Visually Reading The Sopranos: ‘You Are All White Professional Males between 25 and 45’

In: Exploring Visual Literacy Inside, Outside and Through the Frame
Frieda Pattenden
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A female television studies university lecturer lamented to me recently that using The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-2007) as a teaching text had been a frustrating experience for her, especially as her undergraduate students’ readings had focussed primarily on the dialogues between the characters and hardly ever even mentioned any of the multitude of visual techniques used throughout the series. This chapter will propose strategies of overcoming students’ uncritical visual reading of contemporary television. These strategies were developed as part of a PhD thesis aimed at motivating cultural studies students to read The Sopranos from multiple discourse perspectives. The example of gender stereotypes will be explored through a selection of scenes involving interaction between the main characters of Tony and Carmela Soprano. Reading and role-play activities will be demonstrated which compel students to include visual elements in their readings of sequences while reading from a particular stereotypical perspective. For example, in the case of The Sopranos, from the viewpoint of HBO’s main target audience: AB1 males (white professional males between 25-45). Hence students are told ‘You are all white professional males between 25 and 45’ and asked to visually read a particular scene from this perspective. Through this ‘role-play reading’ students can be moved out of their own passive comfort zone reading perspective of predominantly focussing on dialogue and are encouraged to include visual elements when making a reading television of texts on a multi-discourse level. Ultimately students can be helped to develop their critical visual television literacy skills.

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