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Structure of Narratives: Applying Propp's folktale morphology to entertainment-education films

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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/12116

Structure of Narratives: Applying Propp's folktale morphology to entertainment-education films

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Title: Structure of Narratives: Applying Propp's folktale morphology to entertainment-education films
Author: Sreenivas, Divya
Advisor(s): Schaefer, Richard
Committee Member(s): Rodriguez, Ilia
Gandert, Miguel
Noll, Bruce
Department: University of New Mexico. Dept. of Communication and Journalism
Subject(s): Entertainment Education
Narrative theories
Structuralism
LC Subject(s): AIDS (Disease) in motion pictures
Motion pictures--Social aspects
Motion pictures--Evaluation
Motion pictures--Plots, themes, etc.
Degree Level: Doctoral
Abstract: This study examines narrative strategies through which feature films accomplish the dual role of entertainment-education to shape social reality surrounding health issues. More specifically, exploring films’ narrative structures and characterization, this study illuminates how a coherent HIV/AIDS narrative is woven into cinematic artifacts laden with specific cultural values, beliefs and practices. The entertainment-education literature has rarely undertaken a study of films to demonstrate their entertainment-education potential. Moreover, by taking a structuralist perspective and utilizing narrative theories this study uncovers underlying elements that cut across narratives. According to Fisher (1987), the proponent of narrative theory, narratives are moral constructs with values embedded in its structure, characters, conflicts, and actions. As narratives are transmitted through various media and consumed within a culture through storytelling, so are the values and beliefs that guide behavior. Adhering to this definition of a narrative, Propp’s (1968) methodological framework, morphology of a folktale, was utilized to analyze films containing HIV/AIDS messages. The study employed a cross-cultural study design to investigate films in four different languages. The films were Longtime Companion, All About My Mother, Yesterday and Mirugam in English, Spanish, Zulu and Tamil respectively. This study found that Propp’s morphological framework serves as a useful analytical tool that would withstand the rigors of empiricism. The characters and functions in the films were interpreted deductively using Propp’s categories. However, since Propp developed his categories based on oral folklores and before a time when issues such as HIV/AIDS existed, the analyses of the characters and functions in the films required some interpretive transformations from their original Proppian rendition. Therefore, while Propp’s categories, developed in 1928, are clear and explicit, some interpretive readjustments were required in order to interpret contemporary filmic narratives. Hence, while all Propp’s 31 functions and 8 characters were present in all the films analyzed, the functions did not follow the sequence purported by Propp. This does not imply that Propp’s framework needs to be updated. It can be considered evidence of the flexibility of Propp’s morphology. This study establishes that (a) Propp’s framework can be effectively used to analyze film narratives despite the genesis of this framework in the oral folkloric tradition; (b) Propp’s framework, which presupposes a classic comedy structure, can be effectively used to analyze narratives from other genres, such as the four filmic tragedies, (c) it is a comprehensive tool with a clear enumeration and operational definition of the component parts of a narrative’s structure. The study also resulted in useful findings for health educators, film critics, and film producers. Entertainment-education films proved to be a useful vehicle to disseminate health related information. The films each contained some unique information about HIV/AIDS based on their respective cultural milieu. Both Longtime Companion and All About My Mother convey a Euro-centric experience of HIV/AIDS within the confines of non-traditional relationships. Longtime Companion focused on a small white male minority homosexual community in the United States, whereas All About My Mother was characterized by women, transsexuals and homosexuals. Yesterday conveyed a black, Afro-centric experience of HIV/AIDS specifically within the confines of heterosexual relationships and migrant working communities of South Africa. And, Mirugam conveyed a Tamil, Dravidian-centric experience of HIV/AIDS, specifically within the confines of poor and uneducated working class people. Due to these varied cultural circumstances the films conveyed some unique health information. While there were some differences in the health information conveyed, some of the common messages that resonated through the films were: (a) HIV/AIDS is transmitted sexually and through the transfusion of contaminated blood products. (b) Drug-use and sharing needles for injection drug use are risk factors for HIV/AIDS. (c) Exact treatment for HIV/AIDS is unavailable. (d) Fatality is a likely outcome of the disease. (e) Some symptoms of the disease include lesions, weight loss, and muscle attrition. For film critics, Propp’s morphology is a useful analytical tool to form the basis of film commentary. Using the framework a critic can discern if the structure of the film is logical. A critic can also comment on the development of the significant characters in the film to assess characterological coherence. Lastly, a critic can comment on the attribution of significant functions in the film. This study also has some significance for film producers. Conducting a Proppian analysis on film scripts can help producers develop structurally and characterologically coherent scripts.
Graduation Date: December 2010
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/12116

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