The Work Of Shaun Jacques

Week 8 – Narration

For this week I am researching into Todorov and Propp’s theroies of narrational structure. Here is a brief description of what each theroist believes every story should have:

Todorov- Each story should start with an equilibrium where everything is fine, something must then happen to disrupt this, there must then be an attempt to correct this disruption and the story can then only be concluded when the equillibrium is restored or ‘enhanced’ (for example on enhanced the main character may have learnt something important about himself along the way)

Propp – ‘Morphology of the Folk Tale’

accoridng to Propp each story must have characters with these characteristics:

Hero – Answers call/Claims princess

Villian – Main goal is to stop the hero reaching his goal

Donor – Provides hero with mission and gives them a new skill

Helper – Provides support to hero along the way

Princess/Damsel In Distress – Innocent girl in danger/reward for hero’s completion of tasks

Father Figure – usually the father of the damsel in distress or the replacement for the fatherly role

Dispatcher – Sets hero on their way

False Hero – Takes credit for the hero’s actions to get near the princess

I will now compare some fairly modern pieces to see if these theroies are valid and if so why?

Piece 1 – Star Wars – A New Hope

My first piece is a piece that supports both Todorov and Propp’s theories’ In terms of an equilibrium in the film this is Luke skywalker’s simple, lovely life that he is able to live with however a disruption has taken place elsewhere which will involve him later on. Focusing on Luke’s character His disequilibrium is caused by his ambition to join the rebel alliance and the murders of his Aunty and Uncle, his recognition is interlinked between the two as the recognition of the reasons his droids are on the planet is the reason the disruption (that directly affects him) takes place. His attempt to right the wrongs is to save the ‘princess’ (I’ll get back to that soon) and destroy the empire as revenge, the ‘enhanced’ equilibrium occurs when Luke skywalker destroys the death star and the alliance celebrates victory. In terms of Propp’s theory here is the list of characteristics followed by the character which fits the role Hero- Luke Skywalker

Villain – Darth Vader

Donor – Obi Won Kenobi (Provides magical use of the force)

Helper(s) C3P0 & R2D2, Han Solo & Chewbacca

Princess – Leia

Father Figure – Kenobi (again)

Dispatcher – Han Solo (provides ship for Luke to use and also service at a cost)

The False Hero – (although not revealed in this film) a false hero could be bestowed on Anakin Skywalker as his legend is of a Jedi that died in the field of battle, rather than the one that became Darth Vader which is revealed in the 2nd/5th film (depending on way you view the film series)

Although George Lucas himself may disagree with me in saying that Star Wars follows the theories’ exactly (particularly when viewing the series as a whole) I conclude that all the elements that Todorov and Propp concluded from their studies are present in this motion picture.

Piece 2 – Coca Cola advertisement

This piece does loosely follow Todorov’s Narrative structure but the changes in situation are almost instantaneous for example, the equilibrium is disrupted in under a second, the car being driven is being controlled dangerously creating a state of disruption and also at this time the recognition takes place as the other ‘characters’ move out of the way or are cautious or fearing the protagonist. The attempt to right the wrongs is brought forward by the protagonist himself when instead of doing what is implied (stealing a car and beating a man up) he hands him a bottle of coca-cola thus in one movement skipping straight past the attempt in a second and going into the new ‘enhanced equilibrium’ where everybody is happy and the man is righting the wrongs of the city (putting out fires, etc…) whilst handing out bottles of coke. Although it is an advert lasting just over a minute, it follows all of Todorov’s narrative structure guidelines. However apart from a hero character I don’t see any evidence to support Propp’s folk tale theory for this piece Piece that does not follow either structure.

Piece 3 – ‘Berklays Bank’ Article in the sun newspaper 24/11/2009

(online version available here

This piece I found was easy to find a narrartional structure despite being only a few paragraphs long. The equillibrium is that staff are leaving the bank as normal, however the disruption to this is that they have left the door leading to behind the tills unlocked, the recognition of this is the student discovering this error, the attempt is the student calling the police and waiting at the bank until they arrived and the enhanced equilibrium is the bank fixing the door and adding new security measures

Metal Gear Awesome

This is an interesting piece to use against Todorov and Propp’s theories as it is both a web based piece and also requires prior knowledge and experience for the viewer to understand the story and humour (In this case playing the first few missions in the original metal gear solid video game)

In the case of an initial equilibrium this does exist but is not shown in the story it is suggested (admittedly again from the game rather than this parody) that things were ok but something has come along to disrupt that equilibrium (In this case the discovery of the existence of the weapon ‘Metal Gear’ and the recognition and attempt to change this (I.E: make sure the weapon is not activated) is where the story starts, this never changes in the whole story (in the animation) although progress is shown in character achievement and understanding, The hero is no closer to the goal at the end of the story, (due to the player ‘quitting’ the game) In essence this story only ever contains the ‘attempt’ to change the disequilibrium state.

Of course when Todorov wrote his theories, the internet and video games were not even close to existent, let alone parodies of the two beings, a lot of current media I feel can get away with ignoring a narrative structure or at the very least miss out a few steps. A great example of a medium that doesn’t always follow Todorov’s guidelines is that of music videos. Yes! There is a basic plot there (band playing a song usually) but there is a lot of occasion where the is little narration progression (as in nothing really changes) Here is an example from the band ‘Pulled Apart by Horses’

…maybe if you don’t like the band the silence at the start could be the equilibrium and the silence at the end is the ‘enhanced’ equilibrium, but that is obviously not the point of the video. The ‘story’ in this and most other music videos is irrelevant when compared to the style and attention grabbing visuals I also tried to see if Propp’s theories’ could be applied to ‘Metal Gear Awesome’. The characteristics are as follows and if a character meets that characteristic they shall appear beside it.

Hero- Solid Snake

Villain – Liquid Snake

Donor – N/A

Helper(s) Colonel, Mei Ling and Jesus

Princess (although never shown the princess/reward for completion is Meryl’s number, but the abrupt ending means the character never reaches this reward; unless you watch the sequel)

Father Figure – N/A

Dispatcher – Colonel could also count as a dispatcher as he sets Snake on his quest.

The False Hero – N/A

Interestingly most of the characteristics are apparent in ‘MGA’ however as mentioned previously most of the roles are defined by viewers expectations before watching the video based on their prior specialist knowledge. (For example McDonald Miller is really Liquid Snake in disguise) In conclusion I feel that a lot of modern media can avoid the theories’ of todorov and prop to an extent, stories don’t necessarily need a conclusion, things don’t need to return to normal, things don’t even need to make complete sense to be successful in getting a message across. However a lot of stories do still follow these structures and they will be used forever. A full movie would be very difficult to make sense of without either Todorov’s and/or Propp’s theories’ being used one way or another.


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