In the modern internet era, reaction videos have taken over large parts of the content sector. It’s a unique desire for humans to value someone’s reaction to a project at hand. Remember all those times you asked a loved one what they thought about a movie you just made them watch? Opinions different from yours matter too.

Take a look at this compilation video of reactions to the trailer of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie film.

Visibly, there’s a large group of reactors that don a smile conveying pleasure and positive reception to the trailer. A few nod along to Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” played throughout the trailer. Other’s express laughter and awe once Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling make their appearance. These reactions represents the majority in the trailer, but there’s a few that only crack a smile a number of times and even some that maintain a stoic expression.

What exactly might determine and influence someone’s reception of a given piece of media? In regards to the trailer above, some of the viewer’s might’ve grown up playing with Barbies. Some might just be huge fans of the actors. Other’s could care less for Barbies.

But it’s much deeper and complex than that. It’s important to have perspective of media and see where it can be applied in your daily life. We’ll give you some examples too, don’t worry.

Media Studies – A Brief History

At the risk of dragging you through a history lesson, it’s important to know the fundamentals of reception theory. While not the first, Stuart Hall was one of the first cultural scholars to expand on the theory.

Audiences were long thought to be passive and merely accept a “text” (book, film, song, etc.) at face value. Hall and 20th century theorists alike proposed that audiences were actually active and constantly engage with creative works to formulate their own meaning and interpretation.

The meaning taken away stems from each individuals cultural background and life experiences. Anything from gender, race, economic background to your mood at the time of watching a creative work.

There’s two parties at play here. The creative directors who encode signals of thoughts and meanings into communication. Then there’s the audience who decode the communication into thoughts and meanings. See how they work together symbiotically?

The intended meaning of the creatives might not always be the meaning created by the audience. It works one of three ways.

  • Dominant Reading – Audiences decipher and accept the message as intended by the creator
  • Negotiated Reading – Audiences accept most of the message, but may also reject some parts and tailor it to their own experiences
  • Oppositional Reading – Audience understand the meaning, but reject it completely for their own meaning

A Dominant Reading of The Dark Knight

Don’t worry, we’re going somewhere with this.

In Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight (2008), the audience is supposed to read the Joker as bad. It’s hard to argue he’s the hero of the story or anything other than evil. He’s a villain through and through, but how is the audience led to believe this from the first act of the film?

Nolan encodes signals on screen from the very first sequence of events on screen. On his appearance alone, his hair is greasy. The audience can translate (decode) this as dirty, unclean and closely associated to bad rather than good. The clown makeup the Joker dons masks his identity. This is marked as a danger because it makes it nearly impossible to place him as friend or foe.

The elements of uncleanliness and the unknown are nearly universal for danger. It’s important to note that multiple malevolent elements work together on screen to cement the Joker as the villain.

Source: Warner Bros. Pictures

A Negotiated Reading of 500 Days of Summer

Marc Webb’s romantic comedy starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt exemplifies best the factor of age and life experiences in the context of interpretation. It’s a film with infinite replay value that evolves with the viewer that gives it multiple viewings.

Think of the different interpretations viewers can have depending on their experiences with relationships. Would a person who just got broken up with side with Tom or Summer? Would that answer change if a person watching it has never been part of a relationship? What of a person experiencing a relationship for the first time at 16 or later in their 20’s.

Viewers have often expressed resonating with a certain character on their first viewing and changing it as they watch it in a different stage of their life. It can be black and white for some with either Tom or Summer being the villain. Others will argue that both are at fault and expand on the complications and dynamics of relationships.

Take a look at Joseph Gordon-Levitt discussing the film on its tenth anniversary. Gordon-Levitt briefly touches on some of the intended messages of the film and how the movie creates intended biases in the film. Although Marc Webb tells the story in a subjective manner from Tom’s perspective, he invites the audience to take away what they see fit.

An Oppositional Reading of the GTA Franchise

The notorious franchise created by Rockstar North in 1997 continues to stand the test of time to this day! Read about GTA and other games that continue to see success with this article written here at TGON.

The open-world games center around a fictitious city with free rein when it comes to violence, crime and complete chaos. While the games do follow a loose narrative, most of the fun surrounds the liberties one can indulge in within a simulated game. Rob a bank or steal some cars, it’s just a game at the end of the day. Have fun!

Even though it’s just a game, and people understand that, there’s a large crowd that advocates against the messages and values portrayed in the game. It’s no surprise that the majority of this crowd is outside of the sphere of gaming. Think of all the parents who understand what the game is trying to achieve, but would take an oppositional reading when it comes to exposing their young children to these kinds of games.

Source: Rockstar

What you say isn’t what they always hear. That’s the dilemma creative directors face when trying to tell a story to their audience. In this lies the beauty of interpretation. What scenarios can you think of were your opinion or reading sways from a family member or friend? Just because your reading of a text is different, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. Let us know down below!