Intertextuality refers to how one text (past or present) affects the current message. Ok. So here’s a not so politically correct example, but a powerful one from America’s sad racially discriminate past:
A circa 1894 cartoon showed a young African American boy, probably about six years old, doing arithmetic on a slate chalkboard while a small dog looked on. The caption read “A Black Adder.” WOW! Did it hit you in the face like it did me when I first saw it? A black adder is a highly venomous snake. The cartoon labeled the child, although somewhat indirectly, as poisonous, bad, dangerous . . . These kinds of visual messages perpetuated racism in the U.S. for many years, burning into the White American psyche an equation of black with evil, specifically black people with evil. No doubt this was not an original idea equating the color black in a negative light. However, the deliberate construction of the message relied on previous messages and existing memory or ideas. Think of black cats, often thought of as bad luck, or a moonless night, often called pitch black and thus scary, and so on. If we thought of darkness as sacred (Louis Armstrong called it that in his rendition of the song, A Beautiful World), the caption might have been a positive association. I can think of a one, but it is rather corny; here goes anyway – A future engineer. Not at all punchy, but possibly true. (My preferred description of skin color is as different shades of coffee. Nothing makes so many people happy as a hot cup of deep, dark coffee in the early morning. Mmmmm! Even the smell is wonderful. It’s beautiful. Or a creamy latté can make someone feel special because it lovely with its swirling froth!) – Back to the subject at hand . . .
With intertextuality everything we bring with us in our conscious and subconscious memories affect how we interpret the immediate message. What we know, what we’ve heard in the past, or even what we’ve smelled affects what we believe or want to believe.
Interplay simply put refers to the way the elements of the message work together, be it good or poor. For example, no one would write about the American patriotism in terms of purple, green, and orange. It’s red, white, and blue that bring to mind the American flag or Mom’s apple pie that brings to mind an ideal autumn day with American flags proudly waving at every house. You cannot get any more American than Mom’s apple pie! (So, you’ve guessed that I’m American and proud of it! If you don’t like it, don’t read my blog!)
Interplay is all about the multiple elements of a message and how they either work together to create a whole picture or whether they conflict and create confusion. If our goal is to stir nostalgia then we need to use language and visuals that do just that like the apple pie. The horrors of war cannot be emphasized with images of newborn kittens snuggling up to momma cat for their first taste of warm milk. What we see, taste, hear, say, write, etc. needs to be a coordinated effort to be believable. We probably won’t be believed if we say, “Oh, Tom’s a great driver” if he pulls up in a wreck of a car. If you want to create a great, powerful, and memorable message the individual elements usually need to work together. Of course there are exceptions to the rules as in the case of sarcasm. However, in most cases cohesiveness and coordination work best.
What does this all do for communication audits? Understanding the craft of constructing messages will help the auditor to demonstrate the strength or weakness of a communication. It will help them to determine why a brochure failed to gain the target audience’s attention or what it was that makes everyone remember a product so well. In the communication audit we will want to know if our messages were effective and why or why not. We will deconstruct and use the knowledge gained to create even more successful messages in the future. So, in the next blog we will continue our pursuit and I promise it will be much briefer. Until next time, Happy Communications!