Uses and Gratifications Theory (U>) or perspective “places emphasis on the active role of the audience in making choices and being goal-directed in its media-use behavior” (pg. 37). In other words, this theory looks at the ways in which the viewer chooses to put certain media to use. It also says that depending upon the ways in which the viewer takes pleasure in (or is motivated by) certain media will determine certain behaviors associated with media use. Incidentally, cultivation theory has been reinterpreted in line with a uses and gratification approaches, stressing the active mental activity of the viewer while watching (pg. 35). Harris presents the horror film example to illustrate U&G perspective. That is to say, watching a horror film will vary for different people depending upon how the person develops empathy, or not, to the victim in the film. Perhaps most notable about U> involves what Harris deems as the critical issue of “what draws different people to consume different types of media” (pg. 38). For example, why do people watch violent pornography? What use and gratifications come from such a viewing experience? The uses and gratifications perspective may lead researchers to understand other social, cultural, and psychological factors, besides media consumption, that influence why people consume certain types of media, particularly media that are violent in nature. Harris continues to outline six current research directions for uses and gratifications research. These six approaches involve the following:
- developing taxonomies of communication motives.
- comparing motives across media. This is particularly important for CMT research.
- looking at different social and psychological circumstances of media use (e.g. coviewers, personality, lifestyle, or religiousity).
- looking at how one’s motivations for using media are satisfied or not.
- examining the role of individual differences in experiences, motives, and exposure on the media experience.
- studying measurement issues like the reliability and validity of instruments measuring motivation.
Another notable insight for Harris’ section on U> constructs concern how people form relationships with media figures they have never met. Harris cites these relationships, whether between viewers and real people or with viewers and fictional characters in media, as parasocial interactions (Klimmt, Hartmann, & Schramm, 2006, etc) (pg. 38). The following are some useful examples that illustrate parasocial interactions, a construct of U>:
- Judith Warner’s NYT article, Sometimes a President is Just a President is about the surge of Obama fantasies and dreams by U.S. Americans after he was elected president. Warner begins her article by describing a dream she had about President Obama. She then references friends and strangers who have admitted to having sexually explicit dreams about the President and the First Lady, Michelle Obama. The way in which people admitted to identifying closely with the Obamas was not only illustrated through sexually explicit dreams but through fantasies of close friendships. From the article: “These are people for whom the Obamas are not just a beacon of hope, inspiration and ‘demigodlikeness,’ as a New York lawyer put it, but also a kind of mirror. And the refracted image of self they see is not one they much admire.”
- Fan tattoos Drake’s name on her forehead. Drake is a popular actor-turned-rapper/artist whose music videos continuously appear on MTV, BET, VH1. His songs are also on heavy rotation on various hip-hop and R&B radio stations around the country. This is probably one of the most bizarre displays of how a a super fan (or stan) illustrates a sense of closeness to a media figure she has never met. I haven’t come across her response yet, but for the full interview with the tattoo artist who tattooed the name “Drake” on the women’s head, see Vice.
Harris, R.J. (2009). A cognitive psychology of mass communication. Routledge.