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Lauren Weathers Media and Reality MWF 2- 2:50

Response to Encoding, Decoding Many cultural theorists have attempted to explain the relationship between message encoding and decoding, but few have explained it with such clarity as Stuart Hall. In Encoding, Decoding, Hall suggests a four- stage theory of communication: production, circulation, use, and reproduction. He says that messages have a "complex structure of dominance," because at each of these four stages, they are imprinted by "institutional powerrelations," and the communication circuit inherently repeats this pattern of dominance (Hall 507). The circuit begins with production, where the message is crafted, and at this stage, all aspects of the medium, social relations, and organizational practices are taken into account (508). In American media, for instance, the structure of dominance that is repeated reflects a capitalist society, which contributes and is supported by the messages we encode. Hall believes that meaning and power are intertwined throughout the encoding process and while the audience "decodes" the messages, and all of these steps fall into a cyclical pattern. His theory explains how the media creates and/ or reinforces perceptions of reality, it explains how these arguments are applicable across all media and virtually inescapable to the audience, and it explains how the value of his message still holds worth today.

Encoded messages are designed to contribute to and to reinforce the ideologies of society, more easily understood to be the systems of value and expectation that are treated as common sense/ always true. Media produce these messages in order to harmonize with society by framing them with "knowledge- in- use concerning the routines of production, historically defined technical skills, professional ideologies, and definitions and assumptions, " (Hall 509). Hall says, "They draw topics, treatments, agendas, events, personnel, images of the audience, (and) 'definitions of the situation' from other sources and other discursive formations within the wider socio- cultural and political structure of which they are a differentiated part" (509). For example, one does not normally see mass media that speaks directly against capitalist society, because the message producers are attune to the environment and the tastes and interests around them. If times change, the producer simply crafts a different message, so as to not make the viewer feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar. This sense of discomfort comes into play during decoding, how the message is consumed or recreated. On a typical night of television watching, the audience is able to identify certain characters by their archetypes, what the mean in the context of the medium, and how they contribute to the message. People know what to look for, in a sense, and we have developed patterns of decoding these things in certain ways. This negotiated meaning allows us to survive in society, to communicate with the world around us. This stage, however, also relies on individual and group tastes (ex. someone from small- town Alabama is

usually going to prefer different music and television, even different media formats, than someone from Baltimore, MD). We all place different value levels on different commodities and messages. The cycle, with concern to the producer is completed when messages are interpreted correctly by the audience. The media's portrayal of women is an excellent example of how change in time mixed with change in ideology will change the message. Think of how the media's portrayal of women has evolved from aloof "I Love Lucy" to the blood- sucking vampire chicks in "True Blood." When it was acceptable and comfortable for women to stay at home, the media reflected this, and as women begin to dominate the work force and flaunt their sexuality, the media portrayed this. The media encompasses a social reality of the capitalist society and societal norms and reflects it, reinforcing and in a sense creating perceptions of reality. Before the messages can have an effect on an audience, Hall clarifies, it must first register as being "meaningful discourse" and then it must be "meaningfully decoded" (Hall 509). Encoding relies on codes of production, material conditions, and of economic structure. Decoding relies on the codes of reception, individual and group tastes, and of social value. "The lack of fit between the codes," Hall says, "Has a great deal to do with the structural differences of relation and position between broadcasters and audiences" (509). Hall's arguments span across all media, but the more complex the medium, the more room for discrepancies between encoding and decoding.

For instance, radio broadcasters rely more heavily on societal norms when conveying messages to their audiences (if they say cow, they want the audience to decode the same image of a cow, based on societal norms, that they intended to be decoded). However, Hall says the televisual sign is more complex because it relies on visual and aural discourse which translates a three- dimensional world into two- dimensional planes. The operation of (understood)/ naturalized codes reveals not the transparency of and naturalness of language," he elaborates, "But the depth, the habituation and the near- universality of the codes in use" (511). The use of denotation and connotation help the receiver to distinguish further within the cycle (512). This argument touches all mediums, on the principle that all messages have to be both encoded and decoded. Though Hall's paper was written in 1973, he accurately and beautifully predicted evolving questions of capitalism and challenges within society. He predicted codes would not always be interpreted correctly, also known as systematically distorted communication, and he predicted how producers would adjust to convey their messages more favorably. Hall says, "(The professional code) serves to reproduce the dominant definitions precisely by bracketing their hegemonic quality and operating instead with displaced professional codings which foreground such apparently neutral- technical questions as visual quality, news and presentational values, televisual quality" (515). Hall's theory was completely flexible, in that it merely outlines how time continues and with that, the messages and

understandings continue to change, all while operating within the same, timeless cycle. The receiver has always had the power to decode based on his or her frameworks of knowledge, relations of production and technical infrastructure, and the message is designed to filter through all of these variants before it is put to use. In the same way, message encoders will always rely on their frameworks of knowledge, relations of production, and their technical infrastructure. Using the recent ten- year anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2011 as an example of an communicative event, Hall's theory explains how the media created and continues to reinforce perceptions of reality, it explains how these arguments are applicable across all media, and it explains how it the theory remains relevant. From day one, the media reflected a sense that Al Queda was evil, that people sought to harm Americans. Broadcasters and print media constantly hammered audiences with violent images and heart- wrenching testimonies to reinforce this idea. Soon, whether we heard coverage on the radio or read about it in the news, similar scenes of dust clouds, burning buildings, and people running for their lives haunted each one of us. The media was expecting our tastes, of course, to be similar, to be American, and therefore to reinforce that what happened on 9/11 was evil. In the ten years since 9/11, the media has portrayed messages terrorism and war in the Middle East, and not so much innocent patriotism and secluded fear. Broadcasters and print media have tailored their messages so that the coding matches up, and so that the sentiments

intended are the sentiments received. Hall's theories were applicable in 1973, and they are still applicable as the world changes today in 2011. Messages begin with production, where the message is crafted, and structures of dominance are repeated and encoded according to our, the people with televisions and radios and eyes, tastes and preferences. Meaning and power are intertwined throughout the encoding process and they are reflected in the process of decoding. Hall's theory explains how the media creates and/ or reinforces perceptions of reality, it explains how these arguments are applicable across all media and virtually inescapable to the audience, and it explains how the value of his message still holds fast today. His theory is influential, it is all- encompassing, and it is timeless, and it explains the inextricably bound, and often befuddling relationship between producer and receiver.

Works Cited Hall, Stuart. "Encoding, Decoding." Encoding and Decoding in Television Discourse. CCCS Stencilled Paper no.7. Print.