Semiotik einer schwulen Kultur (2019)
Semiotik einer schwulen Kultur (Semiotics of a gay culture) is a fashionable portrait of the gay community in 2019 and a scientific work with the claim to examine the nonverbal vestimentary communication of the same. The connection of sociological questions, fashion theory and the historical position of the gay community as a social marginalized group are central ideas. 20 men in self-selected outfits were photographed at 20 different locations in Berlin. On basis of the photographs taken, the clothing items were analyzed and interpreted as communicative signs with regard to social functions.
Introduction to the research paper
The whole life is determined by signs and codes. A large part of modern society is only possible because there is a process of translating signs from one system to another. Much of this is the achievement of information theory, which has made possible the digital transmission of information through, for example, the binary (mathematical) code. Every single text message that is thoughtlessly sent through the ether is based on a very complex mechanism. The fact that an alarm clock rings in the morning is only possible because the time is transferred by a transmission mechanism into a written language expression. Alone the transfer of the day into clock times is already a form of coding. If one speaks of codes and signs, most people think first of secret language or mathematical codes. And they are right, these are all codes. And yet, codes are much more than a modern construct. There is a reason why one can immediately recognize a painting from the Baroque period or assign churches to the respective epoch within a few moments. Man has learned to read and understand those very signs. Learning a new language is basically learning a code, the key to expressing things in another language. But all these just described codes do not change anymore or – as soon as it is about language – only very slowly. Of course, new word creations are added to the German language every year, for example. This happens, among other things, when the Youth Words of the Year are published every year. But it gets really exciting when codes change very quickly. And contrary to popular belief, very many codes change rapidly. The spring/summer and fall/winter collections of every fashion house are codes in themselves, which are already put together differently six months later at the latest. Parts of them are accepted by consumers, others will be reserved for the rich and beautiful, others will make it to the mainstream.
These characters have the longest half-life. They are reproduced and and reused, connoted in new ways, and eventually dropped again. If we speak of fashion, the fashion code of the mainstream is certainly the slowest and most inert. It takes time for it to take on new characters, but once it has assimilated them, it does not give them up so quickly. And even if the mainstream code is the slowest among the fashionable ones, it still changes at breakneck speed. And then there are codes of social minorities. They lead a life of their own and have their very own set of signs and symbols. There were, for example, Sinti and Roma, who are usually recognized at first glance because of their original way of dressing. For some social (or ethnic) minorities the code is immediately recognizable, for others it is more difficult to spot because they are much more hidden or simply do not want to be recognized. It is at this point that this paper begins and attempts to explore whether an assumed male homosexual code exists and, if so, how that very code functions. The focus is on homosexual men. A common fathoming of a gay and lesbian code led too far in this work. The detached consideration of the gay code from the lesbian code is possible because both communities coexist in relative separation from each other. In order to facilitate research in this direction, it is first necessary to address a number of topics that at first glance have nothing to do with semiotics. Nevertheless, these are important in order to understand how and under which specific circumstances garments can become part of a fashion code and how a code is created within a social group in the first place. To this end, we will first illuminate what semiotics is all about and how signs function in their system, and then in further steps we will establish a theory – fed by sociology, history and psychology – in which way a clothing code – and specifically an assumed gay code – emerges. It is important to note at this point that by dress code we do not mean a form of work or business attire, such as is common among office workers in Japan. These forms are more likely to be characterized as uniforms or, in some cases, traditional dress. What we are talking about here are individual signs that function and relate to each other in a system.