In “Encoding, Decoding”, Stuart Hall identifies with the moment of consumption. In that moment, the process of decoding occurs. Although the process of decoding may seem simple at first thought, it is actually complex. People’s different ways of interpreting events is what makes decoding complex. There are social, economical, and cultural differences that should be considered. Thus, rather than simply decoding a message and absorbing everything that the producers wish to convey to the consumers, we must look into the denotative and connotative aspects of the decoding process, as well as “three hypothetical positions” from which the consumer can interpret the message.
Once the “sign vehicle” has left the hands of the distributor, it is up to the consumer to decode and interpret the signs, or codes. But before decoding a message, we must take into account the social, economical, and cultural aspects of the consumer. Though there are simple signs that seem to have an almost natural interpretation with most populations of the world, there are also codes or signs that will be interpreted differently.
How might the consumer interpret the message, based on their social, economical, and cultural background? For example, a statue of the Virgin Mary is shown to a third class person who is a devout Catholic. He would interpret the statue as an object of worship and would also treat it with respect, possibly even praying for economical support. A rich Hindu man, on the other hand would interpret the statue as a plain object with no personal meaning to it. He worships another higher being.
Another aspect to decoding messages are ‘denotation’, the referral to the sign, or object itself, and ‘connotation’, the referral to the ideas that relate to the sign or object. This process, tied in closely with the social, economical, and cultural values of the consumer, is another way in which we can see how decoding occurs. When decoding a sign, it may be analyzed into two parts: the denotative level, and the connotative level. At the denotative level a literal meaning is interpreted, or a “raw” event occurs. For example, the specific image of the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. is the denotative level. It is what we see with our own eyes, without interpretation.
At the connotative level, the “situational ideologies alter and transform signification”. The image of the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. at the connotative level interprets the image. Related ideas to the image, like the words “gun”, “blood”, or “dead” are classified at the connotative level. It is also where social, cultural, and economic aspects come into play: People of different cultures, for example, like in the example in the previous paragraph, can interpret the same denotation differently. Supporters of the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. would connote positive ideas towards his death, like the word “power”, whereas people against the assassination would connote negative ideas towards his sudden death, like the word “death”, or the idea of the loss of a national leader.
The way information is communicated to the consumer also plays a big factor in how the consumer decodes the message. According to Stuart Hall, “We identify three hypothetical positions from which decodings of a televisual discourse may be constructed”. The first hypothetical position, the dominant-hegemonic position, the second, the negotiated code, and the third being the oppositional code.
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