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On October 11th, 2007, Volume 120 Number 41, October 22nd, 2007 issue (Figure 1) was distributed nationally . It contained articles covering various current Canadian issues; such as, “The Mouse House” regarding four Toronto hospitals collaboration to create animal-research facilities, “The Defence Debate”, a discussion of how Canada’s chief of defence staff, Rick Hillier, is viewed within government. The issue also examined world issues; such as, “No Beacon of Hope”, discussing the current state of Afghanistan after the end of Taliban rule, “Head-Scarf Protests”, about Turkey’s head-scarf ban being under fire because young women of Turkey are demanding their right to attend secular universities and “Argentina’s Hillary”, discussing Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a political wife, who is poised to take the presidency in Argentina. The magazine also covered additional articles regarding health, “Concussion Alert”, discussing research suggesting that concussions may induce psychosis later in life, and business, “Helium Dries Up”, about a global helium shortage’s far-reaching repercussions.
The cover of this issue highlighted six articles including: “Why Charlie Brown Was So Sad”, explaining that every bitter memory of author Charles Schulz’s long life made its way into “Peanuts”, “Coffee $130/LB.” introducing a new café, Manic Coffee, in Toronto that sells $15 cups of coffee, “Will Your Child’s Concussions Make Him Dangerous?”, the health article earlier discussed, “Stephen Colbert’s Secret Agenda”, reviewing the Comedy Central network’s show, The Colbert Report, “Harper to Dion: Make my Day”, about Stephen Harper issuing a “fish or cut bait” ultimatum and most prominently, “Are We Becoming a Nation of Bigots”, discussing Canada’s current level of toleration towards the multi-cultural country.
The cover of this magazine can be analyzed using different theories, including the semiotics of symbolic theory, Performance as Political Action idea and postmodern theories within cultural studies. The first theory used to analyze this magazine is the semiotic theory, developed by C.S. Peirce. This theory is used to find the meaning in signs and claims it is all in the meaning of the signs used.
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Basic Elements of a Sign
Signifier: the sign’s image as we perceive it
Signified: the mental concept to which the sign refers
Icon: resembles its object in some way (a picture is an icon)
Symbol: a sign whose connection with its object is a matter of agreement (words are generally symbols)
Syntagm: “an orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole”
The cover in itself is a sign to its interpretants (the readers) and one can draw meaning from the interacting images and text. This magazine cover consists of syntagmatic relation where the sign as a whole can be broken down into four different signs, and one only gets meaning from their associations with each other. To analyze the signifiers and signified of each separate sign should be known. The signifier of sign one, is the image (icon) of a woman wearing a chador, looking to the center of the page, the signifieds could be minority, oppression, observant, mother, daughter, or sister. The signifier of sign two is the image (icon) of a middle aged man in a business suit looking to the center of the page; the signifieds could be majority, powerful, successful, father, son, observant, or annoyed. The third sign is the background coloured red, the signifieds could be anger, death, or stop. The final sign’s signifier is just the words (symbols). The signified is what is actually written, but only because the interpretants are in agreement of what the words mean in the English. However, the deeper signified of the words depend on the culture in which the interpretant is from. “Maclean’s”, is familiar to most residents as a Canadian magazine in which you can buy and as earlier mentioned, is distributed nationally throughout Canada, a country consisting of people from many different cultural backgrounds. These cultural differences shape their mental concept of the words written. Those of visible minorities may answer “yes” to the question “Are we becoming a nation of bigots?”, that the majority of Canada (the Caucasians similar to the man in sign two) are becoming bigots against them and other people of visible minorities. Whereas those of the majority may feel defensive towards the statement, and answer “no”, we are not becoming bigots.
The meaning behind the sign as the whole is all the signifieds combined: minority, oppression, observant, majority, powerful, annoyed, anger, stop, magazine, purchase, “the majority is becoming a nation of bigots” and/or “we are not becoming a nation of bigots”. To sum it up, using the theories of semiotics, the meaning behind this sign is that it is a magazine to purchase with articles within. Additionally, once recognized as a magazine to purchase, if the answer is yes to the question “Are we becoming a nation of bigots” (Sign four), the majority towards the minority (minority, oppression, observant, powerful, annoyed, Sign one and two), we have to stop (Sign three)!
To analyze the cover further, the performance/critical theory of Performance as Political Action, can be used. Performance as Political Action “is a method of communicating in order to change people’s behaviour through performance.” Performances interact with audiences, communities, and cultures and can sometimes alter social process and practices. This theory is best examined through physical performances, such as lectures and plays but can be applied to the performance of print media. The visual performance of the cover, the woman of a visible minority and the man of visible majority, dramatizes the intolerance some citizens of Canada may have towards immigrants and women. This image combined with the text, “Canada thinks of itself as a beacon of tolerance. The evidence suggests otherwise” , may provoke inner change within audiences and move for social change. Some individuals may see the cover, answer yes to the question, “Are we becoming a nation of bigots”, and react with political change within their social group, school, work or neighbourhood. However, further examining Performance as Political Action; one must question the performativity of the two people in the photograph. “Performativity is a reiteration of a norm or set of norms” and we recognize certain features as masculine or feminine because they are accepted as social norms. For example, the man on the right of the cover, why do we see him as male? His short hair? Unmanicured eyebrows? Business suit? As for the women on the left, why do we see her as female? Her manicured eyebrows? Full lips? The chador? These features project the social norms of a business man and an ethnic woman, but we cannot be certain they are what they seem.
As discussed in Augie Flera’s “Mass Media Communication in Canada”, Canada’s “mainstream media has [sic] been accused of harbouring a love-loathe relationship with minority women…” and because the magazine being analyzed has a woman (we assume due to our set of norms) of visible minority on the cover, this statement must be discussed. Flera believes that “the world we inhabit is… transformed by media images” in different ways. One way being that it “often provide[s] our first and only point of contact with the world out there.” If this is the case, magazines hold the responsibility of pushing messages, concerns, and situations in people’s faces. The Maclean’s magazine would be responsible for pushing the message that the country is becoming less tolerant of visible minorities. Mainstream media, as in Maclean’s magazine, has the power to define who is Canadian and the cover of the October 22nd, 2007, could be suggesting that the woman is not apart of the “we” in the text; the “we” referring to Canadians. They have used a stereotype of immigrants; they wear chadors. However, this is not the case for all immigrants, nor is it true that one must be an immigrant to wear a chador.
Furthermore, this analysis of the Maclean’s magazine cover has focused primarily on the prominent photograph and question. However, attention to the small articles has yet to be discussed. What factors do magazine editors consider when choosing which articles to display, ultimately, to sell more copies? The top left hand corner of the cover displays the familiar image of cartoon character, Charlie Brown. Beside him is “Coffee $130/lb”, “Will Your Child’s Concussions Make Him Dangerous?” and “Stephen Colbert’s Secret Agenda”. The magazine market is huge, and all publishers must market their product to sell to gain more revenue. The editors must feature the articles they feel will sell more copies. Postmodern theorists deem language to be the most influential means to which communication “constructs our sense of reality” , and magazine editors must take this into account. However, “neither single words nor …whole chains of words can explain the meanings we create” ; meanings arise from the individual (subject) and the context in which the language is placed. For example, the question “Will Your Child’s Concussions Make Him Dangerous?” on a medical journal versus a weekly social magazine would have a different meaning and effect to a mother/father, versus a childless man/woman. As the saying goes, “it’s all relative”; relative to the fact these articles are within a weekly magazine, where facts and stories are rushed to meet the weekly deadlines, and not on a highly researched medical journal. The urgency to read the article is weakened due to the medium used to communicate it.
According to Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at New York University, all journalists are postmodern now. Everything is up for interpretation because meaning comes from the person and the context, and they are, along with their readers, aware of the “spin factor”. We are all getting spun stories by ever print media trying to sell the magazine. “Facts…are often messy, difficult to isolate, dependent on context and subject to interpretation” and within the magazine article, journalists acknowledge the complications while trying to provide as much information as possible. The cover designers and editors, on the other hand are not – they are trying to get the buyers to care enough to purchase their magazine. By highlighting the dangers of concussions (for parents), the high price of goods (for the financially concern), Stephen Colbert (for the television junky) and of course the bigotry of Canada (for the socially conscience), the editors are hoping to “spin” the full magazine, with blurbs on the cover, in order to sell the magazine.
After analyzing the October 22nd, 2007 cover of Maclean’s magazine, it is clear that it exhibits effective communication in regards to selling the magazine. They highlighted various articles on the cover to promote interest within their audience, the cover is visually appealing, and the semiotic message within the cover is engaging. The cover also affectively promotes performance as political action by communicating the intolerance of some Canadians, which may provoke political change by some and the cover designers and editors have used the postmodern idea that everything is up for interpretation by using blurbs of the stories to highlight the magazine.