It was once thought that the consumers of television were merely passive observers, transfixed by what they saw on their screens and incapable of questioning or analysing anything they were digesting. However, extensive empirical research throughout the latter stages of last century and into this century suggests the opposite is the case. Active audience theory contends that consumers of media texts do not receive information passively but are instead actively involved in deciphering meaning from what they watch. As stated by Barker, "the active audience tradition suggests that audiences are not cultural dopes but are active producers of meaning from within their own cultural context" (Barker, 2004, p.325). The implication here is that the meanings audiences decode from texts are influenced by things such as their beliefs, culture and interests.
One of the key aspects of the active audience paradigm is that it views television audiences as individuals instead of simply a mass of people, and therefore each consumer is able to create their own interpretation of what they are viewing. Barker contends that "watching television is a socially and culturally informed activity" through which individuals construct meaning behind what they are viewing (2003, p. 325). As each viewer is treated individually, it is possible that a whole host of meanings are taken from what audiences are watching. As Morley explains, the polysemic nature of media content is one of the key assumptions of the active audience paradigm (2005, p. 17). However, the nature of these meanings are to influence and as such "audiences need to be understood in the contexts in which they watch television" (Barker, 2003, p. 326). For example, a white American male watching a documentary about WWII will draw a different set of conclusions about what he just witnessed when compared to a female German who lived during the war. The exploration of how people interpret what they see on television is aided by...
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