Audience Responsibilities
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



The “waters” of human experience are constituted by both pragmatic and semantic droplets, whose fuzziness, i.e., whose indiscriminatory shaping, effects ever increasing concentric circles of associates. Our semantic nodes ultimately touch everyone. Akin to rain, which wets wherever it falls, from the hardest encasement to the softest loam, from the driest role to the most fascinating, our dispositions, ideologies, and powers of invention are nourished as well as are checked by relatively unstable communal, private, or combined definitions. Sometimes, we capture those influences’ essences by scrutinizing the processes and products of rhetoric. Other times, we look to “nonrhetorics” for acumen (Foucault. 1977).


It would suit us to become more cognizant of our statements’ sway. We ought not to confine our examination of communication’s impact to the nature of meaning nor merely pursue technical insights about verbal collaborations. If possible, we should become more aware of our liabilities as audiences. After all, we spend approximately seventy to eighty per cent of our communication time receiving information (Lee and Delmar).


Listeners and readers have transactional accountability. We are more than passive participants in ideas’ flow. In view of that, it’s insufficient for us to rely on deconstructions of socio-psychological influences on language or to look to spotlights on communicative motives. Much of language’s reality shaping capacity derives from audience perceptions whether the messages attended to are based on idolatry or on disinterested hypothetic-deduction, and whether they are beneficent or venal metatheories. See, if it’s possible to arbitrate the nature of a message’s source, then it's equally possible to pass judgment on a message’s receivers. At the end of the day, given impressions’ manipulative ability, it’s vital to control how and why we grant authority.


Some of our understandings of audience duties are less abstract than others. Our ranking of and feelings about encounters have “a purely social reality… only in so far as they are expressions or embodiments of … identical social substance … it follows as a matter of course, that value can only manifest itself in the social relation of commodity to commodity” (Marx). That is, the worth that we attribute to exchanges, in turn, bears upon our willingness to be chargeable for them.


Sometimes, we passively accept positions assigned to us. On such occasions, we seek (demographic) differences among people, viz., assign merit for interactions based on where, among social strata, rhetors are located. This layering of ascribed importance makes speakers and writers anxious and fuels ill-informed consumerism within the marketplace of ideas.


Yet, we abstain from censuring what we hear or read. First of all, most of us ordinary members of  of society don’t want to be incumbered by rejecting our rulers. As listeners/readers, we “respond in a relatively standard way [; via] the use of altruistic message strategy…  Sadly, our social channels are more inclined to temper their worst impulses instead of facing public protests” (Putnam, 346). We disregard that “selflessly” rendered messages are usually tainted by imbedded economic incentives or other enticements because it’s tough to be a dissenter.


Consequently, we stay “confused about who ought to establish heuristics for our moral agendas, [and] we mistake the essence of public moral[ity] for the essence of private moral[ity] (and vice versa)” (Greenberg, 2005, 5). If we were to become more liable for what we listen to and read and take ownership of our acceptance of messages, we’d have increased control of our benchmarks.


A second harm of our refusing to be culpable audiences is the resulting distorted self-perception. At present, our concept of ourselves is often far removed from reality. Whether it’s hit and run accidents, ripping off insurance adjusters, taunting the elderly, or engaging in other “allowable” past times, our conduct has become that of schoolyard bullies; it reflects no commitment from us to build a serviceable society.


We’re not helped by limiting egg-throwers’ freedom when we also fall flat in quashing pejorative addresses. Respectively, we’re poorly represented by policies meant to curtail cold-hearted actors’ receipt of kindness when such controls likewise decrease good hearts’ attaining the same. As long as we don’t discriminate among messages, we’ll remain a  populous that construes “suppression” as “expression.” More accurately, “censorship’s” complement is “emancipation,” the freedom to use critical/creative thinking to determine the meaning of  “self.” Indubitably, we must consistently and predictably deliberate others’ unconscious, unspoken arguments (as well as their readily discernible ones). Else, we’ll never ponder composites beyond Instituted “concords,” never bring to light our unremitting audience tasks, and never probe others’ projections for our future. When we eschew unbiassed analysis and evaluation of issues, we abdicate our autonomy. Thus, the contemporary gist of “self” is a mere cognitive Band Aid.


A third loss that we incur from failing to contest our reliance on transmitted tenets is our increased belief that we will always be disenfranchised. We think that we’ve divorced ourselves from the function of media patrons, and that that we’ve rejected “novelty entertainment.” After everything, our actions bode otherwise.


In recent years, our support of the @MeToo crusade became our backing of the Black Lives Matter program, which, sequentially, transformed into our caring about the “patriots” who  stormed the USA’s capitol.  Correspondingly, we’ve paid small fortunes for the chance to join talent shows (“America’s Got Talent Tickets”), line the pockets of “influencers” (Christison) or read pulp fiction (Miller). What’s more, we’ve applauded those suspect efforts until we realized that sustaining them was too “arduous” (never mind dubious) for us to continue to endure.


Unsuitably, such axiomatic bunkum has become widespread fare. That we pay attention to representatives of select enterprises more than we heed our educators and clergy is well documented. That we take note of media, in general, more than take exception to any popularized myth, too, is expressively precarious. Communications professor James S. Ettema and journalism professor Theodore L. Glasser point out in Custodians of Conscience: Investigative Journalism and Public Virtue that humanity’s demand for “objective” coverage is nothing more than “a simplistic call for [the] resolution of uncertainty in favor of more objectivity and less indignation” (66). The cost of allowing others to think for us is having to tolerate (their) external referents for authentication, not adjudicate ideas ourselves.


For example, many onlookers feared that their opinions on the most recent Olympics might have been categorized as tosh by their cohorts, so, in lieu of opposing ill-treatment of interviewees by the media, they silenced themselves. As a result, few criticisms surfaced about the nature and kind of backstories about young athletes and, not only did boulder climbers, equestrians, and gymnasts became social “heroes,” but so, too, did television, radio, and automated platform “journalists,” especially ones who insistented on acclaim, no matter the degree or kind of bavardage that their commentary included or in which they encouraged their readers/listeners to involve themselves.


A fourth upshot of our inertia is our long-term emphasis on competition over compassion. Our answerability for civic insensitivity languishes given our fragmented personal ethics. Sure, decentralized social movements voice disapproval of viciousness and similar organized efforts challenge aggressions visited on certain social segments. Nevertheless, if we were more unified over scruples than dread, we’d be better at disputing discourse advancing hatred and we’d be better at raising our voices against our bad shepherds.


These days, we suffer from a dearth of reliable community, religious and work organizations because we have not taxed our managers to be principled or balked when they failed to perform in an upright way. Over and above, changes in our cultural symbols, rules of behavior, and officialdoms become infested with ethical twists and turns when we don’t take proprietorship of our audience responsibilities.


Assuaging talking heads means emptying, or, in the least, ignoring our own. We cannot both vacuously kowtow to reputable sources and claim that we are not actionable. Linguistic ploys, expressly those utilized by individuals in control, maintain hierarchies.


Among those gradations are the degrees of excellence that we assign to institutions. The sense that we make out of pooled “correctness,” or the lack thereof, originates nor in our discrete minds but in our common “explanations” and in the uncontested “elucidations” our heads of state make. Whether we want, for instance, to pay taxes, we are obliged to share our income with our government. Even if we want our officials to be sagacious, e.g., to bring about humane routes, we must anyway abide by their (foolish) decisions. For us patrons of all manner of outlandish words and images, silence is problematic, not golden.


Fortunately, some of us who, hitherto, have not been advocates for audience accountability, have become increasingly aware, able, and willing to articulate that identity and behavior ought not to derive, always and unquestionably, from peripheral points of validation. We grasp that the fourth estate stirs up our feelings about more than brands of living room furniture or imported face masks. This idea is supported by British philosopher and psychologist, Rom H. Harré, who writes in his seminal work, Personal Being, “the morality of the exercise of personal power must include a discussion of the moral issues that surround weakness[es].” Our sense of “self,” needs to reach clear of outside designations.


It’s desirable for us, if we are to make our paradigms more credible, to take action over hurtful events, to reject some archetypes, and to mistrust specific statutes. We are capable of “authentically accept[ing], at the highest levels of abstraction, the possibility of the existence of our [experiential] diversity” (Greenberg, 2003, 24). Meaning, we are capable of thinking for ourselves and in doing, of so scaffolding our civil liberties.


On the other hand, if we keep on confining our exploration of invention to exposes of superficial/outside features, we will be stuck with limited insights into meaning and rectitude’s nexus, i.e. with limited insights into our part in interchanges and into suggested rationale for audience communication ethics.


By not shouldering our obligations as listeners and readers, in other words, by ignoring our confusion about who ought to set up the rules-of-thumb that guide our decision-making on our moral agendas, by accepting distorted self-perceptions, by acceding to false ideas about our rhetorical shortcomings, and by tolerating the ongoing weight attributed to antagonism oppositely to cooperation, we experience significant losses. In sum, there are few gains inherent in maintaining our status quo of forsaking end user responsibilities. It’s imperative that we become accountable.





“America’s Got Talent Tickets.” Ticketsmarter. Accessed 25 Nov. 2022.


Christison, Colleen. “How Much do Influencers Make in 2022?” Hootsuite. 3 Oct. 2022. Accessed 25 Nov. 2022.


Ettema, James S., and Theodore L. Glasser. Custodians of Conscience: Investigative Journalism and Public Virtue. Columbia UP. 1998.


Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon. Cornell UP, 1977.


Greenberg, KJ Hannah. “Coordinated Meaning: An Orthodox Jewess Teaches Feminist Theory.” National Communication Association Annual Convention. Miami Beach, FL. 2003. Rpt. As KJ Hannah Greenberg.  “The Path of the Torah is the Path of the Feminist.” “Old/New World Discourse.” The Jerusalem Post. Mar. 3, 2008. Rpt. abridged. as  “The Path of Torah is the Path of the Feminist.” Rhetorical Candy. Israel Series. Vol. II. Seashell Books, 2018, 149-152.


“The Social Status of Pregnancy Loss Rhetoric: Little Truth; Lots of Falsehoods, Secrets, and Fantasies.” Eastern Sociological Society Convention. Washington, DC. Mar. 2005.


Lee, Dick, and Hatesohl Delmar. “Listening: Our Most Used Communication Skill.” MOSpace. U. Missouri. 1993. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.


Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 1.“The form of value or exchange-value” [sic]. “Marx-Engels Archive.” 12 Dec. 2004. Marx and Engels Internet Archive. Kettering, OH. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.


Miller, Heidi Ruby. “Pulp fiction is back, baby” [sic.] The Writer. 20 Nov. 2019. Accessed 25 Nov. 2022.


Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster, 2000.



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