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This is a semiotic analysis of a text and includes various aspects. To start with, this paper will discuss the various signs in the selected text, and how these interrelate to give meaning to the text. It will go further to discuss how the text can be read in terms of dominant, negotiated and oppositional readings. It will describe the gaze captured by the signs, as well as how the text has included and excluded meanings via myth and ideology.
Signs and Sign Systems
The text, ‘Mayor Backs Evicted Supporters’ consists of various signs that are used to give meaning to it. Among the signs used, the most obvious is the word. Some words have been formatted to distinguish them from the rest in terms of dominance. Such words include the headline that is boldly written, the anchorage, the word that kicks off the reading, and the words that at the top left-hand corner below the headline.
The image of three policemen and a lady, pinned on the ground, by these three policemen is another sign. This photograph aims at giving a glimpse of what was taking place at the scene of the event from where the photograph was taken. Policemen signify law and order, authority, brutality and violence. A woman on the other hand and especially in contemporary times is usually unmarked and signifies beauty, attraction, submissiveness and sexiness. However, contrary to what a woman is associated with, the image brings out a totally different picture of the woman. In this picture, the woman is seen as a law breaker being hunted down by the policemen. The darkness of the picture makes it worse because, illegal activities generally take place at night and therefore, one can think that this woman was arrested as a result of breaking the law by engaging in unlawful acts like prostitution. This picture therefore shows an act of policemen trying to restore calm and order in the city. However, using a woman raises an eyebrow because women are not perceived to notoriously break the law to the extent that three armed policemen are needed to calm down and handcuff a single unarmed woman (Thwaites, Davis, & Mules, 2002).
Combining the Signs
It is after reading the headline that one gets to understand what the picture is all about. The image alone therefore may construct a certain meaning that may not be the actual. However, with an interaction of all the various signs, the meaning derived from the text becomes more articulate and accurate. Thereby, from the headline, the woman may be among the many protesters being backed up by the mayor, but on the other hand, being evicted by the policemen. In addition, the writing at the top left-hand corner just below the headline gives meaning to the policemen’s behaviour. Their way of handling the protest in question is questionable.
Dominant, Negotiated and Oppositional Readings
The text is dominated by the headlines, the woman in the photograph, the anchorage at the bottom of the picture, and the writing at the top left hand corner, below the headlines. The headline denotes the mayor’s support for the evicted protesters, signified by the woman pressed down hard by the three policemen. This is contrary to what one perceives from the image. The image, headline, anchorage words at the bottom of the image, and the words at the top left-hand corner below the headline form the syntagms of the text because, their combination gives meaning to the text (Hall, 1980).
The text portrays a negotiated reading in relation to the police and the protester. The picture shows two policemen and a colleague on the left, and all the three are working together to handcuff a lady who is already pressed down on the ground. The police officers signify a desire to hunt down law breakers with the aim of maintaining peace and order in the society. The picture thus portrays a culture of police officers who desire to maintain peace and quiet in the society they are in. Only policemen can appreciate this picture because it acts as a motivator to their work, thus they are the addressee. On the other hand, there is the civilian: the protester, represented by the metonym of the lady, does not support the policemen’s behaviour.
The text assumes an oppositional reading by rejecting the addressee’s (police) position. The image denotes two cultures that are in conflict with each other and that seek the right to expression on the one hand of the civilians, while the police officers seek the right to execute their duties as required of them by the society and government. It is also worth noting the dark shade to depict night. The dark/night is associated with evil activities hence; the use of this shade gives more meaning to the action by the policemen. At a glance, one would think that the police are seeking to maintain law and order, but then, the use of a woman deconstructs this kind of thinking. The civilian, who is the protester in this case, understands the meaning of the image better thus is the viewer. The civilian/protester represents the other community that thinks police officers are coercive in how they handle law offenders as portrayed by the image. This is a mere lady, and there is no justification for the need of three policemen to handcuff her in such a brutal way.
As an oppositional reading, the position of the civilian is reinforced by the headlines which talk of the mayor backing up the protesters. The text addresses the protesters unanimously without pointing out that there are those who were peaceful demonstrators hence, the reason why the woman is chosen to show this. This makes one to wonder whether there might have been actual law offenders amidst the protesters, hence the reason why the police assumed their role. The woman therefore is a metonym of the protesters. She signifies the protesters who are being evicted by the police, but being backed up by the mayor. This text therefore addresses both the civilians, who at the time were protesting, and the police, whose major role is to ensure that peace and quiet prevails in a society.
The image in the text shows the force exerted by police officers in maintenance of law and order. Three men are nailing down a poor lady only for the purpose of handcuffing her. Depending on the type of reader, the image can yield a police gaze, or a civilian: the protester gaze. The police gaze enables a policeman to decipher the essence of the policemen’s behaviour, which cannot be understood by a mere look. The police gaze acknowledges the officers as authoritative and powerful beings, working together to maintain law and order. The civilian gaze on the other hand empathizes with the lady because a civilian is able to perceive the helplessness felt by the lady. Here are three policemen, who are more built in stature compared to the lady, who is slender. The pinning down of the lady connotes helplessness, confinement, and despair. Her hair is all over her face and on the ground as well. She is also immobilized. The policemen are perceived as brutal and merciless beings on a civilian gaze (Berger, 1972).
Myth and Ideology
The text is very objective and impartial because there are no sentiments in favour or against either side. The facts are presented to explain the myth that revolves around the text and the ideologies governing the behaviour of the concerned parties. The image of the three policemen and the lady pressed on the ground can overwhelm the reader with its denotations of violence, mistreatment and brutality. The image on its own stirs up feelings for the need of affirmative action and protest against such behaviour by the police. The image makes the viewer to question the use of power by the policemen.
The text creates immense disgust and opposition towards power. Therefore, a civilian will not appreciate the text because it connotes a lack of freedom of expression. Those in power (the police) are seen mistreating the fragile and weak civilians, who are in search for their rights, creating the ideology of abuse of power. This is opposite to the actual purpose of police power, which should be used to protect the civilians instead of maltreating them. The duty of the police is associated with love for one’s country but in this text, a civilian will not perceive the text in such a way. The text draws out irony in that the policemen are armed with guns, which are used in self-defence yet the converse happens.
This text depicts a myth of channelling resources in the wrong direction within the police fraternity and again, an ideology of abuse of power. This is because, instead of going after the real bad guys; the police go after the alleged bad guys, who in actual sense are not the bad guys. There is therefore, a lot of misconception and channelling of resources in the wrong direction like as shown in the picture. Three policemen with guns and bullet-proof jackets concentrate their efforts on one lady, who is no match for just a mere man without guns because she is not masculine. The ideology of brutality and coercive powerful is therefore expressed.
This analysis shows how signs, and their interactions, are used to give meaning and expression of a text. It also discusses how these signs act as a basis for the different kinds of reading, that is, dominant, negotiated, and oppositional readings. The signs and associated signifiers connote a myth of disgust and lack of freedom for expression and an ideology of brutality and abuse of power.
Berger, J 1972, Ways of Seeing, BBC/Penguin, London.
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Hall, S 1980, ‘Encoding/Decoding’, in Stuart H, et. al. (ed.), Culture, Media, Language, Hutchinson, in association with the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, London. pp. 134-138.
Thwaites, T, Davis, L & Mules, W 2002, Introducing Cultural and Media Studies: A Semiotic Approach, Palgrave, London. pp. 29-47.