“Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs” – Signs by Tesla
Gunther Kress’ book Multimodality is specifically subtitled “A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication”. By semiotic, he’s referring to the philosophy of signs and symbols and their general function. You can tell as you read it that this is something he’s incredibly passionate about, sometimes to my detriment as I felt he was often speaking over my head. One point he kept coming back to, among others, was the emphasis that culture plays in semiotics. Much like the photograph above, a foreigner visiting this country/city for the first time might have no idea why the words “Go Bears” would be on the side of a building.
Similarly, this photo is performing the same function, in the same location, but with a completely different message. One that, surprisingly, even a good number of the Chicago locals aren’t familiar with the message being given. In this particular case, these buildings are representing CPD or “Chicago Police Department” and the badge numbers of officers who’ve recently fallen in the line of duty. Evidently, this is a sign whose content is conveyed by a specific sign maker to a smaller and even more specific audience; something Kress takes great pains to emphasize over and over again.
No Parking for street cleaning
The difference between these pictures points to the contrast of function vs bureaucracy, where the desires of the sign maker seem to trump the communication to a vast public. A slightly more simple version of this can be seen in the picture of the sign on the tree, where the signage is specifically catered to a target audience of the few people who might actually be parking on that curb. To passers by who have no intention of parking, the content of this particular sign is of no concern so the fact that it contains far too much information to read as one would drive by is irrelevant. Newcomers should take heed to notice it however because they could find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Furthermore, both of these signs are examples of using available resources, albeit in complete different contexts, to achieve their goal. Come to think of it, it’s also an example of what Kress was talking about when he spoke of globalization and technology changing semiotics over the last 30 years; where advanced technology (a skyscraper sign) vs old technology (a piece of paper wrapped around a tree), two completely different modes of semiotics, are still applicable while being completely different.
Old and New Technology working together
While certainly not encompassing everything he spoke of, these were the main points that really sank in with me. Kress seemed to continue to reintroduce these points over and over just using different language and examples. It’s likely this was done with great intention in order to drive home the point, so to speak. I’ll finish this off with the remainder of the images I took in documenting that Chicago is in fact, a multimodal town.
Windy City Gyros - example of a culture specific sign
RedEye Newspaper distribution kiosk
The seating chart of Wrigley Field posted outside the ticket office
Wrigley Field sign, an oldie but a goodie
Cubs insignia, another mode of semiotics
Advertisements on the CTA.
Route number and street displayed on the front of the bus
Bubba Gump Shrimp logos on the umbrellas outside the restaurant at Navy Pier.
Harry Carry's Tavern at Navy Pier, using not only the famous name but also the various signs/symbols of the beers they carry.
"Let's Play Two" engraved on statue outside of Wrigley Field
Contrasting image of one sign declaring not to climb on the big noodle, while the sign on the noodle only reinforces that you love it.
"Chicago Board of Trade" carved into the building
Sports Authority Store - All signs in neon, some to illustrate the level of the parking garage, the others to tell the world what kind of products they carry.