Media - Systems of Representation

 Title: Film Analyses - Media Portraying Several Particular Systems of Representation


1.     Introduction
2.     Media As a System Representing Gender and Sexuality
3.     Media As a System Representing Class Using the James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ (1997)
4.     Media As a System Representing Race and Ethnicity Using the Jim Jarmusch Film ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’ (1999)
5.     Conclusion
6.     Bibliography

1.     Introduction

The media has the power to affect society.  It also affects societies’ generally accepted norms.  It challenges what we think, what we feel, how we spend our time, and how we spend our money.  It does this through a technique called Representation Theory.  Representation Theory is the term used to describe the media as a system of representation, and these systems construct certain aspects of reality to the audience.
This paper will demonstrate several different means of Representation Theory.  It is an interesting and intriguing subject.  Most people don’t realize the power the media holds in influencing our mores and social existence.  Films discussed here are “Nymphomaniac” (2013), “Titanic” (1997), and “Ghost Dog” (1999).  These films were chosen because of their public notoriety as well as references to content that specifically outline the points being made.
The specific themes that will be examined are: Gender and Sexuality; Separations of Class and Castes; and Race and Ethnicity.
These are important concepts to understand.  They make up an extraordinary amount of the ideas behind societal norms; they are aspects of life that affect all of us greatly.

2.     Media As a System Representing Gender and Sexuality

This part of the paper is aimed at portraying the media as a system representing gender and sexuality by using Lars Von Trier’s ambitious, four-hour, two-volume epic movie “Nymphomaniac” (2013).
“Nymphomaniac” approaches female sexuality and sexual empowerment over men, representing women as what they have, in certain audiences eyes, evolved into; sexual predators.  Meanwhile, men have the illusion that they are the more dominant gender as far as sexuality is concerned.
In the book “The Media: An Introduction” - Albertazzi and Cobley give a viable reason for why stereotypes are potent elements for representation;
"Why are stereotypes so pervasive and powerful? One reason is that it sometimes feels easier to put people into established categories rather than to deal with the complexities of their identities and characteristics..."
(Albertazzi & Cobley 2010, p. 400)
In the movie “Nymphomaniac”, we are introduced to Joe, who has discovered her sexuality at a very early age.  When she becomes older, she tells her story to an old man. 
Joe has, and continues to, seduce many men.  The powerful fishing metaphor of ‘the eye of the angler’ is employed as a clear depiction of her sexual predation.
“…women are often portrayed as decorative, sexualised, and seeking validation of themselves through male attention… in advertising and in mainstream, blockbuster films, to be admired not for what they do or think, but for how they look and how sexually attractive they are to men.  Often women are depicted scantily clad, reclining in inviting poses that imply they are sexually available and willing to please…”
(Albertazzi D. 2010 p. 401)
At the movie’s close, when the old man attempts to rape a sleeping Joe in an act of power and domination, Joe grabs her pistol and shoots him, because she can’t comprehend a man dominating a woman.  Even if her belief in her sexual domination has caused a struggle through her life, at the end of her story she is absolutely destroyed and cast away by society.
“Film, television, music, and assorted cultural forms were interpreted as an arena of struggle in which representations transcode the discourses of conflicting social movements. Beginning in the 1960s, alternative representations of gender, race, class, the family, the state, the corporation, and additional dominant forces and institutions began appearing in a sustained fashion… Giving voice to alternative visions, telling more complex stories from the perspective of subordinate groups, and presenting works of marginalized people shook up dominant systems of cultural production and representation.”
(Durham and Kellner, 2001 xxxiii)

3.     Media As a System Representing Class Using the James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ (1997) Movie

The representation of certain societal realities can be found in the movie "Titanic".  The movie portrays the Marxist-Class differences theory.
“Basically, Marx meant that if one is in the upper class, life was one of leisure and abundance, while those in the lower class lived lives of hardship and poverty”.
(, 2015)
There is a high contrast of classes within the passengers experiencing the Titanic’s first voyage. The bourgeoisie is placed in more rich and luxurious sections of the ship, while the proletarians have considerably less comfort.
The movie’s class representation scene is when Rose, who is of the high class, can't feel comfortable within herself in bourgeoisie quarters together with her fiancé.  She feels much more comfortable in the “less-civilized” but more social quarters of the proletarians with Jack.
The uncomfortable clothing, corsets, and hats of the upper class women distinguishes them from the lower class, and are also represented in the attire of the men.
The distinction between Jack and Rose is also apparent. Rose is portrayed as a young, upper-class woman living with strict societal rules and having no control on her life. She perceives Titanic as a slave ship and a “prison”.  On the other hand, Jack is represented as a homeless drifter, who perceives Titanic as his ship of dreams, and feels great excitement.  When their paths cross and they develop a friendship, Rose’s mother and fiancé regard this kind of interaction as completely inappropriate and a “threat” to their reputation, as well as for their class, and forbid them to see each other.
In the final act depicting the sinking of the ship, the distinction between social classes becomes chronically painful as the upper-class members are boarding the lifeboats, while the crew and the lower-class passengers are merely left for dead, locked below deck.
Titanic passengers represented a wide variety of classes and nationalities. The first class passengers were wealthy and famous. The second class passengers were the middle class working people: businessmen, average tourists, and the ship’s musicians.  The third class was mostly poor emigrants from all over Europe going to America.
When the ship is about to flip over and everyone is afraid for their lives, we find that privilege to get on a lifeboat is for the bourgeoisie and the low class have to use force before they can have theirs opportunities.
Women and children of the first class had the highest survival rate of all the passengers on the Titanic.  The third class Titanic passengers did not have an opportunity to save themselves.
According to some eyewitness accounts, the third class passengers were kept gated in the lower decks until all the lifeboats were gone.  However those who managed to get to lifeboats forgot about their class differences when they are life is in danger.  “We're all on the same boat”­ to be in the same unpleasant situation as other people.
It’s a manipulation.  “By means of manipulation, the dominant elites try to conform the masses to their objectives.”
“The people are manipulated by the series of myths… the bourgeoisie presents to the people as the possibility for their own ascent. In order for these myths to function, however, the people must accept the word of the bourgeoisie”.
Akamai now “Within certain historical conditions, manipulation is accomplished by means of pacts between the dominant and the dominated classes… In the last analysis, pacts are used by the dominators to achieve their own ends”.  (Freire, 2000)

4.     Media As a System Representing Race and Ethnicity Using the Jim Jarmusch Film ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’ (1999)

In the film Ghost Dog The Way Of The Samurai many sides of American culture and modern society are shown as well as race relations.  It is a mix of Japanese philosophy, hip-hop culture, Italian mafia mentality, and New York society of the 21st century, where new multicultural generations are taking over.
Like most of Jarmusch's films, Ghost Dog focuses not so much on plot as on character development.  In one of the available interviews he said:
(SBS Movies, 2015)
“Most people have a story idea and in the end they cast it, but I start with the actors first”.
(Joehnston and Joehnston, 2011)
The film’s central character is a young working class black man named Ghost Dog. The film portrays a theme that represents the clash of ancient cultures and codes in modern society. He possesses an old book of how the samurai lived and follows its rules, Rashomon and Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.  His interest in the code of the Samurai is highlighted in slow-motion shots, as he practices Japanese sword fighting on a rooftop.
Ghost Dog is a cross of mafia and gangsta-rap films, Samurai epics and Chinese martial-arts movies.
“One of the books that Ghost Dog reads is Rashomon.  The book was adapted by Kurosawa in one of his samurai films.  Ghost Dog, brings together the 1990s, hip-hop-influenced gansta-rap film (Mario Van Peebles’s New Jack City, 1991; Joehn Singleton’s Boyz ‘n the Hood, 1991; Allen and Albert Hughes’s Menace II Society, 1993) with the older tradition of the mafia epic (Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, 1972; Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, 1990).  There are also hints of the western: the hero is a proudly independent, gun-toting male self-consciously living by a well-defined code. The story ends with a classic shoot-out—a fact explicitly underlined by one of the characters.”
The film starts with a quote from The Book of the Samurai:
“It is said that what is called "the spirit of an age" is something to which one cannot return.  That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world's coming to an end.  For this reason, although one would like to change today's world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.”
(Yamamoto, 1979)
But it is not the only code in his life.  Ghost Dog listens to Wu-Tang Clan member RZA’s Hip Hop music.  He is fascinated by Japanese swords, but would rather use a gun.  He has an unwritten retainer agreement with an Italian mafia gangster, Louie, who saved him from a gang of white youth.  Both Ghost Dog and Louie belong to cultures with strict sets of rules.
(Park, 2010)
Members of the Italian mafia sit at the back room of a Chinese restaurant owned by a Hispanic man.  The white Italian mafia gangsters, who used to be a representation of power and a ruling culture in America, are now portrayed as retired mobsters who can’t even pay their rent. In this film, African Americans are young, fresh and vibrant with their culture.
The film is about perspectives; the different ways people look at the world.  Society, with its shared goals, culture, and languages, is the lens through which we understand our reality.  It is stereotyped.
Regarding the interaction between different languages ­ Ghost Dog`s best friend is Raymond, a French speaking man who sells ice cream.  The two can't communicate in words but they understand each other quite well.

Pearline: Can't you understand what he's saying?
Ghost Dog: No, I don't understand him. I don't speak French, only English. I never understand a word he says.
Pearline: And that's your best friend?
Ghost Dog: Yeah.

There are numerous scenes, which show the racist nature of the gangsters.  An example of this is the scene where two of the mob members break down the door to a farmer’s place and have an argument on the ethnicity of the farmer.  One almost wants to kill the farmer because he thinks “Indian or nigger, same thing”.  This makes the farmer shout out “You stupid fucking white man!”
One of the strongest scenes in the film that highlights the race theme is where Ghost Dog meets some bear hunters.  In an earlier scene, Raymond compared Ghost Dog to a bear.  One of the hunters says that they killed it because they don’t see many of the “big black fuckers” around and the other notes that there are not many “colored folks” in the area, as he is threatening Ghost Dog with a shotgun. Finally the bear hunters get what they deserve.
            Ghost dog is a perfect example of a man’s character being more important than the color of his skin.

5.     Conclusion

These three films, especially Titanic, which is one of the highest grossing movies ever made, demonstrate quite well how Systems of Representation portrayed by the media have a powerful impact on society.  Our comprehension of those systems is largely drawn from motion pictures/television shows, which in turn affects millions of people worldwide.
 “Nymphomaniac” depicts strong imagery of gender relations and sexuality.  This is told through Joe’s stories and ultimately her demise.  “Titanic” demonstrates the very vast chasm between the upper, middle, and lower classes.  The film may be set nearly one hundred years ago, but the message is still actual  - the differences in income, intent, and social standing.
“Ghost Dog ” shows all too well society’s views on race and ethnicity.  Those stereotypes are very true, especially today in the modern multicultural society.
Many other themes are explored in the thousands of movies and television programmes that we observe every day.  Societal themes, too many to even begin to list here, are explored in every avenue of the media.  Sometimes we place too much emphasis on the messages the media sends, most often without even recognizing it.  
While we are an intelligent culture, it seems as though we are easily manipulated, in both our words, actions, and our ways of thinking, by Systems of Representation characterized by the current media.

6.     Bibliography

Albertazzi, D. and Cobley, P. (2010). The Media: An Introduction. 3rd ed.

Durham, M. and Kellner, D. (2001). Media and cultural studies. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers., (2015). Karl Marx's Theories: Class Differentiation and Revolution, Socialism & Capitalism - Video & Lesson Transcript | [online] Available at:

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum., (2015). The Analysis of Titanic. [online] Available at:

Yamamoto, T. (1979). Hagakure. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Park, J. (2010). Yellow future. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 157,158,159

SBS Movies, (2015). Interview with Jim Jarmusch. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2015].

Joehnston, I. and Joehnston, I. (2011). Jim Jarmusch talks about his great 'Ghost Dog' film - Louder Than War. [online] Louder Than War. Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2015]., (2015). Iconicity, Indexicality, and Postmodern Realism in Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. [online] Available at:, (2015). erasing clouds. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2015].