Encoding and Decoding

Goal: This assignment presents students with an opportunity for understanding aspects of culture and identity by having them engage in critical self-reflection and expression through structured writing about the different ways they consume media as a product.

Prompt to Students: Have you noticed that people not only have very different opinions of television shows but even different ways of watching the same show? Have you ever talked to someone and noted that they perceived a show to be full of drama while you thought it might hilarious, or vice versa? Media objects like TV shows are sometimes consumed for their “intended purpose” but sometimes watched critically, ironically, and in other imaginative ways. This is part of what we have studied along the lines of a difference in encoding and decoding.

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Your task: Write a 4 to 5 page double spaced paper on the difference between encoding and decoding about a particular media product or object, such as a movie, television show, magazine, website, etc. Using your own research and experience, write about the following four things in your paper:

A description of the media object from neutral and factual perspective
How you understand the object in question to be encoded for its audience
A detailed description of how you actually consume and interact with it
What this difference between encoding and decoding means
Emphasize points 3 and 4. Your paper should not be a mere justification for what you “like” and consume, but instead a critical reflection on how you and others might tune in to media objects, consume them, and decode them in ways they were perhaps not intended to be consumed. Explore the significance of the difference between how something is made and how it is consumed for you personally and for what it might mean more generally in culture.

Be sure to make use of the terms and concepts you have encountered in the readings. In particular, you need to demonstrate that you understand and can properly employ the terms “encoding, “decoding,” and audience positions (“dominant-hegemonic,” “negotiated,” and “oppositional”). It is not enough to simply define these terms, you must use them in the paper!

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