Vladimir Propp

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Propp was a Russian philologist and structuralist who analysed the basic plot components of Russian folktales in order to identify their simplest irreducible narrative elements. His research on fairy tales achieved world recognition as the first application of structuralism to the humanities and created the foundation for new disciplines, such as narratology, semiology and structural anthropology. Propp extended the Russian Formalist approach to narratology (the study of narrative structure). Where, in the Formalist approach, sentence structures had been broken down into analysable elements – morphemes – Propp used this method by analogy to analyse folk tales. By breaking down a large number of Russian folk tales into their smallest narrative units – narratemes – Propp was able to arrive at a typology of narrative structures. By analysing types of characters and kinds of action, Propp was able to arrive at the conclusion that there were thirty-one generic narratemes in the Russian folk tale. While not all are present, he found that all the tales he analysed displayed the functions in unvarying sequence.

Taking Star Wars as an example…It can be interesting to see how powerful are the narrative structures of folk mythology, and how they are continually reinserted into contemporary popular culture. The functions he described were as follows:

After the initial situation is depicted, the tale takes the following sequence:

  • A member of a family leaves home (the hero is introduced);
  • An interdiction is addressed to the hero (‘don’t go there’, ‘go to this place’);
  • The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale);
  • The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (either villain tries to find the children/jewels etc; or intended victim questions the villain);
  • The villain gains information about the victim;
  • The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim’s belongings (trickery; villain disguised, tries to win confidence of victim);
  • Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy;
  • Villain causes harm/injury to family member (by abduction, theft of magical agent, spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone, casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc, comits murder, imprisons/detains someone, threatens forced marriage, provides nightly torments);
  • Alternatively, a member of family lacks something or desires something (magical potion etc);
  • Misfortune or lack is made known, (hero is dispatched, hears call for help etc/ alternative is that victimised hero is sent away, freed from imprisonment);
  • Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action;
  • Hero leaves home;
  • Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc, preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor);
  • Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles disputants, performs service, uses adversary’s powers against them);
  • Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters);
  • Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search;
  • Hero and villain join in direct combat;
  • Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf);
  • Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished);
  • Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revived, captive freed);
  • Hero returns;
  • Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero);
  • Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognisably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life);
  • Hero unrecognised, arrives home or in another country;
  • False hero presents unfounded claims;
  • Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks);
  • Task is resolved;
  • Hero is recognised (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her);
  • False hero or villain is exposed;
  • Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc);
  • Villain is punished;
  • Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).

(lostbiro.com) (university of Toronto website)


Claude Levi-Strauss

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Strauss came up with the idea of having ‘binary opposites’ appear in films. In critical theory, a binary opposition (also binary system) is a pair of terms or concepts that are theoretical opposites.

A binary opposition if a pair of opposites, thought by the Structuralist to powerfully form and organise human thought and culture. Some are common sense, such as raw vs. cooked; however, many such opposites imply or are used in such a way that privileges one of the terms of the opposition, creating a hierarchy in the case of media and films it could be the binary opposition of hero vs. villain in the fact that there are subjected to being opposite when in fact characters can have both traits.

Examples of binary opposites are:

  • good vs. evil
  • black vs. white
  • boy vs. girl
  • peace vs. war
  • civilised vs. savage
  • man vs. nature
  • action vs. inaction
  • east vs. west
  • humanity vs. technology


This is an example of binary opposites in the 2008 film ‘Role Models’ with Director David Wain.

Izetan Todorov

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Todorov was a Bulgarian structuralism linguist publishing influential work on narrative from the 1960’s onwards. He suggested that stories begin with an equilibrium or status quo where any potential opposing forces are in balance. This is disrupted by some event, setting in chain a series of events. problems are solved so that order can be restored to the world of the fiction. Todorov suggested that conventional narratives are structures in five stages:

a state of equilibrium at the outset

a disruption of the equilibrium by some action

a recognition that there have been a disruption

an attempt to repair the disruption

a reinstatement of the equilibrium

This type of narrative structure is very familiar to us and can be applied to many ‘mainstream’ film narratives.


Christopher Vogler

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Vogler identified something called ‘The Hero’s Journey’:

Like Syd Field’s Paradigm, Vogler’s Hero’s Journey is a four-act structure camouflaged as a three-act structure.  That’s where the similarity ends.  Based on Joseph Campbell’s work on mythic story structure, Vogler has relabeled the plot points to describe the external journey of the Hero, and the internal journey of the main character (The Character Arc).  Vogler’s setup and inciting event take the form of Ordinary World and Call to Adventure.  Like Field and other paradigms to come, major events function as turning points for the acts, such as Crossing the Threshold into the Special World, Ordeal, and The Road Back to the Ordinary World.  Crisis and climax show up as Resurrection and Final Attempt.  Return with the Elixir and Mastery approximate the story’s resolution.


(AS/A Level Media Studies Dictionary – David Probert 2005)


Image  —  Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

“A style and concept in the arts characterised by a distrust of theories and ideologies and by the drawing of attention to conventions” (the Compact Oxford English Dictionary). “Media that refers to itself, is transparent in its construction and blurs the boundaries between reality and representation. Postmodernism theory describes an approach to culture which sees all ext as being intertextual and meaning as mediates, rather representative of a state of original reality” (OCR Media Studies text book)

Codes and Conventions

Posted: October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized