What is the difference between an active audience and a passive

What is the difference
between an active
audience and a passive
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
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.

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