Project 3 (Reading visual communications) – Exercise 2

Join the Navy

Denotation

  • sailor
  • torpedo
  • water (sea / ocean)
  • riding whip
  • cowboy pose
  • movement
  • energy
  • complementary colors
  • navy recruitment
  • JOIN NAVY is big, red and all-caps

Connotation

  • all elements persuasive, meant to appeal to a male audience
  • torpedo placement, size and form = phallic, proof of manliness, virility
  • pose as if riding a bull = comparison of sailors to cowboys, macho, makes use of male stereotypes
  • energy, movement = action, physical prowess
  • “FIGHTING MEN” = calling for strong, courageous men
Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 8.04.42 PM
Creative Arts Today, Open College of the Arts

Choose another image to analyse, list denotations and connotations. I will then reflect on the process and about how my interpretation might reflect my own values. I will ask two other people to see the image and note down what they infer from them. How and why does their interpretation differ from mine?

It was hard to decide which image to choose, as there are so many advertisements (especially commercial ones) that make clever use of denotation and connotation. In order to sell their products, I see that many companies resort to communicating messages that are incredibly sexist or sexual, that sell specific body images and beauty ideals, make use of stereotypes (e.g. role in society, race and/or gender differences) and associate their brand or product with things such as being “green”, safe or smart. Rather than choosing to analyse an advertisement of a woman in a bikini eating a burger (and the obvious and derogatory connotations of that), I looked for social issue ads. I found two images by United Colors of Benetton that I think are pretty powerful.

benetton02
Hearts, 1996, United Colors of Benetton

Denotation

  • three human hearts, relatively same size, form and color
  • three words (white, black, yellow) written in all-caps, black, simple sans-serif typography and placed one each over the hearts
  • plain white background
  • centred composition, symmetry
  • company logo

Connotation

  • white, black, yellow = some of the labels we use on people based on their skin color and/or race. Each word is labelling a heart, thus alluding that each belongs to a different race.
  • equal hearts = we are all the same inside regardless of race, color does not define us
  • same light and shadow, same background, same typography = all hearts and all races are shown equal attention/importance
  • centred composition = simple, symmetrical, straight to the point, full attention on message of equality

Someone #1

No matter the external tone of color, deep inside we are all unique and different individuals.

Someone #2

It’s an advertisement that advocates for equality between human beings and attacks racism and intolerance with a logical reasoning via an universal element (the heart). However, the yellow heart seems to me subtly more aesthetic because of its clearer form.

tumblr_mmcawjgHOy1s86b1ko1_1280
Angel & Devil, 1991, United Colors of Benetton

Denotation

  • two young children about the same age
  • they are hugging each other
  • naked from the shoulders up
  • one is white, blond, blue-eyed, rosy cheeks, cast in light, smiling
  • one is black, with black eyes, horned hair-do, cast in shadow, serious/scared expression
  • contrast of color, contrast of light and shadow
  • plain white background
  • centred composition, symmetry
  • company logo

Connotation

  • white, joyful, with gold locks, cast in light = angel, good, light
  • black, scared, with horned hair, cast in shadow = devil, evil, darkness
  • white vs. black, contrast of light and shadow = addresses stereotype of associating white with good and black with evil, white with light and black with shadow
  • use of children = both are innocent, neither evil, perhaps not even aware of stereotypes
  • hugging each other = friendliness, love, united, they are not enemies
  • centred composition = simple, symmetrical, straight to the point, full attention on message of racial discrimination
  • direct message = might be controversial, uses racism in order to criticise it, perhaps only successful when in context of Benetton’s other campaigns (against racism, hate, inequality, etc.)

Someone #1

Beautiful girls! aren’t they?

Someone #2

This is so racist, you don’t even know. The little white girl looking like one of the angels from traditional european paintings and the little black boy looking like a horned devil. Regardless, it’s a pretty image and I’m not sure if it’s racist in a modern context because a devil, as much as an angel, can be cool. In addition, the devil is very visually appealing because of its proportions, color and composition. He doesn’t look inferior to the angel, but equal.

Reflection

I was a bit surprised to see that the reactions from the other two people were a bit different from my own and from each other; one had a more simple and positive impression to both, while the other felt that the messages were not completely clear. Especially when it comes to the second image, I see that one of them felt that it is racist rather than against racism. This is something I only thought about after some while, as the first impression I got was that it was criticising racist stereotypes.

This brings me to the matter of how our unique values and ways of seeing things change how each of us might interpret a message. Perhaps I’m more aware of the other campaigns by Benetton, so I immediately associated this image with a social issue campaign and thus saw it in a more positive note. In addition, our own personal experiences and opinions about such things as racism, sexism, beauty, health, poverty, etc. have an impact on the way we will respond to other experiences, images and messages.

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