A code is a rule-governed system of signs, whose rules and conventions are shared among members of a culture, and which is used to generate and circulate meaning in and for that culture (1088). Codes convert pieces of information from one form to another and are often used where spoken and/or written language is not possible. John Fiske discusses, in his essay “Television Culture”, how codes are used in television broadcast programs and how broadcasters attempt to make the meanings “perform the work of dominant ideology” (1087).
He breaks the codes down into three levels: reality, representation, and ideology; each of which has sublevels that, with constant movement up and down the levels, all work together, by merging in to what seems to be natural unity and allows us to make sense codes (1090). In level one, reality, Fiske states that reality is already encoded within our culture and what passes for reality is the product of that culture’s code and therefore the program or show is already encoded with social codes such as appearance, make-up, dress, expression, speech (1089).
He goes on to further break down this level by discussing how the individuals that are cast of fill the roles are real people whose appearance is already encoded but that they are also media people who exist for the view intertextually (1091). These characters not only represent individual people but are also the encodings of ideology (1092). The attractiveness of the character is a mixture of how they are encoded both technical and social codes as well as ideological codes (1092).
Settings and costumes also play a role in the reality level of codes when thinking in terms of physical differences and the ideological codes of class, heroism and villainy, mortality, and attractiveness (1092). In level two, representation, Fiske looks at how technical codes such as camera, lighting, editing, and music, etc. transmit the conventional representational codes which in turn shape the representation of the narrative, character, setting, etc. (1089).
Fiske states that much of the pleasure of television realism comes from the sense of omniscience it gives us (1090). In turn, the camera gives us a perfect view of the scene by using angles and various degrees of focus which helps us understand the scene. The distance the camera is away from the characters swings our sympathies and thoughts from one character to the next. In most western cultures interpersonal space is within 24 inches of us; the context for which you enter that interpersonal space can show hostility if unwelcomed or intimacy if welcomed (1091).
The camera works does the same in that the meanings it conveys depends on the other social and ideological codes that are in play. In the third level of Fiske’s codes of television, he shows the reader how the codes of level one and level two are combined and organized by the ideological codes such as race, class, materialism, patriarchy, etc. (1089). Fiske states that if we use the same practice in the decoding as we do the encoding we are drawn into the conventional morality of the white, male, middle-class American (1094).
If we use that ideological practice then in making sense of the program, we are indulging in an ideological practice ourselves and that we are maintaining and legitimizing the dominant ideology (1094). Fiske demonstrates this when he discusses how in our culture the “feminine” have a tendency to make sense of everything through domestic discourse (1094). As discussed earlier, codes are used when spoken and/or written language cannot be used. Therefore, codes are not only at work in television, but also in print advertisement.
While it is not possible for all codes to be used due to the media being used, we can see many of the codes come into play which help get the message across to the viewers. Using a print advertisement for Ralph Lauren’s perfume, Romance, the viewer sees a man and a woman in a very intimate pose. The shot is a close-up shot, which in this case is used to represent intimacy. The photo is a black and white which is used to further convey intimacy; after all, the advertisement is for a perfume called Romance.
With the use of black and white print and the lighting, there are shadows present in the picture which also conveys a more romantic and intimate setting. These level two, representation codes assist in painting the picture for the viewer on the message the advertiser is trying to get across. Since, according to Fiske, there are three levels of code, all working in conjunction within each other, we must also look at level one, reality codes.
Using the same print advertisement for Romance perfume the viewer sees that the female character is in the foreground of the picture, with her head lying on the man’s chest while looking at the camera, the man’s arms are wrapped around her and he is looking down on to her. This pose is romantic in nature, shows intimacy between the characters but also has the feel of the man being her protector. The viewer can also see how the female character is wearing very little clothing, and the clothing she is wearing appears to be silky, softer material whereas the male figure is wearing more clothing, which looks to be more of cotton, rugged material.
Finally, the viewer can see, on the women’s left hand a ring. While the ring does not look like a typical women’s wedding ring, it is on the ring finger of the left hand and appears to be made of diamonds. Fiske discusses in his essay that using “jewelry in the code of gender is clear” and that a female wearing jewels is a sign of her possession by a man (1095). Codes are also used to help generate the meanings that the broadcasters or photographers are trying to convey to the viewers.
Codes in television, or in this case print advertising, play an important are important because they are used when written or spoken word is not possible. As can be seen in the Romance advertisements, when the reality codes such as appearance, gesture, behavior and expression are combined in the print advertisement being discussed and then are further combined with the representational codes discussed earlier, it portrays the thought that women are softer, more fragile and need protecting thus falling in line under the dominate ideology.