week six: semiotics and media

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Our symbolic encyclopedia enables us to comprehend the narratives we  are exposed to in the media. One great example of a website that  collects and organizes this information is TV Tropes. Merriam Webster  defines a trope as “a common or overused theme or device.” Though many  think of tropes as cliches, the meanings tropes convey enable us to  decode what we are presented with. A specific example we can use to  dissect semiotics in television is the show Suits.

In the video reel above, one can view the scenes that set up Harvey (an attorney known as the “best closer in the city”) as “the Ace” and Louis (his peer who looks up to Harvey with a mix of respect, repulsion, and envy) as “the anti-Villain.”  Though a viewer may be unfamiliar with the terms used to classify these  tropes, their prior experience with these symbols enables them to  comprehend the setup of the show. Meanwhile, it is clear that Mike (an  associate) is supposed to be Harvey’s protege, and a viewer can guess  that Harvey will be a kind of “Big Brother Mentor” to Mike.

In  this way, semiotics serve as a method of communication, as the symbols  we use to encode a specific message into a medium are decoded by the  viewer, enabling him to receive the message transmitted. Chandler  expands on this idea in Semiotics for Beginners. One point he  made which I found particularly interesting was the idea of transparency  as it relates to our awareness of tropes. Chandler quotes Lakoff and  Johnson is saying that: “However, much of the time- outside of ‘poetic’  contexts- we use or encounter many figures of speech without really  noticing them- they retreat to transparency’. Such transparency tends to  anaesthetize us to the way in which the culturally available stock of  tropes acts as an anchor linking us to the dominant views of thinking  within our society” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980).  When we as viewers are  introduced to these characters, not only are we reading them based on  their portrayal, but we are also taking their race, gender, and age into  account on a more subconscious level and integrating the cultural  hierarchy into our analysis/perception of the protagonists. In the case  of Suits, Louis would also be referred to as “the underdog”  when  it comes to the senior lawyers at the firm. Two of the three main  female characters star in “serving” roles (ex. a secretary and a  paralegal), and it is inferred that there are hints of romantic history  between the women and their male counterparts. These tropes are so  heavily embedded into our culture (and even more specifically, the  symbols that occur within a coporate office environment) that to state  them feels uncomfortable– they exist transparently.

It’s  interesting to note that the title of the show is also a metaphor  referring to both “lawsuits” and the suits that the gentlemen wear on  the show (many references are made to suits [i.e. the article of  clothing] in the first season). Semiotics shapes our lives from the way we make meanings to interact and communicate with one another, to the way we are entertained and advertised to.
Works Cited

Chandler,  Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners.” Semiotics for Beginners. N.p., n.d.  Web. http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/semiotic.html.