From Karl Marx to Kylie Minogue, three new books investigate the modern media, explaining and entertaining in equal measure. Laurence Alster takes a look.
Having been in search of a good textbook for some time, A-level media studies students will welcome The Media Student's Book. Others - notably those on BTEC, GNVQ and City and Guilds courses, all of whom the book claims to target - will be disappointed; this title is not for them.
This is more a consequence of the language used than of the subjects covered. Sections on ownership and control, genre, images, and independent media would be just at home in books for GNVQ students, but their treatment would have to be very different. Without doubt, the socio-historical approach adopted here is best suited to A-level students.
They and their teachers will approve of and enjoy chapters dealing with, among other things, ideologies, audiences, and institutions, all of which offer interesting activities and case studies; the one on Psycho, for instance, applies the ideas of Todorov, Propp, Barthes and Levi-Strauss.
None of which, of course, can easily be explained in plain language. Congratulations, therefore, to the authors for managing to do so. They are less successful elsewhere, however.
For example, the explanation of Marxist ideas presumes rather than facilitates understanding, and expressions such as "dissenting mechanism" (used to describe the TV programme Right to Reply) are simply unnecessary. Such slips apart, the overall impression is one of a well-designed and authoritative text.
Even more impressive, at least in terms of design, is Advanced GNVQ Media: Communication and Production; copiously and colourfully illustrated,the book is as easy on the eye as its audience could wish.
For the most part, the content is equally pleasing. Having systematically outlined the requirements of the relevant GNVQ, the authors provide clearly written and well-informed chapters, many linked to specific units, on a wide range of subjects. Most of these contain excellent case studies, activities and assignments.
Among the most stimulating of the dozens on offer is a case study on the publicity machine that promotes Kylie Minogue, an activity on stereotyping in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and an assignment that requires students to design a graphic on a plague threat in India. Set among informative and well-ordered chapters on such vocationally linked areas as planning radio and video productions and producing newspapers and magazines, these tasks will both enhance skills and bring much enjoyment.
A shame, then, that the whole enterprise is somewhat spoiled by a number of typographical errors, the most exasperating being a large caption to a graphic in the chapter on print material. It reads: "How Glanrhyd bridge looked before and after flooding caused it's collapse." Teachers will be less than pleased at having to explain this one.
GNVQ Media: Communication and Production Intermediate Level will give no such trouble; in the proof-reading sense at least, the book is immaculate.And, if occasionally a little difficult for this level, its contents are generally sound. The problem here is a layout that is a long way from being inspirational.
The book's three sections, on local and national media industries, media audiences, and media employment trends, all contain interesting activities and assignments. In addition, there is a helpful glossary at the end of each section. But the book has a decidedly grim look, with too many of the tasks either lacking good visual stimuli altogether or, as with an otherwise promising exercise on Enid Blyton book covers, featuring pictures of unsuitable size and quality. Given the exciting nature of some of the exercises, one can only observe that the authors must feel a little hard done by.