In this semiotic analysis I aim to identify and discuss some of the signs, codes, myths and connotations present in the media text above, and explore their contribution to the media construction of concepts of gender. Signs, codes, myths and connotations refer, in this instance, to contributing elements in the ways in which one may interpret a media text. Codes may be defined as a set of belief systems concerning learned perceptions of the world. They ‘provide a framework within which signs make sense’ (Chandler, 2001).
A sign could be an object, image, sound, flavour, odour, act or word that signifies something to someone, however, ‘nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign’ (Peirce, 1931-58: 2,172). Myths are, in this context, a collection of signs, symbols and codes that in summary may be used to describe certain beliefs or traditions. Every culture has their own set of myths, which are often passed down to future generations and provide a way for them to make sense of reality. In Mythologies Barthes describes myths as a ‘type of speech… a system of communication… a message… a mode of signification, a form’ (Barthes, 2009: 131).
Connotation refers here to the possible cultural meanings behind certain elements of the media text above, again it may be worth considering Barthes view that, ‘thanks to the code of connotation the reading of the photograph is… always historical; it depends on the reader’s “knowledge” just as though it were a matter of a real language, intelligible only if one has learned the signs’ (Barthes 1977, 28). On a denotative, or more literal, level the advertisement shown is a photograph of famous pop star Beyoncé with a bottle of perfume, but the more subtle connotations associated with the image tell us far more about its intentions.
While the connotations experienced may depend on the reader, as Barthes suggests, and may vary from one to another, there are some present in this text that many readers would agree on. The way in which Beyoncé is framed makes her the focal point of the advert, and consumers of the text who are familiar with Beyoncé may already associate her with glamour, beauty and success, amongst other qualities. These associations are exploited by the text in order to lead consumers to link them to the product and in doing so enhance its appeal. Beyonce is often represented by the media as a strong and, in many ways, powerful woman.
She may already be considered then, by some, to be an iconic figure who should be aspired to, and the myth that by wearing this perfume you may capture some of her desirable qualities in particular is central to the advertisement’s message for this reason. The tagline ‘Catch the fever’ invites those in the advertisement’s target market to literally buy into this idea which implies that consumers have a chance to achieve at least one version of a modern ‘ideal’ of femininity by doing so. Beyoncé’s skin appears moist and luminous in the image.
According to Saussure’s theory (Nöth, 1995) this would be an example of a sign. The appearance of her skin signifies the concept of passion, which is triggered by the name of the fragrance, and in this case the signifier, Heat. The inclusion of the words ‘Heat’ and ‘Catch the Fever’ and the bottle of perfume in the image make sense of the meaning of the photograph within the overall image and they serve to justify Beyonce’s overtly sexual appearance. This combination of linguistic and image representation therefore draws the signs together in a way that makes them feel plausible to the reader.
Her posture (almost animal-like), clothing, hairstyling, make-up, expression and engagement with the camera all have elements of sexual connotation; the tousled hair, parted lips, parted legs, prominent breasts and silky clothing are codes for feminine sexuality and could be considered by their use to strengthen modern gender stereotypes. The implication that her success may have more than a little to do with the way that she uses her body and sexuality could be seen to reinforce similar concepts about how women may best achieve her level of success, both in general and with the opposite sex.
To what extent this kind of advertisement suggests credibility as an artist and business woman, which may also be sought after by women in search of public recognition, is debatable. However, sexual attractiveness is very important to many of the women to whom this advertisement is presumably aimed; therefore it effectively gains their attention and is able to convey certain mythologies to receptive audiences in a way that maximises the appeal of the product. In doing so it is contributing to the construction of ertain identities for women to relate to and for men to relate women to. ‘This construction of femininity, or more precisely, the construction of femininities in a discourse of consumption, was a central motif in women’s magazines from the nineteenth century onward’ (Stevens et al. , 2003:35). Syntagmatic elements such as the lighting, lay out and bold use of text and fonts; the colour, associated with heat and passion and the placing of the perfume, have been manipulated for maximum effect.
Beyonce appears almost protective of the perfume, creating a feeling of its preciousness and worth. This suggests that it is important to her and to therefore should be held in high regard by others who may be influenced by her opinion. By deconstructing the text in this way we can see the many possible layers of meaning that are present and open to interpretation from a reader’s perspective, even if the interpretation arrived at conflicts with the original intention of the creator of the text.
Post-structuralist theory supports this idea; that effective analysis must go further than exploration and acknowledgement of the author’s intended meaning alone and consider that of the reader. The Advertising Standards Authority is also concerned with audience reaction and when one of the television advertisements that was also a part of this advertising campaign for Heat, and which contained similar elements to the print version, was aired they expressed concerns about its sexual connotation, ‘We considered that the ad should not have been shown before 19. 0 due to the sexually provocative nature of the imagery’ (ASA, 2010). This decision was initiated by complaints that were received from parents who felt that the campaign was inappropriate for children. Ironically, situations such as this, when a media text is banned or limitations are placed upon it, often result in a more successful advertisement of the product. This is due to the sensationalism that such incidences tend to create, and the resulting curiosity on the behalf of audiences.
Despite the disapproval of some audiences of this type of media text (there were just 14 complaints) there is no doubt that the media has and will continue to have a profound impact on concepts of gender, and texts such as the one above illustrate just why this is the case. By communicating the types of signs, codes, myths and connotations that have been discussed, within everyday advertising, they construct concepts of gender that are then widely consumed as another ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ part of everyday life. Bibliography
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