Language Data Analysis Chapter

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This certainly may be true in some cases, but it is hardly the norm anymore. Very few cultures are so isolated today that their visual (or material or linguistic) grammars and systems are untouched by other "grammatical" systems. A few such cultures come to mind, such as that of Burma or some of the most repressive African regimes. North Korea can probably be ranked among this company.

But a country like South Korea is hardly isolated. The grammar of its visual symbols and whole semiotic system is shot through with foreign elements. This is in no way meant as a criticism of South Korea: It is true also of the United States, France, South Africa, and Argentina. Kress and Van Leewen argue that even in cultures in which there is a melange of influences that there will always be a single dominant visual system in no small part because of the power of commercial mass media entities to promote the system of visual communication that provides the most economic benefits to that corporation.

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While the above is certainly true in some cases, the situation is usually more complicated than this, and it is imperative to remember that Kress and Van Leewen's work focuses on Western iconography and semiotics. Their focus is the "broad historical, social, and cultural conditions that make and remake the visual 'language'" of Western cultures.[footnoteRef:3] Western nations such as the United States have a history of both intentional and unintentional (or at least less intentional) hegemony. Because of this, the force of Western culture (as expressed through a range of different forms, including its visual grammar) has a particular type of force. [3: Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen -- Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge, 2006, p. 5.]

Data Analysis Chapter on Language Is Defined by a Assignment

This same force, this same vector of culture and power, does not exist (at least not to nearly to the same extent) in less powerful nations. In nations/cultures like South Korea, the visual grammar (like other public aspects of its culture) is necessarily a hybrid. It speaks to its own culture as well as to others. But -- and this is key -- the visual grammar of a culture like that of South Korea speaks to its own people through the lens of the ways in which other cultures views it. The countries of Asia are fully aware of the ways in which Western nations view (and have viewed) them.

This is not to say that Asian countries (and their leaders and peoples) approve of the ways in which the West has viewed them. However, awareness and approval are (of course) not the same thing. South Koreans can object to, and even resent, the ways in which Western nations exoticize the East and homogenize it under the rubric of the East or the Orient. This awareness of the ways in which the West has viewed nations such as South Korea has become incorporated in the visual grammar of South Korea. Thus the visual grammar of South Korea includes an omnipresent awareness of the fact that it is always incorporating this sense of being viewed in inaccurate (and often either sexualized or Romanticized) ways by the West.

Visual grammar in South Korea can be understood at least in some ways to be like a series of mirrors reflecting into each other, with South Korean imagery reflecting South Korean traditions reflecting how those traditions have been transformed by Western hegemony reflecting political and historical relations between the East and the West over centuries, reflecting & #8230; and so on.

The multivalence of gender in a selection of South Korean advertisements

As would be true in looking at a collection of print advertisements from almost any country or region of the world, one of the most obvious (indeed, probably the most obvious) aspect of the imagery is the way in which women's bodies are used in the most blatantly sexual ways. The analyses of the following specific advertisements serve as a means of talking more broadly about the ways in which female sexuality is sculpted and manipulated.

The ways in which the female body is represented in these advertisements is a key element of the analysis of the grammar of South Korea as it reflects and is reflecting through the lens of the West. While it is, of course, essential to examine South Korean culture and semiotics from an internal perspective, it is also imperative to examine South Korean culture and semiotics from an outward-looking perspective. This latter is especially true given that many of the advertisements analyzed here are directed at Western consumers.

Indeed, advertisements are arguably one of the most appropriate sets of cultural texts to use for such an analysis. Some of the ads are aimed at a Western (or at least an international) audience while others are aimed at a domestic audience. This fact allows for an analysis of the distinction between the ways in which visual grammar is created (and in which different signs are used and connected) depending on the audience.

The first advertisement to be analyzed is a Korean Air advertisement that presents us with a woman seen in profile, holding something that looks a little like a crystal ball in her hands. This ball -- or bubble? -- holds a romantic scene of the kind of place where a Westerner might meet the Orient. The woman herself is held in a sort of bubble: She is sitting in an improbable, almost contorted position inside the frame of an airline window. Of course, such a position would never be allowed by an airline crew, and would not even be physically possible given that plane windows are set nearly flush to the body of the plane.

Few advertisements have a great deal to do with the world the way it actually is. The visual grammar of this ad is designed to sell the idea of a certain kind of sexuality. The model is marked as Asian, although just barely so. She is clearly Asian in terms of race, but her complexion is lighter than that of most Asian women. Her hair is braided in a traditional Asian style, but the braid is almost entirely hidden. Her hairstyle is in general Western, with just a touch of Aisan-ness/Korean-ness to create a gloss of an exoticized sexuality. The ad is creating a visual conversation about Korean women: This woman is sufficiently Westernized to be unthreatening to the Western men (and women) who will be flying Korean Air.

But she is also painted as sufficiently Asian and exotic that she will register as "other" to attract Western men (and some women) into thinking that the woman in this ad will be not only available to them sexually but will provide a sexual experience that is far beyond whatever they have experienced before. The fact that the woman is encapsulated in what could be seen as a sort of elegant cage also plays off Western tropes about an Asian woman: She is dangerous enough sexually that she has to be tamed and yet easily enough tamed that no Western man should be afraid.

However, while the above analysis is certainly accurate, it is also incomplete. For while this is the set of visual signs that is being directed at an outside audience, there are other possible readings that are directed at a domestic audience. The following analysis of the ways in which Korean women can use images of themselves and other women as a form of empowerment are outlined below.

Different types of images of women are obviously capable of different types of readings, and some images of women are more easily construed as empowering than are others. But -- contra Kress and van Leeuwen -- there are always minority ways in which images can be read and (visual) grammars created.

The following description focuses on Chinese woman appearing in Chinese advertisements; however many of the same dynamics apply, especially the fact that the women in ads serve the visual function of equating modernity with a sort of semi-Asian-ness, a concatenation of the West and Asia:

Replacing the "iron rice bowl" of job security in urban China in the 1990s is the craze of creating the "rice bowl of youth." Everywhere attractive young women have been sought to represent the shining image of "modernity." Booming service, commercial, and entertainment industries post numerous age-, gender-, and, often, height-specific advertisements seeking women under the age of 25 and above 165 centimeters in height.

Stylish, elegant, or sexy, young "Misses" are displayed in remodeled or newly built "modern" hotels, restaurants, department stores, travel services, night clubs, dance halls, and so on. As older state industries lay off women workers over 35, these modern young Misses, many with no particular education or technical skills, are entering the rising industries… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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