In Defence of Girlboss

There are two types of people I don’t trust in this world, weather forecasters and critics. The latter proved true as I finished Netflix’s newest original Girlboss after having read slating reviews. In a – successful – effort to avoid working on my thesis, I watched all 13 episode of Girlboss in 24 hours and here is why you should give it the same chance I did. #nospoilers

Girlboss embellishes the true story of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso on her road to success. Set in 2006, we see Sophia’s entrepreneurial personality mixed with that of a lost 20 something-year-old as she faces an uncertain life. A personal renaissance finds her embracing her passion for vintage fashion and begin to pursue a career on eBay.

“You know how some people flip houses? I flip clothes.”

The Guardians review – which I regretfully read before watching – decided to tear down the real life Sophia. Stating that if she resembles the fictional depiction of herself she “deserves none of her success and should immediately hand over every cent to charity for crimes against humanity”. Steve Jobs is referenced at one point. Jobs considered to be a great innovator and businessman is similarly brash and flawed in his fictional depictions. Yet we do not attack the man behind the movie, nor should we attack the woman behind the girl boss. The harshness of this critics statement has led me to consider the character of Sophia as depicted in the show.

My issue lies in how critics describe Sophia as this overindulged brat. Having already brought gender into the forefront of this conversation, I would like to add an alternative perspective.

When looking at the vast array of characters on television, present and past, we can see many Sophias. The first that sprung to mind was Dr Gregory House from House M.D. Hugh Laurie’s Golden Globe-winning performance as the selfish, egotistical doctor who belittled everyone around him isn’t described as a “Walking Selfie”. The male equivalents of Sophia are not as highly scrutinised as she is. We have the brilliant minds that fail to understand social norms, your Sheldon or Sherlock. Their “quirks” are endearing and comedic. All three of these, what I will call for argument sakes, boy bosses carry the same character tropes as this girl boss:

  • Emotionally abusive to their best friend
  • Brash and unapologetic
  • Consider themselves “outside” of society
  • Emotionally inept

Sophia’s character is not without her flaws, I agree with the review at times. When watching the first few episodes, I found myself second guessing most if not every decision made by Sophia. From dumpster diving for food instead of meeting her dad for dinner to her lack of work ethic. Sophia is not a likeable character at first. Yet when we explore her backstory and invest in her character arc, we begin to understand her choices. Her burning desire to be independent, to be successful, to enjoy her work. In essence, Sophia embodies what every lost 20 something-year-old goes through. As with every character worth watching, we have to be introduced to their surface before we start to see what’s underneath.

All that said, I won’t forgive the show for making me relive THAT scene from The OC.

Articles Referenced:

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/apr/21/girlboss-review-netflix-sophia-amoruso-britt-robertson

Charlotte

Charlotte, a five part story of one woman’s journey through the french revolution.

Script and Soundtrack produced by me, Kevin Carolan

Charlotte was exhibited in the Fís exhibition (2016) in Dundalk Institute of Technology.

CA2 – Semiotic Print Advertisement Analysis

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(Figure 1.1 Hunky Dory Advertisement 2010)

For the purposes of a semiotic analysis of a print advertisement, I have chosen this Hunky Dory advertisement from 2010 (Fig 1.1). This image, as well as many others in the campaign, faced much criticism for its depiction of women in sport. A second campaign appeared a year later but with GAA sports instead of Rugby which sparked more outcry.

“the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) ruled that similar ads for Hunky Dorys, but with a rugby theme, had caused grave and widespread offense and should remain permanently withdrawn from all media, including the advertiser’s website.” (Independant, 2011)

This content has been rejected by the audience as state above, so to fully understand why this may be the case, I will take a semiotic approach to analysing the above print advertisement.

Pierce talks about the 3 types of Signifiers when discussing a sign:
Icon 
An icon is the direct depiction of the event. In this instance, the icon is the photo itself.

Index
The index is what is represented by this image. For example, Smoke is suggestive of a fire. The use of uniformed colors is indicative of sports attire. The presence of a rugby ball furthers this idea that the image represents a sporting event.

Symbol
The symbol is culturally learned before it can be understood. To someone unfamiliar with the sport of rugby this image would fail to communicate its message. However, to those who understand the sport and the sport of rugby imparticular can understand that a person with shorts, mud or dirt on their skin, in a crouching position holding an oval ball can understand that this is the action of participating in a game of rugby.

Paradigmatic relationships

Following on from the above, the paradigmatic relationship is clear in this image. The previously mentioned posture and clothing of the model in the advertisement are indicative of playing sport. Furthermore, the environment in which the model is situated gives lends more elements to this “sport” image. The grass, the blurred out crowd in the background. Perhaps the two most important elements are the goal posts and the top of the rugby ball. Without these two, this could be any sport. The text further confirms this is associated with rugby, blatantly stating “Proud sponsors of Irish rugby.” If any element was to be substituted, it might create confusion to the receiver. For example, if the model were to hold a tennis ball, the image wouldn’t create the same narrative. Or if the crowd was replaced with a beach scene, the idea of a sporting arena would be lost.

Syntagmatic related signs 

The language used in the advertisement is suggestive when connected with the image. “Are you staring at my crisps” suggests that the model is asking the questions. The use of “my” in this sense is possessive, as in she has crisps in which one could be staring at. However, the absence of crisps in her possession in the image suggests that the sentence has a different meaning. The criticism of this advertisement is its sexualisation of women. The sentence then takes on this ‘tongue in cheek’ meaning with the model questioning if one is looking at her breasts with the substitution of the word crisps.

Narratives and Myths within our culture

The narrative has been discussed above, but what is perhaps most interesting about the advertisement is the failure to create an effective narrative. Rugby is a part of Irish culture, so an advertisement depicting rugby in action should resonate with the receiver. Perhaps the failure is in the dress of the model. Members of the Irish rugby team have been featured in advertisements in the past As seen below an advertisement for Dove Men Care (Fig 1.2) and advertisement for Guinness (Fig 1.3)

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(Figure 1.2 Cian Healy – Dove Men Care )

 

 

(Figure 1.3 Guinness Ad)

Men in both of these advertisements are dressed in standard sporting gear. Whereas the model in the original image is a highly sexualised version of a female rugby player. The breakdown in the narrative is in its realism.  As a result, the advertisement fails as an effective representation of Irish Rugby, yet may have sucess in using provocative imagery to sell crisps.

References

http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/hunky-dory-ad-sparks-fury-ahead-of-camogie-final-26768897.html

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/76/4d/82/764d8299273ba99e48bb80b0b6387cea

http://www.irishrugby.ie/images/news/CianHealy_DoveMen_650_rdax_80

 

Ownership & Means of Production

When seeking meaning, society may look up to institutions. Previously institutions such as church may have been the ‘go to’ for answers. In Ireland we can see the church has lost a large majority of its following in recent decades. This results in a need for a replacement institution. Society will constantly seek answers to how they should behave, act, feel, think. Without the church, many may turn to the media to gratify their need for answers.

As a result, we should consider the media and it’s role as the creator and distributor of the message.

The Marxist approach considers the mass media and it’s agenda. The hegemonic model suggests that society is shaped from the top down. The ideals and opinions of the dominant class are fed to society through mass media. Any alternative ideals are denied. It should be considered, who are those with power over the media? The wealthy and the powerful can shape the mass media’s message in the mold of their own ideology. Ultimately this message that is disseminated serves their interests.

The message becomes naturalised and almost common sense to the point where society may not recognise the need to question it. An extream perspective on this could be the Propaganda Model. The media’s dominant message communicated to the user without questioning has had a detrimental effect in history and continues to cause tension in countries such as North Korea.

So while we have mass media with its own agenda, the audience has a choice from content received. They can accept it, reject it or negotiate with it. The choice of alternative perspectives has led to many differing opinions in the media. However, it is important to note that no content produced is without an agenda, even if that agenda is to create content that opposes the mainstream media.

An example of this alternative perspective is the recent air strike ordered by US President Donal Trump on Syria. MSNBC discusses the air strike as a triumphant step for the President and a beautiful sight to see.

Whereas John Oliver, A satirical cable news reporter, criticized how the media discussed the air strike. He offers an alternative perspective of the story as to how many have lost their lives in the attack.

 

Narratives and Stories

In adverting, every picture tells a story. These stories are encoded in such a way that the receiver can decode it with ease, perhaps even subconsciously. Advertising is reliant on the receivers understanding of the narrative presented in the ad. For example, the following advertisement (Fig 1.1) is for Levi Jeans.

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(Figure 1.1 Levi Jeans Advertisement)

The narrative that may be decoded from this ad is that a woman is in motion, possibly running, through a field. She is topless, and there is wind blowing her hair. The connotations of this image could be liberation or freedom. However, if we were to isolate the model without the caption or branding, it may be a more sinister image. Perhaps she is running away from someone. The indexical signs are the association between the open field and topless model, to give this idea of freedom. The language attached is important to make it clear that it the jeans are “all I need”. The story created is that a woman has all she needs, the jeans, and is freely moving through an open space. While this may not be common practice to the audience, it can be understood to be a freeing act and an adventurous act.