The work of Stuart Hall advocates a continuum between three possible readings of a text:
1. Domination – the reader takes in the meaning of the sender exactly as it was intended and does not change it in his mind in anyway.
2. Negotiation – the reader takes in the meaning and changes it to match his own internal “radar” map he has generated on account of his experiences and beliefs.
3. Refutation – the reader rejects or drastically alters the meaning of the text to be used against the sender or posited as a contradiction to the sender’s text.
Now you might have noticed that I have reinterpreted Hall’s three modes of reading as a good negotiating reader should and stated them in my own words. And in keeping with Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety they aren’t exactly what Hall meant to say but they don’t stray too far. I’m not arguing with him but at the same time I don’t completely agree with this simplified continuum model.
I would argue that the plethora of possible reading modes along and outside of this continuum are so vast that it would be un-blog like to list them all here. But I do want to make a few things clearer.
What is important to question active reception theory on is the actual amount of active reception presently occurring in our society.
Is popular culture really being taken into the minds of citizens and reinterpreted and reused to their benefit? Who is really winning in the corporation versus consumer trade?
To make it easier lets make a (by no means complete) list.
Large organizations like corporations and governments have on their side:
- The judicial system
- Advertising system
- Oligopolistic media system
- Ownership of private property
- Accumulation of capital
- Dominant (market) ideology
- Time to work and money to spend
- Their own versions of cultural production
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Limited spaces for dissent
- Coercive and seductive “coerseductive” intra-personal networks
- Active reception (manipulation, negotiation, or rejection)
What active reception theory doesn’t account for is the power of the cooperation between the systems listed for large organizations to agree on preferred meanings and the homogeneous results we see in consumption pattern’s and uses and interpretations of popular culture.
Neither does it account for the social pre-conditioning that capitalism’s market ideology accomplishes in the infant mind that reduces the ability of future adults to negotiate or reject preferred meanings into different spaces of thought.
Even a recognition of the impressive power of coer-seductive intra-personal networks over corporate speech does not account for the possibility that the large majority of Western society’s intra-personal networks already believe in and actively support the dominant market ideology.
There is evidence for both sides, but the weight of evidence seems to tip the scales in Strangelove’s favour. A re-engagement with the theory of mass manipulation is depressing and unpopular. But if we are going to be honest with ourselves, it is at the very least necessary.