representation and interpretation

This week’s lecture saw us looking into the world of semiotics – or the science of signs. Semiotics basically is the study of how signs are meant when conveyed and how they are seen. Another way to put this is how signs are represented and interpreted. What we learnt was that all signs, have something called a signifier, and the signified. Here’s a little visualisation of that idea.

Taken from Renee’s week four BCM110 lecture.

To relate back to our topic, we looked into how there are many different ways that media audiences will interpret certain signs or images, and what this means for media platforms. In our tutorials, we looked at a variety of complex images (mainly controversial ad campaign screenshots) and discussed how they may have been interpreted as well how they might have intended to be interpreted. We were asked to analyse a complex image of our own choosing, and comment on it effective or ineffectiveness. I chose this image from a campaign by the ‘Unhate Foundation.’

Unhate’s 2011 UNHATE campaign.

Most people would be able to recognise the figures in this photo, but they don’t realise they are interpreting just by doing so. In order for this to be an effective advertisement, that’s what the company is relying on us knowing. But that’s not necessarily always the case. From a complete outsiders perspective, the image just shows two men, dressed in suits, one of possibly Asian descent and one with light brown skin. The made-up word ‘Unhate’ is written on the top left corner of the screen. There are so many ways this image could be interpreted. For example, this might be an advertisement supporting the legalisation of gay marriage, or possibly an ad for a hairdresser, tailor, or even the local Asian grocer. In order for the image to be effective in its purpose, the audience needs to know that these two men were actually big world leaders at the time of this campaign. Go figure.

The real idea behind this campaign is one of peace and freedom. The foundation that made this poster aimed to spread the ideas and feelings of love and to express their ideology. Ideologies was another topic we discussed this past week. For those struggling to put their finger on a simple definition, as I was, here’s a simple definition we found. Ideology is the way in which we imagine the world to be. This is unique from person to person, which is one of the reasons we can interpret messages so differently – because we WANT to see different things.

So, if you want to take anything away from this, let it be this: Next time you see a piece of thought-provoking imagery, have a think about what it’s telling you. Also, think about what it wants to be telling you, but you don’t consider – because of your own pre-existing ideologies that affect how you interpret. Nothing life-changing, just a bit of food for thought.



4 thoughts on “representation and interpretation

  1. This is a really good blog post. I like how you listed a few different ways in which that image can be interpreted because “unhate” can definitely refer to many different things. It definitely requires at least a little bit of background knowledge. I think I read somewhere that the organisation made another ad with the Pope and an Islamic leader where the Pope ended up suing for defamation or something. But yeah overall good post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interpreting your image, which contains both text and visual aid, through the lens of semiotics was clever. Especially considering that semiotics began with Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce who developed their theory via linguistics. When critically analysing the linguistics of the text imbedded in this image I see how the harsh use of language with ‘hate’ has attempted to be softened through the gentle ‘un’. For me this language denotes years of hurtful history. I believe the person who created the advertisement knew ‘unhate’ as the signifier would communicate to the receiver that something has been wrong, and then give them inspiration to undo that wrong.
    P.S. Great read!


  3. Another great post, with a clear and concise breakdown of the concept of semiotics and how it relates to the conscious and subconscious interpretations we encounter on a daily basis. The image you selected is extremely powerful, but not for the reasons one may expect, it gets your eye as soon as you realise who the figures are, this paired with the text “unhate” results in an interesting connotation, one of wonder, in essence it almost encourages one to really look at what is being said in an image, how it makes you feel, and what you can take away from it. A great post, keep it up.


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