Friday, January 9, 2009


Ok, now back to some school stuff, which means, for most of you, booor-ing. But I feel like I have to archive this somewhere. Plus, this stuff is like porn to me.
Explain what Stuart Hall means when he states that the codes of encoding and decoding are not identical or symmetrical, but relatively autonomous.

Stuart Hall’s essay “Encoding/Decoding” (1980) focuses specifically on the information theory of the circular, on-going loop that defines all mediated discourse with special attention focused on the constructed intent of the messages of the producer of media (the encoder) and the understood meanings derived from these messages as perceived by the individual consumptive audience member (the decoder). Aforementioned loop includes three different steps, of which all, Hall argues, can be taken out of the cycle and function on their own; these three steps must be understood in their totality but have relative independence, much like, I will argue, the two determinate steps of encoding and decoding. The three distinctive steps of discourse include: 1) production (or sending/encoding); 2) circulation (or channeling); and 3) consumption (or reception/decoding). These three steps are all part of a meaningful practice, a linguistic exchange (for Hall states in his video that “nothing meaningful exists outside of discourse”) in which the process of encoding and decoding is inherent and necessary in order to make sense of mediated environments.

Put very simply, to put into codes (can be viewed as images/messages) is to encode; to decipher these codes is to decode. Hall argues that these two codes are not identical or even symmetrical, but are indeed relatively autonomous from one another, for as much as the encoder is in control of the hegemonic viewpoint because this encoder is in the powerful position of being the image/message producer, every single decoder (audience member) is different, and therefore has the right to different opinions and interpretations. The third step of the cycle (that of reception) allows for relative autonomy of the decoder from the encoder during the reception of the image/message due to this difference from decoder to decoder.

Hall argues that one must think about the process of encoding as different from the process of decoding, for there is a role that the television audience has in constructing their own meanings that is separate from the originally intended encoding meanings created in the production-focused initial phase of discourse. These maps of meaning that are formed at the moment of production do not necessarily coincide with the decoded meaning of the audience. This gives the decoders (the audience) an active role of interpreting the meaning because these meanings are not ultimately dictated. It is for this reason that Hall argues just because there is violence on television does not mean that people will be affected by it positively, negatively, or even at all, for there are many possible interpretations of the same text (note, for an example other than televised violence, the television show Dallas, of which the final episode was shown in several different countries, all to differing reactions caused by individualized audience decoding). It is therefore possible that, according to one’s own map of meaning, the violent television show or media event will be interpreted on an individual level.

Encoding is usually driven by preferred meanings, meanings that are therefore hegemonic and decided by those in power. Hall argues that we do not live in a pluralistic, minority-driven society, that there is a determinate power structure that presents the audience with these preferred meanings, preferred ways of decoding the signs presented in the world. However, even though there are these preferred, imposed concepts of methods of how to decode an encoded image, the audience member, the decoder, will in the end have their own individually-motivated decoding of an image/message.

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