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Coolest Monkey In The Jungle: A Semiotic Analysis

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Ringing in the New Year, on January 8, 2018, the fast-fashion retail company, H&M, began advertising their Spring 2018 wear online, however, one particular ad received much back lash from its social media users. The ad included an African American boy wearing a green hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” alongside a Caucasian boy with an orange hoodie with the words “mangrove jungle, survival expert” (Figure 1). Disgusted and mortified, social media users torched H&M for being neglectful for using an African American boy to model a hoodie with such a deplorable slogan and asked for the ad to be removed. After receiving much criticism, H&M removed the ad from its online collection and pulled the hoodie from its stores worldwide (). All while leaving a statement to SBS News stating, “This image has now been removed from all H&M channels and we apologise to anyone this may have offended.” Nevertheless, as the ad may have been removed from social sights, the company still received repercussions for much time after. In fact, the company lost big named brand ambassadors such as pop culture singer and song writer Abel or better known as The Weeknd (). In the end, H&M has been deemed as a racist brand for their lack of awareness on the issues that the ad brought. Nonetheless, before making such a degrading assumption about a brand one needs to analyze and understand the ideology and context of the ad.

Ideology means to a systematic body of conceptions, specifically those of a certain social group or political party (). Here, ideology can be viewed in terms of racism which refers to the ideas and beliefs that people use skin color as the definition of the person. The ad insinuates racial ideology with the idea of racial connotations by labeling the black child as the monkey and the white as a survivor. This insinuation largely ties back to the colonial history of America where white Americans were given legal and social privileges that other races and minorities were not, particulate, the African American society. Through the following years, the subject climaxed into larger matters that brought about slavery and wars between the two ethnicities. Though the problem was ‘resolved,’ and African Americans now have equal rights to white Americans, the issue is still a topic of concern in the nation leaving many unresolved worries to both races. However, seeing as children today are much more aware of the American history and the issues of the racism all over the world, the ad could signify racial insecurities for them, thus, furthering the problem with the topic rather than pushing towards racial solidarity.

Semiotics or semiology refers to the practice of signs and symbols and the meaning or interpretation of those signs and symbols (). Analyzing the semiotics of this ad first depends on who the viewer of the ad is. This will then affect the message of the ad and how it is portrayed. For instance, one viewer may asses this ad as being completely innocent and seeing the word “monkey” as a reference to how all children are mischievous and love to play. This then affects the ads signs as being just a jungle themed clothing line that indicates childhood interactions. On the other hand, others may asses this ad as holding racial implications viewing the black child as an image of a monkey and the white child as an image of a survivor, thus, alluding to the history of racial tension in American history. Even when looking at the children’s faces, one could portray the black child as sad and the white child looking at the black child in disgust, which further alludes to racial undertones. Nevertheless, this viewpoint of the ad affects the ads signs as being racist by degrading black ethnicities, suggesting that they look and act like monkeys, and glorifying white societies, saying that they are superior.

Anchorage is when a piece of media uses another piece of media to reduce the amount of connotation, thus allowing the audience to interpret the context much more easily (). Therefore, when analyzing the H&M ad, the choice of children to market the hoodies anchors the implications of the ad. For instance, if the color of the children was to be switched, were the white child were in the green hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” and the black child in the orange hoodie with the words “mangrove jungle, survival expert” the racial undertones of the ad would be diminished. However, this again depends of the signifiers point of view. The viewer who interoperates the add as innocent with no racial connotations to begin with, may see the anchorage of the ad as just promoting the hoodies and children’s ability to be cheeky and playful. However, on the other hand, others will notice the choice of color between the children and view that as an indicator of racial connotations. Moreover, with mentioning the children’s expressions and positioning of their bodies could be an anchorage to racial undertones.

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Modality is the relational term of how something is done or the method something is portrayed in. Typically, the news is referred to as high modality because it includes real events and situations whereas animated films like Finding Nemo hold low modality seeing that it is fiction. Applying this concept to the H&M ad, one can find that the ad is placed on the higher end scale of modality. However, this again ties back to the viewpoint of the signifier. Because the ad was published on social media, social media users were allowed to produce their own content on the topic and control the media surrounding the ad and, in this case, there were two opinions directed towards the ad. The group of people that viewed the ad as innocent simply did not see the racial issues and viewed the ad as a regular clothing advertisement, thus, they did not have much to say about the ad. However, others who saw the ad with racist connotations threw much out into the media. For instance, actress and singer, Alexandra Foucard, Tweeted,

“BOYCOTT @hm! Whose with me? @hmusa What universe do you live in that makes it ok to flaunt your racist ways in such an epic portion. I demand you remove this ad! This child is precious and should be treated as such! #boycottH&M #racists #coolestmonkeyinthejungle #notonmywatch”

Nevertheless, the problem with high modality in this ad comes from the sensitivity around racism. For instance, even if this ad was depicted in an animated way, there would still be that racial connotation simply because it is a sore subject in todays world. If animated the ad would have still received the same amount of backlash as it did from the original. The only difference is the involvement of real children. However, the insinuation of racial associations would have still been visible to some.

SEARCH is the media’s representation in content with the use of sex, environment, age, race and religion, class, and handicap (). Relating SEARCH to the H&M ad, the items that pertain to the ad are environment, age, race, and class. Beginning environment, the ad was placed online across the entire world, marketing to all nationalities and counties. In this case, Northern America was greatly affected by the ad as well as counties that have had similar issues or were educated on the subject of racism in America. However, counties that have not encored racial struggles or others they may have no relation to the topic saw the ad simply as a regular clothing ad. Continuing on to age, the marketing for the hoodie would have been designated towards children and mothers who purchase their children’s clothing, however, due to the views of racial connotations, the ad reach many more than just those demographics. Following along with race, removing the racial implications, the hoodie would have been marketing to all male children. However, with the racial associations, the hoodie could be viewed as marketing to only black and white male children with the inferences that black children should wear the green hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle” and the white child should wear the orange hoodie with the words “mangrove jungle, survival expert.” Moreover, seeing as H&M is a fast-fashion brand with a reasonable to low price range, the class of which this would be marketed to would be middle to low class, yet when adding the racial connotation, one could assume that the hoodie on the black child would be marketed to low classes where the hoodie on the white child would be marketed to middle classes.

The H&M ad implored many implicates that deemed positive toward racial issues commonly found throughout history. Looking at racial ideology, the ad brought forth the idea of racial associations by identifying the black child as the monkey and the white as a survivor, which alluded to the long and painful history of colonial America and the struggles that came along during that time. Following along with analyzing the semiotics of the ad, some may observe this ad as being completely innocent promoting jungle themed clothing and see the word “monkey” as a reference to how all children are mischievous and playful. However, others may see this ad as degrading towards black ethnicities and expressing that they resemble monkeys by, again, viewing the black child as an image of a monkey and the white child as an image of a survivor. Additionally, the anchorage is also dependent on the viewpoint of the signifier seeing as one may see the anchorage of the ad as just promoting the hoodies while others will notice the choice of skin color and children’s expressions along with the positioning of their bodies between the children and view that as an indicator of racial connotations. Moreover, the ad also includes high modality due to how the ad was portrayed and how it relates and touches on real issues and many have struggles with in history and even to today. Finally, the ad included qualities such as environment, age, race, and class from the term SEARCH that further encouraged the notion of racism. Nonetheless, the H&M ad shows racial ideologies that may go unnoticed by some but are still highly prevalent to others, yet these differences acknowledged and raised groups of varied views to discus and express their opinions on the subject. Many expressed that children are classified as monkeys when in play, yet when proceeding to use such vocabulary on a black child for an ad is seemed to be very deeming. In the end, the ad sparked much interest on the subject and made it clear that there are still unsolved problems with the topic, which makes this ad necessary to further discuss those issues whether or not it was H&M’s intentions.

References

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/jan/08/h-and-m-apologises-over-image-of-black-child-in-monkey-hoodie
  2. https://anonhq.com/hm-torched-for-tone-deaf-coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle-hoodie-ad-featuring-black-child/
  3. https://jetblakink.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/monetizing-black-rage-the-coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle/

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Coolest Monkey In The Jungle: A Semiotic Analysis. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle-a-semiotic-analysis/
“Coolest Monkey In The Jungle: A Semiotic Analysis.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle-a-semiotic-analysis/
Coolest Monkey In The Jungle: A Semiotic Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle-a-semiotic-analysis/> [Accessed 4 Feb. 2023].
Coolest Monkey In The Jungle: A Semiotic Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Feb 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/coolest-monkey-in-the-jungle-a-semiotic-analysis/
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