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Govern Yourself and You Can Govern the World

There is a Chinese proverb that says “govern yourself and you can govern the world”, even centuries later simple words of advice still hold meaning in our modern “carry-out” message oriented world. A recurring theme in the lives of many is the eternal quest for good fortune and success, but oftentimes the means used to achieve these are simple life lessons taken to heart paired with diligence and a willingness to shape one’s own path. The image I have created is a snapshot of the modern search for meaning in which convenience has become a necessity and self-improvement can start in your own living room. Barthes’ linguistic, coded iconic, and non-coded iconic messages have been layered subtly to visually communicate the purpose of the image to the viewer. The collective message I hope to convey in this image is that knowledge can be gained in even the most mundane situations by those willing to learn, advice is given to those willing to take it, and that your fortune and future is your own to shape and create.

Barthes’ linguistic message is perhaps the most obvious to understand and locate in an image. This message utilizes existing language to convey meaning to the viewer. The use of text creates an anchor by which the viewer is guided toward a certain level of perception or a pre-determined message. It can act as a shortcut to tell the audience how they should be viewing the image to find meaning. While this is the most obvious message to find, it is very subtle and almost absent in this image. In the background layer of the image, the only possible linguistic message is blurred Chinese characters on a carry out carton. While speaking Chinese would be required to literally read this, the more important message is the distinctly Westernized use of the language as a marketing tool in Chinese restaurants. The audience can perceive this to represent the globalization and easy accessibility characterizing the modern lifestyle. The other possible linguistic message is found in the indecipherable fortune being proffered in the foreground. There is no outright accessible message to be read here, but the viewer can see the presence of what one would assume to be a typical fortune cookie proverb, which creates an anchor for the audience in their own understanding and familiarity with fortunes and advice.

Perhaps the most significant message in this image is Barthes’ coded iconic or symbolic message. This is the message that conveys meaning to the audience through their own connotations and cultural perceptions of the subject matter. The background layer of this image shows a typical living room containing the contemporary creature comforts of television and delivery dinner. The cultural perception of this is a daily routine of the average person. It creates a sense of ease with the viewer because of the familiar convenient comfort food that is so common in today’s society. Overall, the background creates a relatable environment in which the viewer can insert themselves easily because of its ambiguity, similar to McCloud’s theory concerning simplified faces in comics. The middle layer is an overturned carton of fortune cookies, which are very powerful symbols in themselves. The fortune cookie is perceived by the viewer perhaps at first as a novelty and product of globalization. Then, as the symbol is examined further, the viewer may associate the cookies with their own past experiences with advice and proverbs. This layer begins to pull together the underlying idea of the accessibility and convenience of knowledge, and a perception that advice or inspiration can be readily found everywhere, even in the mundane. In the foreground, an arm is extending from the carton of cookies, and can be seen proffering a fortune to someone possibly out of the frame, or perhaps to the viewer. The audience may perceive this in terms of the convenience and availability of knowledge and advice. As the viewer sees the fortune, this perception could expand to an understanding that one’s fortune or future is there for the taking, and in that exchange between the hand and the receiver, one’s fortune is their own responsibility to create.

Finally Barthes’ non-coded iconic or literal message is the one that conveys the denoted or literal meaning of the image to the audience. The literal message of this image is meant to convey to support the perceptions formed from the coded iconic message. The collective image has many literal symbols of convenience and ease of access, the most obvious being the carry out containers and the somewhat surreal offering of one’s fortune by an anonymous arm. The fortune cookies may literally be viewed and defined by the audience as compact and convenient sources of knowledge and advice. The combination of these literal perceptions of the image put into context the greater symbolic message contained in the image.

By visually collaging separate images into a final image with meaning and purpose, I hoped to communicate a message to the viewer. The examination of this image in terms of Barthes’ three messages reveals layers of meaning within the layers of images. I hope that the creation of a smoothly layered image conveys that knowledge and meaning can be found in the novel and mundane, and that one’s fortune is their own to make.

Attribution: ; Chinese Food image by Flickr user eddie.welker, Creative Commons Licensed ; Box of Fortune Cookies is an image from a Public Domain Google advanced image search
Arm and Fortune image is my own

Brief Description: 

This image is a snapshot of the modern search for meaning in our "carry-out" message world, where good advice can be found in fortune cookies and the road to your future starts in your own living room.


I really like the photo, it took me a second to realize that the arm was coming out of the carton.

You might want to add line breaks, just so the text isn't quite as bulky.

I really liked your analysis, and how you tied the comfortable image of a living room to McCloud.

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