Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Future of the Digital Humanities

I was intrigued with Samuel and McGann's creation of the word "deformance". If we think of the field of the Digital Humanities as fluid and constantly changing, which it truly is, Sample's argument, especially in coherence with the word "deformance", does make sense. I thought that looking at DH as a method of "undoing" and deconstructing really interesting. However, we could take a very severe post-structuralist approach and go so far as to say that the field just cannot be defined with language because it is constantly changing and morphing everyday. One thing I had to read over and over was the very last paragraph- "The Deformed Humanities—though most may not call it that—will prove to be the most vibrant and generative of all the many strands of the humanities. It is a legitimate mode of scholarship, a legitimate mode of doing and knowing. Precisely because it relies on undoing and unknowing."  How can something be truly generative if it "relies on undoing and unknowing"? 

If we break down the word "post-structuralism", we can deduce that it is merely an extension and rejection of structuralism itself, which was primarily concerned with form and the way language works within a system. From what we have learned, post-structuralists have an alternate view of binary oppositions and the inherent meaning (or lack thereof) of language.

As for the future of Critical Theory and the Digital Humanities, I think it is impossible to say for sure where they will end up and what their course will be. It is arguable that DH has no future because it is running its course as we are using it each day. Although it sounds cliche and silly, we are immersed in the future of it now.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Victoria's Secret "Angels"

For centuries, and for many people today, the word angel connotes innocence, spirituality, and purity. In fact, in biblical times angels were masculine--images of strength, power, and holiness. They are a connection between the divine and the mortal. So what happens when an angel, to be specific, a female angel, meets the world of men, lingerie, and sex?

Victoria's Secret has successfully transformed their "angels" into symbols of eroticism. The are perfectly sculpted, bronzed, tall, thin models wearing the scantiest undergarments and largest of wings. The labeling of their models as "angels" works for the company in two ways. First, it takes advantage of the long upheld notion that angels are sweet, innocent, and pure. The company has their models blow kisses on the runway, as they strut in their corsets and high heels. And because they are angels, they avoid being labeled with derogatory terms such as "sluts". Secondly, as  angels, the models uphold the notion that this image is fantastical, unattainable. Just as biblical angels bridge the gap between the mortal and the divine; Victoria's Secret  lingerie bridges the gap between an "average" female body, and the divine, sexy, Victoria's Secret Angel.

Semiotics in masculinity

Antiperspirant tycoons and savvy advertisers put their heads together to reach a market of product hungry male consumers. Although It's safe to say men subscribe to the merits of smelling good for the sake of smelling good, underlying sexual self worth and masculine deprecation play a role. Advertisements advocating for the importance of deodorant fuel their argument with an onslaught of promiscuous imagery, manly prowess, and anything else to get the nestled dollar sign sardines to slip out of the wallet can. What better way to indoctrinate a rabble sprouting self conscious stress then by driving a marketable stake through the heart of preteens internationally. Scanning both the axe ad and the old spice, one serves as a stepping stone to the other. To maximize profits and effectively persuade, the money grubbing businessman has to start milking the cow early on.

Muddled colors give way for an angst ridden erotic message in the axe ad. Center left reads "Axe dark temptation, as irresistible as chocolate." The message conveyed paints a erotically jarring portrait, where a silky haired youth stands wide eyed and ecstatic, seemingly satisfied with a body carved and composed of chocolate. both "dark" and irresistible" in the text are considerably heavier than the remainder of the body as the two pungent points of exclamation embody desired qualities of the user after applying the product. Dark, in the instance, is synonymous with a void of light bad boy image whereas "irresistible" falls in par with the products excellence in execution. Deliberately geared towards middle school/ high school puberty pods, the delectable splendor of chocolate hops aboard the toiletry train to spread its desirable goodness in a different medium. The preconceived assumption is "Universally, chocolate is swell. Therefore, you're swell." The transitive properties influence consolidated with enticing a budding audience hits hard in increasing demand and triggering a receptive response in the reader.

The old spice ad represents an evolutionary no nonsense attitude. Slipping away from the juvenile antics of sugar coating bodily sanitation, old spice caters to being delightfully debonaire in odor and temperament. The text is stark and straightforward. No absurd elaborations are implemented. "Smell like a man, man" is curt, concise, but powerful in content. Masculinity is not only expected, but demanded by the old spice ad, and using their products guarantees acceptance into the gates of manhood. Environmentally, the watery landscape and naturalistic hype give the ad a robust and hearty feel, reinforcing cleanliness with the spacious body of water. The man depicted is rugged, mustached, and muscular. He is the epitome of burly refinement. A regally rigid individual. Holding up a bundle of just used products, his wavering finger illuminates the focal message. Straight to the point textual evidence collides head on with the quaint aftertaste of being an old spice kind of guy.

Though maybe not the best example I could of utilized in the name of semiotics, I chose the deodorant ads to shed light on the evolutionary stages of advertizing towards an aging audience. Although they're seemingly innocent in the way they solidify the success of their products, entrenched underlying meaning can be found in both with enough digging. Axe pays homage to the aspiring man by using a childish quality to fortify smelling good. As time goes by, the immature antics are dropped to place a man under a "speak softly, but carry a big stick" lens. To efficiently draw out intent and strategy within a dreary dog eats dog world, "researchers need objectivity and distance when researching culture and cultural events" to read between the lines and further understand the human condition in product promotion.                             

Flow Analysis

Fire Dancing and Flow Art has been an amusing source of entertainment for many people at parties and social gatherings over the ages. Although commonly associated with the negligent hippie mentality, and therefore commonly ridiculed, these arts have a deeper significance. Sure they are fun to watch and the concept of being in control of fire may seem appealing; but what is it about the performances that make the experience so meaningful not only to the audience but to the performers as well?

            To start, I will give a brief history of their creation and early implementation into society. In the beginning it is theorized that fire dancing originated in Polynesia by the Maori tribe habiting what is now New Zealand. To tone their muscles and wits for battle the tribesman would often practice with Poi, a performance element constructed of a ball at the end of a string. They would swing the Poi around, one in each hand, and strengthen their muscles as well as tone their reflexes to objects moving around them at rapid speeds.

            From there Fire Dancing was elaborated upon by multiple influential people who had seen a performance and added their own adjustments and creativity. This added elements like the staff, sword, knife, whip, and fan into the mix; though over a span of several decades. Its most commonly speculated arrival in the United States is in Hawaii where tourists would be entertained on sandy beaches. From there inspiration spread to large music festivals like Burning Man and with the help of the 60’s, spread farther still.

 All of this is well and good but what is the point? My analysis is aiming to explain what it is about Fire Dancing that has caused it to grow into what it is today. Looking at its progression in different societies in the past, the main question that I keep landing on is: Why is an ancient training regiment for physical combat so interesting throughout the ages, even after we have progressed past relying on those fighting methods?

            To answer this, I look to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has become an icon for the Flow Art community. In short, he spent his life researching a phenomenon he called Flow. This is a mental state of being where the person is totally focused on pushing themselves and their limits in a natural and totally comfortable setting. His examples include such things as the runners high, a mental state of calm and relaxation for runners on a long journey. He believed that by achieving Flow you can actually become happier as a person.

 What this means is Fire Dancing and Flow Art are not just ways of entertainment, but of self expression and growth. They help people find peace in their daily lives through simple goal setting and relaxation that can be difficult or expensive to find elsewhere. When the performance begins you are not just watching someone perform cool stunts, you are being relaxed and stimulated both mentally and physically.

Christmas Vs. Winter: a Semiotic Analysis

Since our article was on the subject of Christmas, it made me think of another Christmas tradition that can be analyzed semiotically. Since my family is Italian, Christmas is a big deal for all the important reasons, but we get picky about certain Christmas traditions. We are very traditional and conventional but there are some things we refuse to do that a lot of other people do. One example that comes to mind is actual Christmas decorations vs. snowmen and other wintery decorations. My mother doesn't necessarily hate snowmen, but she does not like them around Christmas time, frankly neither do I and the reason is because snowmen represent winter, not Christmas.
As you can see here, this is a Santa Claus figurine that just spells out Christmas. you could make the whole argument about how Christmas is about jesus, not santa but that is not what this is about. My mother would gladly put this decoration out because it shows a representation of Christmas, it is not tacky and it creates that whole christmasy feeling. Santa Claus is a Christmas tradition dating back to the third century. it has been a legend and it is said that it only happens on Christmas which is what makes it a Christmas tradition and gets kids excited for Christmas when they see a santa claus figurine. Even though you get to a certain age where you no longer believe in santa claus, most people wouldn't refuse to put out a santa claus decoration or a few around their house at Christmas time. Santa claus is mostly seen as an iconic Christmas character and the thing about santa clauses is that you wont see them at any other time of the year which is what makes it so special around Christmas time.

This snowman, however is not approved. Some people go all out and will put up giant snowmen on display, will have snowman ornaments for Christmas, maybe a sweater with a snowman on it that they wear on Christmas day and have gifts with snowman wrapping paper. But Snowmen really have nothing to do with Christmas. Talking to people about this subject gave me various results. Some people love snowmen around Christmas time, some people hate them, some would say that they only like snowmen if there is actually snow on the ground and it is a white Christmas, but being in new England, you would think that every Christmas would be a white Christmas but lately that has not been the case and it is a rarity that it will actually snow on Christmas. Some people don't mind snowmen regardless and one person told me that they understand that snowmen are more of a winter thing than a Christmas thing but if they have a Christmas feeling to them then its okay. like if they were wearing a Christmas scarf or had a thing of holly on their hat, which is fine, but talking to people who live down south or out west don't particularly care for it because if they get no snow at all, they could care less about snowmen and a lot of people would say that they wouldn't mind a snowman only if it was Frosty because that is considered a Christmas classic. It cannot be Jack Frost or Olaf from Frozen or an abominable snowman.
Santa Claus represents Christmas and decorations and figurines of Santa imply Christmas, whereas snowman, even if they are dressed for Christmas, can be up on display all winter, even after Christmas is over. So in my family, my mother will wait until after Christmas is over and after all the santa claus and other Christmas decorations are put away in storage before she brings out the winter snowman.
Another related topic is the so called "Christmas" songs, like jingle bells and let it snow, also have nothing to do with Christmas and don't mention or imply it, yet they are sung every year as a tradition. Not that there is anything wrong with that but it is something to think about.

DId The Past Really Happen?

In 1906 Van Tassel Sutphen wrote a book on how he saw New York City in 2015.

In 2015 Michael Stevens (YouTube's Vsauce) made a video called "Did The Past Really Happen?"

There are many obvious signs within the video that Michael is alluding to a theory. The music in the background is eerie and reminiscent of old monster movies, like Invasion of the Body Snatcher (1956).

"Last Thursdayism" is the belief that the universe was created...last Thursday. Around 4:53 a clip appears showing a surgeon with a futuristic medical tool that looks kind of like a weird phone. This is an interesting juxtaposition with 4:32 when Michael says "the past" and a clip of him walking by ancient Greek ruins is shown. These two signifiers work to contrast the past and present and leave the present in a state of "rock and hard place" where it is undefinable outside of its foundational neighbors. The present is just...not the past or future.

Another interesting idea is how the whole video takes place in a dressing room. The lights are constantly glowing in the background...but when did they start? They were always on. They have energy that can be dispersed, but Michael points out that all the energy in the system whether the lights were on or off is the same. Here Michael mentions the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy spreads and doesn't form (unless an ice crystal or a birth, but apparently these are not affecting the larger world - so it's okay). Here an animation of "energy" is seen transferring between two boxes. The separate colors between the two boxes both become purple to signify the equalization of the two areas.

When Michael pulls out a deck of cards (8:26) he reveals that the entropic condition of the Second Law does not change when the cards are rearranged (rearrangement of energy = chaos) but that the energy is actually left through his own body in order to shuffle the cards. "In order to shuffle the cards," he says, "my body has to do work. It has to take energy concentrated in my cells, and change and disperse that energy into kinetic energy movement." This symbol reveals the state of the natural world, where the micro-situations are formed by the expended energy of the macro-world.

Michael uses this explanation of an idea to further explain that an individual's (you) impact on the world, the ripples as he calls them, may be forgotten, but the effect will remain in the world. Thus, because energy spreads scientists believe this is how the world will end (in a "googol years").

The constant switching of topics is actually a symbol in itself. It reveals the interconnectivity of all things, eventually reaching a conclusion that all life affects the world, whether all life is considered or not. 

Coca-Cola the American drink

Semiotics is the theory and study of signs and symbols. It is about taking a non-traditional text and analyzing it, keying into the everyday meanings. In Bell and Freeman’s article, "Decoding of the Meaning of the Perfect Christmas Meal", we see Bell and Freeman decode magazines over a span of thirty years that represent Christmas and what it should be like. The magazines first portray women cooking the holiday meal and decorating, then the magazines start to include simple how-to directions. Further along down the line men are portrayed as the cook and women the servers. It was interesting to see the analysis of all those aspects.

So now I will do a semiotic analysis of America's drink of choice: Coca-Cola.

When Coca Cola first hit the market in 1886 and was a drink for the socialites. Later during World War II, Coca Cola became the soldiers drink due to the promise that anywhere in the world a soldier could have a Coke for just five cents. With these two key historical facts, how could this not be America's drink? It got it's start among the rich people, finally circulated to the less fortunate and then became the soldiers' drink of this great country. This is a country of patriotism and commerce and Coca-Cola embodies those two concepts. For example, look at the color of the logo. Red and white and the only color missing would be blue. Red and white are two of the three American colors and so the red and white in this logo signify that this brand is for the American people. In the past and today, Coca Cola has promoted their brand through ads and songs as the drink that brings people together. The font used for the word "Coca Cola" is close together and kind of loops into the letter following the last. This reminds me of that concept of bringing people together, it is showing the closeness of the words, reflecting the closeness of the people.
Coca-Cola is the American drink. It was marketed first to the rich, then everyone, soldiers including. Soldiers as the symbol of patriotism in our country. The colors of the logo are two-thirds the American flag colors, symbolizing that this drink is in fact for the American people (and others later). The letters of the logo are tightly compressed together and loop into each other signifying the closeness of the people who drink Coca Cola. 
I had a conversation with a coworker yesterday that got semi-heated. She is on a “pure eating” kick. She is upset about all the dyes and unnatural ingredients that have “found their way into my children’s food”. She had a very good point and I was being a brat, poking the bear so to speak, The mama bear. Specifically. I was trying to play devil’s advocate and remind her that doing everything in moderation overall had worked for me. Eat mostly real food, go the McDonalds once every couple of weeks. Give your children organic graham crackers every day and a great big cupcake with yellow frosting at a birthday party.  She was pissed at me and I apologized for annoying her.
But what stuck with me is she kept using the word “chemical” over and over. The “CHEMICAL S IN OUR FOOD OUR KILLING OUR KILLING AND GIVING THEM AUTISM”. And since I was racking my brain to come up with a word to launch my semiotic analysis I immediately stopped paying attention to her and starting making notes…..
If you simply say the word chemical to me: what I think of is this…….

 My coworker thinks of evil cooperation who put red food dye in her children’s food.
Okay so we have two words 1. Chemical and 2. Food…..
Chemical-Unnatural, additives, processed, artificial
Food-Natural, Healthy, Unprocessed “of the earth”
So my friend has a host of good reasons for her mind going directly to the negative….
How about this 1.Chemical and 2. Medicine
What I do right now, is have a hard time breaking these two apart. In my mind, chemical and medicine are one in the same. Chemicals are what medicine is made of. Probably very simplistic but it is what the mind does. I think of chemotherapy and my father’s blood pressure medicine, and my birth control. All really helpful, essential things.
Okay so forget me and forget my friend…..
I say to a sophomore in high school “chemical” and what might she think of: Science class
I ask a man in his sixties and the word I get back could be “Napalm”.
I ask my mother she says: Bleach. She is an obsessive cleaner.
I ask my seven year old nephew. He simply says: Science.

 And this word, this to me a very clear word, had a host of meanings.

Elastic Heart: The Semiotic Analysis of Interpretive Dance

I have performed a semiotic analysis of the music video, 'Elastic Heart' by Sia, which features the dancing of Maddie Ziegler of 'Dance Moms' fame and the actor Shia LaBeouf. The music video for the song peaked interest among many social mediums because Ziegler is the star. For those in the audience who are not viewers of Lifetime's series 'Dance Moms', you might initially think that Ziegler is one of the 'mom's. That's what I envisioned when I heard the star of that show was also the star of Sia's newest video. Imagine my surprise when I opened the video and saw a 12 year old dancing in a cage with none other than Shia LaBeouf. My primary question, which lead to the semiotic analysis is: does the age barrier make a difference in the interpretive dance world? I chose this video because interpretive dance interests me and seeing it done in a vastly more unexpected way has made me think about it since it released in early January. The semiotic analysis is a way of evaluating the text more deeply than face value, which is what the majority of society does.

Elastic Heart VEVO

Sia, the artist behind the song is no stranger to interpretive dance. Her recently famous video, Chandelier also features the art of interpretive dance and Maddie Ziegler. This video, however received far less publicity for having Ziegler at the center. It can be assumed that this is because Ziegler is dancing solo around a bleak apartment as opposed to side by side with a [much older] man. The video for 'Elastic Heart' is unique in it's borders as well; Ziegler and LaBeouf are trapped in an aviary-looking cage. The duo appears to be fighting back and forth, he for her attention and she for freedom from him. My interpretation of the video is that Ziegler is embodying a female trapped in a relationship where she has had enough; she physically feels trapped. She has had enough of succumbing to her "thick skin and elastic heart" the lyrics go on to say "I'm like a rubber band when you pull too hard..." Literally, when a rubber band is pulled too hard, it snaps. LaBeouf's character seems to be filled with anguish and longing for his female companion, but he also looks dangerous in a way, further leading to the belief that she is trying to escape the cage. 

The signifiers here are the cage in which she is trying to escape and the lyrics to the song. You see with your eyes that there is some sort of domestic dispute taking place within the confines of the cage and within the lyrics you hear about someone who is trying to be released from said confines. The speaker of the song knows that they have yet to win "And another one bites the dust/ Oh, why can I not conquer love?" Syntadgmatically speaking, you cannot understand one of these signifiers without the other. Without the music and lyrics, the dancing, while beautiful, holds little explanation. Without the dancing, the lyrics and music serve as "just another good club song" or "good song to belt out in your car with your windows rolled down." 

I shy away from using the word "obvious" here, but it is quite possible that the intent of this video is to show how see-saw style the reality of a possessive or unhealthy relationship can be. The choreography is not meant to focus so much on who the dancers are, but what they represent: a man and a woman. I am reminded of "death of the author" theory with the dancers here representing the author of this text. Their personal lives are left at the door before entering the world of interpretive dance and what this video entails. 

There is reality all over the place in this video. Interpretive dance, of course, is cryptic. Much of the meaning behind the dancing is left to experiencing the lyrics of the accompanying song. In deeply evaluating the lyrics to the song prior to, during, and after watching the video (multiple times) I am left to the conclusion that the video is, in many ways, a testimony to releasing oneself from an abusive/controlling relationship that you always end up debating going back into. (SPOILER ALERT: The video ends with the girl outside the cage, with the man attempting to pull her back in).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Semiotic Analysis of Red Lipstick

A semiotic analysis is the study of meaning-making, the philosophical theory of signs and symbols. I will be doing a semiotic analysis of red lipstick, followed by a few questions of my own.

What different emotions do these images evoke?

It is a strange concept; to think that we paint on our faces differently than our natural selves. Whether it is elaborate or not, the makeup on a woman's face, or the lack thereof, says a lot about her and what she is aiming to achieve with the presentation of her appearance. It also makes a difference in the entirety of her day. If a woman is more confident in her appearance, it will reflect in her actions.

Why is it that we react differently to a woman wearing red lipstick than to a woman wearing none? We assume things about her and see her in a different way than if she was wearing a more neutral shade or no lipstick at all. 

Lipstick in particular, especially bright and dark shades, draws a lot of attention to the mouth and in turn gives the woman's overall appearance a sense of heightened sexuality and "promiscuity". Bright red lipstick is often associated with sexuality, but also with strength, which together can be very intimidating, to men and other women. A woman that is comfortable with her sexuality, but also confident that she is intelligent and strong, can be emotionally threatening to both genders.

Customarily, the color red is used to evoke sexual and erotic feelings simply because it goes back to our rudimentary physiological elements. We, as animals, see red as a symbol of health, blood, life, fertility, procreation, etc. The color demands attention. It is very active and stimulating to the eye. In literature and film, we know that it is the indicative color of things both negative and positive. Perhaps anger, sin, danger, violence, and murder, or differently love, bravery, passion, sacrifice etc. 

Makeup as a whole is not a new invention. Women have been decorating and painting their faces forever, but red lipstick used to be seen as a sign of sexual looseness or prostitution. The representation changed for the positive after the suffragettes took their stand and reclaimed the color as a symbol of strength. For me, and hopefully many other women, red lipstick is not about hyper-sexuality, but rather empowerment.

Rosie the Riveter, with her red lips and red polka dot headband, is a fantastic cultural icon exemplifying the drastic change in politics and economics and empowerment that came for women after the second World War. 

Men often see a woman who chooses not to wear makeup as "lazy" or "not feminine", but if she wears too much or wears it in the wrong way, she is unattractive or "trashy". Many feminists believe that make-up is a powerful, helpful luxury, but there are some that believe it to be a governing product of the patriarchal society that we live in. 

A woman wearing no make-up may feel differently than when she puts a little bit on, but why?

Do we identify ourselves differently when we wear it?

When we present ourselves as "made up" what does that do to other females perceptions of us as women? Does it increase or decrease our chances of becoming acquainted with them? At what point does jealousy take hold?

What is the effect on a man's gaze when he sees a woman wearing red lipstick?

Mount Washington: From Divine to Benign (and some slight social commentary)

The summit of Mount Washington, topping off at 6,288ft above sea level - the tallest peak in the northeast, is a cultural symbol and source of pride for New Hampshire. It is steeped in both fear-inducing granite passes and legend.

A Syntagmatic History:
The Abenaki Indians who inhabited the land we now call New Hampshire had their own name for our beloved Mount Washington; they called it Agiocochook meaning “Home of the Great Spirit.” For the Abenaki, high mountain summits were home to the divine, so, out of respect, they rarely reached the peaks. When the white man came, he found his way to the top of Mount Washington and the rest of New Hampshire’s tall peaks. Then he/we began carving trails to the tops of these mountains in the name of ‘Murica, because what is nature if not something to be conquered and claimed. The Crawford Path which ascends the mountain from Crawford Notch and traverses the southern Presidential Range was laid out in 1819. Thanks to this hiking trail, the summit of Mount Washington became accessible to the heartiest of people determined to stand at the summit given the will of their own two feet. Then, in 1861, the Mount Washington Auto Road opened, taking tours of people to the summit from the east side of the range. In the late 1860’s, the cog railway was open for business, taking throngs of tourist to the summit from the west side. At this point, and to this day, the summit is now accessible anyone with a little money and a camera, and they don’t even have to stand on their own two feet to get there – unless you count standing in line to get a train ticket. The once  majestic and divine summit revered by natives has become an emasculated ant hill. If the gods ever resided there at all, I am sure that they moved out long ago.

I let my emotions get away from me. Mount Washington is nothing to laugh at. It is a behemoth of a mountain whose mass is intimidating and awe-inspiring. The strenuous hike and the temperamental weather in the alpine zone still claim lives every year. It was only two weeks ago that the weather station at the summit of Mount Washington recorded the second coldest temperature in the world (without wind chill). However, the ease of access afforded by the auto road and the cog railway cause tourists to underestimate the beast. The summit of Mount Washington has become more about purchasing an overpriced sweatshirt from the summit gift shop, waiting in line to take a picture at the “Mount Washington 6,288ft” sign (or the grotesque hiker statue installed last year), or receiving a bumper sticker announcing “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” or “I Hiked Mount Washington” than it is about the journey to get there. The natural majesty of the mountain is lost to most.

What does Mount Washington represent?
As I mentioned, to the native Abenaki’s the mountain represented a place of divine presence.
The renaming of the mountain from Agiocochook to Mount Washington represents an ethnocentric mindset and an American compulsion for invasion and possession.
For New Hampshirites, the mountain symbolizes the rugged and dangerous wilderness that sets New Hampshire apart from the rest of the east coast.
To tourists, the mountain symbolizes a roadside attraction and photo-op. It is a backdrop and a picturesque view to see out of the windows at the resort.
For business owners and the hotel industry, the mountain is money. Anything with either a picture of it or simply the words “Mount Washington” can be sold to any tourist for a pretty penny.
For serious and respectful outdoor enthusiasts and environmental activists, Mount Washington represents all that is wrong with tourism. Activist Edward Abbey, in his acclaimed work Desert Solitaire, dedicated an entire chapter to what he called “industrial tourism.” Industrial tourism, in a nut-shell, is the creation of easy access to the natural world and natural wonders for tourists who would prefer to stay safely confined within the climate-controlled realm of their automobiles instead of putting in a little work. It is not only detrimental to the environment, but also detrimental to the population’s perspective and attitudes toward the environment. It is the decline of reverence for nature. The auto road and the cog railway yield extremely heavy foot traffic at the peak (so much so that many summer hikers would rather bypass the summit than fight the crowds at the top) and also heavy industrial traffic. The summit of Mount Washington (and perhaps the gods who once resided there) asked for neither but are being overwhelmingly consumed by both.
The most interesting thing, is that for Mount Washington – and the wilderness surrounding it – “Mount Washington,” as we know it, represents absolutely nothing. The natural world in which the mountain resides is completely indifferent to whatever meaning we choose to give it. 

Semiotic Analysis of the Happy Meal

Semiotic analysis allows for the examination of the social aspect of an object, or in this case something non textual, and how it can have many levels of meaning that may go unnoticed in everyday situations. In Bell and Freeman’s article, Decoding of the Meaning of the Perfect Christmas Meal, they stated that in semiotic analysis, Social semioticians are interested in the way socially accepted meanings change as society evolves.” From that a detailed meaning of what Christmas dinner has evolved to mean was discovered. For my semiotic analysis, I have chosen to look at something that is near and dear to the inner child in all of us. The epitome of the perfect meal: The McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Obviously, we already know that McDonald's is a bit taboo. Its unhealthy, its quality is non existent and it gives America the rep of being obese. But let’s look at this from the perspective of a child. This little red box containing three days’ worth of sodium definitely lives up to its name, for a six year old Ronald McDonald was a superhero. McDonald’s is a defining symbol in the United States, it is a cultural icon that has spread throughout the world. Kids driving down the highway beg their parents to stop at the promising golden arches to taste the kindergarten delicacy of McNugget’s and fries. I remember begging my mom to pull up to the drive through because I was “starving” and couldn’t possibly wait until I got home to eat a decent meal. On the rare occasion she would stop, I remember the cashier asking the most important question: “Will that be a boy or a girl toy?” Now, clearly to a child this is an important question in a different way than we might find it to be an important question. Six year old me would cry if I got a Hot Wheelz instead of Malibu Barbie. However, I am not six anymore and I can see an issue with this. 

Even by the food children eat, they are being put into gender roles. “Girl’s toys” and “boy’s toys” are almost always stereotyped. I don’t remember ever seeing a toy hidden under French fries that inspired me to amount to anything beyond typical domestic women’s roles. Every mini doll, game or stuffed toy promoted femininity. While I’m sure every little boy found that his Transformer or toy car promoted typical masculine roles.Why is it that, even for a meal, boys and girls are being separated into stereotyped categories? This adds a lot of weight to mom’s quick fix for dinner while she was in a rush to do errands. This is just another one of the small yet powerful impacts that seemingly meaningless objects can have on our society. Through semiotic analysis we can look deeper into what things really mean under the surface.  

Dunks vs. StarBUCKS

In this blog post I am going to do a semiotic analysis of two different coffee brands. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are both well run café industries, but they connote different meanings. Dunkin Donuts’ theme colors are orange and pink and Starbucks’ colors are green and white. Pink is a color that commonly is known to symbolize nurture and sweetness while orange represents harvest and extrovert. These colors seem fitting for a coffee that is cheap and has a casual and quick environment to it. The color green represents growth and renewed energy while white symbolizes purity and high class. These colors may have been chosen to represent the company as a more high class way to “renew your energy”.
            The average price of a medium hot coffee at Dunkin Donuts is somewhere in between $1.50 whereas the average price of a medium hot coffee at Starbucks is $1.95. Although this seems like not much of a difference, there is still room to question why Starbucks would charge any more than Dunkin Donuts. The answer is the difference in message between holding a coffee from Dunkin Donuts and holding a coffee from Starbucks. When we see a person with Dunkin Donuts the idea is a blue collar, average New Englander. A person drinking Starbucks would most often correlate with the image of a wealthier person, members of the business community, or a “hipster”. A person holding a cup of Dunkin Donuts is usually walking, driving, or working, while a person holding a cup of Starbucks is most often seen sitting in its café with their Mac laptop typing away in the pristine setting that is Starbucks.
            A common saying that pairs up with Dunkin Donuts is what’s right on every cup. “What are you drinkin’?” Notice the casual sense of word choice here. Short, to the point, and casual, just like the everyday Dunks drinker. On the Starbucks website there are words like rare, smooth, elegant, etc. Dunkin Donuts focuses on flavor options while Starbucks focuses on the coffee blends and styling. A person who works at Starbucks is called a “barista” while a person who works at Dunkin Donuts is called a crew member. You starting to see the difference? This is why Dunkin Donuts flourishes in New England, because New Englanders have a profound middle class status and respect for the blue collar. Starbucks is a more international sensation, because it creates an image of high class and worth that is universal throughout this consumerist, power driven planet. 

Semiotic Analysis featuring Nike

After reading, Decoding the Meaning of a Perfect Christmas Meal by Susan Belle and Lynne Freeman, to me, I thought I couldn't possibly think of any other example. That’s when I realized the whole idea of a semiotic analysis is that it can be applied to almost anything. Most of this generation knows the famous brand, Nike. I chose to use a few of their magazine advertisements to do a semiotic analysis.

These two magazine ads are from the same company. You can tell that the one to the left is geared towards men and to the right is geared towards women. Right off the bat, you can see that they're going for a completely different outcome. The article used three ways to analyze; "textual, ideational and interpersonal" Most Nike ads such as the one on the left are men playing sports but when it's designed for women, sports aren't usually the main focus. The ads that are for women usually contain women with little to less clothing and the moral is about getting in shape. It focuses on the body (aka, her butt) because women should be staying in shape instead of playing sports. I'm not saying that Nike doesn't believe women should be playing extra curricular activities but their ads pin point women's physical looks. The men ads are usually famous sports players when the women's ads, you hardly recognize who the model is. That's where ideational and interpersonal came into play as well

These two ads from Nike almost explain themselves. The ad on the right says "One More Thing For Men to Rule" which means exactly what it says. Men are considered the superior sex and when it comes to Nike, they used that traditional stereotype to advertise.

A few quotes I want to point out from Belle and Freeman's article;

  • "Some things do not change. The discourse was almost always about perfection. The magazines' text informed readers each year that preparation and hard work were the key to perfection."
    • Although this is about a Christmas meal, I compared it to the Nike ads. Nike aims for perfection but using their products can help you prepare and participate in hard work. 
  • "Each year, the magazines also presented one or more alternative Christmas day menus, sometimes called the 'Australian' or the 'budget' or even 'cheats' version which was shown with much less food and virtually no Christmas symbolism"
    • I compared this example to Nike and how they're perceived as the best of the best. If you purchase products that Nike sells but it's from a different brand, it's considered to be the "cheaper" brand and the easy way out. How come it's considered less value worth if it's the same product such as running shoes but a different company?
Sorry for my scattered thoughts! I think I touched based with what I wanted to portray. I know I focused on two aspects but those are the aspects I learned from the article. I tried not to bring any theory into it.

Roses Are Red, But What Do They Mean?

After reading Bell & Freeman's semiotic analysis of the Christmas meal, it becomes clear that symbolism exists in everything around us. However, we may not realize such symbols because they have been so ingrained in each of us since we were children, without us even being fully aware of it. Bell and Freeman point out that this because "consumers cannot see the culture they live in, until they are outside of it." So in an attempt to step outside of my culture, I will try to do a semiotic analysis of a non-written cultural text, a bouquet of red roses.

Although this is just a random stock photo that I found on Google, the inspiration came from a very real place. Until a couple weeks ago, a bouquet much like this one had been sitting on my roommate's desk (there are still a couple of drying roses there, but they're not as pretty as the picture above). It got me thinking about the significance of a bunch of roses.

So, what does a bouquet of roses mean? The most immediate thing that comes to mind is love. People give or receive roses from their significant other when they are in a relationship. Red roses, in particular, are meant to symbolize love, as opposed to yellow roses, which usually symbolize friendship. A bouquet of roses may be given on an anniversary to represent commitment. People can receive roses when being courted as a symbol of lust and desire. All very romantic concepts.

A bouquet of roses can also mean other things. Sometimes people give roses to someone when they've made a mistake or feel the need to apologize. In this instance, the roses represent a plea for forgiveness or perhaps a distraction technique. A bouquet of roses is usually bought at a store, and can be a symbol for consumerism. They're also not cheap, so they may symbolize money and wealth. 

A person might receive roses when they are ill or in the hospital after a procedure, which could mean that roses symbolize illness. Going even further, red roses are often used at burial and funeral services, so they can also mean death.

A semiotic analysis, like this one, can reveal symbols hidden in everyday things such as a bouquet of red roses. By stepping back and looking beyond the obvious, you can find that there are many cultural  symbols in everyday life, some you may not have even consciously thought of before. For me, the roses may symbolize love on the surface, but if someone actually gave me the bouquet of red roses I would take it more as a symbol that they didn't know me as well as they think. Personally, I would prefer some sunflowers or lilies. However, I may not be able to see past the initial romance of the red roses and come to this conclusion, because I would be too busy swooning that someone gave me the ultimate cultural symbol of love. It would pay to take a step back and consider what those roses really mean. 

What do roses mean to you?

Semiotic Analysis of Two Chairs

For this semiotic analysis, I will be doing a detailed compare and contrast between: 

<-------- this chair and 
                this chair -------->

I found these two images online using Google. The photograph on the left features an antique armchair and the photograph on the right features a contemporary folding chair. I decided to choose these two chairs as my topic for analysis because the juxtaposition between them is interesting.

These chairs share a simple and straightforward purpose: to provide a place for people to sit.  However, the metonyms—substitution of one word for another—associated with each chair are very different. The chair on the left—which I will call the "ornate chair"—has words like antique, wealth, high class, and excess associated with it. The chair on the right—which I will call the "folding chair"—has words like simple, basic, cheap, and portable associated with it. The ornate chair is associated with power, whereas the folding chair is not. The ornate chair symbolizes permanency, whereas the folding chair represents flexibility and change.

The ornate chair has been around for awhile, which has given it's meaning time to ripen. A fancy chair, such as the one posted above, was presumably made hundreds of years ago, but it still looks "new". In order for it to stay "new", the chair needs to be cleaned and maintained. Who has the time to clean a chair for hundreds of years? Probably a person who has "old money" and who has lived in the same house for generations. These are assumptions but, nonetheless, this sign emanates power, money, and prestige. At one point, the ornate chair was probably considered less important than it is today. It's meaning has slowly developed and adopted new metonyms.

The folding chair, on the other hand, has not been around for as long as the ornate chair. The folding chair is a contemporary invention that provides people with an easily accessible, compact seat. It's not concerned with power, money, or glitz. The folding chair is strictly utilitarian. The folding chair, as we know it today, was invented in 1947, but the concept of a "folding chair" dates all the way to the vikings. At that time, it was probably a fantastic invention, a first-class seat, a comfortable place to pop-a-squat, but now we view it as the most basic man-made chair available. 

Here's a scenario for you to imagine: let's say you go to an interview for a job. You walk into the office where the interview will be conducted and you see the interviewer sitting comfortably in the ornate chair. You nervously glance around and notice that your seat is a folding chair. Does this make you more or less nervous for your interview? Furthermore, the interviewer is relaxed, spread out, and he's tucked away into a corner of the room. The folding chair is in the middle of the room and it's positioned so your back will be to the door. How nervous are you?

Chairs, in general, are full of symbols and hidden meaning. People in power generally have larger, more expensive, and more comfortable chairs than people who have less power. For example, consider a dining room table: the chairs at each end of the table normally have armrests and the the chairs around the rest of the table do not.
Chairs, synchronically, represent a place to sit, but chairs, diachronically, have evolved to send a wide variety of social meaning.

A Semiotic Analysis of Things My Boyfriend Doesn’t Have on His Bureau

Today I’m going to examine a slightly non-traditional text. Rather than analyzing words, I am going to do a semiotic analysis of a collection of distinctly feminine physical products (pictured below) found on my bureau. Susan Bell and Lynne Freeman write in “Decoding the Meaning of a Perfect Christmas Meal” that semiotics is particularly valuable in its ability to help readers distance themselves from the culture the are part of, especially when analyzing concepts with symbolic meaning. They define a semiotic analysis as something which “looks at how words and images combine to create meaning together.” I will focus my semiotic analysis primarily on the image and physical attributes of the objects at hand in attempt to understand the message(s) they might be portraying.
Purple! Pink! These two colors are explicitly feminine and have an overwhelming presence in this collection. White also has a significant presence in the current color scheme. Is there a color more angelic than white? But where are the golden halos that truly seal the deal on my innocence and saintly-ness? Look to the caps of almost half of the bottles. The little blue lip balm appears an outlier, being the most masculine color here yet. While the color is hopeful, shape cannot be neglected. It stands out against the many phallic bottles, resembling most closely an egg. A morbid message becomes clear: the woman shall produce masculinity only in the form of her egg.

When my body does not produce the desired masculine egg, my pink shiny box of tampons promises the protection I need to help my radiant body survive the bloody attack. My assortment of healing lotions, moisturizers, and penetrating oils reminds me of two things: 1. I am inherently broken and I must make sure to tend to my most important and exterior organ, and 2. penetration and moisturization are key. With this in mind, it might be beneficial to notice the average 1.5 to 2 inch girth of the many bottles that are my “solution.” 

My lipsticks loudly preach passivity with names like “just bitten kissable” and “color whisper.” It is implied that to be bitten, or in other words physically harmed, is kissable (sexually acceptable). The color on my lips should whisper, rather than speak loudly and clearly about my sexual readiness (it might be worth noting that the color itself is named “berry ready”). 

When semiotically analyzed together, these products imply far more than the utility women might believe themselves to purchase them for. Even so, I must remember that I display them on my bureau not for accessibility (do I really need 4 different lotions and 4 perfumes out at the same time for utility?), but as trophies of my womanhood. This analysis makes clear that my material “pride” embodies and provokes more shame, self-correction, and oppression than self-love. Thus womanly pride is shown to be acceptable so long as it takes the form of self-hate and correction by phallus.