File - Year13MediaBHS

Media Studies
Intro to Semiotics
This is not a pipe
– Semiotics is a system for deconstructing and
analysing visual and moving images and for
explaining the meanings contained in such
– Meaning comes through the use of signifiers –
(objects that are used to represents an idea)
• The Eiffel tower represents__________________
• The Beehive represents ____________________
• A black cat represents _____________________
o Symbols represent ideas and feelings.
o Write down what the following symbols
What is a sign?
• The word sign is used to describe
anything that carries meaning - whether
it’s a word, a symbol/image, or a sound.
• Signs form part of the coded system
within a media text
• Because of their nature, we have to view
SIGNS as having two distinct parts:
• The signifier, which is the physical sign
• The signified, which is the meaning
carried by the sign.
• A red hexagonal
sheet of metal with
the word “Stop”
written on it in white
• Here marks a traffic
intersection where
you must stop your
vehicle to give way to
crossing traffic
• A photograph of a Red metal
hexagonal sign with the word
STOP written in white lettering and
a white boarder.
• The photo is taken from a low
angle looking up at the sign
• The background is of a blue sky
with cumulous clouds behind it
• It is attached to a metal pole
• In addition to the message to stop
at an intersection this sign holds
other signified meanings
• The low angle represents the
power and authority that is
conveyed in this road instruction
• The blue sky creates feelings of
happiness and safety
• The clouds also add freshness to
the image (without them the sky
could take on a repressive
• However, the sign might also be
read as a negative by those that
despise authority and see this as a
signified image of dystopia or even
technological power over nature
Encoding & Decoding
• Media texts are encoded by their
producers and decoded by their audiences
• Play Video
• Semiotics the study of signs
• Low Angle Shot
• Tight Framing
• Use of heavy make-up
• Low Key Lighting
• Lit from below
He is powerful
I can’t escape him/I am
He is an evil vampire
It is dark and unsafe
I can see how he will kill me
• Film-makers use Technical CODES to
encode their images with meaning
• Audiences decode these images using a
shared historical understanding of the text.
Cultural Approaches
In a horror film – we know bad things will happen if a girl goes down
to the basement at night by herself
But we have no connotative fear of this basement
from a handy man show
• Denotation is the surface meaning. It is
literally what you see before you.
• Denotation is…
• Connotation is the deeper meaning of the
image – what it could possibly suggest.
• Connotation is…
• Semiotics is a way of explaining how we
make meaning.
• Semiotics recognises that all meaning is
encoded in things that create meaning.
• When we see objects and images or hear /
read words we cannot perceive more than
an idea.
• This idea is called “meaning”. We have
learned to decode.
• The important realisation is that such
meaning is not our own idea but someone
• For example, if you read the word
“coward” you decode it by referring to
values that our culture relates to
• These values are ever changing and
therefore determined by the audience
• Attitude toward cowardness in the time of
Shot at Dawn Memorial, National Memorial Arboretum, Lichfield,
Staffordshire (England). Commemorates the 306 British & Commonwealth
soldiers executed for cowardice & desertion during World War I. Portrays a
young British soldier blindfolded and tied to a stake in anticipation of
execution by firing squad. Created by artist Andy DeComyn & unveiled by
Mrs. Gertrude Harris, daughter of Private Harry Farr who was executed on
October 16, 1916.
Binary Opposition
• Our understanding of this idea also relates to
its binary opposite
• Binary Opposition Theory determines that
our understanding of one thing is influenced
by our understanding of it’s opposite
• B.O.T determines that our understanding of
something has as much to do with our
understanding of what it is not.
Binary Opposition
• That is, our understanding of a coward is
dependent on our understanding of a hero
• Therefore, because a coward is the
opposite of a hero, our understanding of
what it is to be cowardly is constructed not
by a set criteria, but by the way it relates
to the aspects of what it means to be
What are the opposites of…
• B.O.T realises that we as humans need to
classify the world around us
• It determines that to be a man means that you
are NOT a woman. If we know what a woman is
then we know what a man is
• So, a man who has female characteristics can
not be defined as male, and therefore must
undertake new classification
• B.O.T also recognises the problems of
associations of opposites.
Good / Bad
Man / Woman
Hero / Villain
White / Black
God / Devil
• In semiotics, a sign is the smallest single unit of
meaning we can decode and which contributes
to overall meaning,
• e.g. your clothes are a group of ‘fashion signs’
and might have been ‘encoded’ by you –
consciously or otherwise – to create the
meaning of ‘coolness’, ‘Alternative-ness’, ‘sportyness’, or even ‘don’t come near me I’ve just
broken up with my true love and I just want to
hide away never to love again, so screw youness’
• Simplistically speaking, meaning exists at
two “levels”: a sign always acts at a basic
level – called its denotation; this is a
literal meaning
• But, when it occurs in certain contexts, a
group of signs – a code – can also
suggest or connote extra meaning
• e.g. a rose denotes a kind of flower; but
when handed to a girl by a boy, it also acts
to connotate romance.
• In semiotics, a code is any group of signs
that seem to “fit” together ‘naturally’ to
create an overall unit of meaning
• e.g. the rose is a sign which when added
to the signs of a girl and a boy creates the
‘romance cultural code’
• In semiotics there are three basic types of
sign and code:
• Iconic
• Indexical
• Symbolic
Iconic Signs
• Iconic signs and codes are created to
appear exactly like the thing itself,
• e.g. an image of a cowboy looks like
(signifies) a cowboy.
• But, iconic codes always act to represent
more than the thing itself
• Cowboy = Toughness, Action, America,
Wild West, Masculinity,etc
Indexical Sign/Code
• Indexical signs are different. They act by
indirectly “pointing” or suggesting what
they mean by acting as ‘cues’ to existing
• e.g. smoke signifies fire, sweating
signifies hotness or exercise, white lab
coat signifies scientific method and
Symbolic sign/code
• Symbolic codes act as signifiers of
meaning totally disconnected from what
they denote,
• e.g. a red heart shape acts only to
symbolise love; a white dove symbolises
peace; red symbolises danger, power or
sexuality, white symbolises innocence,
• An important realisation is that the
meaning a code communicates is always
culturally determined,
• National Flag denotes a piece of coloured
cloth; connotes patriotism and pride
• The term convention refers to an
established way of doing something
• EG: women in Westerns are
conventionally either ‘very good’ (the
‘Madonna’) or ‘very bad’ (the ‘whore’)
• This seems entirely ‘normal’ within this film
• However, in a Drama, there are many
shades of female characters
Genre and narrative
• Genre and narrative are important media
conventions, as are editing techniques and
the use of certain shot types
• Many films contain narrative and stylistic
elements that deliberately evoke the
audience’s memory of previous films or
shared histories. When this occurs, the
meaning of a particular scene or of the film
as a whole relies on the audience’
awareness of at least one other film. This
is known as an intertextual reference.
• Intertextual references rely heavily on
what is known as a film-literate
audience: that is, an audience that has
seen a broad selection of films and is
aware of how films are constructed to
generate meaning. Most young people in
Western societies today are film-literate by
default as a result of being exposed to
large amounts of television and cinema
• Remember the reference to “The Lovely
Bones”? – Because of intertexuality we
can read this image differently
Everything is a sign
Signs can be read
Signs exist in a structure and context
Looking at the structure of signs allows
you to get to the meaning of a text and
what is being said, by whom and why?
Semiotics and Film
• Semiotics is the theory that lays the basis for
learning the syntax of film’s aesthetics
• Meaning the arrangement of the rules or
analysis of how a film looks and what/how it
says it
• It is the ability to control the codes of
communication in film language and enables
YOU to create and express yourselves in film
In Short
• Knowing and being aware of semiotic
codes and conventions allows you to
encode your ideas into your film
• And, importantly allows others to decode
and understand your ideas
3 Fundamental Questions
1. What do I shoot?
2. How do I shot it?
3. How do I present it?
• The process of creating a film is shaped
by the choices made in answering these
• Look at the following scenes
• Write down
– Denotative Signifier
– Connotative Signified meanings
Shared personal/cultural knowledge/understandings
Representation of a Cow in a paddock
A young Black & White
Dairy/Jersey Cow grazing
in a lush green paddock at
either the beginning or end
of the day under
a clear blue sky. The cow
has a yellow ear tag and a
brown collar with a red tag.
Two other Jersey cows are
in the background both
more black than white.
You can just see a house
roof and a fence in the
background. The horizon
is framed with trees