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Southampton Solent University

Faculty of Media Arts and Society

Concepts and Themes

Level 1
10 credits

1500 word essay

Student number :
Student name : Violeta Trihenea
Course title : Illustration
Seminar tutor : Scott Anderson


1. Introduction

2. Time Magazine

3. Cosmopolitan

4. The comparison

5. Conclusion

6. Reference list

7. Appendix

Semiotic content
on two different magazines

1. Introduction

In the 19th century, Charles Sanders Peirce defined what he termed

"semiotic" (which he sometimes spelt as "semeiotic") as the "quasi-
necessary, or formal doctrine of signs", which abstracts "what must
be the characters of all signs used by...an intelligence capable of
learning by experience", and which is philosophical logic pursued in
terms of signs and sign processes. Charles Morris followed Peirce in
using the term "semiotic" and in extending the discipline beyond
human communication to animal learning and use of signals.

Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is in fact the

study of cultural sign processes, analogy, metaphor, signification
and communication, signs and symbols. Semiotics is closely related
to the field of linguistics, which in its part, studies the structure and
meaning of language more specifically. They are “concerned with
everything that can be taken as a sign” (Umberto Eco, 1976).

“We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings:

above all, we are surely Homo significans - meaning-makers.
Distinctively, we make meanings through our creation and
interpretation of 'signs’” (Daniel Chandler, 2002-2007).
Signs can be found in words, images, objects, sounds and so on and
they can only play their role when the reader himself gives them a
meaning and makes the connection between what Saussure
discovered to be the two key elements of signs: the ‘signified’ which
is the concept behind the sign and ‘signifier’ which is the form the
sign takes.

Therefore semiotics can be found everywhere and a sign can be

anything as long as it ‘signifies’ something or has another meaning
than its original one. As Peirce declares “Nothing is a sign unless it
is interpreted as a sign (Peirce 1931-1958)”.
The reader is therefore very important and will bring his own
interpretations to the texts by drawing on their own cultural values
and background education along with their perceptual codes. As
the relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary
and meaning is fixed in cultural values, according to most of post
modernist theory, we can argue that the potential interpretations of
any given text is therefore endless.

On this note, this essay will take on a semiotic approach, to show

how meaning can be created and how the advertising industry plant
in its ads semiotic content, which is read and deciphered, most of
the time unconsciously, by the reader. “ Semiotics can help to make
us aware of what we take for granted in representing the world,
reminding us that we are always dealing with signs, not with an
unmediated objective reality, and that sign systems are involved in
the construction of meaning (Daniel Chandler 2002/2007)”. In order
to illustrate this, I will be doing a semiotic analysis of two magazines
and then discussing how codes, signs and context are central in
“anchoring” meaning, a concept introduced by Roland Barthes in
1977.This concept, the anchoring, is a linguistic element that can
constrain the preferred readings of an image giving it a meaning.

The ads chosen are from two very different magazines: one is the
american issue of Time Magazine, the world's largest weekly
newsmagazine, and the Australian issue of Cosmopolitan, an
international magazine for women. These are chosen specifically to
illustrate how the codes are transmited and the signs are read and
interpreted on a subconscios level while giving them meaning.

2. Time Magazine

Our knoledge about our soroundings and the world itself is based on
the information received from books, television, newspapers or
radio.“Life is thus lived through texts and framed by texts to a
greater extent than we are normally aware of (Daniel Chandler
2002/2007).” The significans of this does not only consists of „the
real world” concept with wich we have to face daily but also with
other texts and the „intertextuality (Fiske, 1987)” of it all is actually
encourageing social behavior based on popular believes in the
culture or social context that we choose to be sorounded by. And to
prove so, semiotic analysis will be aplied throughout the essay and
will show that the meaning can be found based on how „open” the
ad is to its targeted public.

The first magazine, „Time”, has on its cover a very large and
expresive portrait of Steve Jobs, basicly the face of the Apple
Industry. This portrait may also connotate succes, considering the
fact that the bussines he runs is now very notorious and world wide
known and every individual, with remote knowledge regarding
computing or technology, can relate to it.On the cover he has a slick
smile, gray beard and round glasses, wich also may be interpreted
as sobriety , knowledge and intelligence .His gaze is straight
forward, not hezitateing at all, looking straigt to the reader. There is
also a black background wich in contrast, highlights every small
detail of the face making it more expresive. Every Apple fan or
technology pasionate is aware of the importance of Steve Jobs and
its work, and so it apeals to a wide target of readers from young to
old, man and woman, geek and bussinesman. And even if you do
not know who the person on the cover is, its portreit still denots
experience and a sense of awarness wich, in my opinion makes it a
very smart cover.

Syntagmatically speaking, the images carry more weight than the

words and therefore the cover is very light, yet very impresive, with
very little writting on it, the atention being souly drawn by the
portrait. You can actually see the intentions of the editors who did
not try to overwhelme it, keeping everything nice and simple for its
audience and relying on their past knowledge. The cover name
„Time” is largely written, with bright red letters and a times new
roman font over the forhead. On the bottom left is announced the
new product, wich is directly related to the caracter and the main
subject of the cover : „Inside Steve’s Pad”. And if you look more
carefully, you can also see a fade writteing above the „Time” title
about an enviromental special article wich may lead to believe that
it is also a „green” magazine.

3. Cosmopolitan Magazine

The second magazine is the November issue of the australian

„Cosmopolitan”, wich has on its cover a famous pop singer, Katy
Perry.This magazine follows the clasical teenage standard cover:
lots and lots of „sparcles” and „glitter”. It has numerous colorfull
writtings all over it and in centre stands in a feminine and
provocative pose, the female caracter, wich is of course thin and
beautifull. This magazine is intended for the young and playfull
female reader.

This type of magazine is souly based on the premises that ”sex

sells”. For instance,the signifier, wich is the female body, is
exploited and objectified by being almost naked, posing sexy,
having sexy clothes with leopard printing on, which may possible
signify feline femininity and wildness, and reppresenting the center
piece of the cover. And if that idea does not come to the reader’s
mind, the editors were not very subtile when trying to expres the
concept of the magazine, so the word sexy appears, written in large
letters, three times.

But this type of cover can not rely just on a pretty face and on sex in
this current industry, wich is why, for it to catch your eyes on the
shelf it also needs to have a star on the cover, wheter she is a
singer, actress or both. The main caracter also needs to be a happy
and healthy role model, promoting a stereotype of what a female is
suppose to look like, being most of the time a sensitive issue for
some. The colourfull and diverse writting is overwhelming at first
and does not let too much room for guessing what may be inside
the magazine, because its content is pretty much explained and
sugested on the cover.The backgound has a very soft, in-tone with
the outfit of the woman, pale brown colour.

4. Comparison

Eco describes as “closed” those texts which show a strong tendency

to promote a particular interpretation - in contrast to more “open”
texts (Eco 1981). We can observe that the first cover is ”opened” to
basicly a wider audience, while the second cover is pretty much
”closed” and concentrates on one specific target: women, the
emphasis being on looks, fashion, sex and mondenity. And while in
the first one the image or the text would be suficient on its own to
sell the magazine and the concepts behind it, the second magazine
needs both text and image to express itself. Even so, everything
comes down to the perception of the text and image wich combined
results signs.

5. Conclusion

But signs on their own have no meaning. In order to gain sense,

they have to draw value from the readers social background, culture
and association. But is it possible to not understand a sign or miss
it?As Griffin said:“like chameleons that take on the coloration of
their environment, words take on their meaning of the context in
which they are used (Griffin 2000).”

And so, we could see, based on the examples mentioned earlyer

that semiotics are important. It shows us how meaning is actually
constructed, mantained and how it highlights certain social believes,
making the reader active in understanding the codes within the
6. Reference list

• Semiotics
[Accessed: 26 November 2010]

• Concept and Themes

[Accessed: 27 November 2010]

• Analysis and discussion of Belgian advertisement

[Accessed: 28 November 2010]

• Semiotics for beginners by Daniel Chandler

[Accessed: 26 November 2010]

• Elements of semiology Roland Barthes 1964


• Semiotic analysis of two ads

[Accessed: 28 November 2010]

• A first look at communication theory Em griffin


• Time Magazine - April 2010, published by Time Inc.

• Cosmopolitan Magazine – November 2010, published by ACP