index.html Mosh pits outside the oval office : Mapping sign functions in a music video with a political message


Simon Lindgren

Department of Sociology

Umeå University, SE90187 Umeå, SWEDEN





When the Eminem music video ‘Mosh’ was released on the Internet shortly before the 2004 US election it was mass downloaded, and its strong political imagery quickly made it a pop culture phenomenon. One journalist actually called it ‘the most important piece of mainstream dissent since the 60’s’. In this article a deconstruction of this video is carried out, drawing on Roman Jakobson’s semiotic theory of sign functions. The primary goal, however, is neither simply to discuss, nor to review the video ‘Mosh’ as a specific expression, nor is it to champion Jakobson’s theory as the ultimate semiotic model. The aim is rather to illustrate the potential possessed by basic semiotic analysis when it comes to bringing the symbolic workings of a ‘political’ visual text to light – and thereby critically investigating a case of construction and contestation of the social world in visual discourse.






When filmmaker Michael Moore drove around Iowa with a portable mosh pit during the first week of the 2000 presidential campaign, daring the candidates in the republican primaries to dive into it New York Times columnist Gail Collins called it ‘the defining moment of the 2000 election’. Alan Keyes, who was the one candidate who finally dove in and body-surfed the crowd of a hundred college students packed on a flatbed truck to the soundtrack of ‘Guerrilla Radio’ by Rage Against The Machine, later said:

Admittedly I was willing to fall into the mosh pit […] You know why I did that? Because I think that exemplifies the kind of trust in people that is the heart and soul of the Keyes campaign [… The American people will] in fact hold you up, whether it’s in terms of giving help to you when you’re falling down or caring for their own children.[1]

AS/SA nº 18, p. 55

No matter if it was the ‘defining moment’ of that election or not, this event nonetheless opened up new paths of campaigning for the youth vote. Not only Keyes – who in fact had to be convinced by his daughter for quite some time before taking the fall into the pit – has since then been using the mosh pit as metaphor for democracy.

Mosh pits outside the oval office
Someone’s trying to tell us something,
maybe this is God just saying we’re responsible for this monster,
this coward, that we have empowered.

When the Eminem video ‘Mosh’ was released for free download on the Internet on October 25th 2004 – shortly before the following US Presidential election – it certainly came through as ‘strong’, ‘political’ and ‘subversive’. This article aims to perform a deconstruction of this particular music video drawing on a theory of sign functions. The primary goal, however, is neither to simply discuss or review ‘Mosh’ as a specific expression, nor is it to claim that Jakobson’s theory is the ultimate semiotic model. The aim is rather to illustrate the potential possessed by basic semiotic analysis when it comes to bringing the symbolic workings of a ‘political’ visual text to light – and thereby critically investigating a case of construction and contestation of the social world in visual discourse. In doing this one can succeed in illustrating something that is rather crucial to cultural studies; answering not only what something is (strong, political, subversive…) but also how it is. The casual observer of ‘Mosh’ can no doubt answer the first of these two questions quite easily, but it is only through systematic and theoretically informed analysis that we can get hold of the answer to the latter.

     The article is structured as follows: The next two sections are dedicated to a brief discussion of the impact of ‘Mosh’ (I), and to a presentation of a theory of sign functions (II). A schematic transcription (III) of the ‘Mosh’ video follows. The main analysis (IV) ensues before the article ends in some concluding remarks (V).



I.  A cultural phenomenon


When the strongly anti-Bush song and video ‘Mosh’ was released on the website Guerrilla News Network (GNN) its intention was obvious: To inspire young people to vote to convince them that political decisions actually have an impact on their everyday lives and that voting is the most powerful means to make your voice heard. As was later stated by its director Ian Inaba on the GNN, ‘Mosh’ became ‘a cultural phenomenon beyond [his] wildest dreams’.[3] Two days after ‘Mosh’ was released The Internet Archive [4] stated that they were still serving ‘around two videos each second’ and that while they ‘have a gigabit connection to the Internet, even that is being pounded by this movie’.[5]

AS/SA nº 18, p. 56

     One week after ‘Mosh’ was released, a million copies of it had been downloaded from the archive and this was only one of a number of http sites from which it was downloadable. Add ftp servers and peer-to-peer file sharing protocols to this and you soon realize that the actual number of downloads probably must have been several times larger. The video reached the top spot on MTV’s Total Request Live show within 24 hours of its release and New York Magazine called it ‘the most important piece of mainstream dissent since the 60’s’. The effect of the video on the election result, if any, is of course especially due to its late release impossible to determine. Regardless of actual youth vote percentages it nevertheless made quite a significant impact on popular culture. The fact that it was a preview of Eminem’s by then not yet released ‘Encore’ album, that the video spread as a contemporary ‘subcultural’ or ‘underground’ phenomenon (in spite of its record industry origin), that it had a suggestive storyline and a highly stylized dark tone were certainly all factors that contributed in building the interest and fascination surrounding it.



II. A theory of sign functions


In cultural studies and semiotics a ‘text’ is understood as a combination of signs. A sign, in turn, is at its most basic level ‘something’ which means ‘something else’. This is what Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1960) talked about when he said that the unity of language is double; two terms linked together. Signs, their face value (signifiant) and their underlying meanings (signifié), thus constitute a crucial (the crucial?) object of investigation within the study of popular culture. They are the very location of meaning production, and they make up the texts which we study. The distinction between texts on the one hand, and signs on the other however point to a central problem of definition within media studies. Media critic Arthur Asa Berger writes:


In the case of a particular television program or a specific film, deciding what the text is poses few problems, but what do we do when we have a serial work of art a soap opera that stretches over 30 years or a comic strip that, as is true in some cases, has been published for 40 or 50 years? What is the text in such cases the entire work or some portion of it, such as a complete episode or segment? (Berger, 1995, p. 15).


Berger doesn’t give any definite answers, but as I see it this is a question of clarity on behalf of each researcher or project; one can never be too clear in explaining one’s use of terminology.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 57

     The study of meaning from a semiotic perspective entails operating on several different levels of analysis. Two of these can be distinguished from what has just been discussed: One constituted by single meaningful signs, and another by the units (i.e. texts) in which they are intertwined. What is regarded as ‘the text’ and ‘the sign(s)’ respectively, in a given analysis, has to be carefully considered and preferably spelt out by the researcher. In some cases the text under study can be an entire movie, in other cases a selected scene. In some cases it can be a particular ad, in others the entire campaign. This makes it important to define these levels in relation to any semiotic analysis: The ‘text’ must be pointed out, and a terminological consequence of this is that the meaningful components constituting it become ‘signs’. The text under study in this article is thus the music video ‘Mosh’, and the signs I  then analyse are the different symbolic elements making up this video.

     To analyse these signs we need an understanding of how they operate a theory of sign functions. Such a theory is to be found in the writings of Russian-American linguist Roman Jakobson. In his famous model of the ‘speech event’ he identified six distinct functions of language. This model was revised in the 1970’s by sociolinguist Dell Hymes, and has become widely employed within cultural and media studies. The main point of this model is that it deals with the complexity of communication of cultural content. It deconstructs a text by singling out the functions performed by the different signs constituting it. It can help us break down a text to its structural components, thereby making it possible to move beyond its face value and reveal parts of its inner architecture.

     Hymes’s revision includes seven functions, all of which are present in any sign but with varying degrees of concentration (Hymes, 1974, p. 10). The different functions of a sign are never fully independent of one another, but are always interrelating; they may work together, work against each other, overlap, trigger one another off etc. Following Thwaites et al. (2002) the seven sign functions can be summarized as follows.


a.      the referential function – through which a sign stands for something other than itself by referring to something in ‘reality’.

b.      the metalingual function – that tells us which codes we should use to read the communication. If we, for example, know that a text is a music video this will mean that we have certain expectations to be (or not to be) fulfilled.

c.       the formal function – which also tells us how a text should be read. The layout of a letter, the background music of a film, or other things related to the looks of a text all carry this function into effect.

d.      the expressive function by which the addresser of a sign is constructed. This is not the same as the actual sender of the sign. An ad for body lotion can be sent out by a commercial company, but still construct ‘a dermatological laboratory’ as its addresser.

e.       the conative function by which the addressee of a sign is constructed. This is not the same as the actual receiver of the sign. A woman may read Playboy, but the signs in that magazine still address a male target audience.

f.        the phatic function that (through functions d and e) establishes common ground between addresser and addressee by pointing out a group to which they both belong.

g.      the contextual function which refers to the social situation where a sign exists. The sign ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ on the back of an envelope means a postal address. The same sign in the TV listings means a television series. In the words of Jakobson himself: ‘If […] the word is deprived of any prompting context, either verbal or nonverbal, it can be recognized by the listener only through its soundshape’ (Jakobson, 1956/1990, p. 243).

AS/SA nº 18, p. 58


The main strength of this theory is its ability to bring the analysis of text beyond the obvious. We won’t need any particular conceptual tools or perspectives to say what ‘Mosh’ is about. It’s different themes and its storyline is there for anyone to see. Systematically deconstructing this text with the help of this theory of sign functions will however help us achieve a degree of temporary ‘clinical distance’ to our object of study.



III. Transcription of the video

00:00:00 – 00:00:10

The, mainly animated, video starts off with sun reflections on the ‘camera lens’. Autumn leaves are falling. We see an American flag, a school building. Children are reading in unison: ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God. Indivisible’, as an aeroplane crashes in the background.


00:00:11 – 00:00:20

The ‘camera’ zooms in through the window and through a classroom full of children directing their attention towards the front of the room, where a man dressed in a suit is reading a book (‘My Pet’). He is holding it upside down. As he lowers the book we become aware that the animated character looks like rapper Eminem. He addresses us and says: ‘It feels so good to be back!’


00:00:21 – 00:00:22

The man writes ‘Today’s Lesson’ on the blackboard and underlines it.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 59


00:00:23 – 00:01:01

Cut to a room with clippings scattered on a wall lit by a naked, dangling light bulb. A person is standing with his back towards us in front of the wall. From his attributes we can guess that he represents Eminem. He pins more and more clippings to the wall: ‘Bush Knew’, ‘Bush Declares War’, ‘Bush Tax Cuts Help Rich’, pictures of Eminem himself, pictures of President Bush together with his father, the election date with a circle drawn around it, ‘Civil Liberties at Stake’, ‘Sick Wounded Troops Held in Squalor’. The person (Eminem) makes aggressive gestures and puts on a pair of black gloves. Limousines drive by on the street outside. He puts on a black hooded jacket.


00:01:02 – 00:01:16

Cut to a street scene in which a black young man is being stopped for no obvious reason by two policemen with nightsticks. He is forced to his knees but released shortly thereafter. He gives the policemen the finger as they drive off.


00:01:17 – 00:01:43

Eminem, no longer animated, is walking down the street wearing the black hood. The black young man comes home to find his father in front of a TV set showing the Ku Klux Clan burning crosses. The father’s face expresses anger. The son puts on a black hooded jacket, jumps out into the street and joins Eminem in his rhythmic walk. A helicopter shows up.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 60


00:01:44 – 00:02:07

The helicopter works as a cinematic transition into another scene: Eminem this time animated and without the jacket is performing in front of a jumping and cheering crowd. We soon become aware that his audience consists of American soldiers at some sort of military camp. The ‘camera’ picks out a thin and pale soldier, resolutely nodding to the beat of the music. It starts to rain. The American flag is zoomed in.


00:02:08 – 00:02:21

Cut to a scene in which the hollow eyed, but now seemingly relieved, soldier comes home to a welcoming banner under which a woman and two children wait. They all look sad and dejected. The woman hands him a letter: He (‘Private Kelly’) has been re-assigned to Iraq. His face is filled with anger as he moves his lips to the words of Eminem: ‘Fuck Bush!’.


00:02:22 – 00:02:48

Private Kelly puts on a black hooded jacket and goes out into the street. On the wall in his stairway is a photo of President Bush with a knife stabbed through it. A large number of people in black hoods have now joined Eminem who performs the chorus of the song as the mob marches on: ‘Put your faith in your trust, as I guide us through the fog. To the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re gonna fight, we’re gonna charge, we’re gonna stomp. We’re gonna march through the swamp. We’re gonna mosh through the marsh, take us right through the doors. Come on …’

AS/SA nº 18, p. 61


00:02:49 – 00:03:22

A lonely woman walks down the street with two bags of groceries. She comes home to an apartment where two children are sitting in front of the TV. She opens her mail and finds out that she (‘Tenant 508’) has been evicted. Bush is talking about tax cuts on the TV. Then the television screen shows Bin Laden, who turns out to be a cardboard dummy behind which Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are hiding. Tenant 508 puts on a black hooded jacket and goes out to join Eminem’s growing group of followers.


00:03:23 – 00:03:54

The mob move towards an open square above which President Bush is addressing the people from a large TV-screen. Tenant 508 rotates a satellite dish and suddenly Eminem and his hooded disciples are on the screen instead. Then the screen shows a jumping jack type puppet of Bush dressed in soldier’s clothes having a gun stuck to him. This is accompanied by the lyrics: ‘Let the President answer our high anarchy. Strap him with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way’. The mob now stands face to face with a barrier of riot police while people in fancy clothes exit from limousines to enter a grand building.


00:03:55 – 00:05:00

The big screen alternately shows President Bush and Eminem backed by the hooded masses. An animated Eminem character takes off his jacket to reveal the same suit and tie worn by him in the classroom scene at the beginning of the video. He leads the mob as they storm the grand building that turns out to be an election office. Long rows of people in black jackets (but with their hoods down) get in line to register to vote.


00:05:01 – 00:05:15

The video ends with alternating shots of Eminem and a TV showing Bush and his opponent John Kerry. As the music ends, we se two young girls looking at the wall full of clippings. A pole with an American flag is leaned to the wall next to a television set showing Bush and Kerry. The video closes with a child’s voice asking: ‘You guys hear us?’. Fade to black. The message ‘VOTE TUESDAY NOVEMBER 2’ appears.[6]

AS/SA nº 18, p. 62



IV. Deconstructing ‘Mosh’


The signs making up the text ‘Mosh’ first of all perform the referential function. The video as such refers to ‘actual’ objects (referents or signifiées) in the material world. It means things. Accordingly the video includes a number of representations which explicitly refer to specific content. The animated Eminem characters, as well as the photographed movie sequences depicting him, refer to something outside the particular text that is ‘Mosh’. They represent Eminem, the artist, and all that is associated with that specific sign or set of signs. In a similar way the TV clips of President Bush represent, yes that’s right, President Bush. ‘Mosh’ further refers to a number of socio-historical events, all of which in turn constitute complex sets of signs: the war on Iraq (through the press clippings, the character of Private Kelly and his reassignment), September 11th (by way of the crashing aeroplane and the cardboard dummy of Bin Laden), the 2004 US Presidential Election (by twice showing the date of November 2nd, and through the scene at the election office and the TV images of Bush vs. Kerry).

     The video also makes reference to more general social phenomena such as racism (through the way the police are acting towards the black young man, and by way of its images of the Ku Klux Clan), social exclusion and deprivation (through the eviction of Tenant 508 and the references to Bush’s tax cuts helping the rich). The signs constituting ‘Mosh’ also perform referential functions on a more literal level: ‘The school’ in the opening scene depicts a school, ‘the police car’ represents a police car etc. All of these signs thus convey, at different levels and in varying ways, information about specific topics and events and about the relationships between them. The video depicts, presents as ‘true’, asserts and represents. In short, its signs perform their referential function; they call for certain content.

     Secondly, the signs of ‘Mosh’ fulfil the metalingual function: The video includes a number of hints about which codes one should employ when reading it. One such pointer is the total absence of irony or campness. Almost nothing in the video is conveyed tongue-in-cheek, and the viewer gets no comic relief. All in all there are four smiles in ‘Mosh’: the grins of the racist policemen, the suspicion of a smile on Private Kelly’s lips seconds before he gets the reassignment, the conceited smiles of Rumsfeld and Cheney, and finally the careful smile on the face of the old lady working at the election office. The overall tone is dark and foreboding visually as well as musically. The signs of ‘Mosh’ thus convey that it should be given a ‘serious’ interpretation it should be read as if it has got something important to say. Its message is not to be shrugged or joked away. Another pointer directs the reader towards the ‘anti-Bush’-code that is obvious already at the very start of the video through an intertextual reference to Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). One of the opening scenes of that film finds Bush sitting in a Florida classroom listening to children reading ‘My Pet Goat’ even though news about planes crashing into the World Trade Centre has reached him.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 63

     ‘Mosh’ further much like Fahrenheit 9/11 makes reference to alleged connections between Bush and al Qaeda. This is done through clippings such as ‘Bush Knew’ and the cardboard dummy representing Bin Laden behind which two of Bush’s subordinates are hiding. By way of the photo of Bush Jr and Sr on the wall, and through the lyric ‘Let him impress daddy that way’, the video also like common Bush satire refers to the relation between the current President and the former President that is his father. Another code which is metalingually communicated is the ‘revolutionary’ code which has been popularized lately by the anti-globalization (or anti-capitalist) movement described in Naomi Klein’s No Logo (2000). ‘Mosh’ resonates the symbolic values of hooded rebellious youth confronting riot police in the streets. No matter how ‘revolutionary’ it actually is to simply vote against Bush, this is nonetheless another of the many codes through which the video gains its symbolic power. All of the above mentioned codes (seriousness, anti-Bush, revolution etc.) together point to how ‘Mosh’ should be read, and in relation to which discourses it is to be understood.

     When it comes to the formal sign function the most striking thing about ‘Mosh’ is its failure to live up to the primary expectations of its reader. One doesn’t have to look at it for many seconds to realize that it is what we referring to our cultural knowledge perceive as a ‘music video’: It is images accompanied by music. Some sort of story is told but regularly interrupted by an artist lip-syncing to a song.  The formal function thus also has a metalingual effect it tells us what kind of text this is, and in doing so it raises a number of expectations: This is an advertisement for a song. We are supposed to see ‘cool’ images of happiness, dancing and sexuality. This is supposed to be a mini-movie sometimes humorous, sometimes with artistic ambitions the main point of which is to sell the song. If these initial expectations are not fulfilled we are likely to get a surprise effect that sometimes works by rendering the message especially powerful (catching the reader off-guard, sneaking in the back door), but that also risks making it incomprehensible. We don’t usually expect a music video to have a political message. Because of this ‘Mosh’ has an especially large potential to influence us. When looked at for the first time it appears ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’. This is likely due to its confusing meta-language.

     In one respect, however, ‘Mosh’ gives us an indication that it should not be read as an ordinary music video. This is done through the central aspect of the formal function which is fulfilled by the material bearers of the text through what it is made out of. In this case we have a digital video file that comes to us as a ‘subcultural’ and ‘underground’ product on the internet. We are looking at it in a small window on our computer desktop not in full resolution on a 52 inch plasma screen in a luxury hotel suite. The contextual function (having to do with the social situation of the signs) thus come into focus. In spite of its actual impact in terms of popularity and number of downloads, the original context of ‘Mosh’ was the GNN website. It was to be found as a hyperlink from a clearly radical, leftist and independent news organization. This makes us perceive it in a way that differs from what would have been the case had it been shown to us on a TV-screen in a fashion store or if we would have downloaded it as a video clip among others from an openly commercial site such as or

     ‘Mosh’ is also by way of the phatic sign function engaged in a complex process of constructing its addresser and addressee. Its senders are technically speaking GNN, director Ian Inaba, the Interscope record company and the artist Eminem while its receiver is any person looking at the video. By way of the expressive sign function Eminem (that is; the animated and non-animated main character of ‘Mosh’)     is yet the one who is constructed as the addresser. It is he who, as some sort of civil rights agitator or political leader, speaks. In the beginning of the video those of us familiar with the story of Bush reading ‘My Pet Goat’ on September 11th expect to see the President in the suit behind the book. Having the book turned upside down thus makes Bush out to be ignorant. As the book is lowered we are introduced to Eminem the alternative to the President introduced through this surprising switch of characters. At the end of the video the same character switch is being put to use again as Eminem, wearing the same suit as in the classroom scene, votes against Bush: It is he who is the new leader.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 64

     Another scene of great importance for the expressive function of ‘Mosh’ is the one portraying Eminem in front of the wall of press clippings and photos. This is where the speaking subject clarifies his position in relation to the American society of today. He does this by sorting out themes and highlighting keywords on the wall. This process is given a personal mark: The headlines and the photos of Bush are mixed up with photos from Eminem’s own life. The wall shows us that this is something that he has been working on and thought through. What he, as the addresser of ‘Mosh’, communicates is thus described as the result of a systematic project. He has arranged the evidence on a board, as we have seen it done in an endless line of television series and movies about criminal investigations. Through that intertextual reference Bush is pointed out as a ‘criminal’. He has done something wrong and must be held responsible.

     When it comes to the conative function we can see how the video works to bring addresser and addressee together by making reference to common experience. The opening scene addresses the awareness already mobilized through statements such as Fahrenheit 9/11. ‘Mosh’ then shows images of poverty (Tenant 508), racism (the young black man and his father) and war (the reassignment of Private Kelly). As a consequence the video speaks to anyone who has experienced deprivation, discrimination or disempowerment it also stresses the similarities between Tenant 508, the black man, Private Kelly and Eminem (the addresser) by showing how they all go through the same sequence from injustice through anger and reflection to action (as symbolized by the black hooded jacket).

     This video especially appeals to young people. This is partly a result of the metalingual, formal and contextual functions discussed above: It is a music video spread on the Internet, and both of these mediums have a certain connection to youth culture. But it also addresses this particular age group on more subtle levels, through its imagery. The animated characters for instance bear a great similarity to those we find in the anarchistic and anti-authoritarian video game series Grand Theft Auto; the cold and bare rooms, the dark and rainy streets and the mob scenes find parallels in the movie Fight Club (1999), but also in 8 Mile (2002) which is a movie starring Eminem telling the story of his own life.

     The closing scene, with the young girls in front of the wall of clippings also emphasizes the impression that ‘Mosh’ attempts to educate and inform young people to make them think and be critical. The video takes as its point of departure the dissonance between utopia (blue sky, children’s voices, ‘One nation under God. Indivisible’, the school with the attentive children as metaphor for democracy and civil responsibility) and dystopia (9/11, the crashing aeroplane). The interface between addresser and addressee (the phatic function) is then established through the representation of common movement from the loss of civil rights to anger channelled into coordinated action.



V.   Concluding remarks


After a deconstruction such as this we no doubt have arrived at the goal set out at the beginning of this article: We wanted to bring the underlying symbolic architecture of the text under study to light. We didn’t seek to answer what ‘Mosh’ is or stands for, but rather how it works to achieve its meaning. Popular cultural texts such as this are in fact immediate experiences they are something we tend to receive, interpret and consume quite casually and without further reflection. Lawrence Grossberg writes:


Popular culture is always more than ideological; it provides sites of relaxation, privacy, pleasure, enjoyment, feeling good, fun, passion and emotion. Popular culture often inscribes its effects directly upon the body: tears, laughter, hair-tingling, screams, spine-chilling, eye-closing, erections, etc. These visceral responses, which often seem beyond our conscious control, are the first mark of the work of popular culture: it is sentimental, emotional, moody, exciting, prurient, carnivalesque, etc (Grossberg, 1992, p. 79).


When we, as part of the audience of popular culture, watch ‘Mosh’ we do this without consciously deconstructing it. We first of all take it in as a whole ready-made package that simply makes us feel certain things. Carrying out a more systematic or scientific analysis thus entails moving beyond this spontaneous and immediate interpretation. Robert Warshow once wrote:

AS/SA nº 18, p. 65


A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man (Warshow, 1954/2001, p. 41).


Warshow’s point is that the popular culture scholar has to recognize his relation to his research object. As David Denby says in his introduction to Warshow: ‘However well armed mentally, you cannot force the experience of seeing [a] movie through six intellectual filters at least, not at first’ (Denby, 2001, p. 20). It is only after or beside the immediate experience that the academic, scientific or analytical perspectives can be applied. To do this might be one of the greatest challenges of the study of popular culture. To move from the more general, ‘instinctive’, impression that ‘Mosh’ is ‘strong’, ‘political’ or ‘anti-Bush’ towards a deeper semiotic understanding of how this impression comes into being is a task of great complexity.

     It gets even trickier since this is not a question of shutting off or trying to reject the immediate experience. It is rather a question of balancing. We actually have a lot to lose by striving to resist the immediacy of the text: The researcher must, according to Warshow, admit that she herself enjoys popular culture.  What we can achieve is thus not any form of ‘true’ objectivity or ‘real’ distance to the object under study. Rather, we have to make our researcher and consumer identities get along and help each other. Our understandings, arising from culture, can – and should – be used as tools in our analysis. Thomas McLaughlin (1997) discusses this by considering critical theory in terms of a floating scale including academic as well as ‘not-so-academic’ analyses. Even our everyday, ‘vernacular’, theories contribute in raising relevant questions about our culture and society. The science of popular culture is thus not about breaking free from the immediate or everyday analyses that we constantly make. It is rather about systematizing them, and to make them visible so that they can be enriched and evolved by existing academic theories and research results: To bring together the scientific perspective and the immediate experience.



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Denby, D. (2001). Robert Warshow: Life And Works. In R. Warshow (Ed.), The immediate experience: movies, comics, theatre & other aspects of popular culture (Enl. ed., pp. 302). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Grossberg, L. (1992). We gotta get out of this place: popular conservatism and postmodern culture. London: Routledge.

Hymes, D. (1974). Foundations in sociolinguistics: an ethnographic approach. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jakobson, R. (1956/1990). The Speech Event and the Functions of Language. In R. Jakobson (Ed.), On Language. London: Harvard University Press.

Klein, N. (2000). No logo: taking aim at the brand bullies. London: Flamingo.

McLaughlin, T. (1997). Street smarts and critical theory: listening to the vernacular. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Saussure, F. d. (1960). Course in general linguistics. London: Owen.

Thwaites, T., Davis, L., & Mules, W. (2002). Introducing cultural and media studies: a semiotic approach (2. ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Warshow, R. (1954/2001). Author's Preface. In R. Warshow (Ed.), The immediate experience: movies, comics, theatre & other aspects of popular culture (Enl. ed., pp. 302). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.




[1] Keyes quoted in Collins’s editorial ‘Dignity, Always Dignity’, The New York Times January 28, 2000.

[2] Lyric from Eminem’s ‘Mosh’ 2004.

[4] The Internet Archive ( is a website dedicated to, as its name indicates, maintaining an archive of the Internet by saving ‘snapshots’ of the www. The archived copies of pages, taken at various points in time are available for free to researchers, historians, and scholars.

[6] After the elections ‘Mosh’ was given a new ending in which the mob stormed the Capitol during Bush’s State of the Union Address and Cheney suffering a heart attack.


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