Importance of Understanding the Big Picture

Sherlock Holme'sHey guys! I hope your semester is going good so far! If not, hang in there. It’s almost spring break! I don’t know about you guys, but I’m excited to share new concepts I’ve learned in media criticism with you guys! Since the last time I’ve spoken to you all, our classes have been filled with very interesting content. Don’t worry. I’ll fill you in!

Recently, we’ve been learning approaches that help us with interpreting and analyzing media texts effectively. By doing this, we act as if we’re Sherlock Holmes trying to solve a crime. We pay very close attention to detail, evidence and clues. This is exactly what we’re going to do today! Grab your notebook, magnifying glass and pipe (if you need it) so we can get started!

Hardee's Print Ad

Hardee’s Print Ad

The Hardee’s print ad pictured is set in the 1950s. The first thing think you notice is the bold print that says, “Women don’t leave the Kitchen!” This alone is enough to identify this print ad as sexist. But, if you keep reading it goes on to say, “We all know a woman’s place is in the home, cooking a man a delicious meal. But if you are still enjoying the bachelor’s life and don’t have a little miss waiting on you, then come down to Hardee’s for something sloppy and hastily prepared.” So obviously the words in the advertisement are sexist, but let’s look at the image.

The advertisement pictures a blonde, thin woman with heels on in the kitchen. She peers out the window to look at a man picking up a little girl.

The audience demographic for this print ad is obviously single men. When, I think of fast food, especially burgers, I think of men. I know that women eat fast food too! I’m guilty of this. However, women tend to watch what they eat more than men. Even when women decide to go out for fast food, they more than likely will order a grilled chicken sandwich rather than a burger that’s been “sloppy and hastily prepared.”

Hardee’s did something clever by adding a woman in the ad. By having a woman in the ad, it could appeal to a women demographic as well. Women could’ve seen the ad and thought that in order to make their husbands happy, they need to go out to eat at Hardee’s every now and then. Women’s main purpose in the 1950s was to make sure their husbands were happy at all times so they could live a picture perfect life.


Congratulations! We just analyzed a text! Now let’s apply approaches to the text. I’m going to use semiotics and structuralism! Semiotics is the discipline for interpreting and analyzing texts. It’s the study of how social production of meaning is constructed. Signs are embedded through all texts. Semiotics is a way to understand the meaning of a text and illustrate how reality is socially constructed. Lastly, semiotics provides four assumptions that are important to remember when analyzing a text.

Assumption #1- Texts are constructed from signs using codes commonly interpreted in a society.

Assumption #2- While they have shared, common meanings, signs in the text can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Assumption #3- Texts are by nature ambiguous and meanings of signs can be unstable. It depends on who is producing and interpreting.

Assumption #4- Meanings vary according to person, time, place and context.


Semiotics is best used when paired with another approach such as, structuralism. Structuralism is the study of the whole by virtue of the association between its parts. Structuralism offers two basic approaches, paradigmatic and syntagmatic.

Paradigmatic Approach

A paradigmatic analysis is used to understand an associated group of signs that are different, but all still members of a defining category. These associated group of signs can represent general ideas or be exchanged for each other by virtue of their common function and shared characteristics.

There are many signifiers and signifieds that are embedded within the print ad mentioned above. The signifiers within this ad include the man, woman, kitchen appliance, etc. These signs, together, create signifieds which help us better understand and creating meaning of the text. We realize the woman is a woman because she is wearing a dress with heels. We recognize the man as a man because he is wearing a hat and trench coat. We recognize that she is preparing a meal because there’s water running over a pot. These are all concepts we associate with general ideas to locate signifiers within our culture. These represent the paradigms.

Syntagmatic Approach

A syntagmatic analysis is used to understand a combination of signs (signifiers) and their meaning (signified) to make a whole. You look at the orderly sequence of signifiers and signifieds to form a meaningful whole based on rules and conventions. Syntagms are created by linking signs from paradigms based on convention.

So let’s apply a syntagmatic analysis of the ad we’ve been discussing so far. A woman is preparing dinner. While putting water in a pot, the woman looks out the window. As the woman looks out the window she sees her husband has arrived home from work. The husband is outside greeting his daughter. This is just a simple process you can use to piece together an add one step at a time to create the whole picture.

So What’s the Big Deal?

Hopefully that wasn’t too hard for you. The more you practice these approaches, the easier it will get. It’s important for you to understand approaches to examining texts critically. Examining texts can help you form your own opinion towards a media text. Also, you might notice something you wouldn’t recognize right away. Advertisements are extremely ambiguous. Therefore, it’s important for us to come to our own conclusions about the texts we see. We need to be able to understand a text fully instead of only understand parts of a text.

The Maiden with the SnakeIf you need more explanation, check out The Maiden with the Snake. This is a great example of a semiotic-structuralist analysis of a print ad by Berger. After you read the example, try to find a print ad on your own analyze it using the semiotic-structuralism approach. Let me know how it goes!


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