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Multi-modal analysis of the non-verbal elements

In addition to the verbal channel, the advert draws significantly on the non-verbal (in this case visual) channel, inspiring a multi-modal analysis of the interplay between the two. There are four non-verbal elements that appear to be crucial in the case of this advert: (1) the candidate’s photograph; (2) the use of the slogans on a box of matches distributed alongside the election leaflet; (3) the visual representation of the main election slogan in a stylized “bubble”; and (4) the choice of the colour scheme. Two of the elements (namely the candidate’s photograph and the box of matches) appear to contribute to the interpretation of the election message as racist, the other two (the “bubble” shape and the colour scheme) might, with some danger of over-interpretation, be construed as connected with such an interpretation.

The first element calling for a brief commentary from a multi-modal perspective is the photograph. The candidate is presented at a slight angle, looking the prospective readers straight in the eyes. The direct visual contact is a non-verbal counterpart of the imperative sentence structure and the direct reference to the recipients as “you” in the first slogan, thus enhancing the quasi-interactive potential of the advert. The candidate is shown as a self-confident woman, a member of the majority (white) population. Her head is tilted in a way that seems to indicate intimacy and humbleness, yet her look appears somewhat sly—it is a knowing look that seems to establish complicity with the recipients. It is as if she is conveying a message along the lines of “we all know what I mean”.

Second, there is the red box of matches distributed alongside the election leaflet. It is commonplace for politicians to give out some ephemera, such as balloons, pens, pins, postcards, bottle openers, etc., with their names, slogans and affiliations printed on them. In this case, however, the matches came to be interpreted as a symbol that sparked large-scale public discontent with the campaign, which eventually led to the discrediting of the candidate. This phenomenon is described in more detail in the next section, as are several other circumstances that indicate that this political advertising campaign is an instance of implicit racist rhetoric.

As regards the main slogan, the words are enclosed in a “bubble” that is linked to the candidate’s name at the bottom of the advert. The bubble is a stereotypical device for representing speech in some visual genres, e.g. in comics. At the same time, however, the geometric shape of the bubble bears a stunning resemblance to the visual style introduced in 2006 to officially represent the Czech Republic internationally. Similar bubbles, with various textual segments, have been used to market the Czech

Republic for the purposes of tourism, business, etc., and were also used during the Czech presidency of the EU in the first half of 2009.

By using the bubble, the politician may, thus, wish to convey her “Czechness”. Alternately, by appropriating the visual style, she may be suggesting an affinity between her political programme and some official state position. In this sense, her personal discourse of political advertising is, in fact, parasitical on another advertising discourse in a complex game of intertextuality and interdiscursivity (cf. Fairclough 1992, Wodak 2009). Yet, the shape of the bubble, with its connotations of the “official Czechness” may also have a role in enhancing the candidate’s political programme, which capitalizes on the contrasts between the majority population and minority ethnic groups.[1]

Finally, one may notice the colour scheme of the advertising material: the whole advert is a combination of black, white and red. The red colour is most likely used without its stereotypical connotations in politics: in the 2010 election, the candidate was affiliated with neither the Social Democrats nor the Communists, who tend to use orange and red, respectively, as a symbolic expression of their political identities. In fact, Janackova ran for office as an independent candidate on the candidate list of the strongest right-wing party, the Civic Democrats, whose traditional colour is blue.

Accordingly, one might be led to consider the iconic meaning of the red colour outside of politics, where it almost universally signifies blood and fire (and hence tends to convey danger). In the case of the political advert under analysis, the choice of colour, as an additional semiotic code, may combine with the other non-verbal aspects of the election campaign, primarily the choice of matches as one of the physical vehicles for the candidate’s election slogan. Although the choice of red may be purely accidental, its role in the multi-modal construction of the politician’s identity and her election message cannot be discounted. Given the racist reputation of the candidate, the intertextual and interdiscursive nature of the slogan alluding to previous racist texts, and the presence of the matches in the campaign, the colour scheme (i.e. the specific choice of red) may potentially assume new symbolic values.

The following section demonstrates how a contextualized analysis of the advert can enhance the interpretation of the communicated message as potentially racist and how its ambiguous nature can be explained in terms of preferred and dispreferred meanings.

  • [1] In Czech racist discourse, the two groups placed in contrast are “Czechs” and“Roma”. This mixes, somewhat illogically, national and ethnic classifications,erroneously implying that the Roma out-group is “non-Czech”.
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