Sweet and sour

27th February 1998 at 00:00
The Media Studies Reader

Edited by Tim O'Sullivan andYvonne Jewkes

Arnold #163;16.99

The Complete A-Z Media and Communication Handbook

By Stuart Price

Hodder amp; Stoughton #163;8.99

As with many chocolate assortments, subject readers are sometimes a sticky proposition. For every two items suited to a course there is likely to be one that, like a half-eaten orange cream, is tried and found wanting. So it is with The Media Studies Reader; while some of the contents are perfect for A-level students, others will be picked out and quickly put down.

Divided into six sections on matters such as stereotypes, audiences and global media, each of the 39 readings is preceded by a short, clear introduction, followed by three or four well-phrased and suitably searching questions. Students and teachers will welcome these elements rather more than some of the actual readings.

On stereotypes, for instance, Martin Barker is as interesting as he is provocative, though not without being needlessly obscure at times. Students will both enjoy and learn more from Justin Lewis's observations on stereotypes and The Cosby Show, if only because of the author's clearness of prose and, consequently, purpose.

Elsewhere, Roger Bolton is as informative and agreeably pungent on political television as, say, Julian Petley is on moral panics.But the contrast between their writing and that of, among several others, Nick Stevenson on audience research ("Thehabitus of the dominant class can be discerned in the ideology of natural charisma") soon brings half-eaten chocolates to mind. This reader has some savoury items, certainly, but there are a number that all but the brightest A-level students will find hard to swallow.

Any book that announces itself as the complete guide toanything is asking for trouble, and Stuart Price's The Complete A-Z Media and Communication Handbook is no exception. While most of the definitions and descriptions range from competent to good, omissions and inconsistencies spoil the show.

If, under Recuperation, helpful reference is made to The Simpsons, why no similar examples in Intertextuality, Diaspora or Product Placement? Why ignore a number of opportunities for interesting cross-references, such as that between public service broadcasting and Reith? And why include "Beveridge Committee" while omitting "producer choice", the cost-cutting strategy that has radically affected the BBC?

Given that choices had to be made, Price could have chosen better. But some of his longer entries do have the authority of sure knowledge, and for these many students will be grateful.

> Laurence Alster is head of media studies at South Downs College of FE, Portsmouth

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