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The purpose of this essay is to examine three images that were published on the Internet in forums, blogs and facebook groups (technologies that are associated with the ‘Web 2.0’ term) supporting the protests that were recently initiated in Greece. For the purpose of analysing the meaning of these images, a social and visual semiotic analysis will be used and I will try to connect the message of the images with the political discourse that they try to criticise and argue.

Before beginning the analysis, I feel that it is necessary to stress out on two factors that are essential in order to interpret and understand the meaning of these images. First, the need to explain the political situation and the events that triggered the protests, as the context and the meaning of the images cannot be interpreted separately from the political situation that produced it. Lemke when referring to social semiotics states that, “all meanings are made within communities and the analysis of meaning should not be separated from the social, historical, cultural and political dimensions of these communities” (Lemke, 1995, p.9). Secondly, I feel that it is very important to analyse the medium that was used and the reasons behind that as for a very first time in the Greek society, there was a shift of political discourse from the traditional platforms of mass media communication to the extensive use of Internet forums and other web 2.0 technologies.

The protests took place in Greece during the December of 2008 and were triggered by the assassination of a 16 year old student Alexandros Grigoropoulos (I intentionally name the victim in opposition to the Greek media practice to name the victim as “the 16 year old”) by a Special Guard (a special category of Greek police) in the area of Exarcheia Athens. Though, political conflict and protests are not a novelty in Greek society, the demonstrations that followed the assassination were characterized by widespread rioting and brutal conflicts with riot police. The shooting occurred during a period where the Greek society is facing numerous difficulties in the heart of a worldwide economic slump. Furthermore, the current right-wing government, in the past two years has been involved in numerous scandals of mishandling public money, along with the poverty and unemployment that has risen amongst the Greek society, has led to a social uprising. The main body of the protesters constituted by Greek students who since 2006 have been involved in a continuous contradiction with the government due to the reforms on the Greek educational system. During, these last two years students and protesters in general have faced unprovoked and unreasonable police brutality that remained unpunished and as a result, tension between the student community and the police has grown dramatically.


The creators of these images chose to use the Internet as the platform for communicating and presenting these images. A very important characteristic of these protests was the fact that the protesters chose the Internet and especially Web 2.0 technologies as their main medium for communicating with each other and organizing the demonstrations, not only across Greece but also the Greek upheaval has been associated with other movements across the world. Many blogs, websites and facebook groups became the place where political discourse was deployed. Beck (1994) observes, that modern politics are in a state of transition or crisis and some see this crisis as “a partial relocation of the political, from the empty shells of the political system, towards what some called `subpolitics`, the politics of new forms of grassroots movements” (cited in Fairclough, 1998). I believe that the social movement that was deployed in Greece during the period of the last two years, started from certain political groups (lefties and anarchists) inside the student community and with the latest incident spread out throughout Greek society. These “grassroots movements” or “subgroups” tried to find new ways of communicating with each other and expressing their ideological beliefs. Since the images that will be analyzed are tools of political argument or propaganda, I feel what Cover claims about political graffiti, has application here, as Cover (2002) asserts that “graffiti has a considerable history of political propaganda. It has been deployed by groups with political/cultural stances that are usually denied voice in legitimate media formations”. In the Greek paradigm, it is fair to state that civilians and protesters took part in the political discourse that took place over the internet. The demonstrations focused not only on police violence but embodied other issues such as unemployment, consumerism, fair and reliable governing, free and public education. Therefore, all these issues where a subject of debate over the net. A high percentage of the participants of the online “debate” used these images and others with similar content, as their profile pictures. If a profile picture is a “claim of identity”, the use of these images became a claim of political identity. I analyze these elements, asI feel that they highlight the distinctiveness and the importance of these images and in general their importance as a tool of political identification.

Sebeok defines that “semiotics is the term commonly used to refer to the study of the innate capacity of human beings to produce and understand signs of all kinds”. Also, later on when referring to a common definition of semiotics he adds that “The subject matter of semiotics, it is often credited, is the exchange of any messages whatsoever- in a word, communication”(Sebeok, 1994, p.12). From the abovementioned, it is easy to appreciate that people communicate through


the use of signs with the human production and understanding of the signs been fundamental in this process. Particularly in social semiotics, Van Leeuwen states that “ In social semiotics the focus changed from the sign to the way people use semiotic resources, both to produce communicative artefacts and events and to interpret them-which is also a form of semiotic production-in the context of specific social situations and practices” (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p. 24). In addition, Welch adds that “Culture serves as the context unifying the signifier with the signified, thus enabling the sign to be communicated clearly. It is through power relations in culture that meanings are constructed and manipulated” (Welch, 2000, p.10). As the images under analysis are “messages” and a “form of communication” in a special social context /situation, their signified meaning and interpretation is highly connected with the specific social context and the culture of the society.

Undoubtedly, images are carriers of powerful meanings and messages and that is why in modern society images play a vital role in influencing people’s beliefs, attitudes and opinions. Text and visual images combined are used as tools of propaganda and if used in a particular mixture they can lead to re-signification of the meaning of the image. In defining denotation and connotation Barthes drew on the work of Hjelmslev (1943) who had argued that “different ways of expressing the same concept can have different meanings”. For Barthes visual denotation is reference to concrete people, places and things, and visual connotation reference to abstract concepts. He sees these concepts not as individual, subjective associations with the referent but as culturally shared meanings, culturally accepted inducers of ideas (1977:23) (in Van Leeuwen, 2005, p.37). I emphasize on these definitions because I believe that they are a very useful tool in order to interpret the images under analysis. Also, when decoding the signs of an image it is important to understand that the process is based upon the ideological and political assumptions and beliefs of the interpreter. Therefore, connotation is subjective and depends on the interrelations and decoding process of the interpreter with the signified meanings of the sign.

These images are products of graphic design and montage techniques, therefore we cannot conceive them as real representations of the world but rather as the product of an “artist”, who in this way tries to argue and comment on a specific social situation- the discourse of the mass media and the government that deployed during the period of the demonstrations.


In this image we see a collage of different photographs showing the Greek riot police “in

In this image we see a collage of different photographs showing the Greek riot police “in action” during the time of the protests. A police tape line which the police use for crime scenes and a traffic sign but here showing a police officer beating someone. Traffic signs usually warn about a danger and as signs of warning are stored in the mind of people. In this occasion the traffic sign warns civilians that police is “dangerous” and usesviolence. The text inside the “police tape” says “Attention! Individual and sporadic incidents of police violence”. These words cannot be interpreted separately from the political and social situation with which they are connected. These are the exact words that Greek government and the police official usually use when referring to numerous incidents of police violence that were recorded the last two years. The creator of the image comments on the official discourse that characterizes all the incidents of police violence as “individual” and “sporadic”, and uses the collage of the photographs as a visual clue that opposes the official statements. The “concept” that police use violence as its primary tactic for controlling the protesters is a highly ingrained idea in Greek society where the memories of the Greek dictatorship and its practices are still fresh in the collective consciousness. Therefore the messages/connotations of this image are that:

Incidents of police violence are not individual and sporadic

The demonstrations can be places of “crime scene” where the victimizer is the police and

the victim the protesters and Danger! If you go to the protests you can be “victims” of police violence

In the second image the creator, uses the official poster for the advertising campaign of the Ministry of Tourism. The main slogan in this campaign is “Explore your senses in Greece” and as the official site of the Ministry of Tourism suggests “In Greece the fusion of images becomes more than imagery and turns into reality” referring to the diversity and beauty of the Greek landscape. Greece is connected in the consciousness of the tourists as the land of democracy, the land of beautiful landscapes and the land of sea, sun and sand (the three “S” of Greek tourism


according to tourism bibliography). In this campaign the main concept that connects the text with the image is the photograph of a landscape and the reflection of the landscape in an eye on the upper frame of the picture. The intervention of the “artist” is that in the middle of the picture we can see a riot police officer aggressively raising his stick as “he is attacking the viewer” and the reflection in the eye is a photograph of the protests, where you can see riot police attacking the protesters and flames. As Van Leeuwen states, “Images have for the most part been studied as representations rather than as interactions”. With interaction he specifically refers to the “gaze” of a person represented in an image which “demands that the viewer enters into some kind of imaginary relation with him or her” (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p.120). Therefore, here the “artist” tries to create a connection withthe viewer with what is presented in the image; by imaginary relating him/her with the sense and the “reality” of the protests. This image is a photograph (a representation of the reality, in other words) but the message of the image is highly connected with the interpretation of the text. During the protests the Christmas tree that was situated in Synatgma square which is one the biggest and central squares of Athens, opposite to the Greek parliament, became the place of fierce battles with riot police. The tree was set on fire, an action that spread moral panic in Greek society and it was regarded as an act of desecration of a symbol by mass media. After this action, the Greek government decided to guard the tree 24/7. The tree became a central sign for the protesters and a typical slogan was “Christmas is postponed! We have a revolution”. The traditional signification of a Christmas tree is clearly that it symbolizes Christmas and ideas like world peace, love and happiness. At the time of the demonstrations, for the protesters the particular tree symbolized the government and the means of suppression that it used. The incidents between the protesters and the police that took place in Synatgma square were cited from the mass media as “The battle of the tree”. The action of burning the tree resembles the

according to tourism bibliography). In this campaign the main concept that connects the text with the
according to tourism bibliography). In this campaign the main concept that connects the text with the


burning of a flag. As (Welch, 2000, p.4) states, “Flag burning, is a potent symbolic gesture conveying sharp criticism of the state”.In the same context, the demonstrators are not burning the flag as a symbol of the state but they “criticize” what this symbol represents in this specific social and political situation. The image has the aesthetic of a postcard but the element that alters the meaning of the image is the anagrammatism of the word Christmas. The creator of the image purposely chose to write “Christmat”, where the three last letters of the word are the initials of Greek riot police (MAT). In this way the word gains a new meaning and signifies not Christmas in general, but the specific period of Christmas and the specific social situation that is presented in the image. Therefore, the word gains an immediate connection with the particular photograph and it can only be understood in association with the image. These images are a new form of political statement and they can only be viewed as the product of a society that tries to raise the level of political awareness between its members and convey the essence of a particular sociopolitical situation that can be decoded only inside its own context. A common element of these images is that the text is written in English. This component along with the use of the Internet as the medium of transmitting these images reveals the ecumenical character of this social uprising and the efforts of the creators to convey the message worldwide. Acts of “political disobedience” are signs of a society that has not yet lost its political and social reflexives to depression and social inequality. Contemporary social movements try to utilize new mediums of conveying their ideological identity and political argumentsto the society. Through a process of re-signification the creators of these images cauterize the sociopolitical reality and redefine the meaning of established symbols.


Van Leeuwen, T. (2005): Introducing Social Semiotics. Routledge

Lemke, L. J. (1995): Textual Politics: Discourse and social dynamics. Taylor & Francis

Sebeok, A. T. (1994): An Introduction to Semiotics. Pinter Publishers. London

Fairclough, N. (1998): Political discourse in the media in Bell & Garrett Approaches to media discourse. Oxford: Blackwell, pp 142-162.


Cover, R. (2002): Some Cunts: Graffiti, Globalisation, Injurious Speech and “Owning” Signification. Social Semiotics, 12: 3, 269- 290 Welch, M. (2000). Flag burning: Moral panic and the criminalization of protest. New York

Greek Ministry of Tourism: , accessed on 09/02/2009