From the Instructors Manual
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- The goal of semiotics is interpreting both verbal and nonverbal signs.
- Roland Barthes held the Chair of Literary Semiology at the College of France.
- In Mythologies, he sought to decipher the cultural meaning of visual signs, particularly those perpetuating dominant social values.
- Semiology is concerned with anything that can stand for something else.
- Barthes is interested in signs that are seemingly straightforward, but subtly communicate ideological or connotative meaning.
- Barthes had an unusual style for an academic and was extremely influential.
- Wrestling with signs.
- Barthes initially described his semiotic theory as an explanation of myth.
- Barthes’ true concern was with connotation—the ideological baggage that signs carry wherever they go.
- The structure of signs is key to Barthes’ theory.
- Ferdinand de Saussure coined the term semiology to refer to the study of signs.
- A sign is the combination of its signifier and signified.
- The signifier is the image; the signified is the concept.
- In Barthes’ terms, the signifier isn’t the sign of the signified—rather the sign is the combination of signifier and signified, which are united in an inseparable bond.
- These distinctions come from Saussure.
- The relationship between the signifier and the signified in a verbal sign is arbitrary.
- The relationship between the signifier and the signified in a nonverbal sign is based on affinity and is therefore quasi-arbitrary.
- A sign does not stand on its own: it is part of a system.
- A structural analysis of features common to all semiotic systems is called taxonomy.
- Barthes believed semiotic systems function the same way despite their apparent diversity.
- Significant semiotic systems create myths that affirm the status quo as natural, inevitable, and eternal.
- The yellow ribbon transformation: From forgiveness to pride.
- Not all semiological systems are mythic.
- Mythic or connotative systems are second-order semiological systems built off preexisting denotative sign systems.
- Within mythic systems, the sign of the first system becomes the signifier of the second.
- The yellow ribbons, first popularized in the 1972 song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘round ol’ Oak Tree,” serve as an example of this transformation.
- The making of myth: Stripping the sign of its history.
- Every ideological sign is the result of two interconnected sign systems.
- The first system is strictly descriptive as the signifier image and the signified concept combine to produce the denotative sign.
- The second system appropriates the sign of the denotative system and makes it the signifier of the connotative system.
- This lateral shift transforms a neutral sign into an ideological tool.
- The original denotative sign is not lost, but it is impoverished.
- Unmasking the myth of a homogeneous society.
- Only those who understand semiotics can detect the hollowness of connotative signs.
- Mythic signs don’t explain, defend, or raise questions.
- Mythic signs always reinforce dominant cultural values.
- They naturalize the current order of things.
- Throughout his life, Roland Barthes deciphered and labeled the ideologies foisted upon naive consumers of images.
- All his semiotic efforts were directed at unmasking what he considered the heresy of those who controlled the images of society—the naturalizing of history.
- The semiotics of mass communication: “I’d like to be like Mike.”
- Because signs are integral to mass communication, Barthes’ semiotic analysis has become an essential media theory.
- Kyong Kim argues that the mass signification arising in a response to signs is an artificial effect calculated to achieve something else.
- Advertisements on television create layers of connotation that reaffirm the status quo.
- Semiotics goes to the movies
- More than one hundred years ago when Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure was describing a sign as the combination of the signifier and signified, American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce was independently developing his own model of how signs work.
- Peirce included nonverbal signs in his semiotic theorizing right from the start.
- Symbolic signs show no resemblance to the objects they reference.
- Iconic signs have a perceived resemblance with the objects they portray.
- Indexical signs are directly connected with their referents spatially, temporally, or by cause-and-effect.
- Critique: Do mythic signs always reaffirm the status quo?
- Roland Barthes’ semiotics fulfills five of the criteria of a good interpretive theory exceedingly well: New understanding of people, aesthetic appeal, qualitative analysis, proposal for reforming society, and clarification of values.
- Yet the majority of communication scholars in the United States ignore the field of semiotics and the work of its central theorists such as Barthes; thus it does not as strongly meet the standard of community of agreement.
- There are questions about Barthes’ view that all connotative systems uphold the values of the dominant class.
- Scholars such as Anne Norton and Douglas Kellner expand Barthes’ semiotic approach to argue that signs can subvert the status quo or exemplify a countercultural connotative system.
- Barthes’ semiotic approach to imagery remains a core theoretical perspective for communication scholars, particularly those who emphasize media and culture.
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