Encoding and Decoding Essay

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TopicAn analysis of a Carnival advertisement using Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding model

Carnival is a cultural observance held in Trinidad and Tobago on the Monday and Tuesday before the season of lent. As with other such observances held around the globe it has some attributes that make it culturally specific to our twin island republic. Culture can be defined as “Culture is a set of human-made objective and subjective elements that in the past haveincreased the probability of survival and resulted in satisfaction for the participants in anecological niche, and thus became shared among those who could communicate with eachother because they had a common language and they lived in the same time and place” Triandis (1994). The meanings derived from various advertisements are specific to cultures. Their meanings are formed from the attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviors of a given society.

In Trinidad and Tobago, particularly the attached advertisement would be understood across the vast majority of the populous. The elements of the advertisement would alert to the viewer that a “fete” would be held at some particular time. The viewer can attach meaning to the various elements without reading the text contained in the advertisement. The ladies dressed in sexy attire and the presence of a “cooler” all are discerned as being associated with partying in Trinidad and Tobago around Carnival.

The text placed within the advertisement confirms to the viewer that it is a “fete”. The name “wicked in white 2.0” along with the date, which falls within the period of partying leading up to the two day festival. The promotional name may or may not have significance to the viewer based on the segment of the social structure to which he or she belongs. Analysis of all the elements of the ad confirms to the viewer based on our culturally specific system of meaning that a party or “fete” will be held on January 28th 2012. Advertising has a unique place within modern society such that it cannot be looked at merely as an economic entity. “Cultural form through its signifying practices” (Sinclair, 1987), advertising encompasses ideas, myths and attitudes within a given social structure. Meanings associated with words and images by “signifying practices” (Sinclair, 1987) commonly found through advertising. Schudson (1984) postulates that the promotional culture of advertising has found its place in “what we read, what we care about, the ways we raise our children, our ideas of right and wrong, our attribution of significance to image in both practice and private life.

According to Jhally (1987), advertisings social role involves numerous interconnectedrelationships – “those between person and object, use and symbol, symbolism and power and communication and satisfaction.” Hall (1997) places the concept of “shared meanings” within the realm where cultural practices are emphasized. He further went on explain that “it is the participants in a culture who give meaning to people, objects and events within the social structure”. He went further to say that the “things themselves rarely have any single meaning; the meanings are ascribed by the members of the culture. Hall (1997) postulates that participants of the same culture must share sets of concepts, images and ideas which enable them to think and fell about the world, and thus interpret the world in roughly the same ways. These “shared meanings” are what advertising are constructed and produced from.

In the encoding and decoding model, “the meaning of the text is located between its producer and the reader” (Hall 1980). The producer (encoder) framed encodes meaning in a specific manner, while the reader (decoder) decodes it differently according to his or her background, the various social situations and frames of interpretation. The meaning within a text is neither a fixed concept, nor a totally uncertain ‘polysemy’ (Fiske 1986). Accordingly Hall notes that one must take a...
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