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Media Critique

Media critiques dissect popular film, television, novels and other forms to explain to a broad audience how, in academic terms, these cultural artifacts can be reflective of social issues, evidence artistic accomplishment, offer critical voice to power and much more. Often taking the form of a visual essay, the media critique requires researching, editorializing and translating both written and visual source materials into a cohesive, understandable whole.

What can a Media Critique look like?

Depending on the source material being critiqued, these projects can take many forms and utilize many different methods of combining camera work, animation, charts, screen captures, film clips, Free Media Library material, etc with voiceover narration, music and sound effects. These are by no means an exhaustive survey of what’s possible, so make sure you take a look around sites like YouTube to see more examples related to your topic.

Analyzing: Film

What Works Well

Example 1
Sicario: The Mirage of a Moral World
  • [00:00:08] A very brief background on Denis Villeneuve’s directorial style and themes about to be covered
  • [00:00:38] Strong thesis statement that breaks down the mission of the video
  • [00:02:22] Thoughtful observations on the use of color, with many visual examples to demonstrate
  • [00:04:36] Many quick cuts of different scenes to prove a point, efficiently
  • [00:04:53] Using audio from the source, sparingly, to supplement voice over for added emphasis
  • [00:07:10] A strong conclusion, using the final moments of the film to tie everything together
Example 2
What The Truman Show Teaches Us About Politics
  • [00:00:00] Opening with an important and relevant quote from the story, introduces some basics and sets up the following topic
  • [00:00:36] Using sound effects to draw attention; Integrating a quote from Homer to relate back to themes of the film; great use of text on screen
  • [00:01:02] Describing commonly held conceptions, and why the film subverts those standards
  • [00:01:46] Relating to the viewer, and universalizing concepts of the story
  • [00:02:33] Excellent use of a graphic and contemporary humor
  • [00:02:47] A nice, seamless blend of voice over audio and film audio. This breaks up the narrators thoughts
  • [00:03:07] Drawing from multiple sources and modern day events
  • [00:04:07] Using the film’s soundtrack to align with the climax of the writer’s points
  • [00:05:34] A callback to an earlier point made at the start of the video
  • Overall, just a very well narrated, reasoned, well-paced, and methodic media critique. Words are carefully chosen, and points are clear and well explained.
Example 3
Melancholia: Life Out of Proportion
  • [00:00:49] Direct audio from interview with the director, Lars Von Trier
  • [00:01:25] Supporting dialogue to augment the narration, but only when needed
  • [00:02:06] Breaking the flow to set up a new argument with visual effect
  • [00:03:01] Clear summation of supporting evidence for point being made
  • [00:03:29] Break from narration to clear sound effect from film for emphasis
  • [00:03:33] Excellent inclusion of images of artworks to support the visual references
  • [00:04:58] Clear segue into concluding the argument

Analyzing: Television

What Works Well

Example 1
The Handmaid’s Tale: A World in Shallow Focus
  • [00:00:13] Excellent use of simple paper set up to demonstrate concept
  • [00:01:08] Graphics are clean and make a point without text
  • [00:01:26] Strong use of text to delineate three points being made
  • [00:02:40] Scene choices speak back to the narration very clearly here
  • [00:03:09] Referencing Kubrik’s work and then going into a quick montage
  • [00:03:17] Transition into next point in argument is narratively, visually strong
  • [00:04:12] Compare/constrast with Gilead vs modern world made well

Analyzing: Novel

What Works Well

Example 1
House of Leaves: The Horror of Fiction
  • [00:00:05] Right from the start, we are presented with images of famous horror scenes from film
  • [00:00:21] Use of historical art to depict the house begins early, establishing this visualization
  • [00:00:32] Animation helps describe the contents of the novel visually for those that are less familiar
  • [00:01:05] Printed text of the page in a collage-style is visually interesting and encourages a closer read
  • [00:01:54] Record scratch and zoom in on footnotes nicely reinforces the conflicting nature of the text
  • [00:03:15] Direct quote style used nicely to support a key compare/contrast within the argument

Analyzing: Animation

What Works Well

Example 1
Is BMO from Adventure Time Expressive of Feminism?
  • [00:00:07] Backdrop is infinitely doable as green screen
  • [00:00:17] Unrelated but entertaining clips support narration
  • [00:00:42] Picture-in-picture examples perfectly support narration
  • [00:01:02] Break for clarity helps prepare intended audience for argument
  • [00:01:27] Historical images connect to specific facts, timeline
  • [00:02:12] Introducing text, authors is an effective visual “citation”
  • [00:03:44] Connection to similar scenario outside the program

Analyzing: Painting

What Works Well

Example 1
The Most Disturbing Painting
  • [00:00:00] Appropriately haunting music, and disturbing (yet appropriate) sound effects
  • [00:01:04] Ken Burns effect used for a slow reveal
  • [00:02:15] Ken Burns effect also used to zoom around the painting, and bring attention to the specific points the writer makes
  • [00:02:54] Background and historical context
  • [00:03:24] Quick cuts and increased speed to cover a lot of ground in seconds
  • [00:04:40] A clever use of audio muffling and sound effects to simulate the experience of going deaf
  • [00:06:43] Unique video effect to emphasize distortion
  • [00:07:15] No hesitation with leaving the same image on screen for an extended period of time. Gives the viewer a chance to really contemplate and absorb the painting

Analyzing: Music

What Works Well

Example 1
The Cultural Enormity of The Beatles and Radiohead
  • [00:00:00] Numerous examples of albums that have been influential, or reflective of their times
  • [00:00:12] A smooth transition and animation to lead into main topic
  • [00:00:25] A well-stated thesis and explanation of why these bands are worth discussing; Using screen recording
  • [00:00:46] Archival footage for cultural context
  • [00:01:41] Archival audio during the height of The Beatles’ rise, giving a background on the band
  • [00:02:16] Citing notable cultural and political events of the 60s
  • [00:03:10] Nice contrasting of the two bands
  • [00:03:47] Good use of text, showing lyrics that exemplify the writer’s point
  • [00:05:24] Moving into similarities that both bands share
  • [00:05:58] Not just focusing on the music, but examining the far-reaching impact that each group has had in society and the music industry
  • [00:07:11] Reserving any actual music from either band until the very end. Ending with perhaps the most iconic Radiohead song

Analyzing: Game

What Works Well

Example 1
Night In The Woods: Do You Always Have A Choice?
  • [00:00:00] Starting with a quote from an unrelated story, and unrelated medium, to establish a frame of mind
  • [00:00:04] Great use of on-screen text, matching with the voiceover
  • [00:00:47] Offering background information on the game’s creator
  • [00:01:23] The inclusion of many examples from different media to prove the current point
  • [00:02:33] Incorporating a direct quote on-screen, but reading the quote aloud to emphasize its importance
  • [00:03:59] Analysis of gameplay mechanics that are reflective of the themes of the game
  • [00:04:27] Addressing potential questions that could be posed about this game format, preemptively
  • [00:06:10] Using a quote from a developer to summarize the thesis
  • [00:06:25] A well-crafted conclusion, and excellent use of music for the credits

Analyzing: Body of Work

What Works Well

Example 1
David Lynch: The Treachery of Language

This video is incredibly well put together, citing multiple sources, integrating text and graphics, and showcasing so many different works and media from David Lynch. The author is very articulate, clever and creative.

  • [00:00:00] Archival footage
  • [00:00:31] Fantastic use of on-screen text that aligns with the style of the art being discussed.
  • [00:00:55] Pulling in other sources and critiques for particular examples
  • [00:01:18] Quick cuts to show many examples, but also create momentum through editing
  • [00:01:33] Fantastic use of graphics
  • [00:02:57] A good blend of audio
  • [00:04:43] The Ken Burns effect to reveal more information
  • [00:06:21] A great transition from one section of the essay to the next. Specifically, moving from artwork into motion picture work
  • [00:08:27] Cross dissolve from one image into the next
  • [00:10:43] Appropriate credits for footage and outside sources
Example 2
David Fincher: And the Other Way is Wrong
  • [00:00:07] A nice showcase of various clips from the director’s oeuvre; titles to let you know the director he will be discussing
  • [00:00:59] Explains why Fincher, and this topic, is unique
  • [00:01:30] Direct audio from Fincher himself, explaining his filmmaking mindset
  • [00:01:36] References the previous commentary and responds with visuals
  • [00:02:23] Uses other films to compare and contrast style, along with another direct quote about camerawork
  • [00:04:11] A wonderful, in-depth analysis of a Fincher dialogue scene, which proves all the points the writer has been making thus far
  • [00:05:13] Another analysis of a later scene with the same three characters, which gives the writer a pattern with which to prove his point
  • [00:06:17] Behind-the-scenes footage
  • [00:06:48] Touches on both sides of liking or disliking Fincher, but that the artistry can’t be denied
  • [00:07:03] Ending with humor

What do I need to make a Media Critique?

  1. A show, movie, book or other content that you would like to analyze.
  2. An argument about what sets it apart, evidences its quality, shows a particular viewpoint, etc.
  3. A script that will be the basis for your voiceover narration.
  4. Supporting text, graphics, videos clips, photos and background music, as needed.
  5. A storyboard to organize the content you have gathered – and lead you to other materials to fill gaps.
  6. Editing software such as iMovie or Adobe Premiere to assemble the pieces.
  7. A publishing platform for getting your video online: YouTube, Box, Spark and more are options.

What kinds of Media Critiques have other students made?

What resources are available to help with my Media Critique?

Acquiring Source Material

This is probably the trickiest part of your assignment as most if not all of the materials you are working with, particularly if they are recent because they are going to be commercially copyrighted (and these terms last a really long time in the US).

Luckily, criticism and commentary fall within the protection of Fair Use so your biggest challenge is going to be getting past the many barriers that content owners put in place to protect from downloading/copying digital work.

Some Helpful Resources

Downloading Content from Streaming Services

A lot of content from from traditional television and film studios, Netflix, Hulu and more has been uploaded to sites like YouTube and Vimeo already. These sites will allow you to download it (most of the time) to include in your project:

y2mate: convert YouTube clips to .mp4, and .mp3
SaveFrom.net: download .mp4 and .mp3 files from multiple sources

Recording Screen Content

There are many different screen recording apps that you can download (either for free or pay) on your own personal computer. Media Commons editing stations are loaded with QuickTime which lets you record the entire desktop or portions of the screen with microphone input on or off.

Note: Some streaming services will block screen recording.

Recording your screen with QuickTime Player (Apple Support)

Ripping Content from Disc

Older content and most newer content is available on physical media like Blu-ray or DVD. The University Libraries can help you find materials that you are hoping to acquire. Search the Catalogue or Ask a Librarian to get started.

Once you have your disc(s) in hand, you can use a program like Handbrake on the Media Commons editing stations to rip the portions you need to a .mp4 file.

Handbrake Documentation

Finding Paintings, Historical Images & More

The University Libraries can provide access to a host of specialized databases of materials running a wide gamut of topics. You can browse the full list or use the direct links to some popular options below.

Guide to Image Databases Available through University Libraries

Adding Supporting Content

From background music to slide background images to sound effects and more, your project will be all the more engaging with additional content that helps to support your argument and bridge the gaps between sections of your source material.

Free Media Library

Copyright law is complex and sometimes intimidating. But if you ever plan to share your work publicly, on a website, blog or ePortfolio, it is essential to make sure that any use of third-party media is legal. Fortunately, we have assembled some resources to make this process easier.

Visit the Free Media Library

Citing All of Your Materials

Just like you need to create citations for all of the information that you’ve researched, you also will have to give credit back not just to your original source materials, but all of the supporting items you’ve downloaded from the Free Media Library or other Creative Commons sources.

Some Helpful Resources

University Libraries Citation Guides

These short guides will walk you through the process of building a citation in each current format. Choose the right one for your discipline and get started.

University Libraries Citation Guides

Citation Engines

Using simple forms, these citation creation engines will allow you to copy and paste all of the available information about each of your downloaded items and then generate a formatted citation for you.

Note: These engines can only produce citations as good as the information you feed into them. Always double-check before submitting.

KnightCite (Calvin College)
EasyBib (Chegg)

Ready to Get Started?

Students

Are you a student who’s been assigned a media critique and you need some extra help? Contact us at our Hotline or make an appointment to work with a consultant (University Park only).

Faculty

Are you an instructor hoping to assign your students a media critique project? We can help! Get in touch with a consultant today to discuss options and check out our Faculty Resources for helpful tips.