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“I’ve Robbed the Rainbow to Make you Gay” – Complex Images BCM110

The word “gay” in today’s society is something that represents a completely different meaning than it did decades ago. Today it represents someone who’s sexuality preference is their own gender, yet years ago it meant ‘happy’. This meaning of ‘happy’ from ‘gay’ dates as far back as the 13th century.

Vintage advertisements for different products used this word in the sense of ‘happy’, and to communities who saw this did not think any differently or take any offence to an advertisement like this. However, without the contextual background, an individual today might misinterpret the meaning or the intention behind the advertisement. For example the above image is a 1940’s advertisement for Jester Wools, it depicts a Jester holding a rainbow by string and talking to woman pretty much saying “Here’s a rainbow, to make you happy”.

This misinterpretation may seem to be offensive to audiences and this can then result in negative opinions and those that misunderstand the times/meaning behind the words. This misinterpretation can be described with the sender, message & receiver theory. 1960, David Berlo developed Shannon and Weaver’s linear model of communication and created the Sender Message Channel Receiver (SMCR) Model of Communication.

The Sender being the initial source of the message.

The Message, being the way the sender expresses their thoughts into words eg. Audio, text, video or any other form of media.

The Channel, the platform which the sender sends the message over. This could be mediums such as telephones, internet etc. Or can even be via the five senses of a human (hearing, seeing, touching, smelling & tasting).

The Receiver, the last step in the model of communication, is the person who receives the message and is required to interpret the senders message correctly. (Another term for this is decoding).

So ultimately in the SMCR Model of Communication when looking where misinterpretation can occur for this specific advertisement is in the “Receiver” section of the model. If the receiver was living in a time other than when this was published and did not have correct contextual knowledge about the image they can misinterpret the meaning of the senders message.
That being – having a rainbow makes you happy – rather than the misinterpreted idea of ‘have a rainbow, you’re gay’ in an offensive manner.

Its certainly intriguing to look at how the receiver can comprehend such a complex image because without the correct knowledge, sometimes it can have a completely different meaning than what the sender may intend. When looking at something that may be recognised as complex, it’s important to note the context and initial meaning behind it may not be what the receiver may interpret. This particularly in today’s modern society where we have platforms such as social media and the rising use of technology where many messages can be misread and sometimes this may result in conflict.

Is there a time when you, yourself as the receiver, has misinterpreted the message of the sender? Let me know.

Till next time.

Alex 🙂


FEATURED IMAGE – Jester Wools: For Gayer Garments 1940’s Advertisement (unsure of origin)

Kacala, A. “When did the word ‘gay’ stop meaning ‘happy’ and start referring to homosexuals?’

Hendricks, B/ “Communications 104: Intro to Mass Communications”, Chapter 2 Lesson 4 “Sender-method-channel-receiver model of communication’ Via.

The Pfeiffer Library Volume 25, 2nd Ed. 1998 Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer “Basic communication model”


Published by Alex Cooper

UOW Communication and Media Student - Majoring in Digital and Social Media - Minoring in Graphic Design

One thought on ““I’ve Robbed the Rainbow to Make you Gay” – Complex Images BCM110

  1. I love this example for complex images! When I saw this image I thought it was made contemporarily to satirise peoples interpretations of homosexuality- completely wrong. I think this idea of being aware of context is so important to research particularly in media. We need to understand where something has originated from to establish a decent opinion on a topic. I think you’ve inspired me to look at old advertisements, very interesting how things have changed!

    Liked by 1 person

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