My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to find a media text and do some fancy analysis. Okay, this sounds easy enough. First, select the text. It should be a television show, commercial or print ad. Let’s go with print ads.
Why? Television and commercials are more entertaining!
Yes, I agree. However, there are two small boys running around me making a lot of noise. I’m playing the role of single dad this weekend while my wife (shameless plug for my awesome wife: here) is at some jazz educator’s conference in Kentucky. Why there’s a jazz conference in Kentucky is probably worth a whole blog post of its own.
Print ad. Let’s fire up the old Google and see what it gets me. First, I find this Bose ad for noise-cancelling headphones that I think is pretty cool. It’s got blue skies, waterfalls, a rowboat, a dude happily listening to music while his watercraft slowly makes its way towards his watery grave. Plus, the thing the designer did with the text is awesome.
Wait a second… I’ll be right back…
Okay, I’m back. Son #1 asked me to fix something that Son #2 broke. This happens a lot. At least no one was crying.
Back to work. I wonder what else Bose has to offer? I dig a little deeper. Let’s Google “bose print advertisement.” First result. Bingo.
The Perfect Ad
This. Is. Perfect. Maybe I should put on some headphones and see what happens? Who am I kidding? What would happen is that my house would probably burn down. On to the analysis!
I’m going to be all semiotician on this ad. Semiotics is a text-centered approach to critically analyzing media. We’ll throw in a little structuralism, too. We’re going to be looking at signs, syntagms and paradigms.
Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
First the signs. One of the first things I noticed was how nice the space is. There’s a shabby chic buffet table, some framed pictures of family, kelly green walls (that may not be the color-whatever), classy white molding and the nice hardwood floor. Those are signifiers. They signify a standard middle-class home, (possibly) free of disfunction and criminal activity. This also gives us a good indication of the demographic this ad is aiming for: those middle-class types who think shabby chic is a viable form of interior decoration (and can afford $200 headphones).
So what? Well, this brings us to the next sign: the boy. The boy is symbolic, in that he is representing a human condition. First, we know it’s one boy because they all look the same, and who has identical sextuplets? The first three little boys are in different stages of what we call “being really annoying to his parents.” His open mouth, pulling the hair, the scattered blocks, on his knees with his hands on his head- all of these signify a boy who is in a chaotic emotionally-charged tantrum. The boy fits the paradigm of disobedient noisy little toddler, precisely because he’s not standing there with his arms at his side, his head slightly tilted awaiting orders from his parents.
Boys four through six (the right three) are in the progressive stages of “crashing.” Closed eyes. Laying on the ground. Curled up. All of these are signifiers. And all of them signify a boy who is turning quiet, restful and peaceful (yay!).
Stay with me, people
Why did the boy fall asleep? Syntagmatically, something happened to make this boy go down. Hey, what about that writing in the corner?
It’s the Bose logo, with the words “Noise-cancelling headphones” underneath. Yep, that’s another signifier. Let’s assume that this signifies that we, the parent, are wearing these particular headphones. Leap of faith? Yes. I’m pretty sure, however, that this is what the creator was aiming for.
Finally, the signification. The syntagmatic touchdown (that might be a horrible metaphor, but there’s a football game on in the background… playoffs and all). The symbolic boys and headphone text taken together are a indexical sign. If you put on our (Bose’s) noise-cancelling headphones, you will block out the sounds of your unruly child. Just like that child was asleep.
The field of codes would seem to indicate that, this is a normal house, and the little boy going completely nuts is normal. So, of course it’s normal for you to slip on a set of these awesome headphones and pretend like your child doesn’t exist. This doesn’t make you a bad parent.
Disclaimer: I don’t think doing what this ad wants you to do is a good idea. [end disclaimer]
All of this matters because we know who the Bose people are trying to reach, how they’re trying to reach us, and what they want us to buy. It’s also interesting to note that they did all of this without ever showing us the product or telling us anything about it!
*Symbiotics – close and often long-term interaction between different biological species