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Audience theories detailed

Audience theories detailed

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Published by Julie Thrasher
A detailed analysis of the different theories of audience as pertains to media studies. Outlines the main theories and gives details as well as links to other sources for more detailed study
A detailed analysis of the different theories of audience as pertains to media studies. Outlines the main theories and gives details as well as links to other sources for more detailed study

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Julie Thrasher on Apr 12, 2009
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11/19/2013

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Audience
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In covering this topic we need to be aware of a broad shift from a perceptionof mass audience to one which recognises that, whatever the size of audience, it is made up of individuals. Along with this altered view is a shift inemphasis from what the media do to the audience to an acceptance thataudiences bring many different approaches to the media with which theyengage.
 
The effects/hypodermic model
The original model for audience was the
effects/hypodermic 
model whichstressed the effects of the mass media on their audiences. This model owesmuch to the supposed power of the mass media - in particular film - to injecttheir audiences with ideas and meanings. Such was the thinking behind muchof the Nazi propaganda that was evident in
Triumph of the Will 
and similar films. It is worth noting that totalitarian states and dictatorships are similar intheir desire to have complete control over the media, usually in the belief thatstrict regulation of the media will help in controlling entire populations.
 
The effects model has several variants and despite the fact that it is anoutdated model it continues to exert influence in present debates aboutcensorship and control in the media.
 
The Frankfurt School
The Frankfurt School developed concerns about the power which modernmass media had to propagandise on behalf of fascism. The founders of thisschool of thought were left-wing and clearly under threat in the context of pre-war Nazi Germany. They moved to America and refined their model in an eraof expanding media output in post-war America. They articulated criticisms of a capitalist system which controlled media output, creating a stupefying massculture that eliminated or marginalised opposition or alternatives.
 
 
A less theoretical variant of the effects model was developed in response tothe violent content of certain TV programmes. Some of the moral watchdogs,or the 'moral majority' as they styled themselves, took issue with TV outputthat was deemed to be explicitly sexual, too violent or in other ways offensive.Their concerns were for those vulnerable members of the population whocould be corrupted as a result of such material. Perhaps the best known of these groups in the UK was the National Viewers and Listeners Association(Mary Whitehouse) which argued that TV was a direct cause of deviantbehaviour, especially among the young.
 
The problems with the effects model, in whatever form, have to do with itsroots in behaviourist psychology. The behaviourist explanation of humanbehaviour (Skinner and Pavlov) is looking increasingly hard to justify as wehave come to develop a fuller understanding of the complexities of humanbehaviour, which is not predictable nor is it controllable. There are also thedifficulties of linking cause and effect in terms of how we engage with mediatexts. The large number of studies that have been done do not prove the caseconclusively either way. These range from the Walters and Banduraexperiments to studies that count incidents of violence on TV. Other criticismsof this model centre on the stress that it places on the audience as passive,whereas newer models suggest that the audience is much more active thanwas initially supposed.
 
This model, it seems, is something of an anachronism but it is constantlyrevived by politicians and social commentators when moral panics aregenerated around issues such as 'video nasties' and their influence onchildren (eg the Bulger case) or computer games allegedly damaging literacyskills or contributing to violent behaviour (eg the
Doom
computer game). Suchconcerns often try to scapegoat parts of media output as if these were thesole relevant factor in anti-social behaviour. This approach ignores the other factors that work as a mix to influence behaviour i.e. home, school, peers andsocial interaction.
 
Perhaps the kindest interpretation of this model is to note that the media,especially TV, can influence general perceptions about public events andsocial trends. (Note some of the terms that have entered the language as aresult of media exposure: 'Winter of Discontent', 'double whammy', 'SinnFein/IRA').
 
Uses and gratifications
A more recent model of audience is that of uses and gratifications, whichsuggests that there is a highly active audience making use of the media for arange of purposes designed to satisfy needs such as entertainment,information and identification. In this model the individual has the power andshe selects the media texts that best suit her needs and her attempts tosatisfy those needs. The psychological basis for this model is the hierarchy of needs identified by Maslow. Among the chief exponents of this model areMcQuail and Katz.
 
 
The main areas that are identified in this model are:
 
a) the need for 
information
about our geographical and social world (newsand drama)
 
b) the need for 
identity
, by using characters and personalities to define our sense of self and social behaviour (film and celebrities)
 
c) the need for 
social interaction
through experiencing the relationships and interaction of others (soap lives and sitcom)
 
d) the need for 
diversion
by using the media for purposes of play and entertainment (game shows and quizzes).
The active audience
More recent developments still, suggest that there is a decoding processgoing on among the active audience who are not simply using the media for gratification purposes. Morley's view of dominant, negotiated and oppositionalreadings of texts is a semiological approach because it recognises theimportance of the analysis of signs, particularly visual signs, that shape somuch of modern media output. In this model, at its simplest level, theaudience accept or agree with the encoded meanings, they accept and refineparts of the text's meanings or they are aware of the dominant meaning of thetext but reject it for cultural, political or ideological reasons.
 
Mode of address
Still in line with the active audience idea is the concept of 
mode of address.
This refers to the way that a text speaks to us in a style that encourages us toidentify with the text because it is 'our' kind of text. For example
Friends
isintended for a young audience because of the way it uses music and theopening credits to develop a sense of fun, energy and enthusiasm that theperceived audience can identify with. This does not mean that other groupsare excluded, merely that the dominant mode of address is targetted at theyoung. Mode of address can even be applied to entire outputs, as in the caseof Channel Four which works hard to form a style of address aimed at anaudience which is informed, articulate and in some ways a specialised one.Newspapers, too, often construct their presentation to reflect what theyimagine is the identity of their typical readers. Compare
The Sun
and
TheGuardian
in this context.
 
Ethnographic model
The latest research into audience has resulted in an
ethnographic 
model,which means that the researcher enters into the culture of the group and uses

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