A picture IS worth a thousand words!

What is a sign?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “an object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.” Perplexing isn’t it? But the reality is that we are subject to signs almost every second of the day, they make up our understanding of our surroundings and thus ourselves. We have just become unaware of it.

As Melissa Smith explains in Part 1: Media and Society we need to look beneath the face value of a sign and examine the different messages or connotations we receive from them. This idea of semiotics, the study of signs, is integral to all interpretations of texts, and what’s more we are unaware of the social ideologies working within our heads that govern our interpretations of a particular sign. Therefore the meaning of a sign is not solely constructed in relation to the composer’s intentions but is largely based on our own opinion and context.

Take this controversial image that was part of an “Obesity is suicide” ad campaign created by art designer Brandon Knowlden to raise awareness about obesity in the US. (HowStuffWorks)


It took me a while to actually survey this image. Getting past the initial shock of what I thought to be a bomb. Indeed this bomb is made up of sticks of butter, but through my interpretation this ultimately signified the idea of terrorism and therefore obesity is portrayed as not only a threat to the individual but a threat to all of society. When looking at images like this we can ask, why is the subject male and would it be any different if it were a woman’s torso was depicted? Or why the subject’s face isn’t shown? These questions relate to certain social ideologies that dictate our interpretations of these signs. As supported by Kate Bowels idea in Approaches (Chapter 3 Representation and Textual Analysis) that

“Representation exists in a relationship to something else we call reality” (pg 50)

Perhaps images like this and also many signs we look at daily are made to be shocking. After all, this seems like a major technique not only in the advertising world but in society in general. Hopefully you have been as inspired, as I have, to want to look a little deeper into how these signs affect us and why we interpret them in certain ways. So a picture (sign) is indeed worth a thousand words.

Well this is me SIGN-ing off



2 thoughts on “A picture IS worth a thousand words!

  1. I love this image. It is clearly designed to be provocative and somewhat controversial. It certainly has a degree of shock factor. I completely agree with your assumption that equating obesity with suicide and more specifically an act of terrorism implies that obesity is not only a “threat to the individual, but a threat to society.” However given the deplorable attitude Americans associate with terrorism, I would be interested to know if equating the two issues offended anyone. Indeed I wonder what the public reception was to this image. However given that 1 in 3 children in America are obese a provocative campaign certainly seems to be warranted.

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