Toward a Framework
for Reading Magazine Covers
History decomposes into pictures, not stories.
Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften
To read (to listen to) a narrative is not merely to move from one word to the next, it is also to move from one level to the next.
Roland Barthes, Image—Music—Text
Chapter 2 initiated a reading of the magazine covers, the images of which include a great deal of subtext. Unpacking the underlying meanings involves clarifying the relations between the images and society, and it is therefore necessary to clarify a framework for reading these images. Such a framework is essential for laying out the theoretical assumptions that guide this reading and from which the basic research questions emerge. In addition, it can suggest a method for undertaking such a reading and a structure for the chapters and analysis that follow.
Moving forward in the development of a framework for reading magazine covers requires an elaboration of the elementary relation between symbols and meaning. Humans are culture-bearing animals, and as such we have the ability to communicate our ideas and the material world through symbols. We produce meaning through representation. We use symbols to communicate, or represent, what we want to say about our feelings, beliefs, concepts, plans, etc. The symbols we use are “signs, ” which “stand for or represent our concepts, ideas and feelings in such a way as to enable others to 'read,' decode or interpret their meaning in roughly the same way that we do” (Hall 1997b, 5).