Media Theories/Theorists


Audience Types

Audience theories try to explain:

•The effect the media has on the audience

•How audiences use texts

These can be described as belonging to one of three categories…

Passive – Audiences are passive recipients to media messages

Semi-active  - Audiences take some action but are ultimately affected by media messages

Active -  Audiences actively control and select media texts according to their own needs.

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Understanding how narrative is used and what effect it might have on the audience is an important technique. Todorov explored the different stages of narrative and how they are put together.

The 5 stages of narrative =

Equilibrium, Disruption, Recognition, Repair and New Equilibrium

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Cultural Capital

In audience theory the effect of cultural and social elements can play a role in responses that are formed.

Cultural capital and competence – this refers to the knowledge and experience each audience member brings to a text. It is suggested that middle class audience often have more cultural knowledge to bring to a text than working class audiences. Pierre Bourdieu developed this concept and linked it to enjoyment and understand of different media forms by audiences.

In audience theory the effect of cultural and social elements can play a role in responses that are formed.

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Cultural Effects Theory

Cultural Effects Theory – A theory which centres on the long term effects of the media. Emphasis is placed on the effect representations have on society’s beliefs and values.

Example…Often the media play on common stereotypes for their own gain but as a result can create a miss-representation for the audience.

Are all young black men who wear hoodies involved in gangs and knife crime?

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“The ideas, beliefs and values held within a society.”

Ideology refers to the most prominent views in society which can affect audience perception.

It is the ideas behind a media text, the secret (or sometimes not-so secret) agenda of its producers.

Can you think of an example of a TV programme that has a clear ideology they want the audience to adhere to?

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Hyperdermic Needle

The idea that the media injects its consumers with the messages and meanings it chooses, and that the audience has no real power to resist.

This theory implies that all audiences are passive.

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Inoculation Theory (Vaccine idea)

This theory suggests that long term exposure to media messages and images will desensitise (inoculate) an audience.

The audience will eventually become immune to them.

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Binary Opposites

Levi-Strauss’ theory focuses on the use of opposites in media texts to create meaning. He suggested that all narratives are made up of opposites e.g.

Good – Bad

Hero – Villain

The use of such opposites in both factual and fiction texts help to accentuate features by offering comparison.

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This theory centres around the idea that human beings have a series of basic needs which must be fulfilled in order to survive.  In terms of audience needs in the media, advertisers use this idea to play on consumers needs. Subtle advertising techniques suggest to consumers that owning a particular product will fulfil a certain need.

The main needs Maslow suggested are…

  • Physiological – The basic human needs for food and water

  • Safety – The need to feel safe and free from harm

  • Social – the need to belong or fit in

  • Esteem – To want others to think highly of you and boost your confidence

  • Achievement – The desire to do something good and feel a sense of acomplishment

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Mulvey’s Male Gaze Theory

Laura Mulvey analysed the way in which women are viewed in the media. She specifically looked at Film representation and the effect on audiences. Mulvey’s theory argues that in classic Hollywood films women are merely used to provide visual pleasure to men. This male gaze is both voyeuristic and fetishistic.

Mulvey’s theory can be applied to all areas of the media and explain the use of attractive women to sell a product or appeal to the target audience.

Voyeuristic - Voyeurism is the pleasure of watching other people and their lives without their knowledge.

Fetishistic - The displacement of sexual arousal or gratification to a fetish

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When discussing the use of character in a narrative, it is important to include possible meanings and relationships associated with them.

Vladimir Propp analysed the use of character in narratives and offered possible meanings…

The villain, the hero, the donor, the helper, the princess/ prince, the father, the dispatcher and the false hero.

Pick any film of your choice and try and apply all of the character roles.

Why is it necessary to have these conventional characters in a narrative?

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Gramsci was a Marxist who devised a concept to address the balance of power in society.

In any society the accepted and agreed beliefs are those of the ruling class however, Hegemony is not a forced political movement.

EXAMPLE: Football currently has hegemonic status in the UK - glance through the sports pages and see what coverage other sports get - and everyone is expected to understand and accept its national importance.

Hegemony and Dominant Ideology are key concepts that can be applied to most Media texts as a way of addressing audience response and purpose.

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Uses and Gratification Theory

Researchers Blulmer and Katz  published their own theory in 1974, stating that individuals might choose and use a text for the following purposes (ie uses and gratifications):

  • Diversion - escape from everyday problems and routine.
  • Personal Relationships - using the media for emotional and other interaction, eg) substituting soap operas for family life
  • Personal Identity - finding yourself reflected in texts, learning behaviour and values from texts
  • Surveillance - Information which could be useful for living eg) weather reports, financial news, holiday bargains
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Two-Step Flow

findings suggested that the information does not flow directly from the text into the minds of its audience unmediated but is filtered through "opinion leaders" who then communicate it to their less active associates, over whom they have influence. The audience then mediate the information received directly from the media with the ideas and thoughts expressed by the opinion leaders, thus being influenced not by a direct process, but by a two step flow. This diminished the power of the media in the eyes of researchers, and caused them to conclude that social factors were also important in the way in which audiences interpreted texts. 

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Reception Theory (Stuart Hall)

  • 1) Preferred or Dominant Readings : This is when the audience interprets the text as closely to the way in which the producer of the text intended. If the social and cultural of the reader of the text is close to that of the producer then there is little for the audience to challenge.

  • 2) Negotiated Reading : This is where the audience goes through some sort of negotiation with themselves to allow them to accept the way in which the text is presented. The audience may agree with some elements in the text and disagree with others.

  • 3) Oppositional Readings : This is where the user of the text finds themselves in conflict with the text itself due to their culture, beliefs or experience.

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List of Visual Codes

VISUAL CODES includes:

  • Clothing and physical appearance
  • Gesture and body language
  • Facial Expressions
  • Settings
  • Use of colour
  • Any use of graphics
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Technical Codes


  • Sound – diagetic and non diegetic
  • Any ambient noise
  • Voicover
  • Music
  • Shots – range of shots and why they’re used – wide shots? Close ups? High/low angle shots?
  • Any camera movement
  • Editing – the way scenes change from one to the next
  • The pace of the text – fast? slow? why?
  • Lighting
  • Mise en Scene – what’s in the shot.
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  • How is the story told – does it have a beginning middle and end?
  • Are there any BINARY OPPOSITES that make the text more interesting?
  • Are there any ENIGMA CODES – puzzles that the audience needs to work out to make it more interesting?
  • Are there any ACTION CODES  – plot events that lead to yet other actions
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