Assignment 3 : Response to tutor feedback report

My tutor had commented that at the halfway part of the course it was a good idea to take stock, think broadly about how ideas change over time, and also give myself the opportunity to revisit and re-evaluate ideas in the light of my new readings and thoughts.

I had been reflecting upon this and realised that I had a lot of worries, thoughts, and unanswered questions about Structuralism, which were reinforced by certain comments I had found in Don Slater’s text ‘marketing mass photography’ (Slater, 1999). He appeared to think critically about structuralism, structural analysis, and semiotics in a similar way to myself and this encouraged me to write about my worries and thoughts on the matter ( BLOG post ‘Epilogue- some worries about structuralism’. ). It was encouraging and exciting for me to realise that I had had ideas of my own which challenged famous thinkers’ views, and that they were vindicated by the views of other published and recognise thinkers. This has helped my confidence to believe that I have lots of valid ideas of my own, even if they are informed by my knowledge of others’ work.

Assignment 3 : I had continued to enjoy researching and preparing the assignments, and have made a response/reflection on assignment 3 tutor annotated comments.

In my personal life I am frequently to be found discussing my ideas about art and politics in terms of my new found knowledge of topics like  structuralism and Marxism, and my new found role as a vegetarian. This new confidence has helped me ground my new knowledge, and also allows one to sift about and place the different issues into a hierarchy of importance, which is a necessity when summarising and reinforcing verbal discussion and argument.

Unfortunately I have found it very difficult to progress with my own painting and drawing this year. I’m on the Ba Painting, though I will probably change to BA Fine art after discussions with my tutor. It’s a disappointment to me that my experience of my previous module Practice of Painting had left me lacking in confidence. I’d had a difficult time with some negative tutor comments, and illness, and the protracted time I took to complete the module.

My struggle to get back to my drawing and painting is probably more to do with my lack of confidence than my taking this module, which has fewer overt instructions to go and practice my art (or any lack of available time).

I am going to attempt to get back into things by gradually allowing myself easier ways of returning to practice, including sketch crawls, just drawing painting without worries, finding alternative ways to be creative (such as collecting objects), or joining an art club…..

At this point I had made some progress in reading articles from Mirzoeff’s visual culture reader (edition 3 ). These articles a little different in style to the articles in the OCA reader. They are more contemporary and are often situation/topic specific contrasting with the broader subjects discussed in the OCA reader. They are also notably more political and often involved power struggles and the idea of visuality.

As well as increasing my knowledge of visual culture issues and texts this happily provided me with a lot of research on assignment 4 which I thoroughly enjoyed writing. I deliberately pushed my comfort zone by picking a ‘first-person shooter’  computer game (Battlefield 4). I have never talked meaningfully about this sort of text, nor before this course would I have even realised this was a ‘text’ ! It was very rewarding therefore to see just how much I could find in terms of ideology and visuality within the text. I included lots of illustrations as a powerful way of reinforcing my points.

In terms of my module completion schedule I continued to work at an acceptable rate and completed part 3 in about 9 weeks. This was important because due to illness and suspension I had a deadline of September the 1st for assignment 5 to reach my tutor.


Assignment 3- Response and reflections on selected tutor comments

Comment [1]: Fair enough but there seems to be a position already taken (a priori) before the analysis has begun. I know that we all come to these things with some personal viewpoint but it is usual to make some analysis before revealing it or to state the position strongly going into the exercise.

This is an important point. I did not intend to prejudge the conservatives- I meant to pose the question of whether there were other more accurate interpretations, but I used the word dishonest rather haphazardly, and Peter quite rightly interpreted this as a bias. This shows how careful one must be to use words which accurately say what you really want – especially in the introduction to an argument, where ones opening position may be interpreted as a major flaw in the subsequent product.


comment [5]: not entirely sure I understand what you men here. The statement as it is isn’t really correct but I dn’t think that is wat you mean.

Once again I used inaccurate language. Perhaps more accurate would be to say that language was treated as a system of signs by Saussure, and that his linguistic terminology has been used subsequently to analyse non-linguistic sign systems (Britannica, 2017)


Comment [6]: Surely it is true of all languages?

Yes, I used the bracket here to indicate that the English language was here chosen arbitrarily, but this was understandably unclear to the reader, and I should have been more explicit.


Comment [8]: are you sure? I think that the signified is something much more subtle than this which is implied by these objects (and I suspect that is what you meant!) Yes this was a mistake


Comment [13]: True. Do you think that the viewer will interpret this all as documentary and ‘real’ people or do you think they will assume actors? Is it just the Conservative ideal though? Is it not something that most if not all of us more or less want? Isn’t that the reall point of the broadcast trope…we all want these things but only the Conservative Party will bring it about.

The voice-overs here could have been actors, or ‘real’ people- I don’t know which- and neither would other viewers know. What is for sure is that they are playing the role of real people (ie voters). It’s an interesting thought because we often know whether our visual texts contain actors (most films) or ‘real’ people ( eg. Documentaries). This does affect the way we view the text, though we may take away a similar (or different) message with either. I think the viewer probably finds the mental leap to ‘the real’ easier when it’s not obvious (like here), and so the effect is probably most akin to documentary.


Comment [29]: Do you think it was intended to reinforce and support those who are ‘natural’ conservatives or do you think it was intended to convert those who are not?

I think that the broadcast was aimed at the ‘natural’ population of conservatives (which may include some lib-dems), not the labour voters. From the evidence provided by the broadcast the message is very typically ‘middle class’ in its symbology , and discusses none of the other more naturally left-wing ideas which I describe as a possible (deconstructed) family in the final paragraph of page 6. From a political orthodoxy, it also makes sense that the party in power (or ‘having the most power- it’s a hung parliament) concentrate on getting their own supporters out more than trying to gain voters from the other minority parties.


References (2017) semiotics [online] at 2017) [accessed 30th January 2018]



Assignment 3 : Formative feedback


Formative feedback

Student name

Philip Hepworth Student number 508858
Course/Unit Understanding Visual Culture Assignment number 3


 Overall Comments

In effect this is the halfway point.  I think that you should take the opportunity to take stock.  It can help to remind you that ideas change over time and also that previous insights may well have something to say to us now despite attempts to demolish them in the meantime.  It can be worthwhile thinking about whether it is a good idea to re-visit some of the previous exercises/projects in light of later readings and/or thoughts.  The results of all this re-thinking, re-evaluating and re-visiting should appear in your logbook.

The comments below are bullet points ahead of the video tutorial.


 Feedback on assignment  

My notes made on your assignment are to make the basis of our discussion.

Ask yourself if the balance between explaining your understanding of Semiotics etc and using them to decode the ‘advertisement’ is right.

Are you working from an a priori perspective or approaching it with a totally open mind?  Should you make your position clear from the start?

In general I think you have made a pretty good attempt at this assignment

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical review/essay

Your blog is looking pretty good but try to add more about how this unit is affecting your personal work, how you approach exhibitions, websites and so on rather more.  Particularly min more recent times…this section seems to have stalled a couple of months ago.


Suggested reading/viewing

Not entirely obvious in relation to the next section but in many cases the machinery of propaganda uses the idea of turning a perceived enemy or designated group in society into the ‘other’ so try:

Clark, Toby. (1997) Art and Propaganda, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

Polock’s book has some interesting things to say from a feminist point of view

Pollock, Griselda (1988) Vision and Difference, London: Routledge.

Useful guides for the next assignment as it is a formal essay:

Academic essay writing:


Pointers for the next assignment

 This is a formal academic essay and therefore should be written in an impersonal voice with the formal ‘introduction; main text; conclusion format.

  • Quotations from authoritative sources should be included and references given in accordance with the Harvard system (see above) and do not contribute to the word count.
  • Illustrations are always to be encouraged in essays dealing with visual culture.
  • You are pointed to the film Simba in the next section, it isn’t the world’s greatest film in cinematic terms but is important in cultural theory terms in particular in contrast to, say, The Battle of Algiers.
  • The next assignment may seem to be very similar to this one but in reality, though there are necessarily some points of convergence, the idea is to delve into an ideological rather than a semiotic analysis or deconstruction. I am looking to see how you understand ideology(ies) influenced the making of the ‘text’ and our reading of it.  It is often illuminating to speculate about the different readings arrived at, at different times.


Assignment 3 -Decoding advertisements

Choose a current advertisement or campaign and drawing on the work of Barthes and others, analyse it to show how it derives and conveys its meaning to its intended audience. You will need to apply the principles of simple semiotic, structuralist and post-structuralist analysis.


For this assignment I have chosen a Conservative Party Election Broadcast from 2015 as it has many elements of an advert- it’s a large company selling a product through a constructed ‘reality’. Also, having won the 2015 election and in the light of recent events such as the referendum, terrorist attacks, a second (optional) election, ‘strong and stable’ government turning to a ‘coalition of chaos’, and most recently the appalling loss of life in the Grenfell tower block fire, has the reality of the offered vision for our voters really come to fruition? Are other interpretations possible which are more accurate and less dishonest?

The Broadcast;

I have taken the broadcast from the internet at

where it is freely available to those who have a computer and knowledge of how to use it. The original broadcast was likely meant to attract a particular demographic of established older adults (young  ones are traditionally less likely to vote and are less valuable as viewers/consumers).  I have included  images and both spoken and written text from the broadcast. After introducing some terminology I’d like to take certain frames, and analyse possible meanings contained within them.

What is reality?

In order to analyse the broadcast it will be important to introduce ideas about what reality actually is.  It may seem simple, but on closer analysis it is not. Ferdinand Saussure (1857-1913) and Charles Peirce (1839-1914) independently laid the foundations of semiotics, the study of signs, which are essential to how we perceive our reality. Peirce proposed that ‘we think only in signs’ (Chandler, 1994), and it is reasonable to assume that meaning is not simply ‘transmitted’ to us but that ‘we actively create it’ (Chandler, 1994).

Linguistics and semiotics

“Semiotics is the study of everything that can be used for communication: words, images, traffic signs, flowers, music, medical symptoms, and much more.”                                                                                                                                                                                                        (Bybee, 2000)

Linguistics is a special case of semiotics. Linguistic meaning is found by decoding words and sentences using the (English) language. Roland Barthes gives a clear analysis of how meaning is built up from a word in Rhetoric of the image (Barthes, 1993 p.33). If we take the word ‘rose’ we can make a simple semiotic analysis (table 1).

Table 1. Semiotic analysis of the word ‘rose’

Analytical method
Saussure Peirce
the physical sound or text signifier representamen
mental concept signified interpretant
Physical object Not included Object/referent
Combination of above SIGN SIGN
Number of elements in SIGN 2 3

Peirce’s method differs from Saussure in several ways. The terminology is different and the Sign concept has 3 elements not 2.  Whilst Saussure applied his theory to language, Peirce was interested in how we sense the real world and added a physical object. He also allowed that the mental concept is an interpretation of the signified giving the listener/viewer more input over meaning. His method is more dynamic than Saussure’s signified; the representament-interpretant couple can be iterated successively (one interpretant becomes the representamen for the next) allowing for chains of signifieds, and shifting meanings (Chandler, 1994).

Fig 1. and images (signifiers) suggesting a reality of a youngster walking into a garden, and a baby in a chair surrounded by toys and photos (the signifieds).  The spoken text begins ‘What do I want for my children? I want them to be happy……etc…’ . The linguistic message is built up through the individual words as in table 1. It suggests voters’ children will be secure and happy when the conservatives deliver shrewd economics.

From a young age children learn to interpret visual images of ‘things’ as a  representation of reality (Barthes, 1993: p. 36), thus the images are also  signifiers at the lowest level of meaning; the denoted message.

pic 1

Fig. 1 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

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Fig. 2 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

Structural analysis

Structural analysis is a study of text as a whole and the kinds of interrelationships/contrasts that the system builds into itself to give it meaning (Bybee, 2000).  It is closely related to semiotics. Meaning is built up within a text through the choice of signifiers chosen from a collection of binary opposites.

This strategy tends to favour one choice over its opposite, illustrating the  paradigmatic  aspect of structuralism. For example male> female, white> black, rich> poor and young>old. Additionally, the syntagmatic aspect says that spatial structure of signifiers is important in conveying meaning and is biased (reading English text from left to right for example) (Pooke and Newall, 2008 p.102). It is now possible to see how several layers of meaning (connoted messages) are constructed in the broadcast using structural analysis and a system of signs as in table 1.

Stuctural analysis of the broadcast

There are many types of media including visual, auditory and tactile. Each has its own characteristics.  Images, especially photographic and moving filmed images, tend to be interpreted as very ‘real’ compared to others. The TV images are meant to signify a voter’s real life. The images are accompanied by written text and voices, which are also interpreted as more real, more personable, and allow a much richer range of signs than, say text alone (Chandler, 1994).

The music and voices used throughout this film are very benign. The music is catchy if a little insipid. It has a simple structure; essentially a repeated tune and harmony for each scene, suggesting (ie. a sign) a pleasant wandering between the scenes and families. Spoken text corresponds to the voter’s requirements from a government, and voices are adult representing different geographical areas, origins, nationality, sex and class, a sign that everyone will benefit from voting conservative. Each spoken statement is followed by a ‘response’ from the Conservative party, which is reinforced by the perfect cadence which lands on it. Dominant-tonic harmony is a strong musical sign of stability and strength. All these aural meanings are connoted messages.

At the connoted level meanings begin to multiply quickly. Fig 1 and 2. Shows that technical ‘filmic’ methods have been used to increase the sense of reality (real>imitation). The French windows are opened, the child walks through, and we (the camera) follows. The whole scene (the whole advert too) is in slow motion which means ‘relaxed, gentle and reassuring’. Meaning is transferred through ‘Conservative Blue’, both in the baby’s toys, and in the strange blue haze in the scene (this seems not to be a reproduction artefact- has a camera filter been used here?).

The (simplified) analysis in Fig. 1and 2 might be summarised; the scene uses signifiers of children, babies, educational toys, photos, a suburban garden, relaxation, a benign regional accented voice, gentle movement and  music. These signify a successful life, economic wealth, stability, the birth and nurturing of children. These in turn signify (either individually or as a repeated chain) the Conservative ideal, and a life you will get if you vote Tory. Each signified transfers meaning through their hidden opposite-childlessness, difficulty, unintelligible harsh voices, poverty, and change. The addition of text to the images helps to keep the number of meanings under control, through both anchorage and relay (Barthes, 1993: p. 37)

In the park

pic 3

Fig.3 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 4

Fig. 4   Youtube: John Moore (2015)

Voiced Text: I want him to grow up in a Britain where there are doors open to him, so he can get on, get a good job………’.

In fig. 3 and 4 we see several signified/signifier couples (signs) which transmit the meanings paternal and pastoral care (the son, dog and ducks),  family life and values (leisure time, active paternal engagement), and the importance of a capitalist society for happiness (business and jobs). These hidden biased positions are referred to as discourses.

This scene nicely illustrates Peirce’s three different modes of sign.The linguistic message is symbolic (signifier related arbitrarily to the signified), the video image is both iconic (relation based on likeness), and indexical (the relation is direct) (Chandler, 1994). In fact the infant fulfils all three types simultaneously; indexical via the process of filming (a direct connection between the infant and the image-the unique ‘having been there’ character of photography (Barthes, 1993: p 40); iconic as we interpret the image as a real infant, and symbolic because children and babies hold meanings such as trust, prosperity, and happiness. As we move through indexical, iconic, and symbolic, the signifieds become more ‘arbitrary’ and less ‘motivated’ (the connection between signifier and signified is ‘looser’).

Symbolic signs, the infant, ducks and dogs in the park, dad’s protection, and the importance of businesses and jobs in society, are heavily determined by cultural factors (Chandler, 1994). Our Western culture puts a large value on discourses like a good and stable job, a home, children, and possessions.  All these signs and discourses operate via the chosen half of a binary opposition. Arguably other ways of measuring a good and stable life are possible.

Post-structuralist analysis:

Post-structuralism emerged in Paris in the 1960’s as a reaction to Structuralism, through the work of Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Michael Foucalt, and Roland Barthes.

Post-structuralism holds that the study of underlying structures is itself culturally conditioned and therefore subject to myriad biases and misinterpretations. To understand an object (e.g., one of the many meanings of a text), it is necessary to study both the object itself, and the systems of knowledge which were coordinated to produce the object.

New World Encyclopaedia (2015)

Post-structuralists rejected the inherent dominance within binary pairs, and allowed a signifier to be emptied and of no fixed meaning New World Encyclopaedia (2015). This deconstructed message represented a different and potentially more accurate view of reality (see my BLOG for a deconstruction of the anthems ‘God save the Queen’ and ‘Jerusalem’ ). To illustrate the process I will investigate the underlying structure and reality by deconstructing the later broadcast scenes which focus on David Cameron, his family and the Tory party (fig 5-8).

pic 6

Fig. 5 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 6

Fig. 6  Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 7

Fig. 7  Youtube: John Moore (2015)

pic 8

Fig. 8 Youtube: John Moore (2015)

Fig 5-7 show the Prime Minister watching his son play football, scoring a goal, and then back at home for the family dinner (the salad bowl resembles a trompe d’oleil Dutch still life-like the shopping basket in Barthes’ analysis of  a Panzani advert (Barthes, 1993: p 35). It is east to see the constructed  meanings of the signs in these images.

Deconstructing the scenes may reveal alternative truths about life which are not part of conservative ‘brand’. In a stable happy family, it is not necessary for son’s to play football whilst dad watches (male> female), and mum stays at home making the dinner. Daughters could play football, mum’s watch, goals do not indicate success,  and the son and dad could be home enjoying more ‘feminine’ pastimes, such as baking or preparing the dinner.

It is also possible that a worthwhile happy family life can be enjoyed by people who do not correspond to the narrow view of normality seen around Cameron’s kitchen table. The family could be mixed race, same sex parented, may be childless, looking after an elderly relative with physical or mental disabilities. This deconstructed analysis questions why some meanings are inherently chosen. A more balanced view will give more space and ‘air time’ to less socially acceptable realities that are possible in the UK. The final scene (fig. 8) shows a union jack, and the take home linguistic message on a conservative blue background. The union flag represents a strong discourse about British history, involving male domination, mercantilism, war, imperialism, colonialism and slavery. A deconstructed view of this image might describe British family life from the point of view of feminism, Queer theory, LGBT society, altruism, pacifism and post-colonialism.


I have shown how this party political broadcast has constructed many meanings in many different ways, in order to create an illusion of reality which might allow an election victory. This version of reality has been contrasted with other versions which are possible in UK society.

These may be more (or less) accurate, honest and real- or they may not be. Some people’s reality will not have corresponded to the vision offered, others’ may have.  Probably no ‘fixed’ reality exists, and the best notion of it is multifactorial- involving words, images, signs, physical objects, and the different points of view of lots of different theoretical ‘isms’. However I think this best shot at reality is likely to include, and possibly highlight, those aspects which are hidden, but still detectable within this broadcast.


Fig.1-Fig. 8.   John Moore (2015) [Youtube webpage]  at [accessed 29th June 2017]


Barthes, R (1999).  ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in visual culture: a reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds.). London. SAGE Publications.   P33-41

Bybee, C, 2000. Semiotics and structuralism [online] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

Chandler, D (1994): Semiotics for Beginners [online] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

Moore, J (2015) conservative party election broadcast 2015 [Youtube webpage] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

New World Encyclopaedia (2015) Post-structuralism [online] at [accessed 29th June 2017]

Pooke, G and Newall, D (2008) Art History. Abingdon.  Routledge.