Visual Semiotics

I am particularly interested in semiotics.  Ira Glass, popular radio host of This American Life, took the stage in Tarrytown, NY last year and I was so excited to get a ticket!  He talked about his semiotics degree from Brown University and wove principles of semiotics through the night as he talked about the art of radio and storytelling.  I loved the following definition of visual semiotics from Curtin (n.d.),

Semiotic analysis, in effect, acknowledges the variable relationship[s] we may have to representation and therefore images or objects are understood as dynamic; that is, the significance of images or objects is not understood as a one-way process from image or object to the individual but the result of complex inter-relationships between the individual, the image or object and other factors such as culture and society.

Go Pro uses semiotics to reach consumers.  The company understands the relationship that images have with individuals.  For most people, specific images directly correlate to specific emotions (i.e. lion cubs correlate to adoration).  There is a (mostly) universal desire to be as curious, energetic, and free to act on impulse as the cubs.  They embody what we want: unrestraint and the potential to be the king of the jungle.

But what happens when the meaning of an image is processed differently by consumers and a brand finds itself in the role as clarifier?  For instance, an American hunter, Josh Bowmar, speared a bear for sport last year and filmed the killing with his Go Pro camera.  His motivation for posting the video on You Tube? He claimed in the video, “I just did something I don’t think anybody in the world has ever done” (Hodge, 2016). He assigned the meaning “triumphant” to the spearing. Conversely, for many, the image evoked inhumanity and cruelty. It prompted singer and activist Bill Madden to tweet, “Sadistic piece of human trash Josh Bowmar stabs a bear with a spear- then smiles and laughs about it dying in pain” (Madden, 2016).  Responding to this tweet, Roxy Maggs wrote, “I couldn’t even watch the video, the picture was sad enough” (Maggs, 2016).  These prove that a picture is really worth a thousand words—but what thousand words are based on who is interpreting the picture!

The following video from Bowmar’s You Tube Channel is graphic and shows the spearing of the bear.

While I could not find any response from Go Pro, Under Armour did speak up. Sarah Bowmar, wife of Josh Bowmar, seen in the video, was being sponsored by Under Armour.  The brand terminated her sponsorship citing that the harvesting of the bear was “reckless” and that they could not “condone” it (Peterson, 2016).


Do you think Under Armour was right in terminating Bowmar’s sponsorship? What about those people who believe that there was nothing wrong with spearing a bear?  The image of a speared bear, in their opinion, was something to celebrate.  Do you believe Go Pro should have reacted?
Bowmar Bowhunting.  (2016, June 5).  ‪Josh Bowmar spears giant bear on the ground! (original) epic hunt! [Video file].  Retrieved from:

Curtin, B.  (n.d.).  Semiotics and visual representation.  [PDF].  Retrieved January 18, 2016 from:

Hodge, M.  (2016, August 17).  HUNTED! Shameless bodybuilder who filmed himself on a GoPro spearing bear to death with homemade javelin could face prosecution over brutal hunting methods.  The Sun.  Retrieved from:

Madden, B. [activist360]. (2016, August 15).  Sadistic piece of human trash Josh Bowmar stabs a bear with a spear — then smiles and laughs about it dying in pain ‪ . [Tweet]. Retrieved from:

Maggs, R. [RoxyMaggs]. ‪@activist360‪ I couldn’t even watch the video, the picture was sad enough. Sure he killed the bear for food #liar. [Tweet]. Retrieved from:

Peterson, H.  (2016, August 23).  Under Armour sparks outrage after dropping its sponsorship of a hunter whose husband speared a bear.  Retrieved from:

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