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Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship
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Answering the Whats, Hows, and Whys of Film Spectatorship

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From the 2013 SCMS conference: I am here today to offer up some preliminary thoughts about approaching the study of how spectators engage with films. This presentation comes from an interest we have …

From the 2013 SCMS conference: I am here today to offer up some preliminary thoughts about approaching the study of how spectators engage with films. This presentation comes from an interest we have in trying to understand how spectators make sense of films and what leads to differences and similarities in the reception of the same film. In today’s presentation, I will address the cognitive and affective theoretical approaches to film spectatorship and reception that informed our approach, as well as the apparent lack of studying the actual reception processes. I will then outline the method that was designed to measure the moment-by-moment or minutia reception process, as well as discuss a pilot project to employ this method, and I will conclude with our thoughts for applications of this method.

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  • I am here today to offer up some preliminary thoughts about approaching the study of how spectators engage with films. This presentation comes from an interest we have in trying to understand how spectators make sense of films and what leads to differences and similarities in the reception of the same film. In today’s presentation, I will address the cognitive and affective theoretical approaches to film spectatorship and reception that informed our approach, as well as the apparent lack of studying the actual reception processes. I will then outline the method that was designed to measure the moment-by-moment or minutia reception process, as well as discuss a pilot project to employ this method, and I will concludewith our thoughts for applications of this method.
  • The first theoretical approach we have drawn upon comes from the cognitive film studies from David Bordwell and other theorists. In a nutshell, this approach sees the application of principles from cognitive psychology to outline the specific meaning-making strategies film spectators employ in order to comprehend and interpret film. The approach assumes that the meaning of the film must be constructed by the spectator, who uses cues provided by the text. Here the spectator is an active agent, using textual cues that can range from narrative elements to visual and auditory components.Along with a focus on the spectator’s cognitions, or thoughts, about the film, other theoretical approaches have sought to understand the spectator’s affective reception by understanding how the spectator receives pleasure from the viewing. Judith Mayne, from the stance of how psychoanalysis treats the spectator’s fantasy, discussed how pleasure becomes something the “actual” spectator constructs from the text by being able to identify with other positions than the one dictated by the camera’s placement. Carl Plantinga discussed five sources of spectator pleasure in arguing that pleasure can result from cognitive or affective reactions to the film.
  • Such theoretical approaches focusing on the importance of the spectator in the meaning-making of the film are a welcome appreciation for active engagement. However, these cognitive and affective approaches have largely been utilized to inform film criticism rather than film reception studies: to understand, as Martin Barker put it, “the conditions of comprehension” rather than the actual acts of comprehension. Since the rise of these approaches, there has been a scarcity of empirical studies to understand the dynamic interplay of structure andagency except via recall methods.As noted by Janet Staiger, with these approaches, the “implied “ reader of film theory becomes the “competent” reader, who is able to properly respond to the textual cues; what remains unaddressed are the variety of factors brought into the engagement by the spectator that may account for the response and reception. The sociohistorical context and lived experiences, aka evaluative criteria, disappear as the film spectator is presumed to be able to make sense of the text using what the text provides for this purpose.
  • Thus, while focusing on the spectator as an active sense-maker is a commendable theoretical advancement, the problem with this approach is the failure to empirically test this approach with actual audience research that understands both what the text and the spectator bringto the viewing. The question then becomes, if the cognitive/affective approach is coupled with evaluative criteria, then how can we best go about empirically testing this theoretical approach? Our method for answering this question is to focus on a different level of analysis than post facto recall. If texts are constructed with specific cues that would direct the spectator’s meaning-making, then these reactions would be best measured as they occurred, moment-by-moment.
  • Such a minutia reception analysis sees each moment of reaction to a specific cue become a unit of analysis. Focusing on this level of analysis allows for comparisons: within the text, moment-by-moment; to the overall reception of the text; and between individuals, or even the same individual over time. This unit of analysis would also allow for understanding how the cued reaction relates to the spectator’s evaluative criteria to understand what led them to react to the cue. Thus, we believe this level of analysis would help us to understand “what” people are reacting to, “how” they are reacting to it, and even “why” they are doing so.
  • Essentially, the method calls for empowering the spectator to control the playback of the film. Doing so allows the spectator to pause playback at any point when s/he notes a reaction to something that happened in the film. The spectator is then asked to report what his or her reaction was, and what it was in response to. The spectator’s reception is slowed through this empowerment to provide an illustration of how they actively engage with the film on a moment-by-moment basis. The spectator’s reported reactions are used to create codes for a content analysis to understand the whats, hows and whys of their engagement with the text. We fully appreciate how this method owes much to the evolution of digital technologies that empower this type of control: both in the sense that the technology makes the method possible, as well as spectator’s familiarity with this viewing style helps to make the method less confusing.
  • Thus far, the method has been employed in both a pilot study and a large scale research project. For today’s presentation, we are using the pilot study to explicate the method. In this pilot, myself, my mother, and my brother were the spectators, and we watched Westerns. My mother and I watched John Ford’s Stagecoach, which has been heralded for the role it played in the rise of the Western film. My brother and I watched Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, which has been heralded for signaling a resurgence of the genre. Thus, in this pilot study, there were three types of comparisons possible: with myself between two different movies, with my mother on one movie, and with my brother on a different movie.
  • Each of us, when watching our movies, had a minutia reception worksheet to fill out whenever we had a reaction to the movie. As seen here, this is an early draft of the worksheet. We each would pause the film when we had a reaction, any type of reaction, and record the timecode of the pause, a brief description of what occurred in the film that cued the reaction, the strength of the reaction on a scale of 1-7, and a description of what reaction was. In this draft, we also had to indicate what type of reaction we thought it was, choosing from four prescribed categories. In the second use of this method, this final step was removed, and for analysis purposes here, those categories are only used to help provide further information about the reaction should the description be somewhat unclear.
  • For the analysis presented here, our reactions served as the basis for emergent grounded codes that reflected how we were reacting to the various cues that caused us to pause the films. Overall, we three stopped the films a total of 97 times, which encapsulated 132 reactions. Across these reactions, seven categories emerged for how we were responding. These categories reflect a range of cognitive and affective actions as we worked to make sense of the films: the questions, guesses and conclusions we had; our emotive and visceral reactions; as well as our judgments and criticisms of the text. The categories also reflect a sense of how we were interpretively interacting with the text, by challenging it, predicting it, and even criticizing it. These categories overlap with Carl Plantinga’s five sources of spectator pleasure, such as the pleasure of orienting and discovering the text relating to guessing and questioning it.
  • A frequency bar graph depicts these categories as they were coded to the moment-by-moment reactions reported. Charting such frequencies allows us to begin to see how we compared in our reception of the films. For example, in our viewing of Stagecoach, I had far more Questions, Guesses, and Conclusions than my mother, who had more Surprises and Negative Emotions, but we were similar in our Judgments of the film. Then, in our viewing of Unforgiven, I had more Questions about what was going on, while my brother had more Conclusions. And for myself, I had more Guesses in watching Stagecoach than watching Unforgiven, and I can also report that I liked Stagecoach better because I found it more engaging – my reactions indicate how much more I was “looking forward” while watching the classic Western rather than the modern Western.
  • Another use for these codes is to be able to analyze the moment-by-moment reception of one spectator, creating a map of the cues and responses as they appeared over the course of engaging with the text. Depicted here is my brother’s first five reactions to Unforgiven as they occurred over the first sixteen minutes. The purple level indicates the recordedtimecode of the cueand description of what happened as he wrote it on the worksheet. The green level indicates his response to the film in his own words. The blue level indicates the code applied to his response in this analysis. Mapping an entire movie can help us to understand how the spectator’s engagement with the text ebbs and flows, where they engage with it more or less, and in different ways. The map could also be used to further interrogate specific moments to understand what led the spectator to have that reaction. This level of analysis was not done at this time, but will be added to the method in future analyses. Here we see the initial reactions of my brother’s critical gaze giving way to emotive and conclusive reactions as he became more engaged in and with the narrative of the film.
  • Another use of the codes is to find overlaps for comparison purposes between spectators and engagements. In this analysis, overlaps were counted as comparisons if the responses from the spectators to the text occurred within thirty seconds of each other, according to the recorded timecode, and could be verified as occurring within the same scene by checking the timecodes to the text. In this depiction, the five overlaps that my mother and I had are shown for when they occurred and for what codes were applied to our recorded reactions. Analyzing the overlaps allows us to see how different people can respond to the same textual cue. For example, during the battle between the stagecoach passengers and the Native Americans in the climax of the film, we both indicated having Questions and Conclusions, but my mother indicated Surprise.
  • Thus far with this analysis, we can see the whats and hows of our reception of these two Western films. What we focused on are narrative, visceral and metatextual cues that are structured into the text, as they represent the plot and characters, the visuals and sounds, and the genre conventions. How we focused on them varied, as seen by the formation of the seven emergent categories. Comparing our receptions based on these moment-by-moment codes demonstrates how the same cue can result in the same reactions, or they can result in completely different reactions.
  • At this point, there was no major interrogation for why we may have had similar or different reactions: doing so requires a further step in the research process that was not designed at the time, as the purpose in the pilot was to test the utility of the minutia reception worksheet. Further applications can allow for this interrogation, and indeed the research project that followed this pilot test allows for more of an investigation of the whys and how to study them. In this research project, spectators engaged with superhero genre films using the revised minutia reception worksheet. This experience was used to compare to their sense-making and reception processes with other media texts, and included an interview to understand how their sense-making came to be.
  • The goal of this presentation was to be informative: to introduce the need for, design and application of this minutia reception method. The method is intended to help test the assumptions of the cognitive/affective theoretical approaches developed for film studies. Our argument is that this method can help us to understand the whats, hows, and whys of film reception. The whats are not supplied by the spectator – they are constructed by and are integral to the text. While the text may bring into the engagement a series of whats, with some indication of how to interpret them, the overall hows of engagement --what cue to attend to, how to attend to the cue -- are at the discretion of the spectator. The spectator will bring into the engagement with the film a set of evaluative criteria as the whys that influence how they attend to the cues, which may also be connected to what they ultimately attend to, whether or not the text calls for it.
  • The method does illustrate the type of cognitive and affective processing the spectator actively undertakes with the film in their moment-by-moment reaction to the text’s structure. It serves as a tool to addressing the “actual” spectator as s/he experiences the film, as well as providing evidence for the amount of activity with which the spectator engages the film. It also illustrates the need to be aware of the “actual” spectator who enters the film engagement with evaluative criteriathat influences how the text is engaged. Adding an additional phenomenological level to understand the ways in which the evaluative criteria interact with the cues could be helpful in understanding the overall reception the spectator as of the film.
  • We feel that this method, which needs further refinement through application, can be useful for helping us understand a variety of media engagements with the range of media contents and technologies that constitute media texts. The basic approach of the method is the moment-by-moment reception analysis, and the focus on the minutia can apply whether the text is a video game or a website. What would have to be adapted is the ways in which the moments are recorded. Overall, we believe in this method because of its utility for allowing comparisons. Focusing on minutia reception can help us to understand the convergences and divergences among people in their reception of media texts and the reasons for those divergences and convergences. Understanding media engagements in this perspective could help us understand a number of issues in media studies, from why people use the media that they do to why some media impacts some people more than others.
  • For example, my research partner is interested in the issue of how media texts are received and appropriated by individuals in different cultures than the one from which the text originated – specifically the global appropriation of the Western genre. We believe this method could help us to understand how people respond to specific cultural signifiers as cues in the texts, and how their responses relate to their assumptions about the originating culture as well as their own culture, without directly asking for these cultural perspectives. Such a method may be seen as less intrusive than directly asking for their perspectives on the cultures, which could allow for more honest and open reflection about their relationship to the texts and to the cultures.
  • Thank you for your time, as we are glad to have this first opportunity to share our ideas for this method.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Answering the whats, hows and whys of film spectatorship: An empirical investigation and comparison of film reception CarrieLynn D. Reinhard Dominican University Christopher Olson DePaul University
    • 2. Theorizing the film spectator• Cognitive approach • Meaning-making strategies employed to comprehend and interpret film texts • Meaning constructed by spectator using textual cues • Cues  editing, music, cinematography, narrative elements…• Affective approach • Understand how film spectators receive pleasure • Pleasure something “actual” spectator constructs from text • Results from cognitive/affective reactions to text
    • 3. Need for Systematic Empiricism• Theoretical advancement: spectator as active sense- maker • Barker: theoretical interest in “conditions of comprehension”• Problem: lack empirical studies audience research. • Except via recall methods (ex. Orero, 2008; Waldron, 2004)• Staiger: loses factors brought into engagement by spectator accounting for response and reception • Sociohistorical context and lived experiences, aka evaluative criteria
    • 4. Need for Systematic Empiricism• Question then becomes: • If cognitive/affective approach coupled with evaluative criteria • Then how best empirically test this theoretical approach?• If specific textual cues direct spectator’s meaning-making, then best measured as they occur, moment-by-moment
    • 5. Minutia Reception Analysis• Minutia reception analysis: each moment of reaction to specific cue is unit of analysis • Allows for comparisons: • Within text • To overall reception • Between individuals, or same individual over time. • Allow for understanding how relates to evaluative criteria• Help us to understand: • “What” react to • “How” reacting • “Why” react
    • 6. Method Developed• Measure spectator’s responses moment-by-moment • Slows down reception through viewer empowerment • Asked to report reactions as they occur, with what responding to • Uses content analysis to code cued responses• Possible now given digital technologies & access interactivity
    • 7. Pilot Testing the Method• Pilot tested with Western genre films• Two films to represent different eras • Myself & mother: Stagecoach (1939) • Myself & brother: Unforgiven (1992)• Three comparisons possible: • Myself to Myself (C) • Myself to Mother (M) • Myself to Brother (B)
    • 8. Minutia Reception Worksheets
    • 9. Content Analysis Codes• Question: Scratch head • Surprise: Jump back • confusion, wonder, ponder, • startled, unexpected gap • Positive Emotion: • Guess: Look forward • desirable, wanted, uplifting • expectation, hypothesis, • Negative Emotion:  prediction • undesirable, discard-able,• Conclusion: Aha! depressing • idea, understanding, • Judgment: Step back supposition • criticisms, metatextual reflections and observation
    • 10. Frequency of coded responses per engaging50454035 Judgment30 Negative Positive25 Conclusion20 Surprise15 Guess Question1050 Stagecoach (C) Stagecoach (M) Unforgiven (C) Unforgiven (B)
    • 11. Coded film spectatorship• Example of B & first five reactions to Unforgiven
    • 12. Comparisons of Coded Responses
    • 13. Discussion of Westerns Pilot Study• What focus on • Specific cues structured into film text • Narrative • Visceral • Metatextual• How focus on them • Responses coded into seven types of reactions • Same cue  same reaction but different spectators • Same cue  different reactions, different spectators
    • 14. Discussion of Westerns Pilot Study• No interrogation of whys • Need further methodological step• Spectator’s reactions to superhero genre films • Research project: sense-making different media technologies • Interviewed their sense-making processes • Begin find links between cues, reactions, evaluative criteria
    • 15. Conclusions Thus Far• To understand the whats, hows and whys • “Whats”  text • “Hows “ text + spectator • “Whys”  spectator
    • 16. Conclusions Thus Far• Addresses “actual” spectator• Provides evidence for amount of activity during engaging• Links between: • Text cues • Evaluative criteria • Overall reception
    • 17. Future Directions • Understanding different media engagements • Various contents, technologies  texts • Comparison purposes • When and where divergences occurred • How relate to differences in reception • How individuals with different backgrounds respond to same text
    • 18. Future Directions• Example application: replication of transcultural audience studies • Global appropriations of Westerns • How audiences learn about cultures • Compare reactions to specific cultural signifiers • Reveal unfettered responses, such as stereotypes or appropriations
    • 19. THE ENDBut really, just the beginning…
    • 20. ReferencesBarker, M. (2006). I have seen the future and it is not here yet...; or, on being ambitious for audience research. TheCommunication Review, 9. p. 123-141.Bordwell, D. (1979/2004). The art cinema as mode of film practice. In L. Braudy & M. Cohen (Eds.). Film theory andcriticism: Introductory readings (6th edition) (pp. 774-782). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Bordwell, D. (1986). Classical Hollywood cinema: Narrational principles and procedures. In P. Rosen (Ed.).Narrative, apparatus, ideology: a film theory reader. New York, NY: Columbia University Pres..Bordwell, D. (1989). Making meaning: Inference and rhetoric in the interpretation of cinema. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press.Dervin, B. & Foreman-Wernet, L. (2003). Sense-Making Methodology reader: Selected writings of Brenda Dervin.Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.Knight, D. (1995). Making sense of genre. In A. Casebier (Ed.). Film and philosophy, Volume 2. Retrieved on 2/26/07from http://www.hanover.edu/philos/film/vol_02/sweeney.htm.Mayne, J. (1993). Cinema and spectatorship. New York, NY: Routledge.Plantinga, C. (1995). Movie pleasures and the spectators experience: Toward a cognitive approach. In A. Casebier(Ed.). Film and philosophy, Volume 2. Retrieved on 2/26/07 fromhttp://www.hanover.edu/philos/film/vol_02/sweeney.htm.Sweeney, K. (1995). Constructivism in cognitive film theory. In A. Casebier (Ed.). Film and philosophy, Volume 2.Retrieved on 2/26/07 from http://www.hanover.edu/philos/film/vol_02/sweeney.htmWaldron, D. (2004). Incorporating qualitative audience research into French film studies: the case of Gazon maudit(Balasko, 1995). Studies in French Cinema, 4(2), p. 121-133.

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