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Literary Criticism. Class #3. “Semiotics, Structuralism, and Television” from Channels of Discourse (1996) by Ellen Seiter. I. The Sign (pp. 138-143). Saussure. Charles S. Peirce. 1839-1914, American philosopher

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  • I. The Sign

    (pp. 138-143)



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Charles S. Peirce

  • 1839-1914, American philosopher

  • “A sign is either an icon, an index, or a symbol” (Peirce on Signs, 239).


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“icon”

  • Where the sign resembles its referent, e.g. a picture of a ship, a map, a road-sign for falling rocks


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“index”

  • Where the sign is associated . . . with its referent

  • They rely on a material connection between signifier and signified

  • e.g. smoke as a sign of fire, clouds as a sign of rain, symptoms of a disease, photographs


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“symbolic”

  • Where the sign has an arbitrary relation to its reference, e.g. language


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Group Activity

  • Apply Peirce’s theory of signs to FIVE examples below. What kinds of signs are they?










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Food for Thought

  • What are some of the similarities and differences between Saussure and Peirce?


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  • II. television, no less than with its fictional counterpart, we are dealing not with referents but with signs” (142). Denotation and Connotation (pp. 143-145)


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  • Please review our discussion on Barthes in Class #2. television, no less than with its fictional counterpart, we are dealing not with referents but with signs” (142).

  • Seiter argues that “One of the goals of semiotic analysis of television is to make us conscious of the use of connotation on television, so that we realize how much of what appears naturally meaningful on TV is actually historical, changeable, and culturally specific” (144).


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  • Seiter’s examples: television, no less than with its fictional counterpart, we are dealing not with referents but with signs” (142).

    • The color of light (pink for femaleness, white for goodness)

    • Music (minor chords and slow tempos signifying melancholy, solo instrumentals signifying loneliness)

    • Photographic technique (soft focus signifying romance, hand-held cameras signifying on-the-spot documentary)


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  • III. television, no less than with its fictional counterpart, we are dealing not with referents but with signs” (142). Combination and Codes (pp.145-146)


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  • IV five channels Structuralism

    (pp. 147-154)


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  • Seiter cites Hodge and Tripp’s analysis of five channels Fangface as an illustration of the structuralist approach.

  • “Hodge and Tripp argue that cartoons—widely considered on of the lowest forms of television—are surprisingly complex.” (147)


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Fangface five channels

Fangs

Whenever Fangs sees the moon, a picture of the moon, or something that resembles the moon, he transforms into FANGFACE. He is unaware that he is FANGFACE. Sometimes when he changes back, he remembers something that he did as FANGFACE, but he just dismisses it as a weird dream that he had. He is a coward and runs whenever there's danger.


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  • “The figures of the werewolf in literature, animated television, and commercial culture and find that the nature/culture division, or the blurring of the two, is a central characteristic of children’s media.” (151)Fangface and Splinter (who is simultaneously a Japanese Ninja master and a rat) in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are products of different historical moments and different racial ideologies. Does the use of binary opposition nature/culture to analyze these cartoons obscure important differences by being too universalist?” (151)


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  • In conclusion, Seiter suggests that we think of semiotics and structuralism “as a kind of useful exercise for making sure that we know our object before venturing out into other models of study” such as “questions regarding audience activity and the play of television as discourse” (153).


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  • The End and structuralism “as a kind of useful exercise for making sure that we know our object before venturing out into other models of study” such as “questions regarding audience activity and the play of television as discourse” (153).


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