. While narrative criticism, or sometimes referred to as narrative analysis, deals with the structure of a media text. Finally, genre criticism deals with analyzing a media text through their specified genre.
To help break media criticism down a little better I will take narrative analysis and analyze the television show American Horror Story. This show is unique because it is an anthology series which is an example of the structure of the show already. An anthology series is when the show has a different theme each season. On American Horror Story the actors are the same but the characters they play change each season, recently there have been connections between each season that are slowly being revealed.
American Horror Story
Some examples of the what themes there have been on the show are Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show, Hotel and the current season is titled Roanoke. I’ll take season three of American Horror Story and analyze it, which is Coven. Coven was about witches who lived in a house and were all trying to become the most powerful witch but there were many sticky situations along the way to power.
Before we get into the analysis of season three, there are a couple terms that you will need to understand. The first word is “story”, this mean the chain of events that are inferred or presented. The next word is “plot”, which means what we actually see and hear. The third word is “emplotment” which is why things are arranged the way they are. Narrative analysis specifically uses emplotment out of those terminologies.
Okay enough of the boring terms. Back to American Horror Story: Coven. So the way American Horror Story starts off is very cryptic. Even in the promos you don’t really get a clue of what the season will be about just little hints. Below is a season three teaser.
Creepy right? This is Ryan Murphy’s, the creator of American Horror Story, way of keeping a lot of mystery around the season. He does this for every season, which is another form of narrative analysis. Ryan Murphy specifically keeps a lot of detail away from the viewers each season as apart of his promotion of the new season to leave the viewers guessing. This year for season six, viewers didn’t get much, if any clue about the new season, we didn’t even get the name until the first episode aired!
Excuse my frustration, we were all a little confused, we still are confused. But back to season three. Another example is how Ryan Murphy always connects his fictional story to true stories, that are always so horrible there hard to believe.
For example in the scene above you see Kathy Bates character Delphine Lalaurie. Her character is a real life serial killer who murdered her slaves in the 1800’s. It was said she would torture them and use their blood to keep her youthful skin. As you saw she was painting her face with the blood as if it were a mask. Couldn’t believe it either but its true. Ryan Murphy does this many times throughout the seasons, connecting real life horrors to the fictional ones he creates.
Another time he does this is season five, which was title “Hotel”. On one particular episode he brings in several real life serial killers John Wayne Gacy, the Zodiac killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, and Richard Ramirez.
Intertwining real horror and fake horror is a staple for Ryan Murphy and seemingly seems to work because it is true American horror.
Another example of the way things are structured in American Horror Story is Ryan Murphy’s infamous Halloween episode. Each season acknowledges Halloween and how things always seem to go bump in the night. Specifically, on Coven a fear that everyone has the night of the living dead. Angela Basset’s (she’s not a witch but she practices voodoo) character conjures up the dead and they terrorize her enemy on the show Delphine Lalaurie. Remember the serial killers mentioned above in season five? That was season five’s Halloween episode entitled “Devil’s Night”.
Another small example of the structure of the show is how each season is now connected. At the beginning of American Horror Story, the viewers had no clue that the seasons would be connected because they are all completely different in every way. In season four, which was Freak Show, Ryan Murphy shows us a small connection to season two of American Horror Story, which was Asylum. Characters from Asylum begin to show up in Freak Show, and from that season on there has been a connection between each season.
Although, each season is different in characters and themes, each season of American Horror Story does have similar structure in the small things that do remain the same in the show. These were all examples of emplotment which is the main focus of narrative analysis.
So What You Ask?
While media criticism has a broad spectrum of ways to analyze media texts, I believe narrative criticism or narrative analysis is one of the most important ones. The narrative analysis approach allows consumers to view media text from the perspective of the creator of the text. By analyzing why things are arranged a certain and what the creator was trying to get across while arranging the text gives the consumer a different perspective. You are no longer the consumer but almost a co-creator while your analyzing.
American Horror Story’s creator Ryan Murphy may come off as having a sick mind to some. There has been rape, unimaginable violence and murder, racism, glorification of vicious murderers and much more. However, he is shining his creative light on the realities of American horror. Things that real Americans have gone through and true stories that may have never been told before. Believe it or not Ryan Murphy is the same creator for the hit show Glee. You know the show about the obnoxious high school kids who sing all the time..yeah that one. Hard to imagine the mind being able to go both ways rather than in just one direction.
As I wrote this I even realized how I have not truly analyzed the show and now that I have taken the time to I realized lot more about the show than I normally would. The structure of this show is like no other on television at the moment. There are other anthology series on television but none that go into the deep horrors of American life.
I think this is one of the reasons narrative analysis is so important because it allows you to think about what you are really viewing and not just what your seeing on the surface (plot). You can put yourself into the shoes of the creator as I did and better understand why everything your viewing is happening.
After analyzing American Horror Story I have a greater appreciation for the show and now when I watch I will pay more attention to how the story is being told and I will almost feel like I am sitting in the directors chair while viewing. I encourage anyone reading this to become a media critic and begin to view all the media you consume in a different light, What is on the surface may not be all there is to a show, film, or any media you typically consume. This in turn will help you better understand media and give you a different perspective on something you thought you knew everything about when in fact you may have never truly understood it.