In Stuart Hall’s discussion of encoding and decoding, he notes that before a message can be put to use, it must be be decoded with a meaning. It is these decoded meanings that “‘have an effect’, influence, entertain, instruct or persuade, with very complex perceptual, cognitive, emotional, ideological, or behavioral consequences” (165). When the audience encodes this decoded message, however, Hall states that there are different degrees of understanding and misunderstanding. Messages have a denotation, their “literal” meaning, and also a connotation which is a more associated meaning that has been generated over time.
Hall then discusses the different connotative positions or readings of televisual discourse. The first is dominant-hegemonic, when the viewer is said to “operate inside the dominant code” (171) and thus takes the meaning at its face value. There is then the negotiated position, in which the viewer recognizes the legitimacy of the dominant code but also create their own ground rules as they contradict some of the meaning. Finally, there is an oppositional reading, in which the audience decodes the meaning in a completely contrary way and views it within an alternative framework.
Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding” discusses a very interesting concept of the messages we receive and the meanings we extract from them. With every piece of media, from television shows to movies to songs and news programs, to commercials and other forms of advertisements, there is always an encoded message, one that is intended to be communicated to the consumers of this media product. However, just because a media product, such as an advertisement, is encoded with a meaning, this does not mean that it is decoded in the same way. People’s different education and beliefs, among other things, allow them to “read” the meanings in varying degrees of concordance with the encoded message. This occurred in an example shown by the group in class, when the class opposed the encoded message of a smoking advertisement from the 1960s.
When thinking about the different levels of readings, one example immediately came to mind: political advertisements. As I am American, for the past 18 months every television station has been flooded with political advertisements for the presidential election, with Democrats and Republicans encoding meanings in their commercial they hoped their audience would decode in a dominant-hegemonic way. However, this was not always the case, especially for me with Republican advertisements. Messages of hatred of the “other” and violent retaliation were often expressed. While some may have agreed that this was the direction our nation should take, and as the election results prove, many more did and do than any of us would have expected, many others took a different reading of these commercials. I and most Democrats had an oppositional reading, seeing these meanings as not those of power and strength but scare tactics that were used to bully its audience into submission out of fear. This is an example, for me, of how people can watch the same commercial with an encoded meaning but decode it in many different ways based upon how they situate themselves within the political world and what knowledge and beliefs they hold.