Blog 3: Signs & Ideologies – Mass Media Messages
Semiotics is considered the study of everything that can be used for communication. Author Sullivan discusses Ferdinand de Saussure, the primary figure in the study of semiotics, developed a two part model for explaining how communication takes place through all forms of linguistic communication. Saussure states that human communication is dependent on the creation of signs (words, images etc.), and that without them communication is impossible. Semiotics is made up of a sign, signifier and a signified (shown below).
An example of this is a stop sign.
The signifier is the physical image – in this case the actual stop sign in the street; the signified is the mental concept that comes from seeing the image. In this case we know that it means we have to physically come to a complete stop. This entire concept makes up the sign.
However, signs and signifieds are products of our society, therefore meaning of messages as we know it, may not have the same meaning in alternate cultures or languages. We also use the terms denotation to describe the literal meaning of a sign, and connotation to describe the socio-cultural and ‘personal’ associations (ideological, emotional etc.) of the sign.
Media often use semiotics and ideologies to promote ideas and thoughts that are shaped by our culture and beliefs. Advertising often makes use of ideologies and semiotics as a way to shape a message to mean something other than its denotated literal meaning. Lets look at some examples!
This controversial ad used semiotics, ideologies and socio-cultural associations with Roman catholic symbols to promote gelato. The denotation is simple, it shows a pregnant nun, in a church eating Antonio Federici gelato. The text “immaculately conceived” is a commonly used term in Catholicism to discuss the conception of Jesus. However, the connotations from this image through its use of catholic imagery could be that the gelato is “heavenly” or, as the company tried to show “ice-cream is our religion”.
Ideology is a set of shared beliefs within a group (such as a nation or social class). This body of beliefs influence the way individuals think, act, and view the world. An example of this would be gender ideology, which is concerned with the attitudes of men and women on their place in society, including rights and responsibilities. Ideologies are presented to audiences through media constantly, oftentimes with us passively accepting what’s being portrayed to us through advertising, or our favorite TV shows. Below are some examples:
This example shown in an episode of South Park, discusses a form of gender ideology. As Kyle tells the officers that a teacher has been having relations with a student, they are outraged. However, when they find out the teacher is female, and that she’s “not ugly”, and then their attitude changes to celebrate the child’s “luck”.
Another ideology common in media, especially in the 1950s, was male superiority. This was the notion that men held positions of power, went work, and made all the decisions within the household. In this clip, from Parks and Recreation, they are discussing how the garbage removal company refuse to hire women because they wouldn’t be able to handle the job. During the discussion of inequality, April mocks the situation by stating the gender ideologies that were forced upon audiences many years ago. She comments that men are better than women, and that we must obey men because they are our masters. She further continues to tell Leslie that she’ll never get a man with that kind of domineering tone.
This advertising for Van Heusen ties from the 1950s, also shows gender ideologies. It depicts men in a position of power, as his wife waits on him, on her knees to serve him his dinner. It further plays on the notion that women should cook and clean, and play the dutiful housewives.
One of the main ideologies used by advertisers is the ideology of consumerism/materialism. Advertisers often try to convey to audiences that “buying product X will make you happy”.
Volkswagen tried this with their #gethappy campaign – Get in. Get happy. The ideology of materialism is shown by them stating that if we purchase this car, we will achieve happiness, and that all other problems will cease to exist. Now the average consumer is obviously not as easily persuaded, especially with something as expensive as a car, but this is still an ideology that marketers try to push. These types of media messages are often seen in advertising, as a advertisers often try to portray the fact that without their product or service, we’re essentially missing out on a large chunk of the world.
The concept of materialism was also used in Dodge’s 2003 campaign. It depicts a woman, who appears to have just married a much older man. It creates the picture that he is wealthy, and her happiness is due entirely to the fact that she is now rich (soon to be richer once he kicks the bucket). This takes on the ideology that is often pushed through a capitalist society that money = happiness.
Patriotism is another ideology that is still strongly used in media today, specifically in the US. This is the notion to love, support and protect ones country and its people, and the notion of freedom and all things American. Chrysler used an emotional, US themed commercial during a Superbowl spot, to try to connect with its audience by playing on its American roots, and all things past and present that make America great. Through using American legend Bob Dylan, he poses the question.. “is there anything more American, than America.”. It continues to show many American “staples” and icons, to discuss the brands roots in Detroit, and the importance it had on American culture. It creates the notion that the American lifestyle is considered superior to other countries, stating Let Germany make your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone, WE will build your car”.
This clip, from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, sort of parodies the notion of patriotism as an American ideology. During this clip, Charlie sings about all things American, such as rising up and flying on an eagle, freedom, and “driving a big truck”. These types of things are what outsiders from the US tend to use as ideologies of American culture and patriotism.
As audiences of mass media messages, we are constantly being shown different signs, and ideologies that the media want us to see. Whilst we as consumers of media are not necessarily the brainwashed mush-brained passive mediums that some theories have stated, we do still allow these messages subconsciously into our minds.These ideologies are still fairly dominant in our culture, regardless of how “dated” some of them may appear.