Critical Analysis Essay: Is the media audience passive or active?
MAY 27, 2016 ~ HARRYJONESWEB
Throughout most of the world, people spend a large amount of time receiving media content and messages (Livingstone, 2003). The extent of the participation of audiences has changed throughout the past 100 years, as the once considered passive audience (Harrison, 2013) that accepted mass media blindly has become more active and involved in creating and decoding media for themselves due to producers changing the way they encode media (Harrison, 2013). Although audience’s passivity is still alive in our society today, theorists such as Stuart Hall and Jay Blumler have suggested that audiences are in fact active, as they are actually participators in understanding the media and are able to create their own meaning through their personal beliefs and social contexts.
This essay explores the idea of audience participation, looking at theories of passive audience and how it applies to early 1930’s society and theories of active audience and how Hall changed the way producers think about audiences. It also delves into the rise of social media and how audiences are becoming not just active participants but also creators of media. The case study of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is included in the essay, as it illustrates how audience passivity has not ceased and also how audiences have become more active due to their ability to create media through social media.
Although theorists such as Hall and Blumler consider audiences to be active participants in receiving media, media audiences are capable of being passive receivers of texts today. This way of thinking about audiences originated from many theorists, one of which was a communication theorist named Harold Lasswell, who wrote about propaganda used in World War One in the book ‘Propaganda Technique in the World War.’ In his book he wrote about the effects of propaganda on its receivers, writing that the citizens of the society in which the propaganda was produced were passive and were unable to understand the deception and falsity behind the propaganda that led them into the violence and sorrow of war (Lasswell, 1927). This idea of people being injected with information directly supports the Hypodermic Needle Theory. The theory emerged in the 1920’s, suggesting that the media has a direct influence on audiences and that audiences are passive consumers of media. The linear modelled theory was proved to be applicable once again in the same time period in what was known as the Payne Fund Studies (Payne Fund, 1929). The purpose of the studies was to understand the impact movies had on children and adults after the public showed concern of the effect movies were having on children in 1928 (Sparks, p.53). The chairman of the project, WW Charters, wrote that they believed they had the ability to change the way children behave from their extensive examinations (Lamb, 2013). The strengths of the Hypoder...