Developed by Elihu Katz, the Uses and Gratifications Theory seeks to understand the driving mechanism behind our consumption of media. According to his research, media consumption is driven by each and every consumer’s personal need gratification. Katz’s theory includes four assumptions:
1. People use media for personal purposes.
2. People seek to gratify their needs.
3. Media competes for our attention and our time.
4. Media affects different people differently.
Elihu Katz argues that people choose to consume one media type over another to fulfill, or gratify, personal needs. For example, a hungry college student might binge a season of “The British Baking Show” rather than reading a cookbook to fulfill his or her desire for good food. Reasons for this media consumption choice might vary from the need to see the food versus painting mental pictures, the need to be part of the companionship between competitors rather than just reading the recipe, or even the need to participate in binging Netflix versus making the trip to the library because it’s more culturally “in.”
Essentially, Katz would say that it matters not what message you send but what needs consumers need to gratify. Ultimately, the needs of communication receivers drive which media they choose to consume rather than the messages of the senders.
But how do hungry consumers fit into the arc of culture’s aesthetic?
I believe consumers are hungry for aesthetic, attempting to consume culture rather than create it. If aesthetic is defined as “the appreciation of beauty,” then aesthetic becomes a “thing” rather than an action.
Aesthetic is now capable of consummation, and we are hungry.
Why else do we binge Netflix series? To escape reality into worlds with characters that become our friends? To fit in with our friends who boast in how late they stayed awake to finish the next season of The Office? To see how architecturally artistic the most extravagant homes can be? To discover who’s pastry doesn’t prove correctly?
We’re consuming the aesthetic of TV, of scripted stories with twisting narratives and cutthroat competitions because we ascribe value and beauty to the world of visual stories. We crush on actresses and actors, debate the next winner of the singing show, and buy bigger screens with HD capabilities to enhance our consumer experience.
That’s why we love fiction—because we know it isn’t real.
Yet somehow we’ve blurred the line between real and reality, obsessing over Friends and Psych and Real Housewives because we identify with their struggles and victories. They make us laugh, and their stories never disappoint us (and if it does, we know it’s not really their fault because the script writers control the story).
So when we do create culture, we create it to consume it rather than to appreciate the beauty we’ve made. If people don’t want to consume our creativity then it must no longer be beautiful.
For me, I power on my laptop to watch TV for a myriad of reasons. I watch the British Baking Show to hang out with my roommate, and I view an episode of Idiotest when I want to laugh and solve a puzzle. When I wish for background noise, I flip on home design shows to play while I complete my homework. Everything I do is to meet my personal needs; if I don’t agree with the message, I’ll change the channel because it no longer gratifies my desires.
9/10 times I’ll consume culture for me, not for the appreciation of the beauty of the culture we’ve created. Aesthetic becomes an object, and I miss out on the opportunity to truly appreciate beauty.