Barthes is concerned in Myth Today with how signs take on new meaning when appropriated and presented within a new chain of signifiers, ultimately resulting in an ‘image drained of real meaning’ to suit the purpose of the dominant ideology (Macat).
Ever since I was told about the appropriation movement aiming to nullify meaning I have been pondering this quite a lot. How does one even begin to do that? I understand that advertisers, companies and commercial ideologies appropriate subversive signs, then transform them, like the icon of Che Geuvara for instance which can be bought on a t shirt in Camden for a tenner. But I would hesitate to suggest that leaves the sign with no meaning, with zero meaning. It might simply take on a flimsier, less robust signification and the sign will be coded in such a way so as to suggest as such. And in becoming benign, it might also signify something else in addition to the flimsier meaning, pertaining to the landscape in which it exists. However, it still communicates something. Perhaps not what the wearer would wish! Also, signification can be transformed the other way, becoming more rather than less strident, even pernicious, as in the case of the swastika which I believe was appropriated by the Nazis.
I am not alone in my suspicion. “Readers,” Chandler tells us, “may be tempted to conclude from this brief review of the notion of the ’empty (or free-floating) signifier’ it has become something of an academic ‘soundbite’ and that the term itself in danger of being an empty signifier.” (Chandler, loc 1520). I suspect there is some of that going on, true. But I also constantly read headlines, adverts, news stories, and think to myself, they are literally saying nothing at all of any note. Or what is being said is all fluff. (Lies too but I’ll address that another time – there is a fantastic quote I can’t find yet). And I have used Lear to explore this in an earlier post – his eldest daughters’ theatrical declarations of love were empty, while his youngest, Cordelia who answered, “Nothing, my Lord”, felt unable or unwilling to play his game but in fact was the truer daughter. The nothingness of signs, or a zero sign is important to consider for the deconstruction of an advert assignment. I think unconscious motivation is relevant. And I will need to include Braulliard’s ‘late capitalism’ simulcra; counterfeit (imitation), production (illusion) and simulation (fake), which he asserts are signs that pretend to mean something but in fact hide reality (Chandler, loc 1528).
ref: (will add properly shortly when on computer)
Macat video below & Chandler Semiotics