Semiotics? So What?

A simple, straight forward, reality TV show is typically an hour of pure entertainment right?  Think again.  A program as simple as reality television is full of social codes that the audience isn’t aware of.  As I told you earlier, I am in a media criticism class at I have learned about a term that basically covers all the different social codes that are present in all television shows.  This term is called semiotics and it is honestly fascinating.

Now, don’t stop reading now!  This blog won’t be a school lesson, I promise to teach you all about semiotics in a way that won’t feel like learning!

To begin, I want to give you ONE definition so you will be well equipped to understand how I analyze my text.  Semiotics is the study of how social production of meaning is constructed through a system of signs, courtesy of Dr. Nichols.  These signs are embedded in ALL texts.

For example, print ads and television shows all present social codes and signs

The Cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey

that typically go unnoticed to the viewer.  As a society, we don’t focus on how our reality is socially constructed through the media.  This is a problem because we as an audience are not stepping back to realize the influence these codes have on our perceptions and attitudes.

This all may be a bit confusing, so let me give you a text and break it down to show exactly what I am talking about.  One of my favorite reality TV shows is The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  Now, if you haven’t had the pure pleasure of seeing this show, let me describe the premise of the show.

The show follows the lives of five women and their daily activities.  Viewers get to see the housewives deal with their family problems, friendship drama and the effects of the slumped economy.  More importantly, we get to observe these women spending their millions while wearing over the top fashions.

As you may be able to anticipate, this show is full of signs that in turn become codes.  There are different signs that are commonly used in television shows.  For example, symbolic, iconic and indexical signs are all present in television and they are ever more present in The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  For example, a symbolic code in the Jersey housewives would be the cross necklaces most of the women wear at one time or another.  There is an arbitrary meaning between a cross and the knowledge that a cross represents faith in God.

An iconic sign in the show would be all of the signage that is throughout.  The women hold many fundraisers and charity events which all display advertisements.  When we see the women promote their cause we are seeing iconic signs because they resemble exactly what they stand for.  Finally, indexical signs are the most obvious signs in the show.  I feel it is most apparent through their luxurious lifestyles.  When the viewers see their mansions and Mercedes, we know that the women are rich.

John Fiske

A great way to further understand a semiotic analysis of the Jersey Housewives show is through John Fiske’s codes of television. states that Fiske is a media scholar, noted professor and media critic who was essential in developing media and cultural studies.  He is therefore an expert on the effects television has on our society and his codes of television will help us further examine The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Fiske’s first level in his codes of television is reality.  Our reality consists of already existing social codes such as appearance, dress, gestures, behavior, sound, etc.  So when we take the New Jersey Housewives we as the audience are not realizing that their appearance and behavior is their own interpretation of their reality.  The audience stereotypes these women to represent all housewives in New Jersey, when a small percentage of Jersey women actually live lives similar to theirs.  The audience needs to be aware that these women are living in their own reality that is in part dramatized to catch viewers.

Level two tackles the technical codes that are ever present within reality TV shows, and the Jersey Housewives are no exception.  The Real Housewives of New Jersey uses many technical effects to give the viewers the feeling that they are really following these women throughout their daily activities.  For instance, the camera isn’t stationed on a doc.  Instead, the camera man follows these women around allowing viewers to see the camera shake, unlike what you see in a regular television show.

Interview Scene by Housewife Kathy Wakile

 The show also incorporates interviews of the housewives to show the women’s opinions on certain situations that occur. These “interview scenes” give the audience the feeling that the women are talking directly to them, bridging a relationship between the two.

Finally, the show is shot almost like you were watching a home video.  There are short scenes mixed with longer scenes and quick zooming during a scene.  The purpose of chopping up the scenes is to give the producers the ability to change how a housewife is to be portrayed.  For example, one of the housewives is mainly shown being nurturing to her family.  The audience now stereotypes her as a loving mother at all times.

Fiske’s final level in his codes of television is ideology.  For those of you who don’t know, ideology is the ideas and manner of thinking about a group, social class, or individual.  Fiske states that ideology is shaped by representation of ideological codes, like class, materialism, etc.  Now, let’s have a field day identifying the ideological codes in the Real Housewives of New Jersey.

Let’s begin with their designer duds and elaborate lifestyles.  The housewives make a point to comment on each other’s Gucci shoes and Louis Vuitton handbags.  The audience translates this into the materialism ideological code.  Depending on the social position of the viewer, the materialism may be interpreted differently.  For example, wealthy individuals would see nothing wrong with these women spending thousands of dollars on handbags, but individuals of a lower class would see it as ridiculous.

Another ideological code present in the Jersey Housewives is capitalism.  We all know that nothing is done for free in this world and that is no exception for these housewives.  As the show increases in popularity, the housewives seem to be demanding higher pay they receive per episode.

The housewives also take on other jobs to make money for their family.  One housewife has her own radio show, while another has two bestselling cookbooks.  The audience sees the representational code of the women working and then the ideological code of capitalism is accepted.

Now that we analyzed the codes in The Real Housewives of New Jersey, you may be thinking who cares?  So what?  Why does this matter to me?  Well, to answer those questions is rather simple.  As the audience, it is our job to be aware of the signs and codes in television that unconsciously influence our values and beliefs.

We need to be aware that this isn’t the true reality of the New Jersey Housewives.  It is a reality that is constructed by themselves, producers and the Bravo network.  It’s essential that we don’t stereotype all New Jersey housewives from what we see of these five women who are on a reality TV show.

Over all, Ifeel it is important to be aware while you’re watching any TV program for that matter.  Whether its reality TV or a sitcom, the audience needs to stop and think about how the characters appearance is specific to their reality.  Or how the producers and directors manipulate how we see the program through technical codes such as lighting or editing.

My analysis of The Real Housewives of New Jersey was to help you to understand how important it is to be educated on semiotics and the codes in television.  I hope it helped you to understand a semiotic analysis! I know I learned more myself!


Fiske, J. (1987). The codes of television. Television Culture , 1-13.


About jenniferose04

I am a sophomore at Towson University. I live with 7 other roommates on campus and spend most of my time with them. I have lived near Annapolis since I was 4, I was born in Virginia. I love the Washington Redskins and football in general.
This entry was posted in MCOM352. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Semiotics? So What?

  1. Pingback: You are All Invited… To Help Me! « Hanna Wilbur's

  2. AlexaLazerow says:

    Next I want to look at Jennifer Smith’s blog. Jennifer is also one of my friends in the class. We met this year and have so much in common- especially for our obsession with all The Real Housewives on Bravo. She always has interesting points to add to the discussions in class and that’s why I wanted to read her blog.

    To begin, I love the way that her blogs looks. Appearance is everything! I think I’m going to ask her to help me making mine look as good as hers! It is classy, clean and professional-everything I like!

    I chose to read and analyze Jennifer’s blog on semiotics. That topic was the first major one we learnt about in class and spent the most amount of time on it. I enjoyed her title and all the pictures she added in. One thing I would have to critique her on is the spacing with the pictures. WordPress allows you to fit the pictures right in with the text, therefore not disturbing the flow of look of the blog. For the future, she could work on that to make her blog even better.

    I would say out of the three blogs Jennifer’s is most similar to mine because she is SO engaging- asking questions, using exclamation points and putting her two cents in here and there. I loved reading her blogs the most out of anyone’s writing I have ever read. Jennifer went above and beyond the guidelines of what the blogs need to have in them.

    Another reason why I loved her blog was because the majority of it spoke and discussed my favorite snow, The Real housewives of New Jersey!

    The best part of the blog from a media criticism point of view was talking about the so what question. Learning about class material is one thing but the so what question puts everything in perspective. After reading her blog I wish that I would have focused more on the so what question to get the reader to really understand the information.

    After being in the class and taking the exam, I realized that until reading her blog I had no idea what Fiske looked liked. This seems kind of silly but knowing what someone looks like helps you remember them! Her picture of Fiske was an aspect that I also enjoyed.

    Again just like with Allie’s blog, I do not disagree with anything she said. She put all the material in a great and easy way to understand all the new terms.

  3. Pingback: MY! How time flies! « Sara's Media Criticism Blog

  4. Sara says:

    I really enjoyed reading this particular blog because it was really informative and interesting too!

    I really like and agree with Jennifer’s introduction of semiotics and reality TV, saying “A simple, straight forward, reality TV show is typically an hour of pure entertainment right? Think again. A program as simple as reality television is full of social codes that the audience isn’t aware of.”
    I admit it… I watch reality TV… Sometimes… And I know that when I used to watch reality TV shows, I never analyzed them. But being in a Media Criticism class, and especially reading other people’s blogs, I can’t help but look at reality television shows, movies, commercials, and print ads and try to find their hidden meanings.

    Jennifer does a great job introducing different TV shows (or texts) and explaining what they are about to her audience – something I learned in another class, “Never assume anyone knows anything.”

    Also, Jennifer discusses symbols and their meanings, John Fiske’s codes of television, and ideology.

    The use of pictures is really well done too, adding an interest level to the blog. I also like how Jennifer talks to her audience. Some of you might think that Media Criticism can have some pretty heavy topics of discussion that might not always be the most interesting – or at least easiest to understand. But, it’s really not that bad when someone can explain it well, and I definitely think she does, so check out the rest of her blogs!

  5. kginda1 says:

    The last blog I looked at was Jennifer’s blog on semiotics. Her information is presented in a clear and concise way. The information flows very easily and how she introduced everything makes semiotics very easy for the average person to understand.

    As someone from New Jersey and also a fan of Real Housewives of New Jersey I enjoyed her analysis on the show. She did an excellent job explaining each level of Fiske’s codes. The links that she embedded further support the claims she makes throughout the blog. Even as a regular viewer of the show I have never noticed how the camera shakes at times and how they shorten and extend certain scenes. This aspects of filming and editing does clearly help the show to be portrayed more realistically and to help shape the viewers opinions of characters.

    While explaining how extravagant the lives of the Housewives are, you could have embedded a video exemplifying this. While stating the fact gets the point across, no one can really understand how extravagant their lives are without seeing them or hearing the way they speak about money and materialistic belongings. Season 1 episode 1 introduces the characters and gives you a clear idea of how the editor or director wants each character to be portrayed.

    I think you did an excellent job in introducing semiotics and the Real Housewives of New Jersey and also did a great job relating the Housewives to semiotics and signs. The show was a great choice because there are so many codes to be identified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s