Archive for the ‘Communication skills’ Category

Is Twilight sad? Sadomasochistic?

This essay (written in March 2011), explores paganism and death in the Twilight and Harry Potter series.  For those readers who are not a ‘fan of Twilight‘ you may (hopefully) be surprised by the depth and breadth of ‘pagan’ traditions within the series or how death and sadomasochism go hand in hand. Enjoy!

This essay will explore the importance of death and paganism in the Twilight saga (Meyer 2007a, 2007 & 2010) whilst acknowledging the Harry Potter series. Death will be analysed in two main areas: the portrayal of death (glamorously, positively and allegories) and the concepts death explores. The paganism analysis will identify and evaluate elements, beliefs, benefits and reasons for involvement, and how these components make the saga successful. The relationship between the Twilight saga vs. Christabel and Dorian Gray, (cited Paglia 1990) will be analysed (intertexts) and to ensure a contemporary analysis considering cultural factors, Twilight will consider the idea of ‘popular culture’ using Hall’s definition,

“What is essential to the definition of popular culture is the relations which define ‘popular culture’ in a continuing tension (relationship, influence and antagonism) to the dominant culture”

(1981 cited Calagione et al 1992). The analysis will also seek to determine the intentions behind Stephenie Meyer’s use of the themes: paganism and death.

In Twilight death is used to explain the history of vampires and “through popular images of horror take on different associations according to the period of their propagation, their trends and uses are fairly standard.” (Grixti 1989 p15). The origins of the ‘dead’ communicate beliefs about previous religious teachings, “the Greek Orthodox Church taught that heretics became Vampires after death” (Jones cited Grixti 1989). Jones’ connection with the “Black death and outbreaks of Vampirism”, (Grixti 1989, p16) suggests how death represented cultural debates within society. Meyer uses this historical knowledge of ‘death’ to create her vampires, “Sweet, delicious, the scent made my mouth water” (Meyer 2007a p230), by using the opposite associations with death and ‘plagues’ the Twilight saga reinforces the frame of reassurance, “modern audiences are so accustomed to tales which are obvious inventions that they fail to realize the extent to which their ancestors expected and believed their stories to be gospel truth” (Grixti 1989 p17) therefore death seeks to educate readers about the religious and historical elements behind the horror genre that perhaps have been forgotten.

Death is used as an allegory in Twilight to highlight the importance of social change in people’s lives,

“Death in popular culture often signifies not the end of the individual but the possibility of social change and renewal.” (p163)

As McCracken (1998) discusses death can be the opportunity for an individual to socially change, and through paganism (cyclical structure- nature) a person can be renewed. In Twilight Bella is trying to change her life by transforming into a vampire which offers beauty and eternal youth- renewed looks (Wisker 2005). Whilst offering social change, as Bakhtin discusses:

“death ‘ceases to be an aspect of life itself and becomes a phenomenon on the border between my life here-and-now and a potential other kind of life.’” (McCracken 1998).

Meyer uses the benefits of social change in Twilight to promote ‘death’ (vampirism) to Bella, and presents Bella’s life as two stages, as suggested by McCracken. Through Bella’s thoughts the two lives are presented, “It was too green- an alien planet” Bella feels like an outsider living slowly, in the here-and- now in Forks,  whilst the potential of the other kind of life, “ “I want to be Superman, too.” ” pleases Bella and she longs for a future as a vampire (Meyer 2007a p7 & p413). Bella believes death will help her achieve social change, “I want you, and I want you forever” (Meyer 2010 p25) throughout the saga she expresses she wants to be part of the vampire family and be equal to Edward (powers, strength .e.t.c.). Therefore death is portrayed to represent development and positive social change in life. Death is also used to emphasise Bella’s love for Edward, “It was easy to admit how much I needed him.” (Meyer 2007a p413) and provoke a shock reaction as she is willing to sacrifice her life for him. Therefore although death is portrayed positively, Meyer uses death to present love as irrational and drastic.

In the Twilight saga the main theme is death. In contrast, the Harry Potter series covers death but equally important are: moral dilemmas, friendship and love (Killinger 2008): “Death has been overcome by Love himself” (National Catholic 2004). Love is emphasised as more powerful than death in the Harry Potter series whereas in Twilight they are entwined suggesting a darker novel, exploring death in regard to nature’s law which involves sex and eroticism (Paglia 1990). Death is presented as a dark theme in Twilight:

“Death is indeed something which just happens; but by anticipating it one can let it put meaning in perspective,” (Eagleton 2003 p270).

Bella is anticipating death and lives throughout the first novel in the ‘shadow of death’; “For I had no choices now but one: to go to the mirrored room and die” the knowledge of death allows her to have full control over her destiny (Meyer 2007a p375) and readers realise knowledge of death = power. Meyer uses Bella to explore popular culture, through her ‘antagonistic’ and nonchalant personality towards death.

This is emphasised through Bella’s dialogue, “ “So what if I was dead?” ” (Meyer 2007b). Bella’s blaze attitude towards death informs readers that she lives almost free from fear or worry of the finitude. It shows Meyer’s support of, “What is tragic fact for some can become moral values for others.” (Eagleton 2003 p270). Twilight encourages readers to view death as liberating, and creates Twilight’s ethos:

“ ‘the presence of death in life’ is ‘what is most resistantly and universally repressed’ because death reveals limitations of the ‘narcissistic’ self, which believes itself to be self-sufficient.” (McCracken 1998 p150).

The text is uncovering a social taboo whilst addressing the reader’s views about themselves.

Bella’s admiration of death is through the vampires, she views Rosalie as beautiful and divine, “her glorious immortal body” (Meyer 2007b p137). Bella is convinced by the glamorous appearance of the female vampires and the idea of ‘death’ distracts her from realising what she would lose from her human life as she already feels fulfilled and ‘self-sufficient’. Therefore Meyer’s saga overcomes the “resisted” subject, death, and encourages readers to explore morbidity, “let it be quick now” and mortality, “I hoped that meant I was still alive” (Meyer 2007a p393 & p399), which creates a masochistic experience for readers. This experience could be argued to help readers overcome the fear of death (Penczak 2008), and develop towards maturity (Davis 1994). This is seen in Harry Potter as well, Harry has to overcome the fear of death as it is always present in his life, for instance he has to accept that without the philosopher’s stone Nicholas Flamel and his wife have to die this is reassured by Dumbledore, that death is an adventure, (Spilsburg 2006).  Therefore Meyer’s portrayal of death can be seen as positive as it tries to tackle a social taboo and eliminate unnecessary fear of death in readers, and on a larger scale, society; death is a natural occurrence.

Meyer’s use of death is an allegory about modern day society. The saga offers a metaphorical representation of narcissism in our lives,

“ “I began to blame the beauty for what had happened to me…the curse of it” ”. (Meyer 2007b p145).

The use of Rosalie’s dialogue communicates to readers that the value of beauty achieved through death was only temporal. Rosalie’s storyline (death as a vampire) exposes the limitations of the ‘narcissistic self’. Therefore death is used in Twilight to encourage readers to unravel the mystery of eros (paganism) and by removing narcissism try to uncover the existential meaning of life (Ellis 1996).

Death emphasises the power of love and as Eagleton (2003) argues,

“It is love, not reason, he recognizes, which is stronger than death…. One must honour beauty and idealism, while knowing how much blood and suffering lie at their root.” (p273).

Meyer’s saga explores death through the relationship of Edward and Bella whilst recognising the admiration of “beauty and idealism” (paganism). However, the idea of death emphasises the inequality of love in the relationship, “ “I can’t win, Alice. You can’t guard everyone I know forever…” Bella is making the ultimate sacrifice with her life however Edward’s sacrifice is his emotions, happiness, “ “I would stay in Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it…Someplace where I couldn’t hurt you anymore.”” (Meyer 2007a p370 & p409). The imbalance reflects a sadomasochistic relationship, “ “What a sick, masochistic lion” ” (Meyer 2007a p240), Edward endlessly gains pleasure from the relationship, “ “Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin” ” whilst Bella is always threatened by the implication of death, “ “You don’t realise how breakable you are” ” (Meyer 2007a p235 & p271). Therefore death represents the dark sadomasochistic relationship.

Death is used to explore sadomasochistic themes:

“ ‘the fearful pleasure of playing with forces so great that to approach them is nearly destruction’ ” (Castorp cited Eagleton 2003).

The implied sexual tension always involves the threat of death, “ “I have to mind my actions every moment that we’re together so that I don’t hurt you. I could kill you quite easily, Bella, simply by accident.”” (Meyer 2007a 271) death emphasises the danger in the relationship. Playfully Meyer uses this to explain the horror genre, Bella is “susceptible to the seductive forces of vampires”, (Davis 1994 p161), which is traditional for women in horror. Bella represents the “forces of life and attraction” and death defines her traditional role as a woman in a horror novel.

Death is glamorised to attract the popular culture audience, “Death as a collision between time and eternity, has a transfiguring glamour”, (Paglia 1990 p663). The Twilight saga presents death glamorously and seductively through the vampires “sculpted, incandescent chest…thousands of tiny diamonds” (Meyer 2007a). The glamorisation makes the ‘image of death’ attractive and appealing to readers,

“a contemporary portrait of sexual gender and diversity and a sophisticated eroticism…flexibility and eternal appeal of the horror genre”, (Browne and Browne 2001 p407).

Twilight uses eroticism in a subtle manner, “ “I have human instincts- they may be buried deep, but they’re there” ” (Meyer 2007a p244), appealing to the mass audience as sex sells (Krzywinska 2006).

The use of death in the Twilight saga could be argued to assisting to the decline in religion, as previously reported in our UK society over the years (BBC 2000) and promoting the return to pagan traditions of nature, sex and renewal (Jenkins 2006). Expanding  further the Twilight saga could represent the downwards decline in society as discussed by Fiske (2001), down is represented through the devil, hell and death and all three feature prominently in the Twilight saga. This suggests the saga represents encouragement to a society away from religion and towards (‘down’) paganism. Medved (cited Cooper 2010) argues “the power of the entertainment industry to influence our actions flows from its ability to redefine what constitutes normal behaviour in this society”, (p164). Therefore it can be argued Meyer’s subtle use of death and paganism is an attempt to change the norms of society, explore taboo subjects and promote paganism.

The main beliefs of contemporary paganism view the female form as divine whilst appreciating animism, pantheism and polytheism (Lewis 1996). The process of becoming involved in paganism is explored in Twilight’s narrative, which reflects polytheism. Twilight is set in a high school and this is where the curiosity about ‘magical religion’ (paganism) begins. As Lewis (1996) notes “32 per cent heard about it in a school setting”, therefore Meyer uses this fundamental location as it is realistic- proven by the statistics, familiar to readers and reflects pagan experience, (p393) “these events merely confirm some original, private experience…” Bella’s discovery is personal yet in a public setting thus showing readers it is possible to learn about paganism as an individual and encourages curiosity at a young age. “Sixty per cent of Lynch’s subjects reported that they belonged to no other social, political, or cultural groups” which is precisely how Bella feels in Twilight without any friendship groups, “Relief that I wasn’t the only newcomer here” (Meyer 2007a p19). Readers that may feel isolated may therefore feel encouraged to become involved in paganism, to feel like they’ve “come home” due to the narrative offering guidance in society, which relates previously to the theme of death helping social change.

Societies are explored through paganism in the Twilight saga: vampires and werewolves. The BBC Paganism website (2011) discusses paganisms belief, causing minimal harm to the environment whilst emphasising divine contact with the world and worship of nature and festivals. The vampires celebrate “Saint Marcus Day”, (Meyer 2007a p388), similar to the pagan festival spring equinox. Equinox celebrates the renewal of life which is an important concept in paganism (O’Hara 1997). The St Marcus festival in Twilight features Edward nearly exposing himself as a vampire to human beings in which the penalty would be death; however Bella saves his ‘life’. In the pagan festival the powers of “Gods and Goddess’” are increased. Meyer’s ‘saving’ of Edward is ironic as it resembles the Christian tradition when the dead are celebrated (O’Riordan 2010). This ironic storyline about ‘death’ reflects the postmodern gothic era,

“The vampire figure breaks through solid selves…is androgynous in nature and encourages; and draws out of others their own transgressive natures, their own sexual natures….vampire can be seen by some as the figure of a dangerous challenge…” (Wisker 2005 p198).

Therefore the concept of ‘death’ in the saga is used to appeal to the modern day audience of gothic horrors and death and question the relation of this world with the other (Hallab 2009). The use of paganism (pre-Christian religion) and death in Twilight can therefore be argued as beneficial in allowing “natural or typical ways for the human mind to function” when considering about death and the afterlife (Hallab 2009 p69).

The female form is divine in paganism (Davy 2007). The female vampires, “beautiful feature…heart-shaped face…It was like meeting a fairy tale…graceful” (Meyer 2007a p282) portray females as visually attractive which adheres to pagan values and contemporary society where females have been scrutinized and reduced to the ‘male gaze’. However, the idolisation of prominent females leads to embodiment within society, thus a positive and progressive movement for women, (Sheffield 2002). Meyer therefore uses paganism to promote females as equal and worthy in society.

Nature equips females with latent vampirism where biologically a female is restricted (her body- menstruation, vagina…) and the sexual fear a male may feel towards this is suppressed by love. In the Twilight saga this inferiority is shown through males such as Charlie (Bella’s dad) reluctant to talk about menstruation and sexual intercourse, and Edward’s ‘fear’ displayed as aggression and lust, “He reached…effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick brand…” (Meyer 2007 p231). Edward uses these emotions to counteract the inferiority he feels towards pagan females (Bella), “They are men’s tools of survival in the pagan vastness of female nature.” (Paglia 1990 p26) in an attempt to survive. Paganism can therefore be liberating for females, “with a celebration of the body, of blood, beauty, eternal youth, passion, and, above all, the erotic”, (Wisker 2005 p203). As Wisker discusses paganism pleases feminists and empowers women with vampirism (death) being an important metaphor for the 21st century. Therefore it can be argued that Meyer uses paganism to appeal to female readers and celebrate femininity.

Death is presented in sadomasochism, “double standard…Sex is not the pleasure principle but the Dionysian bondage of pleasure-pain.” (Paglia 1990 p27). In Twilight the double standard notion is addressed in the narrative: Bella (virgin) is reserving herself for Edward however, sexual intercourse, with Edward in Breaking Dawn nearly results in Bella’s death. The “overcoming resistance” is Edward’s continuous battle, “large purplish bruises were beginning to blossom…” (Meyer 2010 p81). The physical damage on Bella reflects the pagan focus which is “eye-intense” (Paglia 1990 p33). The use of description used by Meyer in the saga suggests promotion of the sex and sadomasochism in paganism. Until recently “The power of the eye in Western culture has not been fully appreciated or analyzed.” (Paglia 1990 p32). However Meyer’s use suggests bringing the eye, “pictures” and visualisation of paganism into the 21st century. Meyer’s use of “dark mirror art” shows support for pure pagan imagism.

Pure pagan imagism is the theme in Breaking dawn when Bella falls pregnant, “For a fetus is a benign tumor, a vampire who steals in order to live.” (Paglia 1990 p11). The pregnancy of Bella suggests the horror of ‘rape’ and this dark storyline by Meyer opens up discussion about “sexual arousal” (Paglia 1990 p 35). Meyer’s narrative suggests emotions and sex are combined and embraced, however Christianity has continuously tried to separate these two elements (again suggesting promotion towards society away from religion, ‘down’). This shows Meyer supporting the dark side of sex in pagan nature and almost (again) taking a stance against religion.

Meyer’s use of paganism could be similar to Paglia’s thoughts, (1994) “A pagan education would sharpen the mind, steel the will, and seduce the senses.” (p94). By confronting the “beasts of passion” in the Twilight saga the dark laws of nature and sexuality can be understood, including bisexuality, a “great pagan ideal” (Paglia 1994 p94) which Meyer encourages through erotic description of females and males in Twilight. Meyer’s dark insight into paganism offers readers new understandings and subsequently reveals support of progressive feminism, discussed by Paglia (1994), where all historical depictions of women are embraced and valued, and through paganism these images can be offered, even including the most luridly pornographic images. Meyer’s use of paganism shows support for female sexuality in society.

Death and paganism are expressed through Edward Cullen,

“Men who kill the women they love have reverted to a pagan cult…without her, he cannot exist…to harass, upset, and even kill her is to perpetuate his relationship with her.” (Paglia 1994 p 45).

Edward demonstrates the above with Bella: leaving her, harassing her, upsetting her and he constantly refers to his ability to kill her, “ “As if you could fight me off,” ” (Meyer 2007a p231) thus sustaining the role of males in a pagan cult. The divine female obsession discussed by Paglia is explored through the relationship of Bella and Edward, with Edward always feeling, “He would rather be hated than ignored” (Paglia 1994 p45) whilst death always remains the threat in the relationship. The use of death with paganism in Edward is to show the conflict of males in a female dominated pagan world (Paglia 1990).

The Twilight saga is influenced from other texts (intertexts). Christabel explores the notion of “fascination, capture, possession, transfiguration.” (Paglia 1990 p341). The Twilight saga uses these in the stages of paganism and mirrors the ideology, “Christabel is a ritual of surrender to pagan corruption.” The pain felt in Christabel’s marriage is explored in Breaking Dawn, “spasms of pain and ecstasy” (Paglia1990 p343) with Bella suffering from the pregnancy (‘rape’) and the realisation that “man lies in chains of sex and nature” (p343) displayed through Edward’s reluctance, “if I hurt you, you must tell me at once.” (Meyer 2010 p78). Twilight explores sexual repression, latent vampirism and the belief of females as divine to create an informative saga about paganism.

Paglia (1990 p 346) discusses the triumph of pagan imagism as a parable of “western sex and power”. Using the same approach as Christabel, Meyer produces a saga (pornographic parable) exploring death and paganism. The exploration of a taboo subject suggests Meyer’s attempt to force paganism further into the limelight in popular culture. As Paglia (1990 p33) discusses, pagan flaunting in cinema is “sexual showing”. The adapted films of the Twilight saga are viewed like an “exhibition” displaying death and paganism: “Spectacle is a pagan cult of the eye.” Therefore the saga successfully enters the “age of Hollywood” (French 1996), where the mass media revel in sex and violence as it is visually provocative using “sign language of images” (Paglia 1990 p34). As Paglia discusses depriving society of death and sex only increases pleasure and in order for it to be controlled it must be presented in ritual binding. In Meyer’s novel it is evident that her portrayal of death and paganism is an attempt at representing capitalism (Paglia 1990 p37) whilst presenting these ideas glamorously.

Dorian Gray can be viewed as influential in Twilight saga. Dorian is able to paralyze people with his glamorous appearance much like Edward, “some forgotten pagan god of beauty”, (Meyer 2007a p7). “The Picture of Dorian Gray ends in a spectacle of perverse animism” (Paglia 1990 p527), this idea of animism is a key concept in popular culture and both novels use this to attract the horror genre audience. Christabel and Dorian Gray portray a “dark vision of sex and power” (p527) and this is used in Twilight with the reoccurring theme of sadomasochism and death.

In conclusion death in Twilight provides readers with a historical understanding of paganism, explains the importance of change (Bakhtin), the power of death and relationship with love and the glamour it offers. Paganism on the other hand can be considered an inclusive cult, promoting equality with nature and offering females’ divinity with high sexuality and presence in society. The two themes combined as discussed by Kelly (cited Lewis 1996) help meet religious needs by the creation of a ‘new religion’. Lewis recognises there is “tremendous upsurge of interest in Native spirituality and shamanism, Neo-paganism…” (p243). Therefore the use of paganism meets the demand for death and paganism in popular culture which has led to “a growing reality in our post-Christian world.” (Jenkins 2006 p202-203).and as analysed throughout reflects Meyer’s support and belief in the cult.  Paganism also favours females, treating them as divine which promotes the cult as an alternative option to some religions that people feel scrutinize women, (Maguire and Shaikh 2007). The death and paganism within Twilight reflects the shift of sexual representation due to “commodity culture”, (Raymond 1990) and Meyer’s use of information about paganism informs readers about the history and beliefs of ancestors (‘frame of reference’).

Overall the Twilight saga successfully uses death and paganism to appeal to the mass market and the “age of Hollywood”, and through forming ‘relationships’ (with readers), ‘influencing’ readers about paganism, and provoking ‘antagonism’, the saga appeals to the popular culture.



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Comparative analysis of BBC News vs. The Guardian

The internet “has been called the greatest advance in communication…nearly every national magazine…has a Web site” (Foust 2009:1). Online journalism is competitive, and to be successful websites have to be able to meet user’s needs on the Web. The five key elements of online journalism will be analysed: design and layout, SEO (search engine optimization), usability, interaction and content features on the BBC News (2010, a) and The Guardian (2010), referred to as BBC and Guardian, identifying whether user’s needs are being addressed and how, with examples.


“Once users arrive at a page, they can usually figure out what to do there” (Nielsen 2000:164). Design helps a user know where they are and what the website is about. The home page discussed by Nielsen (2000) is often the first page a user sees therefore the use of a prominent logo helps explain a website. “BBC News” and “” are at the top of the page with two navigation bars below (categories). A user quickly establishes both pages are online news websites and with (ten +) categories each site shows extensive depth. The BBC home page features the iconic world logo, reflecting “core values” (Allan 2006) which as a PSB is to inform, educate and entertain. The BBC’s established ‘world image icon’ used in the media (newspapers/television) communicates its journalism content; worldwide and ethos orientated. In contrast, Guardian does not have a representational image but a distracting advertisement banner (content features).The four principles of design are unity, contrast, hierarchy and consistency, Foust (2009). Unity is achieved through a basic design on Guardian and BBC. The top navigation bars are used as users are “comfortable with it” (Foust 2009:107). A recognisable layout means an enjoyable experience for the user and the website subtly appears unified through its simplicity. Foust (2009) suggests that web pages should have the most important information readily available at the top of a page (hierarchy); the two websites use this format. The article picture of the day is featured at the top with news lower down following importance. The most important news at the top means a user does not have to scroll down (usability).

Contrast in BBC and Guardian is shown through the layout of text and colour. The BBC uses red, brown and blue to divide sections of the news on the front page, whilst Guardian focuses on red, blue and grey. The affect of colour contrast is the same for both websites- allowing users to distinguish the different sections and the colours continuously relate to both webpage’s intentions (Foust 2009). On a connotative level, the colours represent patriarchy (UK flag) therefore users assume both websites offer British based/focused journalism.

Hierarchy of articles is established from top to bottom (highest- lowest) with various image sizes. One large image on each homepage, (BBC, snow pictures and Guardian, Wikileak photograph), then a variety of other size images below offers a “visual hierarchy” to users (Wolk 2001:113). A variety of headline sizes and six column sections of news and nesting of frames adds complexity to layout (Robbins 2006). The hierarchy makes users consider newsworthiness of articles (interaction) and consistency of design reassures users that articles are credible.


A website’s success relies on usability, “users experience usability first and pay later” (Nielsen 2000:11). Linking effectively helps usability: structural- pointing to other levels of a site, embedded- offer more information and associative- related pages (Nielsen 2000).

The BBC mainly uses structural and associative links with related pages to other BBC articles and structural links navigate users to different areas on the website. In contrast, Guardian frequently uses embedded links to external websites/data to provide more information (substance). When external links are embedded within BBC articles too many lexis are used as hypertext anchors, “in the journal Antiquity, an international team said“ which opposes the advised amount, 2-4 lexis that are easy to scan (Nielsen 2000). However the BBC can manipulate users by shifting attention away from anchors and keeping users on the BBC website.

Gunter (2003) observes internal links in websites to ‘its’ own news stories (audio/video/text) enhances news operation. The BBC uses internal links “Related stories…Iplayer” to encourage users to remain within the website which can be restricting. However as long as a user is informed about “the rhetoric of departure” and “arrival” when clicking an external link, and can relate to their new context, external links can provide depth and offer users different points of view (Nielsen 2000:66). The Guardian uses external links to give users alternative views, information, and loyalty is created “By setting up layers of information into which you can drill for more detail, sites are adding value for which either people may be prepared to pay or to which they will return” (Webber 1998: 234).

Both websites cater for people with disabilities, with text enlargement, printing options and accessibility “statement” or “help” available at the bottom of all pages and highlighted colours relate to the section a user is viewing (Nielsen 2000: chapter 6).


Users may not see the home page (design). Salwen (2005) discusses people using a search engine when using the web first then unintentionally discovering news through results. To increase SEO, page titles and headlines must be easy to understand and contain simple key lexis, as search engines “merely try to match words” (Foust 2009:93), therefore key lexis should be used in order to feature (highly) in search results.

BBC and Guardian are well established websites so their results frequently feature highly in results, however, headlines still need to be clear, Guardian “PM signals school sports rethink”, BBC “Rethink over school sports cuts”, as otherwise search engine users will not follow the link.

Nielsen’s study (2000:223), on users using the ‘search’ button on websites showed “half of all users are search-dominant” emphasising the importance of the button and results in fulfilling a user’s need. The search button on the Guardian offers searching in three categories: on the Guardian, contributors or Google (external) and refined in five areas with associative links. However, the BBC only offers users BBC areas (internal) to search, with interactive elements being offered, video or Iplayer. The results show page abstracts – between “150 or 200 characters” to ensure users can scan abstracts easily (Nielsen 2000: 233). However the page abstracts on Guardian are paragraphs whereas the BBC uses 2-3 sentences. The search results from the BBC in comparison to Guardian shows users are provided with more accessible amounts of information, manageable page abstracts.


Interactivity on Guardian and BBC allows users to feel a closer proximity between themselves, journalists and the text, the “audience has the ability to enhance journalistic output” (Wardle and Williams, 2010:795). The BBC offers sections “have your say…your pictures…your story” allowing users to become involved with the website or “get in touch” via the telephone. In contrast, Guardian offers blogs where users can ‘freely’ post comments, “” Thurman (2008) discusses that users are allowed to post without pre-moderation (unique quality of Guardian). The lack of moderation does raise issues about objectivity; however the Guardian overcomes this with guidelines for users.

BBC presents a selection (controlled), of user’s images and stories on their website, making users feel valued. The Guardian however encourages feedback and comments from ‘registered’ users which creates proximity (relationship). High interactivity opportunities on a website can increase usage and promotion, whilst “editors understood that secondary benefits existed as user-generated content initiatives could provide a source of stories and content for stories” (Thurman 2008:154). Interactivity is also beneficial for the user- creating a relationship, and to journalists of the website retrieving information/sources.


Writing on the web needs to be easy to scan, with short paragraphs, bulleted lists and as mentioned before using hypertexts (usability) to split up information (Wolk 2001: Nielsen 2000). Nielsen (2000:111) uses “one idea per paragraph rule” with clear titles and plain language headlines. Guardian and BBC use plain language for headlines but Guardian makes more use of bullet points to present facts/information, and on average, uses more hyperlinks. The legibility (font size, background and colour of both mediums) contribute to (Wolk 2001: 91) “chance that a user will stay on a story”. The Guardian and BBC are aesthetically pleasing with use of white space and fonts. Guardian uses clear fonts, sans (‘Commercial’ 2004) and BBC’s font, Gill Sans is highly recognised (BBC, 2010b).

Media offers commentary and mood setting to Guardian and BBC pages. Animation is seen by a user’s peripheral vision on Guardian, (Nielsen 2000), with an advertising banner on the home page informing users that Guardian is linked to marketing and selling whereas the BBC is funded by users (PSB). Guardian pages use a range of audio, video and emotional images whereas BBC use mostly informational/graphic images and sometimes video and audio (Foust 2009:173). The range of images offer personality whilst reflecting the reporting type and content, therefore users feel BBC offers less emotion and uses images to present a factual account. Videos on BBC play automatically unlike Guardian, which also, intentionally, makes a user stay on that web page.

Foust discusses accessibility (2010) in chapter twelve, Guardian and BBC make their websites accessible “users can access information anytime” by providing settings for phones, Ipad and articles can be embedded on other interactive platforms “twitter”.

Overall the two websites make good use of the five key elements. The layouts of both websites are informative with maximum SEO in the content so that search engines can retrieve the articles. The usability and interactivity are used effectively but Guardian uses more external links and involvement focusing on the user-website relationship. The BBC’s involvement is community orientated relating to purpose, PBS.

In conclusion the BBC is the most accessible with its design, SEO and content, however Guardian provides more depth in interactivity and usability. The two websites are two successful journalism websites but from analysis of features, they could both improve different elements to increase traffic.



Allen, S., 2006. Online News. Berkshire: Open University Press.

BBC, 2010a. Available from: [Accessed 1 December 2010]BBC, 2010b. Do typefaces really matter? Available from: [Accessed 3 December 2010]Commercial Type, 2004. Commercial type. Available from: [Accessed 3 December 2010]Foust, H, C., 2009. Online journalism: principles and practices of news for the Web. 2nd ed. Arizona: Holcomb Hathaway, Publishers, Inc.

Guardian, 2010. Available from: [Accessed 1 December 2010]Gunter, B., 2003. News and the Net. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

Nielsen, J., 2000. Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity. USA: New Riders Publishing.

Robbins, N, J., 2006. Web design in a nut shell. 3rd ed. California: O’Reilly Media, Inc,.

Salwen, M, B., 2005. Online News Trends. In: Driscoll, P, D., Salwen, M, B. And Garrison, B. Online News and the Public. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers, 47-81.

Thurman, N., 2008. New Media & Society. Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by online news media, 10, 139-157. Available from: [Accessed 1 December 2010]Wardle, C and Williams, A., 2010. Media, Culture & Society. Beyond user-generated content: a production study examining the ways in which UGC is used at the BBC, 32, 781-799. Available from: [Accessed 1 December 2010]Webber, S., 1998. Search engines and news services: Developments on the Internet. Business information Review, 15 (4), 229-237.

Wolk, D, R., 2001. Introduction to Online Journalism. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

Madonna and pro social behaviour

December 13, 2010 2 comments

The discussion of Madonna Louise Ciccone’s pro social behaviour

in the context of effective use of communication skills and relationship theories

Dovidio J et al (1995) discuss and describe the term pro social behaviour as the voluntary act of helping an individual or a society. As discussed by Dovidio there are numerous definitions, however the focus of pro social behaviour in this essay will be on the voluntary action in relation to communication skills.

Madonna Louise Ciccone known by the public and media, as the one name star sensation, “Madonna” is well-known all over the world for her pro social behaviour in helping people, and in 2006 setting up the organisation ‘Raising Malawi’. The online video interview for the American channel CNN, Interview about Malawi (2009) available at <> (2009), will be used to analyse Madonna’s effective use of communication skills and relationship theories. The subject of the interview, ‘Raising Malawi’ is the example of Madonna’s pro social behaviour which will be studied. Identifying and analysing Madonna’s effective use of communication skills and relationship theories, in relation to pro social behaviour, will assess how important these qualities are in relation to the success of ‘Raising Malawi’. The essay will analyse Madonna’s use of verbal messages, self disclosure, types of listening, non verbal communication, concepts of ‘the self’ and relationship theories. For a balanced analysis, opposing viewpoints of Madonna’s ‘pro social behaviour’ of adopting children from Malawi and other celebrities pro social behaviour will be discussed and analysed.

The interview format comprises of questions and answers between the interviewer, Alina Cho, and interviewee Madonna. Littlejohn (2002) discusses face threatening acts (FTA); positive, negative and politeness. Alina uses a face threatening act to begin the interview, “So, you’re Madonna.” This instantly attacks Madonna’s positive face and politeness- as Littlejohn (2002) describes the need and desire to be liked. The subject and purpose of the interview on Malawi, is Madonna’s opportunity to talk and explain about the charity and to evidently gain further support from the public for the charity. However, the immediate FTA is an obstacle for Madonna’s communication skills as it is directly attacking Madonna’s ‘face’ and the sarcastic interviewee tone creates a division of status between Cho and Madonna. O’Keefe (1988, quoted by Littlejohn, 2002, pg 111) discusses message design logics in three areas; expressive, conventional and rhetoric. Madonna’s response uses communication known as conventional logic. Madonna replies using positive politeness, “No, I’m not.” The use of defensive humour cancels out the aggression created by Cho. O’Keefe describes this logic similar to the conventions of a game; as rules are always present and in this situation they are used to define the verbal communication. The communication response from Madonna is appropriate, polite and is based on rules known by everyone. She has been a celebrity for the past three decades and is familiar with following codes and conventions with interviews such as the question and answer format, styles of different interviewers .e.t.c. Madonna’s first verbal response present her communication skills as effective, logical and planned due to her polite response to a FTA which creates a composed image of Madonna and therefore representing her charity, ‘Raising Malawi’ as organised and structured.

Madonna’s logical listening skills are effective as her responses present herself in a positive way. Cho asks probing questions about how Madonna deals with the large scale of problems in Malawi, “Do you ever get overwhelmed by…?” the probing questions seek to provoke exclusive intimate feelings from Madonna. Madonna uses discriminative listening to be able to filter Cho’s question and responds in a neutral manner, “Sometimes, it just, it stops you dead in your tracks and you think, ‘Oh, my god. I can’t do this,” her response does not portray her in weak manner as she speaks in a narrative tone creating an independent image of herself. The stage beforehand, discriminative listening, described by Coakley (1993) as the receptive stage in which a person uses auditory and visual cues in order to separate and determine what information is important and therefore to respond with effective communication, is how Madonna listened. To maintain control of the interview Madonna filtered what the interviewee was asking and responded appropriately; adhering as mentioned before, to conventional logic.

Madonna uses her non verbal communication skills (NVC) to gain support for ‘Raising Malawi’. This is evident in several different areas; the body (kinesics), the face, the eyes, in paralanguage and silence, and lastly in spatial messages.

Kinesics and the face

Madonna’s kinesics are used to communicate her feelings and emotions towards her pro social behaviour with ‘Raising Malawi’. Devito (2009, page 130) created a table which devises the five types of body movements; emblems, illustrators, affect displays, regulators and adaptors. A few of these interpersonal communication devices are used by Madonna in the interview.

Madonna uses an emblem by touching her heart when verbally communicating about her assets as a human being. The action presents Madonna as earnest as it is a surprised body action when the focus of the interview changes to her attributes as a person and not on her philanthropy. The action of touching her heart area on her body could also be seen as an ‘adaptor’ used to reassure and add comfort during an interview. Madonna’s facial communication helps support her verbal communication when talking about ‘Raising Malawi’ as during the interview she smiles frequently and naturally and not forcefully as this would connote deception which would be associated with the charity.

A study of facial emotions and smiling by Gladstone & Parker, 2002; Woodzicka & LaFrance, 2005; Kluger, 2005 (Devito, 2009, pg 132) found that people would be liked more if they smiled naturally, than to people who pretended to smile or to those who did not smile. Therefore, Madonna is communicating through smiling when it naturally occurs. This presents her as honest and trustworthy and therefore the viewer subconsciously appreciates her pro social behaviour and impact in Malawi.

Eye communication

The use of eye communication connotes to the viewer that Madonna’s help; ‘Raising Malawi’ is in good faith and is trustworthy pro social behaviour. Kleinke, (1986, in Hargie, 1996) defines eye contact is an important aspect of Western culture and interpersonal communication. During the CNN interview Madonna maintains a high level of eye contact to adhere to this cultural norm. Eye contact creates a relationship between the viewer and Madonna, as suggested by Axtell (1994, in Devito, 2009) it is viewed as an expression of honesty; which Madonna needs to ensure as she is promoting her charity.

Theorist Erving Goffman (1967, in Devito, 2009) refers to avoiding eye contact or changing your glance to other people as civil inattention. Subsequently, Madonna avoids all eye contact when verbally discussing the controversy about adopting children from Malawi with her eyes glancing upwards and remaining closed for an estimated two to three seconds. This tactic of communication during the interview is used to create her own personal private proximity. The proximity is needed for the sensitive topic and avoiding eye contact with Cho means Madonna can express herself without the feeling of the cameras or interviewee intruding.

Paralanguage and silence

A person with a faster speech rate is more likely to have an advantage in communicating information as defined by MacLachlan (1979). Madonna communicates at a fast rate with her paralanguage, her tone and volume remain consistent throughout the interview. The silences that occur in the interview are due to sensitive subjects about adoption and the improbable reality that Madonna cannot help every child in Malawi. The silences relate to the spiral of science theory discussed by Devito (2009, pg141) in which the silences are the chance for the speaker to calculate a response.  Madonna’s use of silences is effective as it suggests to viewers that this communication technique is being used as she is a thoughtful individual consequently gaining support for ‘Raising Malawi’.

Spatial messages

Madonna’s interview is in public territories, with the location of the studio being owned by the organisation CNN. This unfamiliar setting affects Madonna’s proto language; she remains upright and self composed; appropriate for the interview. Her body language and stance communicates to a viewer that she is confident, and therefore the confidence and attitude is associated with the ‘Raising Malawi’ organisation.

The limited time of the interview means the focus of the questions are on Madonna’s purpose, ethics and plans for Malawi. Lustig and Koester (2006) discuss how European Americans place emphasis within their communication on the future. Madonna constantly expresses the desire and drive for future plans for Malawi through verbal messages about a girl’s school in Malawi and NVC touching her heart and smiling which communicates a positive outlook to the future. The future orientated presence and attitude of Madonna promotes her charity in a positive way as it is discussed as an achievable and positive goal.

The concept of ‘the self’ and self disclosure are communication skills used by Madonna to promote ‘Raising Malawi’.

Concept of the ‘self’

Madonna describes herself “like a cockroach” in her approach to charity work and her resilient nature. The description about her goes against the consistency theory discussed by McBroom and Reed (1992, in Devito, 2009) in which descriptions are partnerships and equal. However, Madonna is a female icon who’s perceived and presents herself differently to how she behaves. For example Madonna has been known as controversial, she describes herself as a cockroach and she matches a dollar for every dollar donated. This is effective use of communication skills as she is going against the consistency theory which presents her as fun and unpredictable, and to some viewers this is an admirable quality.

Self disclosure

Madonna self discloses information about herself during the interview to inform and educate viewers about the ‘Raising Malawi’ charity. In addition the self disclosed information gives an insight into Madonna’s personality,

“Sometimes, it just, it stops you dead in your tracks and you think, ‘Oh, my god. I can’t do this,’ but then I see the success rate. I talk to the people in Malawi whose lives have been changed and that just helps me and keeps me going.”

Madonna presents herself as trustworthy and honest with her emotions, whilst at the same time remaining autonomous. As discussed by Berger and Bell (1988, in Burleson, 2003), self presentation is the communication skill technique to be liked by people. Therefore, Madonna presents herself as self reliant and an individualist with a masculine culture. Devito (2009) discusses, a masculine culture emphasises success and confronting issues. Madonna uses self disclosure with a masculine approach to appear as a role model and icon for other females. This is effective communication as it gains support for her as an individual and ‘Raising Malawi’.

Relationship theories and pro social behaviour

Devito (2009) discusses three pairs of opposing motives in relationship dialectics; autonomy and connection, closedness and openness, and novelty and predictability.    Relationship dialectics theory can be applied to Madonna and her pro social behaviour in ‘Raising Malawi’. The relationship partnership is Madonna and the public. Casmir (1994) discusses two relationship dialectics; autonomy and connection (page 176) the opposing attributes of being an individual and being close to someone sharing a bond. This relates to Madonna’s as through verbal and NVC skills, she adopts a masculine culture. In the aspect of relationship theories, she remains an independent individual (autonomy) as she remains composed and calm. This is evident when Cho asks a probing question, “It seems that a lot of the things I do end up being controversial even when I don’t mean them to be” she replies confidently and does not express any weak emotions. The interview begins emphasising her individualist nature, “You’re Madonna…. No I’m not” her reply signifies her need to be regarded as a person not through her ‘star’ name. In contrast, Madonna’s self disclosure “I would love to take them all home” allows viewers to gain an insight into her feelings and good intentions for the children in Malawi.

The openness and closedness can be applied to Madonna’s relationship between herself and Cho. The openness is within the self disclosure of emotions within the interview, “I talk to the people in Malawi whose lives have been changed and that just helps me and keeps me going”, this self disclosure of feelings and experiences from Madonna, that viewers did not previously know, helps viewers respond positively to her work in ‘Raising Malawi’.

Novelty and predictability dialectics create trust between the viewer and Madonna. Madonna creates novelty by describing herself as a “cockroach”. This is analysed as a FTA to herself; as the connotations of a cockroach is negative and considered by some people as vermin. Therefore the negative self labelling has a reverse psychological effect on the viewer. The unexpected phrase is received positively by viewers as it is humorous. The predictability is through Madonna’s verbal communication, “We found and met a lot of people who were sick and dying of HIV, with no medical help” the comfort is created by reminding the viewers of information and facts that they know. The existing knowledge being reinforced makes viewers respond positively to Madonna’s pro social behaviour as they feel at advantage being able to recognise the good act and they feel their status is equal to Madonna’s as both positions are knowledgeable.

Social penetration devised by Altman and Taylor (1973, in Berry, 1997) argues that the more intimate relationships become the more information is disclosed. When applied to the CNN interview the later into the interview the more information is disclosed. The revelation of information is separated into two parts: breadth and depth The last disclosure from Madonna is repeated by Cho and is the most exclusive information, “I’m embarrassed to tell you this, I don’t even know where Malawi is” Cho explains the reasons behind ‘Raising Malawi’; a woman phoned Madonna for help in Malawi knowing Madonna is famous and has the status and ability to reach thousands of people. The interview is social penetration. The breadth has been established; the reasoning behind Madonna’s pro social behaviour then the depth is then the reaction to the phone call; with Madonna travelling to Malawi setting up the charity. The breadth of the relationship cannot be explored further due to the interview having a time limit and one main focus. These factors affect the social penetration of the situation and therefore limit the full ability to critique Madonna’s pro social behaviour alongside relationship theories. However, it can be noted that Madonna limits her use of communication skills due to the time limit of the interview and therefore uses the most effective skills for the interview situation.

The social exchange theory can be identified with Madonna’s pledge for her pro social behaviour, “Match my dollar” every dollar that is donated Madonna will match. In reference to the social exchange theory Chadwick-Jones et al (1976, in Devito, 2009) stated that you develop relationships to therefore maximise your profits: profits= rewards – costs. Madonna’s pro social behaviour goes against this theory. Her money is the costs in the equation as she is matching every dollar donated which is therefore to gain as much support as possible for ‘Raising Malawi’. The profit of this relationship with Madonna, and the media and the public, benefits Malawi as the country has gained publicity. This relationship theory shows how Madonna gains support for her pro social behaviour through her verbal communication to the public.

However, some people believe that the social exchange theory shows that Madonna is profiting from her pro social behaviour, creating the charity, ‘Raising Malawi’ as it has gained her publicity stunts. This is discussed on websites, <> where people are discussing Madonna’s actions of adopting a child from Malawi as selfish and to gain attention from the newspapers. In the media industry, celebrity adoption stories are reported.. A theory discussed by Charng and Piliavin (1990) evaluates observational learning of pro social behaviour. The theories investigated are upon children but can be applied to the current media world. The studies have proven how positive examples are viewed and then copied by children and therefore these copied actions can set new standards for behaviour. When applied to pro social behaviour amongst celebrities, some people feel it is copycat celebrity culture to be in the limelight performing charitable actions <> this forum discusses adoption as pro social behaviour actions copied by different celebrities.

When applied with the social exchange theory, it can be evaluated that a celebrity icon gains profit from publicity across all channels of communication (television, magazine, radio .e.t.c) as they are being positively portrayed. The observational study also focuses on the length of time (exposure) the child has to charitable acts, and the longer length of time meant the child learnt the appropriate standard quicker. Similarly celebrities view each other and then they can use this to set a standard for themselves and what pro social behaviour they should undertake to gain publicity.

The term pro social behaviour is frequently associated with the term altruism, “It is often seen as a specific kind of helping with some additional characteristics that concern the helper’s intentions and benefits” Dovidio (1995, pg18). This concept discusses the motivation and thoughts behind charitable actions and is an ongoing discussion with celebrities in what their motives are with philanthropy and whether they gain from the action.


After analysing and evaluating Madonna’s communication skills in relevance to relationship theories it is evident that Madonna uses effective communication skills and relationships to promote her philanthropy act of setting up and continuously donating to the ‘Raising Malawi’ charity. Madonna’s effective and positive use of verbal messages, listening techniques, kinesics, self disclosure and paralinguistic’s promote her pro social behaviour in the CNN interview. The relationship theories establish the ways in which Madonna’s relationship with the public is created; openness and closedness, predictability and novelty and autonomy and connection. The convention of the interview assists the social penetration theory as Madonna discloses more to Cho and the public. The social exchange theory, alongside Madonna’s verbal messages of matching a dollar for every dollar donated proves Madonna’s pro social behaviour of ‘Raising Malawi’ is selfless and should be received positively.



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