Analysing the Media Week 1 18.09.13 Course Description Your course description and assessment requirements will be distributed to you on an A4 sheet, in class. Please file this information, carefully. Semiology Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 1913) embarked on the study of signs in order to explain language better. He called this study Semiology. Semiotics: ‘the life of signs within society’ (Saussure) • Exploring language and meaning at the same time as Saussure, Charles Pierce (1839 1914), coined the term Semiotics. It is derived from the Greek word semeîon = sign. Semiotics as it is more usually known, is, therefore, the study of signs. ‘Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign.’ (Peirce) • A sign is something which symbolizes or represents more than one meaning. • In a semiotic sense signs take the form of words, images, sounds, odours, flavours, acts, gestures and objects. (Chandler, Introduction: 1/Signs 1) • A sign consists of a signifier the form which the sign takes; and a signified – the concept it represents. Signs • ‘A sign is quite simply a thing, whether object, word or picture – which has a particular meaning to a person or group of people. It is neither the thing nor the meaning alone, but the two together. • The sign consists of the Signifier, the material object and the Signified, which is its meaning. These are only divided for analytical purposes: in practice a sign is always the thing-plusmeaning. (Williamson, 1978 p. 17) You can’t use a bulldozer to study orchids • The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure http://www.youtube.co m/watch?v=2vykJ7UgNQ • (The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, 1999) Conventions • A convention is a shared understanding or an agreement about how something should look/sound/be etc. reached over time by a community of users of the same medium or inhabitants of the same culture etc. • The sign on mens’ toilets is conventional but also somewhat motivational (the figure does bear some resemblance to a man). How do these signs play with convention? What do they signify? Over to you... What are the conventions associated ... • with tragedy? • the main news bulletin? • a map? • a piece of heavy metal music? • the word ‘Mná’? Ceci n’est pas un pipe, René Magritte (1928 -29) • Arbitrary relationships exist between signifiers and signified i.e. between words such as tree/ arbre, house/ maison and that thing which the word is describing. Signifieds can also be arbitrary. • N.B. foot-wrist. The relationships between signifiers and signifieds in signs can be more or less conventional, more or less motivated – from the totally arbitrary and consequently conventional in verbal language (tree/arbre) to the minimally arbitrated or clearly motivated in straightforward photography. ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ (Shakespeare) Denotation and Connotation • • • • • • • Denotation is the image or signifier – what is contained in the image. Connotation takes the first order signification - signifier and signified and attaches a second order signified to it. Examples: a rose, the American bald eagle, a swastika, Eminem…Can you explain what these signs denote and connote? Can you think of any other signs like these? Clip: Jezebel (William Wyler, USA, 1938). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A SNO9QuKLj0 Types of sign (Pierce) • Symbol/symbolic: a mode in which the signifier does not resemble the signified but which is fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional - so that the relationship must be learnt: e.g. language in general (plus specific languages, alphabetical letters, punctuation marks, words, phrases and sentences), numbers, morse code, traffic lights, national flags etc. Symbolic signs are used a lot in advertising: visuals, music, jingles etc.. Types of Sign (2) • Icon/iconic: a mode in which the signifier is perceived as resembling or imitating the signified (recognizably looking, sounding, feeling, tasting or smelling like it) - being similar in possessing some of its qualities: e.g. a portrait, a cartoon, a scale-model, onomatopoeia, metaphors, 'realistic' sounds in 'programme music', sound effects in radio drama, a dubbed film soundtrack, imitative gestures.. • Index/indexical: a mode in which the signifier is not arbitrary but is directly connected in some way (physically or causally) to the signified - this link can be observed or inferred: e.g. 'natural signs' (smoke, thunder, footprints, echoes, non-synthetic odours and flavours), medical symptoms (pain, a rash, pulse-rate), measuring instruments (weathercock, thermometer, clock, spirit-level), 'signals' (a knock on a door, a phone ringing), pointers (a pointing 'index' finger, a directional signpost), recordings (a photograph, a film, video or television shot, an audio-recorded voice), personal 'trademarks' (handwriting, catchphrase) and indexical words ('that', 'this', 'here', 'there'). Useful ideas • Structuring/binary opposites: e.g. hot/cold, old/new/black/white etc • Negative differentiation - The thing is that which it is not. • ‘Sign value’ and ‘Sign wars’ in advertising. Viewing Viewing • The Century of the Self (Adam Curtis, BBC, 2002). A documentary exploring the ideas of Edward Bernays, the ‘inventor’ of PR and nephew of Sigmund Freud. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyPzGUsYy KM Further reading: • Judith Williamson Decoding Advertisements, London, Marion Boyars, 1978. • Daniel Chandler Semiotics for Beginners at http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/ (This is a very comprehensive online resource on the area, however the level of detail is quite high and the material requires study. So, it’s there as a back-up if you’re really, really interested in semiotics). • For next week: Choose a magazine ad and try to analyse it using the tools and terminology of semiotics. Bring your ad and analysis to class with you. Home Viewing • The Persuaders, a 2004 US PBS film about the methods through which advertising constantly seeks to surround and engage us. • http://www.pbs.org/wg bh/pages/frontline/sho ws/persuaders/ • When watching The Persuaders try to identify differentiation, negative differentiation (“not-signs”) or parody as they may occur in ads in the film.