Signs are everywhere. From literal signage such as street signs and traffic lights, to advertisements, music, sirens and the “thumbs up” hand signal. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation , or, an investigation into how meaning is created and how meaning is communicated
When put into practice semiotics looks at 2 things: denotation and connotation.
Denotation is what is seen at face value, literally what is on the page in front of you (e.g. colours, text and objects).
Connotation is the interpretation of a complex image and what an individual thinks it means. This will vary depending on who’s looking at the image. It is determined by personal ideology, context and prior knowledge (or lack of) on what is being seen.
Let’s take a look at this advertisement as an example:
In this advertisement by animal activist group PETA we see actress and model Joanna Krupa sporting underwear and what appears to be fur/hair protruding from them. The slogan “Fur Trim: Unattractive” is written largely across the image while the other text is written smaller and placed down the right hand side of the image. The placement of the text draws your eyes first to the large slogan, making the viewers eyes go towards the main part of the image: the “fur” protruding from Krupa’s underwear.
When I look at this image I see it as a stand against animal cruelty and the wearing of fur clothing. By saying that fur is as unattractive as pubic hair it’s supposed to turn people off wearing it.
But that connotation is just my view of the image, and is based off of my knowledge that PETA is an animal rights group.
This image shows that connotation and denotation really go hand in hand. If the PETA logo wasn’t there then I wouldn’t have associated the image with the idea of fur clothing, I would have just taken it as a stab at women donning pubic hair.
If you look at this image from a feminist view, you could say that it’s sexualizing and objectifying women by saying pubic hair makes a woman unattractive, even if the woman has other attractive features and implies that hair has no place on a woman’s body, whether she wishes to have it or not.
The image really highlights how important personal ideology is to ones connotation of a complex image, and that denotation and connotation go hand in hand. If the slogan and logo weren’t there the image would be taken a completely different way.
What are your thoughts on this image? Let me know in the comments below!