“Encoding/Decoding”

July 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

In this super serial seminal essay, Stuart Hall, who’s a pretty cool guy, complicates the (then) traditional understanding of audience reception –which in a nutshell was “producers make a thing and consumers mindlessly accept that thing”– and posits a much more nuanced approach to the production of meaning. On the supply-side, meaning is encoded in and through and by the overlapping categories of production, circulation, distribution, consumption and reproduction, all of which are produced and sustained by ideological turtles either above or below, and which eventually crap out messages to be decoded by the audience (90/508-) (Hall is speaking specifically about television; per the shitty exam schedule I’m pulling the basic and most widely applicable details from his analysis).

On the “consumption” side of the equation, meaning is decoded –thus created– following three basic schemas — the “dominant/hegemonic” mode, the “negotiated” mode and the “oppositional” mode. So like, one might take a text (movie, film, tv show, whatever; also the word “text” is stupid) at face value, that is, engage in a “one to one” ratio of meaning (there is one message; there is one meaning; the message is unmediated and arrives at the viewer’s doorstop unchanged and unchallenged). Another possibility is that of “one-to-several” ratio of meanings, wherein a particular viewer accepts most of the assumptions made by text X but is able to see “the exceptions to the rule” (102/516). In other words, the viewer is well aware that s/he is receiving a transmission from some other entity, and that this entity may not mirror reality but is close enough; although his/her reaction requires a basic acceptance of the ideological ground rules, it also allows for personal experience, insights and/or skillsets to challenge, skew or enhance the intended meaning. The final response is a “one-to-what?” ratio of meaning wherein the intended meaning is harnessed, reinterpreted and sometimes outright reappropriated to meet a particular viewer’s particular needs (101-103/515-517). From this reception standpoint, a viewer may take a “serious” film and decide it’s the greatest comedy ever made. Which is how I watch almost everything I see, because don’t tell me what to do. Above video related, I’m laughing at all the dick jokes Marc Summers doesn’t realize he’s making.

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