Audience, once thought to be passive has shifted to actively interpret media messages in various forms over the years. Individuals come together as a group to construct their own interpretation with their thoughts and knowledge of pre-existing beliefs. Lets examine the various arguments to look at how active audiences make media choices freely, the way audiences use media messages to fulfill their own needs and obtain a sense of identity by actively constructing the media messages.
I will also discuss how cultural literacy, past experience and social institution they attend affect the interpretation of media messages and in the event of accepting or rejecting selective messages. Active audiences are not 'sponges' who absorbed all information that is transmitted by the media but use their minds and cultural context to interpret and categorise media text instead. Different audiences can comprehend a media message but have different responses to it. Some Audiences accept the message while others reject it using knowledge namely their past experience, culture context and social position.
Most people make their own media choices freely, they do not typically feel manipulated by remote powers. The social interaction that develops around media use helps people to incorporate it into everyday life as a friendly rather than an alienating presence' (McQuail 1997 8) Audiences make use of the media for various purposes to satisfy individual needs such as entertainment. Each individual has the power to select the media texts that best suit his needs. For example the father of a family who seek for information will watch news channel, the mother who sought for social interaction will watch sitcom.
Children in the family will most probably watch cartoons channel for the purpose of entertainment. Audiences have the power to select the best media texts that best fulfilled their needs and incorporate it into their everyday life for pleasure consumption. 'The uses and gratifications research represented a shift to a more optimistic and less harmful characterization of the relationship between media and audiences, emphasizing active engagement and the ways the media could employed by individuals to satisfy needs and accomplish personal goals' (Seiter 1999 pg 12)
This is to say that media produces text that the audiences can use. Audiences interact with the media to obtain knowledge and pleasure. For example an 18 year old teenager will obtain pleasure and a sense of identity from a sitcom, friends which makes use of music to energise a sense of enthusiasm and fun that their audiences can associate with. Audiences are influenced at the same time view and use the media message to satisfy their own wants. 'They help to establish what may be described as the selective reproduction of cultural forms.
In creating media products, the personnel of media institution draw upon everyday forms of culture and communication, incorporating these forms into media products thereby reproducing, in a selective and creative way, the cultural forms of everyday life. ' (Thomson 1997 pg30) Texts are conveyed to audiences in a way that encourages us to identify with the text and allow us to identify as our 'kind' of text. This can be seen from the plots of sitcom. For instance a local sitcom in Singapore, Phua chu kang.
Characters in the sitcom communicate in 'Singlish' (the way that Singaporean speak English) and Singaporeans learn to speak in the way characters in the sitcom communicate. In another word, Singaporeans communicate in 'Singlish' after watching the way Mr. Phua Chu Kang communicate in the sitcom. Another example will be the Sitcom in the states, Friends. This sitcom uses music and portrays the characters and personality of the roles in the show that perceived audiences can banally associate with in their everyday life.
Identities are seen as an effect of the co-existence of the active role of audiences and 'creative' media message that allows audiences to associate with. ' The process of interpretation seeks to explicate what is said and not said, asserted and implied, represented and obscured, in media messages and recipient texts. It seeks to unfold the possible meanings of media messages and recipient texts. It seeks to show how recipients make sense of these and incorporate them into their lives.
As an interpretation, this process necessarily builds upon, and potentially intervenes in, the everyday activities of the subjects who make up the social world. ' (Thompson 1997 pg37) Audiences actively made meanings out of media texts and incorporate them into their daily life. An example will be the fans of 'Star Trek'. Fans not only watches the movie, the series but also the reruns, attended the conventions and published fanzines. 'Their social life also revolves around 'fannish things. ' 'Star Trek' fans communicate among one another in 'their kind' of language such as quoting famous phrases from the series that that watched.
Fans will watch the same series of 'Star Trek' for many times and make different meanings out of it. (Jenkins 1992 pg75-76) Fans draw media text to their everyday attention and incorporated the texts into their social life such as discussing the context of the series of 'Star Trek. ' The ways that audiences incorporated into their social life can also be illustrated by examining how the mass media develops the culture of a nation. 'The nation is a oneness of imagination which binds citizens of states to those states, without the everyday apparatus of repression that is the coercive side of policing.
It is a means of identification with persons and places beyond the horizon, but not so far-distant as to be foreign. (Cunningham and Miller 1994 pg18) the media construct 'a set of thinking' that develops the culture of a nation that in turn binds the audiences as a nation. The culture of the nation is always identical to its government. For instance, America government supports democracy and Americans are always perceived as a democratic group who has the freedom of speech and rights.
Media texts are incorporated into the social life of audiences who actively made meaning out of them. The analysis of ideology in the mass media bears a potentially critical relation, not only to the construction of meaning in media messages but also the interpretation of messages by recipients and to relations of domination which characterize the contexts within which these messages are received. ' ' It may enable the subjects who make up the social world to reflect critically on their understanding of media messages and on the structured social relations of which they are part' (Thompson 1997 pg 39) Identities are seldom stable and are constantly changing.
In fact, it indicates the active way which identities are constructed and put together. For instance a research done on the decoding of 'The Cosby show' shows that 'the whites in America are able to welcome a black family into their home; they can feel an empathy with them and identify with their problems and experience. ' after watching the show. The show 'forces African 's Americans to accept the television industry's position that normalcy means upper-middle-class status, and that a positive portray of Black necessitates their belonging to a socio-economic strata that the majority of black viewers cannot hope to attain.
This drives towards the achievement of American dreams to a country where races no longer matter. (Seiter 1999 pg16) Audiences play an active role in constructing identities and shaping a set of idea from the context of the media. 'It is inherently critical in so far as the appropriation of media messages is a process of creative interpretation in which individuals actively construct sense and plot, actively approve or disapprove of what is said and done, and thereby assimilate media messages into their own social-historical context, transforming these messages in the way process of assimilation. (Thomson 1997 pg 33)
Differences and cultural literacy influence how a person interprets a context. Different groups of people will explain a media text differently based on their social position, education level, occupations and so on. For instance is the investigation done on the interpretation of the political issue of nuclear reactions. Audiences were grouped based on their political affiliations such as workplace relationships (nuclear plant workers) or school cohorts (medical students).
Viewers differed considerably in terms of whether they perceived it necessary or valuable to employ emotional, persuasive strategies in the film in their interpretation of the context. (Seiter 1999 pg16) Another example we can relate to is during the 'SARS' period, the press reported the impact of SARS on the tourism industry in Singapore. A hotel manager will probably feel worried about losing his job. On the other hand, a teacher will probably read the news purely for informational purpose. Interpretation of a text greatly depends on audience cultural literacy and the social groups that audiences belong to.
The encoding-decoding model insists on the struggle involved in gaining people's agreement with ideology; both because television is complex in how it tells stories and because how people read television will necessarily be based on their own experiences. ' (Seiter 1999 pg15) Different audiences with different past experiences have responds to the media message that they read. For example According to the results of 'Women Viewing Violence' research, women viewers who had experienced violence were more sensitive to televised violence, more subtle and complex in their readings.
Considerable fitness' is how they describe the interpretation of television scenes by woman who had experienced violence-they were perceived as subtle and sophisticated in their readings of such scenes. On the other hand, woman with no experience of violence offered various excuses for male violence towards woman and a 'consequential refusal to play the game of exculpation that contrasted with the greater willingness to do so. ' (seiter 1999 pg20) Another example will be when audiences study the press reporting of elderly people are arrogant.
People who take care of elderly people and have pleasant experience with elderly people will probably reject such media message. On the contrary, people who have bad experiences with elderly people will probably agree with the media message. Audiences own experience can be used in the rejection and acceptance of new messages. 'They interpret TV rather than merely being interpreted and moulded by it. And their systems of interpretation use forms of knowledge derived from the broad social and cultural fields which they inhabit. (Cunningham & Miller 1994 pg3)
Audiences interact with media messages and learn to make meaning out of media messages from social institution such as school. For instance when a history student who study about the cruel acts that Japanese soldiers carried out during the world war II watches a documentary featuring the cruel massacre that the Japanese soldiers carried out during world war II, he will probably agree with the media message which is cohesive with the knowledge that he had obtained from his history classes in school.
Audiences interpret a media message with the knowledge that they learned from the social institution they attend. 'The viewer inflects his interpretation on the basis of a particular social experience. The viewer may enjoy a 'pick and choose' relationship to the genre, ignoring more disagreeable sections and concentration on those more to taste' (Seiter 1999 pg14) Audiences may choose to accept certain ideas which they support and at the same time ignore certain portions of the media message which is not cohesive with his social experience.
For instance an American citizen who is in favour of the Iraq war will accept the reports that he read from the news that the American soldiers are helping to maintain world peace by attacking Iraq but ignore the consequences of the war. Audiences do not 'absorbed' all media texts but only accept selected texts that they agree upon. Audiences choose media messages that best suit them to satisfy their own needs. Audiences have relation with media institution and the text they produced.
The co-existence of the active role of audiences and media messages creates an identity that audiences incorporated in their daily life. Media messages are 'decoded' by different audience in various ways. Audiences accept media messages that they can relate themselves to due to their past experiences, cultural literacy and the social groups they belong to. However, they reject context that they have difficulty in associating them. Therefore, reading and interpretation of text is never independent as audiences are perceived as actively participating in construction of media messages.