Posts tagged “semiotics”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • A sociological-framed blog with (like so many others) commentary on images from media and daily life – The sociological imagination is a woefully under-utilized tool. We hope this blog encourages all kinds of people to exercise and develop their sociological imagination and that, between all of us, public discourse will increasingly include a sociological lens with which we can all learn about social processes and mechanisms, critique social inadequacies, and design functional and equitable alternatives.

    We assume that you, our audience, are sociologically-inclined folks. So we do not typically include a lengthy sociological interpretation of the images.

    Images are polysemic and people will view and use them in many different ways, so our commentary, when offered, is never meant to control how people use the images (as if we could anyway). We welcome comments that offer additional or alternative interpretations of images.

Semiotics of subcultures

Recent political scandals have much to teach us.

…Officers wrote that they knew from their training and work experience that the foot-tapping was a signal used by people looking for sex.

After a man in the adjacent stall left, Craig entered it and put his luggage against the front of the stall door, “which Sgt. Karsnia’s experience has indicated is used to attempt to conceal sexual conduct by blocking the view from the front of the stall,” said the complaint.

The complaint said Craig then tapped his right foot several times and moved it closer to Karsnia’s stall and then moved it to where it touched Karsnia’s foot. Karsnia recognized that “as a signal often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct,” the complaint said.

Assuming this is true (and recalling humorous-in-retrospect documents that we’ve all seen about law enforcement deconstructing hippies, punks, heavy metal, gangs, etc., it very way may not be), it’s cool to consider a signal that can only be interpreted by those that know what it means. To everyone else, it may not even penetrate your awareness. Until the communication is decoded, it’s almost perfect, especially for messages that may be risky.

I’m fascinated to consider that (maybe, just maybe) someone may have at some point tapped at me, and I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed and certainly not interpreted it as it’s presumably intended.


Brotherhood is the latest Showtime series. I watched the first episode and I quite liked it. You could describe it (in a fashion reminiscent of Altman’s The Player) as West Wing meets The Sopranos meets The Wire (second season). But that doesn’t mean it was derivative, it just had familiar elements of storytelling, character, less than style.

But 3 minutes before the episode wrapped up, they went to the indie-emo-gritty-yearning-soft-hard-rock-song thing. Ya know, where a white guy-sing shouts slowly over plucky distorted guitar, while there are a bunch of slow shots. A character looks wistfully out at his city. Another turns over in his bed and stares at the wall. Meanwhile, the mother feeds her bouncing children in the kitchen, unaware of ill portent, as life carries on normally for other characters. I don’t know if those were the shots they actually used in Brotherhood, but they are so generic that it doesn’t matter.

I just read something about Michael Mann and his legacy in revolutioning the way we see TV drama, and they cited that very phenomenon. And normally, I don’t mind it. It evokes some great emotions on Rescue Me, on the Shield, the Sopranos. I remember Homicide: Life On The Streets using music (specifically Tom Waits’ Cold Cold Ground) very well. There was just something default about Brotherhood doing it. Oh, it’s a show, it’s dramatic, we better toss ’em the song at the 52 minute mark. Felt perfunctory and actually pulled me out of the show.

We build this language of signs and symbols that we use in drama (and in every form of storytelling, like advertising, and products, and web sites, and interfaces) and they are effective short hand. But we have to be careful to really mean them when we use, else they come off as insincere and cliched.

I’m excited to keep watching Brotherhood, but they’ve got me a bit on the defensive, ready for them to screw up. We shall see.


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