Red light = stop. That makes sense, right? But see, how do we immediately associate and image of a red light to the word stop? Semiotics is the study of attaching meaning to a sign. These signs could be something simple like a picture, a word, a movie, sounds or the real world. We use semiotics everyday, all day without even realising it. Our brain files away meaning to whatever we look at, listen to or do everyday. For a better example to show how we do this, I’ll show you a couple of adverts from my ‘favourite’ animals rights group PETA. Now PETA for me brings up a few feelings, mainly disgust and anger. Why? Just to mention a few things, PETA has a long history of animal abuse itself , as well as a talent for showcasing their misogyny to expand their cause. Now this won’t be a PETA-bashing post, not completely anyway. But it does help to have some back story as to why these adverts I’ll show you are so problematic and why the use of semiotics is important to be able to read into things further than what is just shown to you.
Take this first PETA billboard firstly. It’s a cartoon image of a woman in a bikini top in front of a beach setting with the brand PETA on her back, and superimposed on top is the cheery line “Save the Whales” and “Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian.”. The colour layout of this ad makes it seem light, and happy and the text is large, airy and aimed with the pink to a certain gender (Assigning gender is not something I like to do, yet this is what is happening here, I am very against gender role and stereotyping). This is what we call the signifiers in terms of semiotics, this is what we see before we interpret the image.
What we see determine how we respond, feel and see into the image is called the signified. And this is where it gets interesting, if you had just a glimpse at this whilst driving, it would take you two looks to realise just how wrong this image is. The background of PETA’s misuse of women and their intense shock tactics make this billboard past the point of informative and into a ‘fat-shaming’ and rendering women into an object to ridicule.
I have dabbled in vegetarianism a few times, one time I even lasted a few weeks up until christmas where my resolve was crushed under my nan’s famous Christmas roast dinner. If I was to try it again, I would want to not be coerced into it by PETA of all people.
- Nathan J. Winograd . 2013. PETA: A Cult-ure of Killing. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=11830. [Accessed 30 March 15].
- Nathan J. Winograd . 2013. Shocking Photos: PETA’s Secret Slaughter of Kittens, Puppies. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-j-winograd/peta-kills-puppies-kittens_b_2979220.html. [Accessed 30 March 15].
- KIM BHASIN. 2011. The 15 Most Offensive PETA Advertisements. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.businessinsider.com.au/peta-shocking-controversial-ads-2011-10?op=1. [Accessed 24 March 15].
- Jill Filipovic. 2008. PETA misogyny strikes again. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/03/04/peta-misogyny-strikes-again/. [Accessed 30 March 15].
- Louise Pennington. 2013. Has PETA Gone Too Far? Sexism, Pornography and Advertising. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/louise-pennington/peta-has-it-gone-too-far-sex_b_2425174.html. [Accessed 30 March 15].
- PETA/Liz Graffeo. 2009. Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.peta.org/blog/lose-blubber-go-vegetarian/. [Accessed 30 March 15].
- Daniel Chandler. 2014. Denotation, Connotation and Myth. [ONLINE] Available at: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem06.html. [Accessed 31 March 15].