Semiotic Analysis: John Moe’s “Children of the World” Monolouge

If you follow me on Twitter, or talk to me in almost any capacity on a semi-regular basis, you’ve probably heard me talk about my Semiotics class. I’m nowhere near complete with the class, but yesterday I finished my last Semiotics Analysis, which has been a paper I’ve had to write every week for the last ten weeks. I’ve definitely complained endlessly about them, but I also have really enjoyed writing them and deconstructing various forms of audio work. One of my favorites was digging into a monologue from one of my favorite shows, Wits. Anyway, I wanted to share it, if not only to give my friends an idea of what I’ve been doing the past ten weeks, but also to put some net content on my blog. Content that I’m proud of and spent a lot of time on – and provide a sort of explanation as to why I haven’t been putting as much out there lately.

But anyway, here it is! Enjoy:

Listen to the monologue here.

Signifier: The opening monologue for Episode 9 of “Wits” by John Moe.

Signified: This episode of “Wits” aired in 2013 from the Fitzgerald theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Wits” was an hour-long program distributed through American Public Media (APM) and Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) from 2012-2015. This monologue is the first piece of written work in the episode by John Moe, who is one of the founders and writers of “Wits,” as well as the host. In the piece, he is addressing the “children of the world” and discussing the importance of learning to color inside the lines.

Images: The basis of the monologue and advice is imagery — coloring in the lines. We all know what the picture looks like when a young child decides to negate from the lines, and scribbles all over the page. The older they get, the closer it gets to those lines. But in the end, why should it really matter if they do color in the lines? Should all art be conformed to being inside lines? And if it is, then wouldn’t that mean they stay inside some construct that someone else has already done? Why limit the creativity?

Icon: The primary icon in this piece is the concept of worrying about something, and asking for assistance in the situation. Moe’s four-year-old is asking for her father’s assistance in coloring apples in a coloring book. Even though someone may appear to be more knowledgeable in a given situation, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most qualified or the right person to be helping us out. But it also maybe shouldn’t matter anyway, because that thing we’re trying so hard to perfect might not even be applicable in a day/week/year/decade, etc.

Denotation: Children shouldn’t be worried about coloring inside the lines because it’s not an issue that comes up in adult life.

Connotation: This issue can also allude to mental health, since those who are struck with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression aren’t able to see past the problems or worries in their lives, and it ends up taking over and could derail their long-term plans/goals. In reality, a lot of worries in life that actually matter we don’t have any control over, and therefore, shouldn’t be spending too much time overthinking it.

Syntagmatic Analysis: The monologue starts out with Moe proclaiming, “I have fantastic news for the children of the world!” He then states a thesis for the monologue: “There are a lot of things that matter now that won’t matter for the majority of your life.” The inspiration for the piece of advice is revealed: when his four-year-old daughter asked for help in coloring apples. She was worried about staying in the lines, and wanted the assistance from her dad. Moe states, “She hasn’t started school yet — she doesn’t know about the lines.” He explains how coloring in the lines may be a huge worry for a “child of the world,” but it’s something that doesn’t matter in adult life. The same goes with cursive and running fast, which are two more prominent sources of stress for kids in grade school. Then some advice is more directed to the older children of the world, assumably high school aged, about calculus. “Do, but do so more as a brain exercise. Unless you do that as a career, it is a momentary burden that will be lifted. No one ever asks you about it again ever. I’m not even certain about what calculus is, and I have a show.” Moe confesses that the things that do matter are usually things you can never do anything about. Except maybe having a pen handy, “on account of you gotta write stuff down sometimes.” We then come back to the coloring to top off the monologue — “don’t worry about the coloring. It’s fine.”

Paradigmatic Analysis: This monologue primarily deals with the comparison of worries as a younger child to those of adulthood, and how the things we were stressed out about as kids (or what kids are currently stressed out about) are insignificant in adulthood. The pattern of opposition is that we end up stressed-out throughout our entire lives about something, when really, in the scheme of things, these worries aren’t the end-all-be-all of our lives. And the things that we should be worried about, we can’t do much about anyway.

Intertextuality: This opening monologue lines up with other pieces found in the episode, such as a parody sketch from the “Wizard of Oz” about Dorothy discussing with other characters if she should or should not go back to Kansas. We can never fathom the “worries” of Dorothy, leaving a “fictional” word to return home, even though the fictional world is much better than her homelife. We’ll never experience that — but for Dorothy, it’s a large conflict. The sketch is followed with Brandi Carlile covering “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which is a popular song from the film, where the singer sees the other side of a situation (or perhaps a different situation entirely) and thinking that it’s clearly better in the situation that’s not their own. This can be compared similarly to the monologue, because although the kids are so worried about coloring inside the lines, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make those inside-the-lines pictures the most beautiful.

Metaphor: The major metaphor in this monologue is coloring in the lines representing any stress of life. Moe addresses these stresses as usually being insignificant in the scheme of life, and tries to calm the “children of the world” down by saying “Things that will come up — you can’t do anything about.”

Codes: For “codes,” it’s best to bring up an early part of the monologue, “She hasn’t started school yet. She doesn’t know about the lines.” The social construct of needing to “color inside the lines” (representing society and the molds we might be trying to conform to) isn’t something that we’re born knowing. This idea is forced on us once we start to become more integrated with larger groups of people — and one of the first places this happens is public school. Now that Moe’s daughter is nearing the age of being pushed into school, she now finds it necessary to ask her dad to help her color inside the lines; something that didn’t need to be addressed before, or a worry she previously had.

Auteur Theory: Moe is a writer first. He mostly writes satirical books that hold some significance, and are full of short, comedic pieces. He primarily also writes the show’s “Pop Song Correspondences.” Compared to these pieces, this fits right in. It’s comedic in delivery, but also sound advice for the “children of the world” and once you think about it, probably more directed at the actual audience that attended/listens to “Wits.”


Author: erikabunk

Raised in Northern Minnesota. BA in Radio/Business & Entrepreneurship. Painfully average marathoner. Spends too much time on Spotify, in search of the best record store in the world, and dreams of returning to Reykjavík.

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