Lauren Sperber

semiotic disobedience

“Semiotic disobedience” is my favorite new phrase. The idea belongs to Fordham University’s Sonia Katyal, and Rob Walker was kind enough to explain it in the NYT Magazine:

As a term and a concept, semiotic disobedience is a riff on two earlier ideas. One, of course, is civil disobedience. The other is “semiotic democracy,” a coinage of John Fiske, a media scholar whose 1987 book “Television Culture” described the ways in which audiences create their own interpretations of mass entertainment. Katyal’s combination, then, refers to the reinvention or subversion of logos and other symbols of commercial persuasion as part of a battle to redefine their meaning in ways that are frankly oppositional.

Brilliant! Walker is proposing the anti-Kinko’s video game Disaffected! as a prime example thereof, but I think British guerrilla artist Bansky‘s now-famous Paris Hilton CD prank is even more ripe for classification as an act of semiotic disobedience [pdf].

Bansky’s stunt is aimed to confront Paris’s audience with her status as an empty signifier, as The Guardian so aptly put it (whether or not it would actually have that effect is a different question). Disaffected!, though I haven’t played it, sounds more like a light-hearted parody of a customer service relationship infamous for the frustration it brings to all involved—not exactly something that’s going to make you rethink your need to make copies or get a poster laminated.

[via Fimoculous]