As my first attempt to use cultural theory to understand the significance of a diamond engagement ring, I would like to explore Stuart Hall’s philosophy on encoding and decoding. Hall challenges long-held assumptions of media messages and how they are consumed, circulated, produced, and talked about. His theory of communication studies the modern practices of the production of a particular object and the message that is associated with that object.
For example, some of the ideas around the diamond engagement ring express ideologies surrounding gender roles, race, sexuality, social class, commitment, desire, love, etc. Theses all produce the meaning of the engagement ring, or it’s message.
“A message must be perceived as meaningful discourse and be meaningfully de-coded before it has an effect, a use, or satisfies a need”.
Hall has four codes for encoding:
1. Dominant/hegemonic code-the encoder expects the decoder to recognize and decode the message the way it was intended, or the way it was coded.
2.Professional code-serves to reproduce the dominant definitions precisely through ‘professionalism’ in visual quality, news and television, and other forms of professional forms of representation.
3.Negotiated code-acknowledges the legitimacy of the hegemonic definitions to make the grand significations yet operates with exceptions to the rule and makes its own ground-rules.
4.Oppositional code- the global contrary code, those who cannot relate or understand the code understand it in a different way with a different meaning.
Hall argues that meaning is not simply fixed or determined by the sender, the message is never transparent, and the audience is not always passive or receptive of it’s meaning. Hall understands distortion as a “lack of fit”.
The chain of discourse is important to Hall because it explains how the target audience of a message might become misinformed of the intentional message. The chain of discourse can change the perception of the object.
1. It starts with production and where the encoding takes place, drawing upon society’s dominant ideologies, beliefs, and values.
2.Then there is circulation. How an individual perceives things…visual or written, can affect the message.
3. Use (distribution or consumption) explains that interpreting a message requires active recipients.
4. Finally, the reproduction of the ideas takes place after the audience interprets the message in their own way based on personal experiences and beliefs would then either take action or decode the message a intended.
This is extremely useful for my case study because I can look at the types of messages encoded in the diamond industry, the gold industry, the engagement ring, and advertisement to critic American culture in this way. I seek to use Hall to determine the influence of the media on couples and how the messages on the “hegemonic engagement ring” might be interpreted differently in different ways depending on the individual’s cultural background, economic standing, and personal experience.
How might a female view herself differently as an engaged women with a large, expensive, gold and diamond engagement ring? How does this make her feel, see herself, understand what it means to be a women in society as “taken” by a man? How might a consumer from a different background form their own understanding of the meaning of a diamond engagement ring and what it stands for? What about the negotiate position, accepting certain elements but rejecting other hegemonic ideas about the engagement ring? And finally the dominant/hegemonic consumer who takes the actual meaning directly and decodes it as it was encoded. What does this say about social order being embedded in the media through the representation of certain “every day” knowledge of social structures and legitimacy?