Monday, February 6, 2012

Universally, Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

In the readings about semiotics from van Zoonen and Gill, both point to the importance of 'signification,' specifically denotation and connotation, looking at the first level of a text and/or image and seeing the meaning derived, but then a deeper meaning, specific to the culture of that image and/or text. This section stuck out to me, and made me think of a communication class I took last semester where I did a research paper on beauty ideals in Korean advertisements.

This particular ad stuck out to me, advertising a plastic surgery company, which shows on the left a "before" image of a smaller diamond ring, with a little less sparkle. Then, on the right handed side an "after" image, of a bigger diamond with much more sparkle. It seems the message is clear here. Specifically targeted at women, this shows that if women get plastic surgery then they will get the bigger ring, showing more success, economically and in the husband department. But, to better understand this ad, one has to understand Korean culture. Starting from early childhood, parents institute a strong sense of competition in their children, to be the best in school, academically and socially, which will lead to better success in their work and social lives. Parents further help their children achieve this by helping them achieve a certain physical "look." Plastic surgery is common and widely accepted in South Korea, and is one of the key elements in achieving this desired "look." Ads like this one are commonly seen everywhere from subway stations to local stores. Out of concern and caring for their children's futures, parents will purchase rhinopasty for their high school graduation gifts. I use this example of a Korean ad verses something from Cosmopolitan or People, to show that semiotics can be universal to certain degrees, but at other times the understanding of a culture is essential as well. A diamond engagement ring does indicate marriage, both in Korean and American culture, but a deeper look at both cultures shows that in Korean culture, the "right" marriage is a key component for happiness and success, but is taken farther by getting plastic surgery to achieve that. In contrast, an American outlook would see this ad as appalling and demeaning whereas a Korean outlook would see it as common. Additionally, if the persuasion tactics used in this ad were used on a typical American woman, it would probably be seen as offensive and dissuade any potential customers, but would encourage potential Korean women. Overall to understand semiotics, one must also recognize deeper meanings and outside factors, such as culture.

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