Ideologies are shared systems of beliefs that guide the way groups work. They are not individual attitudes and values; rather, the things that a society (for example) holds as important and relevant are based on the shared ideology of that group.
Texts often function to uphold contemporary ideologies. They can also be strong vehicles for an individual or group to challenge beliefs.
Looking at this advertisement for the Dove company, who have made a name for themselves in recent years through their advertising campaigns promoting 'natural beauty', what can you identify as the underlying ideology of the society in which it was produced? In what ways does it challenge existing beliefs and in what ways does it reinforce them? Is there an irony in this advertisement that is perhaps unintentional? Could you group your observations into a 'dominant' and 'resistant' reading of this image?
When reading a text for ideology, it is important to understand the context. If you do not know what is going on at the time it is impossible to understand how the text could be challenging or reinforcing the dominant beliefs of its society.
Activity For each of the texts you have studied this semester, dedicate a page or document which organises what you know about your text's
Author: who they were, significant events or details of their life, their contemporaries and influences
Time period: when the text was produced, what was happening in the worlds of Science and The Arts, important events in public life, what was the role of men and women in society, how was the environment perceived, what were the prevailing attitudes towards people of different races, classes and ethnicities
Political period: who was leading global powers at the time, what was happening in domestic and international politics (such as war or revolution for example)
Place: where in the world the text was produced, how it was received domestically and internationally, attitudes towards colonialism and expansion
The 'zeitgeist' - the 'spirit of the times'. What was the outlook the characterised the time and place?
This is not an exhaustive list!
In doing so, make connections to the text and its context. For example, how were Galvani's scientific experiments relevant to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein? What attitude toward the environment prevailed when Bruce Dawe's poetry was written?
Many texts we read have an ideological function, that is, they uphold and reinforce belief systems even though we might not expect them to. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series reinforces many dominant beliefs:
Men are powerful and protective - Edward and Jacob's animal urges (strength, sexuality, violence etc) are embodied in their supernatural abilities to change into beasts
Women are in need of protection - all the girls in the novels require the help of men. Even the supposedly all-powerful vampire women are lost without their men.
Women are prone to emotional and poorly thought out behaviour - Bella is a classic example of a woman making poor choices based on emotion
Women are never in control (even if it seems they are) - Bella's entire narrative is based around her inability to control herself. Though it is her story, she is rarely in charge of where it goes (Edward's manipulation of her into marriage is a classic example)
Parents are wiser than teens who would do well to listen - All the parental figures (yes, even Bella's mum who demonstrates that marrying young and not thinking things through will end badly) provide wisdom and clear examples for their children, though they may not always listen
Love is the most important thing to humans, with family a close second
And for those who would rather understand this point through a classical text - William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is just a good an example of how texts serve ideological functions:
Romeo and Juliet meet, love, and suicide in three days - the young are impetuous and thoughtless, and it will end badly
Romeo and Juliet's families knew what was best for them - Juliet's marriage to Paris, while perhaps loveless at first (she does say she will look to love) would be beneficial to both Juliet and her family. There was nothing to be gained from a marriage to Romeo. **Remember the context here - marriage is about property, heirs, and succession, especially for the wealthy. Their deaths is a lesson to the audience that love will not in fact conquer all, and that sometimes the good of the community is more important than the good of the individual.
Prince's "All are punishe'd" serves to remind the audience that indeed no good has come of this tragedy. Youthful stupidity is not the romantic ideal that we sometimes think it will be
The separation of groups in society, represented by the Montegues and Capulets is reinforced at the end of the play
Activity Deconstruct one of your studied texts looking at how it might serve to challenge or reinforce ideology.
Ideologies can last a very long time. Reflect on our Australian 'bush legend' of characters such as Ned Kelly, Moondyne Joe, and other bushrangers. Where did this come from and how is this still a part of our modern thinking?
What are other aspects of our 'nationhood', in other words our ideology, which have grown from our country's history? This idea of nationhood has appeared in the last two WACE exams, asking about how it is reflected in our heroes and villains, and the depiction of unequal relationships.