Stuart Hall's Encoding/Decoding is one of the most formative pieces in media studies history, or so I have been told by the professors who have assigned it to me. And yet, for the most part, it's an incredibly boring piece of obscure media theory, something that no one in their well-respecting mind would take the time to wade through without good reason. For the simplicity of my sleep-robbed brain (yes, I am at work for roughly 11 hours each day. It could be worse) I'll reduce this masterpiece of an essay to two elements: a diagram and three hypothetical positions.
This simple chart is the backbone of the essay, and yet it makes no sense. "What we have labelled in the diagram 'meaning structures 1' and "meaning structures 2" may not be the same," Hall writes shortly after his introduction of the diagram (54). The encoder making the program may not have the same interpretation as the person consuming it despite having the exact same elements because of what Hall calls a "lack of equivalence" (54). Even if the producer and consumer have exactly the same elements in the way they see media, the act of consumption by a body of people not necessarily lesser, but certainly different, changes meaning in a strange, chaotic way.
The three hypothetical positions through which television can be decoded make much more sense to me from a theoretical perspective (in fact, the structure of these three positions are what partially inspired some of my own writing around robotic literature.) The first position, "dominant-hegemonic," is probably the most relevant considering our current news media crisis (59). In this model, people hear a story somewhere and follow it the way they are meant to, like the individual who tunes into the same show on Fox News every night. These are straight-ticket folks who believe what they hear. The next position is one of the "negotiated code" that use message in conjunction with what is already known, forming a belief and understanding of media that is not isolated to interpretation in a box (60). And finally, there is understanding media in the "globally contrary way," which I tend to find the most interesting (61). In this understanding of media, everything is to be doubted, and all messages can "be given an oppositional reading" (61). This final method is the method of the future, of anti-, of protest. Right now, that's the one I stand by the most.