More on Dominant ideology encoding and the gaze

More on Dominant ideology encoding and the gaze:

Dominant ideology encoding

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014) argues that mass media texts are encoded with hidden meanings and are a means by which the ‘haves’ of society gain the willing support of the ‘have nots’ to maintain the status quo. In other words, those who produce cultural texts deliberately direct the way in which texts are read and understood by the audience.

Dominant ideologies are ideas or beliefs that are promoted and accepted as common sense and therefore are rarely questioned, thus maintaining stability in society. They include beliefs about gender roles, the use of violence and social institutions. The social situations of readers, viewers or listeners affect the way that texts are read.

  • Dominant readings are produced by those whose social situations match the preferred reading
  • Negotiated readings are produced by those who challenge the preferred reading to take account of their own social position
  • Oppositional readings are produced by those whose social position puts them into direct conflict with the preferred reading.

The gaze

Male gaze and dominant gaze

In film theory the gaze refers to the exchange of viewpoints between the spectator and what is on the screen, and the textual relationships that result from that exchange in the viewer’s subconscious. The spectator sits in a darkened room, looking at the screen and experiencing visual pleasure from what he or she sees. Part of that pleasure also comes from the identification the spectator feels with the on screen character.

Laura Mulvey Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) suggests that popular film is a means by which female bodies are metaphorically dominated and controlled by the heterosexual male gaze. In other words, men look and women are looked at; men act and women are acted upon; men are powerful and women are weak.

Margaret M. Russell Race and the Dominant Gaze (1991) extends Mulvey’s metaphor and uses the term dominant gaze to describe how American cinema degrades and trivialises racial identity and experience even when it appears to represent people of colour.

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