“Members of a given sub-culture will tend to share a cultural orientation towards decoding messages in particular ways. Their individual ‘readings’ of messages will be framed by shared cultural formations and practices. ” [The Structured Interpretation Model] which is associated to Morley, David (1981b, p. 51). V arious theories, approaches, experiments & researches looked into the effects of the mass media on the audience. The social situation of the audience is considered in some of the studies.
Others may believe that the influence of mass media would heavily depend on the social situation (age, ethnicity, gender, class, educational attainment, abnormality, etc. ), while others may think that the audience in the society is greatly influenced by the mass media alone. Recent news alarmed the reading-audience how influential mass media could be. An Eminem impersonator killed his fan without a particular reason! Some believe that media played a role why he behaved in that particular way, while others may argue that it is because of his social situation. This will be assessed by looking at different arguments & explanations.
The Hypodermic Syringe Model of mass media effects suggests that media content is directly injected to the audience. It indirectly implies that the media controls the audience. This approach, however, doesn’t take into account the social situation of the audience. Though, this provides us explanation and adds to our understanding on how media can be very influential ; powerful. The Two-Step Flow Model of Mass Media Effects states that opinion leaders influence and shape the views of other people via the media. This asserts that information from the media moves in two distinct stages.
First, opinion leaders who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages, receive the information. Then, opinion leaders pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content to the individuals (less active sections in the society). Since individuals are exposed to the media, there would be more likelihood for us to be influenced to the content formed by opinion leaders. It also helped explain why certain media campaigns may have failed to alter audience attitudes ; behavior. This shows that the media can have little effect on people’s opinion. It also emphasises the importance of relationships within the society.
It means that media effects will depend on the social situation of the audience. The Cultural Effects Theory highlights the important effects on its audience. The societal effects are slow, steady & build up ideas & information on a long-term basis to create public consciousness. It takes into account the social position of the members of the audience. For instance, Black people may interpret news differently from middle-class White business people. The Pluralist theory would say that media content is a reflection of the wants of the public. This suggests that it only responds to the market’s demand.
It doesn’t change the society’s attitudes ; beliefs – the media only reinforces it. This takes into account the social position of the audience because it recognises, responds ; maintains the society’s attitudes & beliefs. In contrast to the pluralist’s theory, the Marxist Theory onto the effects of mass media would argue that it stresses the power of the media to control people in the society. In addition, the media works against change ; interest of the major society. Therefore, it clearly tells us that only the capitalist society (the rich ; powerful) has the full control of the media.
As a result, it doesn’t take into account the social situation of the general public. This theory is supported by Ralph Miliband’s (1973) study. He concluded that the media exercises power in the interest of the ruling classes ; maintains the dominance of those who have economic power. He further stated that the media’s role is to ‘socialise mass to a life of subordination. ‘ The Empiricist Tradition/Approach (as first proposed by Prof. Halloran) brings together researches & studies onto the effects of mass media. This approach is concerned in find out as much evidence as possible about media audiences, e. g. eople, age, gender, social status, occupation, leisure, etc.
Berelson & Steiner in 1964 concluded that people tend to see & hear communications/media content that are favourable or ‘congenial [related] to their predispositions [willingness]. ‘ The Knowledge Gap Approach tells us that people with higher socioeconomic status tend to have better ability to acquire information from the media and lower socio-economic status people – based on their educational level, have little/no knowledge about public affairs issues, are disconnected from news events and important new discoveries, and usually aren’t concerned about their lack of knowledge.
Educational attainment ; financial factors (part of social situation) contribute to their media engagement. Since they have less or no knowledge about the ‘serious’ media content, they are less likely to be influenced. The Uses ; Gratifications Theory explains the uses and functions of media for individuals, groups, and society in general. Their objectives in developing this theory are to explain how individuals use mass communication to gratify their needs; discover primary reason for individuals’ media use; identify the positive and the negative consequences of individual media use.
Ien Ang (1990) criticised this approach. He noticed that it starts from the view that the media are always functional to people & may offer justification for the way media are currently organised. ‘ It only focuses on individuals’ gratification. Therefore, this theory seems to exclude the ideology & hegemony. The Functionalist’s view with regards to Uses ; Gratifications seeks to explain social institutions in terms of their ‘cohesiveness’ [closeness] within an interconnected social system.
This gives us a hint that this theory considers the social situation of the public. The Dependency Theory (proposed by Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur in 1976) reinforces the Uses ; Gratifications Theory. It says that there is a relationship among audiences, media and the larger social system. Like uses-and-gratifications theory, it assumes that society depends on media information to meet certain needs and achieve certain goals. But we don’t equally depend on all media. This is because of the presence of our dependency in our social stability.
When social change and conflict are high, established institutions, beliefs, and practices are challenged are forcing you to reevaluate and make new choices. This clearly suggests that it takes into consideration the social position of the audience in its society. The Medium Theory suggests that it is the ‘symbolic environment of any communicative act. ‘ Media impact individuals and society. McLuhan’s thesis (or the medium theory) is that people adapt to their environment through a ‘certain balance or ratio of the senses, and the primary medium of the age brings out a particular sense ratio, thereby affecting perception. This theory partly takes into account social situation of the public since it sees the public to be adaptive to the media content based on their senses and diverse views. The Spiral of Silence Approach by Neumann (1974) definitely takes into consideration the social situation of the public. It suggests that when individuals’ view in the society is in the minority, they tend to be ‘silent’ ; follow the majority’s views instead, due to fear of isolation. Their position in the society, therefore, holds back their ‘right’ to be self-influenced, & not by the media.
There are also different types of media effects which should be considered as well such as imitation, sensitisation, de-sensitisation, catharticism & disinhibition. Imitation is self-explanatory. Audience, especially children (a dimension of social situation) tries to copy what they see in the media. This could be because the fact that children have low media literacy – as suggested by David Buckingham (1993b). This informs us that age can affect the way media can influence us. A laboratory study by Bandura, Ross & Ross explains this effect. They chose children to participate on watching 1 of the 3 TV sequences. Bobo’ dolls have been used. In each sequence, an inflatable doll was subjected to violent attacks. The attacker was either rewarded, punished or not rewarded/punished. After seeing the violent act where the attacker was rewarded, the children copied the same behaviour. This shows imitation when they know there is no harm in doing it. However, children didn’t tend to copy the attack when the attacker was punished. The children imitated the attacker attacking the ‘bobo’ doll without being punished. This suggests that media violence can influence audience especially if they have low media literacy.
Feminism may argue that the media treatment of women is because such behaviour is portrayed as ‘normal’ on the screen. This particularly happens when deviant behaviour is punished in films/programmes, etc. Also, the children’s behaviour could partly be explained by the sensitisation effect, which says that it makes you less likely to become more violent once you’ve seen the violence in the media (in this case, the stimulus programme). Disinhibition is when an audience likes watching violent content from the media since s/he cannot do it in real life.
The punishment received by the attacker on the stimulus made the children further disinhibited because if they attack the ‘bobo’ dolls, they would assume that they would get punished. Bandura’s experiment was done in a laboratory. This means that his experiment has a low-ecological validity or artificially done. This is because it is not very related to real life/day-to-day basis. His experiment was single-blinded. This is because the participants have not been told what the aim of the experiment is. Bandura’s experiment is biased in some way because he only used children to be the participants. He didn’t take into account other age groups.
Another experiment by Liebert ; Baron, into the effects of TV violence on 136 boys ; girls, supports Bandura’s findings. Half of the participants watched a violent TV sequence & the other half watched an exciting sports sequence. They were then taken into a room where there is a box with HURT & HELP buttons. They were told that there is another child playing in another room – turning a wheel. If they press HURT, it would make the wheel hot. IF they press HELP, the wheel would be easier to turn. They have found out that children who watched the violent sequence were more likely to hurt the child.
This was a single-blind experiment since the participants were not told about the aims of the experiment. This is a good way of testing participants to avoid participant reactivity (participants being conscious on how they are going to react). The sample size used was fairly decent. However, the findings would not represent the whole population since they have not considered other age groups (they have only used children). In this experiment, they haven’t considered the social situation of the audience/participants since they haven’t used other age groups.
They also didn’t consider the children’s social class to determine whether one’s social situation influences participant’s behaviour after being exposed to violent media content. In addition, they haven’t made a distinctiona between the girls’ behaviour from the boys’. This means that they haven’t considered the gender (a social situation) of the participants. The children might have been desensitised since they are /already have been exposed to violence/disturbing images which made half of the participants become unfeeling to the child.
In this one, Liebert & Baron haven’t made an account whether their participants came from a social background where violent images are available. The children’s behaviour could also be explained by the cathartic effect. Children found an outlet for releasing their emotions by pressing the HURT button to hurt the child. By referring to Bandura’s experiment, the children may also have found an outlet to release their emotions through the ‘bobo dolls’, which could be explained again by catharticism. William Belson measured the effects of long-term exposure to TV violence on adolescent boys in London.
He obtained information from the boys at different times ; under different conditions. He interviewed them at home with their parents ; individually (away from their homes). He concluded that a high exposure to TV violence increases the degree to which boys engage in serious violence. This is because these boys see violence as a ‘legitimate problem-solving device’. Again, this is suggested by the cathartic effect. Belson’s study was continuous since he made a long-term study which is quite similar to longitudinal study.
This is a more reliable way of studying the long-term effects of violence to their behaviours since one can continuously monitor them. However, interviewing them is not really a good way to find out reasons why they behave in that way. This could be because of the heavy reliance to memory recall. This is not accurate, therefore can affect the reliability of their answers & would affect the findings. Also, the boys could have possibly lied because they might not want to answer some questions truthfully, especially if their parents are around. This is called social desirability bias.
Dennis Hewitt (1982) points out Belson’s results actually show 3 types of viewers: the light, moderate or heavy exposures to violence. Belson’s findings reveal that boys who watch moderate violence were most prone to it themselves. Himmelweit (1958), however, discovered that the effects of media content may vary accordingly to the presence of other socializing forces in the audience’s life. These could be because of the absence of role models to imitate, children whose parents spend little time with them (therefore they are not supervised) ; not encouraged to read educational books.
In relation to Belson’s findings, the boys’ poor childhood experience with their parents could be an explanation on their behaviour. Lack of parental supervision from childhood may be a big factor. The Interpretive Model believes that the audience has the ability to ‘filter’ the media content. They select, ignore, react to, forget ; reinterpret according to their own viewpoint. Their viewpoint is highly influenced by their surrounding environment. They might read one text/view a scene in relation to other people’s views (intertextuality). This is proposed by Fiske in 1988.
He suggests that social situation of the audience can shape an individual’s viewpoints and perceptions. Postmodernists may argue that we need to see the audience as people interacting with the media in specific social situations, and these are: the hegemonic code/preferred reading – encoded by media professionals; professional code – interprets messages according to the culture of the professional group to which the viewer belongs; negotiated code – modifies but don’t totally reject the preferred reading; oppositional code- viewer understands the message but rejects it.
These are called the hypothetical positions used by David Morley in his textual analysis research. A study by a sociologist, David Morley of the ‘Nationwide’ audience in 1980 aimed to find out whether individuals would interpret messages/text from a stimulus (Nationwide Programme) based on their socio-cultural belongingness. He used male & female participants from different social classes namely, upper middle class, lower middle class & working class. He divided them into 29 small groups (2 – 13 people) from different social, cultural & educational backgrounds.