Lecture 2: Media & the meaning of Power

In-class quiz questions —

Q - What are the 3 "hypothetical positions" Hall argues we could take in decoding televisual media?

A - Dominant (or hegemonic); Oppositional; Negotiated

Q - True or False? If no "meaning" is taken, there can be no "consumption"

A - True

Q - True or False? The visual discourse of tv is so powerful that a 3D image becomes 3D concept, it signifies?

A - False

Media & Society

Media (plural form of medium) - The means by which content is communicated between an origin and a destination.

Society - The whole social world in which we exist.

Society is "the body of institutions and relationships within which a relatively large group of people live" (Raymond Williams 1988, 291)

Q - What is the relationship between media & society?

Media & Society Relationship

  1. Media as shaper - Media \rightarrow  Society
  2. Media as mirror - Media \leftarrow  Society

Q - Does media shape the society?

Points brought by students in class-

  • Influences how people feel about themselves
  • changes perception

Taking into the extreme, both positions are suspect


Re-presentation - The act of putting ideas into words, images, symbols, and texts.

Stuart Hall - "Representation is a very different notion from reflection. It implies the active work of selecting and presenting, of structuring and shaping."

eg. weapons of mass destruction

Process of Communication

1) The Shannon-Weaver Mathematical Model - 1949

  • Tries to break us apart where are the problem and how can we fix it.
  • Allows us to understand where the problem is.
  • Think. How can we fix it?
  • We could look at this model as Skype.

2) Lasswell's Communication Model

Examples discussed in class-

  • Scotties
  • McDonalds making fun of Starbucks
  • McDonalds & Wendy's
  • Gillette about men aspiring young men

Critiques of model

  • Useful for seeing components of communication process, but — oversimplify
  • Technical efficiency (not human interaction)
  • Linear process — sender \rightarrow receiver
  • One-way flow of information
  • Passive receiver
  • Doesn't tell us how information can be meaningful

The Hypodermic Needle Theory

Hypodermic Needle Theory compares media to medicine

Lasswell moves the concept a little more than Shannon-Weaver's model-

Idea of channel (important to differentiate HOW these messages are delivered)

Role of Language and word choice

Q - How does language & word choice shape the meaning encoded in messages?

Q - How does language & word choice emphasize power relations?

ex. Brave New Films " White Riots vs Black Protests"

Rhetorical Situation

Writing about television in 70s-80s Hall became frustrated that media messages have been treated as these distinct packets of deterministic meaning. If audience didn't get the right meaning, it was a miscommunication.

Hall states that it's far more complicated, and goes beyond just "Sender, Message, Receiver" or "Production, Distribution, Production" to a complex set of interlocking and distinctive moments. He names —

  • Production
  • Circulation
  • Distribution/Consumption (before this step, there's a potential step, where audience extracts meaning, which sets up the success of the next steps)
  • Reproduction

Media always reflects the conditions of its creation. It's an artifact that is encoded all that complicated meaning purposefully and carefully, but also passively and nearly invisibly.

After media is encoded and produced, it's released as a product for people to use. To use it, Hall says, audiences must decode it.

Hall writes:

"It's this set of decoded meanings which have an effect, influence, entertain, instruct, or persuade, with very complex perceptual, cognitive, emotional, ideological, or behavioural consequences."

"The codes of encoding & decoding may not be perfectly symmetrical"

The closer an audience is to the "codes" of media producers, the easier they'll be able to "decode" its meanings. If audience and producer have vastly different "codes"... there's gonna be trouble.

Distortions & misunderstandings arise as a result from the lack of equivalence from two sides in a communicative exchange.

Decoders can choose their codes. Unlike consumption & digestion, decoding is not passive.

3 ways to decode a message

1. Dominant Reading

  • Aligns with our dominant assumptions
  • Viewer or reader shares meanings that are encoded in a text, accepts ...

2. Negotiated Reading ("take it & leave it" approach)

  • viewer generally shares the codes and preferred meaning of the text but also may resist and modify the encoded meaning based on...

3. Oppositional Reading

  • Social position of the reader (gender, race, class, ideology) places them in opposition to the dominant code and preferred reading to the text

Similarities between decoding & consumption

  • Media as a consumable good
  • "Media diet"


Key ideas —

  • Media & Society Relationship
  • Media as shaper
  • Media as mirror
  • Representation
  • 2 Processes of Communication
  • Shannon-Weaver's Model
  • Lasswell's Model
  • Critiques of Laswell's Model
  • Hypodermin Needle Theory
  • Role of Language & Word Choice
  • Rhetorical Situation
  • Encoding & Decoding
  • Codes of media producers & consumers
  • Distortions & Misunderstandings
  • Hall's complex set of interlocking & distinctive moments
  • Production
  • Circulation
  • Distribution/Consumption
  • Reproduction
  • 3 ways to decode a message:
  • Dominant Reading
  • Negotiated Reading
  • Oppositional Reading
  • Similarities between Decoding & Consumption

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