Monday, October 22, 2012

Semiotics and Binders Full of Women

Pertaining to Lewis's "Are You Receiving Me?" reading, there were a couple of things that particularly stuck out to me.

One thing was the part in which he states tries to explain semiotics: that "there is no natural relation between a thing (whether that thing is a sound, an image, or the kitchen table) and the meaning of that thing (the concepts we use to understand it)" (159). The example that Lewis uses is that television consumption is a learned behavior. He writes, "watching TV...requires learning and skill. We need to learn both the codes or rules of the world it communicates and the codes/rules of the way it communicates them" (160). I believe that these rituals are so ingrained into our culture that I forget that at one point in time they have to be learned. Anyways, after I read the Lewis reading, I went to the gym where I stared at a television and exercised simultaneously and thought, Wow this is so weird that I know how to watch television and I'm not horribly bored by staring at a box with moving pictures.  

The second thing was Lewis's finding in that "the images and words we select when we decode TV programmes will be based upon the meaning systems available in our heads. This, in turn, forces us to construct different stories" (162-163). This made me think of Mitt Romney's use of the phrase "Binders full of women" during the second presidential debate. While Romney used the phrase to illustrate his desire for equal opportunity for both sexes within his Cabinet, his phrase has been largely taken out of context since the debate. Those who are not well-informed on the context of Romney's use of the phrase would definitely derive a different meaning than those people that actually watched the debate. Moreover, those that come from a feminist point of view, would find Romney's choice of words somewhat offensive in comparison to those that come from, say, a misogynist point of view. Each derives their own meaning depending on the "meaning systems" in their heads.


  1. Both good points to pull out, Christine. We'll talk more about semiotics tomorrow, as well as what "meaning systems" means, but your examples from the gym and from the second presidential debate were helpful! When you really start to think about sign systems and how arbitrary things like words are, you do get that crazy feeling of representational instability--e.g. "Why DO I call this thing a tree? And not a grob?"

  2. Lewis mainly critiqued on the limits of traditional research methods used for television effects on the audience. One of his main point is that how people interpret, or decode, the messages send by television programs can be shaped by their social context. Everybody can read a message differently. The process of collecting what people get from a specific message is already very difficult, taking the extra step into analyzing why they interpret it in this specific way is almost impossible. I have never realized how complicated the process of media effect approach is until I took this class, and the more we go into, I discover there are even more branches that need to be considered.