Jun 25, 2018 in Sociology

Audiences as Part of the Social Groupings

The concept of audiences has been in existence since way back. For instance, the Greco-Romans also had their own audience with several features similar to the current understanding of audience. As a group of spectators, for various public events, the audience was institutionalized over 2000 years ago (McQuail 1997). There were specific rules, customs and expectations regarding location, time content that were to be adhered to. More educational audiences assembled for musical and literacy works but the largest audience was witnessed during games, fights, circuses, comedies and races. This view gives an implication that audience was considered in terms of the number of people present at the events. But is this really the case? It is possible that people could just go to the venue because they did not want to look like they were against the customs of the society. Considering that there were cases of seclusion from the society incase one didn’t not adhere to social norms, there is a high probability that people carried themselves to the venue just for the sake of it.

As McQuail (1997, p.7) puts it, an explicit framework was provided by Herbert Blumer in 1939 where he described an audience as a mass. This is different from what it used to be known earlier to refer to a crowd, a group and public. He considered a mass to refer to a product of some kinds of new conditions that are created by the interactions of the modern societies. The members are actually so detached and are so anonymous to one another but they are considered to be an audience in the sense that their attention is converged on one object that might not necessarily be in their personal environment. For instance, people in different countries in the world might be tuned to CNN to watch news but they do not really know each other. The same applies to the audiences attracted to the cinema and news papers. As much as they might be reading or viewing the same form of media, they are so detached and know very little or nothing about one another.

The composition of such an audience is also so heterogeneous and dispersed. There were no rules and norms that guided its operations making it to act on itself and in its own way. Is it really appropriate to consider people tuned in to a television channel as a real audience? These masses have no way of communicating to the operators of the television channels and therefore its like their work is to take in whatever they are told. (McQuail 1997, p.11). A good audience should be able to interact with one another and clarify issues. There should also be some common features among the audience so that it does not look like they are mere objects being fed with information. In fact their contribution is just as important as whatever they are told.

Audience can’t be contextualized because it is always influenced by a number of factors with social life being one of them. McQuail argues that media use is most definitely shaped by identifications that are created in personal life together with early experiences. In the same social life, there are also other factors that could determine an audience preference. For instance as much as one’s family life could play a major role, there is also the peer group, neighbors and friends who might influence the consumption and taste of media by the audience (McQuail (1997, p.92). In fact teenagers are more likely to be influenced by friends than their own parents and family. For example peer groups could be funs of some program over the media. This implies that the main reason as to why the kid or a member of the peer group would be stuck by his television at a particular time would be because his friends are watching the same program too.

They might not therefore wish to feel out of place when friends are discussing about the previous episode. Parents might also permit their children to watch TV to take a break from the hectic school programs or develop their communication skills if not increasing their general knowledge (Lull 1990, p. 41). This means that audience is determined by the surrounding and not necessarily from self will. However, one great difference between such an audience and that which existed in the older societies is that masses are more likely to concentrate on whatever news is being aired so that they could also have some thing common to share with their friends.

Lull (1990 p,37) argues that even within the small social unit there are still other factors that would determine watching of media. For instance in colleges there could be a free and selective access to the TV within the dormitories because of the kind of freedom students have to take care of their own lives in a manner they feel is best for them. However, in the case of a home, children in pre-unit classes would be allowed to watch TV after they collect their toes and put them in the right places. This also helps creates some discipline in the kids. In some institutions like California reform school, girls are only allowed to watch TV after their rooms pass inspection (Lull 1990). Under all of the above circumstances, audience is therefore determined by some rule and rituals that are to be obeyed. However, all these are restrictions to the audience that could manipulate their behavior pattern.

The best situation would be where an individual wakes up and switches on his television not because he has nothing to do but feels like he should watch it. This ensures that all his concentration is given to the program and he even internalizes whatever message is being passed across. The probability of such a scenario is however very minimal making it very hard to contextualize an audience. You can never confirm the existence of an audience by the mere fact that the television is on. As McQuail (1997, p.92) puts it, there is a strong connection alternative and deviant subcultures within the modern society especially among the youth and their musical taste. Most youth are funs of specific channels on the media because of the kind of music they play or the duration in which music is played. For instance, music channels like Trace TV and MTV have so many funs most of whom are young adults. In such a context, audience is shaped by musical taste. Media use could therefore be understood as a means of enjoyment or expression and identification with some culture.

For the young adults, their tastes are most probably shaped by their social contact in leisure joints and at work places. A good example is the trend in working women where they always discuss about soap operas and always have an urge to watch the next episode. On many occasions, women will always find time to discuss about what should have happened or what was wrong with whatever happened in their favorite soap opera. If any workmate used not to watch the program, she would most likely think of starting to watch it so that she could also enjoy the discussion like her workmates. It is however not easy to prove that the workmates actually watched the soap operas. There is a probability that the story was narrated to them by their children who might have watched it. This makes it a bit harder to actually measure an audience.

The feminist theory explains that media use or audience is persistently gendered (McQuail 1997). There is a connection between media use and sex where by some kind of media are specifically produced for women mostly by women. Radway’s (1984) research explains that romance fiction is most liked by women and therefore programs related to fiction romance would have more women viewers than men. A study conducted by Morley (1986) on family viewing emphasized on different understandings, patterns of behavior and unwritten rules that determine the use of domestic media. For instance, men mostly controlled and dictated what kinds of programs were to be watched in the evening. Whenever there is a program that the man of the house would wish to watch, the woman and children will have to put up with it and forego their taste and preferences. Women on the other hand consider television watching as some means of easing family tension (McQuail 1997).

On the other hand Hosbon (1992, p.98) explains that mass communication: television and radio has become a very important aspect of the daily lives of family members and more so for the women. Unlike what many might think, women do not consider television and media as spare time entertainment. This is part of their daily lives in various ways. For instance, a woman would listen to the radio from morning to evening while doing their daily like housework, domestic duty and child care. For some women, it’s a routine to switch on the radio every morning when they wake up before they begin their duties. Women are also addicted to talk show programs like Oprah where they confess so freely and express their emotions about their daily experiences. They can debate all kinds of programs ranging from self esteem among the little girls to issues about their family lives. These two points of view therefore makes it difficult to understand whether women really like watching some programs because they like them or because they have nothing else to do and need company.

All the same as Lull (1990, p.38) puts it, every home has viewers whose behavior is determined by different complications of family life. For instance women in India organize for gatherings in order to view special television programs. This extends their domestic roles and social roles too. In other parts, women use TVs to calm down their children and therefore it helps them fulfill their domestic roles as mothers. Such an audience is therefore determined by social context and does not exist in a vacuum. Moreover, personal attributes of each individual, specific activities and their mental orientation are more routine acts that determine patterns of television watching. For instance, in China, older people like watching televised Chinese operas while younger viewers are more attracted by the modern stories. This implies that age could and environment could determine an audience.

There is a very high probability as Shattuc (2004, p.112) argues that the audiences in talk shows do not exactly reflect the free will of women to attend or listen. They use the expert of mental health industry such as social workers, psychologists, therapists among others to capture the minds of the women. They actually believe that real emotion and psychological truth would give way to solutions of various problems. It is therefore important to consider the degree to which talk show use the self actualization, self knowledge and emotional freedom to control viewers. This also gives an impression not all audiences are voluntary. Some might be watching some program not because they want to but because of the psychological game they have been played with.

From the Foucaultian or Marxist point of view reality of self therapy is responsible for the naïve discussion of American ideology that objects the role of economics, language and society in the formation of an individual (Shattuc 1994). Even though daytime talk shows possess some sociopsyhological bent in that they are extremely apolitical, there is always a battle to confirm the power of the individual to overcome problems and pain. Moreover, most of the people who go to such shows or listen to them are from lower class families and can not find access to middle-class therapeutic practices. The affirmation of individual’s right and power might be the reason for illumination for most of the lower class housewives who form the greatest percentage of the show audience.

One problem that is most likely to be encountered in regarding audience as members of social classes is therefore the idea that most of them are manipulated into forming part of the audience. For instance, women therapist in talk shows believe that equal rights especially for women can be attained when women are made aware of the sexual and social repressions they are victims of (Shattuc 1992). Carle is quick to state that in most cases, therapy is blind to various differences that sex preference, race and class might cause. Social viewing in this case therefore seems to represent the interest of commercial class of television station operators and those of the therapy group. They take advantage of the ignorance or easily convinced minds of women.

According to Lull (1990, p.39), there are a number of characteristics that would influence watching of television. Most of these could be regarded as rituals that are mostly manifested in the cultural or macro social and family or micro social rules. In this case a ritual refers to some kind of repeated family activity that is elevated to an almost ceremonial level mainly because of the power of television. On the other hand, rules refers socially coordinated understands which determine the behavior pattern of television watching. This explains further the findings of Morley (1986) where the man controls TV watching in the evening. This goes to explain that audience is shaped and determined by the kind of rules and rituals that different families set up in their homes. Furthermore, these rituals are made up of extensions of mental orientations, normative values and daily behavior of members of the family and the family in general and are understood by all as social interaction and communication rules. Each and every culture has its own rules and rituals. This goes to say that the audience at family is also determined by some kind of culture that in which the family belongs.

However, it should be understood that real audience is not measureable. Even within a given context, it is almost impossible to measure audience. For instance, one can never really tell how many people are watching a certain station by merely considering the fact that they own a television set. Moreover, even if their television sets are on, it does not guarantee the fact that they are concentrating on what they are watching. And just in case we assume that they are concentrating on whatever advertisement that might be aired, it does not automatically mean that they will go buy the product being advertised. So even though it might be possible to measure the number of people with televisions or number of members of a family, it’s still impossible to measure audience.

Take Bausingers example as described by Morley (1992, p.131). A husband might walk into the house full of rage and go straight at the television and switch it on. Not because he is interested in watching whatever might be aired but because he wants to switch on and listen to nothing. This is so different from a situation where a husband goes to his room and the wife picks up the remote and watches sports review with his son. This goes to say that real audience is so unpredictable. As Morley (1992, p.131) puts it, television viewing might be a domestic medium where viewing is mainly done within the boundaries of the family. However, as private as it might be, its largely conducted within some social relations. The most important issue is therefore the luminal place that the television set is placed at the junction of the outside and the inside. Another important consideration is also the channel through which information or news from the media enters the domestic realm.

As the Kansas City Mental Health Foundation researchers found out, television viewing at home does not just exist in some kind of vacuum. There is a specific complex behavior pattern that guides it (Lull 1990). Television viewing is also a behavioral regulator in the sense that there are specific times when family members mostly watch TV and some instances where they don’t. For instance, when kids have some homework to do, parents would most likely prevent them from watching and ask them to concentrate on their homework. On the other hand, during meal times, almost all members of the family will be glued to their televisions sets.

Cultural patterns of television watching are normative to a level that they demonstrate very important values, practices and conditions that the society considers to be appropriate. Even though some members of subgroups might resist aspects of dominant culture, the original overreaching culture which demarcated by language, boundaries and ethnicity gives a basic structure of rules that are supposed to guide daily routines. For instance, the pattern of family viewing in a family is determined by the cultures of the society in which the family belongs. Each family is made up of people with different social roles. For instance, there are some duties designated to the woman while others are designated to the man. The same family has power relation that guide daily family operations (Lull 1990). In a single parent family, the mother could be the supreme head of the family and therefore dictate what is to be done. However, in most cases, the man is considered the head of family and directs the behavior and operations of other family members. On the same note availability of different technology within a home would determine an audience. For example, in a family with only one television for the entire family, the pattern of watching would be different from a family that has computers, two televisions sets and so on. In later case, children could go play games on their computer as parents watch TV. The reason why family members could be watching television might therefore be because they have no other source of entertainment.

On his part Ang (1991, p.5) argues that the fact that technology has led to an increase in the number of television channels that the public can choose from does not necessarily mean that the audience has increased. In fact, he does not consider this to be a freedom of choice as most people would want it look like. Audiences are subordinated by image flow that the institutions in which they belong in provide.  It is very true that issues to do with television and audiencehood are changing to include more that than having access to a television set. The ability for the audience to watch a certain channel is determined by the parameters set by the system in which they belong to and they have no choice other than accept. This makes television audience not just some invisible audience but also a silent majority. Surprisingly, on very rare occasions do television viewers represent themselves as a group or ‘we’ and even if they do, they are never considered to be serious (Ang 1991). He refers to audience without context as taxonomic collective. These are numbers and not real people.

The best example would be looking at the idea that no one is physically forced to go and watch a film at the cinema but it is important that he goes so that the money he pays could be used to produce other films. In this case, the most important thing is the number of people buying the ticket to watch the film. Here the audience is therefore the numbers. This kind of understanding has a problem to the cinema industry in the sense that it might know when people would lose the interest of watching their films. The same applies to television station. The audience to their programs is actually determined by the free will of people whereby they can either decide to watch or not even though they might have the television sets. Membership of television audience is optional and voluntary (Ang 1991, p. 14).

Robins & Aksoy (2000, p.87) explain that the theoretical categories that the cultural studies and diasporic media can access make it so hard to consider anything else other than the diasporic kinds of behavior in families and the society in general. Each individual is looked at from the point of view of the social orders he belongs. The community that an individual is a member of would be used to describe his behavior rather than looking at the person as an independent individual. This context of thinking is criticized by Cohen to be an approach that considers the society to be ontology that is independent of its members and everyone is supposed to continuously adjust to it. Such an approach has no room for self awareness by individual families or community members. As Cohen argues we if we ignore the idea of self consciousness for every individual then this would be a lie because we would be perpetrating fiction in description of people.

Kumar (2006, p. 1) argues that with the increase in intercultural morbidity and international migration, the issue of communities with international boundaries has become a very contentious one. Cultures are now being increasingly reconfigured in terms location through alternative imagination of space, time, identity, history, and differences. The increased and rapid transformation of electronic capitalism has led to general changes in terms of remigration of nationalism in countries like India. With the heterogeneous terrain represented by the mass media, it might be important to critically look into various imaginations of nationalist identity together with the cultural differences that are related to diversification of the media with the increase in technology.

It is therefore very important to introduce the idea of self consciousness when describing audiences so that we could clearly understand the diasporic behavior shown by migrant audiences. It should be understood that an individual would reflect and act in his own way though as a member of the larger society. It is very important that the thoughts and sentiments of individual audience which are otherwise generalized are elicited and described. Robins & Aksoy (2000, p.90) add that the critical part is to understand that each individual is endowed with the ability to think for himself and the capacity for emotions. It is important that their cultures and identities are ignored and more attention given to their minds and sensibilities. The idea here is to move away from the idea of migrant culture and identity and consider how migrants talk and feel about their experiences. Identity therefore requires simplicity while minds and consciousness mostly require complexity. Such kind of transnational development would be able to open up and restructure the way people think about mental space.

One very important aspect that might of interest is what Bourdieu refers to as a move “from the mechanics of model to the dialectic of strategies” (Hirsch 1992, p.194). The central factor in this point of argument is the idea of time and manner in which social relationships amongst people work themselves out in different, culturally specific temporalities. There is another recent perspective of looking at the issue and this is the class-based practices of consumption among the society. However, there has been a disappearance of the centrality of the temporal dimensions in the work that is focused on the same contemporary consumption.

From the above discussion, its very clear that audiences are part of certain social groupings that might not have a definite boundary but has rules and rituals that influence their behavior. There are different studies that have been conducted in regard to the understanding of audience but most of them point to the fact that audiences are influenced by cultures that have been developed within the groups in the society.

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