Stuart Hall’s text, “Encoding, Decoding” identifies three positions one can take in decoding an image. These three positions are dominant, negotiated and oppositional. In light of Hall’s theory, this essay will, firstly explain the process of encoding and decoding and secondly will decode the following two images, ‘Super Size Me’ by Morgan Spurlock, from the genre of documentary and the Louis Vuitton advertisement featuring Keith Richards, from the genre of advertising (Figure 1), using the Hall’s three positions.
Hall’s “Encoding, Decoding” offers a way to demystify the process of reading and comprehension of visual messages. Hall mentions that encoding takes place when the originators ideas are translated into a set of symbols or codes within a format of text to create meaning to the decoder. Decoding is the process of translating and removing meaning from the codes encoded with in the text. Hall mentions that all images are encoded with meaning when created, whether this be conscious or an unconscious decision made by the creator. Therefore every image we see around us today contains certain codes or signifiers encoded within the image to tell the message that they want the reader to take.
When decoding a text the viewer looks at the codes and signifiers and comes to an conclusion through decoding on the message of the image. As Hall (1980) mentions there are three approaches a viewer can assume. The three positions a viewer can take in viewing/decoding an image are dominant, negotiated and oppositional. The dominant or hegemonic decoding approach involves the viewer taking the codes and connoted meaning that have been encoded within the image and decodes and accepts it for what it directly signifies (Hall). The dominant coding is commonly used by professional broadcasters (Hall). The negotiated decoding approach involves the viewer partially sharing in images’ code and accepting the message that is dominantly being signified yet the viewer still modifies and adapts it to reflect on their own position, experiences and interests. As Hall (1980) mentions this form of decoding operates with exceptions to the rule” and is somewhat contradictory. The oppositional decoding approach involves the viewer to understand the connotative message of the image full well but is in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant signifiers and therefore decodes the message in a “contrary way” (Hall).
The first image is the documentary “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock. “Super Size Me” is a documentary that shows fast food is the cause of obesity the documentary follows the, originally excited turned sick, Morgan over 30days who ate McDonalds for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ending in terrible repercussions on his body and health. This image will be expanded on and decoded using Stuart Hall’s method of decoding. Hall mentions that the three positions of decoding are dominant, negotiated and oppositional. The decoder with the dominant position will approach the image and take the codes and connoted meaning that have been encoded within the image and decode and accept direct signifiers (Hall). The viewer that approaches the documentary, “Super-Size Me”, with a dominant decoding position identifies that eating McDonalds is bad for your health. It is signified that eating it is disgusting and terrible for all aspects of one’s life whether it be internal and external. The images within the documentary such as Morgan eating a McDonalds and throwing up and the close up on overly obese people causes the decoder to take the dominant aspect where they take the codes and the signifiers for what they signify which is...