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It is arguably described as one of the most controversial literatures published in the 20th century. Such heightened controversies are manifested in the banning of the book by certain governments on the basis that it posed danger to the teens. As a matter of fact, German government stood out to be an ardent critic of ‘’America Psycho’’ and even went further to barn it from public domain for fear that it was a bad influence to the youths. But it is important to acknowledge the fact that “American Psycho” defied all odds and stood strong in explaining the ever changing consumerism life of the American people. In analyzing the significance of the book with regards to how signs or semiotics influence the modern day culture, it is imperative to give a brief synopsis of the book by detailing the surrounding issues (Kelly 9).
One of the striking and phenomenon developments of the book is the fact that it was written or rather set out in Manhattan period of 1980s when American economy was highly booming; courtesy of the Wall Street business boom. It is recognized that the boom experienced by the American economy at this time was fundamental in incubating consumerism cultures among many Americans lavishing in huge accrued wealth and incomes. Bateman finds himself under this fortunate situation although really young; actually at late 20s. He actually begins his story by narrating his everyday life which is characterized by lavish night parties at New York nightclubs together with his young and wealthy colleagues. Of crucial importance is the fact that Bateman’s night clubbing was often punctuated by drugs abuse such as smoking of cocaine, offering everyday advice on the latest fashion trends ought to be adopted by people in his social class, and to the very least, interrogating one another on the proper etiquette synonymous with people in the upper class. In fact, these are some of the striking features of “American Psycho” that has had a direct bearing with culture change in as far as signs and semiotics are applied in postmodern society (Kelly 11).
It is to be realized in the contemporary business world that one’s products have to stand out in order to gain competitive advantage in the product market. In doing so, the manufacturer or the corporation has to device array of signs and semiotics that will necessarily make the consumers conceive the product as part of their life style and culture. In deed developing such signs that induce culture awareness on the consumers is the whole ingredient of “American Psycho”. Elaborations on the same assumption are well articulated by other scholars like Thomas Frank who contends that countercultural is an essential recipe of consumer society (Howell 11).
In assessing the role played by signs and semiotics in modern day culture, believe it or not, all human beings are to be treated as social animals. That is, people learn entirely almost everything in their continuous process of interaction with nature. Semiotics and signs act as the fundamental tools the environment uses to disseminate any kind of information it has to its audiences. In other words, “American Psycho” outlines the normal academic assumption that, for interaction to be meaningful, the society at large has to develop signs and semiotics whose meanings are shared by a large number of the society if not all. This notion is well articulated by Thomas Frank for instance when he contends that current consumerism trends has nothing to do with conformity and compatibility with each other, but rather to enshrine the unending desire of indifference. Therefore, aided by various symbols provided in the environment, Bateman develops a rather vehement desire to consume high caliber goods synonymous with the rich. This vehement desire spreads even further when Bateman shifts to beautiful women in New York. Indeed, the kinds of signs and semiotics the environment presents may serve to erode or improve the culture of a society. In “American Psycho”, it is evident that signs have served to erode the fabric culture of the society (Howell 14).
In line with the book, American society is depicted as being on the brink of collapse. This is precipitated by the volatility of capitalist cultures among Americans. But to amazement, the society is silent on the exact figures and variables responsible for this culture decay. The obvious reason is that, through rigorous advertising campaigns, what should be criticized and held accountable is seen as the savior of the society. Hence, what is bad is not treated as so. For instance, Bateman and friends hardly spends less than $500 on each meal, while at the same time there are many beggars on the outskirts and within the streets of New York unable to afford even one meal a day. This is a classic presentation in “American Psycho” of how signs and semiotics ca be responsible for societal change, to an extent of inhibiting the human thought process (Weston 17).
The role of signs, semiotics and signifiers is also eminent in Company packaging styles or forms. In fact, it has been found over the years by many market researchers, that the kind and style of packaging of the final product has a direct bearing to the quantity of sales of that particular product. In other words, properly and beautifully packaged products that lure consumer eyes are likely to reap high sales turnover. Therefore, through packaging the manufacturer seeks to communicate its values that form the basis of their product formation. This is a matter only possible when the consumers internalize the signs and semiotics of the manufacturer as displayed on the package. In their bid to remain relevant to the changing business arena, companies continue to modify their packages as this reflects the dynamic and changing lifestyle. In short, a package style or type used in 1930s might be completely out of taste today (Weston 21).
But what is striking is the recognition that packaging in its entirety might not present the exact value of the product there in. Some people for instance, recognize a particular kind of bottle of perfume and would be driven crazy when they find a perfume in such bottles they approve. This would be misleading if not properly interrogated as one may end up with defective products that do not meet the quality aspirations of the customer. This problem is particularly exacerbated by the preceding advertisement on large screens before a consumer steps into a chain store or a supermarket (Turan 5).
In their entirety, signs, semiotics and signifiers can serve to be deceptive to the culture of a society by projecting the reverse of the truth. This assumption was particularly pivotal in “American Psycho” and served to lure the likes of Bateman in every step of the way. The end result was that there taste upped every time a new product or new packaging was launched into the market. Genuinely, packaging is good for the shopper as it provides vital information just by looking at it; this saves consumers a whole lot of time. Besides, packaging is responsible for protecting the commodity therein from contamination and spoilage. More importantly; it provides uniform measurements of the product; the customer is therefore at liberty to return the product to the seller on suspicion that it doesn’t meet the requirements set out in the package. In conclusion, packaging performs the task of socializing consumers using signs and semiotics appealing to the audiences (Turan 7).
The manifestation of signs, semiotics and signifiers as outlined in “American Psycho” is not only limited to normal consumerism in daily lives, but it also extends to the academic community. Dressing styles and codes is one an area where intensive socialization is a factor. It has been witnessed since time immemorial that the academic community seems to have a rather peculiar and weird dressing styles. This assertion is particularly synonymous with the so called academic professors who tend not to be in line with fashion trends of the day. One would mistakenly confuse them for some paupers in the third world countries, while in real sense they are rich people on top of the academic ladder. In “American Psycho”, in contrast to what is happening to the academic world, fashion trend is an issue the likes of Bateman couldn’t do away with. Being that he comes from a fortunate background compounded by his job as the Vice President in a Wall Street Investment Company, he has learnt through signs and semiotics fashion trends that are highly classy and expensive. What this actually means is that, signs and semiotics common in ones work environment has the capacity to influence the dressing pattern of that person (Cairns 18).
The role of signs, semiotics and signifiers in determining the dress code various from one environment as already stated above. But significant interest has always been directed towards university professors who through their philosophy of seriousness, contends to have no time for fashion. The question then comes, “Who is not serious with life?”, this question will disturb many as there are many people committed in domestic chores with no time left but still maintain their fashion sense. Although, it is well claimed that over-emphasis on dressing styles by the university dons may serve as a confusion to students who will take a lot of time discussing on the dressing patterns of the lecturer; so the professor dresses to spare his students from dress code confusion debate. All in all, it holds water to say that subsequent professors have internalized the unique dress code style through interaction using signs and semiotics with preceding professors (Cairns 21).
Cultural signs, semiotics and signifiers have also been crucial in incubating economic zeal for the society. Through signs and semiotics, American people developed economic zeal of prosperity and everybody was determined to reap of the perceived high economic returns. Economic boom in America in the early 1960s to 1980s can actually be attributed to the role played by signs and semiotics which developed the norm of economic success among Americans. Attainment of enormous wealth has become an integral culture of the Americans, thanks to the conformity created by the developed signs and semiotics. Through semiotics and signs, the vital economic principle of more can be inculcated among the people who in turn will internalize the virtue of ambition. In America, this virtue is highly inculcated and passed on from generation to generation. For instance, everybody in America aspires to be the greatest in their own area of expertise or specialization. In essence, this translates to hard work for each individual in order to gain the status of being greatest (Travers 24).
Generally, it is important to acknowledge the fact that similarity and conformity of signs creates uniformity and unity in cultures that are essential for development. America stands out as a classic manifestation of sign uniformity. John F. Kennedy espoused as a great leader in America got this fact right and dubbed his political campaign and manifesto, “The New Frontier”. Through the new frontier ideology, John Kennedy was able to marshal Americans together and chart the way forward for economic prosperity. Such prosperity has never been witnessed again in America (Sarris 19).
In the “America Psycho” book, application of sign and semiotics is eminent but done rather selectively. Bateman and his super rich class conform to a distinct signs and semiotics from the rest of the poor people in the society. This is dangerous as it can lead to division with the haves and the have-nots in society forming warring blocks, something not good for the society. I suppose this is what made the film and book controversial in Germany leading to its ban. Therefore, signs, semiotics and signifiers are important segments that should be handled with appropriate precaution if the society is to remain united. Therefore, the lavish living style enjoyed by Bateman would make more meaning if he did put some consideration to the poor people and assist the much he can to change their lives (Ansen 18).
As Carey opines, reality remains a scarce resource with much of the environmental constructions hugely synthetic. To construct reality therefore, various artistic works have been in poured into the consumer market. But since each individual have a way of decoding reality, the end result is a contested concept, each mind competing for superiority. This has led to the emergence of signs and signifiers, some conflicting in the pursuit of understanding reality.
Looked at differently, it obvious that from the book “American Psycho”, the life led by Bateman and his rich peers is contrasted with the biting poverty that continue to define the rest of the population. While it might be true that some people among the rich are excelling at conforming to the new developed signs of affluence, some section of the rich could be quite comfortable with their new lifestyle. This obvious signs of affluence and want tell the silent story of the economic disparity in America pitting one group against the other. Hence we can use semiotics to diagnose the societal status without paying attention to the obvious signs being percolated a select few.
At the turn of the century, the dress code in the popular entertainment world in America had shifted to the less is more mentality. Young girls would appear skimpily dressed on the theatre screen and television. The result of this was a silent construction of codes, signs and signifiers which has since gained acceptance in the entire segments of American society. The society can assume certain semiotics for which it has little knowledge of its existence.
A good example are the codes, signs and signifiers that have been advanced to understand the emergence of obesity. Obesity is looked at as abnormal, making young female Americans very concerned about their appearance. People are sensitive about the treatment of the appearances. They want to appear like the movie stars and television personalities. While being obese has its medical challenges, more pressure to e slim makes it even a more disturbing condition. The pressure has infiltrated to be a societal norm, deeply stratified, codified and cementing to mean the official American position on obesity.
Semiotic views communication as a negotiated phenomenon. It is no direct displacement of messages from the source to the receiver. This calls into memory the individual approach to semiotic communication. You decide what the signs and signifiers mean. The main challengers of the plot of the text “American Psycho” points to the excesses of one group against the depravity of another. Since societal orientations are subliminally influenced by the semiotics prevalent in the society, it is often assumed that emerging trends are a reflection of progress. Little attention is given to the detrimental aspects of new signs and signifiers. It is a silent communication sidetracking societal strands with little or no warning.
But since semiotics is a given cultural context can be taken to mean a specific sign, substituting another real or assumed entity in the physical world, the concept can be misleading. This is so where perpetuators fail to realistically link a sign to reality. This would explain the discomfort of “American Psycho” by certain authorities. A case in point: although Bateman and contemporaries exhibit immense material indulgence, it is to be remembered that a section of the very society where the sign of material possession is propagated, exists beggars with no meals to count on.
Thus, signs can equally be used to hide from the truth or to project a desired state which however does not exist in reality. The unfortunate often occur if another member of the society reads decodes the projected semiotics to be the norm and labor to fit. This is the tragedy behind several attempts to assume for example a lifestyle is utterly unaffordable. Overreliance on Semiotics, signs and signifiers can also be attributed to the nature of human persons as social beings. This makes it impossible for any single person to chart and individual sense of being, leaving us hankering for a shared identity which, sadly, only comes about through environmental study, analysis and adoption (Roland, 45).
Through advertising, semiotics, signs and signifiers have also been linked to corporate consumerism. The adverts subliminally works to paint the modern trends while echoing the cultural orientations of the target audience. Since modern life is considerably fast paced, individuals tend to relegate the duty of environmental surveillance to the canny advertisers who seek to present a universal view of what life ought to be. While great art uses signs to depict some universal reality, adverts manipulate signs to achieve higher sales for a product. This binary contrasts beneficial aspects of semiotics with the use of semiotics to promote consumerism at the expense of reality (Ron and Marcel, 252)
The ideologies presented in the “American Psycho” are further controversial because of the volatility of the semiotic analysis. While some would use semiotics as orderly scientific phenomena, capable of independent verification, limited insights is available to attain this end. It does seem the place of semiotics if a subjective explanation of reality. Often, the success of the signs and signifiers depend on the individual reading and impression rather than a universal acceptability. Hence, two people might interpret same sign differently.
In writing “American Psycho”, it can be argued that the author was reconstructing the socio-economic reality of America following the boom. The controversy sets in when the populace begin to interpret the overriding signs as a nation against itself; emergence of a super rich strata, openly showing off resource might against an unfortunate segment wallowing in absolute poverty. This contrasting binary might not have been the intention of the author but has been harnessed by the volatility characteristic of semiotic interpretation.
This inability of the semiotic movement to independently stand its ground and claim its high place in objective and independent interpretation of societal cultures renders it unlikely academic discipline. It is epitomized by grounding of similarities. While little or no attention to exceptions. In reality however, the homogeneity of a given culture is not without deviations, significant phenomenon, conspicuously lacking in the “American Psycho”.
Semiotics, signs and signifiers can be argued to be culture specific. This is what is known as cultural relativism. It postulates that every culture is capable of being independently studied of other cultures since every culture has its world view. This can offer a possible explanation behind the rejection of “American Psycho” by other cultures and countries, since they believed it was not an accurate reflection of the other cultures. This is further espoused in the concept of the primacy of the signifier. It entails creation of reality from the language used, a good reason to decline admission of the “American Psycho” in other cultures. From this concept, the signs presented in the text could possible influence their eventual adoption into real life by the reader. This is contrary to the land of its origin where a few individuals, having experience the benefits of economic prosperity begin to exhibit rich lifestyles, which later influence the text.
The infiltration of semiotics, signs and the signifiers have been leveled against the midlife crisis phenomenon. Many people, in their attempt to assume the roles, expectations, and aspirations of the society, end up under developed. Every culture has the set standards of operation for both sexes. American culture emphasizes individual prosperity and expects its citizens to be successful. It is not common therefore to see young Americans struggling against all odds to achieve a particular level of successes sometimes with detrimental results.
The creation of class symbols and signs have also led to both real and assumed power struggle. Each social class has signs with which they treat the other classes. Since symbols often communicate shared symbols within a group, they are effective labels of identity with a potential to create a vacuum for power struggle (Wendy, 93). This is more pronounced when the signs are extrapolated into stereotypes by opposing groups.
With a focus on the mass media, semiotics reveal several assumptions. The dominating effect of some media outlets is due to their traditional long standing trust they continue to enjoy with their audiences. The new entrants might even have better news quality and expertise but are ignored because of their relatively young age in the business.
In conclusion, it is crucial to note that signs, semiotics and signifiers are what make life meaningful. Imagine living in a situation where no one understands the signs used by the other party; that would amount to zero communication. As a matter of fact, there is no culture where people cannot understand one another, that is, communication is indispensible in cultural participation and integration. Semiotics, signs and signifiers therefore add the necessary ingredient for communication to occur in a cultural setting. It is important to note that, despite their importance in a cultural setting, signs and semiotics should be used positively to build cohesion in society and not to divide it the way espoused in the “American Psycho”. The society should also find a balance for the right level of consumption and not to use the two to fuel unnecessary consumption that can erode the society.