In another Communications class we have been discussing semiotics and how codes adopt meaning. It makes sense in a practical way, but I didn’t see this in depth analysis as anything more than that. That is, until Chapter 2 pointed out that capitalizing on this process is what makes advertising effective.
I had liked semiotics until I realized that maybe it’s creation has allowed for my manipulation. Now that society has figured out how meaning is made (in a sense,) what’s to stop it from synthesizing meaning? Essentially, nothing. Don’t get me wrong, I have always known that ads were meant to manipulate, but I had never seen it from such a… calculated perspective. There is redemption though, when he explains how the difference between the viewers and the audience, between the individual and the group, account for our personal endowment of meaning upon an image. Because an image can “speak” to me in a way that the advertiser did not intend it to, I still have power over the image. As he puts it, “by considering viewers, not audiences, we can describe some of the many ways that viewers make meanings outside the boundaries of the producers’ intended messages and effects, even as viewers recognize those intended meanings ” (p. 52).
This chapter got very deep and, frankly, philosophically freaked me out a little. Once I start the train rolling of questions like “why are things how they are?” it spirals into questions further and further from practicality that I am asking myself if I should take the red pill or the blue pill. How do we know what meaning even is? Barthes works hint that all ideas come from somewhere, and that they can just as easily be taken away. And if I really think about it, where does meaning come from? What ideas have I come up with myself? Have I ever had a single original thought? Is thought even original. There I go again, running away on a philosophical tangent.
But seriously though, how can we be asking questions about what is Truth when we are the ones who invented Truth? How do we decide what meaning is when we have defined meaning? And if that’s the case, the concept of meaning must have been born once. It’s quite a chicken-and-egg question.