Sunday, September 12, 2010


This is my first post, and also the first paper I had to write for my Com 460: mass media criticism class. It is a semiotic analysis of the opening scene to Showtime's Dexter. My professor limited us to two pages so its not too extensive, but I feel like it touches on some important points. It is also my first attempt so go easy on me! Hopefully you enjoy this and it gives you a sense of what my writing style is like.

     Slicing, dicing, and ever so enticing. The opening to Showtime’s Emmy award-winning Dexter is filled with misconstruing symbols making it ripe for semiotic analysis. Even though the scenes that combine to create the opening are a representation of a man going through his morning routine, the message that is actually conveyed is extremely different depending on ones interpretation of the symbols they are viewing.
     Lets dig deeper. In language we use words to represent concepts once they are aggregated into sentences. These words are separate entities that come together, interact, and create understanding between those who speak the language or understand the codes being used (Berger). “The essential break through of semiotics is that it takes linguistics as a model and applies linguistic concepts to other phenomena, texts, not just language itself” (Berger, 5-6). Therefore, it is easy to see why many of the signifiers in the opening of Dexter not only represent their denotation but also have malicious bellicose connotations; leading the audience to completely different signifieds, or concepts, based on their interpretation. It is in this way that specific signifiers can result in different signifieds for people when viewing any kind of text, sometimes resulting in confusion for the audience. The opening to Dexter has no dialogue or spoken words and is set to a creepy little ditty that makes his actions even creepier. But like Arthur Berger said, “It is obvious, then, that people are speaking all the time, even when they aren’t saying anything verbally” (Berger, 15)
     For example, in part of the opening scene there is a shot at close range showing a rope wrapped around both of a mans hands that suddenly pull and visibly tighten making the area around the ropes on his hands turn white. This brief scene, when analyzed intertextually, conveys the sign to be the act of strangling to most people who have seen strangling scenes in previous texts and understand the code being used. When in reality, once the scene comes to an end it is clear that the signifier and signified combine to produce the sign of a man tying his shoes in the morning. The signifier of drops of blood from Dexters shaving accident, to the slow motion and graphic slicing of his grapefruit which he then juices and leaves to resemble distorted flesh. Many of the shots in the opening scene of Dexter use visuals set in a syntagmic relationship that immediately conveys one sign, or connotation, to the audience, and then switch it instantly to show the true denotation that the visual symbols are interacting to create; and all of them insinuate murder.
     The very first shot in the opening scene shows a mosquito sucking blood out of Dexter’s arm that he then slaps and kills and the audience see’s a smile spread across his face. The signifier and the signified of Dexter slapping his arm and then smiling convey something very different to different audiences. For one that has never watched the show they might follow the denotative thought that killing a mosquito is good. When in reality, for those who watch the show and know the codes being used know that connotatively, waking up and killing anything, is a great start to Dexter’s day.
     All in all, the opening to Showtime’s Dexter is a magnificent composition of signifiers and signifieds that move and change rapidly to convey different signs that must be decoded semiotically by a knowledgeable audience that speaks the language. It just goes to show the true brilliance behind the ability of the directors to use symbolic metonymies to create malevolent connotations out of a denotatively peaceful routine.

Berger, Arthur Asa. Media Analysis Techniques. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005. Print.

Seiler, Robert M. "Semiology // Semiotics." Reading. Upload & Share
PowerPoint Presentations and Documents. 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 08 Sept. 2010. .


  1. Its a great post, the details have been captured pretty well. And seeing this as only your initial works, kudos to you.
    Can you share the complete paper if possible? I am doing the semiotic analysis of the show as my dissertation, and would like to take your paper as a cited reference.

    Abhinav Shukla
    PDGM - Communications,
    MICA, India

    1. Sorry I never got back to you Abhinav! But this paper was actually limited to 700 words I believe, haha, so there isn't anything else to post. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I've love to read your dissertation if you wouldn't mind sending it to me!