Semiotic Analysis

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A Semiotic Analysis: “There’s A Soldier In All Of Us”

In today’s society, people are significantly influenced by the media. Mediated messages are often deliberate and appeal to specific audiences based on race, gender, ethnicity, social status, education level, political views, and much more. By applying semiotics to everyday life, we can decipher meaning within texts, film, and photography in a more constructive way. Here, it becomes evident that semiotics is a fundamental concept that enables better communication. Through a semiotic analysis of the 2010 Call of Duty (COD): Black Ops “There’s A Soldier In All Of Us” commercial, it becomes obvious how and why this advertisement was so successful toward various audiences. In order to understand how and why companies are so successful in their marketing techniques, it is important to understand semiotics and its concepts in its simplest form.

Although there is a long history concerning the importance and curiosity of signs and the way they communicate meaning, modern semiotic analysis can be credited to two men: Swiss linguist Ferinand de Saussure and American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Saussure’s approach deals with many concepts of semiotic analysis that can be applied to signs. “Saussure’s division of the sign into two components, the signifier, or ‘sound-image’, and the signified, or ‘concept,’ and his suggestion that the relationship between signifiers and signified is arbitrary were of crucial importance for the development of semiotics” (Berger 4). In contrast, Peirce focused on three dimensions of signs: iconic, symbolic, and indexical. Although Saussure and Pierce may differ in their ideas about how signs function, they both have made significant contributions to the modern science of semiology.

Another important figure in semiotics is philosopher-critic Roland Barthes who describes semiology as a science of forms, since it studies significations apart from their content. In his essay, Myth Today, Barthes denotes myth as a type of speech and a system of communication. He then proceeds to illustrate his concepts of an enhanced sign system:

But myth is a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semiological chain which existed before it: it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second…Whether it deals with alphabetical or pictorial writing, myth wants to see in them only sums of signs, a global sign, the final term of a first semiological chain. And it is precisely this final term which will become the first term of the greater system which it builds and of which it is only a part. Everything happens as if myth shifted the formal system of the first significations sideways. This lateral shift is essential for the analysis of myth. (Barthes 115)

Two important distinctions Barthes makes clear in his essay is that the relationship between signifier (2) and signified (2) is never arbitrary and that the signifier is empty and the sign is full. When we apply this double system to the COD: Black Ops example sign (1) suggests that this video game can be played by anyone without discrimination towards gender, race, age, ethnicity, social status, or educational level. The signified (2) in this example urges the consumer to “buy this game”. The relationship between the sign (1) and the signified (2) implies that if the consumer buys this video game, they will have fun just like the diverse types of characters in the commercial. This complex sign system has proved helpful in understanding meaning within a text as well as understanding how semiotics can be applied to everyday life.

Semiotics can be defined as the theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems (Arnold 92). As quoted by Saussure, semiotics is “a science that studies the life of signs within society” (Berger 6). This is a concept that has enabled the study of media...
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