Hi all 🙂
You’ve probably all seen various versions of this meme – it’s all over Facebook,
Twitter, Instagram – the works. But how did it start? Someone woke up one day and decided it would be a good idea to take a salad advertisement out of context – or removed its connotation, and simply look at the message the picture alone sent to its audience – and the result is quite hilarious. But there’s more to this ideology than meme creation.
Semiotics is defined as “the study of symbols and how they are used”. In my understanding, it’s to do with the way a sign or image is conveyed to the world versus the ideas and messages we take away from it. There are two parts to a sign: firstly, what you see or hear (the signifier, or denotation), and secondly, what meaning you take away from that (the signified, or connotation). The key word in that sentence is “you”. This post will look at how signs are used to evoke responses from us, and why we get the signified responses that we do.
Our interpretations of the signs exposed to us depend heavily on our ideologies – our culture, beliefs and general knowledge. For example, if we take one very common sign, one found near public toilets, we can ask ourselves the following question: In what way does this signifier of two figures, one in a dress and one in pants, tell us there is a bathroom nearby? The answer is simple: it doesn’t. If we remove our cultural/acquired recognition from this image, our signified response, or interpretation, of this image could be anything from it’s night time to there’s one bathroom for people wearing skirts and one for those wearing pants – regardless of gender, or is there a cafe selling gingerbread men ahead? We rarely stop to think about the origins of the signals we interpret.
I’m going to take you back to the salad meme. It was taken from a salad advertisement. Do you think anyone would have noticed how happy the salad-eater was? Picture the Subway advertisements. They also contain images of people laughing and smiling at their salad, an advertising technique to draw us, the weak-minded consumers, in. It’s not particularly manipulative or anything – do any of you eat salad because you think it will make you as happy as the woman in the ad; do you think it will make you laugh?
No. But looking at the flip side – if an advertising company used an image like this one to sell their salad, do you think it would be as effective? I doubt it – and the salad is not that different and the woman is just as stereo typically beautiful as those used in the advertisements; the product just isn’t as exciting. In terms of the denotations provided for us by advertising companies, the range of positive connotations we take away from that are limited by the persona’s lack of enthusiasm.
So the happy salad snaps don’t fool us into thinking we’ll break out into a laughing fit at the first bite of a cucumber, they just give us a larger range of positive connotations more so than the image above. When we see a smiling face, we tend to relax, we tend to be drawn to that person and some of that happiness somehow transfers into ourselves. But we have different signified responses. In the same way a person who had never been exposed to this sign could think it denotes Harry Potter accessing Platform 93/4, a poor soul like me, who sat through HSC English, would look at a salad advertisement and notice how the model is positioned, the vector created by her eyes and the use of colour, all as advertising techniques, while some others would view the same sign with amusement, and wonder what her salad has said that is just so damn hilarious. Somebody who has not studied the media might merely wander past the advertisement and notice nothing but the salad – and after all, that is the advertiser’s intention.
So it’s safe to say that the same sign can be viewed an infinite number of ways, depending on a person’s system of ideals.
Please comment, I would be interested to hear your views. Do any of you actually laugh when you eat salad? 😉