What is it about?

Lakoff and Johnson's Conceptual Metaphor Theory claims that metaphors need first and foremost to be understood as functioning on the level of cognition. A consequence of accepting this is that language is only ONE way in which they can be expressed. If CMT is right -- and I think it is -- metaphors can also occur in pictures and moving images. This paper critically evaluates FILMIP, a method for identifying metaphors in film. FILMIP is the latest development in the "MIP"-family of Metaphor Identification Procedures, which started with MIP, developed in MIPVU, and also includes VISMIP.

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Why is it important?

Identifying and categorizing verbal metaphors is a challenging task, but at least language has a grammar and a vocabulary. Since visuals, including films have neither (although they have structures), it is even more difficult to develop a viable procedure to analyze for instance cinematic metaphors. FILMIP presents such a procedure for identifying metaphors in commercials. Tellingly it refrains from saying anything about such metaphors' interpretation. FILMIP, like VISMIP, is based on the presupposition that analyzing metaphors that include visuals is helped by first "translating" their key elements into words. This in turn enables analysts to check any incongruous meanings in dictionaries, and thus to decide whether a given A IS B structure should be considered metaphorical. In my view this is a fundamentally mistaken assumption. In the paper I re-analyze some of the examples discussed by FILMIP scholars, claiming that FILMIP cannot adequately account for the metaphors. In my view, one of the problems is that the "identification" and "interpretation" stage can often not be separated. Another is that while metaphors are often characterized by some form of incongruity between two phenomena presented as similar, congruity is NOT a necessary criterion for metaphor. The paper ends with pointing out there is no failsafe procedure for identifying and interpreting metaphors, but I present guidelines for this on the basis of papers & chapters I about metaphors in moving images in various media and genres: commercials, art animation, documentary, and feature film.


I see FILMIP's attempts to try and account for metaphors in commercials via "translating" them into language as a symptom of a broader development in researching visual and multimodal discourses as if these communicate in a manner that work essentially the same as verbal discourse. Although some visuals (eg brand logos, pictograms, traffic signs, emoji) have language-like features, it is in my view a misguided idea to consider visual communication as a "language."

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Identifying and Interpreting Visual and Multimodal Metaphor in Commercials and Feature Films, Metaphor and Symbol, January 2024, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/10926488.2023.2271544.
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