Chapter 7: Multimodality and Non-Traditional Texts
Throughout college, you will be asked to read and respond to a variety of books, essays, articles, and other texts. However, some classes may ask you to read and respond to different types of traditional media such as visual art, graphic novels, music, television, films, and radio or even new media such as websites, infographics, social media platforms, podcasts, and Youtube videos. Though we may not always be conscious of it, many of us are already engaged in an understanding of culture through various forms of media; we interact daily with all kinds of media and then spend social time discussing our thoughts and reactions to them. ‘Reading’ media makes use of our existing cultural knowledge while engaging our critical thinking and analysis skills. Applying critical reading skills to traditional and/or new media can differ from reading a traditional text such as an academic essay, however. Here is a three step process that you can use to analyze media:
- Describe the literal content of the media object.
Content is the literal information being communicated by a media object. This might mean describing the types of sounds or lyrics in a song, the setting and characters in a film or television show, or images from a piece of a visual art. Think of describing the content as summarizing the information in an object as opposed to interpreting the information. Use straightforward statements to avoid interpretation. For example, you might describe an exhibit in a modern art museum as such: This picture focuses on a bridge and a river. There are two people standing on the bridge. Using simpler statements will help keep the content and form of the object separate.
- Explain the form of the media object.
Formal qualities of a media object are the delivery system for an object’s content. To discuss the form of an object, you will need to consider the way the object has been organized and how to describe that organization. Think of this as describing the ‘shape’ of the new media object. To do this, use descriptive statements that explain how an object appears. Let’s return to the picture from before. The painting is very large and takes up the entire wall. It is made of many bright, unnatural colors, and appears to be made with a computer instead of a paintbrush. Your description should aim to explain how the object is being presented to the audience.
- Synthesize content and form.
Once you have generated some ideas about the information in the media object (Content) and how that information is presented (Form), you can synthesize the two by combining your observations into a claim about the object. A good starting point is to consider what the goals of the creator may have been: Why did the author present this content in this form? Answering your own questions will help guide you towards a more complete understanding of the object. From here, you can begin to draft a thesis statement about the purpose and meaning of the media object you are analyzing.
Reading media will help you to think critically about what the object is trying to communicate and how it influences you as a reader. Analyzing media can also help you explore and understand your identity as an individual or a student and how that relates to the culture surrounding you. However, while writing about various forms of media, remember to reference evidence from the object, as there will otherwise be no basis for your claims. Your evidence will, if you are analyzing a film, you may need to cite dialogue or reference the cinematic techniques of a scene as evidence for your conclusions about the meaning of the film. For a piece of music, lyrics, instrumentation, or the structure of the song may be the evidence you include. Once you have completed this process, you should review the object to ensure your claims about the meaning of the piece are supported by your observations on the content and form.