Television and the Semiotic Tradition Essay

June 13, 2017

In the semiotic theory of communication, theorists have evaluated that communication can be misunderstood if there are ambiguous symbols deployed in it. The semiotic theory of language centers on the use of signs and symbols to transmit meaning.

The theory rest on the foundation that people have several methods of understanding specific phenomenon and have the capabilities to analyze and store these ideas mentally. After having the ability to keep these ideas, we humans have looked for ways to transmit our understanding in order to share them to others and these transmissions can be in the form of signs and symbols. 

Applying the foundations and the basic concept of language in the excessive use of television; the main form of signs used in television are images. Images used as symbols may prove to be very useful when it comes to making us understand the whole message clearly.

But this very nature of television is also the reason why it has become a threat to the rational discussions. Because television is an image-driven form of communication, the discourses, the exercise of rationality, the practice of judgment are therefore overshadowed by the images and the illustrations we see. 

The culture of media and the use of images in conveying messages have created a mediocre culture of tolerating the lack of logical separation from what is true and what is erroneous because it falls short on using our senses and reasoning to create an image of the ideas and the thoughts. Using the idea of semiotics in communication and relating them to the use of images, television as a cultural artifact have distorted the grammar and the rhetoric of language.  

With the presence of many images that overcomes the use of words and its rhetoric, the ability and the need to write and to think using signs and symbols in a logical way are greatly reduced and fractured. These logical ideas that resulted from the thorough evaluation of words during discussions are said to be replaced by unnecessary emotions and stimulations when seen in televisions. 

According to a media critic, Malcolm Muggeride, despite the capabilities of television to express and show images, it cannot genuinely and cunningly express ideas, hence the signs and symbols that they transmit cannot convey truths or perhaps can easily twist several truths to suite a certain belief. This is the problem with television, despite its alluring images, what are captured by the cameras and shown to the audiences are “prefabricated” presentations that can go from being “semi-real” events to bold lies and falsehoods. 

To bring these ideas further, a theologian named Francis Schaeffer pointed out that the normality of the way a television operates makes many viewers feel that what they see wit their own two eyes are real and factual, they see these images, these symbols and signs as nothing more but real.

They have the least idea on how these things shown on television were in fact edited, what the audience sees are the edited images and signs yet with the aura and similar authenticity as the real thing. Although this claim can be put aside and stress that all will depend on how the viewers interpret these sings and symbols (which are highly determined by the extent of knowledge and learning the viewers have had), the objectivity of what the audience see in the television would mean less only if those who are shooting them are totally neutral. 

Television as a cultural artifact brought down the culture of sensibility in using language as an effective tool for communication. The semiotics of television, as we have discussed are largely unreliable due to the different objectivities of those making these videos and cunningly coupled by the use of images that thwarts rationality in communication. 

Television in the Social Cultural Tradition

Television has imposed its influence on the post modernist philosophy by adding up to certain important themes in the period. In American itself, television is both a commercial and a cultural institution which are very influential factors for their daily living.

Many philosophers have already expressed their fears on the extent of the manipulation of television to the mentality of the viewers.  

One prominent professor stated that television has become a meta-medium or an institution that has the capabilities to dictate what we are supposed to learn and on how we learn them as well. In fact due to the alarming content of most television materials today such as violence and sex which are often left unchecked, many have already opposed to this method of control and viewing. Yet despite these oppositions, television was left with its immunity towards these forms of criticisms by virtue of its nature. 

According to the socio-cultural theory of communication, a person’s view of what reality is is highly influenced by the language one uses.

This is in strong connection with the influence of a certain medium to the state of we create a specific reality. A person and the television, together with its various contents are together constructing a unique social world that may differ based on how a person interprets things. 

The medium used in communication is a very important aspect of language, since the medium inevitably shapes and may alter the message it carries; and these alteration in the changes can ultimately affect us as well (receivers). A very simple example for this claim are the obvious differences and changes one gets upon reading a novel and watching a novel transformed into a television series. Hence, the medium’s nature, structure and function are some of the methods how it influence a particular culture and society. 

To give a view of the extent of our exploit to television (or vice versa), it has already been several decades that most Western countries spend an enormous amount of their time watching television totaling to an average of five hours a day.

In addition to that, television is almost considered as a necessarily for it appears in most public establishments such as restaurants, bars, airports and even in wide places such as a plaza or a busy part of town. And in America alone, almost all households have a minimum of one television unit and a large percentage averages 4-5 television units per house. 
Although noticed but not deeply understood by most, television has slowly changed our perception towards many things partly because it proved to be a very effective medium.  The amount of time spent on television along with some illegal practices using it as a medium have completely taken its roots in many cultures around the world.

While it is true that television is a major source of entertainment, it is exactly this use and feature that have transformed  television and viewing it as an important cultural artifact that have caused decay of some postmodern ideologies.  To look at it closely, television has dominated our mentality and our views towards several things and as a result we often misunderstand what the world is in its real facets.  

Television and the Ethical Tradition

The ethical tradition of communication speaks of advocating for the truthfulness, upholding accuracy and honesty together with logical and reasonable review of details are very important to communication.  

In response to these standards, both the receivers and the senders must observe certain attitude in order to be in accordance with the value of ethical communication. Taking this at hand, both the responders and the senders must be responsible enough for the possible consequences of the forms of communication that is used and this should be observed by both sides of the party.

Moreover, it is also the receiver’s duty to understand what is being received and must only respond to them after a sound evaluation. 

It is often argued by the advocates who believed that television has brought considerable damage to the thoughts and ways of most cultures that, television with its lack of moral and intellectual strength can cause the loss of a disciplined and a directed self.  There are discretions between readings against spending most time looking at uncensored images the television produces.  A well known author, Barry Sanders sadly pointed out that the disappearance of books and the dwindling of most reading materials in the market is like gripping away from one of the vital adhesive forces of modern society.

Through the continuous immersion of one’s self into television’s images and symbols, the viewers have become confined with the different characters and persona that they encounter and more often, these make belief characters have become their models in terms of mannerism and even as a mode of living. With this at hand, it is not arguable that there is a loss in the moral and perhaps ethical disposition of a person; the self image a person may have can be a reflection or an imitation of the persona they have seen in television. 

In contrast to this, reading and engaging one’s self in discourses could bring persons to realities that are, at most time unrelated to our own experiences, yet the readers become the actors and actresses in the books that they are reading thus making a sound connection and a unique interpretation of their selves. Reading therefore, allows men to reflect genuinely after playing the roles that they encounter in these books, hence in contrast with the image-saturated nature of television. It is through television that there is the birth of an opaque view of things that ditches the practice of truth and accuracy advocated by the ethics of communication. 

In connection with the loss of self and truth, television also acts against getting the exact message and dispositions in communication by providing a discontinued sight of reality; that is, the images and symbols sent froth by television to our senses appear and then they disappear without a proper and logical patterns.  This lack of pattern could lead to getting the inappropriate picture of the whole scenario.

For example, despite showing the realities and truth behind the matter such as the a controversial rape case or the civil war occurring in Liberia, these “realities and images” are followed by the very lively and happy scenes of Disneyland or the advertisement of a new collection of designer’s clothing. 

For Neil Postman, a renown critic for using television as a medium of communication this discontinuity that television posed is called “peek-a-boo”, where the images and signs lack coherence and filled with artificial images. Postman highlighted that when there is no context and when there is too much fragmentation, the essence of contradiction is lost. Also, without a consistent logical content, the thread of intellectual and moral aspects of television vanishes as well.     

If the ethical facets of communication are to be observed, television surely will fall short in meeting those criteria.  Television with its disconnected images, signs and symbols would also mean the approach of disconnected aesthetics. When this happens, the meanings found in objects are as limited as what viewers invest upon seeing them on screen; the inherent meaning of things might be lost in the process.   

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Works Cited

Groothuis, D., 2000. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. InterVarsity Press.
Postman, N., 1986. Amusing Ourselves To Death. 
Clarke, D. S. 1987.  Principles of Semiotic. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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