Critically analyze the importance of studying reception theory to producers of film, theatre and advertising.
The value of studying reception theory is tremendous to the producers of film, theatre and advertising because it gives them an understanding of how audiences receives and interprets a text. This becomes essential as it gives them a clear understanding to construct relevant and better suited content for their respective audiences in a cost effective manner thereby yielding high response rates. Reception theory is a historical hypothesis primarily concerned with uncovering how audiences receive, perceive or interact with texts or films.
Theorists who analyze media through reception studies are concerned with the experience of cinema and television viewing for audiences, how meaning is formed through that experience. An important concept of reception theory is that the media texthas no inherent meaning in and of itself. Instead, meaning is created in the interaction between audience and text; in other words, meaning is created as the viewer watches and processes the film. This therefore creates avenues of multiple interpretation of a single text. Reception theory argues that contextual factors, more than textual ones, influence the way the audience views the film. Contextual factors include elements of the viewer’s identity as well as circumstances of exhibition, the audience’s preconceived notions concerning the film genre and production, and even broad social, historical, and political issues. In short, reception theory places the viewer in context, taking into account all of the various factors that might influence how she or he will read and create meaning from the text.
Mathieu posits that reception analysis has demonstrated, study after study, the diverse and unexpected ways by which audiences appropriate the televised text in the context of their everyday life, identity and sense of belonging. Moreover, reception analysis has, following the tradition of Use and Gratification, shown how media are used by audiences to accomplish diverse functions that relate to their everyday and situated life, for example the development of citizenship. This essay will therefore discuss Stuart Hall’s cultural theory, hypodermic needle theory and uses and gratification theories
British cultural studies analyses the ways that audiences interact with texts in specific contexts to create meanings. Originating in Marxist philosophy, British cultural studies sees the media as an influential communication tool controlled by those in power; the groups who control the media control the message, thereby maintaining their dominance. British cultural studies differ from classical film theory in conception of the audience. Because the messages conveyed by the media are complex and varied, so are the interpretations available to viewers. The audience, then, is not uniform as in classical film theory, but rather heterogeneous and capable of interpreting a text’s messages in a multitude of ways based on contextual factors. British cultural studies suggest three frameworks for reading texts, based on the work of theorist Stuart Hall. Hall suggested that there is a dominant, or preferred reading in which the audience accepts completely the ideology of the text, while an oppositional reading absolutely opposes the ideology involved; and a third type, negotiated reading, both accepts and opposes parts of a text’s ideology in order to suit the specific needs of the individual. These frameworks have proven useful for reception studies as a means of theorizing the wide variety of interpretations and meanings that viewers take from texts. Both British cultural studies and reception theory agree that the audience’s interaction with the text is complex, and that, unlike the passive, idealized audience found in classical film theory, viewers can and do question and oppose the ideology presented to them by media institutions.
The framework of dominant, negotiated, and oppositional readings is not without problems, however. Because viewers can hold multiple positions towards a film text at once, most every reading becomes negotiated; in fact, the tripartite framework has since been replaced by a continuum ranging from dominant to oppositional. Furthermore, British cultural studies assume that oppositional readings are automatically progressive, and that dominant readings are regressive. However, if the ideology embedded in the text is itself progressive to begin with, then a dominant reading may be the preferred reading.
Hypodermic needle theory believes that media is injecting certain ideologies into audiences and passing subliminal messages to create need and influence a certain behaviour. For example, commercial radio stations have advertisements and these advertisements are there to persuade audiences to buy something even though they don’t need them. This theory concede that mass media has a large effect on audiences and views media outlets as selling audiences to marketers.For example, radio stations like Star FM advertise some Christian religious services as if they are the sure-fire way to life. Churches have become profound in using this technique.
Lastly, there is the uses and gratification theory which posits that audiences are careful to select and utilise in the best possible way, the media they consume. Thus audiences either consume media texts for emotional release, escapism or merely pleasure. This means that audiences have the power to decide how they can use a particular text. If someone was going through a break up, they could watch movies that would cheer them up and make them feel a lot happier or they may want to escape from the real aspect of life into fantasy so they might watch and forget about their problems, which is a similar reason to the emotional release or watch merely for pleasure.
It is therefore apparent that studying reception theory is very critical to producers of film, theatre and advertising as it gives them access and understanding of the audience they intend to serve. Its critical to note that producers create all texts for the audience and it is critical to know what the audience want and how it interprets that in order to encode that message and package it appealingly. Film studios turned to audience research in the form of demographic information to learn how to market their films and reception theory has recently gained acceptance and is acknowledged to be an important method of analyzing how audiences experience and interpret films.