The visual images, signs and symbols of pop culture are important for you to understand if you want to understand Americans. It is not enough to be able to speak and understand the language when you come to the U.S.A. you also need to be able to interpret the messages contained within the signs and symbols. These signs and symbols are shorthand representations of the culture’s abstract ideas and concepts. But how does one interpret these signs and symbols of a culture? Is there a road map?
The study and interpretation of signs and symbols is the province of a field known as semiotics. Semiotics is a special branch of communication studies, which specifically combines the techniques of sociolinguistic analysis with anthropological analysis.When a person interprets a sign or symbol,that person engages in an act known as semiotic decoding.An example of semiotic decoding is reading.When you read,you look at graphic symbols and place meanings on them.The words and letters are symbols that must be interpreted. To a semiologist,anything can be taken as a sign to be decoded and analysed for meaning.
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Semiotics, as a field of study, was formally established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mainly through the writings and teachings of two men: Charles Sanders Pierce, an American philosopher and physicist, and Ferdinand de Sausurre, a Swiss linguist. Roland Barthes, a Frenchman, furthered the semiotic field in the 1950s by using semiotic techniques to analyze pop culture. To apply the theories of semiotics to pop culture is actually a lot of fun for anyone to do.
One area of interest in semiotics involves decoding the signs of cultural identity. A typical American university dormitory room or an American college student’s bedroom at home provides a good picture of the identity or profile of that person. What decorates the walls? Is it a picture of James Dean? Che Guevara? Madonna? It is a shot of Michael Jordan? What is on the shelves? A teddy bear collection? Or football paraphernalia? Is there a CD system in the room? What music titles are there? An American’s music collection can tell more about that person than anything else.Is there a predominance of sixties retrograde collections like the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Motown, and the Doors?Or seventies disco music or crossover country rock?Or eighties rap and new wave?Is it easy listening music,salsa,blues,jazz or soul? Is there a computer in the room? What type is it? A Macintosh or a Dell? All of these commercial symbols carry with them images and styles that suggest you are one type of person or another.
It is possible to conduct your own semiotic analysis. Every decoration choice a person makes in a room tells us something about that person’s identity.
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