Semiotics For Beginners: Do you see what i see?

The sign = the signifier/ the signified.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 5.20.12 pm

The image above is a great example of media using a symbol to represent one thing, when in fact in reality it represents something very different.

April 9th 2003, US armed forces invaded Baghdad and Saddam Hussein lost control of the Iraqi capital. In a symbolic moment, the US army, helped by a crowd of Iraqi citizens liberated by the invaders toppled the statue of their despotic former dictator- a portrayal and image that resonated well with world wide media (Fahmy, 2007, p.143).

The image itself holds many powerful symbols inside it:

  • Saddam Hussein in a heroic pose, hand in the air, the beautiful Persian architecture in the background.
  • The crowd of Iraqi’s gathered round, jubilant and cheering.
  • The cables connected to it pulling it down.
  • The fall of the statute symbolised the fall of the Hussein government, and the victorious US army as liberators.

And so Saddam Hussein was seen as a symbol of tyranny by the west, so the symbolic act of ripping down such a shrine to his honour, in front of a crowd of cheering Iraqis was shown to be a declaration of victory, when in fact the war had only just began. But it was not only the symboloism of immediate victory and good vs evil that the image conveys that is incorrect. The entire image was staged and framed and used as propaganda to give the impression of liberation of Iraq.

Below on the left is a shot of the crowd of spectators, and the left is the same  image, but with the marines and journalist highlighted.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 10.10.37 pm Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 10.10.17 pm

So the Iraqi spectators numbers were exaggerated, and the crowd was instead significantly comprised of journalist and marines (Aday 2005, p.323). Live shots from the coverage showed the small size of the crowd; these were not rebroadcast and instead images shown framing the size of the crowd to be deceptively large were replayed and replayed and replayed (Aday, 2005, p.324). And so the statue was not actually Saddam Hussein, but a representation of it.

The statue was a representation that was created to give meaning as signifier to the Hussein, but what was ultimately evoked was his entire regime and its literal ‘pulling down’. The sign that was created to show strength, was manipulated to show defeat. The denotation was a statue of a strong ruler, and the connotation represents the entire regime (Fisk & Jenkins 2010, p.81).

But if you were Iraqi, or American- the symbolisation of not only the statue, but the media event of its destruction will represent two very different things. There is a great quick youtube clip which shows how much the image was distorted and how the symbolism was played upon by the news media in 2003 during the Iraq war.

So what do you think? DO you remember this symbol? Did you think of it as an representation of the image has changed now you know more about its creation and manipulation?





Aday, S, Cluverius, J, & Livingston, S 2005, ‘As Goes the Statue, So Goes the War: The Emergence of the Victory Frame in Television Coverage of the Iraq War’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 314-331.



Fahmy, S 2007, ‘”They Took It Down”: Exploring Determinants of Visual Reporting in the Toppling of the Saddam Statue in National and International Newspapers’, Mass Communication & Society, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 143-170.



Fiske, John and Jenkins, Henry (2010) “Introduction to Communication Studies: 3rd Edition”, Routledge: London; particularly p 80-86 (semiotics and myths) and p 157-169.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s