Semiotics and Media Content


We live in a world of signs and symbols – of past and present. The science of symbols - Semiotics or semiology – helps us to understand deeply and somewhat fully the world of signs and symbols. Many thinkers – beginning with the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure – contributed to the development of this science, which by the very nature of signs and symbols, is in a dynamic state. This in itself is the beauty, attractiveness and relevance of this science. One of the areas where semiotics comes in handy is in the field of the media – books, newspapers, magazines, television, cinema, radio, social media and so forth – to understand how media content is produced by the sender, consumed and interpreted by the audience. Advertisements is one content which transcends all media. Hence the paper would take a special look at a semiotic understanding of advertisements. Media content consists of data and meaning. The content of an advertisement yields/gives rise to many meanings and interpretations.  Some writers use the term media ‘text’ instead of media ‘content’.  A text can be understood in a variety of ways. Thus media content or text in principle is polysemic, having multiple potential meanings for its audience.  Media content or text may also be considered to be more or less ‘open’ or ‘closed’ in its meanings. Further, media content can be differentiated according to its degree of openness. Semiotic method as applied to media content sheds light on the hidden or underlying meanings. Considered in this way the primary objective of media semiotics is to study how the mass media create or recycle signs for their own ends.  In this denotation – the first order of signification - and connotation – the second order of signification - play a great role. With regard to mass media content or text, connation is more significant. Indeed, all mass media texts and genres are grounded in connotation, since they are designed to generate culturally-significant meanings. The activation of this second level of meaning requires some deeper knowledge or familiarity with the culture on the part of the audience.  But it can also be true that the same cultural product can be ‘read’ in different ways, even if a certain dominant meaning may seem to be built in.  Herein lies the semiotic power of the audience meaning that all texts can be read in an oppositional way and their encoded ideology readily subverted.

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