Narrative genre and discourse do always carry the traces of other contexts and the text can be read in terms of such traces. Narrative genre and discourse are all frames of intertextuality, which is a form of context. All other forms of context; society, culture, language and ideologies are all forms of intertextuality. We learn about culture and society through reading books, watching television, going to the movies and listening to music. Every text we come across is shaped in someway by other texts we have encountered. Because all texts have traces of other texts does not necessarily constrain their meanings.
To understand a text, the text has to be understood in context. One context that affects all texts is intertextuality. Schirato and Yell (2000) state that “intertextuality refers to the process of making sense of texts in reference to their relations with other texts”. In other words a text makes use of already defined structures to convey a message. These structures are defined as narrative, genre and discourse, each of which is dependant on the other. Narrative or storylines are ways of defining meaning through the structure of the text.
When we read or watch a text, we don’t need to have all the detail spelled out to us. We assume things due to our prior knowledge of texts simular to the one we are currently reading or watching. Genre is a way of categorising a text. Texts which share simular attributes are classified as sharing the same genre. Audiences expect a film dominated by themes of love and relationships to be classified as a romance movie or chick flick. The last way of classifying a text is by its discourse. Discourse is defined by O’Shaughnessy (1999) as “a voice or speaking position”. It is best classified as the various ways people speak.
The television show Frontline, relies on intertextuality to get the shows meaning across. Each episode is structured as a day or week in the life of a fictional current affairs show. The narrative of each episode usually follows a certain pattern. It begins with the start of a new day, then an event occurs (siege, riot, kidnapping) then they have to decide how they are going to portray the event, we then witness their reporting of the event and the aftermath of the story. The episode “The Siege” begins as a normal day, then they hear about a man who has taken his children hostage.
They decide to try and call the father on the phone, they succeeded and taped an interview with him that went to air. It then moves on to show the repercussions of the interview. The episode skips to a few weeks later when just before they go live to air another gunman whose is holding people hostage calls in and wants to talk live on air. They agree and they start the interview. The episode ends with the sound of bullets being fired and a look of shock upon the presenters face. The general discourse of the show is of satire. The purpose of the show is to present a negative image of the current affairs genre.
It does not state this is how the current affair shows are produced, it just wants the audience to think about what is being shown to them and not take everything at face value. There is also the discourse of similarity. The fictional show “Frontline” host Mike Moore, is similar in appearance to A Current Affair (ACA) show host Ray Martin. The similarities also include the stories they chose to cover. When Frontline was produced ACA had a regular segment with Angry Anderson. The segment consisted of Anderson raising funds for needed communities, usually farmers.
Frontline identified the story and then did their own version, obtaining a past celebrity to help in the building of a playground for needy children. There is also the production discourse. The parts of the show which are the behind the scenes footage are shot with a handy cam and the footage of the show that go to air is shot with a professional television camera. In the making of Frontline documentary one of the shows producers stated that they used the two different cameras to distinguish between the “grainy stuff that happens behind the scenes that goes into producing this clean crisp image”.
The movie Not Another Teen Movie (NATM), is another text that is dependent on intertextuality in order to be understood. NATM is a parody of other movies made at the time NATM was produced. It follows a simular narrative to the other teen films, but one in particular, She’s All That. The story of a teenage boy who dares to turn an unflattering classmate into prom queen and ends up falling in love with her. The discourse though is completely different. It is targeting the falseness and unrealism of the other teenage movies.
But in order to understand the meanings in the discourse, there must be knowledge of the other movies. For example to understand the communications structures between social groups, background information is needed from the other texts. To understand why the cheerleaders are communicating in a specific way viewers need to be familiar with the movie Bring It On. Even though Frontline and Not Another Teen Movie rely on intertextuality for the delivery of their messages, It can also be constraining on the text.
With both Frontline and NATM, there can be tendencies to read more into things than are actually there and this can distort the message. With Frontline, it could be misinterpreted that the stories they report on the show, which have basis in real life, such as the Angry Anderson one, are told exactly how they occurred in real life. This changes the meaning of the show from a light-hearted fictional satire to a real life documentary which is not the intended meaning. When viewers watch a parody part of the fun is trying to spot all the different scenes from movies they know.
They end result of this is that the movie is not viewed as an individual text like any other movie. Whist looking for common connections to other films they miss crucial parts of the text they are viewing and as such view it only as a conglomerate of other texts, not an individual text with its own unique meaning. It is not only the movie Not Another Teen Movie which uses parody as a vehicle for intertextuality. The children’s’ television series Sesame Street has used intertextuality to sell products. Margaret Mackey from the University of Alberta (2001) states the following:
In fact, the most successful parody I found exists in clothing form rather than in print, and is aimed at viewers of all ages including the youngest. It is a T-shirt featuring “Sesame Street” characters Cookie Monster and Grover, dressed in the requisite suits and sunglasses and labelled “Monsters in Blue. ” The allusiveness, simultaneously dense, intertextual, and ridiculous, works much more sharply in this brief joke than in any of the laboured comic-book versions. It also serves as a reminder that cultural literacy is displayed in clothing as well as in other more orthodox texts – a fact of life now taken for granted by young people.
Sesame Street has used the humorous discourse from Men in Black and intertwined it with characters from their show to create a new text, a T-Shirt, which could be classified as a type of advertising. While all texts carry traces of intertextuality, it can sometimes be detrimental to the text, and a danger that the text will be discarded and lumped together with simular texts. For example during the early 2000’s there was a period when television was dominated by reality TV shows and in particular shows that crossed the genres of romance and reality TV. Shows such as The Bachelor, Average Joe, Joe Millionaire and For Love or Money.
Because these shows contained simular narratives and discourse and belonged to the same genres they were all regarded as being the same, no matter how different they were. The shows were unable to get their message or meaning across because they had been stereotyped. Television shows or movie sequels sometimes feel the repercussions of being tied to another show or movie. A sequel or spin-off is constantly compared to the original. The spin-off or sequel usually follows the same narrative and discourse and belongs to the same genre. An example is the television show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9).
The show was a spin-off from Star Trek: The Next Generation which itself was a spin-off from Star Trek: The Original Series. Because they share the same narrative, discourse and genre it can be difficult for the spin-off or sequel to establish their own meanings. When DS9 changed its discourse, from a happy utopian view of the future to one where they were shades of grey and humans were not perfect, it was viewed as a “crime against Star Trek” and “how dare they change the meaning of Trek”. The show’s individual meaning was being consumed by the fact that it was part of a franchise.
This also occurred in the television series Angel. Angel was a spin-off from the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS). Angel tried to separate itself from BTVS by aiming itself at an older audience. The narrative remained the same (big crises every week, hero has to save everybody and in the end succeeds) but the discourse changed slightly. Whereas BTVS had a discourse that was about empowerment for women, Angel’s discourse was more about redemption. Following the path of a 200 year old vampire who wished to redeem himself for the crimes he committed. During series three of Angel the show had changed even more.
The discourse of the series changed from framing the character as a dark and hermit like in regards to his love life, to promoting a romantic love between the male and female leads. This discourse upset a lot of fans because they always believed that Angel and Buffy would reunite and “end up together”. It did not matter that Angel was a separate series with its own storyline to develop, the fans viewed Angel and BTVS as the one series split into two that would eventually reunite again. DS9 also suffered from having the meaning of episodes change due to other contexts.
After 9/11 the media especially news and current affairs programs were heavily dominated with stories about terrorism. Two episodes of DS9, which were made 3 years earlier, had similarities to stories being run in the news. The two part episodes “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” deal with an earth conference being bombed. The people responsible for the bombing were a race known as The Founders. The Founders have the ability to shapeshift into any form, including human. The episode was spent trying to discover a way of uncovering these shapeshifters.
As a consequence racism and fear were the two main factors in the episodes. The narrative of the episode, which showed Earth coming to grips with the bombing and not knowing who to trust or what the Founders might do next, was very simular to what was shown on news programs after 9/11. The discourse of the episode, which includes such lines as “Paradise never felt so well armed”, “You can’t go around making people prove they are who they say they are” and “Fear is a dangerous and powerful tool” was discourse we would normally associate with news or current affairs programs.
The episodes were produced three years prior to 9/11 and thus had a completely different meaning, but now because of the knowledge of 9/11, the episodes have a completely new meaning. We are surrounded by copious amounts of texts in our everyday lives. It is no wonder that texts are interdependent. This reliance on other texts to define one texts meaning can be useful as well as harmful. All texts to some degree rely on intertextuality to get their meanings across, as shown with Frontline and Not Another Teen Movie.
But these texts along with Angel and Star Trek Deep Space Nine have also shown that intertextuality can undermine an individual texts meaning. Understanding a text would be simple if we all shared the same background and culture, but we don’t. Everyone brings their own meanings to a text and there is no one correct interpretation of a text, but by understanding a texts intertextual influences we can come closer to finding a more intended meaning as long as we remember that each text is unique and to use an old quote “never judge a book by its cover”, or narrative, discourse or genre.