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Subversions and appropriations of visual texts are commonly used as humour, particularly in spoof films. Commonly this genre of text takes a standard genre such as fairytales and changes characters and themes to alter the message of the original text.

Subverted readings

Subverted readings and interpretations of visual texts involve twisting the conventions (what usually occurs/what you expect to occur) or the stereotypesof a well-known text. A very common variety of subverted readings are so-called fractured fairy tales. In these fairy tales the characters or conventions are changed. The most common convention of fairy tales to be subverted is the happy ending. For example, the wolf climbs down the chimney and captures the three little pigs. Refer to the Fractured fairy tale animation for a visual example.

Shrek is probably the most famous example of a fractured fairytale. There are a number of subversions throughout the film that are at once humorous and which also carry a message. Some examples of subversion in the film include the ridiculously small size of Lord Farquaad, the fact that the hero, far from being a prince, is a reluctant ogre. Think of as much subversion in this film as you can. There really is a lot. The heroic 'steed' is a donkey, the dragon is not evil but is lonely and misunderstood and the princess beats up her attackers.


Appropriation is taking an image, character or technique from one context and placing it in another. This happens quite a lot in many different text forms. Often the appropriation will occur when a character is taken out of their time. A 21st century boy, for example, might be placed in the context of the Dark Ages or conversely (the opposite) a boy from Ancient Rome might travel through time and be forced to attend a 21st century school. While this can often have humorous results, it can also be used to highlight the differences between two eras in history. Other forms of appropriation include taking a stereotyped character out of their context. An example of this is Crocodile Dundee or, more recently, Legally Blonde. Refer to the animation Appropriation for an example.

Visual texts can also be re-composed into different formats. Examples of these include films such as the X-men trilogy, Spiderman and the Batman films where the plot and characters from a comic strip have been used to re-create the text in a different text form. This is an effective form of intertextuality as it uses the responder's expectations as a basis for meaning. When a responder views a film adaptation of a comic strip he/she knows more or less what to expect. What do you expect to see in a comic strip? Action, witty one-liners, good versus evil, a love interest and eventually good will overcome evil.

Texts can also be re-composed into modern contexts. Some examples of these include the Luhrmann version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the play A West Side Story which is also a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and Clueless which is a modern version of Jane Austen's Emma. When a responder views a text that has been recomposed into modern contexts he/she will expect to see certain themes played out. The fact that it is in a modern context has the effect of validating themes as being timeless as well as expressing the importance of these themes in contemporary times.

Finally, intertextuality can involve allusions, where reference is made to other visual texts. These may include references, symbols or icons that imply another text. Refer to the animation 'Allusions as intertextuality for an example.

Other examples of intertextuality

Pastiche. A pastiche is a text that uses another text's style and features. This is sometimes done in a humorous way but nevertheless remains respectful. Many science-fiction or fantasy texts are considered to be pastiche. This is because they take well-known features from previous texts in order to tell their story. The Visual pastiche animation is an example.

In this chapter

Visual texts rarely exist in isolation. They often use conventions in genre and symbols and icons from other texts to indicate to responders the type of text that it is going to be. Composers sometimes subvert texts, using conventions of genre and changing theme or characters, or appropriate texts, taking conventional characters out of context.

Intertextuality is a term that is used to describe the links between visual texts. These links can be related to structural conventions such as comic book features re-composed into film format. They can be links that relate traditional texts into modern formats and contexts, such as reworkings of Shakespeare or modern versions of Jane Austen. They can also relate to allusions to historical and iconic figures from texts such as the Bible or Greek mythology.


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