Research Seminars

Research seminars

Weasels & Chameleons: A New Normal

Wednesday 1st February 2017

toby lyons (sheffield hallam UNIVERSITY)

The scene: the streets and bus shelters of an overspill town in the north of England. Newspaper hoardings, advertising posters and brand pay-off lines conspire in an urban ‘poetry’ familiar to many. The cheap typefaces ‘worn’ by these words – ‘DRUGS/HORROR/LOTTO/SEX/DEATH’ contrast starkly with those urging us to buy branded products ‘because you're worth it’. We are by turns fascinated, flattered and horrified by the rich verbal and visual diet printed and posted up on our way to work, home and other places.

The texts and data in this study consist of a corpus of 201 newspaper bills together with photographic records of street advertising from urban and suburban settings in Stockport, England, collected between 2010-15. These texts are analysed semantically, by occurrence and by co-combinations of keywords. These short worded statements, constructed as headlines, compare closely with the brevity of advertising and branding propositions displayed elsewhere within the same, shared, urban space. The vocabulary of news reporting – ‘true events’ happening ‘right here, right now’ – is weighed against the vocabulary of aspiration and desire seen in advertising and brand promotion within intimate urban spaces.

Integral to these comparative vocabularies are the supportive visual signifiers of the typefaces used: typefaces that suggest on the one hand truth and urgency, and on the other fantasy and desire. This study will consider how particular typefaces and typographic styles are applied to these messages and, through their associated visual connotations, confer deeper semiotic readings.

In conclusion, the study will attempt to frame a conjoined semantic and semiotic reading of the notions of Authenticity/Inauthenticity with reference to these texts.

Key references

Baudrillard, Jean (1983) Simulations, USA, Semiotext[e];

Clarke, Michael (2007) Verbalising the Visual, Switzerland, AVA Publishing;

Crow, David (2003) Visible Signs, Switzerland, AVA Publishing;

Fletcher, Alan (2001) The Art of Looking Sideways, London, Phaidon Press.