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Research paper ISLAMOPHOBIA AND MEDIA STUDIES SINCE 9/11
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Research paper ISLAMOPHOBIA AND MEDIA STUDIES SINCE 9/11

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ISLAMOPHOBIA AND MEDIA STUDIES SINCE 9/11
SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE ARGO (RESEARCH PAPER)

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  • 1. 1 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)Islamophobia and the Media Studies:The portrayal of Islam since 9/11Semiotic analysis of a movieHuma hafeez & Humera MasoodMaam Ansa Hameed
  • 2. 2 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)Table of contentsUnit TitleAcknowledgmentDedicationAbstractChapter 11.1 Introduction1.2 Statement of problem1.3 Delimitation1.4 Significance of Study1.5 Objectives1.6 Research QuestionsChapter 22.1 Literature Review2.2 Marxist theory2.3 Ideology and Images2.4 SemioticsChapter 3
  • 3. 3 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)3.1 Approach3.2 Research Design3.3 Variables3.4 Sample3.5 Data AnalysisChapter 44.1 Semiotic Analysis4.2 Denotation and connotation4.3 Notion of Myth4.4 Privation of History4.5 Inoculation4.6 Identification of the other with Self4.7 The statement of FactSuggestionsConclusionAppendixReferencesAcknowledgement:
  • 4. 4 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)I would like to give special thanks to all those people with the help of whom the completion ofthis project have become possible. Thank you to Doctor Ansa Hameed for her constant supportand supervision and special thanks to my loveliest friend Humaira Masood who helped me tillthe end of this project.
  • 5. 5 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)I would like to dedicate my paper to my beloved parents who have alwaysbeen a source of encouragement for me.Abstract:The media plays an important role in shaping the societies opinions about topical issues. Mosthuman beings depend upon either the print media or electronic media as their sources forinformation. The advent of internet since the 1990s has popularized certain key issues whichpeople can access in a one click. Since it is a combination of both audio and visual material itundercover every widespread matter that is going on in the world. The most effective
  • 6. 6 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)documentation of such immediacy is that of the impact of September 11 attacks in the USA in2001. The aftermath of media‟s impact still resonates throughout the world. This paper aims toexplore the impact of the media on this newly derived concept of Islamophobia. It includes thesemiotic analysis of a movie based on Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis occurred in the year1979. This paper discusses the concept of Islamophobia and anti-Islamism and its deep roots inhistory. The conclusion reached is that instead of the media acting as a mediator betweenWestern society and global Muslim world by creating an atmosphere of each understanding theother, it acted negatively against Islam, the world fastest growing religion.1.1. INTRODUCTIONThe purpose of this paper is to ascertain the fact that media is an officious factor in constructingbiased opinions among people. Information, disinformation and influence are closely connectedand may in combination, lead to a construction of one‟s world and consequently to a formationof one‟s attitudes. Therefore media is sometimes regarded as a “fourth estate” in democraticstates (cf Jager and Link 1995; Schultz 1998). Most people are unaware of the ways they arebeing educated and positioned by the media because their pedagogies tend to be “invisible and
  • 7. 7 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)absorbed unconsciously” (Kellner and Share, 2007, p.4). Therefore it is important to analyze therole of media in reproducing certain stereotypes especially in terms of “racism, ethnocentrismand other forms of prejudices” (Keller and Share, 2005). Hence from a social justice perspectiveit is imperative to learn about how media educates about otherness, and how this enters into ourunderstanding of the world.In the light of these statements the key focus of this research is to highlight the negativetypecasts against Muslims by media. Recent portrayals of Muslims provide a compellingcontemporary cultural site demanding our attention, for the media plays a decisive role inproducing understanding of what Muslims are like (Johnny and Sharrif 2007; Kincheloe &Steinberg, 2004; Rizvi, 2005; Said, 1997; Steinberg, 2007). Unfortunately recent researches haverevealed that media has largely depicted a homogenous image of Islam, constructing it as foreignor alien to the normalized ideas of Western society (Johny and Sharrif, 2007). By the help ofcritical Media Studies it is easy to deconstruct and dismantle the representation of Muslims,which in recent years has taken a shape of a full-fledged Western Ideology in the name ofIslamophobia (Kellner and Share 2007).Islamophobia is defined as the fear or dread of Muslims and their religion Islam. Theterm has been recently coined but it has its deep roots in history. Since the advent of Islam in622, Europe‟s awareness of Muslims has been overwhelmingly negative. Hence it became a needof time for European powers to portray Islam and Muslims in the worst possible light in order toprevent conversions. Under such abhorrence Muslims have been portrayed as barbaric, ignorant,closed-minded, semi-citizens, maddened terrorists or intolerant religious zealots. Micheal Curtisin his book Orientalism and Islam states on the same issue of Europeans view of Islam.
  • 8. 8 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)According to Curtis, Europeans view on the Eastern social and political system was commingledwith their conception of the Islamic religion, though their knowledge of Islam was imperfect.The criticism of Islam by Christians started soon after its advent starting with St John ofDamascus in the late seventeenth century who wrote of “the false prophet” Mohammad (Curtis,2007, p 31). The concept of Other was created by Christian theologians for them, the “Other”was infidel, the Muslim. Despite changing images of Islam, it was generally regarded as“theologically false, and as the basis of a hostile, different and dangerous civilizations” (Curtis,2007, p 31). This led to theological dispute among the theologians and rulers of Orthodox andByzantine empires which continue seeing Islam as a threat. The Christians received anotherchallenging situation when Ottoman Empire advance into Europe,and Turkey became equatedwith Islam in the seventeenth century. Islamic countries were seen as a military, political andreligious threat (Curtis, 2007, p 32). One such example is quoted by John Milton in his poemParadise Lost. Milton has compared, “the Ottoman ruler anxious to conquer Christendom withSatan”. He wrote of Satan sitting exalted, “high on a throne, of royal state, which far outshonethe wealth of Ormus (in the Persian Gulf) and India, and of the gorgeous East with riches handshowering on her Kings barbaric pearl and gold” (Curtis, 2007, p 32). Such intimidating remarksabout Muslims and Islam went under critical discussions, in which various scholars argued thatsince previous ages commentary on Islam was based on beliefs that, Islam gives credibility todespotism. Moreover they were critical of those governments who give rise to despotism andwere inclined to an Islamic mission to conquer the world. Commentary of this kind is stillrelevant in contemporary world only their mode of expression has changed.In Modern contemporary world the fear of Muslims has its own idiosyncratic featuresconnecting it with the more recent experiences of colonialism, decolonization, immigration and
  • 9. 9 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)racism. Muhammad, R.Salama, in his book Islam, Orientalism and Intellectual History, hasdiscussed the same issue of Muslim hatred in contemporary world. According to Salama inAmerica today a ruthless war on Islam is taking place. Account of which is evident in the USpresidential campaign in which the then presidential candidate Obama distributed brochuresacross the USA just to let Americans know that he is not Muslim while his opponent JohnMcCain, emphasized the Judeo- Christian nature of his campaign (p 3). Post 9/11 politicalenvironment has reopened the old debate on Islam and the West and has given rise to questionsthat are related to the position of Islam in relationship to modernity and European view of theworld.In a Post-September 11 political world, global research has viewed Islam in terms ofviolence and terrorism. The use of terms like Islamdom, Islamism, political Islam and rise of newummah have been viewed as phenomena facing “western modernity”. Saba Mahmud anEgyptian anthropologist in her work on Islamic revival and feminism in Egypt draws attention toanti-Islamic syndrome she argues that “Islamism frames its object as an eruption of religionoutside the supposedly normal domain of private worship and thus as a historical anomalyrequires explanation if not rectification”(Salama, 2011, p 11). She further argues that there is apowerful support “to strengthen the sense that there is a secular liberal inquisition before whichIslam must be made to confess”. Such studies come as a reaction to current political thoughtabout Islam in a “new world order”. In this world the word global is discursively used underpolitical domains which itself is inextricably linked with the secular modernity of EuropeanEnlightenment (Salama, 2011, p12). Hence it would not be wrong to say that there is a strongpropaganda working under all issues regarding anti Islamisation which control every mediumthrough which they can have a direct access to the general public, including media as well.
  • 10. 10 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)In his introduction to the revised edition of Covering Islam (1997); Said writes that sincethe first appearance of the book fifteen years earlier, Muslims and Islam has been under intensefocus of Western Media, characterized by stereotyping and extreme hostility. “Indeed, Islam‟srole in hijacking and terrorism, descriptions of the ways in which overtly Muslim countries likeIran threaten „us‟ and our way of life, and speculations of latest conspiracy to blow up buildings[…] A corpse of „experts‟ on the Islamic world has grown to prominence, and during a crisisthey are brought out to pontificate on formulaic ideas about Islam on news programs or talkshows”. (Said, 117, p11)According to Said there has been a revival of misrepresentation of non-white people andthis comes to an existence when the religion of every cultural group is misjudged. Said says thatthe level of anti-Islamism in media has gain its heights where by Muslims are portrayed in everyHollywood movie as villains, terrorists, and violent barbarians, obsessed with women, sex andmoney. He cites the example of Hollywood movies Delta Force (1985) which began thistradition (Said, 1997/2002, p589)This paper is one such critical reading it analyzes images of Muslims in movies producedby Western Media. Focus of this research is on the visual images and language usein moviesthatcreates false images. These movies are shown worldwide and have international rating hence it isimportant to scrutinize such movies as they are responsible for spreading race hate amongmasses.1.2: Statement of Problem:
  • 11. 11 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)It is to examine portrayal of Muslims in Hollywood movies in a manner that creates personalhate and prejudice in the heart and mind of international viewers. The consequence of which isfaced by those Muslim communities who are living within United States and Europe.1.3: DelimitationFor this research papera Hollywood movie Argo has been selected to study the role of media inspreading negative consciousness against Muslims.1.4: Significance of StudyThis research will undercover the ideology created by media against Islam. It is important tonote that this misrepresentation has adverse effects on those Muslim minorities who are living inWest. Hence it is a need of time to unhook Western ideologies and their framework and showpeople other side of the story.The importance of a spoken word and use of visual aids cannot bedenied in constructing the thinking processes, social, economic and political ideologies. Thisresearch has highlighted the factor as how the movies propagate these ideologies.1.5: Objectives:This research paper has following objective:To take into account various details of images and dialogues to extract the intendedimpact.To highlight the ideology signified through various scenes of the movie.
  • 12. 12 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)1.6: Research QuestionsCan media be held responsible for shaping public opinions?How had the media treated Islam since 9/11?What impact Western media have on rest of the world?Can Western media be held responsible for propagating Islamophobia?2.1.Literature ReviewSajid (2005, p9) defines Islamophobia that, “Islamophobia is the fear and/or hatred of Islam,Muslims or Islamic culture. Islamophobia can be characterized by the belief that all or mostMuslims are religious fanatics, have violent tendencies towards non-Muslims, reject asdirectly opposed to Islam such concepts as equality, tolerance and democracy. Islamophobiais a new form of racism whereby Muslims, an ethno-religious group, not a race, arenevertheless, constructed as a race. A set of negative assumptions are made of the entiregroup to the detriment of members of that group. During the 1990s many sociologists andcultural analysts observed a shift in racist ideas from one based on skin color to one based onnotions of cultural superiority and otherness.”According to Sajid (2005, p9), Islamophobia is a root word which is derived fromXenophobia and is concerned with culturalism and identity politics. Initially the wordreferred to inhumane conditions suffered by Muslim immigrants to the West, but recently thisword has broadened itself in reference to ostracism suffered by Muslims globally.
  • 13. 13 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)It is this research‟s hypothesis that media is mainly responsible for propagatingIslamophobia. In order to view this according to theories it needs an application of matrix oftheories. A brief discussion of these theories is given below.2.2. Marxist TheoryAccording to Fourie (2001, P121) the political economy is an umbrella term for all those theoriesand analytical approaches which have the purpose of understanding how economic and politicalrelationships, interests and affiliations determine the functioning of social institutions (includingthe media as a social institution), and the impact or lack of impact of these relationships an socialtransformation and development. In terms Marxist theory, it is believed that all means ofproduction, including media production determines the nature of a society and that the economyis the best of all social structures, including institutions and ideas. (Fourie, 2001, p122)According to this theory those people who are at higher strata of society have theauthority to control the means of production, their sole purpose is to make profit out of it withouttaking into consideringthe worst possible effects. In addition, Fourie writes that the economicand political control of the media determines the content and thus the ideological power of themedia.“By ideological power we mean the power (and means) to form, direct and influence thethinking of people. This power is mainly vested in those who own the media and who have thefinancial means to own and manage the media” (Fourie, 2001, p122).The global media trends seems to be one that is dominated by political agendas as well asprofit making. This follows in the footsteps of trends set by First World Western countries where
  • 14. 14 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)profit motives direct the business, where the media is controlled by a small group ofentrepreneurs whose primary focus lies in generating capitals (Lewis, 2005).The small elite capitalist groups worldwide exercise this power in carefully selecting thefootage and information they wanted the masses to consume (Lewis, 2005). According to Fourie(2001, p123), the concept of power is central to the critical power economy. Thompson (as citedin Fourie, 2001, p123) distinguishes between four types of power: economic, political, coerciveand symbolic. The latter that is symbolic is the real and potential power vested in all culturalinstitutions such as the church, education and media. These institutions possess the power toinfluence people‟s thinking and behavior. They produce forms of expressions that guide peopleto understand and think about the world in certain ways. According to Fourie (2001, p136) theunderlying assumption that is made in terms of Marxist capitalist theory, is that economicownership leads to the control of content that promotes the interest of the ruling class at theexpense of masses.2.3. Ideology and ImagesMikolaj Sobocinski (n.d) gives a detailed account of how images present ideologies in his thesis‘Ideology in Images – WeareBeingFramed (Analysis of Press Photography, Film Posters andWW2 Propaganda Posters). He says that images are as much filled with meaning as words sinceboth of them can be perceived just like language and work as a sign for communicating(Sobocinski, n.d: 22). A sign is divided into signifier and signified which leads to multiple levelsof interpretations. A single sign may contain a number of varying meanings that are culturespecific. It depends on the choice of the reader the signified meaning they want to extract from
  • 15. 15 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)the image. A picture can be talked of presenting meaning in a more precise manner because ofthe multiple elements (signs) involved in its constriction.Claude Levi-Strauss, who was the follower of Saussure, supported the concept of binaryoppositions which means that signs can be defined in relation to other signs in their system. Hefurther said that we understand and conceptualise things in their opposing categories. Everyculture has its own code of values on the basis of which the individuals develop their perceptionof the world. This is the reason that interpretation of a message differs among the membersbelonging to different cultures (Sobocinski, n.d: 22). Umberto Eco introduced a new concept ofsub-cultural codes such as national, traditional, hegemonic, due to which members of the samesociety might interpret similar information through different set of codes. This theory of sub-cultural codes forms the basis for interpreting content with implicit ideology at its basis(Sobocinski, n.d: 23-4).Sobocinski (n.d) mentions that Stuart Hall talks about the reflective or mimetic approachwhen meaning is inherent within the object, person, idea, event etc. The fundamental concept ofthis approach was that pictures are reflection of the world. Barthes challenged this reasoning andstated that meaning is supplied by the reader which is the constructivist approach. As Hall (n.d)exclaims that things themselves do not contain any meanings rather it is the individual memberswho use representational system of signs and codes to build meaning around things. This gradualprocess of manipulating meaning establishes a thought in a natural way and it becomes a part ofour cognitive system. This all finally takes the form of a myth which becomes a kind of obstaclein our understanding as by then we have been „framed‟ in a particular thought pattern. This ishow ideology and mythology play upon our mind in an invisible way (Sobocinski, n.d: 27).
  • 16. 16 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)Cultural messages are usually ideologies, says Althusser, which explain how things workin the world around us. It relates to the shared knowledge among individuals of the society whichexists about their sheared beliefs. An image may succeed in creating it intended meaning to thereader whose understanding is majorly formed by the myths and ideologies (Sobocinski, n.d: 28).Sobocinski (n.d) mentions Althusser (n.d) who believes that we always live with someideology making choices between the various set of beliefs available to us. It is an inescapablephenomenon whether we choose to belong to the dominant, negotiated, or opposing ideology,but it is a significant display of cognitive abilities (Sobocinski, n.d: 29).After this, Sobocinski (n.d) shifts the focus on the advertisements produced in the mediaand talks how they manipulate the information and represent certain ideas as they would fix withthe ideologies of the audiences and attract them.2.4. SemioticsSemiotics is one such term that was initiated by Charles Sanders Peirce which developed asinfluenced from Saussure‟s concept of sign (Das, 2010: 117). There are some basic conventionsthrough which the signs convey meaning. Peirce divides signs into three distinct categoriesnamed as iconic, indexical, and symbolic. The iconic sign is the one which can be observed asactually resembling what it signifies (William, n.d: para 4). There is true imitation of the sharedcharacteristics between the sign and its signified (Chandler, n.d). The example can be taken ofthe similarity between the portrait and the person who is depicted in the picture, onomatopoeia,metaphors, dubbed film sound tracks etc.The indexical sign is indicator of the signified by virtueof some relation based on the cause and effect factor (Das, 2010: 117). Thus, the link betweenthe sign and the signified is not arbitrary; rather there is a logical connection (Chandler, n.d).
  • 17. 17 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)Smoke is an indicator of fire, a finger pointing in some particular direction, pulse rate etc. are theexamples where signs hint to something else of which they are the cause or effect.The relation ofa symbolic with its signified is based on social and conventional basis and it has to be learntsince it does not come in naturally. For example, the gesture of shaking hands is taken as asymbol of meeting or parting in different cultures, a red traffic signal usually indicates „stop‟(Das, 2010: 118).Daniel Chandler‟s (n.d) Semiotics for Beginners is a complete account of all the conceptsrelevant to semiotics including the major ideas proposed by the semioticians. One of the mostsignificant phenomena that are studied in detail in semiotics is that of denotation andconnotation. These two terms explain the relationship between the signifier and the signified andthere are denotative signifieds as well as the connotative signifieds (Chandler, n.d: para 1).Denotation is usually referred to as the literal or dictionary meaning, obvious or commonmeaning of a thing/sign. Chandler mentions of Erwin Panofsky (1970) who is an art historianstates that denotative meaning of an image can be interpreted by any individual form any cultureat any time (p.51-3). Connotation is associated to socio-cultural and personal interpretationwhich depends on the age, class, gender, ethnicity and other such factors (Chandler, n.d: para 3).Barthes wrote ‘The Photography Message’ (1961) and ‘The Rhetoric of the Image’(1964) where he commented that photographs can be analysed to extract the denotative andconnotative meaning. This idea was furthered by Fiske (1982) who exclaimed that denotationinvolves the things that are photographed while connotation refers to the dimension of how it isdone (p. 91). The denotational meaning is better agreed upon by the members belonging to sameculture whereas interpretation of connotations is aided by the cultural codes to which the
  • 18. 18 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)individual can access (Chandler, n.d: para 6). By using a different signifier, the connotationalmeaning can be changed altogether which can be understood as using similar kind of terms fordifferently intended interpretations such as „strikes‟ vs. „disputes‟ or „management offer‟ vs.„union demands‟ (Chandler, n.d: para 9).
  • 19. 19 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)METHODOLOGY3.1. ApproachThis approach employs Semiotic Analysis under the broad field of Critical DiscourseAnalysis. Semiotics in the contemporary era is being studied in relation to the medium orgenre, which means that the contemporary semioticians are not just merely concerned withthe process of communication, but how meanings are made and how reality is constructedand maintained. (Chandler, 2009 ). John Sturrock defined semiotics as a study concernedwith the meanings of signs (1986).Semiotics is used in the textual analysis and Chandlerdefines texts as any verbal, nonverbal or both mediums (2009). The word medium in thecurrent scenario is being used for broad categories such as speech, writing, print, television,radio, magazines, books, photographs, films and records (Chandler, 2009).3.2. Research DesignThis study is qualitative in nature. Qualitative approaches are processes that engage theset of extensive data in order to get insights into processes of interest also data analysis includesthe coding of the data and production of a verbal synthesis(Gay, 2005). The underlying principlefor the use of qualitative inquiry is the research based belief that the action is significantlyinfluenced by the setting in which it occurs (Gay, 2005)
  • 20. 20 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)3.3. VariablesIn the present study, the theoretical framework presented by Roland Barthes has beenused for the data analysis. This theory by Barthes is twofold that discusses:Denotation and Connotation:Barthes defines denotation as the representation of simple reality,and connotation as the ideas and values which are represented through that simple reality and theway in which they are represented and expressed (Leeuwen, 2005).The notion of myth is a key concept in Barthes works; he defines myths as a system ofcommunication, which is a message and is not explained „by the object of its message, but by theway in which it utters this message‟ (Barthes, 1998). Myths are termed as the dominanthegemonic connotations which are found to be associated with the material and socialphenomena (Lacey, 1998).Barthes was of the opinion that ordinary readers digested these myths without anyresistance because „the signifier and the signified have, in his eyes, a natural relationship‟(Strinati, 2004).Barthes makes reference to the tools which help myths in furthering theiraims andagendas which are as follows:The inoculation: Inoculation is a form through which bigger evil is hidden by acknowledgingthe small evil.
  • 21. 21 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)The privation of history: Barthes is of the opinion that privation of history removes every traceof history from the object. Hence people are made to believe in the constructed reality which isdevoid of its history.Identification of the other with the self: Myths shun out differences and try to look up for waysto transform differences in to sameness. If something is unique in nature and is beyond the scopeof assimilation myth makers ensure to detach all seriousness from it, hence educing it merely tothe level of a spectacle. Reality is presented in a generalized form which further pushes the mythmaker away from reality.Reality is shown in a generalized setting. it is devoid of any seriousnessonly those things are taken into lime light which are helpful in creating the intended image, otherthings are either ignored or forgotten.The statement of fact: Barthes is of the view that human speech can be of two types, active orreflexive. Active language is based in reality, while reflexive language is detached from realityand is more generalized in nature. ( Kudryashow, 2010).3.4. SampleA movie has been selected from post-9/11 productions. Best Picture award winningmovie, Argo directed by Ben Affleck with its present rating 7.9/10 from 199,189 viewers 7.5/10.Argo is based on the real life events in which a mission was conducted by CIA official in Iran torescue Americans hostages from Iranian custody during the 1979 hostage crisis. The movieestablishes Islamophobic elements among the recipients. In this movie specific elements havebeen encoded with the help of linguistic and visual images which manipulates the mind ofgeneral public by showing only half of the truth. Hence it is highly important to show the users
  • 22. 22 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)how they are being manipulated by the ideologies through the use of discourse and images inelectronic media.3.5. Data AnalysisThe data analysis will be done with the help of the model presented by Barthes. At thefirst level, specific scenes from each movie would be extracted which are showing negativeimages of the Muslims. An important emphasis would be laid on the use of visual images anddialogues uttered by the characters. Special analysis would be laid on imagery, setting, plot,characters and symbols with the help of tools mentioned above. At the second level, stress wouldbe given on over all contexts that are historical, political and cultural which are contributing topromote the overall ideology. At the third level, an overall commentary would be made onfreedom of expression and religious tolerance which involve documentaries and movie reviews.4.0. Findings4.1. Semiotic Analysis of a Movie
  • 23. 23 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)The movie chosen for Semiotic analysis using Barthe tools is Argo. The movie is basedon true events that took place in 1979 a year of Iranian revolution; when an angry mob of Iranianstudents attack American Embassy and took 52 Americans as a hostage for 444 days. Sixhostages tried to escape the situation and took refuge in Canadian ambassador‟s home. A secretoperation was conducted by a CIA officer who posed as a producer of a non-existing movie andsneaked in Iranian territory to rescue the hostages from the shackles of deadly Iranians.Moreover there is a short history of Iran at the beginning of a movie which talks about traditionalmonarchy of Shah Pahlavi‟s dynasty and its impact on Iran as a whole. It also talks about Shah‟sruthless era of torture and his exile by a Shia cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. In a movie there arethree signifiers a CIA agent, American hostages and an angry mob of Iranian people.4.2. Denotation and Connotation:On a surface level it has been shown that people of Iran want an Islamic revolution whichwill completely sweep all western ideologies from their country. There are group of Islamiststudents and militants who are waiting outside American embassy demanding the return of Shahwho recently has gone to America for his cancer treatment, after being exiled by his people. Anangry mob in a racket is chanting slogans in Farsi which is not understandable by viewers anddeliberately not translated1, on the other hand there are people holding playcards and poster ofAyatollah Khomieni. A man is standing on a roof top holding American flag which is being seton fire2. These protesters suddenly break into the Embassy office and make most of theAmericans captives. Some of the men are holding guns, among them there are some women who1Appendix (Argo, 6m: 65s)2Appendix (Argo, 2m: 48s).
  • 24. 24 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)are wearing black veils. Those Americans who escape went outside the Embassyunnoticed3.They take refuge in Canadian Ambassador‟s house from where they are evacuated bya CIA officer. On a connotative level the values and ideas these signifiers express are as follows:A CIA officer reflects American imperialist power and its carefully constructedideologies which have put every third world country in a state of chaos and confusion. Americabeing a core creator of all hegemonic groups in the whole world acts as a silent predator in amovie. From the distribution of power to economic crisis America has played a vital role inIranian revolution. Unfortunately its role in a movie has been portrayed in a positive light bygiving more focus to the American hostages who represents civilized American citizens withrational qualities. On the other hand people of Iran signifies; ruthlessness, destruction,devastation, criminality and inhumanity4which is prevalent in an initial scene where a man witha knife is stabbing a stuffed statue. His actions generalize the whole Iranians as strong minded,aggressive Nation ready to take action without any second thought 5.4.3. Notion of Myth:In the mythological order of signification the aforementioned signs reflect an importantracist and Islamophobic stereotypes about Iranian revolution which in reality had the deepermeaning for the Muslims living in Iran6. The revolution was a mass popular uprising against the3Appendix (Argo 10m: 34s).4Appendix (Argo,5m:04s).5Appendix (Argo, 3:00).6Appendix (Argo,1m:52s)
  • 25. 25 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)megalomaniac Shah who was backed by American forces. During his reign he tried to westernizeIran and spent almost half of his country‟s economy on buying American weaponry with an ideaof making his military a resilient one. He also established a secret police Savak trained by CIAspecial agents. The Savak police used to arrest innocent people, who were regarded as agents ofKhomeini working against Shah. On the other hand the Islamists, who ultimately took controlover Iran, after Shah went to exile, were on the right wing of the revolution which was clearlyignored by the movie makers. Instead they treat every Iranian as a religious fanatic screaming inan un translated Farsi and creating havoc to their own country.4.4. Privation of history:The director and producer Ben Affleck has completely ignored the history and the realcause behind the revolution. The opening sequence of the movie has used story-board likeanimation which explains how a CIA-backed coup overthrew a democratically elected leader,Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 and appointed Shah Reza Pahlavi as a new king7.This sequelhas completely ignored the background story that raised people of Iran to such an extent thatthey end up in a revolution. The Shah ruled Iran from September 1941 to February 1979. Hewas considered to be a regal, autocratic and over ambitious ruler. The Islamic Revolutiontoppled the Shah and brought Ayatollah on top of the line. It was the first religious revolutionin the history which was being televised. For the first time the world saw power of politicalIslam to change the societies. The Shah became Shah because of his father Reza khan the firstPahlavi Shah. During World War II Iran was occupied by the Allied powers Britain and theSoviet Union. Reza Khan soon abdicated his powers and left Iran. On 16thof September 19417Appendix (Argo, 1:05).
  • 26. 26 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)the crown prince entered Iran and took oath to rule Iran as a constitutional monarch. Hisdominance was challenged by a strong nationalist Dr Mossadegh. He raised the issue of Iran‟soil, which was being used by Anglo Iranian British Oil Company in exchange of royalties. InAnglo Iranian company British government hold a major share. By the 1950‟s nearly 10% ofthe world‟s oil came through Anglo Iranian oil refineries. Mossadegh raised the issue ofnationalizing oil refineries. A bill nationalizing Oil Company was immediately passed. In 1953the British and U.S. spy agencies i.e. CIA and MI6 planned a military operation by the name ofOperation Ajax which deposed Mossadegh and helped Shah to regain his power (BBCdocumentary). The history shows that it was a total foreign invasion in Iranian territory thatrose people to safeguard their rights. The revolution in this sense had a right meaning in itwhich has been portrayed unjustly in the movie.4.5. Inoculation:Inoculation is a technique that is used to highlight only darker aspects of any issue or event. Itfocuses more on minor evils of society and conceals the truth behind them by hiding bigger evils.Ben Affleck has also used this technique against Iran .With the help of images8he has tried todraw an idea that defines Iranian nation that has wronged them in making decision to create anIslamic Revolution. A scene where the Muslim masses outside the embassy are depicted inmostly wide shots as an undifferentiated, unintelligible crowd, the moment a camera goes inside8Appendix (Argo,4m:05s)
  • 27. 27 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)the embassy and meet American characters, it get close-ups, humanity, individualized charactersand dialogue one can understand. Throughout the film, Iran is depicted as a terrifying place withbarbed wires, where traitors are hung in public and menacing Muslim mobs lurk around everycorner, ready to confront the protagonists each time they venture outside 9The film is particularly selective in using subtitles to humanize certain characters and notothers. A young female servant in the home of the Canadian ambassador where the Americancharacters take shelter is given a name and translated dialogue. When Americans speak Farsi,their words are almost always translated10The political chants and banners that might help usunderstand the demands of the protestingcrowds are almost never translated.More over in Iranian setting red and black color are quite prevalent. Women are wearingblack veils connoting mysteriousness and fear, and men are holding placards with red color inthem which refers to war, anger, and despair. Moreover red color brings images to theforeground. It stimulates people to make hasty decisions which according to the film maker are abig hamartia of Iranian people. By introducing red color in Iranian setting, film maker has triedto create a phobic image in the mind of the recipient that there is a constant danger lurkingbehind. Hence the viewer‟s get repellent to Iranian setting.On the other hand when scene changes to American setting, a loud chanting voice ofprotesters transforms into serene quietness. There are cards made by children wishing safe returnof hostages with yellow ribbons hanging on the wall. Yellow ribbons are used by the film makeras an image that attracts the viewers and gives positive feeling. Yellow color is associated with9Appendix (Argo, 5:37)10Appendix (Argo, 20:26).
  • 28. 28 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)joy, happiness, mental and intellectual energy which shows that American citizens possess all thehealthy qualities 11.Hence all these things refer to the silent protest of American citizens againstIranians and it depicts that in such a tense situation they are still behaving in a quite maturemanner.4.6. Identification of the other with the selfIn „Argo‟ Reality is presented in a generalized form which further pushes the myth makeraway from reality. To achieve this [pressure cooker situation], Argo also forgoes historicalaccuracy, and should be taken as a dramatization of real events for pure entertainment value.„Argo‟ isn‟t been a pure play rather the truth is that the hostage rescue it portrays wasn‟t veryeventful. There are three events that has pictured in Argo that in reality never happened.Firstly, market clip12that has been added by Ben Affleck is only to dramatize the hostagecrisis and to increase rating of his movie. Halfway through the film, the American group is outand about in a local marketplace pretending to be a film crew. Here, a very tense scene takesplace, where their lives in the bazaar appear to be in peril. None of this actually happened, ofcourse.He just added this event to show behavior of common people in Iran. In other words it‟sonly the Ideological Campaign known as to be Islamophobia which is against Muslims toexamine the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments in the West through production ofmovie like „Argo‟.11Appendix (Argo, 12:50).12Appendix (Argo, 1hr:10m)
  • 29. 29 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)Second event that has been injected tactfully inmovie13When the group is finally exitingIran, they face a very jittery encounter with the boarding officials at the airport. It is also anexcellent scene that displays how the love of cinema knows no borders, yet it was another piecethat was completely invented to give misconception about Iranian army that lack common senseand can be trapped easily by making false stories as well as to show their conservative approachtowards westernization or liberty.Third scene14,When the group is finally on the plane, and very close to tasting freedom,they are chased by the Iranian military that is ready to shoot their aircraft down. As you mayhave suspected from the formulaic nature of this rather annoying finale, it was also anothersegment in the film that was entirely fabricated. In fact, Mark Lijek, one of the six actual peoplerescued during the operation, had said“The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at usand we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we weretaken to the US ambassador‟s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward15.”4.7. The Statement of fact:Language is an important element through which ideas can be shaped. It is a power ofdiscourse that imprints certain ideologies in people‟s mind. The use of words in Argo has beencarefully constructed to give the intended meaning to its viewers. Initially we see that notranslation has been given to the Iranian people who are working in a revolution. This signifiesthat the movie maker has deliberately broken the contact of Iranians from rest of the world, in13Appendix (Argo1hr:31min)14Appendix (Argo, 1hr:41s )15http://iranian.com/posts/view/post/8998
  • 30. 30 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)order to push back their just cause of having an Islamic State with no external threats. On theother hand American hostages have been indorsed with good speaking skills. They are fortunatecreatures who can speak two languages at a time i.e. Farsi and English. Unlike Iranians they aregiven special favors by the film maker, when they utter words in Farsi they are immediatelytranslated into English with subtitles. By applying this technique the filmmakers have turn thetable towards American hostages. This shows that the film maker has given voice to onlyAmerican cause marginalizing and completely ignoring the other group. More over Americansdialogue and use of words have imperative power in them. They want to exert their authority byusing strong derogatory terms and abusive language. In a scene when the protagonist enters StateDepartment, there is a voice in the background; this voice is of the then American presidentJimmy Carter. In his speech he is saying that “Actions of Iran have shocked the civilized world.They may not understand what their ordeal means to their countrymen. At this nation, theirnation is out raged and one cannot really know what it is like inside the prison that was once ourembassy” 16The use of words in President‟s speech indicates that Iranians belong to anuncivilized world and their cause has no rational meaning in it. They have broken all rules of lawand there manners in giving voice to their cause are quite rigorous. Moreover his words havefurther put Iran at periphery by declaring Embassy as a prison a place with no exit.Another scene which shows the use of speech is that of Iranian setting, where a group ofIranians are having a public conference in which they are demanding Shah‟s return. Speech isdelivered by an Iranian woman in English she says that, “The US has failed to defend humanrights it does not only failed to defend them it has violated them for all nations. We demandextradition of a man who for 47 years with the US support has killed month old babies in the16Appendix (Argo, 14:00).
  • 31. 31 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)arms of their mothers” 17Soon after this speech a radio speech by American journalist has beengiven which states that the Iranian students have threatened the US that “If the Americans triedmilitary force to rescue the hostages the students will kill them all and blow up the embassy”18.In the above two statements there is a vast degree of contrast which shows Iranians under thenegative light and fulfills the desired objects In another instance when CIA officer Tony Mendezwent to the Hollywood director of science fiction movies John Chambers, and shares his viewsabout the fake movie, Chamber says that “the target audience would hate it” and the targetaudience are “people with eyes”. Here he has indirectly referred to Iranian militants who wouldlater on act as a target audience but instead of having eyes they would be fooled by the CIAofficer and his group of hostages who will leave Iran under their noses as easily one canimagine.. In a nut shell we can say that the film makers have very tactfully used the tool oflanguage in portraying their cause of national identity and secrecy of CIA agency in a positivelight.Suggestions:Isal (2001) writes that the media needs to be made more accountable for the messages itdisseminates. She raises a concern that the media are not always made accountable for what theypublish and that there are not enough means to restrain them from inciting prejudice and racialstereotyping. Isla‟s report (2001:11) makes the following recommendations:The government should make sure that the media in general is made more accountablewhen discussing race issues. This means imposing sanctions and making sure that there is17Appendix (Argo, 19:56).18Appendix (Argo, 19:58).
  • 32. 32 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)a “code of conduct” respected by journalists when it comes to discussing race issues, inparticular regarding asylum seeker.Independent monitoring projects and bodies should be set up to ensure that black andminority ethnic groups have a place where they can report any offensive coverage.There should be more minority ethnic group people to commissioning editor andmanagement posts.In a 2002 lecture by Brian Whitaker on Islam and the British Press (in Richardson, 2004:71), hesuggested that in order to improve media coverage on Islam, the public should make the mediamore responsible and accountable. Hence it is important to note that the role of spectators orrecipient is as important as it is in the case of production companies. Before reaching up to anyconclusion it is important to analyze things objectively.Conclusion:In an attempt to understand Islamophobia one needs to understand the fundamental rolethat the media plays in society as a disseminator of information. In the above discussion a briefoverview on Islamophobia has been given which is a fear of Muslim and it has been linked toXenophobia where followers of Islam have fallen victim to threat, attack and insult simplybecause of their religious inclination. In this view electronic media which is a source ofentertainment can be viewed objectively by the people because what they see is a mere reflectionof an illusionistic image far removed from reality, specially constructed to frame minds ofgeneral masses.
  • 33. 33 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)References:David, Lean, & Sam, Speigal. 1962. Lawrence of Arabia. Britain: Horizon Pictures.Daniel, Norman. 1960. Islam And the West: Making of An Image. England: EdinburghUniversity Press.Grant, Heslov & Ben, Affleck. 2012. Argo. North America: Smokehouse Pictures.Gardner, Rod, Karakasoglu, Yasemin, “Islamophobia in the Media A Response fromMulticultural Education”, Web. Retrieved on March 28, 2013.Islamophobia: A Definition. 2004 Retrieved March 30, 2013 from the World Wide Web:http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/Islamophobia-a-definition.Karim, Karim H, “Islamic Peril: Media and Global Violence”, Montréal: Black Rose,2003,Web, Retrieved on March 28, 2013.Marie, Lisa. 2009. Agent + Image: How the Television Image Destabilizes Identity in TVSpySeries.Massachusetts Institute of technology, Cambridge United States.Malik, Maleiha. 2010. Anti-Muslim Prejudice. USA: Routedge.Said, Edward. 1997. Covering Islam: How the Media and the experts determine how wesee the
  • 34. 34 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)rest of the world. USA: Vantage.Suskind, Ron. 2006. The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of ItsEnemiesSince 9/11. Washington DC: Simon Schuster.APPENDIX1 – Denotation and connotation (6m:65s )
  • 35. 35 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)2- 2:483- 10m:34s
  • 36. 36 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)4- (5m:04s)5-(Argo, 3m:00s)
  • 37. 37 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)6- (1m:52s)
  • 38. 38 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)7-(Argo, 1m:05s)8-(Argo,4:05)9- (Argo, 5m:37s)
  • 39. 39 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)I0- (Argo 20m:26s)11-(12m:50s)
  • 40. 40 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)12-(Argo,1hr:10m)13-1hr: 31m
  • 41. 41 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)14- 1hr 41 s15-(Argo , 14:00)
  • 42. 42 SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF MOVIE (RESEARCH PAPER)16-(Argo,1956)17-(Argo , 19m:58s)
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