Posts Tagged ‘semiotics’

pop goes the world: signs of the times

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 1 July 2010, Thursday

Signs of the Times

With yesterday’s inauguration of the country’s new president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and vice-president, Jejomar Binay, a wave of hope washed through the nation, borne on tides of symbolism centered around Aquino.

This phenomenon made his presence ubiquitous and insinuated into the fabric of everyday life, whether or not you thought about it consciously.

The most obvious signs were on a direct level – his photographs plastered on the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines, which were filled with stories about his future plans for the government and anecdotes about his personal life. Television shows spent hours speculating on what his administration would accomplish. Billboards sprouted left and right, bearing congratulations to “Noy-Bi”. Merchandise bearing his face and that of his parents – former president Corazon Aquino and the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. – were available at every price range, from cheap umbrellas and bandannas to pricey Parker and Lamy rollerball pens.

On a more abstract level, the signs also abounded.The color yellow, campaign motif of his mother, was everywhere. Publication editors carefully chose photographs and layouts awash in the color. Shop windows in malls displayed mannequins wearing yellow clothes.

At the Quirino grandstand yesterday, the sea of yellow-wearing spectators lapped to the fringes of the public park. While Noynoy himself chose to wear a traditional ecru barong tagalog, others close to him wore yellow – among them his sister, Kris Aquino, and significant other, Valenzuela councilor Shalani Soledad, who wore a simple yellow gown designed by Rajo Laurel.

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Laurel had asked Soledad if she wanted to wear another color, but she declined. In doing so, she, and others similarly clad, reinforced yellow as a symbol standing for Noynoy. By extension, to a deeper level of signification, yellow also serves as a sign for what he stands for and has promised – hope and change.

Apart from the existing signs to which society has attached meanings, new signs are being created. For one, the nickname “P-Noy” (President Noynoy), that he uses as a way of branding himself. Being informal in tone, it also makes him seem more approachable, “one of us”, and connotes trustworthiness and humility.

Meanings may be found not only in artifacts (things) but also in actions and behavior. P-Noy has time and again declared that he will not live in Malacañang Palace or the Arlegui mansion, where he resided with his siblings during the presidency of his mother. He says he will continue living at their small family home in Times Street, Quezon City.

P-Noy’s refusal to dwell in homes heavily associated with his unpopular predecessors – Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – may be seen as a way of distancing himself from their negative actions, eschewing luxury and grandeur, and carving a fresh start for himself as he remains rooted in the tradition of family.

It is interesting to note how an entire system of signs has sprung up around P-Noy and the phenomenon of his rise to power – something that did not occur to this extent for Marcos or Arroyo, perhaps because of their unpopularity.

A society’s system of signs and symbols, which is constructed within its culture, performs an important role in social life. It impacts the way people communicate by providing another “language” through which ideas and concepts are exchanged, and actions and behavior influenced. This links to the concept proposed by some communication scholars that communication not only helps people navigate within reality, it also creates reality.

Communication scholars and those interested in semiotics may look forward to interesting times as the culture of P-Noy, his family, and his administration will certainly continue to provide fodder for study.

Yet the pressing concern for citizens is whether President Noynoy will live up to the virtues carried in these signs we’ve mentioned. In his inauguration speech, he promised to carry on the legacy of his parents (again using this reference as a sign pointing to the accomplishments of his parents, and associating himself with those). Again, another layer of meaning may be discerned, pointing to P-Noy as “the good son”, “the champion for change”.

But will he uphold democracy and deliver change and reforms as promised? Or will promises again be broken, and the meaning of the signs be rendered naught or shifted to the negative? Will P-Noy be able to create an improved reality for Filipinos? The whole nation anticipates that the signs of the times will point to a brighter and better future for all. ***

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pop goes the world: we are family

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 10 June 2010, Thursday

We Are Family

If the Philippines had a theme song, it would be Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”.

Taking yesterday’s proclamation of senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as president –elect and of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as vice-president-elect at the Batasan Pambansa from a semiotic viewpoint, the theme of ‘family’ emerged as one of the dominant signs.

Present were children and babies held by nannies or parents, because it is part of Filipino traditional culture that significant celebrations be held with family.

Also in the hall were members from the several dozen ruling dynasties of the country. Some were incoming, others outgoing, elected or appointed public officials. Their faces and genders and credentials may change, but the names stay the same, election year after election year. We might as well be a monarchy with a hierarchy of nobility and aristocracy.

The Aquino family members received much on-camera exposure during the television coverage of the event. Noynoy’s sisters Ballsy, Viel, Pinky, and Kris were seated in a row, clad in black, showbiz celebrity Kris in a glamorous off-shoulder number, her older sisters dressed more conservatively. Apart from showing the difference in their personalities and fashion taste, the clothes were a sign of two things: that the customary one-year mourning period for their mother, the late president Corazon Aquino, is not over; and of just who their mother was, and her place in history.

President-elect Aquino, Enrile, and Nograles are joined by Aquino’s sisters and brothers-in-law. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA).

By extension, their dark garb was also a reminder of the other family member they lost – their father, former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose assassination may be said to have set this wave of events in motion, bringing an entire country to this point, where his only son holds the highest office in the land, borne to power on the crest of public sentiment for his parents.

This image references Kris’s hosting of game show “Deal Or No Deal”, which ended 2009.

Seated near the Aquino sisters was Shalani Soledad, Noynoy’s significant other, speaking to singer Ogie Alcasid. The showbiz family of Kris Aquino was well-represented too. It is from their ranks that the incoming president considers recruiting heads of government agencies – Boy Abunda for Tourism, Dingdong Dantes for the National Youth Commission, and Grace Poe for the MTRCB are some of the names he mentioned. Of course he makes these choices based on their qualifications, because it can’t be out of gratitude, can it, for their help in his campaign?

Shalani Soledad being interviewed by a radio news reporter. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA)

In behalf of yet another prominent family, Senate President pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada read a message from his father Joseph. The senator extended his father’s “humble” acceptance of his defeat to Noynoy in the elections, and wished him well. From there the speech degenerated into a rant, citing the “failures” of Comelec and Smartmatic, stating again, as if we didn’t know, that the elder Estrada once served as president, and warning the Filipino people to guard against the corruption in government which he was unable to stem during his own administration.

There too at the Batasan were the Binays of Makati City. With son Junjun taking over from his father as Makati mayor, and daughter Abby the new congresswoman of the second district, they carry on decades of Binay administration in one of the country’s richest cities. The same goes for the Belmontes of Quezon City – father Sonny moves up from mayor to Congress while his daughter Joy steps in as vice-mayor to Herbert Bautista, who for years has held that same position.

We could go on and on.

But what about the families of the millions of people who gave the reins of government to these people via their votes? Who thinks of them?

As a citizen of this republic and the head of a family of my own, I lay this solemn charge upon the incoming set of political leaders – remember the families.

Think of the overseas contract workers who endure separation for years from their loved ones to toil in foreign lands to ensure the survival of their children in a country that cannot provide jobs and better life opportunities for them and their parents, while the government brags of a high GNP pumped by the billions of dollars they remit, ignoring the social cost and its consequences.

Seek to improve the lot of the widowed and children of those murdered in the Ampatuan massacre; those who die fighting on both sides of the insurgents’ war; those who live in hovels mired in abject poverty in sight of your grand mansions; those who cannot continue their education because of financial constraints.

Rescue those who are victims of abuse by the military and private armies and by those who because of the inflated condition of their pockets and egos assert their power over those who have little or none, since they thrive unpunished in a culture of impunity.

Filipino culture values family above all, even above God and country. The way we address each other reflects this – kuya or manong security guard, ate or manang food vendor, nanaytatay this or the other. And how often have we heard someone say, “Gagawin ko ang lahat para sa pamilya”? A Filipino will do, endure, and sacrifice all, for the sake of family.

To our new leaders, do not forget you are Filipinos, imbued with this land’s culture and norms. Accept that you are members of a larger family – the nation. Perform your mandated tasks, bearing in mind that you have our trust, because we have nowhere else to put it.

Remember the Filipino families – not only your own.   ***

“My Brother’s Keeper” by Ronnie T. Tres Reyes. Top Five finalist, 2008 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office “Isang Pitik sa Charity” photo contest. Reyes describes his photo: “Taken one chilly night outside a McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City. For over a year, this five year old boy has been taking care of his baby brother every night on the steps of the restaurant. Sometimes he lies on the concrete and allows himself to be the baby’s bed and source of warmth.”

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pop goes the world: election theme song

Welcome to a new interactive reading experience. This column comes with its own background music! Click ‘play’ to begin.

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  13 May 2010, Thursday

election theme song

“I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes, I saw the sign…” ‘The Sign’, Ace of Base (1994)

The recent elections showed with startling clarity how Filipinos choose their leaders. In the United States, which has a two-party system, people side with one or the other based on the principles each embodies. The Republican Party is seen as traditional, conservative, religious; the Democratic Party, liberal, progressive, secular. Their action plans and policies are in line with these characteristics.

In the Philippines, political parties are merely groups of politicos with the same agendas, not necessarily platforms, loosely cohering because of mutual need and perceived or contrived advantage. That is why jumping ship is done as expediency dictates. Since parties do not stand for a particular set of principles, neither then are voters used to electing leaders based on these criteria, but rather on personalities.

Our elections are, like American Idol, a popularity contest.

Logically, we should select leaders based on what they stand for, what they’ll fight against. Are they pro or anti the Reproductive Health Bill? Divorce? Secularization of the state? How shall they resolve corruption in government? The entrenchment of familial political dynasties? Obtaining justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre?

According to one of my professors at the University of the Philippines, an expert on political communication, it’s the masa (masses) vote that is crucial, via their sheer numbers. “There’s no such thing as a ‘middle-class’ vote,” she said. It is the masses that campaign managers woo with their eye-candy ads, celeb endorsements, and earworm jingles. Given that, did we vote based on how candidates will deal with issues?

Our elections were, like cars on weekdays, color-coded.

“I saw the sign…Life is demanding, without understanding…”

In semiotics, signs and symbols are codes that, when interpreted, may connote or convey a certain meaning in a particular context and culture. The French semiotician Roland Barthes further postulated various levels of meaning. For example, on a primary level, a label with a picture of a bottle of wine means ‘wine’. On a secondary level, ‘wine’ may connote ideas such as ‘health’, ‘luxury’, ‘fine dining’.

A young Roland Barthes. In his later years, he probably would have analyzed the signs in this photo – what do the robe and mustache signify?  Why was the shelf of books used as the backdrop?

During these past elections, more so than at any other time except during the 1986 snap elections, we have seen how the candidates were defined by their media machines and tagged with sometimes essentially meaningless ‘motherhood statement’ taglines to effect maximum audience recall.

These ideas as portrayed in ads were then further abstracted by voters into concepts until the realities of the candidates’ personalities dissolved. These were replaced by symbols stemming from people’s understanding of the how the candidates were portrayed in their own ads, and what roles these candidates may play in government and in their individual lives.

“I saw the sign…No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…”

In 1986, Corazon Aquino symbolized reform, change, and the overthrow of the dark and oppressive Marcos regime. Though her qualifications were assailed – “Just a housewife” – in the end it was the virtues that people perceived she stood for – “heroism, courage, martyrdom for Inang Bayan” – that carried her to victory in the polls and impelled the People Power movement.

In similar fashion, Noynoy Aquino as a person was reduced to a concept: “The only son of hero parents who will continue their struggle”. We don’t know that he will actually do this, but for many of us this is what he represents. Manny Villar was “The man once poor who will lift us out of poverty and give us houses while swimming through seas of garbage.”

Noynoy Aquino and his mother, the late president Corazon Aquino.

These ideas were further abstracted to symbols and colors. As mnemonics for easy recall, it was a good idea. But the tactic further distanced the person from the sign that connoted him. Aquino was yellow and the “L” sign; Villar, the orange check; Gilbert Teodoro, green. People asked each other, “Who are you voting for? Yellow or orange?” The idea of voting for the principles and platforms of people was mislaid along the way. Tossed, perhaps, into those seas of garbage.

Manny Villar, orange shirt, ‘check’ gesture, tagline…check.

Artifacts also became signs. One strongly identified with the Aquino-Roxas camp was the Collezione Philippine map shirt. I wore such a dress weeks ago – black with a yellow map – but not for political reasons. I simply thought it comfortable. A friend said, “So you’re for Noynoy!” I may or may not have been. But it struck me that my friend assumed whom I was backing in the polls by extracting meaning from the sign he took my dress to be.

Aquino wearing Collezione shirt with yellow Philippine map embroidered logo, fingers flashing ‘L’ (Laban – fight). If the shirt were longer and reached to his knees, you’d have my dress.

With the election results in, one Aquino supporter exclaimed, “Our country is now yellow!” A clueless listener might think this means our land is awash in urine. (True, if you consider those pink MMDA roadside urinals.) But to those aware of the context of the remark, it merely indicates that our new president belongs to the political team symbolized by that color.

Pink MMDA urinal. It has nothing to do really with the column. I just thought you might want to see what one looks like.

In this particular social exercise, signs and symbols played a highly significant part in fixing in voters’ minds characteristics ascribed to the candidates, whether or not these characteristics were actually possessed by that individual. Full spin is deployed in ad campaigns, that’s granted – they say what they want you to know. Yet there were deep levels of abstraction here that further obscured reality.

In the future, seek to discern the symbology and peel off the conceptual layers, from apparent to hidden, until you get to the true meaning at the core. Then you will know if you voted for a color, or for leaders with platforms and principles.

“It opened up my mind, I saw the sign!”   ***

(Photos from all over the Net, collected over time. My apologies for not being able to give individual photo credits.)

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the mystery of the stupa-like structure

In Thai it is called a chedi.

A type of stupa, it is a reliquary for Buddhist objects, perhaps the remains or belongings of a saint.

It is installed in a neighborhood park in the Sta. Ana district of Manila. The park is called the “Philippines-Thailand Friendship Park”. That is why this chedi is here.

Sitting on the cherub park bench (photo in the post below), I pondered whether the significance of the chedi as a Buddhist icon or an architectural artifact would be noticed and comprehended by passersby. Would they even care what it is, much less what it connotes?

And if the chedi channels Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and all points Thai, does the cherub park bench symbolize the Philippines and its majority adherence to the Catholic faith with its putti and other artists’ renditions of angels?

How deep are the semiotic levels in this park? Were the elements decorating it chosen merely for their iconic status or to convey other, subtle, meanings?

Communication, as my professors preach incessantly, consists of shared meaning. Where is the shared meaning here if people do not know what a chedi is, where it comes from, what it stands for?

Sitting on the cherub park bench, I decided that whether or not people understand the signification of the park’s architectural elements, the park provides places to sit and rest and interesting things to look at. And that functionality, for the people of this neighborhood, is what counts.

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on communication: musings on identity

These are random musings on the identity of the practitioners of the discipline I study and practice – communication – and, by extension, my own identity.

Warning: The following material may be incoherent, difficult to follow, and irrelevant, but mostly it will be boring. Feel free to read something else on this blog, or switch off your brain.

Those who read this entry to the end without falling into a coma induced by the inchoate ramblings of an overactive imagination obsessed with trivialities may or may not be rewarded with concepts for further discourse. Please feel free to post your comments, ideas, or violent objections. Thank you. The End.

Problem Statement: What is the most appropriate word or term that may be used to label students, scholars, and researchers in the academic discipline of communication?

Specific Objectives:

1. To describe the terms currently being used;

2. To discover other words or terms that may be used.

Review of Related Literature:

From semiotic theory, a word or symbol (signifier) is arbitrary and not necessarily related to the concept or thing  it is attached to (signified). As Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” In his Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare penned, “That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet”.

Communication scholars and academics may then call themselves whatever they like. The usual terms are “communication” + “researcher”, “scholar”, “professor”, and “theorist”, leading to unwieldy, two- or three-word terms to describe the person. Whereas scholars from the other sciences just add the suffix “ist” – anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist.

Twenty years ago, the identity of the communication field itself was in flux – was it part of the humanities, or the social sciences? It had the uncomfortable position of straddling both worlds. In recent years, though, there has been a paradigm shift in the field, in that it is being touted as a social science, and thus on par with the others.

In fact, some communication scholars go so far as to say that communication is the pre-eminent discipline in human studies, for, they say, communication is the glue that holds society together, and that no human interaction may take place without communication.

Young gentlemen engaged in mediated communication. The photo serves a model for the popular SMCRE communication model: source-message-channel-receiver-effect. (Img: Net)

So why can’t communication scholars/researchers be “-ists”?

“Communicationist” is ungrammatical and awkward, though some people do call themselves that. Other sectors of the discipline are promoting the use of the word “communicologist”. The International Communicology Institute defines communicology as “the science of human communication”. This refers to communication as “one of the human science disciplines”, using the “research methods of semiotics and phenomenology to explicate human consciousness and behavioral embodiment within global culture.”

But does it matter what communication scholars call themselves? “A rose by any other name…”

Taking into account the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, yes, it does matter. The hypothesis postulates that “a particular language’s nature influences the habitual thought of its speakers”; by extension, what a person calls himself may influence his self-perception, which could then impact his behaviors and actions.

Findings and Recommendations

Apart from “communicologist”, there do not seem to be other terms being proposed. However, use of the term has not caught on globally. In the Philippines, the term is being used by some Organizational Communication scholars at the University of the Philippines-Manila. As far as it is known, it is not used by those at the College of Mass Communication in UP-Diliman nor at the College of Development Communication at UP-Los Baños.

The terms “communicology” to refer to the discipline and “communicologist” to refer to its scholars and researchers has the advantages of being simple, easy to remember, easy to spell, and convenient. It has the added value of, by use of the suffix “-ist”, of putting at par by implication the discipline of communication with the other social sciences where it belongs, according to communication scholars themselves. Therefore, it seems only logical and reasonable to adopt these terms.

In the Philippine context, adoption of these terms may be facilitated through the consensus of the communication departments in universities and colleges across the country. But because there is no association of communication scholars in the country (such as the United States’ National Communication Association or the global International Communication Association) it is difficult to see how issues such as this may be addressed.

Philippine communicologists should therefore seriously consider establishing such an association, not only to accommodate and promote discourse among themselves but also among scholars from other countries.

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the significance of trees

The Christmas tree is a ubiquitous and uber-commercialized symbol of the holiday, yet the etymology of its use could hearken back to old animistic practices. In many ancient religions, trees were worshipped as sacred, held to be the homes of gods or spirits, or believed to be capable of bestowing enlightenment on mortals.

My aunt Nana Barcelona’s tree, decorated with ornaments collected through the years. The hand-painted eggs are actual eggs from Chechoslovakia; the gilded glass spheres, Philippine-made.

In today’s context - festooned with winking lights, laden with colorful ornaments, circled by wrapped presents – a Christmas tree certainly has the power to bring smiles to children’s faces.

Ik_christmas_smile

Ik’s wide grin makes all the preparations worth it!

Even a “sign” (in the Jungian sense) that consists of electric lights strung together in an elongated pyramid formation and decorated with various ornaments can symbolize a Christmas tree, which in turn symbolizes the holiday and all its attendant shared meanings and associations.

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A tree made of lights and ornaments greets all comers to our barangay (neighborhood community) in Makati City.

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A closeup of some of the ornaments decorating our neighborhood tree.

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