Semiotics ≠ Symbiotics*

I should probably accept

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.

This is nice.

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.

Connect-4™ incident

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.

Little boys are loud, in a way no print ad can capture

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.

These are signs, too!

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?

Honestly, Bose is way too expensive

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.

Funny picture of angry child

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

6 thoughts on “Semiotics ≠ Symbiotics*

  1. Pingback: Concluding the Mini-mester « bassjunkie92

  2. What I enjoyed….

    First, I enjoyed how you began the discussion—you didn’t immediately jump right into it. Instead you described what was going on around you. By including what was happening around you while writing (kids running and screaming), it made me feel like I was right there with you! Then you tied this nicely into the print ad of the little boy. I also liked how you broke the text up making it easier to read. I really enjoyed your style of writing because it really felt like you were having a conversation with the person reading it.

    A different way of seeing it…

    Upon first looking at the Bose print ad, I saw it from a little different perspective. Although, I do understand it from your angle, this is how I see it: the parent put on the headphones to ignore the child going crazy until the kid got so exhausted that he fell asleep. I saw it as more of a progression through time.

    Over all, I felt you analyzed the print ad very well—you considered all the element that were included in the photo as a potential signifier. Also, I liked you chose to analyze something that pertained to your life having two young sons of your own.

  3. I have to say, I am super impressed by the way your blog came out. It looks very professional and I liked that you chose a name with some meaning, rather then just choosing one that fit, like I did.

    I really enjoyed reading your posts, you have a distinct voice in your writing, and it made it fun and engaging. I really liked your introduction to the semiotics blog, and how you used Mission Impossible to tie it back into media in another form.

    I liked your selection of pictures, they added a lot to your blog, and they fit well with what you were trying to explain, often times adding to your description, like in the case of the signs, and signifiers discussion.

    I liked the Boss advertisement you chose, even though its not one I would have picked myself. I also liked how in your analysis you related the commercial, to your kids, and that made me chuckle. I also think that using headphones to neglect your responsibilities of watching little children, is a terrible idea, albeit one that may seem good at the time.

    I think that you defiantly have a knack for blogging, and that you should further explore it in the future.


  4. First of all, I’d just like to say that I found it extremely humorous and appealing that Adam made his blog seem like more of a daily journal. It personalized his work and made his writing seem a lot more relatable. For instance, when he talked about his two sons and how he would be right back because one of the boys broke something. I found this hilarious and an effective addition to his writing that really draws his audience into his mind and personal life. I felt like I was reading someone’s personal opinion for once instead of paper written simply for class.

    Secondly, His analysis of the Bose headphones was a fantastic attention-grabber. I couldn’t help but finish the blog, a factor that I think is very important to bring up. His tactic of introducing the reader to his children and how they’re full of energy and mischief really aided in his analysis of the boy in the ad. He clearly presented and analyzed each object of the ad from the setting, to the boy, and then to the boy’s actions and behaviors. I also enjoyed the disclaimer he included about how people should not include these headphones in their daily parenting. His photos and organization put me at ease as I read through his hilarious blog.

    One thing I would have to say that would greatly improve his blog would be to take into consideration the fact that people may not know what the terms used mean. I think it would have been more helpful for clueless readers if he had introduced the vocabulary a little more thoroughly in his introduction. Overall though, I found his blog to be one of the funniest I’ve read in a while.

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