Robots and Semiotics: More alike than you think

Hello world! My name is Matt Hamilton and I’m not just starting this blog to share with you the daily goings on in my life. No, I’m here for something much more important (if you want to know about my life, check my Twitter).

mediaI’m here to bring you into the world of Media Criticism. It’s a vast world full of different elements and interpretations that will have you thinking more than you ever have.

What’s Media Criticism, you say?

It’s a great question that I asked just a few weeks ago when Professor Nichols walked into the classroom. I was a little skeptical, thinking all I was going to do was critique shows and their representations of people and groups of people. However, I was just at the surface of this powerful mechanism.

In case you’re taking notes, here’s my definition. Media Criticism is a process of looking at a piece of media, whether print, television or film, and how it affects the culture around it. Well now, that does seem like a complex concept, but I promise you I’ll make it clearer as we go.

Let’s start by stating the fact that media is literally all around us. What am I doing right now? Just a little mix of internet, music and television. Here’s a glimpse of what’s going on this very minute.

Yes, that was Andy Grammer and English Premier League soccer, in case you were wondering. But the point is, media literally surrounds me and everyone else with access to it. Thus, we have Media Criticism.

Media Criticism is vital in this age, as there are simply too many media texts being generate to keep up. Who knows what messages are being digested by children, young adults and even the most experienced media consumers. Media Criticism helps us sort through media to see what messages are really coming out.

Alright, that was a lot to take in. You’re probably looking for an example right now, because everyone loves a good example.

You could dive into the semiotics involving Andy Grammer’s music. He speaks often of saving “it” for the right one, so you could infer that those lyrics would be a sign. The sign would have a meaning attached to it, which in this case I think would be the idea that one should actually wait for the right person to commit to.

The above process is all part of Media Criticism. But that’s just the very start. To give you an even better example, I’m taking you in-depth into a commercial that aired over seven years ago. I was just an immature high schooler back then, and now I’m one of those 20-somethings that thinks they know everything,

Anyway, get ready for the ride through Media Criticism. Make sure you buckle your seat belt and your belongings are stowed away under your seat. Here we go!

Bud Light Super Bowl Commercial Too Controversial for TV

That’s the title that reads on YouTube. Too controversial to air on television, but you can be sure you’ll find it on the internet. It was Super Bowl Sunday, otherwise known as the “Holy Grail” of commercial time. There isn’t a minute of the Super Bowl that I don’t watch, because even when the game isn’t being played, the commercials are enough to entertain you throughout the break.

In 2007, Bud Light wanted to air a commercial that was apparently racy. I didn’t find it that controversial, more so really that it was really silly. I was 14 at the time, and I’m sure the message that came across in this commercial went completely over my head.

Now, I see it pretty clearly. But I’ll let you look for yourself so you can interpret it your own way.

Bud Light 3So the Apology Bot-3000 saves the day for Kenji and Mike in the kitchen, making sure the group is happy despite their friend being so very close to death. Sounds like real life right? Not in any stretch of imagination.

This commercial seems like it would be targeted at younger demographics, as the group sitting at the table looked to be in their late 20s to early 30s. That makes sense, as alcohol seems more prevalent in younger generations than in older ones.

However, if you look at the stats provided by a Gallup poll in 2012, it would clearly show who’s drinking and who’s not. Surprise, young people and younger males especially are drinking. I could have spent a night at Towson and told you that.

Maybe this commercial was not perceived as comical by older demographics but by  younger ones, as they may not have gotten the blatant sarcasm embedded in it.

I’m not here to debate the realism of the commercial. No, I’m here to apply the concepts of Media Criticism that I learned in class to this banned commercial. I’m not sure why it was banned, but that’s a different story.

I’m going to use the concepts I studied in Semiotics and Structuralism to observe this commercials and its many meanings. Those are big words, I know, but I’m hoping I can lay it out as easily as possible.

Under semiotics and structuralism, there are are a few ways of looking at a text like this Bud Light commercial. We have dominant readings, negotiated meaning and oppositional readings. For this instance, here’s what I can decipher:

Dominant: Bud Light makes everything better. What better way to go out then to have a Bud Light with friends. The drink also makes up for the fact that Kenji and Mike served poisonous food.

Negotiated: Bud Light seems to mask the fact that the man is about to die. Kenji and Mike are using the Apology Bot-3000 to ease the pain of eating the poisonous food.

Oppositional: The group at dinner is oblivious to the fact that their friend is dying. It seems all they care about is the alcohol. Kenji and Mike are hiding behind the Apology Bot-3000 and Bud Light because they know it will make the group forget they messed up the food. The message coming across here is that all that matters in the world is Bud Light. Also, Kenji and Mike aren’t strong enough to apologize to the man’s face.

In this reading, I took into account the acitivities and music that was used in the commercial. You probably didn’t even notice these aspects the first time. Right? Go ahead, I know you want to watch it again.

Bud Light GirlSo this guy is in trouble right? It makes sense to play very sad piano music, as you know, he’s dying and all. Check out the faces on these friends. He’s dying and they’re just figuring it out; I’d be pretty sad too.

These are paradigms for the idea that death is sad. Yes, I know it sounds like a given that death is a pretty upsetting thing, but I must break down this commercial into the smallest units (phonemic) all they way down to the most broad aspects of the 48-second ad (familial) to understand its meaning.

We’ll start at phonemic, where the music and mood create the images of gloominess. But then something happens that completely changes the scene. The Apology Bot-3000 makes an appearance with Bud Light of course.

Bud Light GuyAs soon as the words “Bud Light” are uttered, all of sudden the mood and music change. The disco-like music starts bumping (clearly popular a few years ago) and the friends begin to smile. Why the literal change of face?

Bud Light, of course. The faces and music are examples of signifiers that give off the meaning that Bud Light makes people more happy. This commercial is simply a field of signs that we in Media Criticism call codes, but the characters don’t hide how they feel.

These phonemic pieces to the commercial can be put together to form the anti-factual meaning of it. The cooks send out the Apology Bot-3000 (which would be awesome if it existed) and he tells the man he’s about to die. Then, he offers the group Bud Light from inside of his belly…..I mean refrigerator.

Then, happiness and a neglect of the imminent death that the man is about to suffer. Who cares? It’s Bud Light. I just ran through a few paradigmatic meanings in this commercial, but they all combine for the syntagmatic reading.

Here it is for you note-takers: Bud Light can make anything better, even death. This is not simply a reading I’m making after watching it once. More so a complex set of pieces to a larger puzzle that is the meaning of this commercial.

So what does this commercial do for the general population? That’s a difficult question. Bud Light is pretty good at advertising its products, but should it be? What is it contributing to?

A separate oppositional reading for this commercial could be that alcohol is a dangerous drug that can and sometimes does lead to death. Maybe this ad shouldn’t be allowed to air for the sheer fact that it could promote alcohol consumption.

Let’s put this in perspective: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there were 17 million Americans over 18 with¬†Alcohol Use Disorders in 2012. Not to mention the over 800,000 kids 12-17 that also struggle with alcohol. I guess it could have affected kids my age if it would have aired.

Those with the dominant reading would ignore these stats and focus on the fun that you can have with Bud Light. That’s certainly what Bud Light wants you to do. Heck, it even issued an ad that substituted the word “fun” with a bottle of Bud Light. Think I’m lying? Check it out.

Bud Light 2

Bud Light knew what it was doing when it issued this ad in 2007. The odd thing about this ad is that it is funny. As a result, it has over 4 million views on YouTube. People like funny things, even if they may give off a negative message.

This ad was banned and Bud Light still managed to remake it the next year. I could go on for days about this one as well, as it specificly features a woman excepting a gift from the Apology Bot. But that’s a whole different story.

Some may have digested this message without even understanding it. Maybe there’s someone out there that believes that giving Bud Light to someone dying will help them in some way.

In a syntagmatic reading. this would be the concept I’d take from this commercial. Certainly, Kenji and Mike believed that a little Bud Light would go a long way.

I just hope that no one believes the dominant reading and takes it completely for what it is.

But that’s it for my semiotic/structuralist look at the 2007 Bud Light commercial featuring my favorite, the Apology Bot-3000. Like it or love it, let me know! I’d love to hear what you have to say about Bud Light and its ad campaigns over the years.