audience theory: a full summaryTwo ways of thinking about the audience - Passive, and Active
PASSIVE❖ Passive: accepting and unquestioning. They just take in the the media product like they’re eating a chocolate bar, or taking medicine. Heavily influenced by the media.❖ This was an early twentieth century ‘model’ of the audience, and it led to............
Effects Theories❖ These are theories which state that media products have an effect on the audience, usually bad e.g. the cartoon violence in Tom and Jerry would make children into violent people, either straight away, or later on in their lives.❖ Hypodermic theory is the earliest of the effects theories. It likens watching a programme or reading a newspaper to being injected with new behaviour, beliefs and attitudes.
Other aspects of the Passive audience model❖ The passive audience will always take the preferred reading of a text. Therefore producers are always searching for a passive audience. However, it is difficult to find mass audiences who are totally accepting and uncritical of a text.❖ Rare examples include the mass, uncritical audience for the X Factor.
Two-step Flow theory❖ This is another theory which assumes audiences are passive. It states that opinion leaders in society (critics like Jonathan Ross in The Mirror) give their verdict on a new product [the first step] and only then will the public decide whether or not it’s any good [the second step].❖ So it assumes the public do not have minds of their own, and cannot form opinions for themselves; that they are waiting to be told what to think by people who know better!
The Active Audience❖ Not heavily or unduly influenced by critics, or by the media products themselves. This assumes an audience are: independent, critical, choosy, and they will decide what is good, and how they are going to read a text -❖ Active audience members will have preferred, oppositional, and negotiated readings of texts. In other words, minds of their own. They will still sometimes want to know what the critics think of a film or a new computer game, but mainly to help them decide, rather than make up their mind for them.
The Debate❖ How active or passive are the public? Are we really happy to accept, and enjoy, what we are given by media producers, and are we really totally influenced by what we see/read/hear in the media? or are we much more mentally active and engaged with the media products we consume? Can someone playing a computer game be passive?
Reception Theory❖ This assumes an audience who are actively engaged in the interpretation of media texts, rather than passive consumers.❖ Audiences decode media texts in ways that relate to their social and cultural circumstances and individual experience. So, unlike passive audiences, active ones will decide what meaning a text will have. e.g. a film about poverty might provoke a very different response from people who have lived through poverty themselves, compared to the response from someone who hasn’t. How do people from the slums of India feel about Slumdog Millionaire? Surely they’ll see it as more than just an entertainment/adventure movie which, to be honest, is how most Brits experienced it.....
Stuart Hall (1973)❖ suggested that texts were ‘encoded’ by the producers of the texts to contain certain meanings or messages that those producers wanted to put across. Older audience theories like HNT suggest that this intended meaning is exactly what the audience receives. However, Hall said this is not the case. He said the reader of the text decodes it, and the meanings intended by the producer may NOT be received at all. The audience interpret it their own way.❖ AUDIENCE POSITIONING - the text is trying to ‘position’ the audience in such a way as to have a particular view of the story e.g. to form a particular opinion (newspapers) or to side with one of the characters (film and TV).❖ RESPONSES TO THAT POSITIONING - preferred, oppositional, negotiated.
Different Readings❖ Preferred reading: also known as the ‘dominant’ reading. This is where the audience interpret the text the way the producer intends. e.g. the 8 million fans of Eastenders enjoy the storylines of the show and don’t even notice how manipulative and unrealistic it is.❖ Negotiated reading: the audience goes through a negotiation with themselves so they can accept the way the text is presented - they will agree with some aspects of it, and disagree with others. e.g. someone who reads The Times newspaper might disagree with its politics but admire the quality of the writing.❖ Oppositional reading: the user of the text finds themselves in conflict with the text itself due to their culture, beliefs or experiences. e.g. some women object to Top Gear because of the immature and ‘laddish’ - even sexist - attitudes of the presenters.
Uses and Gratifications Theory❖ Another theory on the Active side of the debate.❖ It states that different audience members will use media texts for different purposes. So WE will decide what use to put them to, what effect WE want them to have, and what pleasures WE want to get from them. Some of the uses are:❖ Information❖ Entertainment❖ Sociability - talking about, say, a movie with others is one way we can build friendships❖ Identification - we identify with a character in, for example, a soap, because they are going through something we did.
❖ And finally..... The User. This is the term for the ultimate active audience member. It was thought up to describe audiences for New Media texts like websites and computer games.❖ Users are as far away from passive as it is possible to get, because they actually navigate their way through the text, continuously selecting content or dictating the action; deciding where to go and what to experience. They even add their own content, and/or develop new skills in the course of enjoying media products.❖ But perhaps The User can still be influenced by a text - there is a lot of debate about whether violent computer games make players violent because of the way they identify with violent characters by ‘being’ them in the game.