Audiences & the Media Studies ExamAs you know your media studies exam will be made up of three questions.The first will always be a textual analysis of either an AV (audio visual) clip, or two print based mediatexts.Question two will be a stepped question with two or three parts, with each part progressing in themarks available.Question three will be a longer essay style question.Two important facts about questions 2 & 3:One of the questions will always be about Audience theory, the other will always beabout Representations.The last part of question 2 and all of question 3 will require you to provide: ‘Your ownspecific examples’At the beginning of the year you were asked to keep a media diary to help you keep a note of all thedifferent media you encountered and to help you revise the theories we had studied in class byapplying it to the media you watch and read in your everyday life.What is audience & why do we study it?The audience are the consumers of texts – and importantly, the users of texts. It is important in thisday and age that we don’t simply think of an audience as sitting in front of a TV passively soaking upwhatever is beamed into their living rooms. Media theory of today has moved with the mediatechnologies of today. The media audience is mass, but within that mass are diverse range of groupsthat are attracted to and appealed by many different types of media. Each will read texts differentlyaccording to their own diverse lives and many will use the media to fulfil needs in their lives.Broadly speaking we can divide the study of Audience into three separate areas:• Classification & categorisation• Appeals & Uses• Responses & Effects
Part 1: Audience classification & categorisationA media text may appeal to a huge variety of millions of different people which we call a massaudience, or may be a text so specialist in subject matter or the way it is presented that it appeals toa more select range of people which we call a niche audience.Furthermore, a media text will always have a target audience. These are the people that theencoders (the producers of the text) are aiming their text at.Because the audience is so diverse, for many years advertising agencies and media theorists havebroken down the mass audience into groups to better understand how to aim their products.Why is this useful to us?These categories are useful to us as media students because we are able to use these categories toanalyse a text and work out exactly who has been targeted and other audiences that would use thetext or be attracted to it. The methods of classifying audiences into groups can also help usunderstand why audiences respond to texts in certain ways.We have studied four main theories of audience classification:Audience Profiles - The Constructed AudienceThe theory associated with this is Fiske and Hartley’s list of Subjectivities that provide us with avariety of characteristics that may vary about an audience – they include:• Gender• Age• Family• Class• Nationality• Ethnicity• Religion• Level of education• Political beliefs• Where they liveThe important thing is how we write about an audience in a profile. Look at the examples providedabout the magazines FHM and Cosmopolitan:
These profiles are examples of how the media text has constructed their audience.The FHM reader is typically in his mid twenties, in a white-collaroccupation and with a higher than average disposable personalincome. Hes savvy to the latest brands and trends and regards FHMas both a mate and a navigator which enables him to stay ahead ofthe pack. He loves spending on himself buying fashion, fragrance andgrooming products, cars and gadgets, video games and DVDs. Youngmen are notoriously difficult to reach as their consumption of TV,radio and newspapers decreases. FHM is still the most effective wayto reach them when they are in their own zone.Cosmopolitan focuses on youngwomen (18 to 35) with an above-averageincome and higher education whousually have a job or are studying. TheCosmopolitan reader intends to improve the quality of her life and herimmediate environment. She has wide interests and a lively imagination.She is impulsive, dares to carry out new ideas, thinks positively and isquite prepared and adventurous enough to step over a boundary nowand then. She sees Cosmopolitan as a source of inspiration for realisingthe realistic, ideal image presented in the magazine, step by step. Sheloves beautiful things and comfort. She likes looking good and putsdeliberate effort into it. She wants work that will give her satisfactionand the opportunity to develop her talents. She spends money easily andimpulsively. She enjoys indulging herself. (And even more, being spoiled!)Cosmopolitan incites readers to demand the most from life andthemselves.RESEARCH POINT: Choose one print based text and one Audio Visual text that you knowwell. Write a profile of who you think the target audience is similar to the ones above.Hint: You may find a little research into the texts goes a long way!1.2.
Status & IncomeThe oldest and best known of the classification categories will measure an audience based on thetype of job that they do and their social class. There are definite limitations to this theory as it tellslittle about who these people are or why they might engage in a text, however it is a method ofmeasuring audiences still widely used by the newspaper industry. The categories are as follows:A Upper middle class: Top management, bankers, lawyers, doctors and other professionalsB Middle class: Middle management, teachers, many creatives eg graphic designers etc.C1 Lower middle class: Office supervisors, junior managers, nurses, specialist clerical staff etcC2 Skilled working class: Skilled workers, tradespersons (white collar)D Working class: Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers (blue collar)E People at lowest level of income: Unemployed, students, pensioners, casual workers.Remember that a media text can be aimed across more than group. For example, you mightdescribe The Daily Telegraph as having a target audience of ABs. Whereas you might describe thetarget audience of The Sun to be C2-E.Young & Rubicam’s 4Cs modelAdvertising agency, Y&R created a system of segmenting the entire mass audience based onMaslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model. By splitting everybody up into seven groups they were able tosee what needs and values each group had and therefore market products accordingly.In Media Studies, we use the categories as a way of determining Target Audiences for media texts.Most media products will be aimed at one or more of the following four categories…THE MAINSTREAMThese are people who live in the world of the domestic and the everyday. A daily routine isfundamental to the way they live their lives. Their life choices are ‘we’ rather than ‘me’. As theirname implies, they are the mainstream of society. They are the largest group of people within 4Csacross the world. They respond to big established brands, to ‘family’ brands and to offers of valuefor money. Their core need in life is for security.THE ASPIRERMaterialistic, acquisitive people, who are driven by others’ perceptions of them rather than by theirown values. As a result, they respond to what others perceive as being superficial: image,appearance, persona, charisma and fashion. An attractive pack is as important to them as itscontents. Their core need in life is for status.
THE SUCCEEDERSucceeders possess self-confidence, have a strong goal orientation and tend to be very organised. Asa result, they tend to occupy positions of responsibility in society. Their investment in the status quomeans they tend to support it. When it comes to brands, they seek reward and prestige, and willoften seek out the best, because that is what they feel they deserve. On the other hand, they alsoseek out caring and protective brands – their aggressive attitude to life means they need to relaxoccasionally. Their core need in life is for control.THE EXPLORERThese people are driven by a need for discovery, challenge and new frontiers. Young in nature, if notin reality, Explorers are often the first to try out new ideas and experiences. They respond tobrands that offer new sensations, indulgence and instant effects. In short, difference is what theyseek out. Their core need in life is for discovery.(remember: ‘Explorer’ is a word used as a metaphor – this audience type does not just like mediatexts which involve travel or adventures or physically exploring the world).Applying the 4Cs.The following examples demonstrate how you might apply the 4Cs categories to media texts.The Mighty Boosh is a British situation comedy (sitcom) that wouldappeal to the Explorer audience category. Whilst there are many elementsof traditional sitcoms, The Mighty Boosh is experimental in its use of ahumour through strange & unconventional characters and unrealisticsettings. It also uses a combination of live action and occasional animatedscenes, and added to the unusual mix are musical numbers which makes fora bizarre hybrid show that offers a new experience and challenges anaudiences expectations of the traditional sitcom.Toy Story 3 is a computer animated film fromDisney/Pixar that would appeal to theMainstream audience category. Not only is Disney a well trusted andhousehold brand name, but the Toy Story series of films is also very wellknown as two of the most popular animated films of recent years. Theaudience would be aware that this film has ‘something for everyone’, thesubject matter & story for children and potentially some humourappealing to parents. It would also provide an opportunity to enjoysomething as a group. The Mainstream audience could be secure in theknowledge that their expectations would be met.
The Lifestyle CategoriesThis classifies audiences according to a their beliefs and attitudes towards life. Many media texts willbe consumed multiple lifestyle categories.Cowboys – People who want to make money quickly and easily.Cynics – People who always have something to complain about.Drifters – People who aren’t at all sure what they want.Drop-outs – People who do not want to get committed in any way.Egoists – People who are mainly concerned to get the most for themselves out of life.Groupies – People who want to be accepted by those around them.Innovators – People who want to make their mark on the world.Puritans – People who want to feel they have done their duty.Rebels – People who want the world to fit in with their idea of how it should be.RESEARCH POINT: Find four texts to apply to each of the four audience types. Analyse whythe text is appropriate for that particular audience. Use texts studied in lessons if necessary.Mainstream:Aspirer:Succeeder:Explorer:
Traditionalists – People who want everything to remain the same.Trendies – People who are desperate to have the admiration of their peer group.Utopians – People who want to make the world a better place.Applying Lifestyle CategoriesAlthough it’s fairly easy to work out which of the categories a text would appeal to, it Is importantto remember to pick out specific codes from that media text to prove your point. Without evidenceyour answer won’t be of any real valuee.g. The font cover of the Daily Mail clearly appeals toa variety of different audience types from across theLifestyle Categories. Primarily the Traditionalists, thisis evident in both the old fashioned style of font usedfor the masthead but also the subject matter of themain story: “Save the weekly bin round”, is warningpeople of changes to their living conditions and isfighting for things to return as they were. To a lesserextent the cover appeals to the Cynics – thosefamiliar with the Daily Mail will be aware that it oftenuses shock tactics and moral panics to demonise oralienate certain groups in society, it often does this bycomplaining about their possible effects. It may also beargued that the cover appeals to the Innovators &Puritans who may feel that by joining: “the greatdustbin revolt” that they have either helped changethe world around them, or contributed to thesolution of a problem and therefore ‘done their duty’.Part 2: Audience AppealsRESEARCH POINT: Watch the next set of advertisements on any commercial TV channel.Analyse an advert that appeals to several of the Lifestyle Categories using evidence from the advert(not just based on the product being sold).
Part 2: Audience AppealOne of the big questions (Question 2c or Question 3) could be based on audience appeal and couldbe phrased in some of the following ways:• Using your own specific examples, discuss how audiences are attracted to media texts.• Using your own specific examples, discuss how media texts appeal to an audience.• Using your own specific examples, discuss what use an audience has for media texts.• Using your own specific examples, discuss why audiences consume media texts.There are many, many, many reasons why the mass audience engages with the media. This, ofcourse, depends on the type of media and who the audience are.The aim of this section is to collect together the various reasons why a media text might appeal toan audience and prompt you to find examples that you could write about.If this comes up as Question 3, it will be worth 30% of your exam mark!You will also be encouraged to search for your think of your own examples of how the mediaappeals to an audience. You can find examples, use texts you know well, or use texts we havestudied in class.The Uses & Gratifications ModelThis is probably the most important theory for you to know. According to uses and gratificationtheory, we all have different uses for the media and we make choices over what we want to watch.In other words, when we encounter a media text, it is not just some kind of mindless entertainment– we are expecting to get something from it: some kind of gratification.This will make certain media texts more appealing than others.1. Information: we want to find out about society and the world. This would fit the news anddocumentaries which both give us a sense that we are learning about the world.2. Personal Identity: we may watch the television in order to look for models for our behaviour.So, for example, we may identify with characters that we see in a soap. The characters help us todecide what feel about ourselves and if we agree with their actions and they succeed we feel betterabout ourselves – think of the warm feeling you get when you favourite character triumphs at theend of a programme.3. Social Interaction: we use the media in order to find out more about the circumstances ofother people. Watching a show helps us to empathise and sympathise with the lives of others sothat we may even end up thinking of the characters in programme as friends even though we mightfeel a bit sad admitting it! At the same time television may help us to get on with our real friends aswe are able to talk about the media with them.4. Entertainment/Escapism: sometimes we simply use the media for enjoyment, relaxation orjust to fill time.
You can probably recognise yourself in some of these descriptions and not surprisingly uses andgratification theory has become quite popular amongst media critics. It is important to rememberwith this theory that it is likely that with any media text you enjoy, you will be getting a number ofgratifications from it and not just one.The Appeals of Advertising… and beyond…Various theorists have looked at exactly how advertising works, this not only applies to both printbased and television adverts but can also be applied to magazines – and can be more broadlyattached to why we engage with a number of TV genres. The following list appeals to us becausethey fulfill various needs, desires and fears…Need for sex - surprisingly, only a small percent of the tv ads use sex to sell products. It may betoo blatant, and often detracts from the product.Need for affiliation - the largest number of ads use this approach: you are looking for friendshipor to be part of a happy family? Advertisers can also use this negatively, to make you worry thatyou’ll lose friends if you don’t use a certain product.Need to nurture - every time you see a puppy or a kitten or a child, the appeal is to your paternalor maternal instincts.Need for guidance - a father or mother figure can appeal to your desire for someone to care foryou, so you won’t have to worry.Need to aggress - we all have a desire to get even, and some media gives you this satisfaction.Need to achieve - the ability to accomplish something difficult and succeed identifies the productwith winning. Sports figures as spokespersons project this image.RESEARCH POINT: Think of a TV show that provides all of the Uses & Gratifications. Writedown something specific that proves your point.TV Show:Escapism/Entertainment:Personal Identity:Social Interaction:Information:
Need to dominate - the power we lack is what we can look for in a commercial “master thepossibilities.”Need for prominence - we want to be admired and respected; to have high social status. Tastefulchina and classic diamonds offer this potential.Need for attention - we want people to notice us; we want to be looked at. Cosmetics are anatural for this approach.Need for autonomy - within a crowded environment, we want to be singled out, to be a “breedapart.” This can also be used negatively: you may be left out if you don’t use a particular productNeed to escape - flight is very appealing; you can imagine adventures you cannot have; the idea ofescape is pleasurableNeed for aesthetic sensations - beauty attracts us, and classic art or dance makes us feelcreative, enhancedNeed to satisfy curiosity - facts support our belief that information is quantifiable and numbersand diagrams make our choices seem scientificPhysiological needs - Our need to sleep, eat, and drink are in this category. Advertisers for juicypizza are especially appealing late at night.Need to feel safe - to be free from threats, to be secure is the appeal of many insurance and bankadsLove and Belonging needs: friends, companions, family, being part of a groupEsteem needs: respect, confidence based on the good opinion of others, admiration, self-confidence, self– acceptance, self-worth.Self actualisation needs: fulfil one’s potential, develop potential, do what you are best suited for,discover the truth about yourself, create beauty, produce order, promote justice.The last five of these are, of course, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.Narrative & Genre ExpectationsRESEARCH POINT: Find an advert in a magazine or newspaper, analyse the advert & writedown all of the codes, which appeal to any of the needs discussed above.
Film is a little bit different from advertising, magazines and even TV inasmuch as it doesn’t necessarilyfulfil our psychological needs. However it is appealing to audiences in the way that it fulfils andchallenges our expectations.These expectations come from our experience and knowledge of Generic and Narrativeconventions. Some people love a film that follows all of the rules of their favourite genre, otherslove it when the rules are broken. Most people enjoy the feeling of completion and closure after astory has gone through its beginning, middle and end – other people like it when stories are told inthe wrong order or the ending has a twist.The following is a list of various expectations that an audience may have of narrative and genre:Narrative ExpectationsSTRUCTURE - most audiences expect a linear structure. Usually one that follows Todorov’s fivestages of narrative:1. Equilibrium2. Disruption3. Recognition of the disruption4. Attempt to repair5. Reinstatement of equilibrium or New equilibriumCHARACTERS – audiences will expect to see certain characters types or archetypes to appear infilms – they also expect them to behave in certain ways. Most of the time characters types andarchetypes conform to expectations, other times they break the mould. Propp’s theory of charactertype recognizes several recurring character types:• Hero• Princess• Villain• Donor / Helper• Mentor• Princesses fatherThe appeal of narrative...Most people have grown up with stories, in Film, TV, and in books - linear narratives with setstructures and stock characters are engrained in us. For many, watching a narrative play out in theway that we expect, or seeing characters that are familiar is a pleasure and an appeal.However we should also consider that for some audiences, having these expectations challenged orbroken is just as much of an appeal. A twist ending or a double-crossing hero can be as much of anappeal for some as the hero saving the day for others.
Generic ExpectationsJust as we go into the cinema or sit in front of the TV with expectations of narrative, an audiencewill also be drawn by the genre of a text.Look at anyone’s collection of CDs, DVDs, or Computer Games and you will probably see onegenre more prevalent than others. A genre has a function and a style - if an audience gets to knowthe conventions of that style and like it, then a film that matches the conventions will be popular.Breaking expectations and Crossing conventionsAs with narrative, an audience can be drawn to a text that challenges our expectations of a genre bytinkering with the conventions or creating an unexpected hybrid of genres.e.g.Star Wars was the most popular film for a generation and although it may look like a science-fictionmovie, critics and filmmakers are agreed that it is essentially a Western but with the setting changesto a galaxy far, far away!Shaun of the Dead was a hugely successful British movie that crossed the classic Romantic Comedywith the cult Zombie film to create the first Zom-Rom-Com. The mash up of genres found laughs inplaces that other Romantic Comedies could not reach and opened up the grotesque magic ofZombie films to a much wider audience.RESEARCH POINT: What films do you know that either challenge the narrative structure of aBeginning/Middle/End or change & mix the conventions of a well established genre?
Other appealsThe following list covers other reasons why we continue to engage with the media. Some arespecific to a particular form of media...Interactivity - Making choices of where to go or what to consume is no longer simply the domainof the video game or surfing the net. The 21st Century has seen massive changes across all platformsof media. Using the ‘Red Button’ we can now interact with our TV. Video games allow us to fullyexplore & even build worlds without being tied to a narrative, and with the rise of Web 2.0 and sitessuch as YouTube, Wikipedia & FaceBook we are now creating and building the internet everysecond of everyday - this is the true interactivity we were promised we have truly moved fromaudience member to user.Intertextuality - When one text refers to another. Either in a subtle way or in an explicit way. Theappeal of this is to remind us of texts we like and admire or to give us a pat on the back for being soclever and seeing the connection. Watch the Simpsons - see how many other TV shows, cartoons,songs, films, comic books, video games are referenced.Nostalgia - Nostalgia is often triggered by something reminding the individual of an event or itemfrom their past. The resulting emotion can vary from happiness to sorrow. The term of "feelingnostalgic" is more commonly used to describe pleasurable emotions associated with and/or a longingto go back to a particular period of time. Knowing this, Media texts will often try to capitalise on it.How many adverts try to make you think about when you were younger? How much do you smilewhen you discuss your favourite childhood TV programmes?Elite persons/Box office draw - Our tabloid obsession with celebrity may feel a bit overwhelmingand a bit tiresome, but it’s nothing new. Since movie stars first graced the silver screen, the massaudience has tried to bathe in their crazy light. We idolise them, we dress like them, we go to seetheir movies and watch their TV shows. If they’re endorsing a product or on the front of a magazinewe’ll buy it. We love people who are famous - what’s important though, what we must considerwhen analysing an elite person - is what they represent to us. Just being famous will not be enoughfor the examiner - you must be able to accurately say what it is about that elite person that makesthat media text appealing.Mode of Address - This is specific to Magazines and is the connection or bond that is createdbetween the magazine and its reader. A magazine may do this through the main image or the use oflanguage. For example a magazine aimed at a niche market might use specialist terminology to enticea reader. A magazine aimed at a mass market might refer to celebrities by their first name or usecolloquialisms in a manner you might if you were around friends. The magazine wants to be yourfriend and the way that it tries to achieve this is through the mode of address.Unique Selling Point (USP) - We all like something a bit different or a bit special. Sometimes wejust want something for free! USPs can range from exclusive interviews to free CDs. Whatever it isthat sets their media text apart from the others has the potential to stand out to the audience andappeal to them more than a competitor.But now for the reason we’re all here...
Sample Answer & Mark SchemeReferring to your own detailed examples, discuss how different media texts can appealto audiences.The media’s appeal to an audience can vary according to the different types of audience as well asthe different types of media. A video game such as ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City’ (GTA) will beappealing for some reasons that are unique to video games, and others that are more traditional andfound in other types of media.A key element of GTA’s appeal is the interactivity and control that a player has throughout thegame. Deciding where the main character, Tommy Vercetti, goes in the city and the activities heengages in. This interactivity with other characters and also control over the narrative provides theplayer with autonomy over the game and may be an appeal of the game.This control over the narrative is also appealing as it challenges many of the narrative conventionsthat we grow accustomed to as a child watching films and TV, and reading comic books. Traditionalforms of media – even early forms of video games use linear narratives to work their way through astory, however Open World (or Sandbox) games like GTA are non-linear and allow the player todecide which thread of the narrative they play next. Challenging narrative conventions that are soengrained in most people’s understanding of narratives may be an appeal to those who want toexplore and discover.Video games have grown more complex over the years and many of the target audience will havebeen players for many years, in this sense it could be argued that GTA offers players a sense ofnostalgia for the games they played in the past and the excitement of trying to beat the game andfulfil a sense of achievement. This sense of nostalgia is heightened in GTA: Vice City as much of themise-en-scene is based around 1980s American culture which will be familiar to those playing.Added to this are intertextual references to films such as Scarface, Carlito’s Way and, of course, TVseries Miami Vice. These references not only act as an appeal but also as a reward for those thatrecognise them.There are other needs potentially fulfilled by a game like GTA, it may be argued that the violent actsthat can be initiated by the player such as fighting, stealing cars or using weapons could fulfil a needto aggress – however it is far more likely that engaging in these acts is used as a way of escapingfrom our own normal lives as outlined in the Uses and Gratifications model.This use of the media for escapism is prevalent across all different types, but perhaps none more sothan film. The cinema has been a place for audiences to fantasise about a different life in a differentplace with different people for more than a hundred years. Last year saw the release of Avatar whichtransported its audience onto the planet Pandora. The use of CGI and new Motion Capture 3Dfilming meant that the world of Pandora’s strange wildlife and plant life felt like a real place and alsooffered audiences new aesthetic sensations in film.Apart from its technical wizardry, Avatar’s success could also be put down to how conventional it is.An audience’s narrative expectations of a traditional Hollywood film are entirely fulfilled by a linearstructure and characters which fit the narrative functions of Propp’s character types perfectly – theHero, Princess, Villain, Helper, Mentor and Princess’ father all playing out their role in line withwhat an audience expects.
Avatar is now the highest grossing film of all time and prior to the film’s release there was so muchexpectation that the release of the film became an ‘event’ that everyone was talking about. This wasnot only for the breakthroughs in special effects but because of the director James Cameron whohad not made a film for many years. In this respect a reason why people are continuing to see themovie goes back to the Uses and Gratifications model and the need to socially interact. Avatar is afilm that we can talk about and discuss with others, whilst at the same time Cameron himself was adraw to the box office an elite person that appealed because of the other films he has made such asTitanic and The Terminator.Using elite persons to appeal to audiences is much more prevalent in the magazine industry,particularly music magazines such as Q. Front covers often have main images of successful rock starsphotographed in fashionable clothing and with expensive equipment that appeals to the audiencesdesire for to aspire to certain lifestyles.A magazine’s most prominent appeal will be through its Mode of Address. This is the way that amagazine will communicate with its target audience. This can be through the subject matter of thecoverlines which may offer the audience Personal Identity through a shared interest or it may be inthe language it uses to directly make an audience feel as though they are part of a specific group.Referring to audiences as: ‘collectors’ fulfils their need for affiliation and to be part of a group ofpeople with shared interests and understanding. A commonality amongst all music magazines is thatthey provide the audience with information through interviews, gig listings and so on. However thecompetition is so fierce that magazines often find themselves having to offer more and more uniqueselling points (USPs) in order for their magazine to be chosen ahead of the rest. Promises of:‘Excusive Interviews’ and self proclaimed: ‘Special Issues’ often adorn the front of magazines in thehope that they might keep or expand their existing audience.
Part 3: Audience ResponsesOne of the big questions (Question 2c or Question 3) could be based on audience responses andcould be phrased in some of the following ways:• How does the same media text attract a range of different audience responses? Refer to your owndetailed examples.• In what ways do different audiences respond differently to the same media text? Refer to yourown detailed examples.• How do media texts construct and position audiences? Refer to your own detailed examples?These questions are slightly different - however they deal with the same key audience theories.What are known as reception studies and in particular Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding theory.Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding TheoryThis theory was a reaction against various media effects theories such as the hypodermicsyringe model and the inoculation model which have been repeatedly dismissed for assuming theaudience is passive and unable to use the media.Stuart Hall considers audiences as not only active but also a group of individuals rather than anundifferentiated mass, and developed the encoding/decoding theory. This model was based on theview that meaning is the result of a communication process.Readings of texts are dependent on who the audience is, and what their social position is, becausethis influences their interpretation of the denotative codes.When the text is created, the producers encode a meaning, which they intend. This is the readinglikely to be made by the target audience, as they would be most likely to share and accept the text’sideology. This is the preferred reading.However, some people whose social position takes them outside the text’s specific target audience,may be more active in questioning the representations in the text. If they generally accept thepreferred reading, but challenge a few aspects, then this is a negotiated reading.If their values and attitudes are very different or even in opposition to the target audience, they areunlikely to accept much, if any of the preferred reading, making instead an oppositional reading.In a nutshell, a media text will force an audience member to take one of these positions...Preferred: The reader shares the text’s ‘codes’ (its meaning, system of values, attitudes,beliefs and assumptions) and fully accepts the text’s ‘preferred reading’.Negotiated: The reader partly shares the text’s code and broadly accepts the preferredreading, but modifies it in a way which reflects their position and interests.Oppositional: The reader does not share the text’s code and rejects the preferredreading, bringing to bear an alternative frame of interpretation.
Applying Encoding/DecodingHollyoaks is a soap opera. It is broadcast daily at 18.00 on Channel 4 and an omnibus repeats all ofthe episodes on Channel 4’s: T4 Sunday. It is about the lives of teens and young adults that live in asmall village next to the city of Chester.It typically centres on themes ofdifficulties surrounding young adultlife, but occasionally has fairly extremeplots involving murder, kidnap, deathand family betrayal.The target audience reflects the ageand interests (if not necessarily thelifestyles) of the main characters in thesoap.Any audience to Hollyoaks will be in one of three positions based on their reading of the text.Preferred: The target audience would accept the assumptions and beliefs shared by the soap. Thatbeing a teen or young adult is as tough as it is fun.They would accept that relationships both sexualand platonic are central to life at this age and thatif the wrong decisions are made then this cancause disastrous consequences. The preferredreading would be to accept that whilst life is forliving - tragedy can be just around the corner andthat you should live for the moment. However,there would also be an understanding that if youlet your instincts take over to the point whereyou betray those close to you, then somethingbad will almost certainly happen in your life.Negotiated: Some audience members could still watch regularly or even avidly and still not acceptthe dominant reading of the text. Instead they may see the soap as unrealistic and even superficial.Accepting that the characters are nothing more than two dimensional vehicles for convolutedstorylines - however this audience may love the thrill and suspense of the plot lines and enjoy thetwists and turns that the narrative takes. They may suspend their disbelief at the wooden acting andunbelievable dialogue in order to enjoy the levels of action and sex appeal that isn’t offered by othersoaps.Oppositional: Occasional audience members mayentirely reject the ideologies and messages of the series.They may take the position that Hollyoaks promotes anunrealistic and irresponsible view of life for young people,that the constant arguments lies and infidelities representyoung people as vain, materialistic and selfish. Theoppositional reading may also reject the attempts atcreating over elaborate dramatic situations as out of placefor a soap opera which is traditionally supposed torepresent reality and a ‘slice of life’.
Factors which affect which reading of a text we have.The position we take on a text depends on who we are - that is the entire point of the model, itassumes that we are active individuals. So it is important to consider exactly what factors candetermine whether we have a Preferred, Negotiated or Oppositional reading.Different audiences will respond to the same text differently according to:Gender - the relationships between the audience and text according to gender are complex. Menand women will respond to certain media texts in different ways. Certain research has shown thatwomen prefer television programmes like soap operas that deal with narratives concerned withrelationships and have strong female characters. Men, on the hand, apparently prefer more factualprogrammes related to news and current affairs. However, there are obvious problems with suchRESEARCH POINT: Choose another show that you know well - provide all 3 readings...Preferred:Oppositional:Negotiated:
research as it is generalised and the men/women asked may respond in a way they think theirquestioner expects. It is commonly accepted that men too watch soap operas and similar dramaslike The Bill. It is also easy to say that women would respond to ‘lads’ mags like Nuts and Zoo in adisapproving way - but how then to account for the women who send in their photographs to bepublished in these magazines?Situated Culture - This concerns how our ‘situation’ - our daily lives, routines and relationships -can affect how we respond to media texts; where we are and who we are with has an effect uponour media consumption. Watching a film surrounded by friends or family will be a different viewingexperience to one where you view a film alone. This response will change again if you are watchingthe film at home or at the cinema.Cultural Experience - this is how our culture - our upbringing, experiences and beliefs - affect ourresponse to a text. This also relates to how our understanding and our view of the world areshaped by our media experience. We may have never visited New York but our media consumptionof film and television programmes have constructed a view for us. We may never have been inhospital but we feel knowledgeable about a range of medical procedures because our viewing habitsinclude Holby City and ER.RESEARCH POINT: Think of three texts that may be read differently because of the factorsoutlined above. Describe the effect it may have on the reading.Gender:Situated Culture:Cultural Experience:
Our old friend: The Uses & Gratifications ModelBecause reception studies are based on the theory that an audience is active rather than passive, it ispossible to argue that a response we have to the media is to use it in a way that benefits us.Luckily we already have a theory that covers those particular basis - here it is again, just in case youweren’t paying attention the first time...1. Information: we want to find out about society and the world. This would fit the news anddocumentaries which both give us a sense that we are learning about the world.2. Personal Identity: we may watch the television in order to look for models for our behaviour.So, for example, we may identify with characters that we see in a soap. The characters help us todecide what feel about ourselves and if we agree with their actions and they succeed we feel betterabout ourselves – think of the warm feeling you get when you favourite character triumphs at theend of a programme.3. Social Interaction: we use the media in order to find out more about the circumstances ofother people. Watching a show helps us to empathise and sympathise with the lives of others sothat we may even end up thinking of the characters in programme as friends even though we mightfeel a bit sad admitting it! At the same time television may help us to get on with our real friends aswe are able to talk about the media with them.4. Entertainment/Escapism: sometimes we simply use the media for enjoyment or relaxation.Can Media Effects be considered a Response?For many years audience theories revolved around a series of Effects theories. Models such as theHypodermic Syringe which suggests that someone will copy what they see in the media or theInoculation model which suggests that simply seeing lots of violence makes an audience moreaccepting of violence and therefore more likely to carry out violent attacks. These have both beendismissed as too simplistic and with treating the audience as a bunch of identical brain dead passivezombies!However, the media is such a pervasive part of our lives, it informs so much of our communicationand our understanding of the world that it may be naive to suggest it has no effect whatsoever.These effects may be more subtle and difficult to detect. Furthermore these effects may be positiveand negative.Cultivation Theory & Moral PanicsThe cultivation theory or cultural effects model suggests that having certain ideologies reinforced bythe media over and over again can reinforce our own ideologies. This may go some way to explainhow successful some Moral Panics are at demonising and alienating certain groups within society.It does, of course, rely upon many of the aforementioned factors that can affect how we read a text.The Sleeper CurveStephen Johnson’s book: ‘Everything Bad is Good for You’ argues that there are many benefits fromengaging with the media; from a more sophisticated reading of narratives to a more empatheticunderstanding of human emotion and group dynamics. Check your notes for more information.
Sample Answers & Examiners CommentsHow does the same media text attract a range of different audience responses? Referto your own detailed examples.The Uses and Gratifications model dictates that there are 4 reasons why somebody would consumea text. These are; personal identification, information, entertainment and social interaction.Therefore responses to a text will be based upon these appeals. It could be argued that interactivitycan be added which explains why people may watch shows such as Britain’s Got Talent on ITV. Thisshow appeals on several levels, firstly on a purely entertainment basis, a viewer might want to escapefrom life and enjoy watching a programme. Secondly, somebody may want to vote for their favouritecontestant. As voting costs money it gains the response of loyalty towards a programme as theviewer has made an investment in it. Social interaction is especially applicable to Britain’s Got Talentas it has been a major talking point between friends and in the media with youtube hits like SusanBoyle. Therefore a media text can gain multiple responses as it fulfils multiple needs.A text may also gain altering responses as it is viewed by different audience types who have haddifferent experiences and cultural influences. Referring to the ABC model a programme such asSkins, E4, will get different responses from different groups. At an extreme level, group E, studentsmay appreciate Skins for its gritty reality where representations of youths can often be accurate, achange of pace from programmes such as The OC, or Gossip Girl which focus on the rich andprivileged. This means that the response of students may be sympathetic with characters that theyrecognise. On the other hand, Group A, for example lawyers may be shocked by the explicitcontent of Skins, especially the illegal activities such as drug taking.On the theme of personal experiences, age can play a large part in the response to a text. This ishighlighted in the Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross fiasco that ensued after they prank called AndrewSachs. The Radio show was very popular amongst youths and from this audience the response tothat particular episode was that it was amusing as ever. In complete contrast, a group of whatseemed like elder people, who heard the episode, were shocked by its content, declaring itunacceptable in many of the newspapers, slating the BBC.The cartoon Family Guy plays up to making tongue in cheek remarks and the primary audience enjoythese remarks however they could easily be interpreted as offensive. This is shown in the teasing ofdisabled police officer Joe. The preferred reading to these remarks would be to laugh at theignorance of the characters offending his disability. However, such remarks may receive a differentresponse, that of offence from the oppositional reading. In this case a text can be interpreted inmultiple ways which creates different responses from the audience, some may agree with those ofthe producers and some may not.Culture affects audience responses and different ideologies are in place in different cultures.Hegemony says that the bourgeoisie create a common sense amongst people and this will influencetheir responses. Films are especially at risk to this effect as they are viewed all over the world. A filmlike James Bond may be successfully received in western countries however viewed negatively in theeast and in countries like Russia or in South America as citizens from these countries are shown tobe criminals and drug barons. This enforces a ridiculous common sense that foreigners shouldn’t betrusted.26/30This answer was an actual exam response that scored very highly - the page below has theexaminers comments...
Examiners comments:A sophisticated understanding of audiences issues linked to current thinking. Confident.The student initially discusses the Uses and Gratification model which isn’t entirely relevant in thisanswer but successfully manages to link these ideas to directly answering the question so scoresmarks. Earlier analysis regarding different readings could have been linked more closely to Hall’spreferred and oppositional readings but the candidate does make this link later in the answer. Anumber of examples is used (Britain’s Got Talent, Skins, Radio, Family Guy and James Bond)reflecting some range (TV, Radio and Film). The student’s reference to recent events such as‘Sachsgate’ and Susan Boyle suggest the student is aware of contemporary media issues. The lastparagraph enabled the student to show off their knowledge of hegemony and dominant ideology andthe student has been awarded highly for this.Part 4: and finally...Some last few thoughts and some good advice:• Read the question thoroughly,know what you are being asked todo!• Know the theories well, use thisbooklet to find texts and apply thetheories - using them over andover is the only real way to knowthem.• Choose your examples before yougo into the exam - you knowroughly what the questions will be- save time in the exam by decidingwhich texts you are going to writeabout before you even get inthere...• ....better still, have a decent answerprepared before you do the exam.Writing your own answer for bothan audience response question andan audience appeal question isgreat revision and will save youhuge amounts of time in the exam.• May the Force be with You!