NON-FICTION TELEVISION PROGRAM ANALYSIS TIPS, FOCUSING ON SOUND AND IMAGE
For each segment, analyze the connotative (emotional, suggestive) aspects. Tell what the producer has selected to show us, what s/he has decided to emphasize, and how s/he has created that emphasis.
Describe the effect of the camera angle. Certain segments, especially advertisements and the news, vary shot distance. Explain the effect of using long shot, medium shot (two-shot or three-shot), close up, extreme close up.
Notice the framing: Are important people or objects placed in a certain way in the shot.
Do particular colors in a shot carry special meanings? What kinds of colors are used a lot in ads? When is the image simple and when is it complex, and what does that connote? What are the relations between what is in the foreground and what is in the background? Sometimes the background provides the “context” for the person in the foreground.
Pay special attention to the connotations conveyed by setting, costume, and mise-en-scene. Compare sets to other program’s sets. Note connotations of social class and income level or masculinity and femininity. When are conventionalized objects—a flag, an identifiable kind of clothing, a way of standing or looking, a picture of a sunset, a distressed child—used to convey particular meanings recognized across a society. How are feelings coded into sequences?
How does the visual and audio presentation of the material affect the meaning we get about the people, places, things, and action that is seen in a given segment, or affect the meaning built up over many programs? How do we have a genre memory or a sense of having seen some of this material before. Networks often run ads asking us to look at something in the near future? How does all that intertextual repetition affect meaning?
Tell how characterization is built up visually and on the audio track. Discuss people’s body types, their moral and physical attributes, tone of voice, movements, gestures, seeming degree of complexity or contradictory aspects, and range of occupations and class position.
Consider how power relations are expressed. Who asks questions? Who gives advice or makes interpretations authoritatively? Who asserts something as a fact? Do different people in the show use different kind of grammar or speech styles as signs of class, education, or status? What perspectives are assumed in a person’s speech? [examples: “As your father I think…” “You ladies always are…” “Doctors recommend…” “You should…” What kind of background information is developed to prove what kind of point, emphasize or justify what kind of action or attitude? Sometimes actual arguments are developed, what are these?
Describe the on-camera performance style of the people in a program.
How does the segment use sound? When does music come in -- instrumental or vocal? Discuss peoples’ tone of voice, how lines are delivered. When does the editing rely on overlapping sound--i.e., sound that begins before or after a cut? What auditory signals or shortcuts are used to convey particular well understood meanings, such as a cry of grief, a religious ritual, a touchdown at the last minute?
Verbal codes: linguistic units. How are people identified [girl, Ms., Joan, Dr. Maxwell]? What words are used to express positive or negative judgments? What kind of “value” language is in what is said, and does it come from psychological, legal, moral, medical, parental, etc. discourse? Are metaphors used? When and what are they? Find some ideological language, especially in arguments or advice. Here are some examples of ideological language: democratic, scientifically proven, family values. Consider tone of voice and how it is used? Is sound used to trigger a memory of one’s previous experience with the media or one’s past social experiences? How does the sound track interact or combine with what we see?
Whose or what point of view, feelings, and experiences are viewers invited to identify with? Viewer indentificatory positions can shift around and move across gender, class, age. Who is the ideal viewer set up by the text? What kinds of thing does the program invite the viewer to regard as normal, natural, and enjoyable? Does this show or segment or person maintain or critique dominant ways of thinking on a given subject? What alternative or oppositional readings might be possible? [a personal example here: I often look at celebrities and estimate if they have recently had “botox” shots because their skin is so smooth, and some little part of their expressive capacity is gone, because the shot has a paralyzing effect.]
Consider the program’s projected audience. What would be the program’s viewers age, expectations, psychic needs, current events, and social customs? How would marketers, both TV producers and advertisers, evaluate the audience for that segment.
Remember, for each shot, discuss the emotional or connotative aspects of each of these elements. That can also encompassing discussing ideology or social impact.