Media Studies 2012
Media Studies 2012
Semiotics is the study of signs and how the meaning behind those signs is created. Signs can take on many forms from photos, to words, smells and even objects, but as American philosopher Charles Sanders once said ‘Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign’, which means that even though these objects exist, they are only considered a sign if we have installed in them some sort of meaning and we use semiotics to identify how that meaning is made. A sign is composed of two parts, a signifier, which is the form in which the sign takes and the signified, which is the idea or meaning that the sign represents. Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the man who created the science of semiotics noted that a sign is the relationship between the signifier and the signified. What this means is that one cannot work without the other, a signifier is useless without knowledge or social convention and the signified cannot be identified without something physical like text in a book or a picture. Let’s take an example of the green light at a cross walk as a sign. From a very early age we are taught that following the rules of the road is important for our safety and it is ingrained in society that the fewer road deaths the better, so the little green man at a crosswalk is a sign that it is safe to cross the road, with the green man itself being the signifier and the social convention of the safe cross code and our knowledge that the light green man means it’s safe to cross being the signified. Since one cannot work without the other, if we remove the little green man from the cross walk and put it on a wall, it will complete loses the meaning it once had and the same can be said if you change the colour of the green man to red at the crosswalk because we as a society take red at a cross walk to mean don’t cross. Words are classic examples of signifiers because they can have several different meanings depending on context; take the word ‘Disaster’ for example. On its own the word can have several means, but if you put it above a picture of a flood in a newspaper, the flood is the signified because we understand what a flood is and why we call it a disaster. All signs can be divided in three different means, the denotative, the connotative and the mythical meaning. The denotative meaning refers to the literal meaning of the sign e.g., the word ‘perfume’ signifies a spray that smells good. The connotative meaning refers to the cultural meaning of the word e.g. the word ‘perfume’ signifies romance. The mythical meaning refers to the social convention or fantasy element that the sign can take on e.g. a perfume advertisement will play on the myth that if you smell nice then men will like you and want to marry you and marriage is a social construct that we deem normal and is therefore good, meaning that this product is good because it can get you all those things. To truly understand semiotics we must take a look at how the media industry utilises it.
‘All acts of communication are a process. This process includes a source, a message and a receiver of the message. When the media communicate with their audience, there is a process going on’ (Graeme Burton, More than meets the eye, pg. 23)
All forms of media understand and use semiotics to their advantage, especially when it comes to advertising. Think of any advertisement you’ve seen, whether it be TV, posters, internet etc. Nothing in those advertisements are in there by accident, everything from the colours, to the words they use are there to make you want to buy that product. Most notable is the use of sex in media. Sex is universal and crosses all culture, gender, age and social class barriers, which means there’s a big knish market for it. The media does not portray sexuality as it really is, but rather they portray it as what...
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