Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation

By Leo R. Chavez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
A Lexicon of Images,
Icons, and Metaphors
for a Discourse on Immigration
and the Nation

Signs 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.

Stuart Hall, “Work of Representation”

Magazine covers tell stories by combining images and text into an overall message. In telling immigration-related stories, those who compose the covers draw on narrative themes, well-worn tropes and metaphors, cultural elements, social contexts, and stereotypical scenes and characters that are “out there” as part of society's generalized cultural knowledge and social memory (Santa Ana 1999; Santa Ana et al. 1998; Chilton 1996). My intention in this chapter is to contribute to an elementary grammar of the elements—a lexicon 1—used to build the messages conveyed on magazine covers. In so doing, I intend to show how those who compose the magazine covers choreograph the available elements so that they achieve their end, which is, as Goffman (1976, 27) put it, “the presentation of a scene that is meaningful, whose meaning can be read at a flash. ” As different as each of these covers is on the surface, a small number of structural forms can be found. In addition, magazine covers rely on a set of recurrent symbols and icons that suggest to the consumer ethnic and racial stereotypes, national interests, social problems, protagonists, and antagonists. These are the ready-made elements of what Barthes calls a “historical grammar of iconographic connotation” (1977, 22). 2

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