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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Media Studies
Michael Petit

5. RhetoricalAnalysis • Rhetorical critics analyze texts for the ways they encourage audiences to inhabit certain moods , believe certain ideas, or undertake certain actions • Rhetoric: refers to the ancient art or oratory, or asAristotle defined it, “an ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” ◦ Rely on symbols to influence what (and how) audiences think and feel ◦ If we were to updateAristotle's definition of rhetoric: the use of symbols by humans to influence and move other humans Theories of sign • Asign: is something that invites someone to think of something other than itself, like the way an image of a person makes one think of that person, or the way the unique letter combination d/o/g makes one think of a four legged canine ◦ Since nearly everything has that potential, virtually anything can function as a sign • When multiple people agree on what a sign refers to, we say that it has shared meaning ◦ Without shared meaning, no social structures or institutions could exist Ferdinand de Saussure • Called his unique approach to linguistics semiology Semiology • Ascience which studies the role of signs as part of social life • Semiology would investigate the nature of signs and the laws governing them • He argued that all linguistic signs were a combination of signifier and signified Sign – signifier & signified • Signifier: sound-image. Refers to the material form of a sign as perceived by the senses, such as the word “dog” as heard by a listener • Signified: mental concept. The idea evoked by the signifier, in this case, the idea of “dogness.” ◦ Note that an actual dog is not part of the equation Traits: arbitrary, linear • For Saussure, the linguistic sign has two defining traits (1) signs are arbitrary (2) signs are linear • Arbitrary: meaning there is no natural correspondence, no necessary relationship, between signifier and signified. ◦ The idea of “dogness” can be conveyed by different signifiers: dog (english), perro (spanish), chien (French), cane (Italian). ◦ We could even invent our own word for “dogness” such as plink, and if we agreed that plink meant “dogness,” then we would have a new signifier • The constant creation and addition of new words, like “Truthiness,” and the changing meaning of existing words highlight the arbitrariness of signs. • Linearity: Since the signifier, being auditory, is unfolded solely in time, it's impossible to utter two distinct linguistic signs simultaneously. ◦ It means that signifiers operate in a temporal chain, which if reordered, changes the meaning of what is being said Parole vs. langue • For Saussure, it's important to distinguish between langue, the linguistic system, and parole, individual speech acts or utterances (I.e actual manifestations of the sign system) • Langue: the rules and conventions that organize the system • Parole: specific uses or performances of language ◦ He believed Parole to be the proper goal of linguistics ◦ In understanding Parole, one could study Phonology, or the origins of language and changes in sound pronunciation over time Difference • Signs signify by virtue of their difference (I.e distinctiveness) from other signs ◦ The word “dog” can signify because it sounds different than “cat,” “horse,” or “mouse”. • On a basic level, it simply means that if we cannot distinguish one word from another, then we cannot communicate ◦ Ex: when someone is talking quietly. Though we can still hear sounds, we can no longer distinguish among the sounds • On another level, it suggests that the specific “relations of difference” matter. ◦ “Dog” sounds different than “red.” But “red” is not meaningful because it is different from “dog;” it is meaningful because it differs from “blue,” “green,” “yellow,” etc. ◦ Our ability to notice different colours in the world depends upon distinguishing between them ◦ The differences don't have to be universal, just socially agreed upon. ▪ Ex: if you're playing chess but you lost a Bishop piece, the game could continue using a bottle cap so long as both players agreed the object is representing the bishop and therefore is limited to certain kinds of movement • *So 3 Characteristics of Signs ◦ Arbitrary: they can be changed depending on cultural usage (ex: paris hilton saying that's hot) ◦ Linear: cannot speak two signifiers at the same time ◦ Difference: without specific relations of difference between words, there can be no meaning Charles Sanders Peirce • his theory was semiotics Semiotics • Defined as: “the quasi-necessary, or formal, doctrine of signs.” • Pierce's Semiotics differs greatly from Saussure's semiology because it both repudiates the principle of arbitrariness and expands the category of signs to include all modes of human communication (not just language) • Semiotics is based upon the triadic relation between sign, object, and interpretant • “A sign, or representamen,” as Pierce called it, “is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity • The “equivalent sign” it creates in a person's mind is known as the interpretant • The something that the sign stands for is its object • The representamen (sign) loosely corresponds to Saussure's idea of the signifier and the interpretant to his notion of the signified ◦ Ex: The picture of a dog functions as a sign that refers to an object, a real dog, and creates an interpretant, or mental interpretation of the dog Classification • Pierce classified signs into three categories: icons, indices, and symbols (1) Iconic signs • Operate according to the logic of similarity or likeness; icons are representamens that structurally resemble the objects they stand for ◦ Ex: diagrams, maps, photos, and other types of image. (2) Indexical signs • are linked by cause or association to the objects they represent. • Since smoke indicates fire, it functions as an indexical sign for fire ◦ We see smoke, we think fire • “Anything which focuses the attention is an index” (3) Symbols • are linked to their corresponding objects purely by social convention or agreement; symbolic signs are learned rather than intuited • “All words, sentences, books and other conventional signs are Symbols” Roland Barthes • Barthes's theory of signs: signifying system Signifying system • draws heavily on the work of both Saussure and Peirce • The signifying system grew out of Barthes's fascination with how “cultural” practices and beliefs are “naturalized” (made to appear natural) • He introduced the distinction between denotation and connotation Denotation – first order signification • “Plane of expression” • involves the literal or explict meanings of words and other phenomena • Lion (signifier) evokes the mental image of a large cat (signified). • But the mental image (the signifier itself) will evoke other associations as well (new signifieds) such as “courage” and “pride” This second place of expression is what Barthes called... ◦ So Denotation: Literal meaning of Lion = Large cat ◦ Connotation of lion: what else comes to mind when we think lion = king/royalty, fierce/strength, courage/bravery Connotation – second order signification • While “dog” and “perro” may evoke similar mental images (denotative meaning), the connotative meaning of dog can vary greatly from culture to culture (companion, family member, pest, food ← lol) • The advantage of Barthes's signifying system over Saussure's semiology is that it emphasizes that meaning is never final or closed • Like Pierce, Barthes recognized that signs need not be linguistic Texts and rhetorical structures • Signs rarely exist or function in isolation. Rather, they're combined with other signs to form media products texts. Brummett: a text “is a set of signs related to eachother insofar as their meanings all contribute to the same set of effects or functions” • The Panzani ad on page 106, songs, internet sites, video games, tv shows, and movies can all be thought of as media texts because the individual signs that comprise them are strategically structured to elicit particular response from listeners and viewers • Tho the organizational pattern of signs that can exist in a text is potentially infinite, there are some (4) general rhetorical structures shared by many, if not all, texts. (1) Clusters, (2) Form, (3) Genre, (4) Narrative (1) Clusters • Most basic rhetorical structure. The way individual signs are associated with and dissociated from one another ◦ What goes with what • To understand how the clusters in a text are working rhetorically, the critic should begin by identifying the key signs within the text Key signs • Those signs that are privileged through repetition, intensity, or prominence ◦ Ex: In the Candie's Fragrance ad, the critic would classify the two perfume bottles as key signs because they're bright, prominently placed in the center of the ad, and the focus of the model's attention, a technique designed to focus our attention on them as well Association • The critic would then ask, what other signs are associated with (cluster around) these key signs? ◦ This would lead one to note that the two perfume bottles are swimming in an ocean of condoms. This suggests that wearing Candie's Fragrances will lead to lots of sex ◦ Other things like creams, deodorants, and medication are all conspicuously missing from the cabinet. This is intentional as the advertisers don't want you to associate their product with anything negative (bad odour, rashes, headaches) • Finally, the critic explores whether the particular cluster of signs in a text fosters positive, negative, or ambivalent valence toward the key signs ◦ In the fragrance ad's case, the association of the product with condoms, a half nakedAlyssa Milano, and a pristine white bathroom all work to make the product more desirable by associating it with a series of positive signifiers Imp
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