Friday, December 07, 2007

Semiotic Analysis

I thought I'd try out a semiotic analysis and see what kind of results would be generated. Susan Hayward (no, not the movie star!) has done something similar with the above photo of Marilyn Monroe. She claimed that on the denotative level this is clearly a photo/picture of the actress, Marilyn Monroe. On a connotative level, it makes us think of her glamour, beauty and sexuality. Finally, on a mythological; level, it invokes the Hollywood dream machine that is both creative and destructive. Let me now try something similar with an image which advertises the movie I saw yesterday, "American Gangster".

On a denotative level we are dealing with superimposition and montage. There is a picture of Manhattan with a large superimposed picture of a well-dressed black man holding a gun over the top. The words "American Gangster" appear in white on a black background. The picture has many single signifiers which combine into more sophisticated signifying patterns. Firstly, it is the picture of the man that dominates and makes us think that he must have Manhattan in the palm of his hand: in some way he is dominant and controls the city. This is emphasized by the gun and the good clothes: the gun, together with the size of the image, speaks of the man's power; the beautiful clothes show that his control is secure and that he has the time to enjoy the good things of life. The fact that everything seems to be black speaks of what is hidden and unknown, dangerous and "evil". All this is juxtaposed with the words, "American Gangster". This suggests that the figure of the man holding the gun is in some way archetypal: he is American and also a dangerous criminal.

On what Barthes described as the "mythological level", the picture makes a statement to people who share the cultural values of America. "American Gangster" makes us think of other movies and ideals that begin with the same word: "American Beauty", "American Lives", etc. It also connects with the most powerful American image of all: the "American Dream". "The American Dream" is always of success in whatever field one chooses--even if it's crime! The subliminal mythological level of operation conveys what members of the same culture and mind set might approve of even in a gangster: he has chosen his own path and succeeded at it, thus living and justifying the American dream. Thus, on this mythological level, the image in its totality conveys the meaning that in this society--the society that uses such images--the most important thing is to succeed: this is to say that on the deepest level American society approves of crime as long as it is successful (a conclusion that could never be stated by any member of the culture directly, but which is manifested in images such as this).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ALWAYS wanted to be a gangster!

4:11 PM  
Anonymous capone said...

Bang! Bang!

8:55 AM  
Blogger pluto85 said...

Interesting analysis

10:28 AM  

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