Media Theorists applied to set texts

Stuart Hall's theory on audience reception

Stuart Hall looked at the role of audience positioning in the interpretation of mass media texts by different social groups. Hall came up with a model suggesting three ways in which we may read a media text. There are 3 ways that the audience can interpret a text: 

Dominant reading - reader fully accepts the preferred reading (audience will read the text the way the author intended them to) so that the code seems natural and transparent.

The negotiated reading – the reader partly believes the code and broadly accepts the preferred reading, but sometimes modifies it in a way which reflects their own position, experiences and interests.

The oppositional reading – the readers social position places them in an oppositional relation to the dominant code. They reject the reading. 

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Stuart Hall's theory of representation

Hall emphasises the importance of visual representation – the image seems to be the prevalent sign of late modern culture. 

Hall argues, there is no finally fixed meaning to any one image or any occurrence. The interpretation of meaning changes from person to person, and is completely dependent on the historical and cultural context from when/where it is being presented or seen. Therefore, there is no one fixed meaning from which to re– present. 

Hall draws attention to the way absence in imagery is equally as important as what is marked or what is there within the image.What we see, is in part being read by what is not within the image. Absence signifies as much as what is present and meaning can be made in subverting the expectations we bring to the image.

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Stuart Hall, Kiss of the Vampire

Stuart Hall’s theory of representation  is applied to the set text Kiss of the Vampire as the images of a castle, bats, the vampire’s cape and dripping blood form part of the “shared conceptual road map” that give meaning to the “world” of the poster.

The audience is actively encouraged to decode this familiar generic iconography.

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Stuart Hall, Tide 1

Stuart Hall’s theory of representation is included as in Tide, the images of domesticity (including the two women hanging out the laundry) form part of the “shared conceptual road map” that give meaning to the “world” of the advert. Despite its comic ***** visual construction, the scenario represented is familiar to the audience as a representation of their own lives.

Stuart Hall's theory on preferred reading of the Tide's reassuring lexical fields (“trust”, “truly safe”, “miracle”, “nothing like”) is that, despite being a “new” product, Tide provides solutions to the audience’s domestic chores needs.

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Stuart Hall, Tide 2

Stuart Hall's reception theory shows that the indirect mode of address made by the woman in the main image connotes that her relationship with the product is of prime importance (Tide has what she wants). This, according to Hall, is the dominant or hegemonic encoding of the advert’s primary message that should be received by “you women.” The direct mode of address of the images in the top right and bottom lefthand corner link to the imperative “Remember!” and the use of personal pronouns (“your wash”, “you can buy”).

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Stuart Hall, Wateraid

Stuart hall's reception theory shows the use of handheld camera shots and indirect mode of address made by Claudia connote that the audience is following her story, but Water Aid rather than she herself have constructed this narrative for us. This is the dominant or hegemonic encoding created by Water Aid. Claudia is named creating the preferred reading that she is a real person and that the audience should invest in her narrative, sharing Water Aid’s ideologies. 

Stuart Hall’s theory of representation shows the images of a dry, dusty African environment in which people may be struggling to survive form part of the “shared conceptual road map” that give meaning to the “world” of the advert. The more positive audio codes then work to challenge these stereotypical representations, creating enigmas around why Claudia appears to be so positive. The solution to these enigmas is given to the audience at 01.00.

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Stuart Hall, Late Night Woman's Hour

Stuart Hall's reception theory discusses possible different readings of the broadcast. There may be some particularly interesting oppositional readings (largely in relation to a perceived masculine response). A gendered approach may consider the lack of male representation. Consider how often this female dominance is reversed and the ways in which it is often likely that males will dominate a media text.

In 2014 the BBC famously introduced a ban on all male TV and radio panels to offset this dominance. Candidates might use this as a discussion point to consider preferred readings of Late Night Woman’s Hour and why it might be particularly welcome to some audiences.

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Stuart Hall, Newspaper; Daily Mirror Election

Stuart Hall's theory of repsentation shows that the representation of Trump and his supporters is constructed, using media language to create meaning for the audience. The use of these ‘signs’ by the newspaper suggest that Trump and his supporters belong to a specific cultural group of predominantly white, middle class men. This representation transmits ideas to the reader about inequalities of power and the subordination of certain social groups. 

Stuart Hall's reception theory shows that The Daily Mirror is able to promote a hegemonicdominant reading of its viewpoint on Trump’s victory through the use of encoding and decoding, which is fully accepted by the reader. 

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Stuart Hall, Daily Mirror/ The Times Edition

THE DAILY MAIL: Stuart Hall's theory of represntation show that the representation of Trump and his Vice President are constructed, using media language to create meaning for the audience. The use of these ‘signs’ by the newspaper suggest that Trump and his team belong to a specific cultural group of predominantly white, middle class men. This use of representation transmits ideas to the reader about inequalities of power and the subordination of certain social groups. Stuart Hall's reception theory shows that The Times is able to promote a negotiated reading (for the reader) of its viewpoint on Trump’s victory through the use of encoding and decoding, which is interpreted by the reader. 

THE TIMES: The Times newspaper also has a dominant reading taken by the audience but this more has to do with the newspapers own stance of remaining neutral to political news, as to keep the paper as ‘unbiased’ as possible for its audience. And so the audience is given more factual information which makes it harder for members to take an oppositional stance.

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Stuart Hall, Huck

Huck magazine already has a pre-existing audience of:

REFORMERS - socially aware, independant judgements, anti-materialistic. So they are more likely to appreciate the global, quality journalism which the magazine produces.

ASPIRERS - geared towards fashion e.g. G-STAR advert, youthful (may relate to teenage utopia).

Both would take a dominant reading as this is the audience that Huck markets towards with articles unlikely to be seen in mainstream media.

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Stuart Hall, Film marketing

IDB - the marketing of I, Daniel Blake was aimed at left-wing, working class of Newcastle (e.g. premiere, projection on the House of Parliament) who would have a dominant positioning to the films narrative.

Straight Outta Compton - with the producers wanting to minimise risk, they advertised the film to the widest audience possible with an emphasis on fans of the music group (NWA) who would take a dominant reading.

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Stuart Hall, Riptide

Riptide’s music video could potentially invite the audience to take a negotiated view as the style of the video constructs a range of different stimuli that the audience are invited to interpret themselves. The video rejects singular, straightforward messages and instead invites a variety of different responses and interpretations with its montage editing.

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David Gauntlett, Tide

David Gauntlett’s theory of identity suggests that women represented in the advert act as role models of domestic perfection that the audience may want to construct their own sense of identity against.

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David Gauntlett, Water Aid

David Gauntlett’s theory of identity suggests that Claudia acts as a role model for the type of lifestyle changes that the audience could be responsible for creating if they donate to Water Aid. 

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David Gauntlett, Kiss of the Vampire

David Gauntlett’s theory of identity suggests that perhaps the female vampire acts as a role model for women struggling against male oppression or desperate to be seen as the equals of men, whatever the narrative or environment.

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David Gauntlett, Riptide

David Gauntlett's theory of identity explores complex and diverse representations in the music video - his concept of the pick and mix seems particularly relevant to the style of the video which constructs a range of different stimuli that the audience are invited to interpret. The video rejects singular, straightforward messages and instead invites a variety of different responses and interpretations.

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Rowland Barthes, Tide

Roland Barthes theory on semotics states that in Tide, suspense is created through the enigma of “what women want” (Barthes’ Hermeneutic Code) and emphasised by the tensionbuilding use of multiple exclamation marks. Barthes’ Semantic Code could be applied to the use of hearts above the main image. The hearts and the woman’s gesture codes have connotations of love and relationships. It’s connoted that this is “what women want”.

Hyperbole and superlatives (“Miracle”, “World’s cleanest wash!”, “World’s whitest wash!”) as well as tripling (“No other…”) are used to oppose the connoted superior cleaning power of Tide to its competitors. A level Media Studies – Set Product Fact Sheet 2 This Symbolic Code (Barthes) was clearly successful as Procter and Gamble’s competitor products were rapidly overtaken, making Tide the brand leader by the mid-1950s.

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Rowland Barthes, Wateraid

Suspense is created through the enigmatic use of the slow-motion, medium close-up, low-angle tracking shot of Claudia’s feet and the swinging bucket (Barthes’ Hermeneutic Code) and emphasised by the crescendo of the song in the scene at the water pump over which the informative on-screen graphic appears. Barthes’ Semantic Code could be applied to the lines from the song used from 00.34 diegetically and then as a sound bridge over the medium

The shot of a group of women carrying water buckets on their heads: “make me feel, make me feel like I belong… don’t leave me, won’t leave me here”. The connotation here being that the text’s audience can help Claudia “feel like she belongs” and “won’t leave” her there / in that situation if they donate to Water Aid. The Symbolic Codes (Barthes) of droughtridden African countries are reinforced both visually and through the advert’s audio codes up until about 00.47.

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Rowland Barthes, Kiss of the Vampire

Suspense is created through the enigmas surrounding the connoted relationship between the male and female vampires (emphasised by the “kiss” of the title) and the fate of their two victims (Barthes’ Hermeneutic Code). 

Barthes’ Semantic Code could be applied to images of the bats and their conventional association with vampirism and horror in general.

The Symbolic Codes (Barthes) of horror, darkness and fear are more widely reinforced through signifiers such as the moon and the male victim’s ‘submissive sacrifice’ gesture code.

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Rowland Barthes, Formation

The concept of the signifier/signified, using specific signification in the music video and considering how this might be interpreted according to social convention.

For example, the use of antebellum era dresses. Beyoncé and a group of other Black women pose in white dresses that appear to reference the antebellum era of American history.

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Rowland Barthes, Riptide

Barthes concept of signifier/signified using specific signification to Riptide and how this might be interpreted according to social convention, for example the pile of dollar bills which accompanies the line “Oh, all my friends are turning green”. 

Barthes idea that constructed meanings can come to seem self-evident by discussing the connotations of the colour green in relation to both money and envy - this could be said to have achieved Barthes’ status of myth through a process of naturalisation which might allow for complicated readings of the image. 

This example of polysemy could be interpreted in a variety of ways e.g. is it implying that friends (possibly in other bands) have “sold out” by giving into money? Or might instead these friends be turning green with envy at the success of Vance Joy?

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Rowland Barthes, Newspaper; Daily Mirror Election

Rowland Barthes theory on semiotics suggest that the use of American iconography throughout the front page (subverted image of the Statue of Liberty) and the colours of the American flag in the article will have immediate cultural significance for the reader who will be able to create meaning in the associations they have with these signs.

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Rowland Barthes, Newspaper; The Times Edition

Roland Barthes theory of identity suggests that the use of American iconography throughout the front and back pages and the use of the American flag as a backdrop will have immediate cultural significance for the reader who will be able to create meaning in the associations they have with these signs. 

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Levi–Strauss, Tide

Claude Lévi-Strauss' theory on structuralism in Tide suggests that whereby texts are constructed through the use of binary oppositions, and meaning is made by audiences understanding these conflicts.

In this text, “Tide gets clothes cleaner than any other washday product you can buy!” and “There’s nothing like Procter and Gamble’s Tide”, reinforces the conceptual binary opposition between Tide and its commercial rivals. • It’s also “unlike soap,” gets laundry “whiter… than any soap or washing product known” and is “truly safe” – all of which connotes that other, inferior products do not offer what Tide does.

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Levi–Strauss, Wateraid

Claude Lévi-Strauss' theory on structuralism shows in Wateraid how texts are constructed through the use of binary oppositions – at 00.47, the song’s title line “sunshine on a rainy day” is used over shots of children running, playing, laughing and the more positive connotations of this section of the advert are emphasised by the high key lighting used.

A further visual binary opposition is created between the arid, washed-out, primarily beige and brown colour palette of the advert’s first third and the more vibrant colours used at 01.02.

The on-screen graphic (“650 million people still don’t have access to clean drinking water”) creates a conceptual binary opposition between Claudia’s positive story and that of other, less fortunate people. It’s this opposition that the audience is encouraged to be part of the solution to by giving “£3 today”. 

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Levi–Strauss, Kiss of the Vampire

Levi Strauss' theory of structuralism is the idea that texts are constructed through the use of binary oppositions could be applied to the opposing representations of the vampires and their victims, and the romantic connotations of “kiss” opposed in the film’s title to the stereotypical “vampire” monster.

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Levi Strauss, Newspaper; Daily Mirror Election

The use of the pronoun ‘They’ in the frontpage headline “What have they done?” creates an immediate binary opposition of ‘us and them’ and lays blame on the American people for Trump’s win and creates the suggestion that this has a global impact and therefore particular ideological significance.

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Levi Strauss, Newspaper; The Times Edition

The use of the headline ‘The New World’ positioned over Trump’s jacket invites readers to question what the impact of Trump’s presidency may be, which is reiterated through the use of the subheading “Donald Trump sends shockwaves around the Globe’. His body language suggests determination and jubilation. 

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Feminist theorists, Tide

Liesbet Van Zoonen’s feminist theory – while their role socially and politically may have changed in the proceeding war years, the advert perhaps contradicts Van Zoonen’s theory that the media contribute to social change by representing women in non-traditional roles and using non-sexist language.

Bell hooks’ feminist theory argues that lighter skinned women are considered more desirable and fit better into the western ideology of beauty, and the advert could be seen to reinforce this by only representing “modern”, white women.

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Feminist theorists, Wateraid

Liesbet Van Zoonen’s feminist theory – by assuming the stereotypically male roles of ‘protagonist’ and ‘provider’, Claudia is perhaps contributing to social change by representing women in non-traditional roles. The work involved in collecting the water is physically challenging (non-traditional for female roles) though the advert does reinforce stereotypes of women being associated with care of children.

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Feminist theorists, Kiss of the Vampire

Liesbet Van Zoonen’s feminist theory – by assuming this ‘co-antagonist’ role, the female vampire is perhaps contributing to social change by representing women in nontraditional roles (Van Zoonen, 1989) though the passive female victim does reinforce these. 

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Feminist theorists, Formation

Feminist theory – Bell Hooks could be used as a stimulus to explore whether the video offers a strong message about gender or instead feeds into the oppression of women in a patriarchal society.

Hooks’ position that feminism is a struggle to end sexist/patriarchal oppression can be used to ask whether the video is part of that struggle or part of the oppression. Is Beyoncé adopting feminism as a lifestyle choice to sell music or has she made a political commitment to feminism? Again, this debate should take in the contrasting and possibly contradictory representations within the video.

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Feminist theorists, Riptide

Hooks could be used as a stimulus to explore the seemingly contradictory messages about gender in the video. Is the video objectifying women in an ironic or knowing way or is it instead feeding into the oppression of women in a patriarchal society? Hooks’ position that feminism is a struggle to end sexist/ patriarchal oppression to ask whether the video is part of that struggle or part of the oppression.

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Gerbner, Tide

Advertising developed significantly during the 1950s and this theory, developed by Gerbner in the early 1970s, explains some of the ways in which audiences may be influenced by media texts such as adverts. 

The Tide advert aims to cultivate the ideas that: this is the brand leader; nothing else washes to the same standard as Tide; it’s a desirable product for its female audience; and its “miracle suds” are an innovation for the domestic washing market. Gerbner’s theory would argue that the repetition of these key messages causes audiences to increasingly align their own ideologies with them (in this case positively, creating a product that “goes into more American homes than any other washday product”).

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Gerbner, Wateraid

This theory might suggest that audiences have become used to the conventions of this sub-genre of advertising and perhaps somewhat ‘immune’ to pleading, earnest nondiegetic voiceovers by well-known voices and black and white, slow-motion, emotive representations of people suffering. The target audience’s likely liberal political perspectives will have been shaped by exposure to previous, generically similar adverts, shaping their world view that the suffering of people less fortunate than themselves can be alleviated by charitable donations.

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Stuart Hall, Humans

Primary Target Audience – fans of TV drama, mainstream audience. Age 15+

Cross-gender and age appeal – audiences may identify with e.g. Leo, Joe, Laura, Karen (role models) - aspiration. Audiences may find characters attractive, e.g. Anita, Leo, Niska.

Secondary audience - fans of science –fiction. Hybrid generic elements in the text.

Alternative audience because of non-linear elements and enigma. Experiencers may enjoy the vicarious tension of the sci-fi/thriller.

Inherited fan bases – from original e.g. ‘Real Humans’

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