Text in Context

The burning monk, 1963 (1).jpg
Image 1, Rare Historical Photos (Unknown), shows the infamous pictures of Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation by Malcolm Browne

A text is defined as any message across a medium which can be reproduced and analyzed. Text analysis involves decoding the text, the context and audience interpretation of it which I will explain via the notorious photograph of the self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc.

Analyzing the text requires us to research its context of production, looking at who produced it, their intentions, the socio-economic condition under which it was produced, their comments on it and any previous works they have done.

This photograph was taken by Malcolm Browne, who at the time was working under the Associated Press in America, Myre (2012).  It was during a time where Buddhist were suffering under great oppression from Ngo Dinh Diem’s government.

Browne’s intentions of the photograph he tells Witty (2012) was to expose the pictures as quickly as possible to show the extreme lengths they would go to stand against the intolerant government.

But for himself, Time (unknown) quotes,

“ I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting and that protected me from the horror of the thing.” 

Browne went on to win Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and the World Press Photo of the Year in 1963, Witty (2012).

It is important to remember that not everyone has access to this background knowledge, but a text cannot be analyzed in isolation as it looses intent and significance. Therefore it requires both understand and knowledge to analyze a text.

Context refers to the space and time in which a text was produced.


1) This refers to the same medium, but with different organizations.

Such as the coverage of the event from the Associated Press versus the front page of The New York Times, Buddhism Today (unknown).

2) Media Space refers to its different platforms. An example would whether it was print or broadcasted on television.

3) Social spaces is where it is seen in our interactive environments.                                      The photograph was printed on newspapers globally. This infiltrated social spaces such as homes, bringing greater attention to the situation in Vietnam rather than a distant coverage of it on a poster in the city streets.

Context could also include how texts reference each other which contributes to its meaning. IMG_1381.PNG

Here is an example of intertextuality by one of my favorite bands, Rage Against The Machine.

They have used this image as their album art for their self-titled debut to exclaim their essence of rebellion.


Time could include when the text is viewed, both historically and daily.

This text was captured early on in the Vietnam War in 1963, as stated above in response to government oppression.

The time of day people are engaged with certain media affects their emotions towards it. Ever tried watching a horror movie in broad daylight? It’s a different genre.

“If we want to understand the world we live in, then we have to understand how people are making sense of that world

said Mckee (2001).  I believe this does not only apply to media’s production, as my previous blog post discussed as it can alter reality to benefit itself. Therefore this quotes relates to audiences and how they interpret and are effected by texts.

As signs are social, they require an audience to spread and function accordingly. The media is constantly sending out messages for us to receive and interpret however due to our different cultures and such, it’s messages are changed based own our own subjectivity.

The two readers of media are the: Inscribed and Critical

The inscribed reader would be the texts intended target audience.  We can look at this in terms of marketing, who is the media selling to? Media is an art of capitalism and in this way they formulate people’s demographics, sex, class ect. to create messages which audiences can understand and are willing to act on.

Critical readers seek to interpret the text using or conducting research from the audience,  receptionist studies ( how the text was used by audiences) and effects research.

Looking at the effects of the photograph we see how it helped mobilize people to campaign against the oppression happening in Vietnam, to the extent where


Alice Herz also set herself ablaze, Weidinger (2011).

Which Rage Against The Machine revisits in saying, “ Fight the war, fuck the norm”


Analyzing text requires knowledge and understanding of not only its creation, but distribution methods and audiences reception to understand its intended messages and uses. It is important to remember that no analysis is corrected, but subjected to projected emotions and views of its interpreter.


Buddhism Today. Unknown. The Self-Immolation of Thich Quang Duc. [online] Available at: http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/vietnam/figure/003-htQuangduc.htm. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2017].

McKee, Alan. (2001). A beginner’s guide to textual analysis. Metro Magazine, p. 8.

Myre, G. 2012. Malcolm Browne, Journalist Who Took The ‘Burning Monk’ Photo, Dies. NPR. [online] Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2012/08/28/160186991/malcolm-browne-journalist-who-took-the-burning-monk-photo-dies. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2017].

TIME. Unknown. The Burning Monk. [online] Available at: http://100photos.time.com/photos/malcolm-browne-burning-monk. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2017].

Weidinger, P. 2011. 10 Horrifying Acts of Self Immolation. Lightverse. [online] Available at: http://listverse.com/2011/03/10/10-horrifying-acts-of-self-immolation/. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2017].

Witty, P. 2012. Malcolm Browne: The Story Behind The Burning Monk. TIME. [online] Available at: http://time.com/3791176/malcolm-browne-the-story-behind-the-burning-monk/. [Accessed 25 Aug, 2017].


Rare Historical Photos. Unknown. Available at: http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/the-burning-monk-1963/. [Accessed 25 Aug. 2017].

Author: xjaypattersonx

BA Film student seeking to analyze and interpret the messages of imagery which the media displays.

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