It I is arguably described as one of the most controversial literatures published in the 20th century. Such heightened controversies are manifested in the banning of the book by certain governments on the basis that it posed danger to the teens. As a matter of fact, German government stood out to be an ardent critic of ‘’America Psycho’’ and even went further to barn it from public domain for fear that it was a bad influence to the youths. But it is important to acknowledge the fact that “American Psycho” defied all odds and stood strong in explaining the ever changing consumerism life of the American people. In analyzing the significance of the book with regards to how signs or semiotics influence the modern day culture, it is imperative to give a brief synopsis of the book by detailing the surrounding issues (Kelly 9).
One of the striking and phenomenon developments of the book is the fact that it was written or rather set out in Manhattan period of 1980s when American economy was highly booming; courtesy of the Wall Street business boom. It is recognized that the boom experienced by the American economy at this time was fundamental in incubating consumerism cultures among many Americans lavishing in huge accrued wealth and incomes. Bateman finds himself under this fortunate situation although really young; actually at late 20s. He actually begins his story by narrating his everyday life which is characterized by lavish night parties at New York nightclubs together with his young and wealthy colleagues. Of crucial importance is the fact that Bateman’s night clubbing was often punctuated by drugs abuse such as smoking of cocaine, offering everyday advice on the latest fashion trends ought to be adopted by people in his social class, and to the very least, interrogating one another on the proper etiquette synonymous with people in the upper class. In fact, these are some of the striking features of “American Psycho” that has had a direct bearing with culture change in as far as signs and semiotics are applied in postmodern society (Kelly 11).
It is to be realized in the contemporary business world that ones products have to stand out in order to gain competitive advantage in the product market. In doing so, the manufacturer or the corporation has to device array of signs and semiotics that will necessarily make the consumers conceive the product as part of their life style and culture. In deed developing such signs that induce culture awareness on the consumers is the whole ingredient of “American Psycho”. Elaborations on the same assumption are well articulated by other scholars like Thomas Frank who contends that countercultural is an essential recipe of consumer society (Howell 11).
In assessing the role played by signs and semiotics in modern day culture, believe it or not, all human beings are to be treated as social animals. That is, people learn entirely almost everything in their continuous process of interaction with nature. Semiotics and signs act as the fundamental tools the environment uses to disseminate any kind of information it has to its audiences. In other words, “American Psycho” outlines the normal academic assumption that, for interaction to be meaningful the society at large has to develop signs and semiotics whose meanings are shared by a large number of the society if not all. This notion is well articulated by Thomas Frank for instance when he contends that current consumerism trends has nothing to do with conformity and compatibility with each other, but rather to enshrine the unending desire of indifference. Therefore, aided by various symbols provided in the environment, Bateman develops a rather vehement desire to consume high caliber goods synonymous with the rich. This vehement desire spreads even further when Bateman shifts to beautiful women in New York. In deed, the kinds of signs and semiotics the environment presents may serve to erode or improve the culture of a society. In “American Psycho”, it is evident that signs have served to erode the fabric culture of the society (Howell 14).
In line with the book, American society is depicted as being on the brink of collapse. This is precipitated by the volatility of capitalist cultures among Americans. But to amazement, the society is silent on the exact figures and variables responsible for this culture decay. The obvious reason is that, through rigorous advertising campaigns, what should be criticized and held accountable is seen as the savior of the society. Hence, what is bad is not treated as so. For instance, Bateman and friends hardly spends less than $500 on each meal, while at the same time there are many beggars on the outskirts and within the streets of New York unable to afford even one meal a day. This is a classic presentation in “American Psycho” of how signs and semiotics ca be responsible for societal change, to an extent of inhibiting the human thought process (Weston 17).
The role of signs, semiotics and signifiers is also eminent in Company packaging styles or forms. In fact, it has been found over the years by many market researchers, that the kind and style of packaging of the final product has a direct bearing to the quantity of sales of that particular product. In other words, properly and beautifully packaged products that lure consumer eyes are likely to reap on high sales turnover. Therefore, through packaging the manufacturer seeks to communicate its values that form the basis of their product formation. This is a matter only possible when the consumers internalize the signs and semiotics of the manufacturer as displayed on the package. In their bid to remain relevant to the changing business arena, companies continue to modify their packages as this reflects the dynamic and changing lifestyle. In short, a package style or type used in 1930s might be completely out of taste today (Weston 21).
But what is striking is the recognition that packaging in its entirety might not present the exact value of the product there in. Some people for instance, recognize a particular kind of bottle of perfume and would be driven crazy when they find a perfume in such bottles they approve. This would be misleading if not properly interrogated as one may end up with defective products that do not meet the quality aspirations of the customer. This problem is particularly exacerbated by the preceding advertisement on large screens before a consumer steps into a chain store or a supermarket (Turan 5).
In their entirety, signs, semiotics and signifiers can serve to be deceptive to the culture of a society by projecting the reverse of the truth. This assumption was particularly pivotal in “American Psycho” and served to lure the likes of Bateman in every step of the way. The end result was that there taste upped every time a new product or new packaging was launched into the market. Genuinely, packaging is good for the shopper as it provides vital information just by looking at it; this saves consumers a whole lot of time. Besides, packaging is responsible for protecting the commodity therein from contamination and spoilage. More importantly; it provides uniform measurements of the product; the customer is therefore at liberty to return the product to the seller on suspicion that it doesn’t meet the requirements set out in the package. In conclusion, packaging performs the task of socializing consumers using signs and semiotics appealing to the audiences (Turan 7).
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The manifestation of signs, semiotics and signifiers as outlined in “American Psycho” is not only limited to normal consumerism in daily lives, but it also extends to the academic community. Dressing styles and codes is one an area where intensive socialization is a factor. It has been witnessed since time immemorial that the academic community seems to have a rather peculiar and weird dressing styles. This assertion is particularly synonymous with the so called academic professors who tend not to be in line with fashion trends of the day. One would mistakenly confuse them for some paupers in the third world countries, while in real sense they are rich people on top of the academic ladder. In “American Psycho”, in contrast to what is happening to the academic world, fashion trend is an issue the likes of Bateman couldn’t do away with. Being that he comes from a fortunate background compounded by his job as the Vice President in a Wall Street Investment Company, he has learnt through signs and semiotics fashion trends that are highly classy and expensive. What this actually means is that, signs and semiotics common in ones work environment has the capacity to influence the dressing pattern of that person (Cairns 18).
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The role of signs, semiotics and signifiers in determining the dress code various from one environment as already stated above. But significant interest has always been directed towards university professors who through their philosophy of seriousness, contends to have no time for fashion. The question then comes, “Who is not serious with life?”, this question will disturb many as there are many people committed in domestic chores with no time left but still maintain their fashion sense. Although, it is well claimed that over-emphasis on dressing styles by the university dons may serve as a confusion to students who will take a lot of time discussing on the dressing patterns of the lecturer; so the professor dresses to spare his students from dress code confusion debate. All in all, it holds water to say that subsequent professors have internalized the unique dress code style through interaction using signs and semiotics with preceding professors (Cairns 21).
Cultural signs, semiotics and signifiers have also been crucial in incubating economic zeal for the society. Through signs and semiotics, American people developed economic zeal of prosperity and everybody was determined to reap of the perceived high economic returns. Economic boom in America in the early 1960s to 1980s can actually be attributed to the role played by signs and semiotics which developed the norm of economic success among Americans. Attainment of enormous wealth has become an integral culture of the Americans, thanks to the conformity created by the developed signs and semiotics. Through semiotics and signs, the vital economic principle of more can be inculcated among the people who in turn will internalize the virtue of ambition. In America, this virtue is highly inculcated and passed on from generation to generation. For instance, everybody in America aspires to be the greatest in their own area of expertise or specialization. In essence, this translates to hard work for each individual in order to gain the status of being greatest (Travers 24).
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Generally, it is important to acknowledge the fact that similarity and conformity of signs creates uniformity and unity in cultures that is essential for development. America stands out as a classic manifestation of sign uniformity. John F. Kennedy espoused as a great leader in America got this fact right and dubbed his political campaign and manifesto, “The New Frontier”. Through the new frontier ideology, John Kennedy was able to marshal Americans together and chant the way forward for economic prosperity. Such prosperity has never been witnessed again America (Sarris 19).
In the “America Psycho” book, application of sign and semiotics is eminent but done rather selectively. Bateman and his super rich class conform to a distinct signs and semiotics from the rest of the poor people in the society. This is dangerous as it can lead to division with the haves and the have-nots in society forming warring blocks, something not good for the society. I suppose this is what made the film and book controversial in Germany leading to its ban. Therefore, signs, semiotics and signifiers are important segments that should be handled with appropriate precaution if the society is to remain united. Therefore, the lavish living style enjoyed by Bateman would make more meaning if he did put some consideration to the poor people and assist the much he can to change their lives (Ansen 18).
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In conclusion, it is crucial to note that signs, semiotics and signifiers are what make life meaningful. Imagine living in a situation where no one understands the signs used by the other party; that would amount to zero communication. As a matter of fact, there is no culture when people cannot understand one another, that is, communication is indispensible in cultural participation and integration. Semiotics, signs and signifiers therefore add the necessary ingredient for communication to occur in a cultural setting. It is important to note that, despite their importance in a cultural setting, signs and semiotics should be used positively to build cohesion in society and not to divide it the way espoused in the “American Psycho”. The society should also find a balance for the right level of consumption and not to use the two to fuel unnecessary consumption that can erode the society.