Thursday, 27 May 2010

Audience Theory...

Blumler and Katz (1974)- Uses and Gratifications - In this model, theorists were not asking how the media affects audiences, but how were the audiences using the media - suggested that audiences had specific needs and actively turned to the media to consume various texts to a satisfy them. The audience was seen as active. Uses and Gratifications acknowledged that the audience had a choice of texts from which to chose from and satisfy their needs.

Blumler and Katz suggested four main needs of television audiences that are satisfied by television. These included – Diversion (a form of escaping from the pressures of every day), Personal Relationships (where the viewer gains companionship, either with the television characters, or through conversations with others about television), Personal Identity (where the viewer is able to compare their life with the lives of characters and situations on television, to explore, re-affirm or question their personal identity) and Surveillance (where the media are looked on to supply information about world).

Richard Kilborn (1992) offers the following common reasons for watching soaps:
• regular part of domestic routine and entertaining reward for work
• launchpad for social and personal interaction
• fulfilling individual needs: a way of choosing to be alone or of enduring enforced loneliness
• identification and involvement with characters (perhaps cathartic)
• escapist fantasy (American supersoaps more fantastical)
• focus of debate on topical issues
• a kind of critical game involving knowledge of the rules and conventions of the genre

BUT Uses and Gratifications does not consider how the messages are interpreted or any other factors affecting the audience’s interpretation, so…

Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding model (1980) – broke down media messages and audience response into referred/resistant/negotiated readings (how might audiences of the same or different backgrounds respond to the messages?):
dominant (or 'hegemonic') reading: the reader fully shares the text's code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading - in such a stance the code seems 'natural' and 'transparent'
negotiated reading: the reader partly shares the text's code and broadly accepts the preferred reading, but sometimes resists and modifies it in a way which reflects their own position, experiences and interests - this position involves contradictions.
oppositional ('counter-hegemonic') reading: the reader, whose social situation places them in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant code, understands the preferred reading but does not share the text's code and rejects this reading, bringing to bear an alternative frame of reference (radical, feminist etc.) (e.g. when watching a television broadcast produced on behalf of a political party they normally vote against).

The advantage of the Encoding/Decoding model is that it realises that the meaning made by the audience is affected by various other factors – including socio/economic frameworks and past experiences, but also involving the context in which the media message is consumed. Meanings constructed by the individual watching the news at home with two distracting siblings will be different to meanings constructed while concentrating on the television alone. However - this framework is based on the assumption that the latent meaning of the text is encoded in the dominant code, but suppose there are conflicting tendencies within the text?

Hypodermic Syringe Theory: The Frankfurt school, set up in 1923, were concerned about the possible effects of mass media. They proposed the "Effects" model, which considered society to be composed of isolated individuals who were susceptible to media messages. The Frankfurt school envisioned the media as a hypodermic syringe, and the contents of the media were injected into the thoughts of the audience, who accepted the attitudes, opinions and beliefs expressed by the medium without question. This model was a response to the German fascists use of film and radio for propaganda uses, and later applied to American capitalist society. The followers of the hypodermic model of Effects adopted a variant of Marxism, emphasising the dangers of the power of capitalism, which owned and controlled new forms of media.

Obvious criticism - audiences are not blank sheets of paper on which media messages can be written; members of an audience will have prior attitudes and beliefs which will determine how effective media messages are. (Abercrombie 1996)

Cultivation Theory – Professor George Gerbner began the 'Cultural Indicators' research project in the mid-1960s, to study whether and how watching television may influence viewers' ideas of what the everyday world is like. Cultivation research is in the 'effects' tradition. Cultivation theorists argue that television has long-term effects which are small, gradual, indirect but cumulative and significant.

The question is, of course, just how do viewers consume soaps. Gerbner (1986) felt viewers can’t escape the encroachment of television into their lives, that it ‘cultivates the minds of viewers over a long period of time.’ A study of American college students found that heavy soap opera viewers were more likely than light viewers to over-estimate the number of real-life married people who had affairs or who had been divorced and the number of women who had abortions (Dominick, 1990).

However, Hawkins and Pingree (1983) could not find conclusive proof of the direction of the relationship between television viewing and viewers' ideas about social reality.

Cultivation theorists tend to ignore the importance of the social dynamics of television use. Interacting factors such as developmental stages, viewing experience, general knowledge, gender, ethnicity, viewing contexts, family attitudes and socio-economic background all contribute to shaping the ways in which television is interpreted by viewers. When the viewer has some direct lived experience of the subject matter this may tend to reduce any cultivation effect. This raises the question: to what extent does the frequency of the messages, or the social experiences of the viewers affect how much they 'believe' the messages?

Gary Giddens (1991) claims that mediated experiences make us reflect upon and rethink our own self-narrative in relation to others.

David Gauntlett (2002): Media messages are diverse, diffuse and contradictory. Rather than being zapped straight into people's brains, ideas about lifestyle and identity that appear in the media are resources which individuals use to think through their sense of self and modes of expression.

Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group notes that the audience does not exist as a silent mass with a collective identity, but as active, thinking, reflective, creative audiences who share cultural experiences in common – and this is surely all the more so when viewers can re-evaluate their relationship to the text by interacting with each other through conversation or through fan sites.

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