Few people can be described as occupying a strictly media effects or active audience position; most exist somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes. However, the tension between the two paradigms remains present. It stems from different ways of answering the broad question: What is the role of the media in people’s lives? This tension can be seen in public debates about media texts (e.g., whether it is a good idea to have a Star Wars movie with a Black protagonist, or whether it is true that portrayals of women in video games are demeaning and must be changed), as well as in the academic literature. In particular, the debate about the impact of violent media content is as heated as it was several decades ago .
We may be able to overcome the tension between the two paradigms by challenging the dominant discourse about the media that dictates how we talk about and view mediated communication. To do so, we can draw on Foucault’s understanding of discourse, which was effectively summarized by Lessa as “systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak”. According to Foucault, discourses are historically situated truths that reflect the social reality we inhabit; discourses are political in a sense that they manifest and reinforce power relations in the social system.
The phenomenon of “media” is usually understood in relation to human communication. It is telling that media studies occupy a niche within the broader field of communication studies. Curiously, the meaning of “media” is usually taken for granted by media scholars, whose works are often conspicuous by the absence of the term’s definition. At the same time, this meaning remains vague: the media are alternatively or cumulatively understood as communication channels, processes, or products, as texts, representations, spaces, tools, or institutions. When the media are understood as people engaging in communication processes, the focus of attention (as well as of hope or blame) often concentrates on those specific individuals who are seen as directly responsible for how mediated communication functions – professional media producers.
What unites all these various ways of seeing the media is the discourse of externalization. The media are perceived as a force that exists outside of us, which presents a contradiction to the understanding of the media as a form of human communication that this perception coexists with. The current discourse about the media supports this perception through language that reflects the externalization: for instance, through the use of active verbs, as in “the media (do not) impact people’s attitudes.” In fact, the underlying question of media studies (What role do the media play in our lives?) is exemplary of this dominant discourse.
I propose to discuss the importance of challenging this way of perceiving and talking about the media. We need to shift our focus away from such questions as: Can the media impact us negatively? How should we change the media? to the recognition that what stands behind the term “media” is people communicating with each other though technology (and not just some people, but all people inhabiting the media-saturated world). This might also necessitate broadening of our understanding of technology, from tools enabling mass production and dissemination of information over distance, to tools and techniques used by humans (in this sense, a wheel and needle are technology the same was as a TV set or a camera). Challenging the discourse of externalization should ideally render the tension between the media effects and active audience paradigms irrelevant. It is not about whether and how much the media impact us. Rather, it is about reflecting on our role as communicating beings in producing the fabric of society. As we are communicating (through technology or without it), we influence each other, but in infinitely complex and unpredictable ways. I suggest that we should focus on exploring how communication in different forms reflects and contributes to the status quo, and how it can be used to challenge flaws of the social system that are often blamed on the media.
 Jennings Bryant & Mary Beth Oliver (Editors), Media Effects, 3rd ed (New York, Routledge, 2009).
 Jonathan L. Freedman, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific Evidence (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2002).
 David Gauntlett, Moving Experiences: Media Effects and Beyond (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2005).
 Karen Sternheimer, Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media is Not the Answer (Philadelphia, Westview Press, 2013).
 Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding,” in Culture, Media, Language, ed. Stuart Hall, Doothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis (London, Hutchinson, 1980), 128-138.
 Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner & Lisa McLaughlin (Editors), The Routledge Companion to Media & Gender (New York, Routledge, 2015).
 Ben DeVane & Kurt D. Squire, “The Meaning of Race and Violence in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” Games and Culture 3, no. 3-4 (2008): 264-285.
 Rosalind Gill, Gender and the Media (Malden, Polity, 2007).
 Adrienne Shaw, Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
 Erica Rand, Barbie’s Queer Accessories (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).
 Freedman, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific Evidence.
 Glenn G. Sparks, Cheri W.Sparks, & Erin A. Sparks, “Media Violence,” in Media Effects, 3rd ed, ed. Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver (New York, Routledge, 2009), 269-286.
 Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge (New York, Pantheon, 1972).
 Iara Lessa, “Discursive Struggles within Social Welfare: Restaging Teen Motherhood,” British Journal of Social Work 36, no. 2 (2005): 283-298, p. 285.