The passive VS active audience debate How do audiences read media texts?
What we will be exploring…• How do we decode media texts? (The ideologies within them?)• Why do we respond in certain ways?• Do we believe everything we are told?• Do media texts effect the audience and society?
Whilst we often consider whatproducers try to do to representations,it is equally important to consider whataudiences do with representations.
The key debate here is The Effects Debate– a discussion about whether exposure tothe media has the power to change people’sopinions and actions.The main issue is whether the audience isactive or passive.
A passive audience is one who isweak and is strongly influenced bywhat they see and hear in themedia. They have no choice but torespond as the media wants themto. They are powerless to resistAn active audience is one whomakes up their own minds aboutwhat they see and hear and is incontrol of how they respond to themedia. They have the power, notthe media.
A supporter of passive audience ideas would explain the granny’s criminality by saying the media made her do it!A supporter of activeaudience ideas wouldsay that the media mayhave given her the ideabut is ultimately herchoice to react this way…she could have chosenotherwise
VIEW 1: THE PASSIVE AUDIENCEMost of the argumentsthat claim the mediahas some kind ofinevitable effect on usassume that theaudience is essentiallypassive – they arereceptive to the ideasthe media sends them.
Hypodermic Needle EffectThe hypodermicneedle effect assumesa passive audience. Itsuggests that themedia is like a drug –once in the body, weare powerless to resistits influence.
Modelling or Copycat TheoryThe idea that watchingfilms/consuming media islinked to negativebehaviour – that whatpeople see, they copy…e.g that the film Old Boycreated the Virginia TechMassacre or the computergame ManHunt caused theColumbine School killings.
Very little research has beendone to test this assertion.It is a theory that ismaintained by the pressrather than research.It could well be that violentpeople are attracted toviolent films – they don’tcause the criminality butmay well reflect an impulseto violence and/or suggestsome ways to indulge suchtendencies.
Cultivation Theory• This theory suggests that the more the TV audience watches, the more likely it is that they will develop certain ideas about the world. It says that the media will not so much affect our actions, as our attitudes and views.• The worry is that these will be ‘false’ views.• E.g. the view of crime offered in crime dramas and Crimewatch feeds perceptions that there is more crime than there is and that most crime is violent crime, when it is not• This idea was developed by George Gerbner who called the affect ‘Mean World Syndrome’ – the media made people feel the world was a worse place than it actually was and may make them more suspicious of others, afraid of certain groups and going out alone…
Cultivation Theory• The problem with this view is that it does not acknowledge that viewers may gain knowledge of the world aside from TV! It also only works for those who are “heavy” users of media –those whose exposure to “dodgy” views have been longest!• http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=Vw9DsOA1Y- w&feature=related
Problems With Passive Audience Theories• In recent decades theorists have noted many problems with passive audience theory .• Many feel it is out of date and that it vastly underestimates the audiences,• this has led to the development of more complex theories about active audience participation in the reading of media texts.
VIEW 2: THE ACTIVE AUDIENCEAn alternative view suggests that theaudience is active not passive – they canchoose how to respond to the media.
The Encoding – Decoding Model: Active Audience Theory (1980)• Encoding-Decoding is an active audience theory developed by Stuart Hall which examines the relationship between a text and its audience.• Encoding is the process by which a text is constructed by its producers.• Decoding is the process by which the audience reads, understands and interprets a text.
The Encoding – Decoding Model• The Media The audience ENCODE DECODE the ideologies into Messages the media texts – an active process – they think!
Hall’s Encoding – Decoding Model• Hall states that texts are polysemic, meaning they may be read differently by different people, depending on their identity, cultural knowledge and opinions.• This means that audiences do not have to accept or make the same meaning that the producer intended them to – they are free agents or active participants in the meaning making process. In other words, the viewer is free to understand and interpret a text in any way they want.
The Encoding – Decoding ModelWatch the scene below (up to thepoint where the gang ride out oftown at about 8:30 minutes) fromthe 1953 film The Wild Onestarring Marlon Brando as the leaderof a motor-bike gang to explore howdifferent audiences may well decodethe media differently.How would an adult and a teenagerin 1951 maybe view or decodeBrando and his gang differently?The Wild One - Opening
Another key theory here is Stuart Hall’sReception Theory.
Hall’s Reception Theory• Reception Theory focuses on the role of the audience in the interpretation of a text, instead of on the text itself.• In other words, the theory suggests that audiences play an active role in reading texts,• that each person has the ability to interpret the same text differently, and that a text by itself – i.e. without a reader – has no specific meaning.
Hall’s Reception TheoryHe termed these different ‘readings’ ofthe ideologies in media texts as…•The preferred reading•The negotiated reading•The oppositional reading
Reception Theory states that there arethree main responses the audience canmake to a media text:1. A Preferred Reading – where the audience accepts the ideologies of the producer of the text2. A Negotiated Reading – where we accept some of the ideologies but not all3. An Oppositional Reading – where the audience rejects the ideologies of the text and possibly reads the text in a subversive way
Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory• We will now watch a short scene from Spiderman 2 where Peter Parker rescues a baby from a burning building.• As we watch, try and identify what you think the Preferred, Negotiated and Oppositional Readings might be of this scene.https://www.youtube.com/wat ch?v=1YSohrrP0VY
The Pick n Mix Approach to Audience (David Gauntlett)• This is the idea that we pick and mix our media ( an active choice)…• We select how we form our identities using media texts. We can agree with some messages (women can be successful in the workplace) but reject others (women need to look good to get a man) that may co-occur in the same magazine• He claims that we can not assume that people are simply influenced by media texts. They decide how far any such influence will go.
Uses and Gratifications Theory Blumler, McQuail and Brown (1983)This is a theory that also suggests that theaudience is active and uses the media to fulfilor gratify certain needs they have – our use ofthe media is goal-orientated.Investigations into how we use the media wereprompted by James Halloran’s (1970) muchrepeated phrase ‘we must get away from thehabit of thinking in terms of what the media doto people and substitute for it the idea of whatpeople do with the media’
Blumer and Katz (1974) listed four broadneeds fulfilled by ‘viewers’ watching oftelevision:(1) Diversion - a form of escape or emotional release fromeveryday pleasures.(2) Personal Relationships - companionship via televisionpersonalities and characters, and sociability throughdiscussion about television with other people.(3) Personal Identity - the ability to compare one’s life withthe characters and situations within programmes and henceexplore personal problems and perspectives.(4) Surveillance - a supply of information about ‘whatsgoing on’ in the world.
Here is a ore detailed breakdown of what thesecategories cover:Surveillance•finding out about relevant events and conditions in ourimmediate surroundings, society and the world•seeking advice on practical matters or opinion anddecision choices – what does society think about this?•satisfying curiosity and general interest•learning; self-education•gaining a sense of security through knowledgeDiversion/Escapism (Entertainment)•escaping, or being diverted, from problems•relaxing•getting intrinsic cultural or aesthetic enjoyment•filling time•emotional release•sexual arousal
Personal Relationships•gaining insight into circumstances of others;social empathy•identifying with others and gaining a sense ofbelonging•finding a basis for conversation and socialinteraction•having a substitute for real-life companionship•helping to carry out social roles•enabling one to connect with family, friends andsocietyPersonal Identity•finding reinforcement for personal values•finding models of behaviour•identifying with valued other (in the media)•gaining insight into ones self
The theory essentially suggeststhat we can identify the differentneeds that any one media textcan offer us and see how aviewer might choose a certaintext because it fulfils certainneeds they have at the time,making them in control of howthey use the mediae.g. they want to know what ishappening in parts of the world,so they watch the news or pickup a paper; they need todestress and relax and so seekescapism in a sitcom or film.
Uses and Gratifications Theory Blumler, McQuail and Brown (1983)What needs do you thinkthese texts gratify?Call of Duty 4: ModernWarfare TrailerCall of Duty ModernWarfare Gameplay(just watch a few minutes of this)
Defining audiences by their needsAmerican psychologistAbraham Maslowcreated the‘Hierarchy of Needs’Hierarchy =somethingput in arank order/order ofpriority…
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs• All psychographic profiling can be linked to Maslow’s ideas• Maslow claimed that we all have different layers of needs• and we need to satisfy one before we can move onto the next• Advertisers are increasingly using ideas such as Maslow’s with demographics in an attempt to be more effective and efficient in the way they target particular groups of people.
Again, Maslow’s ideas link to an activeaudience, as we are actively choosingcertain media texts or products becausethey offer us something we are seeking.Look at the adverts below and see if you canidentify what Maslow needs are being methere:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IFr_j2air4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOoe3qGWxVEhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB2sk1HqrfU
Interactive UsersAs well as ideas about active andpassive audiences, you also need toconsider the role of interactiveaudiences. It’s no longer enough toconsider audiences who respond to themedia but to consider audiences whointeract with the media:
- Those who upload YouTube videos- Those who make their own covers of music videos- Those who post songs- Those who play and even create and upload video games- Those who post comments on TV shows on blogs etc.
How do you think thisshifts the powerbalance?Can the audience nowhave power to influencethe media content thatis made through theirinteractivity and theCult of the Amateur(where we can all makeand broadcast mediatexts via the internet)?
Most theorists today see the audience asmore complex and active in the way in whichthey engage with and are affected by themedia.It would be easy to simply dismiss ideasabout passive audiences but think about howadverts can persuade children to pesterparents for particular types of cereal or howpeople can live immersed in Star Wars orStar Trek fandom, learning Klingon, dressingas a storm trooper….
If true, what would the view that theaudience is passive imply about themedia?• it would suggest that the media has power over the audience to mould our attitudes and responses to certain groups• that, if warped or biased, such influence could be used to create prejudice and social injustice
If the active audience ideas are right, whatdoes it suggest about representations?•that the viewer has some power of choice over whether to go along with representations or not•that we needn’t worry as much about what representations are out there, as the audience doesn’t have to be brainwashed by them.•that audiences can always subvert a producer’s intentions by making an oppositional reading!
The main difference again is to do withpower – who has it?Passive Audience Theory feels thatpower lies with the media and that thiscould be dangerousActive Audience Theory feels thatultimate power lies with the Audienceand, thus, the media’s output is nothingto be feared because the audience areintelligent enough to resist dangerousideologies.
There are no definitiveanswers as to whichtheory is right – butthink about theinfluence ofrepresentations onaudiences , as well aswhat producers intendthem to mean to showan examiner that youhave a roundedapproach to the topic.