Presented by James Thomas
In this essay, I will initially briefly critic the meaning of “what do the media do to audiences’; exploring relevant Effects theories that underpin passive audience studies as a means of understanding the need for further research. I will then discuss alternative approaches to the dynamic of “what do audiences do with the media.” Finally, I will consider alternative theoretical approaches to the allocation of power to either the audience or the media. The Effects model is considered to be an inadequate representation of the communication between media and the public, as it does not take into account the audience as individuals with their own beliefs, opinions, ideals and attitudes:
Audiences are not blank sheets of paper on which media messages can be written; members of an audience will have prior attitudes and beliefs which will determine how effective media messages are. (Abercrombie 1996, P140)
Early works on media influence are focused on media’s effects on human behaviours. The idea that the media has powerful effects on people gained momentum during the 1930’s. The Nazi’s fascist views towards society and dictators used the media as propaganda tool in Germany. The research emphasis at the time was to understand what media did to audiences and brought about the first theory of media effects. The basis of which was founded by a prominent group of Marxist intellectuals of The Frankfurt School, set up in 1923, who were concerned with the possible effects of mass media. They proposed The "Effects" model, which considered society to be composed of isolated individuals who were susceptible to media messages.
The group interpreted the media as a hypodermic needle, and the contents of the media were injected into the thoughts of the audience, who accepted the attitudes, opinions and beliefs expressed by the medium without question. The followers of the hypodermic model of Effects adopted a concept of Marxism, highlighting the dangers of the power of capitalism, which owned and controlled new forms of media. In the fifties researchers also supported the Effects model when exploring the potential of the emerging medium of television. They were particularly concerned over increases in the representation of violent acts on television, which appeared to be linked to increases in violent acts in society.
In the nineties, there was considerable concern over what were called "video nasties". The noted British media literacy scholar David Buckingham and colleague Julian Sefton-Green used the sociological term “moral panic” to describe the public outrage in England in 1993 over the idea that violent video games or the media might have played some role in the murder of Jamie Bulger, by two ten year old boys. They found it difficult to comprehend that the public preferred to focus on the tabloid allegation that the media had a potential role in the killing, instead of understanding it in terms of poverty and economic recession, or the erosion of leisure provision for young people. The hypodermic needle model or magic bullet theory adds little to the understanding of this complex dynamic.
Media and audience relationships do not exist in a void. They are involved and influenced by many things, including, social context, culture and political-economy of a society. Audience consists of individuals who have different social and cultural backgrounds, believes and values which makes it difficult to effectively profile one mass audience. Fiske states in his book Understanding Popular Culture, “culture is a living active process, it cannot be imposed from without or above’ (Fiske, 1996, p23).
The Effects model assumes that the audience is passive in the receiving and interpretation of media texts. Great emphasis is placed on the text and its power to directly influence the audience. The texts are populated with meanings which are readily available