We can learn a lot from watching television. A viewer can distinguish differences between what societies believes as appealing or desirable versus what is off-putting or unwanted. The power of television exposes us to values and concepts, realistic or unrealistic, which shape how we see and react to ideas. An example of television shaping our beliefs can found when watching videos such as the United States Marine Corps recruiting commercials.
Using a semiotic analysis of a 2001 USMC recruiting commercial entitled “The Climb,” a viewer can analyze the given signs and symbols throughout the video that make being part of the USMC not only something to be desired, but a characteristic value to be honored as well. Berger says that signs and relations are “two of the key notions of semiotic analysis” (p. 6). However, these concepts only work if they are related in some way and if their basic relationship is oppositional (Berger, p. 7).
Before I go analyzing specific signs and signifiers, I will say that I would not have been able to describe the negative feelings behind the opening scene if I had not already known myself what “code” I’ve been taught to interpret meaning. Berger says that codes “affect the ways that individuals interpret the signs and symbols they find in the media and the ways they live” (p. 30). From my own code, I interpret the signs and relations of the commercial through concepts that can be known by any ordinary human being.
I am able to analyze the opening scene as a negative one because I simply know what images signify a safe and livable environment (an opposite of what is shown in the video), or what stormy clouds mean (the opposite of a happy, sunshiney day). Furthermore, the code in which a person interprets meaning is important when analyzing videos such as this Marine Corps commercial. In this 60-second commercial, the core values of the Marine Corps (honor, courage, and commitment) are concepts that are portrayed within the video.
Tools such as the location, background music, accompanying sounds, images, lighting, and camera angles all play significant roles in the message that is being produced. Considering the page limit of this paper, I will focus on certain signs during the first couple scenes of the commercial and then move on to a diachronic analysis approach (from semiotics) of the images shown as it relates to the sequence of events in the video. As the commercial opens, we see an image of a valley and clouds above rolling in stormy fashion.
The image of the valley is a sign itself, signifying a location that is somewhere far beyond the normal reaches of man. It a natural location that is meant to be seen as a place created by God and untouched by man, having no sign of human activity. The rolling of the clouds above, along with the shadow they cast on the land, are signs that signify a negative emotion or feeling that it’s not the best or safest place to be at that moment.
Signs such as the accompanying sound effects in the scene (the rolling thunder, the musical instruments, and some type of “rattling” sound) are sounds we associate with a desert or open land. The entire opening scene itself signifies that what is to come or what is going to happen in that area is something tough, feared or dangerous. Throughout the rest of the video we see a young adult man attempting to climb what is shown to be a very large rock. The young man is wearing nothing but a tank top, cargo pants, and climbing shoes.
This sign could signify that he is an ordinary, plain guy and no-one special. This also suggests that your ordinary adult male is capable of doing the activity being done and reaching the goal of becoming a U. S. Marine. What should also be noted is that the man doesn’t seem to be wearing any harness or safety gear of any kind while climbing, which is a sign that, in this case, could signify that the man has full confidence in himself and that it is up to him alone to reach his goal.
As we watch and follow the man’s climb, we can apply a diachronic analysis that focuses on things such as succession, evolution, development of character, and a syntagmatic approach examining the sequences that form a narrative (Berger, p. 19). For the man in the video, a story is being told of his journey or his difficult climb towards what the video voices as his “destiny among the world’s greatest warriors. ” In the span of 60 seconds, while we follow the man climbing we can see images that are first placed as the sole image we see on screen (instead of the man climbing).
The images are then “transferred” onto the rock walls at different intervals of his climb. This sort of transference from an image being all that we see on screen to being placed on the walls suggest that the particular event is what the man will soon experience and is something that the man is growing closer to reaching. Furthermore on the diachronic analysis, each of the particular events shown in the video is significant to the development of the man’s character as a U. S. Marine. The first image we see on the rock wall is a man in uniform. There are two things to note here.
First, the man in uniform is, in fact, the climber. This sign signifies that the man sees the person who he wants to be and that his goal of becoming that man can be reached once he gets to the top, having to fully dedicate himself to the feat of climbing the large rock. The second thing to note is the actual camera shot of the image of the man in uniform in this scene. It is between a close-up (face only) to medium shot (most of the body) of the man. In Berger’s book, a close-up signifies intimacy and a medium shot signifies a personal relationship.
In the next interval of a shown event is that of a flying helicopter and Marines running together in full uniform, weapons in hand. This could signify combat-readiness, which is preparing oneself mentally and physically for combat. It is unclear whether the Marines are engaged in warfare or if it is just a training exercise. Another thing to note here is that the ground on which the Marines are running is at a slight incline which, when shown on the rock, could signify that they are, in a sense, all “in it” together with the man climbing or are believed to be his support.
In a different interval we see an image of a Marine spoon-feeding a young girl. This signifies that Marines are not only warriors on the battlefield but warriors in our hearts. It shows that the purpose of a Marine is not solely for fighting but for helping and giving their time to others as well. In this particular scene, we see that the man is actually climbing in a crevice found in the rock. The Marine who is feeding the girl is on one side of the rock’s crevice and the girl is on the other side.
This could signify that the man will become a soldier but at the same time is still a human being that has not sacrificed common values. This shows that to a Marine, it is important to keep those values both on and off the job. There is a scene in the video where we see an image of a drill instructor yelling. The drill instructor is facing in a right direction, and when we see the image on the rocks we see that it is toward the direction of the man climbing. At this point in the video the man reaches a part of the rock in which he loses his grip and is hanging by only one arm.
The succession of these events signifies the brutal verbal scrutiny coming from an authoritative military figure, which is essentially an obstacle the man faces that he overcomes in order to carry on. The last image before the man gets to the top is that of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. This scene signifies many concepts such as hope, teamwork, dedication, honor, an ode to fallen soldiers, etc. To viewers, the image can be instantly recognizable and is a scared, iconic American symbol. Finally, in the last couple of scenes we see the man climbing to the very top of the rock.
The image of a soldier appearing and lending out his hand to the man signifies brotherhood and loyalty to his fellow men. The very last scene, as the voice-over begins to the say, “The few, the proud, the Marines,” we see an image on the face of the rock of the climber now in his dress blues along with four other Marines. This last image signifies that he has become a part of an elite group, and that from the way that they are all standing to the way that they are all dressed portrays a sense of pride in oneself and in one’s country, something which the viewer can admire.