‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is a phrase of American origin that captures the ability for an image to convey vast amounts of information. The denotations and connotations from one sign can often cause controversy and conflict with ideologies. This is what occurred when Maria Corry posted a photo of herself breastfeeding on Facebook.
Before we explore the controversy surrounding this image, let us define the key terms and observe the denotations or signifiers in the sign. A sign in semiotics represents “Anything that can be used to communicate (or to tell a lie).” (Streeter, n.d.), an ideology is “systems of ideas or belief or symbolic practices”(Threadgold, 1986) and denotation being; “… Definitional, ‘literal’, ‘obvious’ or ‘common sense’ meaning of a sign.” (Chandler, 2014).
From Corry’s sign one can observe the denotations (the signifiers) being a woman sitting down with blonde hair, wearing jeans and a long sleeved shirt in the centre. The woman is breastfeeding her baby whom she is cradling in her arms on her lap. There is a wood floor underneath them and a forest with a stream in the background.
Several connotations (signified) are evident, some of which have resulted in controversy. A connotation is “…Cultural meanings of signs…Signs that are used as signifiers for a secondary meaning, e.g., the word “rose” signifies passion.” (Streeter, n.d.).
The cultural context for this sign is the United States, however it has been posted globally on social media. Some reported the image for containing nudity, which Facebook rejected and the image was not removed. This displays the role of ideologies, in the case of breastfeeding being considered ‘natural’ versus ‘disgusting’, as shown in the American context in Salads 2016 video.
The reporting infuriated Corry; “You can’t see much, but why do people get so worked up about this? NORMALIZE BREASTFEEDING!” and prompted her to post a second image highlighting the effects of an individual’s ideology on interpreting her photo:
Corry sits holding a Victoria Secret advertisement found in public places covering her whilst she breastfeeds, “I bet this won’t be reported”.
Corry’s image has triggered the start of a new movement #normalizebreastfeeding illustrating its power.
Corry’s original picture’s denotations can be read in more than one way and the connotations varying due to the complexities of online user’s ideologies. The importance of semiotics, and understanding semiotics, from a communications point view is therefore crucial to conveying a clear and accepted message.
Chandler, D, 2014, ‘Semiotics for Beginners’, accessed 21/03/2016, http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem06.html
Corry, M, 2016 a, Image, accessed 20/03/2016, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208889041769296&set=a.1409595365883.57774.1412442343&type=3&theater
Corry, M, 2016 b, Image, accessed 20/03/2016, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208899146341904&set=t.1412442343&type=3&theater
Martin, G, n.d.,’The meaning and origin of the expression: A picture is worth a thousand words’, accessed 20/03/2016, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words.html
Salads, J, 2016, ‘Sexy vs Breastfeeding in Public (Social Experiment)’, Video, accessed 20/03/2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOEHRsRIodI
Streeter, T, n.d., ‘Semiotic Terminology’, accessed 20/03/2016, http://www.uvm.edu/~tstreete/semiotics_and_ads/terminology.html
Threadgold, T, 1986, ‘Semiotics-Ideology-Language, Sydney Studies in Society and Culture, 3, p. 16, accessed 21/03/2016, http://openjournals.library.usyd.edu.au/index.php/SSSC/article/viewFile/8715/8765