December 18, 2007

Images - Are they really standing still?

I was struck with the discussion we have after Brett's presentation about how images cannot show motion, as though they are stuck in time more or less. Conversely, I charged how because of the texture and variations that occur with a painting it has a much better chance of cpaturing motion. And it makes perfect sense. However, is there another way to look at how images do in fact capture motion?

My paper is focused a lot on performance and visuality and there is one article I have read by Chesboro (citation to follow, I forgot it in my bag today) and how he charges images can in fact be put into motion. In the confines of my paper, I use it to illustrate more so on how it can put ideas, or ideology into motion.

If I were to use an example from this class, it would be the weeks we spent on publics. More specifically, on iconic photos and publics. What I mean when I use Chesboro's terms of motion is that it makes certain ideas come to life. If we look at something similar to The Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, we talk about these concepts of civic identity being conjured up within the people that view the image. It brings something to life within us, and hopefully, into practice in our real life. So, in this repsect, I guess we can possibly look at how while technically speaking a photo only captures what is still, it can put something into motion. Think call to action, maybe?

I believe if we look at how iconic imagery can conjure up identity, that in itself is showing some sort of motion, a call into being, a reason to take something away from our view of the image and put it somewhere productive, whether that be in physical action or thoughtful reflection. But at the very least, and like all images in general, they are not just blank stares combined with our own blank stares back. There is always something inherently moving when it comes to images, either within the ideas they are bringing to life through means of representation, or through us, the viewer when we think and talk about them. In addition, they feed off one another. How is that not motion?

So, can the image be in motion? Or is it my perspective that puts it in motion? Or, when viewed technically, we can never argue it is in motion? It's very point is to capture. Do we have to appreciate in the defferent spheres for both arguements to have their validity?

Moral Emotion

I spoke about how there is a concept of moral emotion floating around. My paper focuses partly on this concept, which provides an illustration why art, or in this case images, affect us the way we do.

While much of this semester has focused so much on the technical aspect of why images tell the story they do, I feel when we look at images, even when we try to keep it in the technical aspect, it more than likely has a sort of undertone that makes us talk about how we feel about the image and its ramifications.

That is because like so many of our discussions demonstrate, images are our lives. Symbols and images were what we used to communicate in the old days, they continue to be so. They become more dangerous because of our technical progression, and likewise we feel compelled to celebrate and dismiss at the same time.

Any way you slice it, and perhaps this keeps it too simple, but we are always already responding to images because we have been trained to do so. Sometimes this is our of necessity, other times because we live in a world that encourages it.

Do you think this idea makes what we did all semester seem too simple? Or, are we making it too difficult by asking the technical questions behind meaning, representation, denotation and connotation, and the like? Are we missing the point: that images are what we make them to be, both good and bad. We need them and loathe them. Further, are we dismissing the fact that they always touch at our very emotions, and in efforts to forgo this, we decide to pull them apart with academic terms and ideas? Are we too afraid of how we relate to them, so we attempt to stop it under the guise of "understanding" them?

Is it possible to say that for once, we can say they are aesthetically pleasing, whether or not our ideas of aesthetically pleasing align with the person sitting next to us? Can that be enough?

Turning to the second regime....

As I stated in class, my paper topic turned into a monster that was much more complicated than I originally thought. One of the branches of my paper that had to be "pruned," (yey for representational anecdotes that compare academic papers to shrubbery) was a line of argument that looked at technology and "seeing" gayness. The above video does a good demonstration of looking to biological science to explain social events. Latour writes about science as a second (the first being religious organizations/themes) regime of representation, one that seeks to maintain the ratios and scales in the recreation of new images. When we were talking in class, we discussed how Creation Science is a kind of blending between the two regimes, and speaks to certain kinds of Christianity making sense of itself through scientific ways of seeing and understanding. While the above video is campy, to say the least, it does bring to light the more complicated issues of biological/social causality debate in the social sciences. However, like most binaries, it creates more problematic understandings then solving. First, it puts one category against the other, setting up an either-or relationship. It is much more difficult to establish a dialectical relationship (especially in science, where it is concerned with "root causes"), thus the nature vs. nurture, or biology vs. society debates are problematic because they relate the terms to one another with a versus rather than an "and."
Looking at biological science, the symbol rules are precise and interesting. In this regime, a "gene" or section of a gene becomes a signifier for two things, what is "real" and whatever that gene supposedly controls. For some genes, this is relatively simple. For instance, the "x" and "y" chromosomes become symbols for female and male sex, respectively. Research studies that have looked at biological structures as determining sexuality run into this issue as well. When these studies take brain structure or genes as causal, the gene or brain structure itself becomes symbolically linked to the social behaviors associated with whatever the gene supposedly controls for.
Jonathan Kaplan, in his book The Lies and Limits of Genetic Research, makes a pointed argument at the use of science to "discover" sexuality. He mainly argues that sexual orientation, at least how we treat it culturally, are artificial categories. By thoroughly looking at the studies on sexual orientation, he points out that this research is ultimately like looking for genetic causes for personal tastes--like looking for a "chocolate lovers" gene. Similarly, he also notes that any gene that would contribute to homosexuality would, most likely, have other biological functions as well. He notes that the environment plays a large part in gene activation, for instance, fruit flies that have genes making them resistant to DDT lived in environments where DDT didn't exist. What did those DDT genes do before the environment presented them with the chemical DDT? Similarly, what did genes that led to homosexuality do before placed into the cultural contexts necessary for the expression of that gene? Kaplan's addition of this question to the puzzle, however, still privileges the biological explanation of human behavior.
Both regimes of representation are modes of understanding the world and making sense of it. When turned to the human body and sexual desire, then, both are different approaches to making sense of the sensations our bodies experience in our human experiences of sexuality and desire. Through language, visual symbols, and simple motion (in this case, I mean Burke's concept of motion, meaning that which is there when human symbol use isn't), our existences are rife with misunderstandings and misattributions, especially when it comes to our own bodies. When it comes to human sexuality, we will always come up against the question as to what genes actually do under different cultural contexts, and the polysemic nature even of our genetic code. Keep in mind that all genetics have potential multiple meanings in an environment, the same genetic codes that give sickle cell anemia also resist malaria. It seems, however, science is failing as a representational regime for dealing with the multiple meanings of biological structure as it relates to human sexuality--it would perhaps be more significant to look at how genes for particular biological structures (ie. genes that control for nerve sensitivity in genitalia for instance), how those genes relate to the actual proteins created and used in the body, and what those proteins are able to do in relation to other proteins and genetic codes, what sensations that creates in the body, how people interpret those sensations via cultural symbol systems, etc. Good luck finding the funding for such an extensive project. But it does not , and will not, stop science from looking for visual markers for social identities. The video, as it shows the search for a Christian gene, is comparable in this respect. It is looking for a biological, bodily marker for a social identity. Nevermind that such a genetic marker may actually exist (perhaps there really is a fundamentalism gene? or perhaps a gene for cultural conformity? but why don't we search for those types of genes? is such a search even possible?), so much as it becomes constitutive of future questions, representations, and translations of our understanding of human sociality. In the case of the video, the search for and finding of a Christian gene becomes constitutive of what it then means to be Christian. Similarly, the finding of a gay gene, lo, even the search for a gay gene, is constitutive of the social meanings for being gay. Interpretation of these discourses is always a large part of meaning-making as well, and scientists become hard pressed to provide explanations necessary for how messy and complicated identity formation and sexual practices really are. I propose the following "recipe" that reflects an example of the complexity science would need in order to truly address, and frame as passive, human experience. It should be noted, however, that human choice is ALWAYS a factor, and that choice is always made in reference to or as a part of bodily experience. Humans could not choose to fly before the invention of flying devices, we made travel choices in light of that experience of our bodies. Thus, acting on sexual desire is ALWAYS a set of choices made in light of experiences of the body, and it is the interpretations of these past and current choices that are deeply constitutive of how we identify ourselves. Thus, the following is a schematic for a conception of sexual identity.

George's Crazy-Complicated representation of the processes leading up to homosexual identity.
Genes a, b, c, d, etc.
+ Exposure to chemical a, b, c, etc. (including hormones in and out of the womb)
+ presence of cultural practice a, b, c, d, etc.
+ interpretation of cultural practice a, b, c, d, etc.
+ interpretation of bodily experience a, b, c, etc.
+ human making choice a, b, c. etc.
+ presence of bodily structure (the genes are one thing, but the actual presence of a organ or tissue is just as important as the coding leading up to it--if a person is, hypothetically, attracted to the color blue via genetic codes, what does that matter if the person is born blind?) a, b, c, d, etc.
+ interpretation of previous choices
+ other factors (I'm sure there's more, there always seems to be)
= acceptance of sexual identity of homosexual.

December 17, 2007

linguistic anchoring?

ok, so i've been interested in the relationship between language/text and image , and have offered comments pertaining to Barthes' concept of "anchoring" of the "floating chains of signifieds" of a visual image by a linguistic message. The 'PROPS' skits on Whose Line is it Anyway offer ways to witness the interaction and maneuvering between linguistic message and visual image. The prop itself conveys more than there is in words, yet words limit the interpretation of what the prop is to be considered as, by directing our attention and analysis.

Try this: either turn off the sound OR close your eyes and only listen to the audio the first time you play the video.

December 13, 2007

War Images

During class, we discussed 9/11 images and how sensitive the media has been when publishing pictures of the traumatic event. We also discussed how as Americans, we have a right to know what is going on in this country and we should not be shaded or guarded from any information that affects our lives. However, clearly, when showing images of death, the media must first be concerned with the family and/or friends of the body being shown. Most close-up images of dead bodies are not blasted across newspapers or television screens. However, do you agree that when it comes to war, we should be shown images that may be hard to swallow? Perhaps we do not need a dead body thrown in our faces, but footage of the war and shootings and bombings and death occuring from afar should be shown to our public. Americans are terrific at pretending things do not happen. We are infamous for "remembering to forget". Has the war we are currently in become another instance of the Holocaust where once its OVER we will be told what happened and then act out in shock and disbelief that we had no clue what really took place? I think our nation needs to demand to be told details of what is occurring over seas where our men and women are giving their lives for us as we sit in our daily routines sometimes without a thought throughou the day to them. America needs to stop ignoring the facts and start demanding access to them. I dont believe that images and footage should just be thrown into our laps but I do think that a well-planned Communication process should be taken place during this war that keeps America in-the-know about the good and bad of this war. And if what we are experiencing IS the Communications plan, then we need a better one.

Panopticon vs. What Not to Wear

Jaya- I was particularly interested in your presentation when you began to speak about the panopticon. I have never actually seen an episode of What Not to Wear, but I think you described it well enough for me to get a sense of its tone. Are you trying to say that our society as a whole has become its own panopticon? Class, do you think that panopticon can actually relate to anywhere you feel entrapped and scrutinized? Maybe we have created our own panopticon by constantly policing ourselves on what we say and wear, how we carry ourselves, and how we measure our status. I guess I can see the American society as its own panopticon because we have created it amongst ourselves. Certain things are accepted and certain things are not accepted. Granted, we may not necessarily be thrown in jail for crossing the "fashion police" but society still finds a way to punish those who go against the norm. The threat of surveliance certainly is a factor in our everyday lives and not only influences our behavior when it comes to the judiciary system, but also the laws of our culture and what is and what is not accepted and awarded as the "correct" way to talk, walk, and dress.

December 12, 2007

Kevin Carter Picture

In the Cohen article on page 195 he mentions a picture by the photographer Kevin Carter. I didn't recall actually ever seeing this picture so I decided to Google it. Not to my surprise, the picture is definitely disturbing and certainly offsets the urge to do something to help this child. This photo went onto to win a Pulitzer Prize and was hailed because of its ability to stir emotion to help the little girl. I was wondering what everyone thought about this picture vs the ones that Medea posted earlier. Is it the vulture or the position of this child? Or maybe it is just that face that it is a child and the realization of her death is inevitable? What makes this different than the rest?