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Communication Theory and Millennial Popular Culture

Essays and Applications

Kathleen Glenister Roberts

Theories help to troubleshoot gaps in our understanding, and to make sense of a world that is constantly changing. What this book tries to do, in part, is blur the lines between the differences between today’s college students – the millennial generation – and their professors, many of whom hail from the Boom Generation and Generation X.
In the following chapters, contributors build upon what both parties already know. Writing in a highly accessible yet compelling style, contributors explain communication theories by applying them to «artifacts» of popular culture. These «artifacts» include Lady Gaga, Pixar films, The Hunger Games, hip hop, Breaking Bad, and zombies, among others. Using this book, students will become familiar with key theories in communication while developing creative and critical thinking. By experiencing familiar popular culture artifacts through the lens of critical and interpretive theories, a new generation of communication professionals and scholars will hone their skills of observation and interpretation – pointing not just toward better communication production, but better social understanding.
Professors will especially enjoy the opportunities for discussion this book provides, both through the essays and the «dialogue boxes» where college students provide responses to authors’ ideas.
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8. Understanding Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding” Model through TV’s Breaking Bad



Understanding Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding” Model through TV’s Breaking Bad

Garret Castleberry

This chapter introduces Breaking Bad as a way of understanding “encoding/decoding” in communication. Breaking Bad is created by writer Vince Gilligan, who served as executive producer and “showrunner,” throughout the cable drama’s run from 2008–2013. The term showrunner is unique to television. The showrunner functions similarly to a filmmaker or a composer, steering the program in terms of the script and delivery of lines, but often the look, sound, and scope of the series, as well. In shaping a TV product, showrunners wield dynamic persuasive appeal.

Academic theorists have a very similar job. Like showrunners, they shape how we view the world. Theorists offer informed insights, based on long-term research and analysis. For this reason, “theory” is often associated with heavy-lifting, due to the burden placed on extending language and knowledge. Like the showrunner, a theorist harnesses potential for longstanding persuasive appeal. Yet, whether persuasive appeal occurs through a theory, or from a television show, these artifacts matter because they change our perceptions. Following this rationale, Breaking Bad works well, in demonstrating Stuart Hall’s theory of encoding/decoding. At the same time, Hall’s method of analysis will help us interpret (or decode) the potential reasons that texts like Breaking Bad become popular with a variety of audiences, spanning race, class, and gender boundaries.

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