Audience Theory

Audience theory concerns how and why audiences consume texts, and the effects that the film producers have on the reception of films. There is a social, moral and political objective to measure the power of media technologies to affect how individuals think, feel and act. The other objective, in terms of marketing, is motivated by commercial interests to measure how effective media is for advertising and publicity campaigns. By applying the concept of audience theory to my film, I can consider how my creativity in planning altered how audiences received my film.

Bandura initially created the Hypodermic model to consider the influence that media texts have on the audience. These effects are typically seen as being negative, and that the audiences are passive towards preventing the influences that these texts have on them. The theory can be explored in terms of a needle, that the messages in the media are injected into the audience by the powerful media and the audience cannot resist. This concept was experimented in Frankfurt School by Bandura, and showed 36 boys and 36 girls a piece of footage that presented a clown called Bobo being violently attacked. The children were then led into a room with Bobo dolls inside, where 88% of the children showed violent behaviour towards the dolls. This controversial experiments enforced this hypodermic model, as the children’s behaviour was influenced by what was shown to them in the film. This effects theory is used by politicians and some religious organisations, explaining that certain media texts (such as A Clockwork Orange) caused violent acts (such as rape), and there was political outcry for these texts to be banned. In applying the Hypodermic model to Green Fingers, it could be said that through showing a man who is abusive and unloving to his wife, it may encourage audience members to respond to marital arguments with violence.

However, there are unclear links between violent films and violent imitative behaviour, as some people who do watch the texts are not influenced. Herzog and Bereleson came up with the Uses and Gratifications model, which offers an alternative view to the Hypodermic effects model in the ways that audiences are effected my media effects. They considered that the audience is active in receiving a film, and that they use the text for their own gratification and pleasure. The Uses and Gratifications model contradicts Bandura’s model, as the audience are free to reject, use or play with media meanings. Audiences can use the films for a variety of ways to gratify needs, such as diversion, escapism, information, pleasure and comparing relationships. For example, Green Fingers may be considered as an escape because audiences are able to immerse themselves in the drama and tension of the short film. This theory also suggests that violent images can be useful rather than harmful, and that audiences act out their violent impulses through the consumption of media violence. As in Green Fingers, through experience the violence committed towards Andy’s wife, audiences are less likely to repeat the violent action as their inclination towards it has been sublimated.

Stuart Hall created the Reception Theory, which explores the various meanings that can be understood from a single media text. He considered that texts are encoded with meanings by producers, and are decoded by audiences. This gives a wider audience base pleasure from a single text, because there are so many meanings that can be understood and therefore enjoyed in different ways. Fiske argued that audiences constantly mines television texts for meaning, that it was futile to perceive the text as a stable entity. Hall came up with three different audience readings that relate to the message created by the producer and how it is understood by the audience. Firstly, the dominant reading; the audience decodes the message as the producer wants them to, and the audience agrees with this message. For example, in Green Fingers I wanted to portray the emotional upset and trauma faced by the wife, as her husband is neglectful and uncaring towards her. The dominant reading would be in effect if audiences also saw this from Green Fingers, and empathised with her. Secondly, the negotiated effect is when the audience accepts, rejects or refines elements of the text in light of previously held views. Such as, if the audiences did not believe that a husband always needed to be at home or affectionate towards his wife, the negotiated reading would be applied as the audiences wouldn’t necessarily empathise with the wife. Finally, the oppositional reading. In this case, the dominant reading is recognised, yet it is rejected for cultural, political or ideological reasons. This reading may be applied if Green Fingers was viewed by someone who was part of a patriarchal religion or society. The concept of a woman speaking to her husband in anger would offend people who believed than men had power over women, and therefore would reject the dominant meaning.

Ultimately, audiences can be effected and influences by media texts no matter which theorists concept is applied. However, the audience member is not passively influenced and have the ability to consider and create their own meanings from the texts, which can help to enhance the audience pleasures from the media text.



One thought on “Audience Theory

  1. Chloe

    The following is the exam board’s description of a level 4 answer, from the June 2011 mark scheme (

    Level 4 (21-25 marks).

    Candidates demonstrate a clear understanding of narrative and relevant media theory and can relate concepts articulately to the production outcome, describing specific elements in relation to theoretical ideas about how media texts are constructed as narratives. Candidates offer a range of specific, relevant, interesting and clear examples of how their product can be understood in relation to relevant theories of narrative. The use of conceptual language is excellent.

    Complex issues have been expressed clearly and fluently using a style of writing appropriate to the complex subject matter. Sentences and paragraphs, consistently relevant, have been well structured, using appropriate technical terminology. There may be few, if any, errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar

    I would mark your current answer as being Level 4, possibly 22/25.

    – You have an invisible plan.
    – May be change, “Bandura initially created the Hypodermic model” to “suggested the”.
    – You need to make clear that you understand the difference between the direct and indirect models.
    – Another good essay, though, Chloe. You’ve got the hang of this now, think.


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