Encoding/Decoding Theory as It Relates to the New Media
Audience behaviour has always been a complex but nonetheless essential part of the material framework for theatre or theatrical events. In its extreme forms (e.g., at live wrestling matches, at exuberant and spirited plays, etc.) is more easily identified and also gives the passive observer some inkling as to where the boundaries for decent behaviour in the given society really are. Audiences are increasingly becoming involved in a multi-layered assortment of activities and affections (greatly contrasting in importance and fervour). It is interesting to note that the audience is now intrinsically intertwined with familiar social relations. There is an unravelling of the difference between the audience and the public as these very concepts have increasingly less to do with practices of media production and control over content. For example, thousands of content creators have attained great reach with their resultant media and they are displacing media works from transnational media conglomerates, national broadcasting groups, and other publicly-funded organizations.
One means for understanding audience behaviour is to focus on large body of work pertaining to audience reception theory. Stuart Hall pioneered such studies with the publication of his communication model in the essay Encoding/Decoding (Hall, 1980). Hall utilized semiotics in order to propose a new model of mass communication. In it, he had drawn attention to the significance of active interpretation within relevant codes. Also, the work deemphasized the notion that the media could potently effect a particular behaviour on a person. There are three central tenets to the model: (1) the same event can be encoded in more than one way, (2) the message can contain more than one possible interpretation, and (3) understanding the message can be a vexing process, no matter how natural it might seem. Hall had frequently used examples involving television in order to expound on his encoding/decoding theory. One of the more interesting arguments put forward by Hall was that while the ruling ideology is often imprinted as the preferred reading in a media text, such a reading is not automatically appropriated by the audience. Socioeconomic factors of the audience influence their adoption of different viewpoints. Since decades have passed since the original publication of Hall’s essay, how does his theory hold up to today’s media where the large media corporations have lost major ground to a bevy of smaller media creators? Has the escalation of internet-related media rendered null the tenets of Hall’s model of mass communication? This essay will contextualize some of Hall’s early work in encoding/decoding theory in order to examine the interests of both the media and the citizens, how the encoding of media content might be different whenever stronger considerations for monetization are involved, and how the regulation of the mass media serves to temper their business motivations and impose journalistic integrity.
Hall had underlined in particular two factors that are of particular importance for encoding/decoding in media. First, mass media’s encoding of messages are carefully chosen ideological and institutional proposes to elicit a preferred reading (Lorimer, 2008). The mass media have this built-in tendency to construct social formations and shape history itself by carefully composing images of reality in a predicable and patterned way. Such methods have their own vocabulary and the style is unmistakable. Secondly, those consuming those encoded messages, the decoders, are not beholden to accept those messages but they can and often do resist ideological authority by ascribing dissimilar or oppositional interpretations. Such interpretations are heavily coloured by the decoders own experiences, values, and beliefs (Lorimer, 2008). They will construct for themselves their own personal view of social reality and...
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