Aberrant Decoding

This is a term used by Eco (1965) to describe what happens when a message that has been encoded according to one code is decoded by means of another.
 The received meaning will therefore differ from the intended one, and the theory of aberrant decoding casts doubt upon the role of intentionality and upon the idea that the meaning is contained in the message.
Eco lists a number of kinds of aberrant decoding which range from the ignorance of the original codes (as when the Achaean conquerors misinterpreted Cretan symbols) to the overlay or imposition of later codes upon a message (as when early Christians overlaid a Christian meaning upon a pagan symbol or ritual, or when post-romantic scholars find erotic images in what an earlier poet conceived of as philosophical
But the key application of the concept is to the contemporary mass media. The variety of cultures and subcultures that receive a typical mass mediated message means that it must inevitably be subject to a variety of aberrant decodings if it is to make sense to the variety of cultures receiving it. A news item on the economy will be decoded differently by a Surrey stockbroker, a South Wales steelworker and an aerospace engineer. This brings a new dimension to the term for, as Eco says, ‘the aberrant decoding is the rule in the mass media’, which leads to the idea that the main influence upon the meaning are the codes available to the reader or receiver. As a result, Eco suggests, mass media texts tend to be closed. That is they prefer one particular
reading over other possible ones: his theory of aberrant decodings suggests that this closure is more likely to be effective for those who decode the text according to the dominant codes used in the encoding.


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