Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

The Implicit Contract

Posted by Drake Kizer on February 6, 2017

For the first time, our daily readings did not contain any sections out of our Spreadable Media textbook. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the essays selected were actually of very high quality. I did not feel like they really shared an overarching message that permeated all four of them though, so I chose to focus solely on Alec Austin’s “The Implicit Contract”, which I thought was an invigorating piece about how audiences and entertainment providers interact with one another in a transactional manner.

One thing Austin included in his essay that really stuck with me was a quote from writer Larry Niven. Niven described audiences as “entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three.” He said that if audiences are not satisfied, an unwritten implicit contract has been breached. The concept of the implicit contract is a bit confusing to understand, but at its core, it is the shared expectations of both the audience and entertainment providers. Audiences give up their time and money in hopes of being entertained, and providers give audiences the entertainment they seek in a manner the providers deem to be appropriate.

It is hard to determine when breaches of the contract occur because they are all subjective. Three audience members could all watch the same product and one be satisfied, one outraged, and one ecstatic, for no other reason than they all had different expectations of the entertainment they expected to receive. This makes violations of the contract extremely hard to track, other than when widespread outrage occurs. Austin said that “[a]udiences have three means by which they can attempt to redress perceived contract violations”, and they range in intensity from dissatisfaction, to disengagement, and then to boycotting. It is one thing to complain and stop engaging with a product personally, but when a person calls for others to do the same, then it is clearly time for the provider to take notice and adapt, a necessity for any kind of success in today’s media environment.


One Response to “The Implicit Contract”

  1. tristendenney14 said

    I agree with you Drake and like how you focused on one article in particular. The use of Larry Niven’s quote truly describes this piece. Also, I really liked how you furthered the explanation and gave an example of the “implicit contract.”

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