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March 2002, Week 2


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BARBARA BAKER <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 14 Mar 2002 14:06:05 -0600
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Dear Jane, here is my second posting:

I'm not sure why you dismiss Perry's comments on viewers as being an
"easy"  explanation from "reception theory." Much of what I've read on
the subject discusses issues of spectatorship as being important in the
creation of meaning, and it seems your own examples bear some of this
out. But perhaps I misunderstand your point.  I guess I'm not sure what
you mean by comprehensibility.  I'm assuming to understand the plot, but
you admit it happens sometimes after a repeated viewing.  And that it
doesn't affect your pleasure if you don't "get" it.   And what does it
mean to understand anyway?   My students have grown up with MTV, video
games, and other non?linear "texts" and thus claim to understand quite
convoluted storylines, as well as the more popular Hollywood product
that sacrifices coherence to special effects.  Wouldn't this suggest
that some type of background experiences do play a part in viewing (as
you note with genre)?   Such understanding  may also have to do with a
certain type of visual experience (if not a type of "literacy").

Personally, I'm hesistant to privilege the text for meaning   I do
think "the text" works in a complicated (instead of simplistic) manner
with the audience in the construction of understanding and meaning.
For example, I had no problem whatsover in understanding many of the
films you named, especially Hollywood products like "The Matrix,"
"Se7en," "The Usual Suspects," etc. (surrealist films like "Un Chien
Andalou" belong in a different category, I think).  In the case of "The
Matrix," this may very well be because I do research on and teach about
science?fiction & fantasy films.  I appreciated as well much of the
allusions (filmic, literary, and philosophical) in "The Matrix"
(references deliberately put in by the directors, quite possibly as a
type of "riff" like in improvisational jazz, for their own pleasure
rather than the mass audience).  I "got it" on first viewing, but
subsequent viewings have certainly enriched my understanding of the

Barbara L. Baker
Professor of Communication
Warrensburg, MO. (USA) 64093
[log in to unmask]

>>> [log in to unmask] 03/14/02 08:03AM >>>
drew perry writes, in part:

>>We keep getting told that today's
>>generation of non-readers (a generalisation,
>>I know, but strikes me as a plausible
>>characterisation) are just literate in a new
>>way - they're visually literate.

>>But then you keep hearing about how
>>film or television texts that stretch
>>the conventions one iota (convoluted
>>narrative styles, profound existential
>>subtext, allusive or open closures, symbolic
>>imagery etc) are incomprehensible, unfathomable.
>>That The Matrix (for e.g.) is just sill sci-fi stuff
>>that 'makes no sense' ... just get into the special effects.

and though i quite agree with him i think it might be
worth making an additonal distinction . . . if visual
literacy is the ability to decode the conventional [but
rapidly evolving] codes and languages of cinema,
then they are indeed very literate . . .

   . . .  but  . . .  if by visual literacy we mean the ability
to move from those codes to a different set of codes
that drew names as "convoluted narrative styles, profound
existential subtext, allusive or open closures, symbolic imagery etc"
in other words conceptual codes that are not specifically
cinematic but that we take as a central part of the
western intellectual tradition, then they are almost totally
illiterate . . . and i take it that one of the main objections
in some parts of our culture to this new literacy is precsiely
that it seems to interfre with the development of literacy
of the more traditional kind -- which had little to do with
simnply deciphering words and more to do with being
able to frame the results conceptually


Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite