Semiotics is the term that is used for communicating through the use of signs to its audience. The concept of being able to communicate through and with signs was originally introduced by both Charles Sanders Peirce, a philosopher, and Ferdinand de Saussure, a linguist. They believed that signs take various forms consisting of images, sounds, odours, flavours and acts or objects. This is described as a signifier. When the signs “have no intrinsic meaning and become signs only when we invest them with meaning”, this is known as the signifier.

The implications of signs are very much based on cultural understandings. An example of this is that a shop sign can read ‘Open’, this being the signifier and the signified concept is that the shop is open. Another example of this is with traffic lights. The colours of each light are used as signs and the understanding of when to stop and go acts as the signified. The red, yellow and green lights represent stop, caution and go respectively. Although, not all colours are tied to a single cultural tradition some represent a different idea. In western cultures green represents nature and freshness as well as jealousy. In eastern cultures the colour can express youth and life but conversely, can also signal infidelity. In China the green hats are prohibited for men as it suggests that their wives have committed adultery. In western cultures the colour white symbolizes purity and elegance but can mean death and is traditionally worn at funerals in East Asian cultures. In Asia, red is a very important as it represents happiness and prosperity and is the colour brides tend to wear.

Non-verbal signs have proven to be very confusing as they all carry a different meaning in various parts of the world. The “thumbs up” are widely considered as a sign of approval but in areas of the Middle East it is seen as highly offensive. In Japan the hand gesture showing the index finger and thumb touching with the rest of the fingers extended outwards means money and in many English speaking countries such as England it means ok, fine etc. Conversely, in the Mediterranean region it is considered an insult and even represents an orifice sign.

Ideology is a set of opinions based on beliefs and values shared amongst a group or just a single person. Generally, ideology is the structure of political and economic beliefs that represent the characteristics of a particular culture.

Karl Marx, a German philosopher and revolutionary socialist, believed that those who control the ‘means of production’ also control various other institutions in society such as politics, education and religion. They use this system to maintain and reproduce as it benefits them. The Marxist/Socialist theory on ideology is more defined as: ‘The means by which ruling economic classes generalize and extend their supremacy across the whole range of social activity, and naturalize it in the process, so that their rule is accepted and natural and inevitable, and therefore legitimate and binding.’ (O’Sullivan et al 1989: 109)


Reading Media Theory: Thinkers, Approaches and Contexts By Brett Mills, David M. Barlow


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