Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (2023)

If anyone has been following this page, you know I'm pretty much into Stuart Hall's media studies these days. More importantly, you will be very familiar with Hall's theories, which I have diligently inculcated in my last two posts. For anyone new to this site or to Hall, here are some of his key take-home messages:

  1. Media production is not linear, it involves a constant feedback loop between the producers, the message and the audience. This process includes the autonomous processes ofcodingAnddecoding.
  2. codingrefers to the way the media producers send messages to their audience through the language or imagery of the media content. The messages seen in the mass media can never be fully objective, as each message is loaded with discourse - this refers to a specific language that reflects the dominant social and political ideologies in our society. Thus, all language and imagery seen in mass media productions are truly culturally encoded signs intended to represent an objective social reality. Simply put, images seen in mass media are skewed with the prevailing social norms of our society, but they can be taken for granted as common sense.
  3. decodingSince news in the media isn't neutral, we don't have to be either!Decoding refers to the way audiences interpret the messages they receive in mass media. Hall argues that the discourses encoded in media messages can only be viewed as social reality if audiences are comfortable with the messages presented. And is that a given? Absolutely not! The audience has the ability to assent to these dominant ideologies, and that's called aDominant/hegemonic reading.The audience may also agree with the main ideas of a media message but disagree with some other localized details. this is called aNegotiated Reading.Finally, the audience can completely undermine or criticize the media's intended message, and this is known as oneoppositional reading.So Hall argued that through decoding, the audience has the ability to interpret and negotiate the messages they receive in the mass media. It is worth noting that any attitude an audience may have towards a particular media message must relate in some way, shape or form to the original message.
Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (1)

Hall's own studies have focused primarily on television and news programs, but I believe the music industry plays an important role in Hall's theories as well. As I explained in my previous post entitled “You want a piece of me"(Scroll down if you want to read this post!) The music industry plays a very interesting role in Hall's theories, sinceMusicians are both audiences and creators of mass media.Therefore, musicians signed to major record labels may encode dominant media messages in their song lyrics or visual presentations. Conversely, Hall and his cohorts at the Birmingham school also found that socially oppressed groups often come together in subcultural groups and may create their own media content that challenges the dominant social norms that have oppressed them. Examples include the punk movement in which the British working class made music in the late 1970s that criticized the class divisions of British society.This means that these media encoders can also decode dominant messages at the same time!

In my last two posts, I've focused on specific instances of encoding and decoding in dominant media messages, such as the PR nightmare that was the latest Pepsi ad, starring Kendall Jenner, which aimed to promote millennial values ​​of resistance and equality to promote. Also, a decade ago, I spoke of Britney Spears' seminal musical response to mainstream media's sexist portrayal of women.However, I would like to argue that every single media product we absorb either encodes or decodes a dominant media message through encoded language and images!

So I planned a little exercise for this following post: I took twoarbitrarilySongs played back-to-back on my playlist and I will analyze the messages they encode or decode in the dominant society through their song lyrics and accompanying videos. Because these artists in the first placewrite your own musicI claim they arealso decrypt messages,as they respond to the dominant messages they see in the mainstream media. After each analysis, I give these songs a verdict:Dominant,negotiated, can play with me

First on the note:Stronger Than Me by Amy Winehouse.

Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (2)

This was the first track from Winehouse's 2003 debut albumFrank.Winehouse wrote and recorded this song when she was nineteen. Winehouse sings about a male lover who is seven years her senior but doesn't live up to the male "protector" stereotype that women can expect when dating an older man.

The first verse reads:

You should be stronger than me
You've been here 7 years longer than me
Don't you know that you should be the man?
Don't pale in comparison to who you think I am
You always want to talk about it - I don't care!
I always have to comfort you when I'm there
But for that I need you - stroke my hair!

(Video) Stuart Hall's Encoding/Decoding Model but it's easier to understand

This implies that given his gender and the seven-year age difference, Winehouse's boyfriend is expected to be a strong, protective man. Winehouse is frustrated that her boyfriend is always trying to communicate with her and express his feelings, which is seen as a more feminine trait. Winehouse is frustrated by thissheis the one who needs comforthim; Being the "woman" in the relationship, she expected to take on a more submissive role and not have to deal with a sensitive male partner. We see this in the last line of the verse where she wants her husband to be able to comfort herherand strokeherHair – this also takes on a patriarchal sense. Given the man's age, Winehouse perhaps viewed him as a father figure, comforting her and stroking her hair when she was feeling vulnerable. However, Winehouse has to take on that maternal role himself to an oversensitive friend.

The chorus goes:

Because I forgot all the joy of young love
Feel like a lady and you my ladyboy

Here, Winehouse explains that she can't relate to happy couples in love because she's clearly unhappy in their relationship. Calling a partner her "lady boy" implies that his personality is a submissive feminine trait. Thus, Winehouse would only be content in their relationship ifshewere the submissive while their partner was less sensitive and more stoic.

The second verse reads:

You should be stronger than me
But instead, you're longer than a frozen turkey
Why did you always put me in control?
All I need is for my husband to live up to his role
I always want to talk about it - I'm fine
Always have to comfort you every day
But that's what I need from you - are you gay?

This verse has some interesting components. First, "frozen turkey" refers to the fact that a frozen turkey takes hours and hours to thaw. Therefore, it is unreliable and not ready at any given time. As such, Winehouse's friend is viewed as an unreliable, conflicting source of protection because of his own vulnerability. The lines, "Why have you always let me be in control?/All I need is for my husband to live up to his role" is pretty self-explanatory: Winehouse is frustrated with her dominant position in the relationship and believes she should have the role of the man to take control. Winehouse goes on to speak about her dissatisfaction with her lover's feminine traits, such as B. the need for comfort and the constant expression of his feelings. The last line of this verse is particularly interesting: in popular media, gay men have been feminized and considered "not real men". So since Winehouse's boyfriend is more feminine, she wonders if he was attracted to women from the start.

The music video for this song picks up similar themes:

Winehouse is with her boyfriend in a bar that suggests a traditional male environment. Winehouse plays pool alone, so she is active and controls the game. Meanwhile, her boyfriend sits at a table and watches her play, so rather passively. His facial expression shows that he is clearly drunk and when he looks at Winehouse the camera shows that he is seeing double. Throughout the video, this drunk friend keeps falling and tripping over Winehouse and later lies on her lap on the car ride home. Winehouse rolls his eyes and is not amused.

(Video) Stuart Hall's Encoding Decoding Model of Communication: In Depth Explanation

Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (3)

Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (4)

So while Winehouse is capable of visiting a bar and being in charge, her boyfriend clearly can't hold his booze. This is seen as a weakness, since this man can barely stand up or walk straight, he becomes a liability. Therefore, Winehouse must take control of the situation and act as a "parent" to him. It is interesting that Winehouse portrayed intoxication as her husband's weakness, as Winehouse had struggled with substance abuse throughout her life, which led to her untimely death in 2011. Therefore, perhaps because Winehouse saw herself as weak and vulnerable, she hoped to go on a date with an older man who would act as a mentor or father figure to protect her from harm. However, this partner was inadequate, suffering from the same weaknesses as her. In doing so, he did not do justice to his “male” role as protector.


This song and video clearly adheres to the dominant, heteronormative gender stereotypes in modern relationships. In films, television and music, as well as in social life, it is common to view the couple as heterosexual, with the male playing a more dominant role. As Stuart Hall states, signs and images in mass media are never objective, they are always derived from culturally encoded signs that are misunderstood as social reality. So a signconnotative meaning, which refers to the arbitrary associative meaning of the sign, is merged with itsdenotative meaning,relating to the objective meaning of the sign. Gender roles, such as men as stoic protectors and women as vulnerable communicators, are culturally coded signs within our dominant hegemony. However, in Winehouse's song, she reads these codes as objective reality and refers to expected "gender roles". So if Winehouse's boyfriend is feminine, he's seen as a violation of his natural role in the relationship. Because Winehouse evidently consumed mass media messages, a social reality role was clearly ascribed to discourse on gender roles, as Winehouse viewed their own relationship as atypical.

Next on the list: Billy Talent's Devil in a Midnight Mass.

Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (5)

This happens to be one of my favorite songs by my favorite band of all time. This was the opening track and lead single from the band's second albumBilly Talent IIreleased in 2006. In several interviews, the band stated that this song was about the tragedies of child abuse in the Catholic Church.

Already the first verse makes a caustic comment, subverting traditional religious imagery:

A devil in a midnight mass
He prayed behind stained glass
A reminder of Sunday classes
Risen from the past

(Video) Stuart Hall Reception theory explained!

In the Christian tradition, midnight mass is one of the most sacred ceremonies of the year to celebrate the birth of Christ. Hence, midnight mass is encoded with images of purity and spirituality. This is contrasted with the image of the devil, who is said to be the antithesis of a pure spirit. This image is further contrasted as the devil is actually praying and attending the ceremony. This confuses the image of good and evil. The second line can also be a play on words, since the word "prey" means to hunt or kill.The language and religious imagery identified in the lyrics of the song can already encode the message in the first two linesthat those whom we see as good and pure can be associated with evil.This challenges the dichotomy between good and evil. The last two lines also refer to religious imagery, since Sunday school is a religious tradition for youth. The fact that the memory was "risen" also points to encoded images of Christ being revived after his brutal crucifixion. This may encode the image that this memory of the past was painful and humiliating, like Christ's crucifixion. This further conflates the pure tradition of Sunday school with the brutal harm that Christ was subjected to.

The pre-chorus explicitly connotes the image of fear and harm:

Hold your breath and count to four
Pinky doesn't swear anymore
Footsteps on the hall floor
I'm getting closer to my door
I lived but now I sing

This is where things take an intriguing turn. As De Saussure would note, the specific language used is a sign unto itself, possessing a semiotic meaning. The trochaic meter (stressed syllables followed by unstressed syllables) used in these lines is similarly used in many nursery rhymes (compare "MA-ry-HAD-a-LIT-le-LAMB" to "HOLD your ATEM and COUNT to FOUR" ) . This suggests the image of childlike innocence. In addition, the language used, such as "count to four" and the mention of "little curses" point to images of children's games. The childlike meter and imagery is contrasted with ominous images of someone being pursued or hunted (footsteps on the hall floor / closer and closer to my door). This juxtaposition further signifies the contrast between images of innocence and evil. Finally, the last line of the stanza breaks the syllable pattern associated with innocence. The lyrical content is bleak and involves a total loss of innocence and dignity as the narrator asserts "I was alive".

The chorus escalates these themes:

Silent night for the rest of my life
Silent night for the rest of my life
Fierce knight at the edge of your knife
Forgive me father... won't make it right
Silent night for the rest of my life
Silent night on the edge of your knife
(You are guilty!)

The line "Silent Night" is coded to denote the classic Christmas carol "All is quiet, all is light." However, everything isnotquiet,or bright in this scenario. The line “for the rest of my life” contrasts the calm, healing image “silent night” with death or loss of identity. In addition, the line “Silent night for the rest of my life” can mean the image that the victim must remain silent and not reveal their predator, so that they will be silenced forever. Therefore, this silent night does not stand for rest, but for inner chaos. Furthermore, the rhyme from "silent night" to "violent knight" further juxtaposes the images of purity and malice. Finally, the line "Forgive me, Father won't make it right" denotes the image of the confessional, a prominent Catholic tradition. If this line is addressed directly to the perpetrator, it implies that his actions are totally contrary to the values ​​of the religion. This is underlined by the line "You are guilty!".

The second verse continues:

A devil in a midnight mass
killed the boy in man.
The holy water in his hands
Can never wash away his sins

(Video) How to Reward Your Dominant

The line "killed the boy in man" is abstract but can suggest imagery of a loss of innocence. If this boy has to hide a secret for the rest of his life, he'll have to learn to grow up fast. He had lost part of his childhood with it. Religious imagery is again juxtaposed as this predator is divorced from the values ​​of its religion (The holy water in its hands can never wash away its sins). Holy water signifies images of purity associated with Christ, while sins are meant to represent evil.

The second bridge adds an interesting image:

Hold your breath and count to four
Pinky doesn't swear anymore
Trust in God this day
Not the man who taught his way
I lived but now I sing

Here it is made clear that the predator in this song is actually a religious figure who abused the narrator. The line, "Trust in God this day, not in the man who taught his way" clearly shows how this abuser is separated from God's purity. This image is interrupted when the singer yells at the end of the song, "Whisper, whisper, don't make a sound, your bed is made and it's in the ground!" This juxtaposes the image of a holy religious figure with the image of Hell that the means bad. Thus, through the imagery described in the song's lyrics, this holy man traditionally associated with purity has more in common with the sinners against whom he preaches.

The imagery in the music video also represents these themes: the video is dimly lit and quickly switches between shots of the band performing in an empty cathedral and a little boy witnessing paranormal activity in his bedroom. This rapid change and dim lighting may indicate the boy's feelings of fear and despair. The boy wears a school uniform that might suggest the sign of a Catholic private school. In this boy's room, inanimate objects begin to fly and blood seeps through the walls and windows. This signifies the image of evil and wickedness haunting the innocent boy. The video follows this little boy as this evil spirit chases him through the corridors of his dorm room, further suggesting images of exploitation and vulnerability.

Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (6)

We follow this boy into the school's basement, where he encounters a menacing older man who suggests the image of an evil predator preying on an innocent boy.Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (7)

Suddenly, the boy is surrounded by black smoke, meaning an evil spirit is chasing him when he finally finds himself inside the church. He faces a line of boys standing silently in a pew; These guys have no mouth. This last image shows how powerless these boys are, being silenced by their predator who represents a religion of purity.

Dominant, Negotiated or Oppositional: How do two different songs decipher the dominant messages of the mass media? (8)

(Video) STOP Being Exploited - How to Deal with Disagreeable People | Jordan Peterson Motivation


Billy Talent is a band associated with the punk movement, originally formed by the working class in Britain in the late 1970s to challenge the class divisions rampant in English society. Since its inception, the punk movement has been associated with challenging the status quo and subverting the dominant ideologies of social and political life. This aligns with Hall's studies of youth subcultures creating content that educatesoppositionellReading dominant hegemonic ideals. In this song, Billy Talent articulates a contrasting reading of the prevailing ideals associated with religion. In religious and popular discourse, the Catholic Church is associated with purity and communion and therefore condemns any act associated with sin or evil. Religious values ​​are thus associated with the pure ideals of Christ and contrasted with the evil works of the devil. However, in both the lyrics and the video clip of this song, Billy Talent merges images associated with sacredness and religiosity with images of evil, malevolent predators. This is an opposite reading to the prevailing message that religion represents only goodness and purity. In the song, the devil is a core aspect of the church as he prays (or hunts) during a midnight mass. Thus, the message is encoded that the institution of religion is not immune from evil, and religious leaders can even abuse their authority to exert their dominance over those inferior to them. This contrasting reading challenges the common discourse in religious thought that dichotomizes good and evil.

Thus we see through the songs of Billy Talent and Amy Winehouse that some forms of mass media can encode the dominant ideologies of social and political life, but some forms of media can subvert them directly. As Hall noted, there is not just one ideology; There are several, but the dominant hegemony is listed at the top as "preferred reading," while alternative views are seen as dissenting or controversial. Regardless of whether a media form supports or opposes dominant ideologies, we need to know that the images and signs they use are never objective. As Hall notes, every character we see in the media is encoded with some form of ideology behind the imagery symbolized. Therefore, the denotative and connotative meanings of an image can never be separated.


What are dominant negotiated and oppositional readings? ›

"Dominant" readings are produced by those whose social situation favours the preferred reading; 'negotiated' readings are produced by those who inflect the preferred reading to take account of their social position; and "oppositional" readings are produced by those whose social position puts them into direct conflict ...

What is oppositional reading in media? ›

oppositional reading – receiver's social situation is placed in an oppositional position to the dominant code, thus they reject the reading.

What is oppositional decoding? ›

This section provides opportunities for "oppositional decoding," or the ability of a reader to understand the intended meaning of discourse, but to decode the message in a contrary way.

What is an example of oppositional reading? ›

b) the oppositional reading:

-who would want to eat a goldfish? The fish would appear to be square. Real fish is not square. Also, there is a lot more in a Fillet of Fish than just fish.

What is an oppositional code? ›

Stuart Hall defines the oppositional code as when the individual viewer knows the preferred interpretation of an encoded message but still decodes the message in a different way. Hall states that this code stems from an individual's awareness and use of alternative frameworks of reference.

What is the meaning of dominant reading? ›

Dominant readings are the most common and widely-accepted interpretations of a text. They embody the dominant values and beliefs in a culture and position the reader to favor the interpretation.

What is an example of negotiated reading? ›

Negotiated Reader

For example, many video games/comics has contents are against our personal views but we still read, enjoy and accept the content given the situation depicted on it for example fictions like zombie hunting, etc.

What is oppositional reading? ›

Oppositional Reading - The audience reject the messages that are trying to. be conveyed and do not accept/agree with them. For example, when watching a political speech, audiences will either agree with the messages, partly agree or disagree completely depending on their political persuasion and stance.

What is a negotiated response? ›

Negotiated reading. When the audience responds by accepting and rejecting certain elements. Perhaps voting for the underdog in a talent competition or questioning the programme via social media platforms.

What does being oppositional mean? ›

Often argues with adults or people in authority. Often actively defies or refuses to follow adults' requests or rules. Often annoys or upsets people on purpose. Often blames others for their own mistakes or misbehavior.

What are examples of decoding in communication? ›

For example, you may realize you're hungry and encode the following message to send to your roommate: “I'm hungry. Do you want to get pizza tonight?” As your roommate receives the message, they decode your communication and turn it back into thoughts to make meaning.

What are the three ways of decoding? ›

The three positions of decoding proposed by Hall are based on the audience's conscious awareness of the intended meanings encoded into the text. In other words, these positions – agreement, negotiation, opposition – are in relation to the intended meaning.

What are oppositional activities? ›

Being oppositional might mean refusing to do work, breaking rules, and engaging in other challenging behaviors. The truth is, many kids can be oppositional from time to time, so many of these strategies work with all learners.

What is an example of ODD behavior? ›

Children with ODD are uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Developmental problems may cause ODD. Or the behaviors may be learned. A child with ODD may argue a lot with adults or refuse to do what they ask.

What are the three types of ODD? ›

The typology consists of three types: Stimulus Dependent ODD, Cognitive Overload ODD and Fearful ODD.

What is an example of dominant code? ›

Example: (Glamour magazine)

Person 1 (Dominant code): Agrees with this magazine 100% and enjoys reading it. Person 2 (Negotiated code): Enjoys reading the magazine, however she disagrees with some things within the magazine.

What is a dominant code? ›

Quick Reference. 1. (hegemonic code) The standard textual conventions framing texts within a particular genre and/or the defining assumptions of a prevailing ideology framing a particular text (see dominant ideology). A concept associated with Stuart Hall's notion of the hegemonic reading of mass media texts.

How is the message decoded? ›

Decoding is conducted by the receiver. Once the message is received and examined, the stimulus is sent to the brain for interpreting, in order to assign some type of meaning to it. It is this processing stage that constitutes decoding.

What does dominant mean in media? ›

Dominant media (also referred to as mass or mainstream media) generally refers to film, television (network and cable), text-based media, as well as Internet resources that are controlled by global or transnational corporations, and which reflect the interests and ideology of the corporations (Chomsky, 2008).

How do you explain dominant? ›

Dominant refers to the relationship between two versions of a gene. Individuals receive two versions of each gene, known as alleles, from each parent. If the alleles of a gene are different, one allele will be expressed; it is the dominant gene. The effect of the other allele, called recessive, is masked.

What is a dominant simple definition? ›

: commanding, controlling, or prevailing over all others. the dominant culture. : very important, powerful, or successful. a dominant theme.

What is a good example of negotiation? ›

Negotiating a job offer, asking for a raise, making the case for a budget increase, buying and selling property or equipment, and closing a sale with a customer are just a few examples of the many deals you might be involved in.

What is negotiated meaning in communication? ›

Negotiation of meaning is a process that speakers go through to reach a clear understanding of each other. Example. Asking for clarification, rephrasing, and confirming what you think you have understood are all strategies for the negotiation of meaning.

What is an example of negotiate? ›

Example Sentences

The customer wanted to negotiate over the price. She has good negotiating skills. We negotiated a fair price. The driver carefully negotiated the winding road.

How does ODD affect learning? ›

Students with ODD can be so uncooperative and combative that their behavior affects their ability to learn and get along with classmates and teachers. It can lead to poor school performance, anti-social behaviors, and poor impulse control.

What causes people to be oppositional? ›

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is thought to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. ODD tends to occur in families with a history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), substance use disorders, or mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.

What is oppositional tendency? ›

a pattern of behavior intended to upset, annoy, or anger others, especially authority figures. a tendency to blame others for mistakes and misbehavior. vindictive, spiteful, or resentful behavior, including unkind acts or saying mean things when angry or frustrated.

Why is negotiation of meaning important? ›

Negotiation of meaning is a process that speakers go through to reach a clear understanding of each other. Asking for clarification, rephrasing, and confirming what you think you have understood are all strategies for the negotiation of meaning.

What is negotiated strategy? ›

A predetermined approach or prepared plan of action to achieve a goal or objective to make an agreement or contract. (also see Negotiation Tactics.)

How do you negotiate a message? ›

People who are shy or conflict averse may find they can assert themselves better in texts than in person.
If and when you feel like texting, the following three guidelines from Ebner will help you do so effectively:
  1. Proofread your messages. ...
  2. Don't take offense. ...
  3. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Jan 28, 2021

What is another word for oppositional? ›

What is another word for oppositional?
29 more rows

What is mean by ODD words? ›

Odd words means the word which does not match with other words of the group. Here you'll have a set of words in which every words are related in some manner or they follow certain pattern except one and that one word will become odd word.

What is oppositional relationship? ›

One way to look at the oppositional or contrastive relationship is as the opposite of the additive relationship. In other words, the speaker, having mentioned one thing, wants to go on to talk about something else which contrasts with and is often in opposition to the first thing.

What is aberrant reading in media? ›

Aberrant decoding or aberrant reading is a concept used in fields such as communication and media studies, semiotics, and journalism about how messages can be interpreted differently from what was intended by their sender.

What is the difference between PDA and ODD? ›

Often the difference between the two presentations is won't/can't. ODD is a wilful choice to disobey, PDA is a crippling inability to comply. An important distinction is children with ODD do respond to consistent behavioural interventions and positive support plans. PDA children do not.


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