The Interpretation of Meaning
Considering ways to analyze and interpret the messages or texts of the media in all their diverse forms.
The Nature of Interpretation
Because interpretations of a text itself can be a complicated task, one someone decides what a text means;
at least 3 different questions must have already been answered.
1. What is the text to be interpreted?
a. As simple as a text may appear, it is actually quite complicated
b. There are a set of relations that a text may have (e.g. relation to audience, relation to
media, relation to history of pop culture, etc.)
c. Every text is an intertext, meaning it consists connections to hundreds of other different
2. Why have we turned to this text?
a. People are not always looking for the same thing or asking the same questions
b. People often look for behavior and meaning in a text
c. Commonly, when interpreting a text, one may look for a meaning that is not obvious to
3. How does a text communicate?
a. Sometimes we are not looking for its meaning but have already decided what the
meaning of the text is
b. Question becomes more of how the text communicates than what it does
Interpretation and the Author
People may think that a text means only what the author intended it to mean, no more no less.
This is actually false
Accepting the text as the author’s “intent” may lead you to not understand the text at all
Most think that understanding a text is to become one with the author
Important question – why does the text have to have one meaning, that being the author having
the last say?
Usually, it is hard to pinpoint the real author of a given text. Ex: who is the real author of a film –
the director, screenwriter, producer, or cinematographer?
o Different contributors to the film may have had different perspectives or goals for the
o Same with music – some musicians do not write the songs, meaning the song could not
have any relation to the singer at all
Techniques of Interpretation
Techniques that are focused on the encoded meanings
Just because the author’s meaning of the text is not the meaning of the text, that does not mean
any interpretation of the text is correct or valid Most people look for themes and symbols that are most obvious (love, war, social reposibility),
however, a theme can be interpreted differently within a text
Another technique could be looking at the symbols that organize and give shape to the text
themselves e.g. symbols of Christianity in Madonna and U2’s music
The meaning of the text becomes the meaning of the symbol
However, the problem with this is that they are largely intuitive
o Offer little in the way of new insights into how the text is actually constructing meanings
into range of possible encoded meanings within the text
o Both depend on prior assumptions
It is important to try to get beyond such intuitive approaches to interpretation
Narratives are the stories people tell either directly or indirectly, stories about themselves and their world,
who they are and where they came from. It also tells people about their possible futures and forms of
social relationships they value.
Class of texts that have something in common – interpret texts based on their genre
Three theories of meaning when defining genre