The 'Grammar' of Television and



               Television and film use certain common conventions often

               referred to as the 'grammar' of these audiovisual media. This list

               includes some of the most important conventions for conveying

               meaning through particular camera and editing techniques (as

               well as some of the specialised vocabulary of film production).


               Conventions aren't rules: expert practitioners break them for

               deliberate effect, which is one of the rare occasions that we

               become aware of what the convention is.


               Camera Techniques: Distance and Angle


               Long shot (LS). Shot which shows all or most of a fairly large

               subject (for example, a person) and usually much of the

               surroundings. Extreme Long Shot (ELS) - see establishing shot:

               In this type of shot the camera is at its furthest distance from the

               subject, emphasising the background. Medium Long Shot

               (MLS): In the case of a standing actor, the lower frame line cuts

               off his feet and ankles. Some documentaries with social themes

               favour keeping people in the longer shots, keeping social

               circumstances rather than the individual as the focus of attention.


               Establishing shot. Opening shot or sequence, frequently an

               exterior 'General View' as an Extreme Long Shot (ELS). Used to

               set the scene.


               Medium shots. Medium Shot or Mid-Shot (MS). In such a shot

               the subject or actor and its setting occupy roughly equal areas in

               the frame. In the case of the standing actor, the lower frame

               passes through the waist. There is space for hand gestures to be

               seen. Medium Close Shot (MCS): The setting can still be seen.

               The lower frame line passes through the chest of the actor.

               Medium shots are frequently used for the tight presentation of

               two actors (the two shot), or with dexterity three (the three



               Close-up (CU). A picture which shows a fairly small part of the

               scene, such as a character's face, in great detail so that it fills the

               screen. It abstracts the subject from a context. MCU (Medium

               Close-Up): head and shoulders. BCU (Big Close-Up): forehead

               to chin. Close-ups focus attention on a person's feelings or

               reactions, and is sometimes used in interviews to show people in

               a state of emotional excitement, grief or joy. In interviews, the

               use of BCUs may emphasise the interviewee's tension and

               suggest lying or guilt. BCUs are rarely used for important public

               figures; MCUs are preferred, the camera providing a sense of

               distance. Note that in western cultures the space within about 24

               inches (60 cm) is generally felt to be private space, and BCUs

               may be invasive.


               Angle of shot. The direction and height from which the camera

               takes the scene. The convention is that in 'factual' programmes

               subjects should be shot from eye-level only. In a high angle the

               camera looks down at a character, making the viewer feel more

               powerful than him or her, or suggesting an air of detachment. A

               low angle shot places camera below the character, exaggerating

               his or her importance. An overhead shot is one made from a

               position directly above the action.


               Viewpoint. The apparent distance and angle from which the

               camera views and records the subject. Not to be confused with

               point-of-view shots or subjective camera shots.


               Point-of-view shot (POV). A shot made from a camera

               position close to the line of sight of a performer who is to be

               watching the action shown in the point-of-view shot.


               Two-shot. A shot of two people together.


               Selective focus. Rendering only part of the action field in sharp

               focus through the use of a shallow depth of field. A shift of

               focus from foreground to background or vice versa is called rack



               Soft focus. An effect in which the sharpness of an image, or

               part of it, is reduced by the use of an optical device.


               Wide-angle shot. A shot of a broad field of action taken with a

               wide-angle lens.


               Tilted shot. When the camera is tilted on its axis so that

               normally vertical lines appear slanted to the left or right, ordinary

               expectations are frustrated. Such shots are often used in mystery

               and suspense films to create a sense of unease in the viewer.


               Camera Techniques: Movement


               Zoom. In zooming in the camera does not move; the lens is

               focussed down from a long-shot to a close-up whilst the picture

               is still being shown. The subject is magnified, and attention is

               concentrated on details previously invisible as the shot tightens

               (contrast tracking). It may be used to surprise the viewer.

               Zooming out reveals more of the scene (perhaps where a

               character is, or to whom he or she is speaking) as the shot

               widens. Zooming in rapidly brings not only the subject but also

               the background hurtling towards the viewer, which can be

               disconcerting. Zooming in and then out creates an ugly 'yo-yo'



               Following pan. The camera swivels (in the same base position)

               to follow a moving subject. A space is left in front of the subject:

               the pan 'leads' rather than 'trails'. A pan usually begins and ends

               with a few seconds of still picture to give greater impact. The

               speed of a pan across a subject creates a particular mood as well

               as establishing the viewer's relationship with the subject.

               'Hosepiping' is continually panning across from one person to

               another; it looks clumsy.


               Surveying pan. The camera slowly searches the scene: may

               build to a climax or anticlimax.


               Tilt. A vertical movement of the camera - up or down- while the

               camera mounting stays fixed.


               Crab. The camera moves (crabs) right or left.


               Tracking (dollying). Tracking involves the camera itself being

               moved smoothly towards or away from the subject (contrast

               with zooming). Tracking in (like zooming) draws the viewer into

               a closer, more intense relationship with the subject; moving

               away tends to create emotional distance. Tracking back tends to

               divert attention to the edges of the screen. The speed of tracking

               may affect the viewer's mood. Rapid tracking (especially

               tracking in) is exciting; tracking back relaxes interest. In a

               dramatic narrative we may sometimes be drawn forward

               towards a subject against our will. Camera movement parallel to

               a moving subject permits speed without drawing attention to the

               camera itself.


               Hand-held camera. A hand-held camera can produce a jerky,

               bouncy, unsteady image which may create a sense of immediacy

               or chaos. Its use is a form of subjective treatment.


               Process shot. A shot made of action in front of a rear projection

               screen having on it still or moving images as a background.


               Editing Techniques


               Cut. Sudden change of shot from one viewpoint or location to

               another. On television cuts occur on average about every 7 or 8

               seconds. Cutting may:


                    change the scene;

                    compress time;

                    vary the point of view; or

                    build up an image or idea.


               There is always a reason for a cut, and you should ask yourself

               what the reason is. Less abrupt transitions are achieved with the

               fade, dissolve, and wipe


               Matched cut. In a 'matched cut' a familiar relationship between

               the shots may make the change seem smooth:


                    continuity of direction;

                    completed action;*

                    a similar centre of attention in the frame;

                    a one-step change of shot size (e.g. long to medium);

                    a change of angle (conventionally at least 30 degrees).


               *The cut is usually made on an action (for example, a person

               begins to turn towards a door in one shot; the next shot, taken

               from the doorway, catches him completing the turn). Because

               the viewer's eye is absorbed by the action he is unlikely to notice

               the movement of the cut itself.


               Jump cut. Abrupt switch from one scene to another which may

               be used deliberately to make a dramatic point. Sometimes boldly

               used to begin or end action. Alternatively, it may be result of

               poor pictorial continuity, perhaps from deleting a section.


               Motivated cut. Cut made just at the point where what has

               occurred makes the viewer immediately want to see something

               which is not currently visible (causing us, for instance, to accept

               compression of time). A typical feature is the shot/reverse shot

               technique (cuts coinciding with changes of speaker). Editing and

               camera work appear to be determined by the action. It is

               intimately associated with the 'privileged point of view' (see

               narrative style: objectivity).


               Cutting rate. Frequent cuts may be used as deliberate

               interruptions to shock, surprise or emphasize.


               Cutting rhythm. A cutting rhythm may be progressively

               shortened to increase tension. Cutting rhythm may create an

               exciting, lyrical or staccato effect in the viewer.


               Cross-cut. A cut from one line of action to another. Also applied

               as an adjectuve to sequences which use such cuts.


               Cutaway/cutaway shot (CA). A bridging, intercut shot between

               two shots of the same subject. It represents a secondary activity

               occurring at the same time as the main action. It may be

               preceded by a definite look or glance out of frame by a

               participant, or it may show something of which those in the

               preceding shot are unaware. (See narrative style: parallel

               development) It may be used to avoid the technical ugliness of a

               'jump cut' where there would be uncomfortable jumps in time,

               place or viewpoint. It is often used to shortcut the passing of



               Reaction shot. Any shot, usually a cutaway, in which a

               participant reacts to action which has just occurred.


               Insert/insert shot. A bridging close-up shot inserted into the

               larger context, offering an essential detail of the scene (or a

               reshooting of the action with a different shot size or angle.)


               Buffer shot (neutral shot). A bridging shot (normally taken

               with a separate camera) to separate two shots which would have

               reversed the continuity of direction.


               Fade, dissolve (mix). Both fades and dissolves are gradual

               transitions between shots. In a fade the picture gradually appears

               from (fades in) or disappears to (fades out) a blank screen. A

               slow fade-in is a quiet introduction to a scene; a slow fade-out is

               a peaceful ending. Time lapses are often suggested by a slow

               fade-out and fade-in. A dissolve (or mix) involves fading out one

               picture while fading up another on top of it. The impression is of

               an image merging into and then becoming another. A slow mix

               usually suggests differences in time and place. Defocus or ripple

               dissolves are sometimes used to indicate flashbacks in time.


               Superimpositions. Two of more images placed directly over

               each other (e.g. and eye and a camera lens to create a visual



               Wipe. An optical effect marking a transition between two shots.

               It appears to supplant an image by wiping it off the screen (as a

               line or in some complex pattern, such as by appearing to turn a

               page). The wipe is a technique which draws attention to itself

               and acts as a clear marker of change.


               Inset. An inset is a special visual effect whereby a reduced shot

               is superimposed on the main shot. Often used to reveal a

               close-up detail of the main shot.


               Split screen. The division of the screen into parts which can

               show the viewer several images at the same time (sometimes the

               same action from slightly different perspectives, sometimes

               similar actions at different times). This can convey the

               excitement and frenzy of certain activities, but it can also

               overload the viewer.


               Stock shot. Footage already available and used for another

               purpose than the one for which it was originally filmed.


               Invisible editing: See narrative style: continuity editing.


               Manipulating Time


               Screen time: a period of time represented by events within a

               film (e.g. a day, a week).


               Subjective time. The time experienced or felt by a character in

               a film, as revealed through camera movement and editing (e.g.

               when a frightened person's flight from danger is prolonged).


               Compressed time. The compression of time between sequences

               or scenes, and within scenes. This is the most frequent

               manipulation of time in films: it is achieved with cuts or

               dissolves. In a dramatic narative, if climbing a staircase is not a

               significant part of the plot, a shot of a character starting up the

               stairs may then cut to him entering a room. The logic of the

               situation and our past experience of medium tells us that the

               room is somewhere at the top of the stairs. Long journeys can

               be compressed into seconds. Time may also be compressed

               between cutaways in parallel editing. More subtle compression

               can occur after reaction shots or close-ups have intervened. The

               use of dissolves was once a cue for the passage of a relatively

               long period of time.


               Long take. A single shot (or take, or run of the camera) which

               lasts for a relatively lengthy period of time. The long take has an

               'authentic' feel since it is not inherently dramatic.


               Simultaneous time. Events in different places can be presented

               as occurring at the same moment, by parallel editing or

               cross-cutting, by multiple images or split-screen. The

               conventional clue to indicate that events or shots are taking place

               at the same time is that there is no progression of shots: shots are

               either inserted into the main action or alternated with each other

               until the strands are somehow united.


               Slow motion. Action which takes place on the screen at a

               slower rate than the rate at which the action took place before

               the camera. This is used: a) to make a fast action visible; b) to

               make a familiar action strange; c) to emphasise a dramatic

               moment. It can have a lyric and romantic quality or it can

               amplify violence.


               Accelerated motion (undercranking) . This is used: a) to make

               a slow action visible; b) to make a familiar action funny; c) to

               increase the thrill of speed.


               Reverse motion. Reproducing action backwards, for comic,

               magical or explanatory effect.


               Replay. An action sequence repeated, often in slow motion,

               commonly featured in the filming of sport to review a significant



               Freeze-frame. This gives the image the appearance of a still

               photograph. Clearly not a naturalistic device.


               Flashback. A break in the chronology of a narrative in which

               events from the past are disclosed to the viewer. Formerly

               indicated conventionally with defocus or ripple dissolves.


               Flashforward. Much less common than the flashback. Not

               normally associated with a particular character. Associated with

               objective treatments.


               Extended or expanded time/overlapping action. The

               expansion of time can be accomplished by intercutting a series of

               shots, or by filming the action from different angles and editing

               them together. Part of an action may be repeated from another

               viewpoint, e.g. a character is shown from the inside of a building

               opening a door and the next shot, from the outside, shows him

               opening it again. Used nakedly this device disrupts the audience's

               sense of real time. The technique may be used unobtrusively to

               stretch time, perhaps to exaggerate, for dramatic effect, the time

               taken to walk down a corridor. Sometimes combined with slow



               Ambiguous time. Within the context of a well-defined

               time-scheme sequences may occur which are ambiguous in time.

               This is most frequently comunicated through dissolves and



               Universal time. This is deliberately created to suggest universal

               relevance. Ideas rather than examples are emphasised. Context

               may be disrupted by frequent cuts and by the extensive use of

               close-ups and other shots which do not reveal a specific





               Use of Sound


               Direct sound. Live sound. This may have a sense of freshness,

               spontaneity and 'authentic' atmosphere, but it may not be

               acoustically ideal.


               Studio sound. Sound recorded in the studio to improve the

               sound quality, eliminating unwanted background noise ('ambient

               sound'), e.g. dubbed dialogue. This may be then mixed with live

               environmental sound.


               Selective sound. The removal of some sounds and the retention

               of others to make significant sounds more recognizable, or for

               dramatic effect - to create atmosphere, meaning and emotional

               nuance. Selective sound (and amplification) may make us aware

               of a watch or a bomb ticking. This can sometimes be a

               subjective device, leading us to identify with a character: to hear

               what he or she hears. Sound may be so selective that the lack of

               ambient sound can make it seem artificial or expressionistic.


               Sound perspective/aural perspective. The impression of

               distance in sound, usually created through the use of selective

               sound. Note that even in live television a microphone is

               deliberately positioned, just as the camera is, and therefore may

               privilege certain participants.


               Sound bridge. Adding to continuity through sound, by running

               sound (narration, dialogue or music) from one shot across a cut

               to another shot to make the action seem uninterrupted.


               Dubbed dialogue. Post-recording the voice-track in the studio,

               the actors matching their words to the on-screen lip movements.

               Not confined to foreign-language dubbing.


               Wildtrack (asynchronous sound). Sound which was

               self-evidently recorded separately from the visuals with which it

               is shown. For example, a studio voice-over added to a visual

               sequence later.


               Parallel (synchronous) sound. Sound 'caused' by some event

               on screen, and which matches the action.


               Commentary/voice-over narration. Commentary spoken

               off-screen over the shots shown. The voice-over can be used to:


                    introduce particular parts of a programme;

                    to add extra information not evident from the picture;

                    to interpret the images for the audience from a particular

                    point of view;

                    to link parts of a sequence or programme together.


               The commentary confers authority on a particular interpretation,

               particularly if the tone is moderate, assured and reasoned. In

               dramatic films, it may be the voice of one of the characters,

               unheard by the others.


               Sound effects (SFX). Any sound from any source other than

               synchronised dialogue, narration or music. Dubbed-in sound

               effects can add to the illusion of reality: a stage- set door may

               gain from the addition of the sound of a heavy door slamming or



               Music. Music helps to establish a sense of the pace of the

               accompanying scene. The rhythm of music usually dictates the

               rhythm of the cuts. The emotional colouring of the music also

               reinforces the mood of the scene. Background music is

               asynchronous music which accompanies a film. It is not

               normally intended to be noticeable. Conventionally, background

               music accelerates for a chase sequence, becomes louder to

               underscore a dramatically important action. Through repetition it

               can also link shots, scenes and sequences. Foreground music is

               often synchronous music which finds its source within the screen

               events (e.g. from a radio, TV, stereo or musicians in the scene).

               It may be a more credible and dramatically plausible way of

               bringing music into a programme than background music (a

               string orchestra sometimes seems bizarre in a Western).


               Silence. The juxtaposition of an image and silence can frustrate

               expectations, provoke odd, self-conscious responses, intensify

               our attention, make us apprehensive, or make us feel dissociated

               from reality.




               Soft and harsh lighting. Soft and harsh lighting can manipulate

               a viewer's attitude towards a setting or a character. The way

               light is used can make objects, people and environments look

               beautiful or ugly, soft or harsh, artificial or real. Light may be

               used expressively or realitically.


               Backlighting. A romantic heroine is often backlit to create a

               halo effect on her hair.




               Text. Titles appear at or near the start of the programme. Their

               style - typeface, size, colour, background and pace - (together

               with music) can establish expectations about the atmosphere and

               style of the programme. Credits listing the main actors, the

               director, and so on, are normally shown at or near the beginning,

               whilst those listing the rest of the actors and programme makers

               are normally shown at the end. Some American narrative series

               begin with a lengthy pre-credit sequence. Credits are frequently

               superimposed on action or stills, and may be shown as a

               sequence of frames or scrolled up the screen. Captions are

               commonly used in news and documentaries to identify speakers,

               in documentaries, documentary dramas and dramatic naratives

               to indicate dates or locations. Subtitles at the bottom of the

               screen are usually used for translation or for the benefit of the



               Graphics. Maps, graphs and diagrams are associated primarily

               with news, documentary and educational programmes.


               Animation. Creating an illusion of movement, by inter-cutting

               stills, using graphics with movable sections, using step-by-step

               changes, or control wire activation.


               Narrative style


               Subjective treatment. The camera treatment is called

               'subjective' when the viewer is treated as a participant (e.g. when

               the camera is addressed directly or when it imitates the

               viewpoint or movement of a character). We may be shown not

               only what a character sees, but how he or she sees it. A

               temporary 'first-person' use of camera as the character can be

               effective in conveying unusual states of mind or powerful

               experiences, such as dreaming, remembering, or moving very

               fast. If overused, it can draw too much attention to the camera.

               Moving the camera (or zooming) is a subjective camera effect,

               especially if the movement is not gradual or smooth.


               Objective treatment. The 'objective point of view' involves

               treating the viewer as an observer. A major example is the

               'privileged point of view' which involves watching from

               omniscient vantage points. Keeping the camera still whilst the

               subject moves towards or away from it is an objective camera



               Parallel development/parallel editing/cross-cutting. An

               intercut sequence of shots in which the camera shifts back and

               forth between one scene and another. Two distinct but related

               events seem to be happening at approximately the same time. A

               chase is a good example. Each scene serves as a cutaway for the

               other. Adds tension and excitement to dramatic action.


               'Invisible editing'. This is the omniscient style of the realist

               feature films developed in Hollywood. The vast majority of

               narrative films are now edited in this way. The cuts are intended

               to be unobtrusive except for special dramatic shots. It supports

               rather than dominates the narrative: the story and the behaviour

               of its characters are the centre of attention. The technique gives

               the impression that the edits are always required are motivated

               by the events in the 'reality' that the camera is recording rather

               than the result of a desire to tell a story in a particular way. The

               'seamlessness' convinces us of its 'realism', but its devices



                    the use of matched cuts (rather than jump cuts);

                    motivated cuts;

                    changes of shot through camera movement;

                    long takes;

                    the use of the sound bridge;

                    parallel development.


               The editing isn't really 'invisible', but the conventions have

               become so familiar to visual literates that they no longer

               consciously notice them.


               Mise-en-scene. (Contrast montage). 'Realistic' technique

               whereby meaning is conveyed through the relationship of things

               visible within a single shot (rather than, as with montage, the

               relationship between shots). An attempt is preserve space and

               time as much as possible; editing or fragmenting of scenes is

               minimised. Composition is therefore extremely important. The

               way people stand and move in relation to each other is

               important. Long shots and long takes are characteristic.


               Montage/montage editing. In its broadest meaning, the process

               of cutting up film and editing it into the screened sequence.

               However, it may also be used to mean intellectual montage - the

               justaposition of short shots to represent action or ideas - or

               (especially in Hollywood), simply cutting between shots to

               condense a series of events. Intellectual montage is used to

               consciously convey subjective messages through the

               juxtaposition of shots which are related in composition or

               movement, through repetition of images, through cutting rhythm,

               detail or metaphor. Montage editing, unlike invisible editing, uses

               conspicuous techniques which may include: use of close- ups,

               relatively frequent cuts, dissolves, superimposition, fades and

               jump cuts. Such editing should suggest a particular meaning.


               Talk to camera. The sight of a person looking ('full face') and

               talking directly at the camera establishes their authority or

               'expert' status with the audience. Only certain people are

               normally allowed to do this, such as announcers, presenters,

               newsreaders, weather forecasters, interviewers, anchor-persons,

               and, on special occasions (e.g. ministerial broadcasts), key public

               figures. The words of 'ordinary' people are normally mediated

               by an interviewer. In a play or film talking to camera clearly

               breaks out of naturalistic conventions (the speaker may seem

               like an obtrusive narrator). A short sequence of this kind in a

               'factual' programme is called a 'piece to camera'.


               Tone. The mood or atmosphere of a programme (e.g. ironic,

               comic, nostalgic, romantic).


               Formats and other features


               Shot. A single run of the camera or the piece of film resulting

               from such a run.


               Scene. A dramatic unit composed of a single or several shots. A

               scene usually takes place in a continuous time period, in the

               same setting, and involves the same characters.


               Sequence. A dramatic unit composed of several scenes, all

               linked together by their emotional and narrative momentum.


               Genre. Broad category of television or film programme. Genres

               include: soap operas, documentaries, game shows, 'cop shows'

               (police dramas), news programmes, 'chat' shows, phone-ins and

               sitcoms (situation comedies).


               Series. A succession of programmes with a standard format.


               Serial. An ongoing story in which each episode takes up where

               the last one left off. Soap operas are serials.


               Talking heads. In some science programmes extensive use is

               made of interviews with a succession of specialists/ experts (the

               interviewer's questions having been edited out). This

               derogatively referred to as 'talking heads'. Speakers are

               sometimes allowed to talk to camera. The various interviews are

               sometimes cut together as if it were a debate, although the

               speakers are rarely in direct conversation.


               Vox pop. Short for 'vox populi', Latin for 'voice of the people'.

               The same question is put to a range of people to give a flavour

               of 'what ordinary people think' about some issue. Answers are

               selected and edited together to achieve a rapid-fire stream of



               Intertextuality. Intertextuality refers to relationships between

               different elements of a medium (e.g. formats and participants),

               and links with other media. One aspect of intertextuality is that

               programme participants who are known to the audience from

               other programmes bring with them images established in other

               contexts which effect the audience's perception of their current

               role. Another concerns issues arising from sandwiching

               advertisements between programmes on commercial television

               (young children, in particular, may make no clear distinction

               between them).



                                      Book Review


                 James Curran, David Morley & Valerie Walkerdine (Eds.):

                 Cultural Studies and Communications. London: Edward

                 Arnold, 1996 (£15.99 paperback; £40.00 cloth)



                                Goldsmiths vs. Fiske


                                     Daniel Chandler


               This substantial collection of papers (371pp.), edited by James

               Curran, Professor of Communications (a historian), David

               Morley, Reader in Communications (a sociologist), and Valerie

               Walkerdine, Professor of the Psychology of Communications, all

               at Goldsmiths' College, University of London, is presented as 'a

               companion volume' (back cover blurb) to an earlier reader-Mass

               Media and Society (Curran and Gurevitch 1991)-which was

               itself initially intended as a revised edition of Mass

               Communication and Society (Curran and Gurevitch 1977),

               though only Curran remains an editor of the current volume.

               The book's pedigree is certainly distinguished.


               It has to be said that some British academic publishers no longer

               seem as keen as they once were to publish such collections of

               papers; the managing editor of one university press reported to

               me some years ago that this was because they no longer saw

               much of a market for them. Edward Arnold (and others such as

               Routledge in particular) should be commended for continuing to

               produce such collections when, whilst journals proliferate,

               universities are increasingly cutting back on subscriptions. In this

               context 'readers' can represent good value-for-money. The

               fashionable 'modularization' of university courses has

               contributed to the need for undergraduates to have easy access

               to short, recent papers by leading figures in the field (particularly

               so that they encounter alternative perspectives), and these

               students are much more likely to consult books than journals in

               any case. From this perspective, multiple copies of suitable

               collections are useful in university libraries.


               The book offers a selection of papers from 'the interface of

               cultural studies and media/communication studies' (p. 1). Four of

               the sixteen papers are reprinted from journals: these being by

               David Morley (1992), James Curran (1990), Stuart Hall (1985)

               and Dick Hebdige (1987) (no criticism is implied by this

               observation: it is useful to have ready access to such papers in

               book form). As the editors themselves note, there are many

               other edited collections in the fields of both media and

               communication studies (Allen 1991; Alvarado and Thompson

               1990; Mellencamp 1990; Corner and Hawthorne 1994;

               Newcomb 1995; Boyd-Barrett and Newbold 1995; Marris and

               Thornham 1996) and cultural studies (Barker and Beezer 1992;

               Grossberg, Nelson and Treichler 1992; Blundell, Shepherd and

               Taylor 1993; During 1993; Gray and McGuigan 1993). In

               seeking to cover both of these two related fields, the editors of

               this volume make a virtue of their book being 'more hybrid' (p.

               4), presumably through blurring boundaries which some might

               seek to erect between them. Suggesting that other editors had

               sought to produce 'authoritative definitions' of their fields (which

               I suspect might be denied by most of these other editors), the

               editors of this book proclaim their 'more limited' aim as being 'to

               produce a collection that indicates how a range of cultural

               studies perspectives might be applied in the study of issues in the

               field of media and communications' (p. 4) and invite readers to

               judge their success on this basis. This would certainly be a

               worthwhile aim which would be appropriate in such a text, but

               since I could discern no specific attempt to illustrate how readers

               could apply any particular 'perspective' beyond the context in

               which it was employed by an individual author my own

               judgement was that this claim was not justified. This is

               disappointing, because undergraduates commonly experience

               difficulty in disembedding procedures from particular

               applications. They need books which not only illustrate the

               application of particular approaches to specific contexts but

               which are also sufficiently explicit about what procedures are

               being adopted to enable them to attempt to explore for

               themselves their application to related phenomena. However, I

               would not dismiss the book on the grounds that it seemed not to

               meet its editors' stated intentions; as readers we have purposes

               of our own.


               The collection is divided into three sections labelled: Cultural

               Theory; Cultural Production; and Cultural Analysis and

               Consumption. Those seeking to decide whether the book's

               general or specific coverage might suit their courses need to

               know that the papers included deal with: Althusser and ideology

               (Stuart Hall); identity (Paul Gilroy); postmodernism (Morley);

               cultural practices in a London street (Dick Hebdige); the

               production of subjectivity (Walkerdine); the history of media

               sociology (Curran); magazines for girls and women (Angela

               McRobbie); popular music (David Hesmondhalgh); the 'New

               Hollywood' (Yvonne Tasker); feminism and technology (Sarah

               Kember); 'the New Revisionism' in audience research (Curran

               and Morley); feminism and media consumption (Christine

               Geraghty); 'The Eroticization of Little Girls' (Walkerdine) and

               anthropology and ethnography (Gareth Stanton). I will not

               attempt to offer an abstract of each paper here. In terms of

               coverage (as well as general quality), my own judgement is that

               the purchase of at least one library copy of this book would be

               desirable for any university offering courses related to these



               In seeking to deal with not only the vast field of media and

               communication studies but also that of cultural studies, editorial

               selectivity inevitably leads to some topics being noticeable by

               their absence. The editors themselves (p. 3) regret the absence

               of papers on certain topics-they list class and gay politics, the

               State and globalization; readers will no doubt notice many other

               gaps. I was surprised to find so little discussion of cyberspace

               (there are limited references only in Sarah Kember's paper), and

               noted Paul Gilroy's observation that, for instance, 'the mediation

               and reproduction of national and postnational identities in

               cyberspace and on virtual paper await a definitive interpretation'

               (p. 40).


               In the interests of opening up the practices of editorial power and

               the processes of academic framing I would have liked to have

               seen a genuine discussion of how and why topics were chosen or

               excluded, and why they were framed as they were. In my

               opinion such a debate would have formed a better focus than the

               relatively unproductive 'dialogue' between Curran and Morley.

               As for why these particular contributors were selected, the

               editors note that the authors all 'either work in, or have close

               connections with, the Department of Media and Communication

               Studies at Goldsmiths' College' (p. 1). Since this was not a

               publication of the University of London, this seems a

               problematic principle of selection, even if (or especially

               because!) the editors insist on their diversity 'of intellectual

               background, inclination and belief' (ibid.). Whatever the cultural

               roots of individual contributors, in terms of current institutional

               affiliations the collection is not only overwhelmingly 'British'

               (only Dick Hebdige was based outside the UK at the time of

               publication, and his contribution was written when he lived in

               London), but also both English (there are British universities in

               Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and predominantly

               metropolitan. And this issue remains unproblematized.


               In tune with the rhetoric of postmodernism the editors make a

               virtue of the book's 'multivocal' character and the 'unusual

               degree of catholicism' of the contributors. I question none of

               these claims; I suspect that most of us who teach within the field

               are likely to welcome the diversity of approaches in such a

               collection (though we may perhaps differ more strongly in our

               reactions to the scope of this text). However, a potential

               purchaser is entitled to ask how this selection of papers from

               such a vast field relates to their own priorities and what broad

               concerns seem to be reflected in the editors' choices.


               One key issue which very clearly united the three editors was

               their antagonism towards John Fiske, Professor of

               Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

               (who is unsurprisingly not a contributor). Previously, Fiske, the

               general editor of Cultural Studies, taught at Curtin University in

               Western Australia, but he was born and educated in Britain,

               where he also taught for some time. He is credited by David

               Morley as having had a heavy influence on 'a recent (and

               principally American) inflection of cultural studies' (p. 286).

               Morley declares that the use of Fiske's books and articles (Fiske

               1987, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1991, 1992) is largely confined to

               American courses (p. 286), but I would suggest that Fiske's

               writings and ideas are far more widely used and cited-even if not

               at Goldsmiths' College in the English metropolis. Curran accepts

               that Fiske is 'influential' and, he adds (is this

               dismissive?)-'prolific' (p. 260).


               Criticism of Fiske's approach is evident both in the editorial

               introductions and in the personal contributions of each of the

               editors. The striking editorial stance regarding Fiske in this book

               may merit some exploration here. Hostilities break out as early

               as page 3, where Fiske is identified as the prime example of the

               'regrettable' 'inanity' of cultural studies' 'uncritical (or 'pointless')

               populism' in celebrating 'rituals of resistance' which are described

               here as 'no more than over-romanticized celebrations of an

               illusory form of consumer sovereignty' (p. 3). These early

               criticisms are made less direct by their attribution to other critics

               of the stance, such as Seaman (1992), McGuigan (1992), Harris

               (1992) and Tester (1995).


               Valerie Walkerdine refers to Fiske's argument that working-class

               audiences are not passive victims of television and popular

               culture but are able both to raid texts for progressive meanings

               and to make resistant readings. Walkerdine comments: 'I wonder

               if there is not a defensive optimism in the way in which these

               authors see a working-class that can make "progressive"

               readings, that has not wholly been taken in' (p. 109). 'This

               attempt to suggest that audiences make active meanings in their

               consumption and are neither passive consumers nor have their

               identities determined by the text invokes an American discourse

               of empowerment, of voicing and authentic creation' (ibid.). Here

               the stance seems to be condemned simply as distastefully

               un-British. Walkerdine adds that she regards the Fiskean stance

               as 'not only wrong but patronizing... Look folks, they are not

               taken in and they are actually bright enough to make their own

               meanings!... It makes working-class readings seem like the

               consumption of pick-and-mix sweets in a postmodern shopping

               mall' (p. 109-10). Finally, she adds that 'while I think that it is

               correct to assert that people make what they can of what is

               available' (p. 110), stances such as Fiske's represent too extreme

               a move away from textual determinism towards voluntarism.


               James Curran notes Fiske's 'embrace' of the (conservative)

               ideology of 'sovereign consumer pluralism'. In such as view,

               argues Curran, 'there are no dominant discourses, merely a

               semiotic democracy of pluralist voices' (p. 268). Fiske presents

               people from (in his own words) 'a vast shifting range of

               subcultures and groups' as constructing their own meanings

               within what Curran describes as 'an autonomous cultural

               economy' (p. 260). Curran suggests that this is 'not very

               different from the American liberal tradition in which the media

               are analysed in isolation from power relationships or are situated

               within a model of society in which, it is assumed, power is

               widely diffused' (p. 259-60). The Fiskean stance is seen by

               Curran as overestimating the autonomy of audiences and

               underestimating media influence. Firstly, media texts, notes

               Curran, are 'rarely wholly open': as Hall noted in his now

               famous discussion of the encoding/decoding model (Hall 1973),

               although alternative, negotiated or oppositional readings are

               possible, media texts do have preferred readings. Secondly,

               Curran notes that:


               Audiences do not have an infinite repertoire of discourses to

               draw upon in adapting TV meanings. The location of individuals

               in the social structure will tend to determine which discourses

               they have ready access to. This influences in turn the range of

               'readings' that they will derive from media content. (p. 268).


               These two qualifications to the notion of audience creativity are,

               of course, fair points, echoed by Morley (p. 287).


               Whilst acknowledging 'the force' of some of Fiske's insights (pp.

               287-8), David Morley seeks to distance his own conception of

               cultural studies from Fiske's 'particular version', partly as a

               defence of cultural studies (and himself) against some of the

               criticisms of his own colleague the communications scholar,

               James Curran. Morley sees Fiske's influence in 'recent reception

               studies (both in America and Scandinavia) which document

               audience autonomy and offer optimistic/redemptive readings of

               mainstream media texts' (p. 286). He also fears that the

               emphasis of Fiske and others on intertextuality might lead to a

               situation where 'the text is simply dissolved into its readings' (p.

               287), instancing Fiske's remark that 'there is no text, there is no

               audience, there are only the processes of viewing' (Fiske 1989c:

               pp. 56-7). Morley sees Fiske's emphasis on diversity of

               interpretation as being at the expense of 'the discovery of

               regularities and patterns of behaviour' in making sense of media

               texts (p. 287). More broadly, he rejects Fiske's emphasis on

               audience pleasures and agrees with Curran's criticism of the

               rejection of any media influence. Also in line with Curran,

               Morley criticizes a lack of emphasis on the issue of power (p.

               288). He notes the importance of the availability of the power or

               cultural resources for audiences to generate certain meanings

               (ibid.) and cites the point made by various commentators (Budd

               et al. 1990, Jensen et al. 1990, Evans 1990, Ang 1990) that the

               oppositional interpretation of media texts of itself does nothing to

               change society or even to truly empower the audience: being

               'active' in interpreting the text is not synonymous with being

               'powerful' in shaping the agenda within which the text is

               constructed. Morley also agrees with Frow (1991) that there is a

               danger of a 'populist ventriloquism' whereby media audiences

               seem to speak with the voices of middle-class intellectuals (p.

               290). He associates what he sees as the excesses of Fiskeanism

               with cultural relativism, seeing Fiske as reflecting 'a populist

               neo-liberal rhetoric which would abandon any concern with

               cultural values', a position which Morley sees as offering support

               both to 'the deregulators who would destroy any version of

               public service broadcasting' and to Hollywood's power in the

               world television market (p. 286).


               Rightly, I feel, Morley notes a tendency in Fiske to avoid

               empirical audience research (p. 287) and to generalize too widely

               from exceptional examples (p. 289). It has to be said, however,

               that there is very little empirical research in the current

               collection, and a fair amount of generalization too. Papers such

               as Angela McRobbie's on 'More! New Sexualities in Girls' and

               Women's Magazines' comes close, but (insightful as it is)

               involves no detailed exploration (or graphical illustration-a

               publishing restriction?) of particular examples-perhaps she could

               have been offered more space to do so. I would have liked to

               have seen the inclusion in this collection of some short and

               accessible empirical studies which could have served as

               exemplars for students of the subject, including some

               psychological (rather than psychoanalytical) papers.


               Of course, the editors' critical observations make a great deal of

               sense as an attempt to redress an overemphasis on audience

               creativity at the expense of constraints on interpretation.

               However, I know of no university courses in which

               consideration is not given to the kind of points raised here, so

               Fiskeanism (if it is fair to call it that) is something of a paper tiger

               (the strategy might almost have seduced me into playing

               something of the same game with 'Goldsmithianism' were it not

               such an elusive beast). As a mode of unifying a collection of

               essays such solidarity of Goldsmiths' colleagues against 'the

               other' (which it seemed clearly to be), I for one found it not only

               surprising but questionable and even disturbing, and it has to be

               said that it verges on a distastefully ad hominem assault. It is

               also a rhetorical strategy which I found became rapidly irritating.

               I would suggest that Fiske's ideas, whatever their limitations,

               remain valuable in counteracting widespread popular

               assumptions of audience passivity, and are particularly useful in

               provoking student discussion of the issues.


               In keeping with the attack on Fiske's precccupation with

               audience interpretation the editors note pointedly that they are

               concerned with 'the entire communication circuit from

               production to consumption' (back cover blurb). Indeed, the

               structure of the book reflects this framework. I always find such

               terms problematic (suggesting, for instance, an unwarranted

               fixity of roles as well as audience passivity) and was encouraged

               to note the unease of one of the contributors, Angela McRobbie

               (though she seems to shoot herself in the foot in her concluding



               I want to suggest that the language of production and

               consumption, most often deployed in recent cultural studies

               work, is too broad, too general, and for this reason unable to

               generate a more rigorous account of the complex and

               multilayered relation between the production of meaning... and

               the diverse ways in which these meanings are consumed by

               readers. (p. 178)


               In his readable paper, 'Rethinking Popular Music after Rock and

               Soul', David Hesmondhalgh-whilst echoing the editorial critique

               of 'cultural popularism' (p. 198)-also alludes to the reductionism

               involved in framing our engagement with media in terms of

               production and consumption, noting in passing that:


               An adequate analysis of musical culture needs to continue to

               address debates on aesthetics, rather than resorting to the

               presentation of data about the consumption and production of

               music, a phenomenon Wolff calls 'sociological imperialism'

               .(Wolff 1993: xiv) (p. 206)


               As if to justify what some might see as unseemly behaviour

               regarding outsiders, Morley and Curran seemed just as happy to

               launch into acrimonious tussle of their own in a 'dialogue'

               between them consisting of some reprinted papers together with

               fresh commentaries and occupying almost 50 pages. The

               simulated dialogue form could no doubt be both interesting and

               fruitful-potentially offering students 'leverage-points' at instances

               of disagreement for unspoken interventions of their own.

               However, I did not find that this particular interchange led to

               sufficient substantive insights to justify the space which the

               editors decided (somewhat self-indulgently) to devote to it.

               Whilst I found Curran's reprinted paper to be an excellent

               overview (and agreed that it required some kind of up-to-date

               commentary) it felt to me that the purpose of the interchange (of

               four papers) between Curran and Morley served more to

               (re)define these authors' respective personal positions than to

               shed light on the subject. Perhaps some readers might find it

               mildly entertaining, but I was left wondering whether such

               already prominent figures really need to promote themselves in

               this way. It could at least have been much shorter. Some would

               indeed query whether the editors should devote 147 pages (40%

               of the book) to their own contributions (quite apart from editorial

               matter). And I regret that this striking feature has led me to focus

               primarily on the contributions of the editors themselves. I should

               add that I say all this despite being a great admirer myself of the

               work of Morley, Curran and Walkerdine-including much of what

               appears in this book.


               Whilst this book is by no means avante-garde in style and

               structure (I do not suggest that it should be), the authorial

               interchange near the end is not the only break from more

               traditional academic written forms. Dick Hebdige's (reprinted)

               paper, 'The Impossible Object: Towards a Sociology of the

               Sublime', also incorporates an experiment with form, intercutting

               televisually, as it were, between discussion of theory and a very

               specific (and insightful) account of the issues explored in relation

               to the author's own locality (at the time of its original

               publication); it even ends in the recounting of a dream! Valerie

               Walkerdine's 'Subject to Chage without Notice: Psychology,

               Postmodernity and the Popular' (the text of an inaugural lecture)

               is another well-woven blend of the personal and the theoretical.

               Even Stuart Hall's generally rather heavy paper does include

               reflections on the personal meaning for the author of some of the

               issues discussed theoretically. Effective breaks from the closure

               of traditional academic styles and structures (which, as these

               examples demonstrate, need involve no sacrifice of academic

               'rigour') are to be welcomed. By this I do not mean simply as

               reflections of postmodernist leanings, but, far more importantly,

               for the educational benefit of our students. Firstly, such

               examples may offer some of them 'openings' in finding their way

               as readers of academic prose. Secondly, the best of these may

               serve as examples for students's own writing-facilitating access

               to academic discourse for those to whom conventional papers

               may seem forbidding. The ideologies reflected in our own

               writing practices should be examined more closely for their

               reflection (or in so many cases, subversion) of what our verbal

               claims suggest (perhaps this review should have been more



               Turning to the issue of the intended readership of the current

               volume, I have to say that I regard this as a fundamentally

               problematic. The three editors declare explicitly that they

               intended the book to be 'a genuinely introductory text' (p. 4); this

               is emphasized as a key feature differentiating it from other

               collections. Its progenitor Mass Communication and Society

               was produced as a reader for Open University students, whilst

               Mass Media and Society-and by implication this companion

               volume-are described here as 'essential reading for students and

               scholars alike' (back cover blurb). Certainly, the papers in the

               current volume are by prominent academics whose publications

               are justly familiar to those in the field (including the editors

               themselves, together with Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige and

               Christine Geraghty). However, whilst I personally found many

               of these papers useful and illuminating, I would not regard most

               of the individual papers or the book as a whole as being

               'genuinely introductory' for undergraduates who are absolute

               beginners in this field - from this light I would suggest that in

               many cases far too much background knowledge is taken for

               granted. I felt that the editors even assumed knowledge of the

               preceding incarnations of the volume itself (which flies in the

               face of a common-albeit irritating-tendency for today's

               undergraduates to regard older texts as supplanted rather than

               supplemented by those of the most recent vintage). Similarly,

               some individual contributors also tended to assume more

               knowledge of their own previous work and of that of others in

               the field than seemed justified in the context of undergraduate

               readers for whom such papers might represent their primary

               reading on the topic. The editors of a genuinely introductory text

               should surely be expected to tailor individual contributions more

               closely to the needs of the intended readers, and I did wonder

               whether the major contributors were perhaps given too free a

               hand in the light of their eminence in the field. Alternatively, the

               editors should have abandoned the claim (perhaps springing from

               a desire to achieve greater sales) that this was a truly

               introductory volume. None of these reservations, I should add, is

               intended to undermine the undoubted worth of the book as a

               contribution to scholarly literature in the field.


               Symptomatic for me of the misleading labelling of this book as

               'introductory' is the surprising choice of Stuart Hall's

               paper-enlightening as I personally found it-as the first paper in

               the collection. Important as a consideration of Althusserian

               Marxism is (my own third year undergraduate students are

               expected to negotiate this topic), undergraduates often comment

               that Hall's papers can be 'heavy going'. To be fair, this paper

               includes some readable passages offering welcome insights into

               Hall's own experiences (and the current paper seems a little more

               accessible than some of his other papers). There is, for instance,

               a delightful aside at one point where Hall notes:


               When I was a child and I was taken to the church by one of my

               grandmothers, I thought the black minister's appeal to the

               Almighty: 'Lord, lighten our darkness,' was a quite specific

               request for a bit of personal divine assistance. (p. 31)


               However, for beginners it is my judgement that Hall is not

               always the best introduction either to the field or even to Hall

               (whose influential ideas I would nevertheless regard as being

               essential for students to come to grips with). Readers of a review

               are entitled to expect some consideration of 'suitability for

               purpose'; Hall's paper is, unfortunately, a clear example of how

               too much background knowledge is required on the part of the

               intended readers about both the author's own previous

               publications and about how the topic had been framed by others.

               The opening sentence -which poses few problems for those of

               us who are experienced in unpacking the distinctive 'Hallese'

               (which we know will be worth the effort)-is likely to stop many

               undergraduate students in their tracks:


               Althusser persuaded me, and I remain persuaded, that Marx

               conceptualizes the ensemble of relations which make up a whole

               society-Marx's 'totality'-as essentially a complex structure, not a

               simple one.


               I would certainly not suggest that undergraduates should never

               be stopped in their tracks; hopefully, slowing students down to

               rexamine their assumptions is a widespread practice in university

               teaching. But whilst academics are well used to dense text and

               tortuous phrasing (I am guilty even here!), for a student audience

               this is surely not the most effective way of promoting genuine

               reflection on the ideas involved. True, the authorial 'I' humanizes

               the piece and might help to dismiss still-surviving prejudices

               against its presence in students' own essays. But I would not

               want my own students to emulate other stylistic features of this

               sentence. For the complete beginner, far too much needless

               unpacking is involved here. Reading always requires us to make

               inferences, of course, but complex sentences such as the

               example given and the assumed knowledge required to make

               sense of them are liable to lead to a widespread feeling of

               exclusion for which I see no justification (and which I am certain

               is not intended). Hall's initial sentence might present a

               surmountable hurdle for the most determined undergraduates,

               but it is far from the most difficult of the sentences to come, and

               when few of those following are much easier to deconstruct,

               such a paper is likely to deter all but the deeply committed. This

               is a pity, since I found the article to be a valuable contribution to

               my own understanding of Althusserian ideas. Since it may seem

               somewhat unfair for me to single out one paper for stylistic

               criticism, I should add that this example of a limitation of writing

               style for the stated readership is not intended to reflect a

               weakness confined to, or even most strongly exemplified by, this

               particular paper, but it does highlight a difficulty which surfaces

               in other contributions. Nor should the author shoulder

               responsibility in this context, since his paper was not written for

               this volume or as an introduction for undergraduates but for an

               academic journal; the editors of this book chose to reprint Hall's

               paper (originally published in 1985) for inclusion in the current

               volume (the option was surely open to them to invite Hall to

               write a paper which was tailored to their specific purposes).


               Not all of the papers seemed to me to be quite so vulnerable to

               such a criticism. I have already mentioned McRobbie's

               interesting paper on magazines which I think most

               undergraduates would find accessible. This may well be true for

               David Hesmondhalgh's paper on popular music. Curran's own

               contributions also struck me as likely to be accessible for

               newcomers to the field. His paper on 'Rethinking Mass

               Communications' in particular seemed a particularly useful guide

               to mapping out stances on media and society-in fact I felt that

               this chapter might encourage some students to draw up their

               own 'maps' (I was very tempted to reach for a large sheet of

               paper myself!). With due apologies to Professor Hall, this

               chapter by Curran might have been more encouraging for

               undergraduates as an opening chapter of this particular book. My

               singling out of these three examples is not meant to suggest that

               these are necessarily the only 'accessible' papers here.


               On a more mundane level, I commend the publishers and editors

               for ensuring that the collection had a subject index-and an

               excellent one at that (if only every academic publisher insisted on

               this in all of their books!) but I would have liked to have seen a

               name index as well. Not all of the references at the end of some

               papers were complete-some references to journal articles lacked

               page numbers; this is particularly unfortunate when one seeks to

               encourage careful referencing by students.


               Perhaps my criticisms suggest that I expect too much of such a

               book, but no academic achievement is beyond improvement. To

               ensure that casual readers don't 'misread' the preferred reading

               of this review I should emphasize that despite my reservations,

               as a collection of papers useful for scholars in the field and for

               advanced undergraduate and postgraduate courses, I recommend

               this book, but I would caution course tutors that despite the

               editorial claim, it is not, in my opinion, a multiple-copy purchase

               for first-year undergraduates.


               9th December 1996


                    E-mail Daniel Chandler:






                    Allen, R. C. (ed.) (1991) Channels of Discourse,

                    Reassembled. London: Routledge (2nd edition; 1st edition

                    Channels of Discourse 1987).

                    Alvarado, M. and J. Thompson (eds.) (1990) The Media

                    Reader. London: British Film Institute.

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                    Journal of Communications 5(2/3): 239-61.

                    Barker , M. and A Beezer (eds.) (1992) Reading into

                    Cultural Studies. London: Routledge.

                    Blundell, V., J. Shepherd and I. Taylor (eds.) (1993)

                    Relocating Cultural Studies. London: Routledge.

                    Boyd-Barrett, O. and C. Newbold (eds.) (1995)

                    Approaches to Media: A Reader (Foundations in Media).

                    London: Edward Arnold.

                    Budd, B., R. Entman and C. Steinmann (1990) 'The

                    Affirmative Character of American Cultural Studies',

                    Critical Studies in Mass Communication 7(2): 169-84.

                    Collins, R., J. Curran, N. Garnham, P. Scannell and P.

                    Wingate (eds.) (1986) Media, Culture and Society: A

                    Critical Reader. London: Sage.

                    Corner, J. and J. Hawthorne (eds.) (1994) Communication

                    Studies. London: Edward Arnold.

                    Curran, J. (1990) 'The New Revisionism in Mass

                    Communication Research: A Reappraisal', European

                    Journal of Communication 5: 130-64.

                    Curran, J., M. Gurevitch and J. Woollacott (eds.) (1977)

                    Mass Communication and Society; Edward Arnold.

                    Curran, J. and M. Gurevitch (eds.) (1991) Mass Media

                    and Society. London: Edward Arnold.

                    During, S. (ed.) (1993) The Cultural Studies Reader.

                    London: Routledge.

                    Evans, W. (1990) 'The Interpretive Turn in Media

                    Research', Critical Studies in Mass Communication 7(2):


                    Fiske, J. (1987) Television Culture. London: Methuen.

                    Fiske, J. (1989a) Reading the Popular. London:


                    Fiske, J. (1989b) Understanding Popular Culture.

                    London: Routledge.

                    Fiske, J. (1989c) 'Moments of Television: Neither the Text

                    not the Audience', in E. Seiter, H. Borchers, G. Kreutzner

                    and E-M. Warth (eds.) Remote Control. London:


                    Fiske, J. (1991) 'Postmodernism and Television', in J.

                    Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds.) Mass Media and Society.

                    London: Edward Arnold.

                    Fiske, J. (1992) 'British Cultural Studies and Television', in

                    R. C. Allen (ed.) Channels of Discourse, Reassembled.

                    London: Routledge.

                    Frow, J. (1991) 'Michel de Certeau and the Practice of

                    Representation', Cultural Studies 5(1): pp. 52-60.

                    Gray, A. and J. McGuigan (eds.) (1993) Studying Culture.

                    London: Edward Arnold.

                    Grossberg, L., C. Nelson and P. Treichler (eds.) (1992)

                    Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge.

                    Gurevitch, M., T. Bennett, J. Curran and J. Woollacott

                    (eds.) (1982) Culture, Society and the Media. London:


                    Hall, S. (1980 [originally 1973]) 'Encoding and Decoding in

                    TV Discourse', in Hall et al. (eds.), Culture, Media,

                    Language. London: Hutchinson.

                    Hall, S. (1985) 'Signification, Representation, Ideology:

                    Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates', Critical

                    Studies in Mass Communication 2: 91-114.

                    Hall, S., D. Hobson, A. Lowe and P. Willis (eds.) (1980)

                    Culture, Media, Language. London: Hutchinson.

                    Harris, D. (1992) From Class Struggle to the Politics of

                    Pleasure. London: Routledge.

                    Hebdige, D. (1987) 'The Impossible Object: Towards a

                    Sociology of the Sublime', New Formations 1: 47-76.

                    Jensen, K. B. and K. Rosengren (1990) 'Five Traditions in

                    Search of an Audience', European Journal of

                    Communication 5(2/3): 207-38

                    Marris, P. and S. Thornham (eds.) (1996) Media Studies:

                    A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

                    McGuigan, J. (1992) Cultural Populism. London:


                    Mellencamp, P. (ed.) (1990) The Logics of Television.

                    Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

                    Morley, D. (1992) 'Populism, Revisionism and the "New"

                    Audience Research', Poetics 21(4): 329-44.

                    Newcomb, H. (ed.) (1995) Television: The Critical View.

                    Oxford: Oxford University Press.

                    Seaman, W. (1992) 'Active Audience Theory: Pointless

                    Populism', Media, Culture and Society 14.

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                    Wolff, J. (1993) Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art (2nd

                    edition). London: Macmillan.


               This review is also published in print form in Cultural



                    Reviews Section



Why do People Watch Television?


                    Uses and Gratifications

                    Watching TV Soap Operas

                    Watching TV Quiz Programmes

                    Criticisms of 'Uses and Gratifications'

                    Some Related Reading


               Uses and Gratifications


               One influential tradition in media research is referred to as 'uses

               and gratifications' (occasionally 'needs and gratifications'). This

               approach focuses on why people use particular media rather than

               on content. In contrast to the concern of the 'media effects'

               tradition with 'what media do to people' (which assumes a

               homogeneous mass audience and a 'hypodermic' view of media),

               U & G can be seen as part of a broader trend amongst media

               researchers which is more concerned with 'what people do with

               media', allowing for a variety of responses and interpretations.

               However, some commentators have argued that gratifications

               could also be seen as effects: e.g. thrillers are likely to generate

               very similar responses amongst most viewers. And who could

               say that they never watch more TV than they had intended to?

               Watching TV helps to shape audience needs and expectations.


               U & G arose originally in the 1940s and underwent a revival in

               the 1970s amd 1980s. The approach springs from a

               functionalist paradigm in the social sciences. It presents the use

               of media in terms of the gratification of social or psychological

               needs of the individual (Blumler & Katz 1974). The mass media

               compete with other sources of gratification, but gratifications can

               be obtained from a medium's content (e.g. watching a specific

               programme), from familiarity with a genre within the medium

               (e.g. watching soap operas), from general exposure to the

               medium (e.g. watching TV), and from the social context in

               which it is used (e.g. watching TV with the family). U & G

               theorists argue that people's needs influence how they use and

               respond to a medium. Zillmann (cited by McQuail 1987: 236)

               has shown the influence of mood on media choice: boredom

               encourages the choice of exciting content and stress encourages

               a choice of relaxing content. The same TV programme may

               gratify different needs for different individuals. Different needs

               are associated with individual personalities, stages of maturation,

               backgrounds and social roles. Developmental factors seem to be

               related to some motives for purposeful viewing: e.g. Judith van

               Evra argues that young children may be particularly likely to

               watch TV in search of information and hence more susceptible

               to influence (Evra 1990: 177, 179).


               An empirical study in the U & G tradition might typically involve

               audience members completing a questionnaire about why they

               watch a TV programme. Denis McQuail offers (McQuail 1987:

               73) the following typology of common reasons for media use:




                    finding out about relevant events and conditions in

                    immediate surroundings, society and the world

                    seeking advice on practical matters or opinion and decision


                    satisfying curiosity and general interest

                    learning; self-education

                    gaining a sense of security through knowledge


                    Personal Identity


                    finding reinforcement for personal values

                    finding models of behaviour

                    identifying with valued other (in the media)

                    gaining insight into one's self


                    Integration and Social Interaction


                    gaining insight into circumstances of others; social empathy

                    identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging

                    finding a basis for conversation and social interaction

                    having a substitute for real-life companionship

                    helping to carry out social roles

                    enabling one to connect with family, friends and society




                    escaping, or being diverted, from problems


                    getting intrinsic cultural or aesthetic enjoyment

                    filling time

                    emotional release

                    sexual arousal


               Blumler & Katz (1974) argued that audience needs have social

               and psychological origins which generate certain expectations

               about the mass media, leading to differential patterns of media

               exposure which result in both the gratification of needs and in

               other (often unintended) consequences. This does assume an

               active audience making motivated choices. However, McQuail

               suggests that the dominant stance of recent researchers in this

               tradition is now that:


                    Personal social circumstances and psychological

                    dispositions together influence both... general habits of

                    media use and also... beliefs and expectations about the

                    benefits offered by the media, which shape... specific acts

                    of media choice and consumption, followed by....

                    assessments of the value of the experience (with

                    consequences for further media use) and, possibly...

                    applications of benefits acquired in other areas of

                    experience and social activity. (ibid: 235).


               James Lull (1990: 35-46) offers a typology of the social uses of

               television based on ethnographic research.


                    Social Uses of Television




                    Environmental: background noise; companionship;


                    Regulative: punctuation of time and activity; talk patterns




                    Communication Facilitation: Experience illustration;

                    common ground; conversational entrance; anxiety

                    reduction; agenda for talk; value clarification

                    Affiliation/Avoidance: Physical, verbal contact/neglect;

                    family solidarity; family relaxant; conflict reduction;

                    relationhip maintenance

                    Social Learning: Decision-making; behaviour modelling;

                    problem-solving; value transmission; legitimization;

                    information dissemination; substitute schooling

                    Competence/Dominance: Role enactment; role

                    reinforcement; substitute role portrayal; intellectual

                    validation; authority exercise; gatekeeping; argument



                    (Lull 1990: 36)




               Watching TV Soap Operas


               A major focus for research into why and how people watch TV

               has been the genre of soap opera. Adopting a U & G

               perspective, Richard Kilborn (1992: 75-84) offers the following

               common reasons for watching soaps:


                    regular part of domestic routine and entertaining reward for


                    launchpad for social and personal interaction

                    fulfilling individual needs: a way of choosing to be alone or

                    of enduring enforced loneliness

                    identification and involvement with characters (perhaps


                    escapist fantasy (American supersoaps more fantastical)

                    focus of debate on topical issues

                    a kind of critical game involving knowledge of the rules and

                    conventions of the genre




               Watching TV Quiz Programmes


               McQuail, Blumler and Brown (1972) offered the following

               summary of clusters of 'uses' that people made of TV quizzes:


                    Gratifications of TV Quiz Shows: Selected Responses


                    Self-Rating Appeal


                    I can compare myself with the experts

                    I like to imagine that I am on the programme and doing


                    I feel pleased that the side I favour has actually won

                    I am reminded of when I was in school

                    I laugh at the contestants' mistakes


                    Basis for Social Interaction


                    I look forward to talking about it with others

                    I like competing with other people watching with me

                    I like working together with the family on the answers

                    The children get a lot out of it

                    It brings the family together sharing the same interest

                    It is a topic of conversation afterwards


                    Excitement Appeal


                    I like the excitement of a close finish

                    I like to forget my worries for a while

                    I like trying to guess the winner

                    Having got the answer right I feel really good

                    I get involved in the competition


                    Educational Appeal


                    I find I know more than I thought

                    I find I have improved myself

                    I feel respect for the people on the programme

                    I think over some of the questions afterwards

                    It's educational


                    (McQuail, Blumler & Brown 1972)


               Social class seemed to be related to gratifications here. McQuail

               et al. noted that most of those who watched quiz programmes

               for 'self-rating' gratifications lived in council houses and were

               working-class. 'Excitement' was most commonly reported as a

               gratification by working-class viewers who were not very

               sociable. And those who reported 'educational appeal' as the

               major gratification were those who had left school at the

               minimum age. John Fiske suggests that these could be seen as

               compensatory uses of the media 'to gratify needs that the rest of

               social life frustrates' (Fiske 1982: 136). In contrast, people who

               reported having many acquaintances in their neighbourhood

               tended to see the quizzes as a basis for social interaction.




               Criticisms of 'Uses and Gratifications'


               The use of retrospective 'self-reports' has several limitations.

               Viewers may not know why they chose to watch what they did,

               or may not be able to explain fully. The reasons which can be

               articulated may be the least important. People may simply offers

               reasons which they have heard others mention. More promising

               might be the study of people's engagement with media as it



               Some degree of selectivity of media and content is clearly

               exercised by audiences (e.g. choice or avoidance of TV soap

               operas. However, instrumental (goal-directed) accounts assume

               a rational choice of appropriate media for predetermined

               purposes. Such accounts over-emphasize informational purposes

               and ignore a great deal in people's engagement with media: TV

               viewing can be an end in itself. There is evidence that media use

               is often habitual, ritualistic and unselective (Barwise &

               Ehrenberg 1988). But more positively, TV viewing can

               sometimes be seen as aesthetic experience in which intrinsic

               motivation is involved.


               The U & G approach has been criticized as 'vulgar

               gratificationism'. It is individualistic and psychologistic, tending

               to ignore the socio-cultural context. As a theoretical stance it

               foregrounds individual psychological and personality factors and

               backgrounds sociological interpretations. For instance, David

               Morley (1992) acknowledges that individual differences in

               interpretation do exist, but he stresses the importance of

               subcultural socio-economic differences in shaping the ways in

               which people interpret their experiences with TV (via shared

               'cultural codes'). U & G theorists tend to exaggerate active and

               conscious choice, whereas media can be forced on some people

               rather than freely chosen. The stance can also lead to the

               exaggeration of openness of interpretation, implying that

               audiences may obtain almost any kind of gratification regardless

               of content or of 'preferred readings'. Its functionalist emphasis is

               politically conservative: if we insist that people will always find

               some gratifications from any use of media, we may adopt a

               complacently uncritical stance towards what the mass media

               currently offer.


               U & G research has been concerned with why people use media.

               Whilst this approach sprang from 'mainstream' research in social

               science, an interpretive tradition has arisen primarily from the

               more arts-oriented 'cultural (and 'critical') studies'. The approach

               sometimes referred to as reception theory (or reception

               analysis) focuses on what people see in the media, on the

               meanings which people produce when they interpret media

               'texts' (e.g. Hobson 1982, Ang 1985, Seiter, Borchers, Kreutzner

               & Warth 1989). This perspective tends to be associated with the

               use of interviews rather than questionnaires. Such interviews are

               often with small groups (e.g. with friends who watch the same

               TV programmes). The emphasis is on specific content (e.g. a

               particular soap opera) and on specific social contexts (e.g. a

               particular group of working-class women viewers).




               Some Related Reading


                    Ang, Ien (1985): Watching 'Dallas': Soap Opera and the

                    Melodramatic Imagination. London: Methuen

                    Barwise, D. & A. Ehrenberg (1988): Television and its

                    Audience. London: Sage

                    Blumler J. G. & E. Katz (1974): The Uses of Mass

                    Communication. Newbury Park, CA: Sage

                    Evra, Judith van (1990): Television and Child

                    Development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

                    Fiske, John (1982): Introduction to Communication

                    Studies. London: Routledge

                    Hobson, Dorothy (1982): Crossroads: The Drama of a

                    Soap Opera. London: Methuen

                    Kilborn, Richard (1992): Television Soaps. London:


                    Lull, James (1990): Inside Family Viewing: Ethnographic

                    Research on Television's Audiences. London: Routledge

                    McQuail, Denis (1987): Mass Communication Theory: An

                    Introduction (2nd edn.). London: Sage

                    McQuail, D., J. Blumler & R. Brown (1972): 'The

                    television audience: a revised perspective' in D. McQuail

                    (ed.): Sociology of Mass Communication. London:


                    Morley, David (1986): Family Television: Cultural Power

                    and Domestic Leisure. London: Routledge

                    Morley, David (1992): Television, Audiences and Cultural

                    Studies. London: Routledge

                    Rosengren, K. E. & S. Windahl (1989): Media Matter.

                    Norwood, NJ: Ablex

                    Seiter, Ellen, Hans Borchers, Gabriele Kreutzner &

                    Eva-Maria Warth (eds.) (1989): Remote Control:

                    Television, Audiences and Cultural Power. London:



               Daniel Chandler

               UWA 1994




               This page has been accessed  times since 18th

               September 1995.


Cultivation Theory


               Daniel Chandler


               Cultivation theory (sometimes referred to as the cultivation

               hypothesis or cultivation analysis) was an approach developed

               by Professor George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of

               Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. He began

               the 'Cultural Indicators' research project in the mid-1960s, to

               study whether and how watching television may influence

               viewers' ideas of what the everyday world is like. Cultivation

               research is in the 'effects' tradition. Cultivation theorists argue

               that television has long-term effects which are small, gradual,

               indirect but cumulative and significant.


               They emphasize the effects of television viewing on the attitudes

               rather than the behaviour of viewers. Heavy watching of

               television is seen as 'cultivating' attitudes which are more

               consistent with the world of television programmes than with the

               everyday world. Watching television may tend to induce a

               general mindset about violence in the world, quite apart from

               any effects it might have in inducing violent behaviour.

               Cultivation theorists distinguish between 'first order' effects

               (general beliefs about the everyday world, such as about the

               prevalence of violence) and 'second order' effects (specific

               attitudes, such as to law and order or to personal safety).


               Gerbner argues that the mass media cultivate attitudes and

               values which are already present in a culture: the media maintain

               and propagate these values amongst members of a culture, thus

               binding it together. He has argued that television tends to

               cultivate middle-of-the- road political perspectives. And Gross

               considered that 'television is a cultural arm of the established

               industrial order and as such serves primarily to maintain, stabilize

               and reinforce rather than to alter, threaten or weaken

               conventional beliefs and behaviours' (1977, in Boyd- Barrett &

               Braham 1987, p. 100). Such a function is conservative, but

               heavy viewers tend to regard themselves as 'moderate'.


               Cultivation research looks at the mass media as a socializing

               agent and investigates whether television viewers come to

               believe the television version of reality the more they watch it.

               Gerbner and his colleagues contend that television drama has a

               small but significant influence on the attitudes, beliefs and

               judgements of viewers concerning the social world. The focus is

               on 'heavy viewers'. People who watch a lot of television are

               likely to be more influenced by the ways in which the world is

               framed by television programmes than are individuals who watch

               less, especially regarding topics of which the viewer has little

               first-hand experience. Light viewers may have more sources of

               information than heavy viewers. Judith van Evra argues that by

               virtue of inexperience, young viewers may depend on television

               for information more than other viewers do (van Evra 1990, p.

               167), although Hawkins and Pingree argue that some children

               may not experience a cultivation effect at all where they do not

               understand motives or consequences (cited by van Evra, ibid.).

               It may be that lone viewers are more open to a cultivation effect

               than those who view with others (van Evra 1990, p. 171).


               Television is seen by Gerbner as dominating our 'symbolic

               environment'. As McQuail and Windahl note, cultivation theory

               presents television as 'not a window on or reflection of the

               world, but a world in itself' (1993, p. 100). Gerbner argued that

               the over-representation of violence on television constitutes a

               symbolic message about law and order rather than a simple

               cause of more aggressive behaviour by viewers (as Bandura

               argued). For instance, the action- adventure genre acts to

               reinforce a faith in law and order, the status quo and social

               justice (baddies usually get their just dessert).


               Since 1967, Gerbner and his colleagues have been analysing

               sample weeks of prime-time and daytime television

               programming. Cultivation analysis usually involves the

               correlation of data from content analysis (identifying prevailing

               images on television) with survey data from audience research

               (to assess any influence of such images on the attitudes of

               viewers). Content analysis by cultivation theorists seeks to

               characterize 'the TV world'. Such analysis shows not only that

               the TV world is far more violent than the everyday world, but

               also, for instance, that television is dominated by males and

               over-represents the professions and those involved in law



               Audience research by cultivation theorists involves asking

               large-scale public opinion poll organizations to include in their

               national surveys questions regarding such issues as the amount

               of violence in everyday life. Answers are interpreted as reflecting

               either the world of television or that of everyday life.

               Respondents are asked such questions as: 'What percentage of

               all males who have jobs work in law enforcement or crime

               detection? Is it 1 percent or 10 percent?'. On American TV,

               about 12 percent of all male characters hold such jobs, and

               about 1 percent of males are employed in the USA in these jobs,

               so 10 percent would be the 'TV answer' and 1 percent would be

               the 'real-world answer' (Dominick 1990, p. 512).


               Answers are then related to the amount of television watched,

               other media habits and demographic data such as sex, age,

               income and education. The cultivation hypothesis involves

               predicting or expecting heavy television viewers to give more TV

               answers than light viewers. The responses of a large number of

               heavy viewers are compared with those of light viewers. A

               tendency of heavy viewers to choose TV answers is interpreted

               as evidence of a cultivation effect.


               In a survey of about 450 New Jersey schoolchildren, 73 percent

               of heavy viewers compared to 62 percent of light viewers gave

               the TV answer to a question asking them to estimate the number

               of people involved in violence in a typical week. The same

               survey showed that children who were heavy viewers were more

               fearful about walking alone in a city at night. They also

               overestimated the number of people who commit serious crimes

               (Dominick 1990, p. 512). One controlled experiment addressed

               the issue of cause and effect, manipulating the viewing of

               American college students to create heavy- and light-viewing

               groups. After 6 weeks of controlled viewing, heavy viewers of

               action-adventure programmes were indeed found to be more

               fearful of life in the everyday world than were light viewers

               (ibid., p. 513).


               Cultivation theorists are best known for their study of television

               and viewers, and in particular for a focus on the topic of

               violence. However, some studies have also considered other

               mass media from this perspective, and have dealt with topics

               such as gender roles, age groups, ethnic groups and political

               attitudes. A study of American college students found that heavy

               soap opera viewers were more likely than light viewers to

               over-estimate the number of real-life married people who had

               affairs or who had been divorced and the number of women

               who had abortions (Dominick 1990, p. 512).


               The difference in the pattern of responses between light and

               heavy viewers (when other variables are controlled), is referred

               to as the 'cultivation differential', reflecting the extent to which

               an attitude seems to be shaped by watching television. Older

               people tend to be portrayed negatively on television and heavy

               viewers (especially younger ones) tend to hold more negative

               views about older people than lighter viewers. Most heavy

               viewers are unaware of any influence of television viewing on

               their attitudes and values.


               Cultivation theorists argue that heavy viewing leads viewers

               (even among high educational/high income groups) to have more

               homogeneous or convergent opinions than light viewers (who

               tend to have more heterogeneous or divergent opinions). The

               cultivation effect of television viewing is one of 'levelling' or

               'homogenizing' opinion. Gerbner and his associates argue that

               heavy viewers of violence on television come to believe that the

               incidence of violence in the everyday world is higher than do

               light viewers of similar backgrounds. They refer to this as a

               mainstreaming effect.


               Misjudging the amount of violence in society is sometimes called

               the 'mean world syndrome'. Heavy viewers tend to believe that

               the world is a nastier place than do light viewers. Pingree and

               Hawkins (1981, cited in Condry 1989, p. 127) studied 1,280

               primary schoolchildren (2nd-11th grade) in Australia using

               viewing diaries and questionnaires. They found that heavy

               viewing led to a 'television-biased' view of Australia as a 'mean

               and violent' place. The children with the bleakest picture of

               Australia were those who most watched American crime

               adventure programmes. Oddly, they did not judge the USA to

               the same extent by these programmes.


               Gerbner reported evidence for 'resonance' - a 'double dose'

               effect which may boost cultivation. This is held to occur when

               the viewer's everyday life experiences are congruent with those

               depicted in the television world. For instance, since on television

               women are most likely to be victims of crime, women heavy

               viewers are influenced by the usual heavy viewer mainstreaming

               effect but are also led to feel especially fearful for themselves as

               women. The cultivation effect is also argued to be strongest

               when the viewer's neighbourhood is similar to that shown on

               television. Crime on television is largely urban, so urban heavy

               viewers are subject to a double dose, and cultivation theorists

               argue that violent content 'resonates' more for them. The

               strongest effects of heavy viewing on attitudes to violence are

               likely to be amongst those in the high crime areas of cities.


               Criticisms of cultivation theory


               Cultivation theory offers a very plausible case, particularly in its

               emphasis on the importance of mediation and on the symbolic

               function of television in its cultural context. However, the theory

               is subject to a number of criticisms. Gerbner has been criticized

               for over-simplification. Denis McQuail argues that 'it is almost

               impossible to deal convincingly with the complexity of posited

               relationships between symbolic structures, audience behaviour

               and audience views, given the many intervening and powerful

               social background factors' (in Boyd-Barrett & Braham 1987, pp.

               99-100). Our attitudes are likely to be influenced not only by

               TV, but by other media, by direct experience, by other people,

               and so on.


               A correlation between television exposure and the beliefs of

               viewers do not, of course, prove that there is a causal

               relationship, although it may suggest the possibility of one. There

               could be a another common factor influencing the apparently

               associated ones. Hawkins and Pingree could not find conclusive

               proof of the direction of the relationship between television

               viewing and viewers' ideas about social reality. Rather than

               heavy TV viewing leading people to be more fearful, it may be

               that more fearful people are drawn to watching more television

               than other people. There might be a reciprocal relationship:

               'television viewing causes a social reality to be constructed in a

               particular way, but this construction of social reality may also

               direct viewing behaviour' (Hawkins & Pingree 1983, cited in

               McQuail & Windahl 1993, p. 101). In any case, surveys cannot

               establish causation.


               Cultivation research does avoid the artificiality of laboratory

               experiments - it is based on normal viewing over a long period -

               but it is subject to the usual criticisms of both content analysis

               and surveys.


               Some studies have shown that careful controls of various

               variables tend to reduce or eliminate cultivation effects. Doob

               and MacDonald (1979, cited in Condry 1989, p. 130) report that

               in the study of the topic of violence, controls for neighbourhood

               were more reliable than the controls for income used by

               Gerbner. Hirsch (1980, cited in Livingstone 1990, p. 16), argued

               that an apparent relationship between exposure to violence on

               television and fear of crime can be explained by the

               neighbourhood viewers live in. Those who live in high-crime

               areas are more likely to stay at home and watch television and

               also to believe that they have a greater chance of being attacked

               than are those in low-crime areas. Cultivation theorists do tend

               to underplay the point that heavy and light viewers do vary in

               other ways in addition to their TV viewing habits, such as in age,

               sex and education.


               Pingree & Hawkins have argued that breakdowns by content

               type are more useful than measures of total viewing, because

               viewers are selective. More specifically content-based measures

               would show stronger correlations in cultivation analysis (Condry

               1989, p. 128). Over- reliance on content analysis misses

               subtleties and assumes that meaning resides 'in' television

               programmes (although Gerbner does emphasize connotative

               rather than denotative meaning unlike many in 'effects'

               tradition). Also, different genres - and even different

               programmes - contribute to the shaping of different realities, but

               cultivation analysis assumes too much homogeneity in television

               programmes (though some commentators would argue that there

               is increasing homogeneity in television programmes which may

               make the cultivation case stronger).


               Asking viewers for their estimations of crime statistics is a crude

               measure of their beliefs about crime. Doob & MacDonald note

               that there is evidence of a cultivation effect with social questions

               (e.g. 'How many muggings were there in your neighbourhood

               last year?') but less so with personal questions (e.g. 'Are you

               afraid of being mugged?'). Even in the context of a symbolic

               function, some critical theorists go further than cultivation

               theorists, arguing for instance that the relative absence of female

               characters on television is a symbolic statement about their lack

               of importance in current social reality: women are 'symbolically



               Condry (1989, p. 139) makes the point that viewers don't

               usually use people on television for 'social comparison'. We are

               not worried by contrasts between how people on television look

               and live and the way we do. If we were, then the heaviest

               viewers would be most concerned about their appearance, health

               and weight because television actors and actresses tend to be

               young, thin and attractive. But the heaviest viewers are in fact

               least concerned about their health and weight.


               There is relatively little evidence of cultivation effects outside the

               USA. Wober (1978, cited in Condry 1989, p. 130) found no

               British evidence of a link between heavy viewing and insecurity.

               But this may be because there is less violence on British

               television than in the USA, and Condry suggests that there may

               be a critical level of the televisual distortion of social reality

               before it is reflected in the attitudes of viewers. Or it may be that

               Britain has a more diverse media culture.


               More recent theories stressing the active viewer downplay the

               power of television to influence viewers which is assumed by

               cultivation theory. Cultivation theory focuses on the amount of

               television viewing or 'exposure', and does not allow for

               differences in the ways in which viewers interpret television

               realities. Viewers do not necessarily passively accept as 'real'

               what they see on television. Television programmes are open to

               varying interpretations. The degree of identification with

               characters by viewers may play a part. Motivations to view also

               vary greatly. Joseph Dominick comments that 'individuals who

               watch TV simply to pass time or because it becomes a habit

               appear to be more affected than people whose viewing is

               planned and motivated' (Dominick 1990, p. 514).


               Cultivation theorists tend to ignore the importance of the social

               dynamics of television use. Interacting factors such as

               developmental stages, viewing experience, general knowledge,

               gender, ethnicity, viewing contexts, family attitudes and

               socio-economic background all contribute to shaping the ways in

               which television is interpreted by viewers. When the viewer has

               some direct lived experience of the subject matter this may tend

               to reduce any cultivation effect.


               There is some evidence that lower socio-economic groups tend

               to watch television as a source of information more than other

               groups, but the viewer's framing of television 'reality' also needs

               to be considered here. It is often argued that cultivation may be

               enhanced when the viewer interprets the content of programmes

               to be realistic; sceptical viewers may be less likely to be affected.

               There is some evidence that ethnic minorities exhibit more

               sophistication in 'perceived reality' than others do (van Evra

               1990, p. 169). There is also evidence that working class mothers

               are more likely to confirm the realism of programmes offering

               negative depictions of undesirable behaviour to discourage such

               behaviour, whereas middle-class mothers may tend to make less

               directive comments.




                    Boyd-Barrett, Oliver & Peter Braham (eds.) (1987):

                    Media, Knowledge & Power. London: Croom Helm

                    Condry, John (1989): The Psychology of Television.

                    Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

                    Dominick, Joseph R. (1990): The Dynamics of Mass

                    Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill

                    Evra, Judith van (1990): Television and Child

                    Development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

                    Livingstone, Sonia (1990): Making Sense of Television.

                    London: Pergamon

                    McQuail, Denis & Sven Windahl (1993): Communication

                    Models for the Study of Mass Communication. London:



               Daniel Chandler, UWA




               This page has been accessed  times since 18th

               September 1995.




The TV Soap Opera Genre and its



                                  Daniel Chandler


                    What is a soap opera?

                    Soaps compared with other genres

                    Subject-matter and style

                    The openness of soaps



                    Coronation Street



                    Dallas and Dynasty


                    UK Soap Audience

                    Women as viewers


                    Key Links


               What is a soap opera?


               The soap opera genre originated in American radio serials of the

               1930s, and owes the name to the sponsorship of some of these

               programmes by major soap powder companies. So, like many

               television genres (e.g. news and quiz shows), the soap opera is a

               genre originally drawn from radio rather than film.


               Television soap operas are long-running serials concerned with

               everyday life. The serial is not to be confused with the series, in

               which the main characters and format remain the same from

               programme to programme but each episode is a self-contained

               plot. In a serial at least one storyline is carried over from one

               episode to the next. A series is advertised as having a specific

               number of episodes, but serials are potentially endless.


               Successful soaps may continue for many years: so new viewers

               have to be able to join in at any stage in the serial. In serials, the

               passage of time also appears to reflect 'real time' for the viewers:

               in long-running soaps the characters age as the viewers do.

               Christine Geraghty (1991, p. 11) notes that 'the longer they run

               the more impossible it seems to imagine them ending.' There are

               sometimes allusions to major topical events in the world outside

               the programmes.




               Soaps compared with other genres


               One related genre is the melodrama, with which it shares such

               features as moral polarization, strong emotions, female

               orientation, unlikely coincidences, and excess. Another related

               genre is the literary romance, with which it shares features such

               as simplified characters, female orientation and episodic

               narrative. However, soaps do not share with these forms the

               happy ending or the idealized characters. British soaps are

               distinctively different from these related genres in their debt to a

               social realist tradition (e.g. 'kitchen sink' dramas) and an

               emphasis on contemporary social problems.


               Some media theorists distinguish between styles of TV

               programmes which are broadly 'masculine' or 'feminine'. Those

               seen as typically masculine include action/adventure programmes

               and Westerns; those seen as more 'feminine' include soaps and

               sitcoms. Action-adventures define men in relation to power,

               authority, aggression and technology. Soap operas define women

               in relation to a concern with the family. The relative 'openness'

               of soaps in comparison with other genres will be discussed





               Subject-matter and style


               Recurrent events in soap opera include courtships, marriages,

               divorces, deaths and disappearances. Gossip is a key feature in

               soaps (usually absent from other genres): in part it acts as a

               commentary on the action. Geraghty notes that 'more frequently

               than other TV genres, soaps feature women characters normally

               excluded by their age, appearance or status' (1991, p. 17).


               Broadcast serials have the advantage of a regular time-slot (often

               more than once a week), but even if some viewers miss it they

               can easily catch up with events. Any key information which

               might have been missed is worked into the plot when necessary.

               Nevertheless knowledge of previous events can usefully be

               brought to bear by habitual viewers, and doing so is part of the

               pleasure of viewing for them. Viewers are also in an omniscient

               position, knowing more than any character does. The form is

               unique in offering viewers the chance to engage in informed

               speculation about possible turn of events.


               Unlike a play or a series there is always a wide range of

               characters in a soap opera (which means that no single character

               is indispensible). The large cast and the possibility of casual

               viewers necessitates rapid characterization and the use of

               recognizable 'types'. British and Australian soaps which are not

               in 'prime-time' slots typically operate on a small budget.


               Soaps are frequently derided by some critics for being full of

               clichés and stereotypes, for having shoddy sets, for being badly

               acted, trivial, predictable and so on. Soap viewers (often

               assumed to be only women, and in particular working-class

               housewives) are characterized unfairly as naive escapists. Given

               the great popularity of the genre, such criticisms can be seen as

               culturally elitist. Robert Allen (1992, p. 112) argues that to

               emphasize what happens when in soaps (in semiotic terms the

               syntagmatic dimension) is to underestimate the equal importance

               of who relates this to whom (the paradigmatic dimension).

               Certainly relationships are more important than plot.




               The openness of soaps


               Some feminist theorists have argued that soap operas spring

               from a feminine aesthetic, in contrast to most prime-time TV.

               Soaps are unlike traditional dramas (e.g. sit-coms) which have a

               beginning, a middle and an end: soaps have no beginning or end,

               no structural closure. They do not build up towards an ending or

               closure of meaning. Viewers can join a soap at any point. There

               is no single narrative line: several stories are woven together over

               a number of episodes. In this sense the plots of soaps are not



               The structure of soaps is complex and there is no final word on

               any issue. A soap involves multiple perspectives and no

               consensus: ambivalence and contradiction is characteristic of the

               genre. There is no single 'hero' (unlike adventures, where the

               preferred reading involves identification with this character), and

               the wide range of characters in soaps offers viewers a great deal

               of choice regarding those with which they might identify. All this

               leaves soaps particularly open to individual interpretations (more

               than television documentaries, suggests David Buckingham

               1987, p. 36).


               Tania Modleski (1982) argues that the structural openness of

               soaps is an essentially 'feminine' narrative form. She argues that

               pleasure in narrative focuses on closure, whilst soaps delay

               resolution and make anticipation an end in itself. She also argues

               that masculine narratives 'inscribe' in the text an implied male

               reader who becomes increasingly omnipotent whilst the soap has

               'the ideal mother' as inscribed reader. Narrative interests are

               diffused among many characters and her power to resolve their

               problems is limited. The reader is the mother as sympathetic

               listener to all sides.


               Easthope argues that the masculine ego favours forms which are

               self-contained, and which have a sense of closure. 'Masculine'

               narrative form favours action over dialogue and avoids

               indeterminacy to arrive at closure/resolution. It is linear and

               goal-oriented. Soaps make consequences more important than

               actions, involve many complications, and avoid closure.

               Dialogue in masculine narratives is driven by plot which it

               explains, clarifies and simplifies. In soaps dialogue blurs and

               delays. There is no single hero in soaps, no privileged moral

               perspective, multiple narrative lines (non-linear plot) and few

               certainties. Viewers tend to feel involved interpreting events

               from the perspective of characters similar to themselves or to

               those they know.


               Not much seems to 'happen' in many soaps (by comparison

               with, say, an action series or an adventure serial) because there

               is little rapid action. In soaps such as Coronation Street and

               Brookside what matters is the effect of events on the characters,

               This is revealed through characters talking to each other.

               Charlotte Brunsdon argues that the question guiding a soap story

               is not 'What will happen next?' but 'What kind of person is this?'

               (in Geraghty 1991, p. 46). Such a form invites viewers to offer

               their own comments.






               Viewers differ in the extent to which they judge soaps as

               'reflections of reality'. Whilst American soaps such as Dallas and

               Dynasty are seen (at least by British viewers) as largely in the

               realms of fantasy, British soaps are more often framed by

               viewers in terms of 'realism'. However, it is misleading to regard

               even 'realist soaps' as simply 'representing real life'. The

               representation of 'reality' is not unproblematic: television is not a

               'window' on an objective and unmediated world. British soap

               operas are often described as 'realistic', but what this means

               varies. There are several philosophical positions underlying

               people's assumptions about the nature of 'reality':


                    Realism: The world has an objective existence which is

                    independent of our use of any means of representation. An

                    attempt to represent the world in words or images may

                    'distort reality', but at its best can 'mirror reality'.

                    Relativism: We unavoidably contribute to 'the construction

                    of reality' - of the world - in our use of words and images.

                    We do this within cultural frameworks (Stanley Fish refers

                    to 'interpretive communities'), so realities are not entirely

                    personal and unconstrained.

                    Idealism: 'Reality' (or 'the world') is purely subjective and

                    is constructed by human interpretation, having no

                    independent objective existence.


               'Common-sense' theories tend to be 'realist' theories in this

               philosophical sense. Philosophical realism is involved when

               viewers consider soaps in terms of the extent to which they offer

               a 'distorted image of reality' of 'the outside world' (Ang calls this

               empiricist realism on the part of viewers). From the perspective

               of the programme makers, documentary realism (Colin

               MacCabe calls this classic realism in the case of the novel)

               involves foregrounding the story and backgrounding the use of

               the conventions of the medium (e.g. using 'invisible editing').

               This 'transparency' of style encourages viewers to regard the

               programme as a 'window' on an apparently unmediated world

               rather than to notice its constructedness. Realism in drama is no

               less a set of conventions than any other style, and it serves to

               mask whose realities are being presented. 'Transparency' is

               associated with a close sense of involvement by the viewers. It is

               found in most soaps, although in American soaps such as Dallas

               and Dynasty lapses into implausibility may tend to distance the



               British soaps also employ the transparency of classic/

               documentary realism, but owe a great deal to the social realist

               tradition (associated with late 50s British films and kitchen-sink

               dramas). Social realism emphasizes 'relevance' - a sympathetic

               portrayal of everyday social problems recognizable to the

               working class (see Jordan, in Dyer 1981, p. 28). Plausibility and

               credibility is also valued more than in American prime-time

               soaps. Geraghty suggests that 'British soaps, because of their

               greater dependence on realism, are less daring [than US soaps]

               in displaying their own fictionality' (1991, p. 20).


               John Fiske (in Seiter et al. 1989, p. 68) notes that minimal

               post-production work on 'realist' soaps (leaving in 'dead' bits)

               may be cost-cutting, but it also suggests more 'realism' than in

               heavily edited programmes, suggesting the 'nowness' of the

               events on screen. Published stories about the characters in soaps

               and the actors who play them link the world of the soap with the

               outside world, but they also allow viewers to treat the soap as a

               kind of game.


               Ien Ang (1985) argues that watching soaps involves a kind of

               psychological realism for the viewer: an emotional realism

               which exists at the connotative rather than denotative (content)

               level. This offers less concrete, more 'symbolic representations

               of more general living experiences' which viewers find

               recognizably 'true to life' (even if at the denotative level the

               treatment seems 'unrealistic'). In such a case, 'what is recognized

               as real is not knowledge of the world, but a subjective

               experience of the world: a "structure of feeling"' (Ang 1985, p.

               45). For many viewers of Dallas this was a tragic structure of

               feeling: evoking the idea that happiness is precarious.


               I would argue that especially with long-running soaps (which

               may become more 'real' to their fans over time) what we could

               call dramatic realism is another factor. Competence in judging

               this is not confined to professional critics. Viewers familiar with

               the characters and conventions of a particular soap may often

               judge the programme largely in its own terms (or perhaps in

               terms of the genre) rather than with reference to some external

               'reality'. For instance, is a character's current behaviour

               consistent with what we have learnt over time about that

               character? The soap may be accepted to some extent as a world

               in its own right, in which slightly different rules may sometimes

               apply. This is of course the basis for the 'willing suspension of

               disbelief' on which drama depends.


               Producers sometimes remark that realistic drama offers a slice of

               life with the duller bits cut out, and that long-running soaps are

               even more realistic than other forms because less has to be

               excluded. However, dramatists do more than produce shortened

               versions of 'the film of life': the construction of reality is far

               more complex than this, and whose life is it anyway?






               Jordan (in Dyer 1981) identifies several broad types used

               extensively in Coronation Street: Grandmother figures;

               marriageable characters (mature, sexy, women; spinsterly types;

               young women; mature, sexy, men; fearful, withdrawn men;

               conventional young men); married couples; rogues (including

               'ne'er-do-wells' and confidence tricksters). Buckingham refers

               also refers to the use of the stereotypes of 'the gossip', 'the

               bastard' and 'the tart'. Anthony Easthope adds 'the good girl',

               and Peter Buckman cites 'the decent husband', 'the good

               woman', 'the villain' and 'the bitch' (in Geraghty 1991, p. 132).

               Geraghty herself adds 'the career woman' (ibid., p. 135ff).




               Coronation Street


               Coronation Street is a Granada production which is broadcast

               nationally in the UK on ITV. First shown in 1960, it is the

               longest-running British TV soap opera. It is watched by about

               one-third of the British population, by rather more women than

               men, by older people, and especially by people from lower

               socio-economic groups (Livingstone 1990, p. 55). It offers a

               nostalgic perspective on northern industrial working-class life as

               group-centred, matriarchal, commonsensical and blunt but also



               It includes strong and positive middle-aged females who are the

               first to spring to mind when viewers are asked to recall the

               characters. It deals with personal events. Work away from the

               home is seldom shown. Political and social explanations for

               events are largely supplanted by personal explanations based on

               the innate psychological factors of individuals or (occasionally)

               on luck (Jordan, in Dyer 1981). People meet in shops and the

               pub to comment on events. Life seems to revolve around finding

               a partner. The introduction of outsiders to the community is

               usually presented as a threat.


               It departs from realism in its use of caricature, stereotyping,

               bursts of stylised repartee and occasional use of melodrama,

               some of these features sometimes being employed almost

               self-mockingly. It has been criticized for the minimal role of

               non-whites. There is little of the inner searching of 'psychological

               realism'. Viewing ratings dropped when an attempt was made to

               introduce more contemporary themes, and there was then a

               move towards a lighter, more humorous style. One producer said

               in 1985: 'We are in the business of entertaining, not offending'

               (in Goodwin & Whannel 1990, p. 122). Rival soaps have led to

               some attempts to update the style. However, it has been

               criticized as having grown old with its audience.


               The camerawork and editing is very conventional. Cutting is

               largely motivated by dialogue. Camerawork consists primarily of

               group shots, 2-shots or 3-shots (in medium to medium close-up),

               shot-reverse shot, occasional panning, and close-ups of single

               characters for emphasis.






               Brookside, set in a modern Liverpool housing estate, first

               appeared in 1982, and it became Channel 4's highest-rated

               programme with around 6 million viewers (it also appears on

               S4C in Wales). Producer Phil Redmond declared that it would

               'tell the truth and show society as it really is', dealing with what

               are seen as topical issues and problems such as unemployment

               (in Goodwin & Whannel 1990, p. 123). 'The Close' uses part of

               a real housing estate rather than a constructed studio set.


               It features a range of characters from different social classes,

               and some of the actors are similar to the characters they play. It

               has a number of young characters (including some still at school)

               so not surprisingly it appeals very much to younger viewers. It

               also offers a wider range of male characeters than the traditional

               British soaps. Geraghty suggests that the programme has also

               given more prominence to 'male preoccupations': 'Brookside has

               developed story lines which depend more on action and

               resolution rather than the more soap-oriented narrative strategies

               of commentary and repetition' (Geraghty 1991, p. 169). It has

               sometimes drawn on the genre of the crime series.


               The use of real houses tends to restrict it to a single-camera

               approach. There are no real meeting places, which makes it

               difficult to weave several stories together. And it has sometimes

               been criticized for being too didactic.






               Eastenders, a BBC production, was first broadcast in 1985. It is

               watched by a little under a third of the British population, by

               more women than men, and more by those in lower

               socio-economic groups (Livingstone 1990, p. 55). The BBC is

               aware of its 'responsibility' as a public service (unlike

               commercial British television companies) to be of benefit to the

               public, and to produce 'serious' programmes of 'quality'. The

               characters tend to be mainly working class. In addition to

               women, young characters and men are given strong roles, so that

               the potential audience is wide. It has become particularly popular

               with teenagers. Buckingham notes that 'much of their fascination

               - and particularly that of the younger children - arose from its

               inclusion of aspects of adult life from which they were normally

               "protected"' (1987, p. 200).


               Set in London's East End, it is in the social realist tradition. The

               programme makers emphasized that it was to be about 'everyday

               life' in the inner city 'today' (in Goodwin & Whannel 1990, p.

               124). They regard it as a 'slice of life'. Producer Julia Smith

               disingenuously declared that 'we don't make life, we reflect it'

               (Geraghty 1991, p. 32). She has also reported: 'We decided to

               go for a realistic, fairly outspoken type of drama which could

               encompass stories about homosexuals, rape, unemployment,

               racial prejudice, etc. in a believable context. Above all, we

               wanted realism. Unemployment, exams, racism, birth, death,

               dogs, babies, unmarried mums - we didn't want to fudge any

               issue except politics and swearing' (ibid., p. 16).


               Eastenders has also featured single-parent families, teenage

               pregnancy, prostitution, arranged marriages, attempted suicide,

               drug problems, alcoholism, generational conflicts, a protection

               racket, a cot death, extra-marital affairs and marital bust-ups,

               sexism, urban deprivation, mental breakdown, disappearances,

               muggings, a fatal road accident and a suspected murder: it has

               sometimes been criticized for being bleak! Perhaps in an attempt

               to attract more male viewers once can sometimes notice a

               tendency to shift a little towards the genre of the crime series.

               Nevertheless, much of the action remains deliberately mundane.


               Although it was part of the intention to handle 'controversial

               social issues' the programme makers insist that Eastenders is not

               'issues-based' (i.e. storylines are not developed simply to

               illustrate predetermined issues). They see themselves as pursuing

               'documentary realism' and their dramatic use of conflict leads to

               issues arising 'naturally' (Buckingham 1987, pp. 16; 30; 83).

               They accept that the programme has an informational or

               educational function for viewers, offering a discussion of topics

               of concern to them, but they are more concerned with raising

               questions than with offering answers. Entertainment is seen as

               the main purpose. The programme makers probably seek to

               avoid putting viewers off by seeming to be patronising.

               However, critics have occasionally noted episodes involving a

               very didactic style.


               The programme does not confine itself to the naturalistic mode,

               but sometimes shifts towards either melodrama or sitcom.

               Buckingham observes that the camerawork and editing is in the

               naturalist tradition, supporting an interpretation of the

               programme as a 'window on the world': the use of the camera is

               unobtrusive and largely static, with only rare use of close-ups

               and tracking; the editing seeks to be 'invisible'; the background

               sound has a 'density of naturalistic detail'; lighting is usually flat,

               with no harsh shadows (ibid., p. 74). However, he also notes

               that it tends to have more simultaneous storylines, more scenes,

               more meeting-places, more characters per episode, and a faster

               pace than either Coronation Street or Brookside (ibid., p. 54).




               Dallas and Dynasty


               Dallas, a high-budget American weekly prime-time soap first

               screened in 1976, has been broadcast in over 90 countries. One

               fifth of the British population watched it; viewers included more

               women than men (Livingstone 1990, p. 55). Some theorists

               distinguish the American prime-time soaps Dallas and Dynasty

               from British social realist soaps by referring to these US soaps as

               'melodramatic serials'. They certainly featured the villains,

               villainesses and emotional excess of melodrama and sometimes

               drifted into total fantasy. Elements of the Western were also



               These soaps focused, of course, on the rich: 'poverty is

               eliminated by the simple tactic of ignoring it' (Geraghty 1991, p.

               121). Glamour was a key feature: locations were often exotic

               and the costumes of the main actresses were often extravagant;

               viewers were invited into a world of abundance. Most of the

               characters were physically very attractive, and almost all were

               white. Dallas also made more use of cliffhangers than British

               soaps: usually a 'psychological cliffhanger', Ang notes (1985, p.

               53). Dallas featured the rivalry between the Ewing family and

               the Barnes family, but business life was far more central than in

               British soaps. The story also featured murder, marital crisis,

               adultery, alcoholism, illness, miscarriage, rape, air and car

               accidents, kidnapping, corruption, illegitimate children, secret

               pasts, chance meetings and so on.


               Some critics say that 'too much happens' in US soaps by

               comparison with British ones: the pace tends to be faster. An

               episode typically featured 20-30 short scenes, most of which

               consisted of conversation. Camerawork and editing remained

               conventional, to avoid distancing the viewer. Facial expressions

               are sometimes shown in close-up and held for a few seconds

               before the next scene. Regarding soaps in general, Tania

               Modleski (1982, pp. 99-100) notes that close-ups (seen by

               Robert Allen as a key feature of prime-time soaps) provide

               training in the 'feminine' skills of 'reading people' - in

               understanding the difference between what is said and what is

               meant - as well as an invitation to become involved with the

               characters depicted.






               This Australian soap was aimed at young people, and attracted

               many young viewers in the UK. It has been criticized for its

               bland stereotyping. It tends to feature primarily physically

               attractive people and there is also a notable absence of people of

               colour. Maire Messenger Davies suggests that 'nothing goes

               wrong in Neighbours for very long and that's why children like

               it' (in Hart 1991, p. 136).




               UK Soap Audience in 1988 (%)




                       Eastenders     Corona-  Emmer- Brookside       Neighbours

                       week-  omni-   tion     dale   week-  omni-    lunch   after-

                       days   bus     Street   Farm   days   bus      time    noon



                4-15   16     17      11       10     16      18        8     32

               16-24   14     17      10        8     19      18       12     15

               25-34   18     16      14       12     19      18       17     14

               35-44   15     13      12       10     14      12       14     13

               45-54   12     13      13       12     10      12       12     10

               55-64   11     10      14       16     11      11       11      7

               65+     14     14      26       32     11      11       26      9


               Male    40     39      40       41     36      41       30     40

               Female  60     61      60       59     64      59       70     60

               Social grade

               AB      12      8      10        9     12      11       11     14

               C1      22     20      19       18     18      18       21     22

               C2      32     33      29       27     34      30       29     33

               DE      34     39      42       46     36      41       39     31

               Average audience (millions)

                       13.4    6.5    16.2     11.2    4.0     2.4      6.6  10.8


               (Adapted from Hart 1991, p. 35)



               Socio-economic grades: A higher managerial, administrative or

               professional; B intermediate managerial, administrative or

               professional; C1 supervisory or clerical, and junior managerial,

               administrative or professional; C2 skilled manual worker; D semi

               and unskilled manual workers; E state pensioners or widows (no

               other earner in household), casual or lower grade workers, and





               Women as viewers


               Soaps in general have a predominantly female audience,

               although prime-time soaps such as Dallas and the most recent

               British soaps are deliberately aimed at a wider audience.

               According to Ang, and hardly surprisingly, in Dallas the main

               interest for men was in business relations and problem and the

               power and wealth shown, whereas for women were more often

               interested in the family issues and love affairs. In the case of

               Dallas it is clear that the programme meant something different

               for female viewers compared with male viewers.


               In 'realist' soaps female characters are portrayed as more central

               than in action drama, as ordinary people coping with everyday

               problems. Certainly soaps tend to appeal to those who value the

               personal and domestic world. The audience for such soaps does

               include men, but some theorists argue that the gender identity of

               the viewer is 'inscribed' in programmes, and that typically with

               soaps the inscribed viewer has a traditional female gender

               identity. And 'the competences necessary for reading soap opera

               are most likely to have been acquired by those persons culturally

               constructed through discourses of femininity' (Morley 1992, p.



               As housewives and mothers, women need to be able to do

               several things at once, to switch from one task to another, to

               deal with other people's problems, to be interrupted.

               Redundancy and repetition make interrupted viewing possible; it

               has even been suggested that soaps are made to be heard rather

               than seen. Modleski argues that watching soap operas habituates

               women to distraction and fragmentation.


               Dorothy Hobson interviewed women office workers in

               Birmingham and found that their free-time conversation was

               often based on their soap opera viewing. Some had begun

               watching simply because they had discovered how central it

               seemed to be in lunchtime discussions. It involved anticipating

               what might happen next, discussing the significance of recent

               events and relating them to their own experiences. Hobson

               argues that women typically use soaps as a way of talking

               indirectly about their own attitudes and behaviour (in Seiter et al.

               1989: pp. 150-67). Geraghty (1991, p. 123) also notes that there

               is some evidence that families use soaps as a way of raising and

               discussing awkward situations.


               Most viewers seem to oscilate between involvement and distance

               in the ways in which they engage with soaps.






                    Allen, Robert C. (1992): Channels of Discourse,

                    Reassembled (2nd edn.). London: Routledge

                    Ang, Ien (1985): Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the

                    Melodramatic Imagination. London: Methuen

                    Buckingham, David (1987): Public Secrets: Eastenders

                    and its Audience. London: British Film Institute