Audience/Reception Analysis Prompt
In this paper, you are a) to identify yourself as a member of a particular interpretive community; and b) to reflect on a set of interpretive practices in which members of that community engage. You are thus to draw primarily on Chapter 2 (Viewers Make Meaning, especially the subsections on Audience Reception, Cultural Appropriation, and Re-Appropriation) and on Chapter 6 (Media and Everyday Life) of our textbook.
An interpretive community can be defined very broadly. It can be a formally constituted group of readers (viewers, listeners, players) to which those readers and listeners know they belong. Classic examples are book clubs, fan clubs, gaming communities, and online communities (such as groups on Reddit organized around particular topics). Such formally defined interpretive communities usually have a set of regular activities and practices where members of the community interact with one another and engage in the joint work of interpretation
An interpretive community can also be much more loosely defined. It can simply be a large collection of people who regularly consume a particular cultural product (e.g. regular readers of The New York Times, regular listeners of This American Life podcast, and the like) and who draw their identities in part through the act of consuming that particular cultural product. Such groups generally share a common social and class position (“the cultural bourgeoisie” or the urban, upper middle class, predominantly white, often male, often older readers of the NYT, for instance).
These people do not necessarily think of themselves as members of an interpretive community the same way book club members or fans do, but it is likely that these people discuss these cultural products (magazine articles, shows, podcasts, games) with friends or co-workers who occupy the same social position and likely consume the same cultural products regularly. Another example of a loosely defined interpretive community constituted through practice would be groups of friends getting together to watch particular sports programs or episodes of TV series, and the like.
So for this paper, please pick an interpretive community (either a formally organized one, or a loosely defined one) that you can say you belong to, and then reflect on the interpretive practices that you and the members of that community engage in.
Remember that interpretation of texts by audiences is an active process (Notabene: “Death of the Author”!). To the extent that interpretation is a form of activity, media reception can easily spill over into media production. An example of the blurred line between media production and reception are the hand-made signs people bring to political rallies, YouTube videos or blogposts people make in response to a cultural event or an ongoing political issue which can “go viral,” and so on. All of this is to say that if you choose to focus on an interpretive community that is highly active, you can reflect specifically on the blurriness of the lines between cultural production and reception.
Here are some questions to consider as you write:
- Through what activities and practices is “your” interpretive community constituted?
- How does “your” interpretive community portray itself, if ever? What are some instances when the community has been reflexive about who it is made up of, and what it does?
- How do you – and others in “your” interpretive community – negotiate the meanings of the cultural products consumed? What meanings tend to be accepted on face value, and what meanings tend to be rejected or reconfigured, to suit new purposes?
- What set of skills, and what amount of cultural capital, does participation in “your” interpretive community seem to require?
- How does your interpretive community come to trust whatever cultural product they are consuming? How – through what cultural processes and practices – is credibility, authenticity, and veracity of cultural products and producers negotiated by your community?
- How does the time and the space in which the product is consumed, the speed and the frequency with which it is consumed, the presence or the absence of others, the presence or the lack of discussion about it – in short, the mode in which the product is consumed – affect how that product is interpreted by audiences?
- How is power – as commercial success, as media ownership, as political pressure, or as social privilege – perceived, absorbed, resisted, or negotiated by “your” interpretive community?
Be sure to use at least some of the core course concepts in your paper. These can include:
Interpellation; critical viewing practice; dominant, hegemonic, preferred, negotiated, oppositional meanings of a text; textual poaching (Michel de Certeau); bricolage (Dick Hebdige); context affecting media reception; concept of an imagined community (Benedict Anderson); notion of a media event; notion of viewers as historically and culturally situated; and others.