Semiotic Analysis of ‘Hitman’ Advertisement
Hall (2003) proposed that culture that plays a primary role in how meaning is constructed.
A basic genetic feature of human beings is the ability to classify, and a system of classification (the way in which we can conceptually group information) is learnt in society. Therefore, culture consists of our shared conceptual maps. ‘Translatability is not given by nature nore fixed by the gods. It is the result of a set of social conventions. ‘ (Hall 2003). Over time, speakers of a culture have come to unwritten agreements of which signs stand for which concept.
We learn conventions gradually and become part of our culture, internalizing the codes, becoming able to express certain concepts through systems of representation. The key idea to understanding how we construct meaning as a culture is through representation. We hold mental representations, which classify and organise people, objects, and events into categories, in order for us to meaningfully understand the world. Concepts are organised and classified into complex relations to one another, and we are able to form our own interpretations with wider relevance.We form concepts for concrete things such as people, as well as things which are more abstract – such as love, or death.
As meaning is produced, constructed, and learned by a group, the conventions of the group’s culture become learned unconsciously leading to shared cultural meanings. Hall (2003) is suggesting that the sender, the creator of the given text, does not create its own language and meaning to which the receiver responds to passively, instantly absorbing and accepting the intended meaning.He is stating that the process of representation and construction of meaning within language is double-sided and interactive. The print advert for the computer game ‘Hitman – Blood Money’ is an example of a text which produces meaning, a representation, through language. By looking at the underlying rules and codes through which this text produces a meaning, we can come to an understanding of what it is trying to communicate, the messages it is trying to convey through shared cultural ‘space’.
This essay will discuss Hall’s theory in reference to this text.There is an existing system of signs between humans and the world, and these signs acquire meaning through being structured into different codes – the principle code being language. (Fowler 1991). Through repetition, codes can be made common to the masses through the media, becoming embedded within our language. Language is a necessity for representation, without it meanings cannot be produced.
We may have in our minds a concept of something, and we know and understand the meaning of the concept.But there needs to be a way of expressing this with other people, allowing us to exchange and communicate meanings. Language manages to construct meanings as it is a representational system, representing the different thoughts, values, ideas and feelings of a culture. Through this system of representation, we can share and interpret things with others in our culture, until they become more natural and taken for granted. Language works by externalising the meanings we are making of the world. Hall sees language as anything which communicates meaning.
This advertisement for ‘Hitman: Blood Money’ is an image which communicates a meaning through representation, through various signs and codes it signifies themes of danger, beauty, death, power, and violence. Viewers use their shared conceptual maps to come to an understanding of what is represented in an image, and whether they choose to accept, negotiate, or reject the meanings will have an impact on their interest in the game. Representation is, on a basic level, the way in which depicted people, objects or events are given meaning.Through this, meaning and language become linked to culture. Earlyviews of representation such as the Reflective Approach suggested that representation is either an accurate or distorted depiction of something after it happens, with one fixed meaning for what is represented. (Hall 2003).
The Intentional view of representation implies that the most important part of the process is the sender, the person representing the image. They are presenting us with one, personal intended meaning. (Hall 2003).For example, according to this view of representation, a person looking at the ‘Hitman’ advertisement would recognise the signs that by playing the game they can have control over a fantasy environment, experience the thrill and excitement of being a Hitman, and would want to buy the game as a means of escaping from reality. “Meaning does not inhere in things, in the world.
It is constructed, produced. It is the result of a signifying practice, a practice that produces meaning, that makes things mean. ‘ (Hall 2003) Cultural codes and signs need to be shared and understood in order to work.These ideas are taken from a constructionist theory of representation – whereby meaning is constructed in and through language, as opposed to just reflecting existing values or society or those intended to be portrayed by the creator of the text. This approach has been the most significant and explored in culture studies in recent years.
This view of representation suggests that it involves multiple interpretations, and there is no fixed meaning – to assume this would ignore the fact that individuals think for themselves and are influenced by society.For example, one viewer may look at the ‘Hitman’ advertisement and see the central image of the woman, lying on a bed with a bullet through her head, vulgar and offensive. The words ‘Beautifully Executed’ may lead them to take the meaning to be that violence to women is acceptable, as it is implied that the woman has been murdered in a ‘beautiful’ manner. Another viewer may be drawn to the image of the beautiful woman and appreciate the clever juxtaposition of signs of beauty (the woman’s attractive appearance, the expensive looking clothes) against signs connoting elements of death and murder (the bullet hole, the word ‘executed’).This may contribute to the individual becoming interested in buying the game.
The language of the text, therefore, is not the sole property of whoever created the advertisement, but its meaning is interpreted by an audience with a shared knowledge of cultural concepts, as well as their own personal opinions, which account for the type of reading they use for the text. Meanings are contextual, the particular symbolic fixes a meaning at a particular time (Hall 2003). There is a recursive relationship between constructionist theory and representation, neither could exist without the other.Language itself is constructed through signs and symbols as well as being a representation system involving a process where things become meaningful. To understand the impact of the constructionist theory and the meaning of representation is it important to consider the concept of semiotics. Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, ‘the father of modern linguistics’ (Hall 2003) described the process whereby every element of a language is seen as a component of a larger system of language.communication process, the process of increasing communality or shearing between participants on the basis of sending and receiving ‘messages’ (McQuail 2005) is the basic premise of what language is. Semiotics argues that we communicate through signs, which are combined according to the rules of codes. These signs and codes convey shared meanings – they become familiar, embedded within different cultures. Signs and codes are combined within the media to convey specific representations, the intended meanings about reality.The study of semiotics provides a useful set of tools for identifying patterns that work together in order to make meaning, particularly within the media, revealing the structures of signification and meaning-making.
Saussure suggested that signs consist of a signifier (something which signifies) and the signifier (the concept which the signifier stands for). Signs are organised into language to express meaning, so we can express our thoughts to others, producing meaning in representation. Saussure claimed that a sign needs both a signifier and a signifier to work (Saussure in Chandler 2002).In relation to the ‘Hitman’ advertisement, one signifier is the image of blood, and the signified being death, pain, and violence. Roland Barthes (1957) brought made the semiotic approach popular to cultural studies.
Barthes took semiotics to the next level suggesting that to fully understand how meaning is communicated we must ‘read’ a text, treating activities and objects as a language communicating meaning. His work became more concerned with the relationships between signs and their meanings. He proposed that there is a normal, ‘common sense’ meaning to any sign, the widely used meaning, and he called this its denotation. Hall 2003). According to Barthes’, in order to understand how meaning is created through language in order to represent something in the ‘Hitman’ advertisement, a basic denotation would be important. We have an image, spread over two pages, featuring a central image which fills the entire space.
A pale skinned woman is lying on her back, with her eyes closed in a fairly elegant pose. She is dressed in a black, white and red low cut dress, her feet in shiny red heels. Her lips are dark red, and her eye shadow is black, her jewellery gold, matching the satin bed sheets she is sprawled upon.A clean bullet hole features in the centre of her forehead, along with a pool of deep red blood next to the brown curls which frame her head. Above this figure read the words ‘BEAUTIFULLY EXECUTED’, in a white, capitalised, serif font. This typeface is also used, in a smaller size, on the bottom right hand corner of the image, with the words ‘SPRING 2006’ denoting the date the advertised product is released.
The title of the game franchise, ‘HITMAN’ is in the same typeface beneath is with the title of the specific new game ‘BLOOD MONEY’ in a smaller, red font, with the products logo between the words and the website link written beneath it.Logos of game consoles compatible with the game appear in a line on the bottom left. Considering the advertisement for the ‘Hitman’ game, a signifier is the title made up of the words, ‘HITMAN: BLOOD MONEY’ which signifies the title of the game. This conjures up in our minds the concrete ideas of the occupation of a hitman, and the materials of ‘blood’ and ‘money’. We can assume from this that the term ‘blood money’ refers to the money he gets through killing. However, on a connotative level, there is more to this.
The indexical sign ‘HITMAN: BLOOD MONEY’ becomes a ‘signifier’ for other ‘signifieds’ – connoting danger, violence, and death.The way these words are used to represent the game, associate with them particular emotions and values which will be placed upon them. They depend on being meaningfully interpreted in order to be effective. These meanings, the connotations of the image, are ‘subjective’, arising from personal experiences (Culler 2002). They are not purely personal, however, they are determined by codes that the viewer has access to, cultural codes which are ‘organized around key oppositions and equations’, with each term ‘aligned with a cluster of symbolic attributes.
Some connotations are widely recognised within a culture. Silverman 1983). The huge amount of signs surrounding us influence our behaviour through of codes. Codes are systems of ideas which people use to interpret behaviour. They establish correlations between our conceptual system and our language system, creating ways of making sense of the world, uses to guide our actions, shape our behaviour.
Codes thus connect semiotic systems of meaning with social structure and values. For example, applying this semiotic approach to the ‘Hitman’ advertisement, an object such as the clothing worn by the woman in the image can double up as a sign.While on a basic level, her dress is there to cover her body and keep her warm, the satin material and bold gold, red, and black colours connote elegance and luxury, suggesting she has the money to afford designer outfits. What she is wearing acts as a signifier – with the ‘signified’ being the concepts of sophistication and wealth. The sender knows that this fits in with reinforced signs within culture which will enable the receiver to interpret them and see the woman in the image as someone who is well dressed and glamorous, fitting in with the main copy within the text, ‘BEAUTIFULLY EXECUTED’.Through the use of a shared conceptual map, and our ability to classify information within our society, people have come to have similar readings of some signs and codes.
The media works as a hugely powerful force, circulating meanings to mass audiences. ‘Advertising has a function, which is to sell things to us. But it has another function, which I believe in many ways replaces that traditionally fulfilled by art and religion. It creates structures of meaning’ (Williamson 1978).The iconic code of an attractive, well dressed woman, lying in a provocative position on a bed with her eyes closed, connotes passion, sexuality and luxury, and would most commonly be associated with an advert for a new fragrance, or clothing line. “What is not said in images are every bit as important as what we see” (Hall 2003).
Meaning involves what we expect to see contrasting with what is actually seen. With the ‘Hitman’ advertisement, our expectations are subverted, as on closer inspection a pool of blood surrounds the woman’s head, as well as a bullet hole in her forehead.This results in emotions of surprise, followed by intrigue and interest in what the advertisement is for. The image in the picture goes against the dominant ideology that murder is not something to be proud of, it is not glamorous. This depiction of a woman, murdered, goes against this dominant ideology by hinting that an execution can be beautiful. Representations can act as symbols of things in wider society, and someone may read the connotations of this image and see it as an example of the problems with culture today, with its emphasis on bloodthirsty, violent computer games being what young men need as entertainment.
To conclude, the advertisement for ‘Hitman: Blood Money’ consists of various signs and codes which help to illustrate the views of Hall and others who have a constructionist viewpoint of representation. Meaning is socially constructed, we attach meanings to signs such as those within the advert, creating a language. Through this we construct meaning through the denotations and connotations of the image and text which make up the advert.