In grossly oversimplified terms, here's how semiotics works: A unit of language is known as a "signifier," and it functions as a symbol for the concept it represents, the "signified." This interchange of meaning works on two levels: denotation, in which a signifier like the word "rock" simply represents the object "rock," and connotation, wherein a signifier can have a range of more subtle implications — so "rock" can also mean strength or steadfastness.
Originally applied to linguistics, the concept of semiotics was further expanded by the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss to include myths, or what he thought of as units of cultural meaning — the word "cross" conjures Christ, for example, which in turn conjures the more fundamental touchstone of the martyr or messiah, a narrative that all cultures instinctively understand.
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More currently, Nickelback's status as signifier for "shitty but inexplicably popular cultural agent, the very fact of whose popularity threatens the validity of all culture" is pretty much indisputable. Google "worst band in the world" and Nickelback is the second result, right behind Creed (and I predict it won't be long before Nickelback edges into first). The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, in an interview with Rolling Stone last month, probably summed up the mythical ramifications best: "Rock and roll is dying because people became okay with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world. So they became okay with the idea that the biggest rock band in the world is always going to be shit." Hell in a handbasket, etc.
But Nickelback is no longer going to take that semiotic designation lying down. The resistance started in response to Carney, via the band's Twitter account: "Thanks to the drummer in the Black Keys calling us the Biggest Band in the World," the band tweeted. "Hehe." Apparently, that jab felt pretty cathartic, because since then, the members of Nickelback have been responding to almost everyone who mocks them on Twitter. "@Nickelback makes me want to chop my ears off," one person tweeted. "Did you do it yet?" The band replied. "Was driving down the street and a @Nickelback song came on," said another. "I had an aneurism and violently shit myself at the same time." "I bet it was the best day you've had in a while," the band parried.
Before I say what I'm about to say, let me qualify: I don't think it's all that far off to award Nickelback the title of worst band in the world. Considering its fifteen-year history of crapping out chugging, throaty garbage — to say nothing of functionally retarded sentiments like " I'm mistaken/For handing you a heart worth breakin'" — Nickelback is no more likely to ever put out a decent song than Christ is to climb down off the cross and stuff dollar bills into a stripper's butt crack. And like the band's lyrics, its Twitter comebacks are largely witless and inane.
Still, just the fact that they're so gamely interacting with random, hostile people belies a certain fortitude, some affable fighting spirit that almost makes me...respect Nickelback a little. And maybe rock and roll could use a little more of what that signifies.