2.2 Interpreting the media
If analyzing the images and the concepts one has in mind, he/ she would come quickly to the conclusion that they correspond to what he /she sees through the media. Most of them are acquired and shaped by the magazines we read or the movies or advertisements we watch.
What is being transmitted then is much more complicated that needs to be interpreted in the right way for it is a discourse which contains specific cultural and social meanings. It is a discourse rather than mere images.
In this respect, interpreting mass media is an approach to question what the audience have understood and what lessons they have learned rather than emphasizing the effective side of it. Such interpretation allows the viewer to catch the real and the hidden meanings behind these images as not to be misled into other directions.
These approaches rely on a direct observations and analysis to dig out the underlying meanings. It does help the viewer to have a critical mind that would allow him or her to agree, disagree or find the weak points in whatever he or she is looking at.
Rushkoff has his own view concerning the interpretation of media. He states aTo appreciate the media as facilitator rather than hypnotizer, we must learn to decode the information coming into our homes through the mainstream, commercial channelsa (Rushkooff, 1996, p.6).
Therefore, whatever is transmitted in media needs to be interpreted; especially the commercial channels, since stereotyping and the construction of reality he in the very centre of what they transmit.
These theories rely so much on the audience as the ones who interpret and give meaning. Some of media scholars such as William A. Gamson believe that it is better to call the audience decoders rather than readers since they are the ones who give meaning.
By readers, we mean those who areada or decode sights and sounds as well as print textsa (Gamson, 1992, PP 3-4). The difference, as it is explained, is that aaudiencea means mass of identical people who are passive, whereas areadersa means those who are active in the process of interpreting mediated messages. In fact the audience is the most important part since there are no media without them; they are the ones who consume, evaluate as well as interpret it.
This approach serves women more since they have been misrepresented by the mass media; they have been looked at as no more than just bodies for commercial purposes. This has been done by those who studied the market to have what is called the market survey in order to see what is being asked for the most and thus to meet the demand of the consumers.
So, this is working in favour of women sine it is meant to show the world the real message behind these images and to make them understand that it is not women who are like this but it is the market strategy which made them appear like this.
The focus here is on the audience or the readers as Gamson would like to call them as the most important element in interpreting and giving meaning to the mediated messages. The audienceas task is to construct a meaning to what they witness according to their understanding. Following Fenton (2001) aThe role of the audience in the construction of meaning has been subject to differing analytical perspectivesa (110). This means that each one of the audience tackles these messages in his or her own way.
2.2.1 Marketing theory
The marketing theory believes that there is bias in the mass media, for example the portrayal of women as sex object by the biased market theorists who use such a way in order to allure the consumer, the reader or the viewer to get that specific product.
The same theorists argue that what is being shown is the media is nothing but what the audience prefers to see. Another argument they advocate is that mass media is not a negative concept; it is just working for the sake of the profit
In his book Media, Gender and Identity, Gauntlett quoted two people expressing their opinions and what they think of the mass media. They argued with some other writers about the nature of media as a financial institution whose goal is to make profit.
This is shown clearly in the following lines aThe mass media was referred to as the aculture industrya by Adorno and Horkheimer to indicate its nature: a well oiled machine producing entertainment products to make prohta (Gauntlett, 2002, p.20). This explains that the mediated messages have ideological and commercial purposes lying behind them.
Kellner shares Gauntletas point of view saying that media is a profitable organization built on financial gain and profit. He argues that alt is thus a form of commercial culture and its products are commodities that attempt to attract private profit produced by giant corporations interested in the accumulation of capitala (Kellner, 1995, p.l).
One of the ideologies behind media then is making profit which is very telling, it explains that the manipulation of the woman as body in advertisements precisely is done to buy products and thus make profit.
These theorists a argue that research has shown that people do not remember what they have seen several days ago; as a result, it is not appropriate to think that the media has a long term effect on peopleas minds.
This approach is against the cultivation theory which asserts that along term exposure to the media does not result in immediate effects, but gradually results in a particular set of views of society a (Harvard MacDonald, 1993, p. 40). The market theory adopts the view that the mass media does not influence our views or attitudes, rather it reinforces the ones we already have.
Based on what has been already stated, the audience is equipped with the necessary elements that help to catch the real meaning of what is being broadcasted on television or read in newspapers. However, the market view ignores the obvious fact that the major organs of the mass media are controlled by the state or is in the hands of a few large companies, hence, real consumeras choices are restricted.
Having said this, media can be seen as a business institution that aims in the first place to make profit. It is a means through which a specific kind of information about a certain product is conveyed. The focus here is on advertisements as products promotion and that is where media intervenes as well as the viewers as consumers.
This is well illustrated by Helen Katz in her book Media Handbook (2003) when she showed the relation between the market and media in the exhibit aThe Marketing Mixa: (p. 10)
To explain this chart, there are some facts to be considered before selling, first the product or the service itself , and then the person must decide on the price so that a profit can be made, after this a place or distribution should be considered and finally the promotion, how the potential buyers will know about the product. This shows the very nature of media as a real marketing institution.
Media ObjectiveAdvertising ObjectiveMarketing Objective
Furthermore, the media planer should consider numerous things connected to marketing information about the product in order to make sure it will reach the targeted audience (viewer) through advertising media. This is explained by the following exhibit which the writer named aMoving Toward the Media Plan: (Katz, 2003, p. 10)
In doing so, the audiences become consumers more than receivers of what is transformed through these commercial channels. Numerous studies have been conducted to explain the decision process that any of this audience goes through when affected by TV commercials. This process according to The Media Handbook is in its simplistic forms divided into three steps: Think, Feel, Do. This is explained in the following bloccitation:
People must first think about the item (i.e.; be aware of it and know it exists). They must then develop some kind of attitudes of feeling toward it (i.e.; like it and prefer it to others); and finally they must take some action with regard to it (decide on it and actually but it). This latter stage is the do part of the model. (Katz, 2003, P-14)
A more complexed version of this process is explained by the same book (Katz, 2003). The previous three steps can be broken down into eight detailed steps that are: need, awareness, preference, search, selection, purchase, use, and finally satisfaction.
The writer of the book states aTo begin with, the consumer must first have a need to fulfil. He or she then becomes aware of the brands available to satisfy that need. After that, several brands are considered acceptable, and a preference developed for one or more of thema (p.15).
She adds aThe consumer will then search for the brand(s) desired, and make a selection of one over the othersa (p.15). This is followed by aA specific brand is purchased and used. Finally, the level of satisfaction obtained with that purchase, helps determine whether that brand is brought on a future occasiona (p.15).
The marketing nature of media is a long and a very complicated process that involves different people and objects, but the most active and important among them all remain the audience, or in this case the consumers, who consume the products and therefore make of them a success. As stated earlier there are no mass media without the audience or the consumers and yet they are still underestimated by the same media.
2.2.2 Reception theory
It is the recent approach to understand what the audience is exposed to; in other words it is concerned with the interpretation of the viewer or the reader. It focuses on how the audience receives and interprets whatever messages they encounter so it can be said that reception theory is the only theory that has granted the receiver, the receptionist or the audience as a whole much attention as the most important element in understanding and interpreting the media.
According to kellner in his book Media Culture: Cultural studies, identity and politics between the modern and the postmodern (1995) aMedia culture is industrial culture, organized on the model of mass production and is produced for a mass audience according to types (genres), following conventional formulas, codes and rolesa (p.l).
This shows that without the audience, media is impossible to operate. Audiences are a crucial part when it comes to media since they give it meaning.
The interpretation process takes more than just one step. The analyst should be aware of some factors, first to have an idea about the audience, second in what point the receiver is likely to contribute, in other words where are the gaps in order to be filled by the audience, and, finally, to find out the effect to such a message. These three steps are highlighted in the next lines by Harvard and MacDonald (1993):
The reception analyst thus has to do three things. First, to make clear what the expected receiver of the message (or model reader of the text) is presumed to be. Second, to determine at what points and in what ways the model reader is required contribute so that the text makes sense (in the way it was intended). Third, to discover how the people who receive the message actually do make sense of it. (Harvard MacDonald, 1993, p. 41).
According to this theory, it is the reader who gives meaning to what he or she is receiving, whatever it is a text, an image or a message. Hence, the first time the reader is given importance is through this theory. Reception theorists argue that the media messages are of no value if they are not accompanied with an interpretation by the receiver even though this person might not get the intended meaning, which is exactly where people differ in their interpretations.
It should be noted also that not all reception theorists do agree on the above three stages, for example Hobson and Morley attempted the final stage while Jaus and Iser have been concerned with the two first stages (Harvard MacDonald, 1993).