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Chapter 9

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Media Studies
Michael Petit

MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction C HAPTER N INE:RECEPTION ANALYSIS “What is the role of the audience in the process of meaning-making in the media? Reception scholars primarily seek to understand the personal meanings that individuals make of mass media texts in relation to their lived social systems and experiences” “Reception analysis supports the notion of an ‘active’ audience constantly reformulating the meanings of a media text across lines of race, gender, sexuality, and more” Reception Theory – stresses audience interpretation as the primary site of meaning- making. Meaning is fluid and communication is imperfect within this perspective, and negotiation between media producers and consumers constantly skews the ‘true’ meaning of media texts.  C LASSIAUDIENCESTUDIES ANDM EDIAEFFECTSRESEARCH o Hypodermic Needle Approach – conceived of the audience as mindless vessels ready to receive media messages and was interested in how the mass media ‘injected’ particular meanings into consumers.  Media messages signified only what produces intended them to mean, and audiences were unable to ignore or negotiate them  Criticism: messages do not mean the same thing to everyone, and the audience does not just passively absorb any and all media messages o Two-step Flow Model (Paul Lazarsfield) – extension of the Hypodermic Needle Approach  Certain individuals (Opinion Leaders) in the audience attended more carefully to media messages, and in turn disseminated them to secondary audiences  Criticism – though it recognised more audience activity, it still supported the problematic notion that the meanings of media messages were clear and definite o Cultivation Analysis (George Gerbner)– heavy-viewing audiences develop a distorted sense of reality and believe that violence is more prevalent in society than actual statistics support o Agenda-setting (Donald Shaw & Maxwell McCombs) – popular media outlets like news stations tell the American public what to think about and how to think about it: they set the national agenda and fuel public concern  Criticism – Both Cultivation Analysis and Agenda Setting are more complex and highly developed than the Hypodermic Needle or Two- step Model, but they continue to position the audience as mindless consumers who believe and follow most of what they see in the media MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction o Uses and Gratifications Theory – assumes that individuals consciously consumes media texts for their own ends, purposefully reworking textual meaning in order to integrate the text into their daily life  Audiences are selective in what and how they consume media  Reverses classical understanding of audiences by revealing how they use the media  Criticism – Overly optimistic about the audience and assumes conscious activity on the part of the audience  ENCODING/D ECODING (STUARTH ALL) o Recognises the role of media institutions and owners in engineering media texts with particular messages, but also accounts for the various ways in which active audiences of different classes can consume and rework these hegemonic or dominant meanings o Code – a set of rules that govern the use of visual and linguistic signs within a culture  Codes are never neutral – they are always representations of meaning, not meaning itself, and reflect the partiality inherent to any representation o Encoding – the process of creating a meaningful message according to a particular code  Preferred reading – desired interpretations of a text resulting from dominant industry codes that create representations, which in turn support hegemonic ideologies  The aspect of the text which draws from and validates dominant cultural ideologies o Decoding – the process of using a code to decipher a message and formulate meaning  “The codes of encoding and decoding may not be perfectly symmetrical”  Dominant Reading – audiences employ a code identical to the industry code and understand the text according to the preferred reading  Oppositional Reading – audiences recognise the preferred reading and dominant code in a text but reject them in favour of a completely different code  Negotiated Reading – audiences decode part of the text in accordance with the industry code, and part of it with an alternative MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction code. It accepts the large-scale meanings while simultaneously assigning personal meanings o Criticism: If the encoding/decoding sides always affect one another, where does a text really ‘begin’ in the model? How is it possible to determine the preferred encoded meaning without engaging in a process of decoding first?  POLYSEMY:JOHN FISK,CELESTEC ONDIT,LEAH CECCARELLI o Polysemy (Fiske) – the relative openness of media texts to multiple interpretations  Popularity – all popular texts must have a foundation of dominant social conventions shared by audiences  Semiotic excess – surplus of signifiers in the texts that do not reference clear signifieds, and is relative to the degree of polysemy  Foundation of dominant understandings cannot fully contain all the meanings of a text, leading to semiotic excess – more signifiers than able to be clearly understood  Not a quality a text either possesses or lacks, but an ever-present aspect of the text that can be measured in terms of more or less  Producerly Text – an open, writerly text that is also popular. Relies on “discursive competencies that the viewer already possesses, but requires that they are used in a self-interested, productive way”  Value: reimagines Hall’s encoding/decoding Model by aligning  A) Preferred meaning with communal audience decoding practice  B) Negotiated/Oppositional meaning with semiotic excess  Management of meaning is neither linear nor cyclical, but is viewed in terms of a ratio between convention and excess on the audience’s part  Recognises two levels of potential meaning in a media text, and allows scholars to understand the ‘place’ in the text where audiences engage their personal experiences and attitudes  Criticism:  1) Lack of oppositional codes on the part of audience members. As most audience members do not have access to these codes, it would be difficult to interpret a media text in the truly novel way that the theory of Polysemy implies  2) Ignores the disproportionate amount of internal work required in generating personal meaning against the dominant MDSA01 2012 - Critical Media Studies: An Introduction meanings in the text. Socially privileged groups whose views resonate most with the conventional level of textual meaning experience pleasure more easily than marginalised groups who must work to pull meaning from the semiotic excess  3) Condit questions Fiske’s assumption that television is a democratic medium, asserting that “media texts are compromises that give the relatively well-to-do more of what they want, bring along as many economically marginal viewers as they comfortably can”
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