3. Claude Levi-Strauss (Binary Oppositions)

Levi-Strauss examined the nature of myths and legends in ancient and primitive cultures, from this analysis he suggested that myths were used to deal with the contradictions in experience, to explain the apparently inexplicable, and to justify the inevitable’ (Turner 2000:83)

This theory suggests that NARRATIVES (=myths) are STRUCTURED around BINARY OPPOSITIONS eg: good v evil; human v alien; young v old etc etc. As such, it encourages students to understand narrative as a structure of key (oppositional) themes that underpin action and dialogue to develop a set of messages that the audience are able to decode and understand.

It therefore creates a dominant message (ideology) of a film, TV programme, advert, music video, animation etc. So in this way audiences are encouraged to make a judgements about characters, groups, places, history, society etc. In this way, texts can be seen to either support the dominant ideologies of a society, which would make it a reactionary text ,or to challenge, question or undermines the dominant ideologies of society, in which case it could be seen as a radical text.

However, as mentioned in previous posts, the way in which individual students / audience members decode specific texts, is also contingent on their own individual ideas, attitudes and beliefs (ie their own individual ideology). So de-coding a text is not necessarily the same thing as agreeing on its’ fixed meaning. These ideas are explored further on posts about audience.

For now, think about individual texts as a set of binary opposites. For example, you could construct a scale chart (as below) around key themes and concepts that the media text plays upon and get students to rate the text that they are looking at. This way they can discuss ideological stances on gender, race, class, age etc etc. Use any number of polarising concepts.


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