The Narrative of the Image πŸ“± ACM Hypertext and Social Media 2020

The Narrative of the Image πŸ“± ACM Hypertext and Social Media 2020 – This poster paper explores semiotics and rhetoric as narrative in social media visual culture, specifically with issues of identity and social change on social media platforms such as YouTube. Under the umbrella of semiotics, postmodernism, and poststructuralism, the paper builds upon the work of Roland Barthes, Stuart Hall, and Safiya Umoja Noble by expanding the concepts of visual semiotics, visual rhetoric, postcolonialism, critical race theory, and algorithms to examine the narrative of the image.


Good morning. I’m Christopher C. Odom, a PhD student at the University of Central Florida and a permanent faculty member in the Full Sail University Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts Program. My research area of focus includes visual narrative, rhetoric, and semiotics.


Today, I’m going to briefly share with you my exploration of “The Narrative of the Image,” specifically, as it pertains to social media video. Through a transdisciplinary approach, I’m examining how a collective narrative semiology, comprised of cultural artifacts, current events, and critical code, informs, influences, and impacts the meaning of the message in the medium: social media video.


We care about this because understanding the semiology of the collective conversation can help the digital activist enlighten and engage social media video audiences to embrace a call-to-action in social justice and social change movements. In addition, understanding the broader cultural context of the semiology becomes a useful tool for operating with a higher code of digital ethics.


Here’s a recent exemplar of tone-deaf hegemonic discordance exhibited in a short Walt Disney World “Welcome Home” Instagram video.


The underlying semiology of the cultural artifacts of Walt Disney World, is firmly rooted in Disney being the happiest place on earth. However, put a mask on that image, introduce a global pandemic, and throw in a stormtrooper, whose greater symbolic meaning in the fictional dystopian Star Wars universe is as an agent of oppression, and as a result, you have an encoding/decoding mismatch. A message of hope and happiness, now becomes a bleak bellwether of global pandemic oppression.


If we do a simple Google search for “theme parks reopen” or “Disney reopens” On the first page of Google search, we find search results that completely bypass the semiology of Disney’s cultural artifacts, as the happiest place on earth, in favor of the current semiology which enshrouds Disney with a cloud of pandemic darkness. The combined semiology of the cultural artifacts, current events, and algorithmic critical code, is decoded as a different message, than the intended encoded message.


The true meaning of The Narrative of the Image is one that is influenced by a semiology far greater than the denoted images on the screen whether intended or not.


Thank you very much for listening to my presentation. To collaborate on research projects or coauthor publications, contact me through my website at Enjoy the rest of this session.


Roland Barthes. 1977. Rhetoric of the Image. In Image-Music-Text, translated by Stephen Heath. Hill and Wang, New York, 32–51.

Safiya Umoja Noble. 2018. Algorithms of oppression: how search engines reinforce racism. New York University Press, New York.

Stuart Hall. [1980] 2012. Encoding/Decoding. In Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, Second Edition, Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner (Eds.). Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, 137–144.

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In this video, you will learn about visual narrative, visual rhetoric, and visual semiotics. In my 31st ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media (HT’20) short poster paper presentation.

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