Semiotics And Discourse

After reading Jensen’s paper, ‘Fighting Objectivity: The Illusion of Journalistic Neutrality in Coverage of the Persian Gulf War’ (1992, pp. 20-32) I agree about the use of discourse in the context of war in the American culture, the symbolism in this culture is apparent as well. Take for example the American flag, thirteen red stripes representing the original colonies and fifty stars as the union jack representing all of the states presently within the U.S.

While most if not all countries are patriotic when it comes to their nation’s flag, none stick to mind as much as America. Using the Gulf War example the media was directly influenced by power, using this in the diagram set out in the week 4 lecture, the power was the government, the knowledge in the media. (Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (5/10) .’) Following this discourse more people waved the American flag as they joined the army to ‘protect their country’ even though the war had was not a direct threat to the nation (the war was instigated). War brought honor to the nation, and thanks to the media the symbolism of war changed drastically. From the murder and gore seen in Vietnam, war became glorified through the media, the cultural ideals and recognition of ‘war’ drastically changed to a view concerned with social unity, tradition, honor and something that had to be won at any cost. From 1991 onwards the American flag became signified as a symbol of a conquering nation which ruled through the exploitation of violence (in the minds of the Iraqi and Iranian people, evident in resistance to the American occupation) (Ali,Tariq. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (4/10) .’ 2007) . This was due to the fact that based on government controlled media the public changed their view from anti war (Vietnam) to pro war (Gulf War) in a very short period of time (this change made the American culture revolve around the concept of Xenophobia, a concept which became more prevalent after September 11, 2001 (Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (6/10) .’). In terms of the semiotics as set out by Finlayson (1999) the signifier (O’Shaugnessy, M. and Stadler, J. (2001)) was constant. The American flag stayed the same and was still recognized as a source of pride with the stars and stripes remaining unchanging, the signified was changed through discourse; the American flag demonstrated pride in one’s nation and the belief that the government did the right thing on behalf of the people (which could be debated.) These changes were instigated through the governments control over the media (Finlayson, ‘Contemporary Social and Political Theory. ‘1999) and were accepted before any anti-war efforts became established. The image of pure pride in the nation became replaced with a feeling of responsibility to ‘stand up for the little guy’ even through these ‘little guys’ displayed the same amount of violence that ‘the common enemy’ had displayed in the past. Regardless of this the clear contrasts of good and evil had been drawn so that ‘the cause’ was believed to be just and fair as well as ‘for the greater good;’ through discourse the majority of a nation looked past the corruption, contradictions and atrocities (use of napalm) in the distant battle (Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (6/10) .’)

To close, the relationship between semiotics and discourse is fluid at best (due to both being very fluid themselves.) However the relationship between discourse and semiotics is one that can’t be ignored, power and knowledge lead to discourse which lead to action, and similarly the signifier leads to the sign which leads to the signified, with both the sign and signified being easily changed in the public’s eye through discourse, this thereby allows the change of meaning found in signs and symbols by those with power and knowledge, in the case of the Gulf War power over the source of knowledge distribution.

Reference;

Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (4/10) .’ Assaultivebear, UC Berkeley, (online video,) accessed 3 September 2010, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzSPL4BMl0s&feature=related>

Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (5/10) .’ Assaultivebear, UC Berkeley, (online video,) accessed 3 September 2010, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k2tEfasPyE&feature=related>

Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (6/10) .’ Assaultivebear, UC Berkeley, (online video,) accessed 3 September 2010, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSBIGUv_-zU&feature=related>

Ashe, F., Finlayson, A., Lloyd, M., Mackenzie, I., Martin, J. and O’Neill 1999. Contemporary Social and Political Theory. Open University Press: Buckingham

Jensen, R. 1992. ‘Fighting Objectivity: The Illusion of Journalistic Neutrality in Coverage of the Persian Gulf War’ in Journal of Communication Inquiry, 16: 20, pp. 20-32

O’Shaugnessy, M. and Stadler, J. (2001). Media and Society : An Introduction. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Note for reader, annotated internet video links;

Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (4/10) .’ Assaultivebear, UC Berkeley, (online video,) accessed 3 September 2010, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzSPL4BMl0s&feature=related> – this video begins to discuss resistance to occupations.2:07 -10:58

Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (5/10) .’ Assaultivebear, UC Berkeley, (online video,) accessed 3 September 2010, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k2tEfasPyE&feature=related> – this continues to talk about the resistance to occupations as well as begins to discuss discourse. 1:09-3:21, 4.37-10:54

Ali Tariq. 2007. ‘On War, Empire and Resistance (6/10) .’ Assaultivebear, UC Berkeley, (online video,) accessed 3 September 2010, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSBIGUv_-zU&feature=related> – a more in depth look at discourse through media and how it affected the knowledge of overseas events for Americans during the occupation of Iraq as well as the new introduction of xenophobia in international conflict. 0:17-11:00

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