Semiotic Analysis of a Celebrity Photo Semiotics Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Semiotic Analysis of a Celebrity Photo

Semiotics may be additionally referred to as semiotic studies. It is the study of signs and the processes by which the signs operate. Semiotics is used in conjunction with may other fields including linguistics, media studies, cultural anthropology, and marketing. Therefore, the utilization of a semiotic perspective upon this Kim Kardashian product advertisement will prove effective to provide insight into the ways the ad communicates as well as all the messages the ad is communicating. Important terminology within semiotic studies includes metaphor, symbolism, intertexuality, metonymy, and more. This paper will use semiotics to decode the signs in the advertisement. The paper will additionally use semiotics to explore the iconography, ambiguity, mode of address, and connotations. The paper will in effective provide a semiotic reading of the Kim Kardashian fragrance advertisement in question.

Before the semiotic analysis can begin, there must be some basic information about the photograph that must be made clear. The photograph is an advertisement featuring Kim Kardashian's self titled fragrance. The content of the photograph includes Kim Kardashian in pink lingerie. She is leaning or sitting on the edge of some kind of metallic ring. She also wears a feathery white coat that comes to her waste. Her logo, her name, and a caption for the fragrance are in the upper left corner. Two bottles of the perfume are diagonally positions at the bottom right corner. There is also some text describing where the fragrance can be purchased along the bottom of the ad. The color palette of the advertisement is pink, black, and what. The only things that are not a part of this color palette is Kardashian's lips, which are blood red and her skin, which is yellow-tinted brown. She is partially upright. At least one of her arms is extended out to the side. Her legs are partially crossed and her mouth is slightly open. There is some kind of jeweled accessory in her hair, holding her hairdo in place. Kim Kardashian is looking directly into the camera in this advertisement.

Semiotic analysis is often predicated upon the relativity of culture.

Culture is not simply a collection of unrelated practices and representations. There is something consistent in culture; something that repeats and reinforces the same meanings across various practices and mediations? Culture shapes our way of being and self-identity in a collective sense; our sense of individuality is drawn from meanings and values that we share in common. (Tutorial 1, provided)

This is why market research includes cultural research. Advertisements in one country will not prove effective in another with a very different or even moderately different culture(s). The intended audience of this advertisement is western, likely American and European, especially since the Kardashian's live in American and became celebrities within American culture.

The caption for the fragrance in the ad is "The Voluptuous New Fragrance." Voluptuous is a word used to describe beautiful and seductive women, which Kardashian markets herself as. She adheres to traditional standards of beauty and aesthetics in American culture. Voluptuous was a word and still is a word used to described American beauty icons such as Marilyn Monroe. Certainly the intentional use of the word voluptuous is to connote and establish a metonymy between Kardashian and other beauty and celebrity icons. Her body is the primary syntagm in this case. Let us, for the sake of the paper and discussion put this ad up to the commutation test. As stated, Kardashian's body is the primary syntagm. If we were to modify her body, such as having her sit in a upright position with her hair down, the ad's message would be different and would not have the same meaning, intent, or efficacy as is. There is a great deal of focus on Kim's body, particularly her chest. Her chest is well lit, and there is makeup on her to illuminate her neck and torso. If her hair were down, we would miss all of that. Voluptuousness comes from an hourglass shape of the chest and hips. If Kim were sitting upright, the curvature of her hips would be missed as well.

As aforementioned, Kardashian is looking directly into the camera and into the eyes of the invisible, imaginary, and presumed audience members & consumers. This is somewhat rare in advertising. All consumers must presume that every single detail within advertisements is intentional and meticulously situated. This photograph was one of numerous photographs taken during the shoot. Image selection is critical in affecting the perceptions of the audience and the communication of the image.

Every image embodies a way of seeing. Even a photograph. For photographs are not, as is often assumed, a mechanical record. Every time we look at a photograph, we are aware, however a lightly, of the photographer selecting that sight from an infinity of other possible sights. This is true even in the most casual family snapshot. The photographer's way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject. The painter's way of seeing is reconstituted by the marks he makes on the canvas or paper. (Berger, Ways of seeing, 1972)

Typically, women in ads do not make direct eye contact, or rather, consumers are more likely to come in contact with advertisements where men have the direct and powerful gaze. It is a code within the practice of advertisement that has been in practice in America for decades, certainly as long as there has been photography. What is typical about her pose along the lines of gender codes in advertising is that her mouth is open, as if she is breathless or exhausted.

Her body positioning is awkward though she is in a sedentary position. Women are often positioned in awkward positions and breathless to exude weakness and lack of control over her body. We cannot see the entirety of her body -- she is cut off, incomplete. Her body is circumscribed by a ring, which can arguably serve as a sort of cage or confinement. This is an oppositional aspect to the construction and display of her identity in this ad. In reality, Kardashian portends to be an independent woman. She has wealth from her family and lives as she chooses. She has a non-profit organization and product lines, which include her fragrance. She exudes that she is self-reliant, yet this ad shows her as restricted. The ring could additionally be a symbol for a wedding ring, as she was recently married, and the history of marriage definitively includes confining women to/as the possession of a man. Though there is no one else present in the ad, the symbolism and intertexuality of the ring implies the presence of the man she is gazing at.

…a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste -- indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to he, person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura. To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space. into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. (Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972)

Her legs are crossed so that she is touching herself, another convention of advertising. Kardashian is posed on a relatively thin circle of metal, with her mouth open, awkwardly positioned, and leaning on something off camera for additional support. This composition reinforces traditional identities and ideologies of women and their place in society, how they are perceived,…

Sources Used in Document:


Abrams, N., Bell, I., & Udris, I. (2001) Studying Film & Studying the Media. Oxford University Press: UK.

Austin, T. & Barker, M. (eds) (2003) Contemporary Hollywood Stardom. Oxford University Press: NY.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of seeing. Chapter 1, 7 -- 10; 45-47. Penguin Books: London.

Burgin, V. (1977) Looking at Photographs. Available from: 2012 June 23.

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