Popular Culture Review Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2017 - Page 89

Beyond the traditional forms of communication noted above, individuals use other methods to express themselves. These forms of communication include clothing, facial expression, gestures, silence, and spatial relationship. One area of communication that has become salient in American society today is the use of nonverbal forms of discourse surrounding tragic events, primarily the loss of lives from traffic accidents, from homicides, from mass shootings, and from premature deaths, especially when these tragedies are the result of acts of terror in the nation and across the world. In these events, we see elements of communication shown by the presence of balloons, candles, cards, clothing, crosses, pictures, flowers, mementos, and trinkets. We also notice individuals of various ages, gender, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds who participate at these events. These expressions of sorrow are used to communicate a message of care and concern to viewers and to bring together family, friends, strangers, and concerned citizens in a collaborative mode of thought. At such occasions, persons who place these objects at impromptu memorial sites are responding to auditory and to visual stimuli which they encounter. The objects of nonverbal language are meant to convey meaning to an audience near and far. Unlike language, in the traditional sense of words, phrases, and sentences, these expressions of sorrow are semiotic in that they are signs that work as language (Hall 36). What is it about these forms of communication that make them vehicles of communication? In addition, to whom are these expressions of communication sent? One possible answer to these questions can be framed within a semiotic approach to language study. Semiotics in Expressing Sorrow The semiotic approach is a central feature in cultural studies. It treats signs as language through which meaning is communicated (Barthes 9). Beginning with the work of Ferdinand Saussure, he analyzed communication in terms of signs. Signs in societies consist of the signifier and the thing signified. The signifier is the object, and the signified is the concept associated with the signifier. For example, the placing of flowers at sites of tragedy are signifiers. The expression of sorrow is the signified. On this topic, Hall further notes that “in the semiotic approach, not only words and images but objects themselves can function as signifiers in the production of meaning” (37). The meaning of flowers in these situations is the signified that is, the concepts and ideas associated with flowers. Flowers are used in specific contexts to convey strong, emotional elements of care, love, memory, respect, and so on. As with all elements of culture, context influences meaning. Flowers, for instance, must be used in a specific context to convey a 84