Media in Minutes | VCE Media Edition | Narrative and Ideology: Writing about context

Hey Media nerds! Today we’re taking a look at how you can write about ideological and institutional context. 

When you’re studying Narrative and Ideology, you’ll be taking a look at the ideological and institutional context of the stories that you’re studying. 

Ideological context is about those systems of belief that exist in the time or place that a narrative is created.  Stories explicitly or implicitly reflect these systems of belief. 

Vice, a film directed by Adam McKay about former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, is a great example. The film, which is a scathing critique of the Bush administration, is clearly shaped by liberal ideology. In a post credit scene, Mckay cuts to a focus group from earlier in the film where a man starts complaining that the film itself “has got a liberal bias”. Someone complains about Trump looking like a Cheeto and room predictably descends into violence.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is another good example. The film, quite surprisingly, seems to reflect vegan ideology. If you’ve seen it, you might remember the scene where the audience realises that drinking milk is kind of gross, or that moment Finn and Rose decide that fathier racing is barbaric, or the bit where Chewbacca decides that eating small defenceless animals is kind of cruel. The Last Jedi has obviously been shaped by these beliefs. So much so, that the website Mercy for Animals declared that The Last Jedi is Vegan AF.

When you’re writing about he ideological context of the stories that you’re studying, make specific and informed reference to these systems of beliefs as well as the society, culture, time and place in which the text was created. 

To express your knowledge of the ideological context, you can:

• identify the ideologies clearly

• describe values that underpin these ideologies 

• discuss the views and values of the narrative’s creators

• describe events in society that may have shaped these ideologies and, in turn, the narrative

• discuss relevant historical events that may have shaped ideologies and the film itself

• refer to opinion polls or surveys which might help to support your discussion of prevalent ideologies

• refer to other narratives that might also reflect these ideologies

Let’s take a look at how you might do this. Here’s a response that describes the ideological context of Aliens

This question asks you to simply describe the ideological context of one narrative you have studied. This question comes from a test that I wrote last year and subsequent questions invited studies to discuss how this ideology shaped one of the narratives they studied. 

Let’s take a look. 

Aliens,  released in 1986, was shaped by the rise of feminist ideology in the 1960s and 1970s. During this period in America’s history, there was a movement towards greater equality for women.  In 1963, the Equal Pay Act became law, meaning that men and women doing the same work would receive the same pay. That year, Betty Friedan’s published The Feminine Mystique, which became a bestseller and led to the second-wave of feminism in the U.S. In 1966, Friedan and others established the National Organization for Women (NOW) to promote equal pay and equality for women.  On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote, women across the US participated in the Women’s Strike for Equality.  At the same time as these prominent campaigns for equal rights,  there were also public events like the “Battle of the Sexes” in which tennis player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs. This match is remembered for its effect on society and its contribution to the discourse on feminism. By the early 1980s, Sandra Day O’Connor had become the first female Justice of the Supreme Court and Sally Ride was the first women in space. The General Social Survey, an ongoing survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago, provides insight into how gender roles changed in the United States during this time. For many years, researchers have asked respondents whether they approve or disapprove of a married woman earning money when she has a husband capable of supporting her. This data illustrates a clear change in values towards gender roles in the two decades between 1972 and 1993. In 1972, only 67.2% of those surveyed agreed that it was fine for a married woman to have a job if she had a husband capable of supporting her. By 1988, two years after Aliens was released that figure had reached 79.10%. The film, and its portrayal of gender, clearly reflects dominant ideologies of gender from the time in which it was released.

This response is effective because the student has written clearly and authoritatively about an ideology that directly influenced the film they’ve studied. When you’re studying this outcome, I strongly recommend putting together some cue cards to help you remember these basic facts because, without this knowledge, you won’t be able to express your understanding of how these ideologies have shaped the text you have studied. Keep in mind that ideologies develop and evolve over time. When writing about the ideological context of the narrative you are studying, it might be necessary to write about events in the months or even years leading up to the production of the narrative. When you’re writing about ideology, society and culture, be informed, be specific, avoid making generalisations and unsubstantiated statements.

Institutional context is about the media institution that produced a narrative, it might be a film studio or streaming company like Netflix. Any company that is investing millions of dollars in a movie is going to have some influence on the nature of that story. 

In my class, we talk about Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind Get Out, who also produced films like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, Split, Happy Death Day and BlacKkKlansman. The philosophy behind Blumhouse is simple: churn out low budget films that cost less than 5 million dollars in the hope that one in four will be a breakout success, taking hundreds of millions at the box office. Directors get creative control but they don’t get a single cent more than the budgeted amount – often confining their script to a single location, ruling out expensive stunts and minimising the number of speaking parts. People get paid when the film makes a profit.. It’s a filmmaking philosophy that seems to be working. In 2018, Variety reported that Blumhouse Productions had earned more than $4 billion worldwide. 

So…how does this relate to Get Out? Well, Jordan Peele worried that Get Out would never see the light of day. 

“There was a good chance it would never get made,” he said. “…you can’t make a movie where a black man kills a white family at the end in cold blood “

And this is where the film’s institutional context becomes important. 

“Jordan’s script had been around for quite some time,” Jason Blum told Business Insider. “no one wanted to make it, and I understand why: It’s bananas. We did it because I read the script and I thought it would be amazing.”

Blumhouse enabled the production of a risky film that major studios had largely ignored.

When you’re thinking about your narratives, consider the influence of their institutional context. 

That’s it! I’ve put a link down below to the sample response that we discussed in this episode and a blank sheet for you to have a at writing about the ideological or institutional context of the film you’ve studied. Give it a go, if you’ve got questions, talk to your teacher and good luck.