Schirato and Yell – Signs and Meaning

In our reading this week, we discuss the idea of signs and meanings. Personally I believe this is a very interesting concept and relates to advertising in a number of ways.

There is no dispute that advertisements play a critical role in current society. The roles range from trying to influence people to go and buy something they probably do not need; to eating a particular product for dinner; some may even argue that advertising industries go as far as creating socials “norms”. My fellow blogger jocyaizpuru incorporates this idea of advertising and society quiet neatly into her blog, stating “throughout the time, it has become implicitly understood by the public that advertising has the right to own, occupy and control every inch of available space”.

With such an undisputable “hold” on society, one must ask themselves how broadcasting networks became to be so influential. What tactics do advertisers use to try and influence people’s minds? When I think about the question, I come to an obvious answer. Advertisers use pictures, words, and other objects when marketing their object to convey a specific message to their audience. This message then evokes an emotional response in the person, which leaves the person almost yearning to want to feel like the person does in the advertisement. In order for this to work, broadcasting companies rely on the fact that a large audience will feel the same emotion from the same advertisement. However after reading Schirato and Yell I am not so sure the influence of a broadcasting network over society is so simple anymore.

Schirato and Yell created a piece of writing in the 21st century which looks at the relationship between signs and meanings. They propose (like many before them) that reading a sign, or looking at an advertisement and deciphering its meaning is not something that comes naturally, but rather “an ideological process”. In their article they talk about Ferinand de Saussure, a pioneer contributor to language and meaning. Not only do Schirato and Yell draw some parallels to Saussure articles, they too argue against some of his points.

Saussure’s first theory is that of “semiology” or the science of signs. He theories that the “notion of meaning is relational rather than substantive”. In laymen’s terms, this means that meanings are not inherent, but rather created by society. Saussure then goes onto state the division of “semiology” or what he called linguistic sign. He divided it into 3 aspects; they were Signifier, Signified and the sign. Where the signifier is the physical form of the sign; the signified is the concept evoked by the word; and the sign is a combination of the signifier and the signified.

To further push Saussure’s idea of meaning being created by society, we can think about the idea that different cultures perceive the same word differently. Examples of this can be found on page 240 of Schirato and Yell with the word “invasion”. Schirato and Yell ask the question “Was Australia “invaded” by Europeans or was it “settled”? Both these words are used interchangeably when discussing the History of Australia and ultimately neither are wrong or right. Although the word “invasion” too many people elects a much more negative emotion then the word “settled”, both can be used when explaining the British arrival in Australia. To the Indigenous population, I’m sure they believe “Invasion” is the more appropriate term. However to the British, “settlement” is more appropriate.

Although Saussure puts forward many interesting theories, I have to side with Schirato and Yell and agree that many of his theories have “holes in them” so to speak. Saussure argues the point of intentionality and that “every sign had to be put together and sent by someone”. I do not believe this is the case – hence the existence of the word Coincidence. Schirato and Yell put forward a good dispute to this, their example of the only clean shirt available (as seen on my fellow blogger megodonnell blog, is indicative to this).

Overall, the interpretation of signs and meanings are never going to be identical for every person. This means broadcasting companies must find a way around this. Schirato and Yell end their article with a conclusion I believe sums up signs and meaning in a very neat way. That is that meanings come from the interpretation of signs, and that interestingly, signs by themselves are blank (i.e. have no meanings), which is undisputedly an ideological process.

Hope that makes sense,

Natasha Boustani xx

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