Coming from a “practical” major of broadcast journalism, this week’s intense coverage in class of communication theory has been a little rough. For me, it’s strange to talk and think so much about communicating. We are analyzing communication techniques and methods, and that process of analyzing and discussing is communication, in and of itself. I know, mind blown, right?
Anyway, this is the first time I have truly thought about communication in the abstract, as opposed to thinking of it as pure words, written and spoken. I found the differences between Transmission and Ritual theories to be the most interesting. Transmission theory of course is about the movement of goods, people and messages. It’s the transmission of messages over any distance, often for the reason of control. Ritual theory is even more abstract and claims information that’s shared in a message is less important than the act of sharing the message itself.
So I wanted to look as some messages as examples to really understand this theoretical difference.
- Emergency Announcements – I think almost any message has some mixture of the two theories that can apply to it. But this example seems to me almost entirely Transmission theory. All over the world, whether it’s communicated through a siren, through a basic radio station in the savanna, or through TV news warning of hurricanes and earthquakes in D.C., the most important thing in all these cases is that people are informed about what they need to do to be safe. In this case, what the message says is most important.
- Press Conferences: This might be less obvious than the last example, but I think press conferences are a great example of Ritual theory. Sure the messages might be important, but what’s in the message could easily be transmitted through a press release, newspaper article, etc. The act of holding a press conference draws together the people attending it, but also the many people who watch it or see clips of it on the news. It creates community. That’s why when Obama makes an announcement, everyone watches. The next day, everyone chats about it at the water cooler. Do you think everyone would chat about a press release that gets written up in the same way ?
- Super Bowl commercials: I think Super Bowl commercials are a great example of a combination of Transmission and Ritual theories. They are first and foremost an advertisement, so they are meant to sell what they are promoting. In that way, the message is important. In addition though, all commercials (but especially Super Bowl commercials) want to get people talking and create a community that is centered on their product or service.
- Nightly news: I see nightly news as another example of both theories. On a micro level, what is told in one specific story can be important in its message. But on a macro level, when people watch one station’s nightly news every night, they form a feeling of community and belonging with the anchor, reporters and other viewers.
Looking at these concrete examples really helps me conceptualize these theories. I think it also proves that there is no right answer. Neither theory takes everything into account. We learned about lots of other theories, like Modernization theory and Dependency theory, but they tackle completely different and more complex aspects of communications. I feel like there is no theory that combines transmission and ritual theories that defines basic communication in a way that makes sense and I think that’s strange… maybe it’s time for a new theory?