Pretty Little Decoders

Pretty Little Liars, is an American young-adult drama, mystery-thriller television series, which runs on Freeform, previously ABC Family. The show first premiered on June 8th 201o. The show is loosely based on the well-known book series also called, Pretty Little Liars. The show found major success and ratings were through the roof after the first 10 episodes premiered. As expected with the triumphs of this television series came “P.L.L” obsessed fans. The young-adult/teen audience that Pretty Little Liars targets are extremely tech-savvy and created a huge digital footprint in fandom. Fan site’s popped up all over the internet, their Twitter account currently has 3.7M followers, and a Facebook page with 14M followers. The show is famous for its numerous twists, turns and unanswered questions. During the season 6 summer finale the show’s most unanswered question, “Who is ‘A’?” was finally revealed. Some Pretty Little Liar fans responded positively in regards to their understanding of the ‘A’ reveal being perfectly planned and executed, but other viewers diverged from this response with negotiated and oppositional views.


This season 6 summer finale episode is one of the biggest episodes to date because the whole show basically led up to this massive unanswered question. It was an episode that fans had been waiting for since the day the show first aired. The four main characters in the show, Aria, Spencer, Hanna and Emily, believe that their best friend and group leader, Alison, was allegedly murdered. After her funeral the four girls start receiving cryptic text messages from an unknown number all signed, “A” for Alison. Once Alison’s body is found the girls realize that it couldn’t actually be Alison haunting them, so the next 6 seasons are dedicated to finding out who the mysterious “A” really is. The plot lines took many turns and twists but in the end it revealed “A” in the season 6 finale and audiences were shocked. Viewers who agree that the reveal was properly executed and lived up to expectations have a dominant-hegemonic position. According to Hall, dominant-hegemonic position refers to, “When the viewer takes the connoted meaning, and decodes the meaning in terms of the reference code in which it had been encoded (Hall, 59). These individuals recognize and understand how “A” was supposed to be revealed.


One tweet from a Pretty Little Liars, viewer tweeted “I really can’t believe how much this all makes sense #CeCeIsA.” Another viewer tweeted, “You planned this so perfectly …. Congrats love the show.” In Viewers Make Meaning, it explains, “Most if not all images have a meaning that is preferred by their producers” (Sturken & Cartwright, 53). The moment that viewers found out who “A,” is, the producer most likely wanted audiences to react and understand this revealing in a certain way. This is not always the case, however.


Not all viewers are going to have this same dominant-hegemonic position. The second position is identified as the negotiated position. Hall describes decoding with the ‘negotiated version’ as, “It acknowledges the legitimacy of the legitimacy of the hegemonic definitions to make the grand significations (abstract), while, at a more restricted, situational level, it makes it’s own ground rules – it operates within exceptions to the rule” (Hall, 60). Although it would be ideal for all audiences to understand the intended meaning behind a story, this will not always be the case. Each viewer has potential to interpret images in completely different ways. In, Viewers Make Meaning, it explains, “An image creates meaning through its circulation among viewers. Hence, we can say that meanings are not inherent in images. Rather, meanings are the product of a complex social interaction among image, viewers and context” (Sturken & Cartwright, 55). The way that audiences interpret P.L.L, all has to do in which the context in which viewers watch it.

An example of the negotiated position to the Pretty Little Liars reveal comes from a blog posted on Hollywood Life. In the blog author, Lauren Cox, states, “I’m glad this A’s reign of terror is over, but I am really annoyed that we were almost forced to feel bad for someone who was so awful for the characters we love.” This woman does not completely understand the producer’s intended message behind the reveal and does not state that it was executed properly. Although she acknowledges that “A” has been revealed and she is glad that this happened, she doesn’t understand why the producer is trying to make audiences feel bad for “A.”


Finally, an “oppositional code,” is described by Hall as when, “He/she detotalizes the message in the preferred code in order to retotalize the message within some alternative framework of reference” (Hall, 61). This could be a person who decodes the message in a completely unintended way than the producer was hoping for. An example of this is in a tweet from a viewer stating, “Like did you guys just sit down last night and come up with the most bogus and stupid ending you could think of? #PrettyLittleLiars.” This viewer disagrees with how “A” was revealed completely, and for this reason, responded with an oppositional view. Perhaps she will only keep watching to see what happens next.


Overall, Pretty Little Liar fans everywhere fled to the internet when “A” was revealed after five years of waiting. Viewers responded in a dominant, negotiated and oppositional way to this reveal depending on the person themselves and the context they watch the show in. Those that decoded the reveal in a positive way thought it was perfectly planned and executed. Others decoded the reveal in opposing ways.


Cox, L. (2015, August 12). “Pretty little liars” big A reveal was totally disappointing & frustrating — here’s why. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from

Hall, Stuart. (1980). Encoding and Decoding.

Nakamura, R., Ge, L., Hod, I., & Maglio, T. (2015, August 11). #FAceToFace: “Pretty little liars” big “A” reveal draws relief, confusion, disappointment on social media. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from Social Media,

Sturken, M, & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press.


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