Low Modality

Student name:      Mathew Witt

Student ID:            n8591768

Date of post:         07/09/14

Topic:                    Semiotics – Week 7


analysed mickey

Artist(s):                             Walt Disney

Title:                                  unknown

Year of creation:              1928

Technique, material:      Black and White Film

Genre:                                Sound Cartoon

Style:                                   Animation

Image URL/origin:           http://cartoon-characters.com/mickey-mouse/


This graphic is of Mickey Mouse in his first film appearance.  It features Mickey at the wheel of a boat.  Mickey is wearing shoes, pants, no shirt and a hat.  He appears to be smiling.


We can tell it’s a boat because there is a steering wheel, a life buoy, and what appear to be water and a river bank.  The water is suggestive as it is basically negative space.  We don’t actually see any waves, or ripples that one would expect to see as a representation of water, the water therefore having an extremely low modality.  In fact the whole scenario has a low modality – a mouse wearing shoes and clothes, steering a boat and standing on two legs is physically impossible and therefore total fantasy.


As a personification, Mickey is as far from reality as one could get.  Still there are other factors which add to the low rate of modality.  The image is in black and white, there are no flesh tones with Mickey’s skin entirely saturated in black.  The image is grainy.  Although the image of Nicole and Keith lacked sharpness it none-the-less looked realistic.  This image looks like a picture of a cartoon.  The lines are blurred, the angles and edges of the boat pencil sharp.  This is a hand drawn image that bears no resemblance to reality.


Social Semiotics


Spatially the layout creates a narrative through the use of a vector, Jewitt and Oyama (2004); the vector being Mickey’s arm holding onto the stirring wheel of the boat.  The boat parallel to the shoreline suggests that Mickey is travelling either up or down a water way.  The viewer’s eye travels the length of the river bank searching for signifiers to confirm this assumption.  The life buoy and steering wheel confirm it’s a boat.  The image is read as if Mickey is a real person but the viewer knows it is merely a personification and that in reality a walking, clothes wearing, boat driving mouse does not exist.  When first viewed, viewers would have perceived similar assumptions; decades later, as conditioned Disney watchers, viewers will also see a dual representation.  In addition to being a cartoon mouse, Mickey Mouse is an iconic symbol of Disneyland. 


Interaction is passive in this image.  Although unrealistic, it goes beyond conceptual in that when we apply human characteristics to the signifier we can read human like qualities and subsequently apply humanoid interpretations.


The focal point of the image is Mickey Mouse.  The rule of two thirds applies as does the golden mean.  Although we see sky, the horizon is the edge of the river bank providing a clear line of direction from one side of the image to the other.  The boat parallels this line providing a sense of direction and rhythm.  Circular patterning can be seen in the steering wheel, life buoy, hanging rope, and Mickey’s eyes, ears, head, lower torso and buttons.  Diagonal repetition occurs in the floorboards, and the front of the boat.



Jewitt, C. and Oyama, R, (2001). Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach.  In T. van Leeuwen & C. Jewitt (Eds.), Handbook of visual analysis, (pp.134 – 157). London, UK: Sage.


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