Portfolio – Part One

In class, have been studying semiotics. I began this course knowing nothing about semiotics and so it was really interesting to find out all about it. The fact, however, is I did know about semiotics and engaged with signifiers constantly, without even realising it. Tom Streeter explains semiotics using a painting by Rene Magriette (left) which has the caption ‘This is not a pipe’. He explains Margriette’s point as one so simple we don’t even think about it. “We forget that the signs and symbols all around us are just that, signs and symbols, and not things themselves, we can come to take for granted, take as “natural,” aspects of life that are anything but.” (Streeter, 2012).

Semiotics is really quite astounding in the sense that we all recognise signifiers in everyday life. It made me question things I’ve always taken for granted. Take, for example, the traffic light. Without even consciously realising, traffic lights are “systems that attempt to impose a strong social control over the most fundamental of human behaviours, whether to move or be still.” (McShane, p.379, 1999). All drivers, even young children or non-drivers, know red means stop and green means go. It’s because we’ve been raised to believe this. But I wonder at what point it was that someone decided red should mean stop, and how it became a widely-known fact. I actually went out of my way to find out by looking at several sites online (see image to right).

When it comes to Peirce’s semiotics, with icons, indexes and symbols, it’s fascinating to see how something, for example a logo for a business, can have several meanings inside these categories. In the lecture, we saw the ‘men at work’ icon, index and symbol. Take now, the McDonald’s Golden Arches as an index: if we are driving down the road and see the golden arches we recognise that a McDonald’s is nearby. However we wouldn’t think, if we saw the arches on our TV screen at home, that a McDonald’s restaurant was about to come crashing through our wall. We see it as an index to explain that whatever is on the screen is in reference to McDonald’s.

 McShane, C., 1999, “The Origins and Globalization of Traffic Control Signals”, Journal of Urban History, Vol.25, No.3, pp.379-404.

Streeter, T., 2012, “Semiotics in Advertising”, University of Vermont,
<http://www.uvm.edu/~tstreete/semiotics_and_ads/introduction.html>

Adams, C., 1986, “Who decided red means “stop” and green means “go”?”, The Straight Dope,
<http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/437/who-decided-red-means-stop-and-green-means-go>

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