Codes and conventions
What are codes?
Codes are systems of signs, which create meaning. Codes can be divided into two categories – technical and symbolic.
Technical codes are all the ways in which equipment is used to tell the story in a media text, for example the camera work in a film.
Symbolic codes show what is beneath the surface of what we see. For example, a character’s actions show you how the character is feeling.
Some codes fit both categories – music for example, is both technical and symbolic.
What are conventions?
Conventions are the generally accepted ways of doing something. There are general conventions in any medium, such as the use of interviewee quotes in a print article, but conventions are also genre specific.
How codes and conventions apply in media studies
Codes and conventions are used together in any study of genre – it is not enough to discuss a technical code used such as camera work, without saying how it is conventionally used in a genre.
For example, the technical code of lighting is used in some way in all film genres. It is a convention of the horror genre that side and back lighting is used to create mystery and suspense – an integral part of any horror movie.