Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gendered Representation Comparing Female and Male Roles in Magazine Advertising

Unfortunately I haven't been able to cut and paste any of my tables or appendices into this essay.

Monk-Turner et al. (2008: 201) report that the 'roles women are shown in are much narrower than the roles depicted by men in advertising'. Do you agree with this conclusion? Use the contents of two or three current magazines as examples in your answer. (The magazine must have been published in 2011. Include the ads in your assignment.)

The roles in which women are depicted in advertisements do not have the same range as other media outlets.  Monk-Turner et al. argue, “The roles women are shown in are much narrower than the roles depicted by men in advertising” (2008, 201) and through a content analysis of the advertising in four magazines, this will be verified.  The representation of women in advertising not only adheres to the cultural expectations of femininity but also complies with misogynist ideals, thereby reinforcing patriarchal hegemony.  Laura Mulvey believes that the way in which women are viewed reflects the hegemonic order of society, and this happens because images of women have “continually been stolen and used” (1992, 757) to uphold the status quo.  According to George Gerbner, “a culture communicates with itself through its total mass-media output, and that this communication maintains or modifies the broad consensus of values in a culture” (quoted Fiske 1990, 143).  Magazines promote the values of a culture and employ stereotyping to translate ”the complexity of individual character into a set of simple, socially defined distinctions” (Thwaites et al. 2002, 153).  This is problematic because of the roles being portrayed: “Women are continually depicted in domestic or family situations playing nurturing roles, or in seductive scenes, as alluring objects of the male gaze.  Men are seen in terms of work and career, or outdoor activities such as sport” (Ibid., 153).  This is congruent to my findings.  I have analysed the advertisements of two magazines that target a female audience (marie claire and Vogue), and two that target a male readership (GQ and Men’s Health), to compare the range of roles depicted.  The magazines being content analysed are all U.S. October 2011 editions, with the accompanying statistical information from The Association of Magazine Media (MPA) and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), relating to the U.S. market.  A description of the methodology is followed by a brief background on magazines, then in separate sections each magazine is introduced before the advertising content is examined with regard to gender and roles, followed by a close analysis of two paradigmatic ads.  I will conclude with my findings, substantiating my agreement with the proclamation by Monk-Turner et al. concerning the disparity between the range of roles for males and females in advertising. 

The adverts in each magazine were first categorised as to size, product, and gender (refer appendices 1 and 4), then the ads were classified as to the precise number of characters within the gender breakdown (appendices 2 and 5).  Finally, the advertisements were categorised according to the role(s) depicted, which has been divided into eight categories derived from those used by Plakoyiannaki and Zotos in their study: homemaker, dependent, career, sporty, equality, decorative, provocative and very provocative (2009, online). After initial sampling of the magazines there was a clear distinction between mainstream provocativeness and that which could be considered going too far, hence the need to distinguish between the two standards.  When deciding what constitutes provocative, the three aspects formulated by Coltrane and Adams (1997) were used: objectification – the person is either invisible or degraded; alluring behaviour – angle of the head, half-closed eyes, pouting lips, flirtatious body position; and provocative clothing – short, low-cut or tight clothes, flesh on display, nudity (quoted in Monk-Turner et al. 2008, 201.  Refer appendices 3 and 6).  Although the preliminary analysis has been on all 1 – 4 page spreads for each publication, close analysis has been conducted on one-page advertisements only.  Each analysed ad features a solo human character, the gender being determined by the targeted readership – ads depicting female characters for women’s magazines, and male characters for men’s magazines.  Two ads have been chosen from each magazine corresponding to the two categories containing the most ads.  This approach was taken in order to ascertain the breadth of roles depicted for females and males.

According to Naomi Wolf, magazines provided women with a much-needed forum for camaraderie, while delivering “whatever the economy, their advertisers, and, during wartime, the government, needed at that moment from women” (1990, 64). The relationship women have had with magazines has been based on “extreme contradictions between the positive and negative elements of the magazines’ message” (Ibid., 70). This dichotomy is problematic because the empowering messages often cloak the more sinister ones that deal with convincing women they are not good enough the way they are, thereby promoting a burgeoning self-hatred, which in turn leads to high consumption of consumer products, namely those connected with beauty and fashion.  This directly relates to the roles females are depicted in.   Essentially females need to be exhibited as young and beautiful, and displayed to promote the product, as opposed to be shown in a pragmatic range of activities as per males.  

marie claire
Described on it’s website as being “more than a pretty face” (Hearst Corporation 2009, online), the total paid and verified circulation rates in 2010 were 1,015,053, an increase of 3.4% on 2009 (MPA 2011, online).  Circulation figures from ABC were 963,305 for the first half of 2011 (2011, online).  marie claire targets woman (median age of 37.1), with a median household income of $81,247 (Hearst Corporation 2011, online). The October 2011 edition of includes 107 advertisements, 70% depicting female characters, with 61% being solitary portrayals.  

marie claire has advertisements representing five of the eight categories (refer Image 1).  The primary function females have in the magazine’s adverts is to be decorative, with the secondary function being provocative.  This concurs with the findings of Plakoyiannaki and Zotos that females in “magazine advertisements were mainly portrayed in decorative roles” (2009, online).
Image 2: Decorative
marie claire, October 2011, page 79
Image 2, although categorised as decorative, borders on being provocative due to the stance, direct gaze, parted lips and displayed cleavage.  Sex is being used to sell the label, and the use of an “idealized human being[s]” (Fowles 1996, 156) offers the vague promise that wearing clothes by Bebe will make you beautiful as well.  This value transference is reiterated by the “eye catcher” (Dyer 1982, 112) technique of the character taking up more than 50% of the space in the ad.  The use of yellow connotes youth, energy and happiness, in contrast to the purple, connoting wealth and extravagance; these are all desirable attributes.  The unassuming label indicates a confidence in the power of the brand (reiterated by not incorporating a slogan or copy).  The blue phone in the model’s hand denotes technology; the connotation being this brand caters for those living in the moment.
Image 3: Provocative
marie claire, October 2011, page  109
Image 3 is categorised as being provocative not only for the amount of flesh on display (or more importantly, the location of the displayed flesh), but also the position of the material between the celebrity’s thighs, the wind-swept hair, and the full-frontal look into the camera with chin slightly down, almost daring the viewer to approach.  The bars of light in the background frame her body and draw attention to her waist.  The eyes then travel up her torso to the logo, positioned over her chest, drawing attention to her breasts.  Due to the objectification, it could be assumed the character is being displayed for male consumption.  After all, “The image convention of depicting women as objects of the gaze and men as lookers continues to exist today…” (Stunken and Cartwright 2001, 80).  However this ad problematizes Mulvey’s premise that it is men who own the gaze as this ad is for female consumption, which is congruent with Gaylyn Studlar’s opinion that obtaining pleasure from viewing is not reliant on gender (1992, 783-785).  Not many of the female audience will be able to identify with Beyoncé, but the “temptation” (Dyer 1982, 112) is in the message: “If you buy the product you are likely to attain the glamour and prestige of the situation depicted” (Ibid., 112).

Since it’s beginning, Vogue “has been America’s cultural barometer” (Condé Nast 2009, online). The total paid and verified circulation rates for 2010 were 1,250,691, which according to the MPA, was a decrease of 1.5% on 2009 (2011, online).  ABC circulation figures were 1,248,121 for the first half of 2011 (2011, online).  The median age of Vogue’s readership is 37.4, with a median household income of $63,094 (Condé Nast 2011, online).  Vogue’s October 2011 edition contains 155 advertisements, with a total of 73% depicting female characters, of which 53% show a lone woman.

The adverts containing females are spread across five categories (refer Image 4), with the major role being decorative. Monk-Turner et al. equate this “focus on female sexual attractiveness” (2008, 202) as being women’s primary reason for inclusion in magazine advertising.

Image 5: Decorative
Vogue, October 2011, page 99

Image 5 is categorised as decorative, even though the character is in silhouette, identifying her as persona non-gratis.  This is a strong attention-grabbing tactic because there is no distraction to the product.  The invisibility of the model links with the slogan, “Redefining timeless style”; she is timeless because she cannot be connected with a particular fashion or era.  However the connotation of this invisibility is quite disturbing; woman as invisible accessory to the product being sold.  This invisibility demonstrates Budd Boetticher’s claim, “In herself the woman has not the slightest importance” (quoted Mulvey 1992, 750).   It is the product that holds the place of importance in the advert; the product is the thing of value.  Without the bag the woman is invisible, it is only with the product that she becomes a real (visible) person. 
Image 6: Provocative
Vogue, October 2011, page 247
The use of the mirror in Image 6 is an interesting addition; according to Sturken and Cartwright (2001, 80), a mirror acts as a replacement of the male gaze.   As there is no indication of embarrassment, we have to presume the character is enjoying her to-be-looked-at-ness.  This can also be seen by the satisfied look on her face and the angle of her body. The length of the skirt reveals a tantalising glimpse of thigh indicating that she is “accustomed to being looked at” (Monk-Turner et al. 2008, 203) and that she finds “pleasure in being looked at” (Mulvey 1992, 748).  Berger suggests women have been depicted as being “aware of being seen by a spectator” (1972, 49) since the Renaissance, and that ads are merely perpetuating the longstanding tradition of treating women as objects.  The blue of the character’s dress connotes calmness and poise, which is reiterated by her pose.  Additionally, blue is the favourite colour of many males, which matches the fact she is on display, and is enjoying it.  This ad highlights Gamman and Makinen’s (1994) statement that “women are accustomed to being looked at, being an object of a gaze” (quoted in Monk-Turner et al. 2008, 203).  This corresponds with Richard Dyer’s premise that while women watch men, it’s men who actively look or stare at women (1992, 104).

According to the magazine’s mission statement, “GQ is the authority on men” (Condé Nast 2010b, online).  The total paid and verified circulation rates for 2010 were 942,624, an increase of 3.1% on 2009 (MPA 2011, online).  Circulation figures from ABC were 939,067 for the first half of 2011 (2011, online).  GQ targets men (median age of 34.3), with a median household income of $72,738 (Condé Nast 2010a, online). There are 75 adverts in the October 2011 edition, with 48% containing only males.

There are four roles represented in the magazine.  Although the majority of ads are categorised as decorative, there are enough examples of career and sporty to counterbalance this and corroborate Monk-Turner et al.’s premise concerning the breadth of roles available for males (refer Image 7).  The two adverts containing only females are categorised as decorative, which is contrary to Monk-Turner et al.’s assertion that “objectified advertising characters were significantly more likely to appear in magazines directed at a male audience” (2008, 206). Interestingly, the only ads to be categorised as very provocative (3%) contain a mixed couple. 

Image 8: Decorative
GQ, October 2011, page 147
Image 8 is perhaps the most common type of ad appearing in GQ.  The handsome, man-at-ease-in-his-surroundings would appeal to a broad section of the targeted male audience as it allows for easy identification: “By using characters and scenes which can be stereotypically identified, the spectator is drawn into the ad and invited to identify or empathize with what is said and done” (Dyer 1982, 96). The earthly tones of the character’s clothing connect him with the setting, and the muted colours cause no distraction for the audience.  The relationship the character has with the dog connotes a caring side identifying him as a modern man not afraid of showing his emotions.
Image 9: Career
GQ, October 2011, page 143
Image 9 is indicative of many of the ads found in GQ as men in suits adorn many of the pages.  This ad denotes man in his hierarchical position in society; he is successful, hardworking (indicated by the hand on phone while active) and interested in his health, which equates to being modern and educated.  The sepia tones, traditionally connoting nostalgia, draw attention to the celebrity character through the elimination of distracting background colours.  There is also a warmth that would be absent if the photo was in black and white.  The sepia adds to the professional categorisation and places the character in what Mulvey describes as the male role “as the representative of power” (1992, 751).

Men’s Health
Men’s Health is described on its website as the “magazine for active, successful, professional men who want greater control over their physical, mental and emotional lives” (Rodale 2011, online).  The total paid and verified circulation rates for 2010 were 1,881,148, an increase of 1.0% on 2009 (MPA 2011, online).  ABC circulation figures were 1,892,760 for the first half of 2011 (2011, online). The median age of Men’s Health readers is 37.7, with a median household income of $81,736 (Rodale online).  The October 2011 issue contains 59 ads, 47% depicting male characters, of which 42% are solitary.

The roles displayed in the adverts are in keeping with the magazine’s mission statement (refer Image 10) in that they depict healthy and successful men.  The array of advertisements is similar to those in GQ, the main difference being the reversal of popularity for the sporty and career categories.  As with GQ, the only ads deemed to be very provocative (2%), contain female characters. 
Image 11, Decorative
Men’s Health October 2011, page 8
In accordance with the magazine’s mission statement of the magazine, this ad connotes health.  The use of brown connects the character with his environment, with which he is obviously comfortable.   Brown connotes connection with the earth, as well as corresponding to the earthy traits of strength and reliability.   The muted colours all work together to create a unity between the character and environment.  The shadows on the character’s face connote a readiness – a willingness to take on whatever needs to be done.  This also fits with the character’s pose, straddling the fence.   The character has a slight scowl upon his face, which creates an intensity to his persona.  This provides an interesting contrast to his surroundings and puts him in a position of controlling it. 
Image 12: Sporty
Men’s Health October 2011, page 61
Image 12 depicts a superman type of character who is adept at many pursuits.  The ad makes use of machismo (the discourse being one of power), which is “the major attribute that is seen as the key signifier, and definer of masculinity” (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008, 382).  This ad upholds the “values of patriarchal society” (Ibid., 379) as it shows man in control.  The dominant use of black emphasises power and prowess, while also indicating the seriousness of the ad.  This seriousness is reiterated by the copy, colour and character, which contribute to the technical aspect.  These choices would appeal to the targeted male audience.  The character is an ordinary looking, experienced male, which lends credence to the authority of the ad.
Although all of the ads in the sample have been included due to their typicality, those taken from the two men’s magazines are particularly indicative of the ads within.  Although there are only 4 different categories shown in each men’s magazine – career (13%), sporty (13%), decorative (19%) and provocative (2%) – the scope of roles within each category is broad and perhaps more importantly, the emphasis is not on being decorative or arousing sexual interest.  Although the sample of ads from the two women’s magazines constitutes a larger number of roles – homemaker (3%), career (.4%), sporty (.4%), decorative (36%), provocative (30%) and very provocative (2%) – the scope within those roles is much narrower.  Although there are many opportunities for crossover within the categories of decorative and provocative, it does not diminish the fact that 68% of the advertisements in marie claire and Vogue featuring a sole female, place women in an ornamental, sexualised role.  This becomes even more alarming when comparing it to the same statistic for males (21%) in the decorative, provocative, very provocative categories (refer Image 13).  According to Fowles, advertising does not “mirror stereotypes; it is actively involved in the dialectical process of making and remaking them” (Fowles 1996, 160).  A study by Dominick and Rauch (1972) found that although the jobs being portrayed in advertisements differed, “the same occupational stereotyping” was prevalent with females having “a far more restricted range of occupations than men” (Fiske 1990, 137).  They described the women in their sample as being “home-bound creatures” (Ibid., 137) due to only 19% of female depictions being outdoors, as opposed to the 44% of images for males.  This is consistent with my findings of the social identity of men and women upholding the patriarchal status quo with females being represented in a narrower range of roles than males:

“By the sheer weight of repetition, media texts endorse certain sets of social values as inevitable and natural … A good example of this is the way in which contemporary fashion and advertising imagery persist in portraying women as passive objects of male desire and control…” (Thwaites et al. 2002, 153-154).
Monk-Turner et al. assert, “The roles women are shown in are much narrower than the roles depicted by men in advertising” (2008, 201), and I concur with this statement.  Being decorative is a woman’s main contribution to magazine advertisements.  This is in line with Monk-Turner et al’s findings that “female advertising characters were used more often than male characters in advertisements using sex to sell a product” (Ibid., 206).  Women are either depicted in decorative roles or provocative roles by being objectified through alluring behaviour and/or suggestive clothing (or lack thereof).   Margaret Marshment claims, “In patriarchal culture, women are defined by those who subordinate them” (1997, 127), and although the top job at both of the women’s magazines are held by women, the magazines themselves are promoting the societal constructs of femininity and masculinity: “Since self-hatred artificially inflates the demand and the price, the overall message to women from their magazines must remain – as long as the beauty backlash is intact – negative not positive” (1990, 84).  The majority of images depicting women persist in displaying women as a decorative supplement, subordinate to either the product or male in the scene: “Women and men are portrayed in terms of a set of fixed values, often determined by oppositions such as indoors/outdoors, domestic/public, worker/boss, passive/active, rational/irrational” (Thwaites et al. 2002, 153).  In magazine advertising, males are depicted in a broader range of roles than females.  The representation of females in a narrower range of roles upholds patriarchy and endorses cultural expectations of femininity. 

Reference List

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Passive Participation or Active Gratification? A Critical Reading of From Tit-Bits to Big Brother

Bridget Griffen-Foley’s article From Tit-Bits to Big Brother: a century of audience participation in the media, “surveys the history of participatory media from the late 19th century to the present day” (2004, 533) through the exploration of six case studies.  She examines periodicals, confessional magazines, women’s magazines, talkback radio and reality television in order “to show that media producers have been blurring the notion of the passive media consumer for more than a century” (2004, 545).   Although Griffin-Foley clearly proves that audience participation has been part of the media before the Big Brother phenomenon, the article fails to establish the context of participatory media.  Clarification of the public sphere, incorporation of additional historical accounts and future prognosis, explanation of the binary opposites of active/passive viewing, and examination of the gratification an audience can obtain from viewing are areas Griffen-Foley could have developed further.  The omission of why an audience participates is a shortcoming of the article and could have been resolved with the incorporation of results from various uses and gratification studies.  In this essay I will examine From Tit-Bits to Big Brother: a century of audience participation in the media discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Griffen-Foley’s analysis, and the suitability of the article for university students studying media.

To put audience participation in context we first have to examine Habermas’s concept of the public sphere.  He perceived a public space, similar to an agora, where educated, rational and critical debate could be encouraged.  He asserted, “Citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion – that is, with the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to express and publish their opinions…” (2006, 73).  Griffen-Foley describes the blurring of “the notion of the passive media consumer” (2004, 545) by media producers as being potentially problematic to Habermas’s “view of the decline and fragmentation of the public sphere” (2004, 545).  However the public sphere that Habermas proclaimed was marred by gender and class exclusion, as per the agora, and was therefore not a place intended for everybody to speak freely.  Consequently it was not congruent with low culture – that is, media intended to reach the masses, which participatory media is designed to do.  What participatory media offers the audience is a place in the public sphere; a place where they can have their say, whether it is educated, rational or critical or not.  This is the fragmentation of the public sphere that Habermas’s was alluding to.  However it is this notion of the public sphere, an arena for active participation that is at the heart of Griffen-Foley’s article.

Naturally all of the case studies involve “low, or popular, culture” (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008, 17) which has always had mass consumption as its aim.  Executive producer of Survivor, Mark Burnett, believes that with reality TV “we’re watching what unfolds in the workplace every week all over America” (CNN 2000, 3), and host, Jeff Probst believes “there's a fascination with watching ourselves” (CNN 2000, 3).  The popularity of the genre with the audience has generated many sub-genres and can be divided into the following categories: gamedoc; dating; makeover and lifestyle; docosoap; talent contest; court programmes; reality sitcoms; and charity programmes (Ouellette and Murray 2004, 5).  O’Shaughnessy and Stadler narrow these down to eliminatory competition and makeover, describing the competition format as being “distinctive because of the level of audience participation and interactivity they invite via the internet, telephone, and merchandising” (2008, 326).  However the competition aspect draws criticism from Salman Rushdie (2004) among others, because “backstabbing competitiveness gets rewarded on screen while invasiveness and gossip is indulged in by off-screen viewers for whom television provides a distraction from important and valuable concerns or pursuits” (quoted in O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008, 328).  The genre is popular with producers due to the relatively low costs involved in producing a series.  For example, the major costs for producing reality TV are “recording technologies and limited set construction” (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008, 327), which is offset by the fact there are no actors or scriptwriters to pay.  In the case of print media, if the audience are providing a substantial amount of the content, this could save on reporter salaries.  The popularity of participatory media adds to the fragmentation of Habermas’s public sphere.

The case studies examined by Griffen-Foley are from America, Britain, the Netherlands and Australia.  Although the case studies and the outlets they represent have the capacity of including stories from marginalised people, they tend to take “European values, judgments, beliefs, and cultures as normal, natural, and ideal” (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008, 410).  The three processes (representation, interpretation, evaluation) the media employ to show us what the world is like are upheld by these Eurocentric case studies.  The majority of the targeted audiences identified in the case studies, and the cast in the case of Big Brother, are representative of the ruling ideology.  The various media outlets provide information either by way of editorials, articles, interviews or opinion, which helps us to interpret “how to make sense of the world” (O’Shaughnessy and Stadler 2008, 34), resulting in an evaluation of the world.   However audience participation is not exclusive to Western culture.  Countries in Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East have print and broadcast media promoting similar content to those in the West.   Inclusion of a media outlet from a non-Western setting, or at the very least, acknowledgement that audience participation is and has been a worldwide phenomenon should have been included.  This exclusiveness adheres to Habermas’s concept of the public sphere. 

Griffen-Foley uses six case studies to trace the history of audience participation since the late 1800s, outlining some of the similarities between them (refer Appendix).  All of the case studies bar one look at a particular outlet from the genre being discussed: late 19th century periodicals, Tit-Bits and The Bulletin; confessional magazines, True Story; mass-market women’s magazines, The Australian Women’s Weekly; reality television, Big Brother.  However for talkback radio the genre is discussed as a whole as opposed to an individual programme being analysed.  Why Griffen-Foley has used two samples from late 19th century periodicals but none from talkback radio is curious.  The article would have benefited from a consistent approach to the treatment of each case study. 

Five of the six case studies begin with an introduction of supplementary background information of the genre and/or era (refer Appendix).  This adds credence to the timeline being presented, emphasizing the popularity increase participatory media has enjoyed over the years.  However to cement the argument of audience participation being older than the Big Brother phenomenon, the article would have benefited from a paragraph reviewing audience participation throughout the ages. O’Shaughnessy and Stadler contend that “even in television, radio, and newspapers the audience has always contributed something to the communicative exchange” (2008, 9) but evidence can be found from antiquity to confirm that participatory audiences predate the modern era.  Early religious rituals, the precursor of theatre, involved participation from the tribal audience through dance and song:

“It was a participatory kind of theatre, the performers would be joined by the villagers who believed that their lives depended on a successful celebration – the harvest had to be plentiful or the battle victorious, or simply to be in good graces with their god or gods” (Shakespeare Theatre Company, para. 1).

The gladiatorial games “introduced to Rome in 264 BC” (Grout 2011, para. 1) involved participation from the crowd who signified “whether a wounded and downed gladiator should be finished off by his opponent…by waving their handkerchiefs for a release, or giving the ‘thumbs down’ signal (pollice verso) for death” (Illustrated History of the Roman Empire 2008, para. 22).  Although the sponsor made the final decision, he rarely went against the wishes of the crowd.  Moreover, on occasions the emperor “might seize a spectator from the crowd and have him thrown into the arena” (Grout 2011, para. 20).  In 16th century London theatres, the audience was not as well behaved as they are today and were known for throwing fruit at actors they deemed to be poor at their craft: “The Bard’s less likeable characters frequently had objects hurled at them and could also expect jeers” (Hastings, Wolf and Brooks 2009, para. 31).  Another arena for audience participation is Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.  Established in the Victorian era, it is a venue where the audience can show agreement or discord with responses ranging “from whistles or whoops to agreement/disagreement tokens, exclamations, or response cries; and then to full linguistic utterances and turns at talk” (McIlvenny 1996, 32).  According to Richard Schechner, “Many think that because participation is new to them, it is new to the theatre…In fact, participation in theatrical events is a very old, widespread practice” (1971, 73).  Inclusion of examples that pre-date the first case study, would have added to the scholarship of the essay. 

In addition to acknowledging the beginnings of participatory media, a paragraph surmising where audience participation is heading would also have added insight.  According to Rebecca Blood, “A Korean website called 'OhMyNews' employs more than 26,000 'citizen reporters' who submit articles on everything from birthday celebrations to political events” (2003, para. 15).  This clearly indicates the impact citizen journalism, a form of audience participation, is having on the news.  A mention of blogging, vodcasting, podcasting, Internet shopping, chatting, or citizen journalism should have followed the reality television passage due to its incorporation of the Internet.  While Griffen-Foley acknowledges in her conclusion that, “the Internet and its surrounding technologies are beyond the scope of this article” (2004, 545), inclusion of the future outlets of audience participation would have added to the academic value of the essay.

The audience is referred to throughout the article, with the targeted audience being identified for five of the six case studies (refer Appendix).  There is however no explanation of the active/passive viewing dichotomy, the ramification this has upon the audience, and the influence it has on their desire to participate.  This is a curious omission considering Griffen-Foley’s admission that her “article has simply sought to show that media producers have been blurring the notion of the passive media consumer for more than a century” (2004, 545).  Blumler and Katz (1974) suggest an audience “is not a passive receiver of whatever the media broadcast” (quoted in Fiske 1990, 154), but is able to actively make decisions concerning choice and consumption.  According to Judith Mayne, “Spectatorship is not only the act of watching a film, but also the ways one takes pleasure in the experience, or not…” (1993, 1).  Mayne differentiates between (active) spectators and (passive) viewers, ergo if consumption is pleasurable, the audience is active but if reading/listening/viewing is merely a recreational activity they are passive.   Due to the popularity of participatory media, a conclusion of active viewing can be assumed; after all, according to Nielsen’s TV ratings for the week of 1/8/11, seven of the top ten programmes were reality shows (2011, online).  Although active viewing can be presumed due to the effort involved in participation, inclusion of some uses and gratification research would have formally established whether consumers are active or passive. 

The uses and gratifications theory asks, “what do people do with the media” (Katz 1959, 2) as opposed to assuming that the audience is passive as per the media effects model.  In her introduction, Griffen-Foley states her intention to show that “audiences have…been contributing to successful media outlets” (2004, 533), and although she does supply circulation statistics for two case studies and participatory methods for all six case studies, she does nothing to develop the notion of why the audience contribute.   The methods, in which the audience participates, are similar for the print outlets, with the broadcast outlets diversifying for their own requirements.  For example, Griffen-Foley lists answering questions, competitions, and literary contributions as the participatory methods used for Tit-Bits (refer Appendix).  This is corroborated by Martin Conboy’s description of Tit-Bits as having “no illustrations but plenty of competitions, prizes, jokes on the front page and a considerable amount of news of public affairs from a selection of sources and in a random order” (2005, 12).  Participation requires a high degree of engagement in order to find the time and/or financial commitment (stamps, mobile phone credit, Internet connection etc) required to make participation viable.   However as there is no preceding explanation as to why the audience desires participation, an important aspect to the participatory media phenomenon, inclusion of the methods is superficial.

The uses and gratifications theory “takes as its basis the belief that the audience has a complex set of needs which it seeks to satisfy in the mass media” (Fiske 1990, 151). Although there are many needs that an audience seeks to satisfy, McQuail, Blumler, and Brown (1972) managed to narrow them down to four: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity and surveillance.   The first category, diversion is the need for “watching the television so we can forget about our own lives and problems for a while and think about something else” (BBC 2002, para. 10).  In many ways diversion is perhaps the easiest form of gratification to recognise, as the desire to be entertained is often what drives the choices we make with regard to which medium and outlet we decide upon.  Participatory media allows personal relationships to develop through establishing companionship and a sense of community.  Briggs and Burke (2002) describe talkback radio as “a good companion” (quoted in Griffen-Foley 2004, 541), while Aitkin and Norrie (1973) explain the relationship with talkback radio as providing “house-bound women an opportunity to listen to other housewives questioning, criticizing, and discussing political subjects of interest to them” (quoted in Griffen-Foley 2004, 542).  The connection with the wider community that partakes of the same outlet offers a shared experience and real companionship as opposed to the concocted companionship shared with the media outlet itself.  The desire to feel part of a community can perhaps be best described in terms of the ‘water-cooler’ effect: “If all your friends saw a programme and you did not, you feel temporarily excluded from their group” (Fiske 1990, 154).  Another personal relationship factor in wanting to participate is the desire to feel involvement in deciding the outcome of a particular media outlet.  Griffen-Foley describes the strategies employed by the media outlets in allowing the audience to determine the nature of programming, as being included “to foster a sense of audience engagement and agency and, by extension, create a loyal community of readers/listeners/viewers” (2004, 544).  The third category of gratification, personal identity equates to Laura Mulvey’s observation of how the “curiosity and the wish to look intermingle[s] with a fascination with likeness and recognition” (1992, 749), a reflection of Lacan’s mirror phase.  For Mulvey, “narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from identification with the image seen” (1992, 750), whether in print or on screen.  Identification with those depicted in the media outlet is a powerful factor in the audience’s willingness to participate.   The final category of gratification is surveillance.  This is obtained when “we use the media to gain information, to keep an eye on the world and to clarify what we think about it” (Watson 2008, 75).  All the media outlets included in the case studies provide the audience with opportunities to gratify their needs through diversion, personal relationships, personal identity and surveillance.   

While Griffen-Foley includes the target audience for five of her six case studies (refer Appendix), she makes no attempt to discover the reasons behind participation.  Griffen-Foley claims that three of her case studies (Tit-Bits, True Story and The Australian Women’s Weekly) target women.  Applying the four categories of gratification to this targeted audience, it stands to reason that housewives would want to escape the drudgery of housework (diversion); turn to the media for friendship (personal relationship); identify with people in similar situations (personal identity); and receive information about the world they inhabit (surveillance).  The application of this type of analysis would have explored the reasons why the targeted audience for each case study were so willing to participate as audience members.  Incorporation of a uses and gratifications approach to the article would have accounted for why the audience desires to participate, which would have given the article more depth.

The suitability of this article for university study lies in the historical placement of audience participation.  Other than that, due to the fact the article does not attempt to explore why the audience is willing to participate or examine the types of needs being satisfied through participation, it is left wanting.  In addition, the six case studies Griffen-Foley uses to trace the history of participatory media are not given the same treatment, which is problematic from a scholarly perspective.  For the research to be bona fide, a consistent approach is required. 

Bridget Griffen-Foley’s article From Tit-Bits to Big Brother: a century of audience participation in the media, achieves what it sets out to do.  The strength of the article is that she realizes her objective of proving audience participation has been part of the media before the Big Brother phenomenon.  Through the six case studies, she successfully traces the contribution audiences have been making to media outlets.  However the weaknesses of the article centre on her failure to “show that media producers have been blurring the notion of the passive media consumer for more than a century” (2004, 545).   This could have been rectified through the incorporation of background information on the public sphere, additional historical accounts, the future forecast for participation, examination of the active/passive viewing dichotomy, and an investigation into the gratification obtained by the audience.  Information gleaned from various uses and gratification studies concerning the needs being satisfied by participating would have established the reasons why an audience participates.  The weaknesses within the article affect its suitability for university students studying media but do not render it inadequate.  The article contains valuable information within each case study, which would benefit a university student of media.        

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