Laurence Alster gets an incomplete picture from a trio of media textbooks
With media studies increasingly popular at all levels, textbooks and teaching resources are now abundantly available. As ever, any gap in the market will be filled, though not necessarily with goods of the highest order.
The point is amply illustrated by these three publications. Written for Advanced GNVQ media as well as A-level media studies and communication studies, Advanced Studies in Media immediately impresses with its attractive layout, copious activities and often well-chosen illustrations, many of them colour. There are some readable chapters, notably one on narrative and audience, while an analysis of representation that takes in The Young Ones, Four Weddings and a Funeraland The Elephant Man is neatly tailored for the target group.
Elsewhere, though, things look a little threadbare. The section on sponsorship neglects to mention the various ways it can limit the quality and diversity of television. A review of sport in the media gives plentiful space to camera positions at football matches while ignoring the part played by expanding sports coverage, let alone fantasy football competitions, in the current broadsheet circulation battles. And though the authors are interesting (if scarcely original) on bias in the news, they are blind to what some see as the threat posed by multi-channel television to news that seeks to inform more than divert.
Too often Advanced Studies in Media opts for the safe as opposed to the challenging option, a quality that (despite some very good advice on taking traditional exams) probably makes it more suited to Advanced GNVQ than A-level students.
Image and Representation, by contrast, sets its sights on the latter. Nick Lacey offers a solid introduction to the ideas of Barthes, de Saussure and Peirce, while his comments on ideology, hegemony and discourse are well-judged and clearly written. But no more so than many books that cost half as much, offer better illustrations for close analysis and don't hold an error count that suggests proofreading took place during a blackout. In these and other ways, Image and Representation stretches reader tolerance a little too far.
The cost of the thin-looking Media Assignments for GCSE English also seems steep, but closer inspection reveals a photocopiable resource of considerable enterprise and wit. Arguably the best from eight lengthy and wide-ranging assignments are those that, through oral and written work, examine the appeal of television's Blind Date, deconstruct the spoof Wonderbra poster from Age Concern, and analyse the language used by different news reports of a single incident. Challenging, enjoyable and relevant, the pack embodies the kind of care and thought that others would do well to emulate.
Laurence Alster is a lecturer in media studies at the South Downs College, Portsmouth