Roland Barthes explains semiotic analysis is studying signs and symbols and using them for interpretation. It is the process of viewing the signs, understanding what the signs signify, what they portray and communicate. According to Barthes’s theory of semiosis, there are two parts of the sign; the signifier and the signified. Signifier is the visible part of the sign, whereas the signified is the concept or the idea or the meaning represented by that signifier. However, it is important to note that signs are not only the visible objects, but also includes the very many signs we encounter in our every day life such as gestures, body language, clothes, food etc (Barthes, 1969)
According to Barthes semiotic theory, every sign represents either a denotative or connotative sign system. Denotative system represents what the sign describes, while connotative system is beyond their literal meaning. Connotative system explains the emotions, culture and personal attachments behind those signs. With this it can be said that, what is signified by the signifier depends on the choice of the signifier as well as the context (Barthes, 1969; UKessays, 2018).
Since semiotic analysis is all about signs and symbols and their interpretation which makes this method great for film making. The reason is that it may make a lot easier for the writers and directors to portray an idea, a play or a character in complex settings without saying it outright. It helps to understand images, messages and films etc to generate meanings that refer to our everyday life such as personal and socio-cultural associations (Bouzida, 2014). Thus, this essay aims in doing a semiotic analysis of the main character in the television drama Scandal, Olivia Pope. This series has caught public attention for its unconventional and counter stereotypical perspective of black women. The focus of this analysis will be on the life of Olivia Pope; her personal life with family relationship, work, style of dressing and her love life.
The TV show, Scandal is an American Political T.V series created by Shonda Rhimes who also has created many other famous T.V series such as Grey’s Anatomy. The lead role of the series is played by an African American woman, Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. She is raised as an independent, intelligent, courageous and hardworking woman who leads her life on her own terms. She lives in a posh apartment and presents herself well-dressed and dresses boldly as a trend setter. As she lives on her own, there are few scenes of her meeting with her parents and shows that she is the only child of her family, mostly brought up by her father who seems to be very hot tempered yet loving towards her. The relationship she has with her parents are not very close, yet they care for each other and her parents only dream is her becoming the president no matter what it takes.
Olivia started her career as the Communication Director protecting the image of the American Presidential candidate Fitzgerald Grant. She dedicated her work to win the presidential election. She later started her own legal firm along with her associates. Their job as crisis managers is to protect their clients from any situation no matter what the crime is. In addition to that Pope and her team has worked in the core of American politics at different levels ranging from rigging national elections for the favour of who she is working for, establishing connections with dictators who propose highest bid regardless of them being right or wrong. Another important focus of the show is the relationship between her and the president. Pope fell in love with Fitz, who is the president and a married man with three children. The deep connection of their relationship is shown through the long gazes they share when they meet, the phone calls she receives from White House and the uninformed visits by the President when there is a crisis in her life.
Although the show represents issues such as race, gender, power and sexuality, by just watching the series gives a connotation that the above-mentioned issues are no more a problem. Because Olivia presents herself as a strong, intelligent, powerful and successful business woman disregarding the stereotype that normal women especially black women face. The images that have engraved in our minds are that the black women are oppressed and survive on welfare. However, the character shown by Pope displays that black women in this era and time are no different to any other. They are independent, capable and strong women in their own identity who portray true meaning of matriarchs.
On the other hand, apart from the outside signs, it shows lots of signs how chaotic her personal life is. The relationship she has with her parents and her mother being under the power and influence of her father shows that the power, gender and sexuality issues still exists and is challenging for women to be independent to lead their own lives. In addition to that, although Pope is a powerful and independent woman, the gains and favours she receives in her work because of her relationship with the most powerful man and being his mistress are signs of power, gender and class differences. These codes and signs give the connotation that the women’s success may not be purely from their education, intelligence and hardworking but part of the ability is derived from the connections with right people. The intent to destigmatize black women and their role in the work place and family has also led to desensitization and lack of morality tagged to the actions of a well educated and successful black woman. The desensitization that is asserted due to her being portrayed having multiple affairs and traditional stereotypical relation with black women and sex comes into play. Additionally, the notion that lying, threatening and cheating has no issues for her when it is to achieve her goals depicts a lack of morality that asserts a black woman may do it while white female characters in the series have actually shown to resist or object to some such choices.
In conclusion, by analysing Pope’s character through semiotic analysis, what I understood is that by watching it at a very superficial level, one can conclude that Pope is a role model for women especially for black women. However, the deeper connotation one may get is that the show Scandal gives the impression of black women using sexuality and being in unethical relationships to get what they want in their life is normal and has no issues in it. It also implies that for a black woman to be successful in life, morals, values and principles have no role but merely establishing relationships with right people who has power and wealth is the key.