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Television: Semiotics and Story Structure


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From a class at Montana Tech.

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Television: Semiotics and Story Structure

  1. 1. Television Semiotics and Story Structure From Fiske’s Television Culture , Chandler ’ s Semiotics for Beginners and McKee’s Story .
  2. 2. The Pressure Cooker of Television and Cultural Codes <ul><li>Incorporating the basics of semiotics: </li></ul><ul><li>Signifier, Signified, Sign </li></ul><ul><li>Symbolic, Iconic, Indexical signs </li></ul><ul><li>Denotation and connotation </li></ul><ul><li>Metaphor and representation </li></ul><ul><li>Codes, ideology, demographic </li></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>“ Semiotics” </li></ul><ul><li>The study of signs, representation (simulation/metaphor), codes, and emergent ideologies. This provides a model of understanding of the meaning of a cultural artefact or event. </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  4. 4. <ul><li>“ Signs” </li></ul><ul><li>Signifier : any material thing that signifies, e.g., words on a page, a facial expression, an image. </li></ul><ul><li>Signified : the concept that a signifier refers to. </li></ul><ul><li>Together, the signifier and signified make up the </li></ul><ul><li>Sign : the smallest unit of meaning. Anything that can be used to communicate (or to tell a lie). </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  5. 5. <ul><li>“ Signs” </li></ul><ul><li>Symbolic (arbitrary) signs : signs where the relation between signifier and signified is culturally specific, e.g., most words. </li></ul><ul><li>Iconic signs : signs where the signifier resembles the signified, e.g., a picture. </li></ul><ul><li>Indexical Signs : signs where the signifier is caused by the signified, e.g., smoke signifies fire. </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  6. 6. <ul><li>“ Denotation and Connotation” </li></ul><ul><li>Denotation : the most basic or literal meaning of a sign, e.g., the word &quot;rose&quot; signifies a particular kind of flower. </li></ul><ul><li>Connotation : the secondary, cultural meanings of signs; or &quot;signifying signs,&quot; signs that are used as signifiers for a secondary meaning, e.g., the word &quot;rose&quot; signifies passion. </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  7. 7. <ul><li>“ Metaphor/Representation/Simulation” </li></ul><ul><li>These are all a kind of connotation where in one sign is substituted for another with which it is closely associated and used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity. </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  8. 8. <ul><li>“ Ideology” </li></ul><ul><li>Ideological codes work to organize the other codes into a congruent, coherent set of meanings. </li></ul><ul><li>Serve the dominant interests of society, eg patriarchy, capitalism, race, class, materialism. </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  9. 9. <ul><li>“ Codes” </li></ul><ul><li>Codes : a combination of semiotic systems, a supersystem, that function as general maps of meaning, belief systems about oneself and others, which imply views and attitudes about how the world is and/or ought to be. Codes are where semiotics and social structure and values connect. </li></ul>Basics of Semiotics
  10. 10. Television Culture (1985) by John Fiske <ul><li>Television: A bearer/provoker of meanings and pleasures. </li></ul><ul><li>Culture: The generation and circulation of these meanings/pleasures within society. </li></ul><ul><li>Television as culture is a crucial part of our social dynamics. </li></ul>
  11. 11. John Fiske <ul><li>“ Codes of Television” (Fiske’s mini pressure cooker) </li></ul><ul><li>These codes are links between producers, texts, and audiences. </li></ul><ul><li>Agents of intertextuality that interrelate in a network of meanings constituting cultural world. </li></ul><ul><li>Are “slippery and arbitrary.” </li></ul>
  12. 12. John Fiske <ul><li>Camera Work/Lighting: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Mass Media redesign information by replacing the vantage point of the viewer within the frame provided by a cameraperson/journalist photographer.” </li></ul><ul><li>- Lynn Hershman </li></ul>
  13. 13. John Fiske <ul><li>Editing: </li></ul><ul><li>Heroes are given more time and more shots. </li></ul><ul><li>Music: </li></ul><ul><li>Heroes, Major key. Villians, Minor Key. </li></ul>
  14. 14. John Fiske <ul><li>Casting: </li></ul><ul><li>Actors cast to play heroes/villains are people whose appearance is encoded by our social codes. </li></ul><ul><li>Heroes are socially central types who embody the dominant ideology. </li></ul>
  15. 15. John Fiske <ul><li>Setting (Production Design): </li></ul><ul><li>As per mise en scène, good guys, lots of space, bad guys, crowded. Good guys, lush drapery/flowers, bad guys, sharp angles and hard lines. </li></ul><ul><li>Makeup: Lipstick can be seen as merging of ideological codes of morality, attractiveness. </li></ul>
  16. 16. John Fiske <ul><li>“ It is in the aggregate of apparently insignificant encodings that ideology works most efficiently.” </li></ul>
  17. 17. The Year is 1955 – Ideas for Realities to Ideologies <ul><li>The Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies sign the Warsaw Pact giving integration of military, economic and cultural policy between the eight Communist nations. </li></ul><ul><li>Disneyland opens in California on July 17th </li></ul><ul><li>'In God We Trust' is added to all US paper currency </li></ul><ul><li>Fish Fingers are marketed by Bird's Eye </li></ul><ul><li>The first Atomically generated power is used in the US </li></ul><ul><li>Ray Kroc starts the McDonald's fast food restaurant chain. </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;The $64,000 Question&quot; the popular US television game show starts </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;The Mickey Mouse Club&quot; debuts on ABC </li></ul><ul><li>Fallout warnings and fallout shelters commonplace </li></ul>
  18. 18. I Love Lucy Dragnet Ozzie and Harriot
  19. 19. Story Structure from Story, McKee <ul><li>Inciting Incident </li></ul><ul><li>Plot Escalations </li></ul><ul><li>Crisis Decision </li></ul><ul><li>Climax </li></ul><ul><li>Resolution </li></ul>
  20. 20. Safe Conduct (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) Alfred Hitchcock Presents (TV series 1955–1962) 30 min  -  Crime | Drama | Mystery An American journalist meets a soccer star while traveling behind the Iron Curtain, but then is arrested as a suspected smuggler. Director: Jus Addiss Writer: Andrew Solt (teleplay) Stars: Alfred Hitchcock, Claire Trevor and Jacques Bergerac