Topic: Textual analysis of a popular music video. Choose a popular music video released in the last 5 years. Using methods of textual analysis taught in the unit so far interpret how all signs in the video (song, lyrics, images, sounds, narrative etc) work together to construct social identity.
Length: 600 words
The point of an analysis is to ascertain the overall meaning effects of a text and interpret their cultural significance.
- We always start at the level of detail, by identifying the relevant key signifiers through repeat readings/viewing.
- Then we analyse these signifiers’ connotations (or culture-specific meanings)
- and how their combination shapes meaning i.e. what effects they create working together
- we consider various textual features that help to organise and reinforce the meanings, such as metaphor, metonymy and binary opposition.
- and we ask how these main themes and effects of the text relate to larger cultural patterns of meaning and codes of particular cultural contexts through which identity gets constructed.
- As a critic with a broader knowledge of culture you can bring in your own critical interpretation of this. Is the text reinforcing or resisting ideologies, myths, dominant discourses, etc?
When marking we will look at your use of critical terms of semiotics and cultural
studies including those in bold in the list above, and other such as metaphor,metonymy, paradigm and syntagm, ideology, discourse, myth, binary opposition, narrative, genre and anchorage. However, applying these terms where relevant is the point, not mentioning them all, or discussing their meaning at length.
We will be marking on your skill in analyzing the key signs of their text, their cultural meanings and the kinds of identities and messages about our shared social worlds that they construct.
Go through all the signifiers a few times before selecting the ones you will discuss. In a film, this means everything you see and hear – things, people, settings, props, words, music, special effects, camera shots and framing, cuts (the way it’s edited), pacing etc.
> What are the key signifiers? > What are their connotations? > What cultural logic has shaped the selection of that signifier with those connotations? (Remember somebody has made a text for a reason and it has a particular target audience.)
It’s not just a matter of identifying signifiers. That’s just the first step. Analyse them. For example, visual signs may have multiple dimensions. Ask yourself about their appearance. Don’t just identify a person – what kind of characteristics does she have? Dress, manners, gestures, voice? What does she talk about? What’s her role, activity, community, background, relationship with other characters etc? What kind of shots is she in? What setting do we see her placed in and how does it work as a social world? What’s her identity in that world? Her identity will be constructed through the selection and combination of signs in the video?
In other words, we have a SPECIFIC woman selected from the category of women who could be selected and she acts in a certain way. What values are emphasised? Are cultural myths (commonly repeated ideas in a context) reproduced, or ideologies (dominant patterns of thinking about aspects of our shared reality)? If so, what cultural context do these values, myths, ideologies relate to? Perhaps the text is doing something interesting with those ‘conceptual maps’ – perhaps challenging them.
When you have identified and analysed key signs. Think about how they work together. Do different signs (from props to people) reinforce similar connotations?
Are there several signs that fit into the same category in some way? E.g. share a common characteristic of ‘sexy ‘rebellious’ ‘natural’ etc. Do these sets of signs that share connotations set up a theme of some kind? Are they ‘coded’ through familiar cultural codes that crop up in other texts?
For example, Irish theme pubs or ads may contain many items that fit the category ‘Irish’, because the makers of the text want to construct a sense of (stereotypical) Irishness for people to consume – with its familiar meanings of humour, sociableness and buying lots ofdrinks: what might add up to the myth of the ‘the craic’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craic – a distinctive theme of Irish ethnicity.
Signs presented together can ‘interact’ through difference as well as their similarities. In a film, characters, elements, objects may also contrast with each other somehow. Let’s go back to our ‘woman’. When you consider her in combination with other signs in the text, she will have a certain significance in the context of the story. Is she with other women? What are they like? With men? Are there different identities and roles shown? What are the relationships? What cultural codes are shaping the relationships? Do they share values in their activity? Conflict somehow?
Given semiotics stress on difference, such ‘binary structures’ are one common way of narrowing down meaning. Creating contrasts between some signs we allow drama to unfold. We have heroes and anti-heroes, and many other kinds of contrasts that emphasise certain connotations via opposition. Sometimes oppositions are based around conflict (cowboys and indians), sometimes they are depicted as ‘complementary’ (men and women in romance codes).
Your job is to identify such patterns and interpret their significance. How is an overall narrative forming?
End up by reflecting on how the text construct certain forms of identity and values that relate to a cultural context, to prominent discourses, ideologies. In other words, how does that text, that particular selection and combination of signs (that could have been different) make culture-specific sense?
- You may use some references to other sources, but this is not about defining concepts of semiotics. You will be marked on how well you apply concepts learned on the unit to an interpretation of a music video. They include: sign/signifier, connotation, myth, codes, ideology, selection/combination (metaphor and metonymy can be included, but we don’t expect you to have mastered these). You don’t need to worry about using all these terms. Refer to them when they are useful, The main thing we are looking for is your ability to analyse the cultural significance of meanings using signs in the text and discussion of context as evidence.
- Reference the video and try to give at least 1 other reference to an academic article or book. Include a bibliography at the end. You don’t need to include the bibliography in the word count.
- You can go over/under word count by +/- 10%.
- Give the video URL (web address) in your post. It needs to be able to access this.
- You will get a mark out of 10 for this entry.
Sample Essay (Candy Shop by 50 Cent)
Denotation – the obvious ‘literal’ level of meaning for a film might be a simple plot description. In this case it might be ‘Man drives car to house, sings about candy and parties with some women’. But in semiotics we are interested in the connotative level of cultural meanings more subtly expressed.
In line with the above guide, some points you could make if analysing The Candy Shop might include those below. This doesn’t mean these are the only things you could say as long as you have some form of textual evidence for your interpretation. You can’t do The Candy Shop for your assignment and you should choose a text that interests you with whatever cultural themes you want (doesn’t have to be gender). Don’t try to copy my example closely or feel you have to say similar things. Each video will be different. Some may have obvious metaphors others not, etc. You don’t need to find everything in a single text. Rather show how meaning gets organised through means specific to the text and they ways it constructs identities.
In the opening of the video for The Candy Shop by rapper 50-Cent (ft. Olivia), a red Lamborghini and a mansion immediately establish connotations of luxury and success. 50- Cent then enters the house, which is full of sexy women.
His clothes are a mix of NY T-shirt, Yankees baseball caps, his G-Unit brand, fur coat and so on. This mainly gives us codes of the NYC street and the dress style of ‘the hood’ that fits the genre and myths of hip-hop culture such as ‘keeping it real’ or never forgetting your social origins. But the luxury and branded goods thrown in reinforce that he’s also wealthy and of a high status.
There’s a key contrast between his clothes and the women’s. They are dressed for sexiness, e.g. in nurse and S&M outfits. Other signs develop the gender opposition, especially the lyrics and the women’s sexy dances which are unlike his rap hand gestures. The combinations of signs put women in the roles of seducers in the overall narrative of the man seduced.
‘Candy shop’ acts as a central metaphor for an imagination of male sexual paradise. While the video shows multiple women, the lyrics address a single woman, personified in Olivia and the lyrics given to her. She offers ‘him a taste of what she’s got’. Connotations of the sensuality of food are transferred onto sex. Other metaphors reinforce the theme of male sexual pleasure, including licking the lollipop for fellatio and ‘popping all my champagne’ for male orgasm.
The whole video plays on the myth of the lucky ‘kid in a candy shop’ who finds his dreams come true, both at the levels of wealth and sexuality. Champagne is also a common metonym for the lifestyle of the wealthy.
Myths of male fantasy around the cultural practice of ‘pulling’ and uninhibited sex with women met on ‘the dance floor’ are endorsed by the female addressee, who is described as a nympho—which is itself an oft-repeated mythic idea about a certain kind of female sexuality. Yet the variety of women shown in his gaze in the video show it is not a single woman, ‘the one’ as in codes of romantic love songs, but multiple women who can substitute for each other in satisfying him.
A particular kind of masculine identity is being constructed. His sexual success, his strength (six pack) and his wealth all construct the ‘alpha male’, rather than, say, other stock cultural myths of masculine identity like ‘family man’ or ‘gay guy’. There are no other men until the late scene where he seems to share women with his mates, but this reinforces his top-dog status. He ‘belongs’, getting respect from his male peers. Yet he is also their leader.
The coding of the gender identities and relationships is an example of the ‘male gaze’ that Laura Mulvey (1975) argues dominates much visual culture. The women are ‘eye candy’ presented around male desire. Their main actions are posing, dancing, touching. This is not a gender code where sex is a meeting of equals. In this way it arguably fits broader cultural norms where women should make themselves attractive, but wait for male initiative.
Given this construction of gender, it is possible to argue that this is hip-hop at its most sexist. It reinforces ideologies that objectify and sexualise women. However, it should also be noted that not all hip-hop is the same, and there are kinds where women have stronger identities. Candy Shop, however, recreates a version of the American dream, portrays women in a subordinate role and adopts the mainstream materialistic values of ‘bling’.
Interestingly the whole ideological world created is problematized at the end when it is revealed to be a dream of a more normal 50-Cent buying a burger. Is it actually more a sophisticated joke about the ‘male gaze’ than an example of it?
Mulvey, L (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ Screen 16, 3, pp. 6–18.