3. Roland Barthes developed a range of semiotic tools to analyse the cultural meanings that are conveyed in advertising images, in a particular context. Using these semiotic tools, select and analyse four magazine adverts.
This essay will discuss Roland Barthes’ ideas and his semiotic tools, and will also look at how Barthes uses these tools to analyse images and how they make us think.
Roland Barthes was a French philosopher who wrote many books about the literary theory and semiotics. His writing has influenced and helped shape many postmodern theories. His most famous book “Death of the author” explains his theory on visual analysis. Barthes says that when we see an image, the author or creator of the image does not matter. Each individual person will find a meaning from that image. We all analyse images on our own.
The meaning of an image lies with the audience. The author is not the authority on the meaning of the image. Although we are all quite similar in what we get from an image, different people will get different meanings. This is due to the experiences we have had throughout life. Barthes says “no object has a natural meaning.” (Barthes, 1967 p.25) Meanings are defined by culture, so for example, if in the UK someone does the ‘thumbs up’, we take this to mean that everything is okay, but if someone does it whilst standing at the side of the road, it means they want a lift, and in scuba diving it means you want to go up to the surface.
In his essay, “Rhetoric of the Image,” Barthes established a method for critically analysing images. This method quickly became widespread and fundamental to semiotics and linguistics. Barthes writes about how the word ‘image’ poses us the question “can a copy produce true systems of signs?” (Barthes, 1977, p. 32) An image of something will always be a reproduction of a person or thing, and the rhetoric is the language that is used to persuade people. Images persuade us to do things through semiotics. Semiotics is “the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation” (Oxford dictionary, 2014 p.230) so essentially it is how the meaning of something is created and communicated.
There are three parts to semiotics:
• The code
• The sign
Barthes analysed popular culture and found that they had a language that had certain rules; this is the code by which we live, and adhere our behaviour to. He searched for codes in text and cultural objects. These codes imply attitudes and views about things we see, they show meaning and social structure. An example of this can be shown with the advertisement to the right. Advertisements for things such as women’s perfume show a code of what a woman in our society should look like. Because of these images, young girls grow up wanting to look like the women on these adverts. They are usually shown as thin, tall, good skin and passive.
There are two main theorists who have explained the sign in semiotics. Ferdinand de Saussure was a professor studying...