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Semiotic Analysis of Social Media: Essay

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We live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by signs that signify different objects and ideas, influence our thoughts, and help shape our view of the world (Gaines, 2011, 15-16). The media plays a huge role in communicating how meaning is created and conveyed through words, images, and signs (Berger, 2019). Berger (2019, 12), defines texts as a collection of signs, which means that a semiotic analysis can be applied to all texts in order to interpret the messages being conveyed. All media texts possess the common attribute of the semiotic nature of communications, whereby meaning is inferred through the perception of signs (Gaines, 2011, 15-16). As stated by Gaines (2008), semiotic theory is constructed on the notion that everyone has the ability to perceive and interact with signs. In other words, the ability to deduce what is signified by the signifier. The concept of the media communicating semiotic perspectives to an audience is true of the movie poster for the 1991 thriller/drama/mystery Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme. This movie poster uses different signs to create meaning and make comments on issues presented in the movie such as perceived innocence, danger, transformation, and mind control. This essay will focus on how the movie poster for Silence of the Lambs, utilizes visual constructs and complex signs to create imagery that resonates with the intended audience and allows them to perceive meaning through semiotic and discourse analysis. The poster uses generic conventions, synchronic analysis, and intertextuality to allow the viewer to make connections between the signifier and the signified and interpret the semiotic meaning that is being conveyed.

A semiotic analysis of the main image in the poster can reveal many details about the messages the movie attempts to convey to the audience. The lack of written text on this poster and the sans serif font that has been used for the title implies that the main message of this poster does not come from the written signs, rather, it comes from the image where there are many semiotics codes working together to create meaning. The majority of the space on the poster is covered by a woman’s face. This extreme close-up implies that she is an important character, playing a key role in the storyline. This allows the audience to immediately recognize that this film is seen from a woman’s perspective (Green, 2019). The woman’s gaze is piercing and direct, which is not only engaging to the audience but indicative of having a purpose. This implies that she has a purpose and mission that she is wanting or needing to complete (Green, 2019). Her skin is pale in extreme contrast to the dark background surrounding her, which could be representative of her innocence or her perceived innocence (Green, 2019). This could also tie into the symbolism of the ‘lambs’ that the movie is named after, as lambs are symbols of innocence. The contrast of colors could signify that she is an innocent woman surrounded by sinister or evil people, places, or situations. This use of color could signify that this woman is seen as weak and powerless, giving the idea that she is a victim in some way. The corpse-like, blue tinge of her skin is connotative of lifelessness. This could indicate that she has been left feeling lifeless or weak from something she has experienced. The use of Rembrandt's lighting on the woman’s face plays a key role in giving the image a mysterious feel. The symbolic importance of this is that it links directly to the genre of thriller/mystery. The creator of this poster would have done this intentionally to draw in an audience who is interested in this particular genre, without having to explicitly state anything about the genre on the poster, again relying on visual signs rather than written text to convey the main messages of the poster. The pale color of the woman’s skin, which is indicative of innocence, is vastly contrasting with the red color of her eyes. The color red connotes danger and death, complying with the genre of the film. This could imply that she might be dangerous and not who she was originally perceived to be. The contrast between the red of the eyes and the pale blue of the skin could indicate and malevolent influence on her innocence or a transformation from innocence. Generic conventions are used to convey the key features of a genre, (Gaines, 2011), in this case, these are the conventions of a thriller, hence the use of the colors and lighting to create a dramatic feeling. These generic conventions have been used to communicate information about the character and in extension, the film itself, from simply looking at the film poster.

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Possibly the most symbolic element present on the film poster is the death’s-head hawk moth over the woman’s mouth. The literal denotation of the moth can be seen as portraying that people may not listen to what the woman has to say, or she is silenced and not allowed to speak (Jung, 2014). Moths undergo constant change throughout their life cycle from their metamorphosis from grub to moth. For this reason, the moth is a symbol of change and transformation. In this context, the moth could symbolize the loss of innocence of the woman in the poster or it could signify that she undergoes some kind of significant transformation or character development throughout her journey in the film (Jung, 2014). The red color of the moth matches that of the woman’s eyes, once again alluding to danger and tying back into the thriller genre. The back of a death’s-head hawkmoth, like the one shown in the poster, has a pattern that closely resembles a human skull. Firstly, the skull is a sign of death, alluding to the serial murders committed in the film. Upon closer analysis, it can be seen that the skull depicted on the moth’s back is actually created from a group of naked women lying in the shape of a human skull. This is significant because it is implying that multiple women are victims of the killer in the film. The fact that they are portrayed naked shows the dangerous and disagreeable objectification of women, furthermore, revealing that these victims were vulnerable and unable to hide from their aggressors. This month is also an example of intertextuality, as this formation of women’s bodies in the shape of a human skull is a photograph taken by Salvador Dali and Philippe Halsman in 1951 titled, In Voluptas Mors. This title literally translates to, “Desirable death,” in Latin. This image is the most symbolic aspect of the entire movie poster. Not only does it connote death, but it also reveals that the killer is unremorseful and thinks that their crimes against the women are desirable and purposeful. Moths can also be seen as symbolic of mind control, due to experiments conducted in the UK in 1975 (Spencer, 2013). This could signify that although the killer is free from the physical confines of prison, it is highly likely they are trapped by their psychological state (Spencer, 2013).

It is understandable to assume that words and signs are secondary to our observation of reality, however according to Bignell (2002, 6), it is our semiotic understanding of the signs surrounding us that creates our reality. Semiotics or the study of signs, is a science that is concerned with anything that can be taken as a sign (Chandler, 2002). The media has a big influence on what our society sees and consider to be a reality, and all media texts utilize semiotic conventions to convey these messages (Schrøder, 1994). The movie poster for the 1991 thriller/drama/mystery Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme uses different signs to create meaning and make comments on issues presented in the movie such as perceived innocence, danger, and transformation. The creator of the poster combined the use of generic conventions, synchronic analysis, and intertextuality to create an image with a deeper meaning than would be noticed at first glance.

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Semiotic Analysis of Social Media: Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from
“Semiotic Analysis of Social Media: Essay.” Edubirdie, 15 Nov. 2023,
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