This piece of research will involve analysing and understanding how ITV (Independent Television) constructed the representation of social class within their highly popular sitcom Benidorm (Litten, 2007)which ran from 2007 to 2018. As David Cannadine said, ‘it remains a generally held belief, not just in Britain but around the world, that class, like the weather and the monarchy, is a peculiarly and particularly British preconception (Tyler, 2013, p:154). This intrinsic obsession with class in the UK contributes to the civil war of stereotypes that television is so entrenched in perpetuating. As referenced in the Working-Class Studies blog, the connotations of the working-class include ideas of ‘lazy, unproductive failures who are going nowhere, or relics of an earlier era of industrialisation’ (Linkon, 2008). This research will help to conclude whether these negative stereotypes of the working-class are featured in Benidorm.
This type of research would be most professionally applicable within the TV research field. According to Graduate Prospects, the role of a television researcher is to ‘provide support to the producer and production team of a television show […] the role includes planning and researching into things such as cast and location’ (AGCAS & Graduate Prospects Limited, 2018). For the researchers working on Benidorm, research into working-class culture, clothing and language would have been imperative in the process of creating convincing characters. In addition, research would have been conducted into more middle-class ideals in order to provide substance to the slightly more socially-elevated characters within the series. Similar research has also been conducted in academia, as Casey and Prietto-Arranz analysed Benidormfor an essay on working-class tourism in the Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change (2014).
For this study, it was necessary to decide upon appropriate methods of research, harnessing the most relevant approaches and dismissing those that were unsuitable. In addition, the question of whether to use quantitative or qualitative research had to be considered. Defined by the Media Students’ Book – Fifth Edition(Branston & Stafford, 2010, p: 414), Quantitative research involves ‘quantifiable data […] counting patterns and groups across texts’ whereas qualitative analysis involves ‘exploring the qualities of a text and the audience response’.
Visual analysis is the most pertinent means of gauging the ways in which identity is portrayed on television. Within the broader term ‘visual analysis’, there are several apposite research methods – four of which I have chosen to use for this investigation. These are: visual semiotic analysis, linguistic analysis, cinematographic analysis and rhetorical analysis. This blend of research methods will not only allow interrogation into what we see on screen, but also what we hear, how it is constructed and the deeper meaning within the text.
This research will focus on the first two episodes from the first series of Benidorm. The reason I have selected these episodes is because the producer’s aim here is to establish the characters. It is these first impressions that expose their personal nuances. The reason that I have chosen not to study any further episodes is because they offer much of the same. I know that, as an avid watcher of Benidorm, representations constructed in the programme seldom change.
The first research method that I intend to utilise is Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of ‘visual semiotic analysis’ (de Saussure, 1916). This method of analysing the relationship between the signifier and the signified will allow me to collate the most information in terms of the representations of social class. Specifically, this technique will enable me to concentrate on Benidorm’s mise en scene. Essentially translated as ‘in the scene’, the mise en scene encompasses a host of visual signifiers including: costume, props, setting, lighting and character. All of these factors combine to represent social class in a certain way. To concentrate on them, then, will allow me closer proximity to the identities at the heart of the narrative.
Every frame is like a painting. Whether it be a television show, feature film or even an advertisement; everything is placed within the parameters of what the audience see for a reason. As a result, the only way to conduct this research is through the basic means of watching and thinking. As the action unfolds, I would pause the episode and take notes where I see relevant semiotic information – specifically, that of costume, setting and props. To conduct this research ultimately relies on the eye of the researcher. Therefore, it is possible to miss certain signifiers or, oppositely, read too intricately into something that has a more binary meaning. As a method of qualitative analysis, this cannot provide us with an ultimate answer to the research question – just an opinion on behalf of the researcher. Another researcher may watch the same sequence and interpret it differently.
The second way I would conduct this research is through linguistic analysis. Essentially, as defined by The Oxford Living Dictionary(2019), this is ‘the analysis of language and its structure’, used in my research to derive the ways in which social class is portrayed through the characters’ verbal communication – a much more overt means of portrayal. Much of what I would apply here comes from sociology, specifically Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural deprivation. This explains how those who are deprived of education, socialisation and other cultural and material factors such as books and art as children, often end up as working-class delinquents (Bordieu, 1977). Language is often used to represent this delinquency. Basil Bernstein identified a difference in language and a correlation with the British class system. He noted that the working-class were often saddled with a ‘restricted code’. This involved the basic use of language and the inability to construct complex sentences using expression or emotion, whilst excessively using foul and crass language. Middle/upper-class individuals, however, are endowed with an ‘elaborate code’, which allows them to paint a picture with words in a way that working-class individuals cannot (Bernstein, 1964). These language techniques would become the basis for this method of research. Similar to the semiotic analysis, I would watch the episodes, this time paying closer attention to the dialogue, perhaps enabling subtitles, and taking notes whenever there are explicit examples of the two language types mentioned above. This could offer a more definitive answer in terms of how social-class is represented as there is something specific to listen-out for, unlike the semiotic analysis which is mostly based on connotation.
The third applicable research method is cinematographic analysis. This differs from the two previous methods as it focuses solely on technical decisions implemented by the producer rather than the aesthetic components of character. The camera tells a story of its own; it is responsible for much of what the audience see and can alter the way in which identities are represented on screen. Technical decisions, such as camera angles, movement and lighting can all come under scrutiny as to the way in which they convey character. These micro-elements can be analysed in a more quantitative way than the other proposed approaches. For example, one could count how many times a close-up is used on a particular character. If that shot is used excessively, this could connote superiority of one social-class over another. Whereas the semiotic analysis can be debated, there is no arguing as to what micro-elements are featured within the text and how often they occur. As a result, this method would give more quantifiable substance to my research.
Lastly, I would use methods of rhetorical analysis to study Benidorm.As defined by the Dictionary of Communication and Media Studies, rhetoric is ‘an emotive and resounding means of persuading others’ (Watson & Hill, 1993). Using an amalgamation of the means I have discussed already, I would attempt to examine the rhetoric that ITV is attempting to convey in Benidorm.Purdue University (2018)expanded on Aristotle’s ideas of rhetoric by saying it must involve an ‘author, a text and an audience’. ITV, then, had the platform to inculcate their class-based rhetoric to Benidorm’s average ‘6.6 million’-strong weekly audience (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, 2019). I would endeavour to expose whether their representations of class are accurate or deliberately misaligned as to debase a class-based group. As with some other methods I have mentioned, this research is entirely opinion based. With this especially, it would be hard to prove anything that I determine as factual, unlike a more quantitative analysis such as the cinematographic research mentioned above.
As well as identifying research methods that would be useful, it was important to recognise those that were irrelevant and eliminate them from contention. Although they are somewhat pertinent to the study, ‘visual hermeneutic analysis’ and ‘quantitative content analysis’ were both omitted.
In their book, Heywood & Sandywell (1999), describe hermeneutics as ‘the philosophical meditation that happens to us in our experience’ in regard to ‘interaction with culture’. Essentially, it is the audience’s visceral response. This method relies heavily on the audience’s interpretation as a collective, and, as such, they must have a shared societal understanding of what they see on screen. For this to apply, though, shared values must be applicable. However, the crux of this research is that social-class differences divide these values. As a result, hermeneutical analysis would be impossible as it is counteractive of this argument. That is why I decided to eliminate it from the study.
The second method I chose not to use was quantitative content analysis. Although I have discussed the benefits of some quantifiable research already, I felt that this would not offer an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of the text in terms of its representations. Quantitative analysis alone struggles to identify deeper, analytical meaning; its sole purpose is to collate computable data. As a result, this means of research would not be useful. In future research though, it may be beneficial to use quantitative content analysis. For example, it could be used to measure the regularity of certain features appearing on screen, such as the recurrent use of specific costumes like tracksuits (a common signifier in Benidorm and often something closely aligned with the working-class). For this piece of work though, it is not applicable.
To conclude, this research into Benidormand the way in which it represents social class has to be almost entirely based on qualitative analysis. It is this detailed reading that exposes the implicit signifiers that construct the more overt identities that we see on screen. It would be easy to say, “this character is working-class”, but what is more difficult to explain is – how do we know that? The methods of analysis I have discussed (visual semiotic analysis, linguistic analysis, cinematographic analysis and rhetorical analysis) will contribute to answering that question. Whilst some quantifiable analysis would give the research a more scientific footing, the aim of this research is to examine not what we see, but why we see it.
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