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Audience Theory. Some theoretical approaches to understanding audiences useful for your audience report. Hypodermic Theory: A passive Audience. Uses and Gratifications: An active audience. McQuail, Blumer and Brown 1972 Four main categories of gratification: Diversion

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Audience Theory

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Audience Theory

Some theoretical approaches to understanding audiences useful for your audience report

Hypodermic Theory: A passive Audience

Uses and Gratifications:An active audience

  • McQuail, Blumer and Brown 1972

    Four main categories of gratification:

  • Diversion

  • Personal relationships

  • Personal identity

  • Surveillance

Audience Needs


A Personal Needs

1. Understanding self

2. Enjoyment

3. Escapism

B Social Needs

Knowledge about the world

Self confidence, stability, self esteem

Strengthen connections with family

Strengthen connections with friends

Media Order of Preference for Satisfying Needs

Utopian Possibilities:An audience dreaming the impossible

  • Richard Dyer, UK academic writes about ‘star theory’ – in particular how do we relate to stars

  • Overall, he suggests that ‘stars’ bridge the gap between our own inadequate lives and the life we would really want to live

  • This is called the theory of Utopian Possibilities

  • Dyer suggests that the utopian ideals of energy, abundance, intensity, transparency and community can be found in popular culture in both its representational and its non-representational codes - colour, texture, movement, rhythm, melody, camerawork (p178)

The 5 Utopian Possibilities

Talk through the 5 Utopian Possibilities with your teacher and then complete the table above using your own language to show your explanation and an example from the film you have written your report about.

Is it possible to make a link between these ideas and the information you have gathered as part of your audience research?

Does this give you a better understanding of why Film / Cinema is so popular?


  • Richard Dyer suggests,

    • "… the categories of the utopian sensibility are related to specific inadequacies in society."

  • Scarcity and the unequal distribution of wealth are addressed by the utopian solution of abundance.

  • Exhaustion — resulting from work and the strains of urban life — is countered in the utopian solution by a kind of boundless energy in which work and play are "synonymous."

  • Dreariness is countered by intensity –

    • "the capacity of entertainment to present either complex or unpleasant feelings in a way that makes them seem uncomplicated, direct and vivid, not 'qualified' or 'ambiguous' as day-to-day life makes them, and without those intimations of self-deception and pretence" (182).

  • Manipulation is replaced by transparency;

  • Fragmentation is replaced by community.

    (Dyer, 180-84)

Cinema (Media) Pleasure and Society

  • Think about the relationship between Utopian Pleasure (found in the media) and Society by asking

    • why there is a need for such desires and

    • why society isn’t able to satisfy these needs in a real, tangible engagement rather than through an imagined sense.

  • Marxist philosophers (eg Ernst Bloch and Frederic Jameson) suggest that utopian aspects of popular culture are a useful antidote to the manipulation of the individual in society

  • In other words, popular culture is used by controlling interests in society (govt, military, big business, pressure groups etc) to stop people understanding and operating in the world as they want to, and rather operate as is necessary for govt, military, big business etc (to maintain order & power)

  • This creates what has been called: false consciousness, or as Jameson describes it as the relation between "utopian gratification and ideological manipulation" in mass cultural texts

How Top Gun changed America’s feelings about War

Look at this article / site above which shows:

  • the Pentagon worked hand-in-hand with the filmmakers, reportedly charging Paramount Pictures just $1.8 million for the use of its warplanes and aircraft carriers

  • Without such billion-dollar props, producers might not be able to make the movie at all,

  • BUT the filmmakers were required to submit their script to Pentagon for edits aimed at casting the military in the most positive light. (eg Goose’s death was changed from a midair collision to an ejection scene, because “the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing.”)

  • enlistment to the military spiked when “Top Gun” was released, as the Navy set up recruitment tables at cinemas playing the movie, and polls soon showed rising confidence in the military.


  • Hypodermic model suggests audience is passive and open to exploitation

  • Utopian theory shows how such exploitation works to manipulate audience pleasures in the interests of those in power

  • Uses and Gratifications model shows refutes above and suggests a model in which audience actively seeks particular uses, pleasures and gratifications from specific media form

  • On the basis of your own research what do you think?

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