“There are no just images, there are just images.” - Jean Luc Godard
Semiotics sounds like an incredibly scientific, off-putting word doesn’t it? For me at least, it brings up images of lab coats, glasses hewn together by duct tape, and complicated, dry sentence diagrams. However, when we consider its daily usage and unconscious (sometimes unsettling) effects, semiotics serves more of a practical application than an empirical study.
Take for instance, the Nike swoosh. Or the McDonald’s ‘Golden Arches’. Even the Mac logo, the red octagon at the end of your street, the American flag on a politician’s lapel, or the Yale University letterhead. They might be fleeting glances to the naked eye, but therein lies semiotics. And the study of words that are registering in your mind - clack clack clacking on my keyboard - are linguistics.
Words are things of beauty. I don’t even need to go into magnified detail about their abilities to persuade (i.e. a moving speech), to bore (i.e. a tax proposal), to ceaselessly flow without censorship (i.e. swear words no matter the language of origin), or to sell emotion (i.e. Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’, e.e. cumming’s anthology of poems, or Hamlet’s soliloquy).
At the same time, images are also cause for awe. Perhaps Google images first introduced you to artists like Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, or Henri-Cartier Bresson. Maybe you leafed through a hard copy of an old Rolling Stone magazine. Either way, it’s no secret that those provoking, pervasive, sometimes very intimate images carry meanings, messages, hidden didactic codes and tones created around a central purpose. Applicable to the same theory is music; a recent study by Greg Broekemier, Ray Marquardt, James W. Gentry (‘An exploration of happy/sad and liked/disliked music effects on shopping intentions in a women’s clothing store service setting” Journal of Services Marketing, 2008, Vol. 22, Issue 1, Pg. 59-67) found that positive and negative notes (happy or sad, in laymen’s terms) embedded within music serve to primarily influence - either consciously, neutrally, or subconsciously - the shopping choices of female subjects. Their findings show that there is a direct correlation between a women’s urge to shop, to purchase in large quantities, or peruse extra aisles is increased - even for items that they would not necessarily buy, or for purchases that would be tallied in excess at home.
So basically, listening to “Walking on Sunshine” leads one to toss an extra jar of crunchy peanut butter into their cart. Now for some, that finding would just lead to a grunt of huh and a ‘…so…what?’ But that finding is very significant, whether the action (tossing said crunchy peanut butter) or the intent (shopping for said peanut butter) are correlated or not. The unconscious presence of those notes, embedded within the music, were a powerful presence in the decisionmaking factors of the subjects. Could one argue that unconscious, embedded notes heard against one’s will are even ethical? Even more theoretical, and very serious in nature, is the idea of political propaganda, the newsmedia, and subtle nonverbal cues between international diplomats and PTA mothers alike. We can even note the distinctions involved: the schisms between gender studies, racial and ethnic disparities, age limitations, and educational standards are wholly present.
words -> images -> actions -> perceptions -> responses -> understanding [and/or misunderstanding]
The Lingua Franca will not only bring up grammar, foreign and second languages, accents, wordsmithery, imagery, corporate logos, photography, but also new research studies - the things I actually read on a pretty steady, albeit nerdy basis. We’ll actively attempt to connect the dots between learning and perceiving within the context of pop-cultural, pop-sociological, and pop-media discussions. What makes you visualize ‘Conan O’Brien’s haircut’, the ‘NBC peacock’, or ‘Jay Leno’s chin’? To the same token, what tensions, emotions, and attitudes are dredged up when I mention the same things? (If you’re like me, they make you absolutely angry.)
Either way, the lingua franca remains: the study of their connections is profound.