Essay, Research Paper: Sign Symbol


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A sign
system is representation through communication which in turn leads to a shared
meaning or understanding. We hold mental representations that classify and
organise the world (whether fact or fiction), people, objects and events into
meaningful categories so that we can meaningfully comprehend the world. The
media use sign systems through newspapers, magazines, television,internet, and
the radio etc. The conceptual map of meaning and language are the basis of
representation. The conceptual map of meaning, are concepts organised, arranged
and classified into complex relations to one another. The conceptual map of
meaning although allows you to distinguish your own individual interpretation of
the world, at the same time as holding similar views to that of other people in
your culture. As the meaning is produced and constructed and in turn learned by
a particular group of people. Therefore sharing conventions and codes of their
language and culture. Signs can only convey meaning if we possess codes which
allow us to translate our concepts into language. These codes are the result of
social conventions which lead to the shared maps of meaning. These shared
meanings are learnt unconsciously as we become members of a culture.If we have a
concept of something in our minds we can say we know the meaning of this
concept. However we cannot express or communicate this meaning without the
second system of representation, language. Language is the only way in which
meanings can be effectively exchanged between people, as people within the same
culture are able to interpret the sign of language in the same manner. As the
meanings become natural through the conditioning of culture. For example the
word white in Australia represents a colour of purity, however in China it is
the colour of death. Demonstrating that different cultures have not only have
different meanings in their shared conceptual maps, but a different language to
express it. As meanings change rapidly throughout cultures to really understand
another culture you must live there and speak the language for some time.
Cultural, social, political, and linguistic conventions are learned over time.
The three theories of representation, reflective, intentional and
constructionist approaches explain how representations through language work.
The reflective approach is where language functions as a ‘mirror’ of the
particular elements perceived meaning. The intentional approach, is where the
authors individual views of the world are expressed. Whereas the constructionist
approach is where we the audience construct the meaning through our shared
conceptual maps and language. The media use these sign symbols so that an
association can be made to the object, person, event, or idea etc. With this
information of representation and language the media can familiarise people with
many things, such as cultural knowledge. As advertising surrounds consumers,
concern is often expressed over the impact on society, particularly on values
and lifestyle. While a number of factors influence the cultural values,
lifestyles, and behaviour of a society, the overwhelming amount of advertising
and its prevalence in the mass media suggests that advertising plays a major
role in influencing and transmitting social values. In his book Advertising and
Social Change, Ronald Berman says; The Institution of the family, religion and
education have grown noticeably weaker over each of the past three generations.
The world itself seems to have grown more complex. In the absence of traditional
authority, advertising has become a kind of social guide. It depicts us in all
the myriad situations possible to a life of free choice. It provides ideas about
style, morality, and behaviour. While there is general agreement that
advertising is an important social influence agent, opinions as to the value of
its contribution are often negative. Advertising is criticised for encouraging
materialism, manipulating consumers to buy things they do not really need,
perpetuating stereotyping, and controlling the media. The media must consider
the cultural variables of each country, such as the complexity of learned
meanings, norms, language, customs, tastes, attitudes, religion, traditions,
education, lifestyle, values, and the ethical/moral standards shared by members
of each society. These variables must be learnt by the media as not to offend
the group they are portraying. Cultural norms and values offer direction and
guidance to members of a society in all aspects of there lives. Every country
exhibits cultural traits that influence not just the needs and wants of
consumers but how they go about satisfying them. The media must be aware of the
connotations of words and symbols used in their messages and understand how
advertising copy and slogans are translated. Advertisers can also encounter
problems with the connotative meaning of signs and symbols used in their
messages. However within a given culture there are found smaller groups or
segments, whose variables (as listed above) set them apart from the larger
cultural mainstream. Known as subcultures the media must also learn about their
variables as they are just as important due to their size, growth and purchasing
power. Such as the Asian or Italian communities in Australia. The study of
culture has led to generalisations that may apply to all cultures. Such
characteristics are known as cultural universals, which are manifestations of
the total way of life of any group of people. These include such elements such
as bodily adornments, court-ship, etiquette, family gestures, joking, food,
mealtimes, music, personal names, status differentiation and trade. These
activities occur across cultures, but their manifestations may be unique in a
particular society, bringing about cultural diversity. Common denominators can
be found, but how they are accomplished may vary dramatically. These elements
are both material and abstract. Primarily through the media these images are
where we find references to conjure images of other countries representations.
These signs are made common to the masses through the media, which in turn
through repetition reinforces the image as common. The media use repetition and
consistency of a few stereotypical elements to reinforce the central role of the
image, linking it to a specific culture. These stereotypes produce ‘otherness’
from the dominant culture, by focusing on a few different attributes of another
culture. This often gets reduced to easy to digest differences such as food,
clothes, appearance and music. Which suggests that culture is based on material
things around us, a culture of possessions. However these representations avoid
important issues that could be very different between cultures. Advertising
perpetuates some of the myths associated with certain cultural groups such as,
African American men are good at sports, The French are arrogant and Australians
are lazy. As Chiara Giaccardi said in TV Advertising and Social
Reality;Advertisements tend to capitalise upon recurrent images and forms of
presentation; in so doing they reinforce them, not so much through the
individual texts as through the accumulation and repetition of ‘ritualised’
representation during the entire advertising flow. Advertisements refer not only
to things and situations but also a way of seeing and interpreting them.
Advertisements constitute a repotoire that viewers can draw upon both for
representing and understanding themselves and for making sense of their external
reality. Advertising shapes reality to serve capitalism and the ‘post modern’
position, according to which advertising offers a pleasurable synthetic
experience as a surrogate for reality.(Chiara Giaccardi,TV Advertising and
Social Reality) Advertising is therefore meaningful as it creates a sense of
familiarity with the ways of experiencing it in a represented form. However as
Gillian Dyer states in Advertising as Communication;We must recognise that the
images conveyed by the media have, over the last thirty years, become so
sophisticated and persuasive that they now organise our experiences and
understanding in a crucially significant way. Advertisements encourage
extravagant expectations because they are more dramatic and vivid than the
reality - reality cannot match up to the image. Therefore cultural knowledge is
obtained through the media’s sign system. Which is evident through my knowledge
of many countries and cultures without ever travelling overseas. Stereotypical
elements of particular cultures shown through the media allow me to have
perceived meanings and understandings of other cultures. However the stereotypes
of culture portrayed through media signs are predominately tourist stereotypes.
There are many advertisements in the print, audio and visual media that portray
cultural knowledge. Particular signs that we can link to specific cultures, due
to the familiarisation with them through the media. For example the television
commercial for Simpson washing machines which showed Indian Dhobi washer women
banging their clothes against a washing machine to clean them, instead of a
nearby rock. Using the tag line “The hardest working appliances in the world”,
suggesting that the product is trustworthy and has stamina. The sign systems
that the media used where firstly the opening shot of the Ganges River in the
foreground with Indian temples in the background. You then see a mass of Indian
women in traditional dress washing clothes in a traditional manner. Although
hard working the commercial suggested that their product was also as strong as a
rock. The use of the washing machine as a rock for clothes washing and the
dumbfounded look on their faces when they saw the electrical plug, suggests that
India is a third world country and the people do not have electricity. Although
they did not know how to use the machine they continue to use it in place of a
rock. Throughout the entire commercial traditional Indian music was played. The
music and appearance of both the people and the structures clearly suggests to
the viewer that it is India. However these signs would not have been recognised
without prior media familiarisation. Therefore through cultural stereotypes
providing cultural knowledge. Another example is the West End Gold beer
commercial. Animation is used to view two mosquitoes talking to one another. The
setting is a barbecue with a group of stereotypical macho male friends getting
together after a hard days work to eat food and drink beer. The mosquitoes are
happy that the men are now drinking mid strength beer as they are not falling
asleep, making fools of themselves, and they are able to drink more blood.
Although referring to themselves it was clear they were actually talking about
the men involved. Suggesting that they can spend more time with their friends,
consume more beer and have more fun. The commercial was set in a middle class
backyard, which features a run of the mill Australian barbecue in which the beer
is helpful to people with subtle humour. Traditionally Australian beer
commercials have portrayed beer as a reward for hard manual labour or driving
through the desert, such as the Victorian Bitter campaigns. The Australian
cultural signs used were the image of the macho male ‘okka’, drinking beer,
having a barbecue with only male mates. I believe these images are used to
promote the Australian barbecue culture. These images are also known across the
world due to the movie ‘Crocodile Dundee’. Another example is the use of the
Mexican cultural stereotype to promote a new McDonald's burger. As the burger
had an added sauce that was spicy the advertisers used the Mexican image to
portray this. As traditionally the Mexicans eat very spicy food such as Tacos.
You instantly know that the characters are Mexican due to their appearance, dark
skinned, long moustaches, wearing ponchos and sombreros, riding horses through
the desert. The music and appearance of the characters are the main signs used
to recognise Mexico. However the poor dubbing of their voices and the words ‘ondelay
ondelay’ are also common cultural signs portrayed in the media. Italian signs
are also often used to sell food products such as pizza and pasta. For example
the Dolmio commercials that use to be on television. They showed a large Italian
family(Italians like large families) having pasta for dinner(traditional Italian
meal), they had napkins tucked into their shirts(suggesting they were going to
eat a lot of food in a messy manner), the characters were primarily large, they
used the words mama and papa(Italian words for mum and dad) and the main
character had pasta sauce on his mouth with the tag line ‘do you wear the
Dolomio grin’. All of which are signs the media use to portray Italian people.
Once again the music also played a major role in recognising the cultural
stereotypes. Even the name Dolmio sends a linguistic message of Italianicity. If
the media do not understand the cultural characteristics of a country they would
not be aware of the shared cultural values of the community and could easily
offend the country. For example the eating of beef in India is not practised,
the colour white is a symbol of death in China, and the left hand in some
countries is known as the toilet hand. This demonstrates the differences in
culture that could be very embarrassing for companies. The simplicity of colour
or a name could be very offensive and have disastrous implications, which
demonstrates the necessity for market research. However I believe that cultural
values also need to be lived to be learned, for more accurate results. The media
are a very powerful tool of communication. They are used as a tool to educate,
inform and entertain people all over the world. However the common sign sytems
in which they use to portray many groups are often sterotypical. I know that
Australian men are not all like what is portrayed in the beer commercials, due
to experience of the culture. However all I know ofd the other cultures around
the world is what the media portray, therefore providing me with my cultural
Hall Stuart (1997) Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices Sage
Publications Chapter 1 Dyer, Gillian (1982) Advertising as Communication
Routledge London & New York Chapter 5 Giaccardi, Chiara (1995) Television
Advertsing and the representation of Social Reality: Theory, Culture &
Society, Vol.12, pg 109-131 SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi Wiliamson,
Judith (1978) Decoding Advertsing; Ideology and Meaning in Advertsing Marion
Boyars, London Kline, Stephen(1995) The Play on the Market: On the
Internationalisation of Children’s Culture,in Theroy Culture & Society,
Vol.12, pg 103-129 SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi Berman,
Ronald(1981) Advertising and Social Change, pg 13 SAGE, Beveley Hills and
California Czinkota, Michael R and Ronkainen, Ilkka A (1996) Global Marketing
Dryden Press Boone, Louis E and Kurtz, David L Contemporary Marketing Plus
Eighth Edition The Dryden Press Chapter 7 Wells, William, Burnett, John &
Moriarty, Sandra (1995) Advertising Principles and Practice Third Edition,
Chapter 5 Prentice Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

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