Monday, October 22, 2012

The Presidential Debate! Oh, and Reception Analysis

In "The Nature of the Audience" Ien Ang goes through various approaches to the concept of the audience, and rather than attempting to summarize it all here on the blog, I'd like to highlight a paragraph from that reading that I feel captures this range of approaches perfectly. On page 162 Ang says, "Uses and gratifications researchers have attempted to answer the question of why people make use of media offerings. Reception researchers are interested in what people see in the media -- which meanings they get out of them. The question being left out in both approaches, however, is the deceptively simple one of how people live with the media. In other words, how are the media integrated into our everyday lives?" So uses and gratifications correspond to "WHY", reception theory to "WHAT", and this last new study of "the politics of the living room" to "HOW". Quite a handy way to remember these, in my opinion.

Now for something more substantial. Since I am writing this on the night of the third and final presidential debate, I think it fitting to discuss reception analysis with an example pertaining to this last showdown between Obama and Romney. On there is a regular "debate" of sorts between prominent opinion leaders ranging from professors to elected officials to think tank heads. Tonight's question for the "Arena" was "Did Mitt pass the presidential test?" As I was perusing the responses, I was struck by how divergent the opinions were. Various Democrats crowed that Obama had sunk Romney's ship once and for all. Republicans shot back that Romney had ably displayed his presidential readiness to the nation. And these were not merely opinions drawn from thin air - each respondent had quotes and could point to specific moments in the debate that supported their assertions - but the partisan influence on their response was undeniable. Each of these individuals decoded the debate very differently and according to the information provided by their own backgrounds, social positions, and experiences. To quote David Morley from the Lewis reading, this is an excellent example of a process where each individual is "actively producing meanings from the restricted range of cultural sources which his or her position has allowed them access to"  (Lewis 163). Take a look for yourself and then try applying reception analysis to your own perception of the debate outcome. How does your own social position affect whether or not you think Romney passed the presidential test?

P.S. That horses and bayonets zinger was pretty awesome, wasn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Claire, props to you for managing to post AND watch the last debate AND check out some of the post-debate commentary. I do admit, I had a good chuckle at the Battleship reference, and I'm waiting for the lolmeme imps to generate pictures of Romney looking at Obama above the words "YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP." Someone get on that!

    As for the summation you point to, it's useful to note that Ang actually takes a step beyond strict reader response theory toward a kind of social context theory. I will try to diagram this tomorrow....