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Semiotics: To uncover and critically analyze the types of ideology at work in media forms

Updated on August 29, 2012

Semiotics is a very useful way of uncovering and analyzing the types of ideology at work in the media. Every piece of media that is created is made by people some sort of ideology, and it is almost impossible for them not to pour in their views or mindsets into their work. Therefore its is possible, in books, movies, television programmes, advertisements, newspapers etc., to discover and breakdown the current ideology that was present at the time of creation.


An ideology or a code can be uncovered in a media form by looking for anything that may be used as a symbol. This can be anything within the form such as a spoken word, an object, a sound etc. These symbols may be purposefully added into the media form by the creator, so that it can be decided by the audience, but also it can be something that was unintended as a sign or symbol, but still represents and idea or has a deeper meaning. Stuart Hall describes this as the creator of the media form is the "encoder" of the semiotics, and the audience are the "decoders". He says that an encoders values or beliefs can easily be encoded into the media form, not necessarily intentionally, and an audience can decode semiotics from a media form, but the message encoded may not be the same as the message that was decoded.

There are three main types of codes that Hall divides are; The "dominant code" is the overall, main code of which the audience assume the correct overall meaning of the code and accept it. The "negotiated code" is when the audience partly accept the meaning of the code, and partly disagree with it, this can be for various reasons. The "oppositional code" is when an audience create and accept and completely opposed meaning to the one that was intended by the encoder.


One major form of media that can be easily decoded are advertisements. These can be in any form, weather its on television, in magazines, or heard on the radio. It is important not to forget that the main purpose of ads are to sell products, and that they are not created in order to express any particular beliefs or values. But its is the way that they are advertised that creates a semiotic level to these ads. Judith Williamson describes ads as being used in a way to distract people from the gaps between social classes. Ads are viewed by everyone, by people in the lowest class, to people in the highest class, but they are all aimed at people with enough money to spend on these products. If the average person watches up to 200,000 advertisements a year, then it is clear how they could easily adapt this point of view from them that there is not really and division of social classes that exists today.

Also, Williamson says; "the signifier of the overt meaning in an advertisement has a function of its own, a place in the process of creating another, less obvious meaning". She is saying that while ads are trying to sell particular products, they may go about this by using symbols of other things, these things may be closely related to the product, but are still something different. For example, if the product that is being advertised is a sports drink, then because the ad cannot directly allow you to experience the product, they may use show a clip of someone being successful at a sporting event. This sporting event has nothing to do with the drink, but the symbol is there, and it allows the viewer to make a connection between the two things. Another example could be beauty products. Beauty products are often advertised by beautiful people, and when viewers are constantly exposed to these ads, they begin to associate beauty products with being good looking in every aspect, as opposed to just the aspect of which the product would affect.


Another huge form of media that semiotics can be used to uncover ideologies in, is the news. The news is usually funded by the state, or country that it is located in, and therefore can end up being quite biased. The Glasgow Media Group believed that the news easily represents and encourages the common ideology of of the time. They believed that the news was biased towards the middle and upper classes, and that they blamed many social problems on the lower class. This was during the 1970s and 80's, and they wrote a case study on the miner strikes in Britain at the time. They described how the miner's bosses were shown talking in a nice location, and with a proper interview, which portrayed them as the civilised ones who are just trying to do their jobs. But then the news showed clips of the miners protesting outside, in a mob like way, maybe chanting emotionally, which portrayed them as out of control, and rioting after letting their emotions take over their actions. While this was done very subtly on the news, it was very clear what the meaning behind these semiotics were, and many people feel that the main news is not a very reliable source.

In 1999, the Independent Media Center, or, first appeared. The aim of indymedia is to provide the world with a none biased alternative news. There are hundreds of indymedia websites, and they are available on a worldwide scale, as well as for individual countries. But although one main reason for a organisation like this to exist is to provide an unbiased news, that is different to the one broadcast on mainstream television, indymedia itself can be seen in a biased light, with many articles against capitalism, and promoting left wing politics.


To conclude, semiotics can be used in many ways to decode and realize the different ideologies behind media forms, which can be anything from Advertisements to news, to movies. Also by critically analyzing these semiotics, it is clear that they can be used in many different ways, such as an art form, as a way of expressing beliefs and views, or as a way of spreading ideologies, which can in turn help business, such as semiotics used in advertising.


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    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Very cool and sociological. I look forward to reading more of your work!


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