an audience there isn’t much point in producing a text, so we can start this
thorny topic by saying that the audience is crucial. If the text appeals to the
audience then it is a successful text. If the audience doesn’t respond, then
the text has failed. Nobody makes any money and actors and media people are all
thrown out into the snow to starve with their entire families, dogs, cats and
Studying audience theory is just that – studying theories or ideas about audiences. Who are they? Where are they? How old are they? What do they want? What should they want? How do we (the media producers) give them what they want so we can make lots of money?
Typically, we will begin with a short gallop through the history of audiences and the media.
Now we come to the theory side of things. How audiences are affected
first is called the Hypodermic
Syringe Theory (1977)
TV and video games act
on audiences like a direct drug injection. The audience is seen as passive and
addictive. The media-makers ‘inject’ a
kind of ‘instant fix’ into the viewer.
Studies (America - 1930’s)
Children watching too
much cinema suffered from lack of sleep and a tendency towards delinquency.
(Before we all get too
neurotic, it must be pointed out that recent research into this has shown that
children are quite capable of distinguishing between real and simulated
violence, so maybe Mr Payne didn’t get it right.) TV can be a positive
influence which brings education, play values, realism differentiation and
understanding to young audiences.
The media’s power in this field is not as significant as it may appear to be, despite Mr Blair’s constant manipulation of the media to suggest otherwise. Audiences will filter political messages to fit their existing ideological and political stances and it has been found in recent research that there are more significant factors affecting audiences than media texts. Audiences do tend to be quite active, rather than passive in interpreting political content and all individuals are members of diverse social groups. They have pre-existing ideas and do not easily change their political minds because of media influence alone.
So we can say that as
far as politics is concerned it is quite likely that the media don’t
necessarily do things to people, but people do things with the media.
Another very important
consume and use the media to meet certain needs. (Blumler & Katz - 1974)
In this theory we see that there are four basic audience needs:
1. Diversion (escapism) the audience use the media for escapism or emotional release from everyday pressure
Personal Relationships the idea that the audience needs companionship
with ‘known’ TV programmes or characters as well as the interaction with
other people who can discuss the TV programmes. “Did you see East Enders? I
really felt for poor Peggy/Sharon, Little Mo………”
Personal Identity the ability to compare ones own life with
characters’ lives and situations, thereby gaining a perspective on one’s own
4. Surveillance being given the opportunity to see what else is going on in the world
It’s worth looking at
the first idea of escapism in a little more detail:
Cinema and TV offer suspension or erasure of ‘real’ life. You go to the movies or watch the TV and you are ‘taken away’ to another place or time or situation. Literally, you ‘escape’ everyday worries and pressures. Media texts work this in different ways
· The content ignores reality. Pure music/dance/opera and the so-called ‘high arts’
· The content offers a contrast to reality, e.g. Coronation Street supplies a sense of a close-knit community, but it’s different to where the audience ‘really’ lives.
The content makes reality
‘better than life’ (the media term for this is called incorporation)
Task: Watch several
texts from film or TV and try to apply some of the Blumler & Katz ideas
about audiences to them.
Now we move
on a bit to something called Reception Theory or Audience Positioning
This is media speak for the business of the relationship between media content and audience. The idea here is that media texts can be seen as being structured according to defined codes and conventions (you’ve already done this – it’s called SEMIOLOGY) So the semiology does something to the audience and the audience is positioned by the text
Confused? This is how
the structure of the film language produces a PERSPECTIVE or a POINT
OF VIEW (p.o.v. for short) for the audience. The viewer is ‘drawn in’ to
the narrative flow of the text by the CAMERA. There are many ways of doing it
– here are two:
· Shot / reverse shot – one character ‘sees’ another then a second character ‘sees’ the first. The viewer ‘becomes’ both people & sees what each sees.
Glance / object shot – a character glances off-screen and ‘sees’
something then the camera cuts to the object looked at. Audience is SITUATED in
character’s position and ‘sees’ like the character sees.
By means like this the audience is ‘sewn in’ to the narrative. The technique is called SUTURE (like stitching up skin) You can assume that all the cinematic techniques work for TV as well, although they may be scaled down a bit to suit budget and format.
© V Pope