Thursday, May 31, 2012

Semiotics Analysis

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In our modern culture, a societies opinions, beliefs and understanding of their environment is shaped heavily by the information that is presented to them through the mass media. One of the many mediums that the media use as a tool to inform the public is visual art such as the political cartoons that appear in many newspapers on a daily basis. On the surface these cartoons seem to be depicting the illustrated individuals in a comical manor and scenario that is relevant to their current real life situation. However within these cartoons lie many different messages that are presented to the viewer, these messages can either influence the viewers opinion or provoke thought on the topic presented. In this essay I will use a semiotic analysis to breakdown the myth, discourse and ideology evident in three political cartoons, taken from The Australian newspaper publication on differing dates. After I have analysed each text I will then compare the strengths and weaknesses of semiotic analysis and content analysis.

The first cartoon I will analyse was taken from The Australian on the 10th of May 2000; the political figures used are British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, The President of the U.S.A George Bush and the Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The first and most obvious use of mythical representation that I noticed in this cartoon was John Howard being drawn wearing a pair of overalls which are work clothes that are commonly worn by tradesmen and blue collar workers, he is holding a pouring canister which is presumably full of oil, that he pours onto the shanks that are holding the two carriages together. The carriage that he occupies (emblazoned with a picture of Australia and the Australian flag) goes hand in hand with the clothes he is wearing, it is smaller and far more humble than the larger luxurious one, which is occupied by George Bush and Tony Blair. His status in this cartoon is being diminished as mythically he is being represented as a middle class worker as opposed to Bush and Blair who are illustrated wearing business suits and ties, appropriate attire for a leader of a country. They are seen occupying a much larger prestigious train carriage, which is emblazoned with the American flag. Inside the carriage Tony Blair is holding up the British flag with a manic look on his face. The positioning and size of each of the countries flags are indicators of each nations status in the cartoon, the United States are obviously the most powerful as they are represented by the size and might of the train powering along at high speed, England are second at the helm as Tony Blair is with Bush in the main carriage of the United States positioned high above John Howard. Meanwhile, Australia are considerably the least powerful below both Bush and Blair as the tiny humble carriage representative of Australia as a nation is being towed behind the juggernaut of the U.S.A, and our leader John Howard servicing the train as a middle class man of low importance for President Bush.

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To look even deeper into mythical representations of this cartoon you could look not at the characters but at where they are. They are on a train, mythically a train means to use power, speed and size. We also know that a train can only travel on one set path when it is joined to the train tracks. Once a train is moving on those tracks it is extremely hard to stop and to make it veer in direction or derail. Take a closer look at the shanks or links that are joining the two carriages. They look more like boxing gloves locked in a grip than metal links that would be joining two trains. Mythically boxing gloves signify to use anger, aggression and violence, why then would the artist draw them into the cartoon? This is a good example of how artists use symbolism to try to communicate a message in their work.

The mythical representations presented in this cartoon indicate that Australia’s recent frequent involvement with England and America in the coalition of the willing was in fact very minor. It conveys the message that our leader John Howard attempts to curry favour with Bush and Blair so that Australia can also be considered in the same league (train carriage) as England and America.

The ideology of this cartoon is insignificance and unimportance.

This cartoon was taken from The Australian on the th of May, 2000, it depicts President George Bush speaking to secretary of state, Colin Powell, iconic talk show host Oprah Winfrey and a legion of military officers.

In this cartoon we see President George Bush wearing a white collard business shirt with a red tie, however over that he seems to be wearing a black leather jacket and sporting blue jeans instead of trousers, his face has dark smears on it. This is hardly the right attire for a President or leader of any country. This dress code is more so synonymous with the stereotype of a street tough from the early sixties. His speech and tact also purveys a certain roughness and unintelligence in him when he sates “I reckon the weapons of mass destruction have gone from Iraq to Syria to Iran and on to Korea” he sounds more like a thug trying to track down someone who has crossed him rather than a President trying to maintain order and safety within the world. He is standing in front of a desk that has only an oversized globe of the world and the American flag on it, scribbled all over the globe are pirate ships, serpents and arrows going every which way. The globe looks more as though it has been used by a child to play games on rather than world leaders who have used it to track weapons of mass destruction. Colin Powell, Bush’s Secretary of State is dressed in a suit, with arms folded, looking at President Bush with a cynical expression on his face, representing Bush’s peers. Iconic talk show host Oprah Winfrey who represents the public opinion is also sneering at President Bush. This example of the use of myth to gain response from the viewer is by far the most obvious in the cartoon. In contrast to Powell and Winfrey the military officers in the background are all exact duplicates of each other, their decorations on their shoulders are illustrated more so as spikes than honour awards. Mythically this signifies to us that they are more so henchmen than liberators of the peace.

The symbolization and mythical representation in this cartoon connotes that the public opinion of George Bush is in decline and that the support from his peers such as Colin Powel is sceptical. It also displays his unquestionable military power and represents him as an unintelligent aggressive leader.

The ideology being presented here is political incompetence.

The third and final cartoon I have chosen to analyse was taken from The Australian on the 11th of May 2000. The characters depicted are A.T.S.I.C chairman Geoff Clarke, and the Governor General Peter Hollingworth.

There are not as many mythical connotations in this cartoon as ones earlier, however they are still evident. The first one that I picked up was that the Governor General had a much larger glass of beer than Geoff Clarke the chairman of A.T.S.I.C. This could signify to a viewer a mixture of things, firstly that he has more money than Geoff Clarke, secondly that he is a heavier drinker, thirdly that he is more powerful than Geoff Clarke. The positioning of the Governor General also indicates power as he is seated on the higher side of the table.

Another interesting example of using mythical cultural representations is the colour of Peter Holingworth’s suit. The colour purple in western cultures is associated by many with homosexuality, as it is the international gay colour. It is interesting then that this would be used when illustrating the Governor General when he is in the midst of a child molestation scandal, the colour purple is also less masculine. Clarke is depicted looking much scruffier than the Governor General and in darker more masculine clothes.

This cartoon connotes that the Governor general has power but also questions his masculinity and sexuality.

The cartoon essentially connotes masculinity and sexuality.

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