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Interactions between micro and macro signifiers

The system of micro signifiers constructs media image by means of the generalization mechanism whereas the system of macro signifiers constructs media image by means of the naturalization mechanism. But in the mind of the audiences, those two ways of constructing media image are intertwined. By exposing ourselves face-to-face with the micro signifiers of the media, we construct and perceive the media image. But at the same time, we acquire knowledge about the macro signi- fiers through other means which help us either reinforce or change our original understanding about media. The system of micro signifiers reflects the pursuit for the prompt, fair and objective coverage of news, which corresponds to the symbol of journalistic concept within the system of macro signifiers. Those two systems of signifiers produce a complementary and mutually enriching impact on the shaping of the media image.

It is true that the media image is relatively stable, but this does not mean that such an image is resistant to change. Each of the audience’s relevant direct experiences with the media would contribute to his or her formation of a new understanding about that media. When people found out that Li Yong, as a presenter, had acquired a luxury sports car, they would associate this car with the generous income of a celebrated CCTV anchor, and they would further regard this income of a single anchor as a reflection of the lavish funding that CCTV enjoys as a government-financed media organization. In this system of symbols, based on the preliminary symbol “the sports car,” the public develops an extended interpretation of “the lavishly funded CCTV” which constitutes a connotative meaning about CCTV. This leads to a metalanguage construction about CCTV as a media symbol. In each encounter with the media, the public would make a comparison with CCTV’s existing media image by using the new meaning of the metalanguage and in every comparison the public either reinforces or modifies its existing perception about the media. Such changes triggered by the metalanguage in the judgment of the media image are what we call the production of the generalization mechanism.

The media image is composed of two meanings conveyed by the media symbols. One is the connotative signification produced by the media symbol by virtue of the naturalization mechanism; it is referred to here as the meaning of the connotateur. Another is the connotative signification produced by the symbols involved in the specific process of media operation on the basis of the generalization mechanism; it is here called the meaning of the metalanguage. Both of those two forms of meanings are extremely vital to the development of the media image as they all contribute to the shaping of the media image. In most cases, within the media symbols, the meaning constructed by the metalanguage and the meaning constructed by the connotateurs are basically congruent with each other so that they can combine to form a relatively stable and unified media image.

But when those two different meanings produced by the symbols come into conflict with each other, the existing media image would face serious challenges. In particular, when the symbols of the metalanguage themselves are very influential and produce compelling appeals, the challenges posed to the media image are definitely great. When metalanguage conforms to the media image, the metalanguage’s connotative signification would significantly enhance the audience’s perception of the media image. However, when the metalanguage’s connotative signification undergoes any changes, the media image shaped in the mind of the audience would correspondingly change; especially when those metalanguage symbols themselves are very influential, the blow dealt to the media image would be much more severe. From above analysis, it is clear that both the micro signifiers and the macro signi- fiers act upon one another and mutually impact one another. The changes in the micro signifiers are likely to bring about changes in the audience’s perception of the existing macro signifiers. But the construction of the macro signifiers is absolutely inseparable from the specific performance of the micro signifiers.

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