Semiotic analysis

6 June 2016

On the cover of More! the character again embodies the self for the reader. She represents the more! “ethos of youthful, cheeky impertinence” (in Curran 1996: 189) Her red, low-cut dress suggests that she is sassy; a vixen that has sexual needs and is not afraid to fulfil them. Again, the clear skin and perfect features encourage the reader to believe that there is an inner-beauty within everyone that will shine through. However, the More! model does not appear as innocent as the 19 model. Her hair is swept more vigorously from her face and therefore creates a more disrupted, chaotic image than the previous.

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The innocence depicted by the clear complexion of the 19 model is challenged here as the More! model raises her eyebrow into an arch; she has a glint in her eye and pouts her lips proudly. As we notice the presence of a man in the left hand side of the front cover, we therefore interpret this facial expression as sexual prowess – this girl knows what she wants and she knows exactly how to get it. The male figure is not personalised; indeed we only see a leg, an arm and a crotch and yet we are fully aware of the masculinity of the character.

This could suggest that, in subversion to the representation offered within male magazines, the man is the sexual object here. It is also significant that the male is wearing a kilt as it could suggest that the female is metaphorically wearing the trousers in the relationship. This interpretation would only become apparent if the reader was accustomed with the relevant social codes and textual codes of gendered magazines. If the reader is familiar with popular culture however, they could assume the man in the kilt to be the actor James Redmond who portrays Finn in Hollyoaks (a half-Scottish Lord) and therefore presume that there is an in-depth interview with him in the magazine – this is suggested by the text at the top of the magazine cover – “Finn-tastic! We Check out James Redmond’s Morning Glory”.

By analysing the title, tagline, and central images of the magazine cover, we have therefore deduced the readership and content of the magazines effectively. As McRobbie notes, sex now fills the space of the magazines’ pages. It “provides the frame for women’s magazines in the 1990’s” and “marks a new moment in the construction of female sexual identities” (in Curran 1996: 177). It is worrying to think that the explicit sexual representations within the magazines (such as More!’s “Raunchy resolutions
to spice up your sex life”) are being read by underage teenagers; sex has been packaged as a “commodity” (McLaughlin 200: 13) by these magazines in recent years and the young readers have eagerly jumped at the chance to buy such (what was previously) censored material.

Indeed, fifty years ago the teenage magazine industry differed greatly to that of today. According to Vestergaard we have seen a shift from “motherhood and childcare to the maintenance of physical appearance” (Vestergaard & Schr鷣er 1992: 81) (in the discussed examples, we see “Be your own stylist – steal insider know-how from the women who dress the stars” on the cover of 19, and on More! “Happy New Gear – what every glam girl will be wearing this season”). Dr Nancy Signiorelli of the University of Delaware undertook a study on “A Focus on Appearance” in the media in November 1996, and she found that one in three (37%) articles in leading teen girl magazines included a focus on appearance, one in three (35%) focused on dating and less than 2% discussed either school or careers (websources Kellner and ChildrenNow).

This is certainly reflected on the front covers analysed above – every feature on the covers refer to beauty, fashion, dating, sex and celebrities. Kimberley Phillips argues that these magazines therefore “reinforce the cultural expectations that an adolescent woman should be more concerned with her appearance, her relations with other people, and her ability to win approval from men than with her own ideas or expectations for herself (websource Hermes). It can also be argued however that young women are encouraged to develop independence by these magazines.

In recent years the magazine industry has therefore successfully extended the notion of what it is to be a woman. A teenage girl will see hunting boyfriends and beautifying as a norm; it is argued indeed that these are transcribed as their sole purposes in life. The magazines do not seem to cater for minority interests such as politics, environmental issues, or any kind of music that ventures beyond Westlife or Britney Spears.

The teenage girl has therefore been heavily stereotyped by the teenage magazine industry, and her interpretation of the codes and conventions used in the magazine will depend on her personal knowledge of this culture and society. Indeed, some of the readers of these magazines are male (e.g. the brothers or boyfriends of the female readers – Bignell refers to these as “non-ideal readers” (Bignell 1997: 58)), and they will interpret the codes differently to their female counterparts as they arguably do not share their interests in beauty products and fashion. Their interpretations of the sex issues may also differ, as they will gaze at the images of women as sex objects as opposed to icons and role models.

Chandler sees that “social semiotics alerts us to how the same text may generate different meanings for different readers” (web source, Semiotics for Beginners), and this is certainly true of the gendered readings of teenage magazines. Chandler further notes that the signs (or codes) within the text “do not just ‘convey’ meanings, but constitute a medium in which meanings are constructed” (ibid). Through reading a magazine aimed at her demographic group, a teenage girl will therefore come to learn that society expects her to be interested in boys, sex, fashion, beauty and fame. The magazine is therefore a “powerful ideological force” in society (McRobbie 2000: 69); the image and behavioural ideologies presented within the magazine covers become the stereotypical norm for the teenage girl.

Applying semiotic analysis to the magazine text therefore allows us to identify social ideologies of the teenage girl. One could analyse the front covers of magazine extensively, decoding the codes of colour, font, layout and spatial arrangements as well as the titles, taglines, language and central images to show the construction of the teenage girl in the media. Teenage magazines may not provide an altogether accurate representation of all teenage girls today, but it is certainly a medium that provides escapism and enjoyment for the reader whilst subliminally educating and informing at the same time.

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