What is the difference between an active audience and a passive audience? What is an active audience ? An active audience is one that actively engages with the text. They do not simply accept every media message. They question what they see and develop their own interpretation of a media product based on their life experiences, education, family and cultural influences. ‘Bottom up’ theories generally assume an active audience. Theories such as “Uses & Gratification” and “Postmodernist theory” assume that audiences are active. What is a passive audience? A passive audience does not actively engage with a media text. A passive audience is one that does not question the message that the media is sending and simply accepts the message in the way the media outlet intended. ‘Top down’ theories of media influence tend to assume that audiences are passive. Theories such as “Bullet/Hypodermic” and “Agenda Setting Function” assume audiences are passive. Communication theories Discuss two communication models or theories that present opposing views about the power of the media to influence audiences. In your response analyse and evaluate the arguments and evidence used both for and against these two models or theories. You should refer to the TAC ads we examined in class Approaching the question Firstly you need to be able to discuss two OPPOSING theories of communication – I suggest you avoid postmodernism Identify the theory, it’s origin, the developers and the reason for it’s development. Discuss the model – is it linear, top down or bottom up, etc. Does the theory assume active or passive audiences? How would this theory explain the influence of the TAC ads. Remember, advertisers do not use theories! We, as media analysts, simply use the theory to try and explain the influence the ad has, if any…. Sample Answer The Hypodermic needle or Bullet theory was developed in the 1930’s by researchers interested in explaining the effects of mass media consumption and propaganda in World War 1. The Nazi parties believed the media was highly influential, and so as one of their most effective methods of gaining support, seemingly converted a whole population to supporting Hitler’s rule through the use of Radio broadcasts. The theory claims that audiences are passive and homogenous – that is, each consumer wholly accepts the messages presented by the media in their intended form; each message presented by the media is blindly accepted regardless of individual differences. It is a closed text communication theory, suggesting that messages flow in a linear fashion from the sender to the receiver, with no interference. A limitation of this theory however, is that it suggests no person possesses differences in opinion at all. There is no room for subjective interpretation and it could be argue that if this theory were correct, society would be a group of people with exactly the same beliefs, whereas it is obvious that subjective interpretations exist. In applying this theory to try and explain the influence of the TAC ad, ‘Blame,’ it could be argued that the reduction of speed related accidents, particularly those dependent on male drivers, is due to the message being presented in the Advertisement being accepted by all viewers. Therefore, with all consumers believing in the idea that speed ‘kills,’ not only perpetrators but also those around you, there would be complete eradication of speed-related accidents on our roads. However, this theory has serious flaws, as the death toll of speedrelated accidents has not been completely eliminated, but rather there has only been evidence of a diminishing death toll – meaning that there are still many serious accidents caused by speed. This suggests that not all viewers have been affected by the advertisement in the same way; there has not been a 100% acceptance of the message, as if it had influenced all members of society in the same way, voluntary speed-related road accidents would not exist. In contrast to the Bullet/Hypodermic Needle Theory, the Uses and Gratification theory assumes audience members are active. Developed in the 1940’s by Paul Lazarfeld, in response to growing criticism of the twodimensional nature of the Bullet theory, claims that texts are open (to interpretation) and that consumers have power over the media, rather than the media having power over them. This 'bottom up' theory suggests that people are responsible for picking and choosing which media content they consume, and if/in which way they may be influenced by it. Just as the name suggests, each person has the power to decide which media texts they will consume for their own self ‘gratification’ or satisfaction. An example of this is how many television programs are axed even after only a few screenings of episodes, if the ratings or circulation statistics are low. Therefore, society is in control of the media they consume. Audience members may stop consuming particular media texts by simply switching the television off etc. However, the flaw of this theory is that it assumes the media has little to no influence whatsoever on the individual. In terms of the TAC advertisement, ‘Gravel Truck,’ the Uses and Gratification theory would suggest that each audience member may choose whether or not they want to be influenced by the message presented that even if one ‘knows the road,’ speed is essentially bad and can be fatal. Although there is still evident of similar speedrelated accidents to the ione presented in the ad, there has been a definite decrease in such fatalities, which would be supposedly impossible if the advertisement has no influence on audience members. The debate of whether or not this reduction in speedrelated fatalities is due to the influence of the TAC ads or due to external factors is still ongoing.