Saturday, February 28, 2009

Uses & Gratifications

While most of us agree that people are not always completely passive consumers of media and are at least partially active in some areas of media consumption, a whole different perspective is offered by the concept of uses and gratifications.  I am sure everyone can think of instances when they are more passively receiving media messages, like when the TV is on in the background while you’re doing work, and instances when they are more actively seeking something from the media, such as hunting down an entertainment story on the internet to see if the gossip you heard is true.  This distinction raises questions about what dictates someone’s level of active consumption (simultaneous activities, level of interest, etc.) as well as what this level of participation means for the message the viewer takes away.  As the textbook says, “We each construct our own meaning of content, and that meaning ultimately influences what we think and do” (Baran & Davis 241).  Therefore, in order to understand the greater concept of influence, it is important to understand the meaning someone is looking for when consuming media.

The theory of uses and gratifications is related to movies in an online college newspaper: 

As the professor cited in the article states, one reason people see movies is to be distracted, as McQuail’s non-social/ escapist function points out.  If this function includes “in addition to flight from reality, such factors as relaxation, passing time, identification and contact with people on the screen,” then the function can be applied to children as well (McQuail 362).  Another one of the functions mentioned in the article is the “social function” and the potential of media to “provide topics of conversation” (McQuail 359).  The article highlights the fact that a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, that won eight Oscars and has gotten tons of public attention would likely be a topic of discussion in a social setting, another pressing reason to see the movie yourself.  Finally, the article draws attention to the fact that people use movies to relate to the characters, or so that “one can identify with and obtain an almost real contact with people on television” (McQuail 359).

I feel like it is human nature to, for example, watch a movie and attempt to relate it to their own life.  I know that I saw He’s Just Not That Into You and pretty much related every character and situation in the movie to my life in some way.  Has anyone had a similar experience?  Does this mean that it’s true that “people actively impose meaning on content and construct new meaning that serves their purposes better than any meaning that might have been intended by the message producer or distributor” (Baran & Davis 239)?  Do you see any truth in these arguments that people look to specific media outlets, film for example, to fulfill something within themselves?


  1. When I think of active consumption of media, I think of a person consuming media for a specific purpose. Active media consumption involves direct attention being paid to a media source with the intention of fulfilling a need. For example, if coworkers are talking about an oncoming snowstorm and you wanted to find out more about it, you might turn on the weather channel to seek information. The information taken away from this weather report fulfills your specific need (to learn about the snowstorm). This scenario plays to one of the five elements of the uses and gratifications theory offered by Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch- "The initiative in linking need gratification to a specific media choice rests with the audience member" (B&D 240). In order to get what you want out of a medium, you have to actively search for and consume it.

    I agree that people view movies for different reasons, whether they want to escape reality for a few hours, are interested in the plot, are a fan of one of the actors, or are curious to see what "the buzz" is all about. These are just a few reasons why people watch movies, and each person makes a different use out of the movie to fulfill their personal need. In some cases the movie can appeal to needs that the audience member didn't realize or recognize. I know sometimes after I've seen a movie I realize that I related to the character or the storyline, but that was not my original reason for watching the movie. I think generally people see movies for enjoyment and entertainment, and may notice afterwards that other purposes were met (ex: escapism, informative functions, social functions). Sometimes people may manipulate what they see to relate it to their own lives, which fulfills another unintended purpose. The situation in the movie may be slightly similar to something that occurred in the viewer's life, but to make a stronger connection to the movie that viewer stretches reality a little.

  2. I think this whole idea of imposing particular viewpoints on the audience is something that media does extremely well, especially in the case of movies. I’m sure that it definitely varies depending upon not only the genre or style in which the movie is shot but also the time period, events and gender associations as well. I can say from personal experience that I tend to relate a movie to my life as well as the people in my life because I think that’s one of the main functions that movies have nowadays. According to the reception studies, “one of its central feature is its focus on how various types of audience members make sense of specific forms of content” (Baran & Davis 244). And if you think about it, if a movie isn’t in someway relatable to our lives are we interested at all usually in going out to see the film? I know I’m not that interested if I can’t relate the material in at least some small way to my life.

    I’m not entirely sure if the general public goes to the movies with the idea in mind to fulfill something that might be missing in their lives but they may walk away with some sort of fulfillment. But I believe one of the more stunning aspects of film is the way in which it can reach a variety of different people which is explained in negotiated meanings (245) where different people take away different things even though it may not be the intended message.

    We, as audience members of all forms of media have become exceeding good at being able to filter out nonsense information as well, “We are information avoiders- we have developed sophisticated mechanisms for screening out irrelevant or useless information” (250).

    So whether we make sense of certain kinds of formats, filter out the junk that we know we don’t need, or take away or fulfill an area of our lives through the media I believe people use outlets to not only relate aspects to their lives but also take away something from them. This is one of the main reasons why media was created.

  3. Responding to Laura whether or not this statement is true, “people actively impose meaning on content and construct new meaning that serves their purposes better than any meaning that might have been intended by the message producer or distributor” (Baran & Davis 239) I think that people definitely use media as an outlet to release their emotions. We watch a character on television and relate that character to our lives in some way. We even grow to hate characters as if they were real.

    Looking further into the content of media messages, I think we also become victims of product placement. Media can be described as a commodity and creates a “consumer culture.” The media industry can create false needs. We see our favorite characters with expensive cars, clothes, and homes and we feel the need to live up to those standards.

    McQuail defines the uses and gratifications as, “ media use motivated needs and goals that are defined by audience members themselves, and that active participation in the communication process may facilitate, limit, or otherwise influence the gratifications and effects associated with exposure”(McQuail 238). Are we truly satisfied after watching our favorite television shows or do we crave more? In some ways we have fallen into a trap of a materialistic world. Especially with young children today who are so easily influenced, television can be very educational but at the same time can create unrealistic wants and desires.

  4. I found an especially interesting part in the book where Baran and Davis expressed Wilbur Schramm’s fraction of selection. The book reads that “Schramm’s graphic description of how individuals make media and content choices based on expectation of reward and effort required. ..His point was that people weigh the level of reward (gratification) they expect from as given medium or message against how much effort they must make to secure that reward.” (p232)
    I had rarely thought about the consumption of media in this way before. While I am an active consumer of media-I never thought before that I sought it only if I found a reward. After more contemplation-I believe this is true. I only watch, listen to, read what I want usually when I want. I usually shut off the TV if I’m not interested, skip over articles that don’t catch my attention, and plug in my iPod when there are too many commercials on the radio. Nothing I consume is without a direct reward to me. Anything that does not please me-especially if it is difficult to get a hold of-does and will not keep my attention.
    So in response to your question, Laura, yes I think that people look to certain outlets and sources to fulfill something within them. Since we are actively choosing our media and disregarding anything that we don’t want according to the fraction of selection definition, I completely think that we cater our media selections to complement our lives. To give examples from my own life; What is better than watching a Lifetime movie when you’re feeling completely bored and down in the dumps? Or watching the international news when you feel a little left out because you couldn’t follow a dinner conversation about current events? Or even watching Lost to make yourself feel adventurous or mysterious, or these days, have a question to figure out in your life?
    I certainly watch tv, read, and consume media according to my moods and I think that is a key element to explaining why people consume media as a means to fulfill something within themselves. Media has become the best therapist, a doting friend, and the ultimate boredom reducer. And all of those roles in our lives are completely fulfilling.

  5. As I reflect on this week’s chapter regarding Uses and Gratifications I think about all the theories we have studied this semester. Some would say we, as a society are the biggest influence on media other say that media influences us, in our decisions and actions. According to Baran and Davis the gratification approach is defined as an “approach to media study focusing on the uses to which people put media and the gratifications they seek from those users” (232).
    In this weeks blog about uses and gratifications in our daily consumption of media passive and active consumption. For this case the importance of understanding influence of the media it is important to study active audiences. After reading the attached article about moviegoers and the ways in which they attach themselves to films, I began to question how I do that in my media consumption. I feel as though we all do this we are of course more relatable to characters like ourselves and more likely to see ourselves in those situations this serves as both a method of escapism and distraction. However I do not think that movies seek to fulfill something in ourselves but rather provide a present escape from the struggles and hardships of everyday life.

  6. Any one please try to clarify... Does Uses and Gratifications theory helps to explore the effects (either negative or positive)associated with movie viewing. For instance, check this Hypothetical question:
    1. Heavy viewers of Hollywood cinema tend to liberalize their attitudes towards family / sexual norms to a higher degree than low viewers.
    2. Heavy viewers of Hollywood cinema tend to engage in media convergence culture to a higher degree than low viewers.
    I am aware that U & G theory stress on the derived gratifications. How about the after effects associated with the derived gratifications. Does U & G theory covers that aspect too.. Please clarify..