Media Theory Week 3

This week my Media Theory class is studying semiotics, which is the study of signs. Students will be writing a semiotic analysis essay on the Avatar movie.

This is not a pipe.

Semiotics – the science of signs – is a fast subject that, can be at times, complicated. Refer back to De Saussure’s video definition of textual signs. See Why is Semiotics a social science and Treachery of Images Video.

What are the two parts of a sign according to De Saussure. 1. The Signifier – ie. Sound image. 2. The Signified – ie. Concept.

How do people use blonde hair to “lie” with signs?

Semiotics of Blondeness – blonde hair is a semiotic sign of being innocent or unobtainable or cold. However, in the United States Americans tend to think that Blondes have more fun. Semiotics tell everything but can be construed at times to have a different meaning or message by others. Symbols control our thinking as well as our behavior.

Why do semioticians argue that society is the primary reality?

We determine the meaning of sign based upon how we were brought up, as we apply meaning through the implied association of signs. Often based on our culture codes.

What are the components of C. S. Peirce’s trichotomy? 1. Icons – signify by resemblance. 2. Indexes – signify by cause and effect. 3. Symbols – signify on the basis of convention. See C.S. Pierce Trichotomy Explained Video.

What is the difference between denotation and connotation?

Denotation – refers to the literal meaning of a term or object. Basically, it is descriptive. ie. Big Mac is a burger sandwich sold by McDonald’s and is based on a # of ounces of ground beef and various sauces. Another example, Barbie Doll is just a toy doll that was made in 1959 and is certain size and shape.

Connotation – deal with the cultural meanings that become attached to a term. ie. Big Mac is relative to American Culture of fast food, uniformity, lack of time, lack of interest in cooking. Another example, Barbie Doll teaches young girls to be consumers.

Other key definitions:

Metaphor – refers to communicating by analogy. ie My love is a red rose.

Simile – is a weaker subcategory of a metaphor, uses like or as in a phrase. ie. My love is like a red rose.

Metonymy – deals with communicating by association. ie. Rolls Royce is expensive and associated with wealth.

Synecdoche – is a subcategory of metonymy in which part is used to stand for the whole or vise versa. ie. The White House stands for the Presidency or the Pentagon stands for the American military.

Phallic Symbol – something that can function both metaphorically and metonymically. ie. A snake can function as a phallic symbol as well as the Garden of Eden.

Intertextuality – deals with the relation between text and is used to show how texts borrow from one another, consciously and sometimes unconsciously. ie. the 1984 Macintosh TV commercial was intertextually related to George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 and the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

How does Foucault explain changes in cultural codes?

Semiotic Codes refer to structured behavior and argue that much human behavior can be seen as coded, as having secret or covert structures not easily understood or recognized. Culture can be seen as a collection of codes. De Assure states that Language is a semiotic standpoint is a social institution. We learn language by being raised within a community or subculture. What individuals do is speak, which he calls parole. For example, speaking can include haircuts, clothes, and facial expressions. We also can use body language to communicate specific gestures you make to another when talking to him or her. we have language is language, See Page 80 for Language/Speech/Parole Chart.

Foucault discusses how social change comes about, between basic codes that create order in culture come into a subtle conflict with scientific theories and philosophical thought and an area between these two perspectives comes into being that suggest the possibility of modifying and even changing the fundamental codes. See Who is Michael Foucault Video.

Marcel Danesi on Codes & Culture – codes are organizational systems or grids for recurring elements and meanings that go inot the constitution of anything that humans make including rituals, spectacles and representation of all kinds. ie. rules for numerals and rules for math. or ie. flexible codes as the way we greet someone. A code can be compared to a recipe such as instructions for cooking and converted into actual food or drink made by someone. Codes can be for international usage, such as math and science. Codes can even be for a global educational system of education. Codes can be symbols and serve as a shorthand system for recording and recalling information. However, each country and culture may have its own codes and different ways of doing things. ie. when to eat dinner and various types of food they prefer to eat.

What important points does Rapaille make in his analysis of culture codes?

Rapaille, he is a French psychoanalyst, considered codes as imprints which are a combination of experiences and accompanying emotions. Once an imprint occurs it shapes our thinking or future actions. Our imprints define who we are and are often learned unconsciously by age 7. See Dr. Rapaille – Why Your Brand needs and Origin Video.

What is the difference between syntagmatic and paradigmatic text analysis?

Systematic – refers to interpretation that looks at the sequence of events that give text meaning – in the same way, that sequence of words used in a sentence generates meaning. The term Syntagm means chain. ie. Like a chain of events. Paradigmatic – concerns itself with how opposition hidden in the text generates meaning. Our human minds tend to search not only for concepts but also for the opposition in order to make sense of things. ie. The Hero vs. The Villain.

Vladimir Propp, a Russian Folklorist – analyzed Folktales – See Video for his theories. He believed that a plot is driven by the actions of a hero. Therefore, narratives have meaning. He stated that folktales use morphology as a function, which is considered a minimal unit usually by an act of a character defined a point of view of its significance for the course of action. See Table 3.1 Propp’s 31 Functions listed on Pages 87-88.

What does Ekman say about facial expressions? What do we learn from them?

Paul Ekman states there are 7 facial expressions and one neutral state that doesn’t show any emotion. Anger, Determination, Disgust, Fear, Neutral (no emotion), Pouting, Sadness, Surprise. Facial expression provides information about our emotions and our moods. They reveal truthfulness and lying. They offer diagnostic information about depression, mania, and schizophrenia and about our responses to treatment for these afflictions. See Paul Ekman 2 Videos on his Facial Expressions work.


What components comprise a paradigmatic analysis of Skyfall? See Pages 89-91.

Skyfall is a James Bond movie from 2012 and like most action thriller Bond movies there is always a there is Hero and there is a Villain. Our minds tend to consciously make connections with binary oppositions, but we do not tend to bring oppositions to consciousness. The paradigmatic analysis does not discover structure but reads it in or invents them.

The Skyfall plot provides lots of oppositions vs. negation. There is an order of events considered the syntagmatic structure ie. Happy vs. Sad and the hidden oppositions found in the text, known as the paradigmatic structure. ie Happy vs. Unhappy. Most Bond fans would tend to be happy that He always wins and the villain does not. Yet, we might become sad because M gets wounded and then dies, We don’t expect that part, yet we tend to be glad that Bond won because He lives to Die Another Day (yes, the pun is intended). See Skyfall Analysis Video.

Week #3 Resources

Why is Semiotics a social science? Video.

The Treachery of Images – This is not a pipe. Video

CS Pierce Trichotomy Explained Video 

Who is Michael Foucault? Video

Dr. Rapaille: Why Your Brand Needs an Origin Video

Vladimir Propp Functions Video

Paul Ekman Are there Universal Facial Expressions? Video

Paul Ekman Facial Action Coding System Video

Skyfall Analysis by Class Act Video

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