|Viewing editorial cartoons as signs|
|Wednesday, 13 June 2012 21:55|
The word “semiotics” is sure to scare anyone unaware of what it means. It leads one into believing that it is some complex academic stuff, hardly understood by many, but in reality, semiotic is part of everyday life.
Semiotics is essentially a study based on signs, and these signs are used to communicate messages in different ways, such as language, gestures, the arts, the media, architecture, clothing and fashion.
Semiotics is therefore the study of signs and how they work.
In visual communication semiotic analysis, the sign is the smallest known variable.
Based on the works of semiotic theory founders, it can be identified through its three main characteristics.
Firstly, it must be physically perceptible, meaning that it must in some degree be visible, audible or tangible or one must be able to smell or taste it.
Smoke blowing up into the skies may be a sign that there is a fire below it on the ground, for example.
Secondly, it should refer to something and therefore it has a representative character.
A newspaper article may be described as a combination of signs in the form of carefully arranged letters that represent an event or new developments.
Lastly, because it is a representation of something else, it has to have an interpretative character.
Whatever the signs may be, there must be a formula for reading and understanding them.
Editorial cartoons are created using of one or several techniques in drawing.
A link can be found between drawing and the sign.
The German Zeichen, meaning sign, gives us zeichnen for the verb “to draw”, that is, to make signs.
Similar connections may be found in the Italian language.
In the Italian language, words isegno, meaning drawing or design and disegnatore, a word used to define a designer are both derived from segno, the word meaning “sign”.
The word “design” used in the English language to define a process or product of human creativity also has within it the word “sign”.
The sign is therefore an essential part of a drawing and one that can be analysed within the context and cultural background in which it was created.
The evidence above suggests that editorial cartoons, being in most parts drawings, are combination of signs that may be understood better through the use of semiotics.
A semiotic model would identify a work of art such as an editorial cartoon as a cultural construct, one that inevitably manifested the social values of the circumstances in which it was produced.
Semiotics is therefore an essential part of image analysis.
The theories that apply to graphic design and visual communication are thus taken from a study of the general science of signs known in Europe as semiology and in the USA as semiotics.
Semiotics provides theoretical and methodological frameworks for isolating and explaining the levels of meaning, both of language as text and the image as pictorial text.
The fact that editorial cartoons are one of the few art forms that make use of both image and text makes semiotics an essential part of their analysis.
Because pictorial texts are polysemous, meaning that they have the ability to generate more than a single meaning, semiotics has functioned to limit the interpretive openness of pictorial texts.
The use of pictorial grammar, descriptive language for image analysis therefore becomes fundamental, particularly given that images have no unique visual metalanguage and require language as an instrument for pictorial analysis.
The 30 September 2005 Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy that began after 12 editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper graphically illustrates how multiple meanings may be generated from individual cartoons.
Semiotics do not offer a universal meaning to images or resultantly to all editorial cartoons, but certainly could succeed in identifying their meanings, relevance and roles within a determined social construct.
Semiotics then may be seen as an integral part of editorial cartoon analysis.
Semiotics would be useful to media monitors and regulators because it has the ability to achieve three important goals in image analysis — to identify the signs, to provide their general definitions and to investigate their roles and relevance within the cultural domains in which they where developed.
The importance of semiotics extends well beyond editorial cartoons.
In newspapers for example, everything printed there, including photographs, adverts, graphics and text may be subject to semiotic analysis.
It is no use for “experts” to sit in big chairs and being critical of things they have no scientific formulae to evaluate.
Using only “gut feeling” is likely to dilute an otherwise sound argument.
Giving specific reasons for censure or arrest or any action against distasteful printed material would take away the ammunition from certain sections of the media who would otherwise call it a “crackdown”.
The “experts” will need to justify their tag.