We read images and pictures in an attempt to decode them and make sense of what they mean to us.

Semiotics is the study of signs but also of anything which stands for 'something else'. Signs can be anything: sounds, pictures, words, objects, hand gestures for example. Semiotics, which is also known as 'semiology' has been recognised and regarded as one of the main theoretical areas within media and cultural studies. I think this is because that we realise that there is more than one way of reading a TV show, film, photo, poster. It is one thing describing what it looks like, but it is also another by relating it to wider themes and ideas, in relation to identity, society, culture, other issues and wealth to name.

The sign itself is made up of the image (signifier) and the word of the image it represents (signified); with the signifier and signified combined together they form the 'sign'. An example of this would be a signifier of a tree and the letters (signified) 'T-R-E-E'. Although this could refer to any type of tree.

Another area in semiotics is binary oppositions, which was originally coined by a Belgian anthropologist, Claude Levi Strauss. Here, meanings and understandings of culture are generated via oppositions or pairs of opposites. Examples include black and white, male and female and young and old.

In addition, meaning in semiotics is generated on 2 levels:

The first is Denotation (pronounced as De- no- tation) where it is the general meaning of the item/object. In media and cultural studies, this is where we describe what it looks like from a visual perspective. Colours, shapes, people, lighting, clothing to name.

The second is Connotation(pronounced as co-nno-tation): within society and culture, connotation refers to various meanings. not just one. In other words, this is where an object, animal, person might be related to the word- i.e. 'signified' and thus, a range of implied and associated meanings and ideas are formed. These ideas tend to be socially, culturally and philosophically related.

Here is an example of denotation and connotation at work: the word and image of a 'dog' Denotes a four- legged animal which barks, but it could also Connote that a man for example is a 'dog' because he sleeps with lots of women. Get the picture?

Now I am going to analyse the Ugly Betty season 2 poster from a denotative and connotative point of view. I chose this particular image because I felt that it conveyed various meanings and that it was a good image to discuss from a semiotic viewpoint.


- This promotional photo promotes the second season of Ugly Betty.

- As we can see, the photo is split into two parts: we have Wilhelmina, Marc, Amanda, Claire, Alexis and Daniel on the left- hand side and Christina, Henry, Betty, Ignascio, Justin and Hilda on the right.

- At the top of the image, there is a line that says: 'brighter, bolder, bettyer' in capital letters.

- The first half of the image with Willie, Marc, Amanda etc, is darker looking and has Brown leaves. in contrast to Christina, Henry and Betty and her family, which is Blue and White and they are juxtaposed on New York City. We can tell that it is NYC because of the large skyscrapers and buildings in the background.

- All the Mode employees, for the exception of Daniel, are not smiling, whilst Christina, Henry, Betty, Ignascio, Justin and Hilda are.

- By the way it is edited and photographed, you can tell that Betty is the main character because she looks slightly bigger than the others in size.

-Additionally, the way the image looks to the viewer- the Mode side and family and friends on the other-, this gives off the impression that each image was shot separately, and that in the finished article, what we have is two separate photos fused together to make one complete photo.


- The darker background behind Willie, Marc, Amanda, Claire, Alexis and Daniel connotes that Mode is a business and that in business, money and wealth equals power and evil.

- The Blue and White background behind Christina, Henry, Betty, Iganscio, Justin and Hilda connotes peace, tranquility, happiness and family.

- The two different halves of the picture represent binary oppositions in rich/poor, evil/good, Mode/Queens, work/family and upper- class/working- class, through Willie, Marc, Amanda, Claire, Alexis and Daniel representing Betty's employees and Christina, Henry as Betty's friends. Ignascio, Justin, Hilda represent Betty's family.

- The Word 'Ugly' underneath Willie and co connotes that excluding Daniel, the people at Mode have 'ugly' personalities.

- The word 'Betty' underneath Christina, Betty, Henry and her family implies positive connotations; in that they are good people compared to those at Mode. Also, in the context of the show 'Betty' is conveyed in a positive sense and thus, suggests that it is a good thing to 'be like betty'.

-Betty is wearing a sophisticated and bright looking Pink dress. Colours like pink, red and purple are vibrant and bold and of which could also connote her Hispanic culture and roots. The colour pink is also associated with femininity and being a girl or a woman, similar to blue with men and boys.

- Seeing as all the characters on the right- hand side are smiling, and the ones on the left- hand side, -again excluding Daniel, are not, this suggests that as good people, they are happy and content with life and themselves. In contrast, the characters on the left- hand side are miserable, often gloomy- looking and not smiling. their facial and body expressions suggest that they are up to something that isn't very good.

I'm sure that there are plenty more ideas but these are the ones I have identified and cited myself.

And as much as semiotics sounds like a really difficult and terrifying subject to understand and read for those not familiar with it, it is actually rather simple. I think that any fan can analyse a Ugly Betty image or episode in terms of connotation and denotation. All you have to do is:

1) describe the picture or what is happening in the episode and 2)whatever ideas you may have which are social, cultural, just link them together and elaborate it further.