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?

December 11, 2007

Which regime is this?

After reading for last week and noting all the different ways images of atrocities are used and talked about, I thought back to our reading of Latour and the two different regimes of representation he mentions. I was wondering which, if either, regime of representation images of atrocities would fit within. Are these images characteristics of the first regime, where "every displacement has to be paid for by a re-formulation" (p. 25)? Or, rather, are they characteristic of the second, scientific regime, where "Each displacement is going to be paid for not by a reformulation but by the reinscription of the same shape on a different medium" (p. 25)?
Perhaps it is images like these that take elements of both regimes and mesh them together, or perhaps it is simply a new, third regime (perhaps the capitalist regime) where images are made simply for the sake of being viewed, rather than to invoke religious feeling in the viewer or to maintain a grasp on "what is really there."

December 10, 2007

Magazine ads..are they offensive?!

As you know, I am writing my paper on women's image in advertising and how it can devalue women and their body image, especially the ads in Shape magazine. This was one of the ads that I found interesting because it is the Deal or No Deal models, in conjunction with the Ford Motor company. This ad could be seen as offensive to a breast cancer survivor, or patient, since the girls are all wearing tight fitting shirts, are all young, etc. I just wanted to give you guys some food for thought, and raise your awareness to such things, (especially when looking at Shape) since we have limited time on wed. and how Spitzack would view this and how these models are unrealistic .....I also attached the press release on what was put out by Ford. I was going to email the two female board members at Ford, since both were involved with hospitals, and one worked for the American Cancer Society..just to see what they thought! if they were even aware that the ad couls be offensive..or you guys think the ad is offensive?


DEARBORN, Mich., October 4, 2007 – Ford’s Warriors in Pink, Howie Mandel and the models of NBC’s highly popular "Deal or No Deal" are working together to say "NO DEAL" to breast cancer. A special episode of "Deal or No Deal," will air October 19 at 8 p.m. ET /7 p.m. CT to raise breast cancer awareness, the first step in early detection, and support Ford’s long standing relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Dressed in pink, the "Deal or No Deal" models and Mandel will direct viewers to to find out more about Ford’s efforts and how everyone can get involved to help in the fight against breast cancer.

Wearing Warriors in Pink t-shirts and scarves, eleven of the “Deal or No Deal” models also posed for a print campaign, which will be featured in publications such as InStyle, US Weekly, TV Guide and Women’s Health, starting October 8. The Warriors in Pink apparel the models are wearing is available on and 100 percent of the net proceeds will be donated to Komen for the Cure.

Fans who tune into "Deal or No Deal" will also see a special message featuring the Deal or No Deal models encouraging involvement and instilling passion against the disease. During the special episode, three lucky viewers will get the opportunity to win through a special Play At Home Lucky Case Game, a highly coveted 2008 Mustang with Warriors in Pink package, a limited-edition first-ever Ford vehicle designed exclusively in support of Komen for the Cure. Each sale of the in-demand vehicle provides a donation to Komen for the Cure.

In addition, contestant Ashlee Mundy, a breast cancer survivor, is joined by Sharon Osborne in-studio and receives a special message from Elizabeth Edwards and Alec Baldwin via satellite. Elizabeth Edwards has battled breast cancer and Alec Baldwin's mother has a foundation in her name, the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund out of Stony Brook, New York.

December 6, 2007

911 imagery...

When I was looking at this image to present in class, I thought it was interesting what the reporter was saying about the image. What is she saying...that it never happened?? (coincidences)
This one reminds me of what Dr. Coonfield was tallking about with the movie being made at the same time that 911 happened..surrealism..what is real? Are they suggesting the guy who leased the buildings knew about the attack?? Knew that the attack was going to happen?!! - a simulated version of what happend with the planes. I know this looks simulated but it reminded me of the discussion we had about the real becoming copied..and how the highly produced images become the originals so to speak.

December 5, 2007

Image politcs and the homogeniety of the "Other"

Cohen’s article on “Images of Suffering” and how they are presented and mainstreamed in TV news reminded me of the article by Bosmajian we read in the Strat Comm class. Bosmajian, in his article argues that name-calling is a way of defining and constricting a person’s identity with words. In a larger context then, grouping the marginal under one label unifies them as one, and stifles any diverse voices that might arise out of them. In the example of Hitler’s rhetoric, Bosmajian writes about the dictator’s strategy to appeal to the German audience with the use of the “crowd mentality.” Bosmajian quotes Hitler’s words in Mein Kampf, “It belongs to the genius of a great leader to make even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category, because in weak and ucertain characters the knowledge of having different enemies can only too readily lead to the beginning of doubt in their own right” (Bosmajian, 21). By collapsing the enemies under one common label, the enemy can be seen as weak and easy to define.

It was interesting to read Bosmajian’s thoughts in Cohen’s idea about image politics. Images can after all also help play on what Waller calls as the “out-group homogeneity effect.” Images of atrocities in third world countries are also strategically presented as homogeneous and under a single heading, and therefore it becomes easier for us to alienate ourselves from an image of trauma. Through the use of patterns of filtering images the media can present a country’s violence as “just another episode in a centuries-long Darwinian struggle for power, a twist in an endless cycle of retaliation…” (Cohen, 177), so that the viewers remain nothing but passive “bystanders” of the event. Therefore it is easy to distance oneself from the trauma and create the distinction between the “self” and the “other”. Thus news images of famines in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan seem so similar to us and we refuse to grant them as incidents from completely different countries.

Here are two images- one from famine in southern Sudan, the other from a famine in Somalia. Can we really tell which one’s which?

p.s – sorry for the images. But I thought it was necessary.

Response to Zelizer

After reading Photography, Journalism, and Trauma, I find myself questioning Zelizer's methods for this comparison. She appears to have presented a well thought out argument, but at the same time, completely ignored the differing perspectives of each example. What I thought would have been an interesting addition to her argument would be some sort of discussion regarding how the proximity of the events played into this portrayal. Although we can be called to bear witness to the concentration camps, it is hard for Americans to fully conceptualize this occurrence from the fact that the only Americans to experience them while in use would have been the WWII POWs. Compared to the World Trade Towers, which were both a New York City and US icons, and clearly had more of an impact on the American public and our daily lives. 

Obviously it is difficult to include every facet of a particular argument into one single work, but for the sake of what she is attempting to convey, I cannot help but feel that dedicating just a page or two to perspective would have vastly aided in her execution.

The End of the Panopticon

Bentham’s Panopticon worked under the assumption of a hidden power watching every move that one made- there could not be any escape from those watchful eyes. Even though invisible, the very presence of the symbol of ‘power’ – the tower, was emblematic of 360 of omniscience and omnipresence. I think Brett talked about this in a previous post, long time back, but I wanted to bring it back in the context of Baudrillard and the simulacra. Is the power of the Panopticon still felt in this age of the ‘spectacle’?

Baudrillard gives an instance of the 24 hour reality show “American TV verite” experiment to talk about the Panoptic gaze. The concept of the reality TV he explains, lies in the paradox- “They lived as if we were not there” (Baudrillard, 28). The producer’s accomplishment was in the fact that participants in this reality show ‘reacted’ rather than ‘acted’ in front of the camera. The end of the Panopticon lies in the fact, that even though the power of the gaze is present, and visible, it does not affect any decisions taken by the participants. This paradox, he explains fascinated the viewers more than the perverse “pleasure of violating someone’s privacy” (Baudrillard, 28).
It is hyperreal in the sense that, although we know that the camera is present, we do not for a second feel that the show presents a ‘manipulated’ reality. In the world of simulation, reality TV has reached the zenith of hyperreality. In shows like America’s Top Model, Project Runway, Big Brother- we, as the audience know and can see the camera following the participants, but we still assume them to be ‘real’ rather than a ‘tampered’ real. As Baudrillard says, -“such is the watershed of a hypperreal sociality, in which the real is confused with the model…”. There is no subject, no periphery that was seminal to the panoptic gaze; the simulacra only involves a diffused and ‘diffracted’ real, where the ‘medium’ (here the gaze of the camera and the TV) is eradicated altogether.

December 2, 2007

Careers in Communication - Representation

I am going to assume that since we are all enrolled in this program that most of us either are currently or will be in the future working in the field of Communications. When we were discussing the ideas of representation, I was immediately able to relate the importance of this concept in our field. As managers of a communication process, whether it's internal, public relations, marketing, advertising, production...etc., our world revolves around sending and receiving messages. Representation may very well be the most prominent theme in our field. Since employees and the public look to us for information, we must constantly be aware of the way our messages will be interpretted. Since we are not physically present in order to explain our messages, we must ensure that whatever we send, whether it's a picture, an email, a press release, an advertisement...etc., will be accepted and interpretted correctly. Obviously there will always be room for error and a portion of the audience who will misinterpret no matter how hard we try to eliminate room for error. However, especially in today's world where new words and definiteions are continuously and frequently added to our language, we must remain up to date on the most current experiences and inventions in order to help us control the receiving end of our messages. We live in a very critical world and this class has definitely provided us with a plethora of examples of communication pieces that can easily be distorted.
Working in a large corporation, I have seen many instances of miscommunication gone bad. A simple miswording of an email or unclear sentence can lead to a world of chaos!

Portrait of Giovanni and his wife.

In the first chapter of the Virilio piece, he briefly explains the evolution of art starting from the cave painting through to the impressionist era. During his explanation he remarked that during the middle ages art saw "the background come to the surface" (page14-15). He later stated that in these works there is no blurred background and that all is important. Virilio used the example of holy pictures to make his point. Upon reading that section, the painting "Portrait of Giovanni and his wife" by Jan Van Eyck came to my mind. The painting (pictured right) is on display in the National Gallery in London in the wing devoted to Dutch artists. While it is a rather small piece, it is a rather famous painting because as Virilio said, there is no background. In this piece everything is important, the mirror displays a painting within a painting and the significance of the bed and dog both contribute to our interpretation of what is happening between husband and wife. My question is what if it were a photograph taken of this couple instead of a painting? Would we still receive the messages that the artist wanted to communicate to us? And are there really any photograph that like this painting do not have a background, where everything is important? I think this supports some of Virilio's arguments about photography. yes?

Additional Benjamin

While this section of the Benjamin article is not directly linked to Meg's previous post, it still have some relevance to the cameraman. On page 233 Benjamin uses the comparison of a magician and a surgeon to that of a painter and a cameraman. He talks about how one maintains a natural distance from their patient while the other does not eventually saying, "In short, in contrast to the magician- who is still hidden in the medical practitioner-the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him. Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web." He then makes the connection that the cameraman creates a significantly comparison to reality than the painter does. This brings me to question by what terms is he comparing "reality" in what a cameraman produces and what a painter produces? While there are obvious similarity to a film and reality vs. a painting, couldn't we argue that film can also be a misrepresentation of reality just as much? At least in a painting the artist is capturing the present and complete picture. In film the reality is recorded but is broken down, chopped up and edited to create a assumed reality. And finally if Benjamin is comparing the painter to the cameraman, the painter seems to be the observer and creates as a reaction to what he sees in reality. Can't you comment better on reality when you take a step back and look at it in the big picture sense? Does this make sense?

November 28, 2007

Some random thoughts on Benjamin

On p. 228 the article discusses the camera and the man behind it. "Guided by the cameraman, the camera continually changes the position with respect to the performance. The sequence of positional views which the editor composes from the material supplies him constitues the completed film" depending on where the camera and its operator stands, casts a different view or perception of that which is being filmed, is this up to the director? In Media Production, we filmed various angles of certain scripts that were handed to us, and it was up to us to choose the lighting, stage, props etc. in an alloted time and then convene and view before the end of doing so we created "the audiences identification with the camera" so to speak...and obviously where we filmed created a different perception say if we filmed the actors on the steps in the shadows vs. standing in the light...this made me wonder if at the academy award the cameramen win for such decisons? or are they all guided by directors? are there any directors that are also cameramen?? random, i know...

The other thought I had was on page 232, middle of the paragraph when it states "Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer!" How odd, that this was written so long ago and yet this describes what goes on today..especially when you thing about the very nature of blogs! everyone is an "author!" ha.

November 23, 2007

Sue Coe

After reading the post about the media specatcle surrounding official and unoffical captured video of Saddam's death by hanging i was reminded of the work of New York artist Sue Coe. As an artist, Coe primarily engages in political themes, and has made work addressing politcal themes such as the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the war on terror, as well as numerous other issues that have been identified with the effects of the political administration. The saddam picture and the WTC picture are captivating to me: in the saddam picture, we are offered the movement and unrulyness of the event, and are also given a portrayal of the witness capturing the scene on a mobile phone. In the WTC picture, Coe offers us a compilation of some of the most striking visual images associated with the events surrounding the collapse of the towers. The preferred and iconic images of rescue are contrasted simultaneously with the affective and tragic spectacle of bodies in flight. (There is more to this image that includes street and subway scenes)

I am most familiar with Coe's work addressing the tragedy and suffering that is the effect of the indifference that is endemic to many of our daily habits and patterns. It was after reading 'image-events' a couple of weeks ago that I first thought of Coe, and wondered whether an artist could ever produce an image event. She certainly seems to come close to performing an image event through the display and distribution of her work; she offers us images of scene that we don't have access to: slaughterhouses, meatpacking spaces, animal testing laboratories, etc.

An image event had been diefined by its ability to "transform the way people view their world." My first expereince with Coe's work was in a gallery that displayed dozens of images addressing the machine-like nature of our society's harvesting of 'meat' : factory farms, and as I mentioned above, slaughterhouses and meatpackers.

Though I had certainly had seen numerous photographs capturing these scenes, there was something about standing in a small gallery space being completely surrounded by works of art that was affective. The subjects of these images are facing us. All the animals have their eyes on us as we gaze at the scene in which they are involved. In these last few images, Coe presents us with scenes that we that we ourselves have some role in perpetuating (if we are not vegan), though we never have to confront it. Through her work, Coe brings attention to the cruelty, victimization, and suffering, through visual imagery and representation, offering a voice to the truly voiceless.

We speak much of 'rhetoric' in our study of communication, and acknowledge the struggle of disempowered groups to make their voices heard, by constituting their identies in opposition to the dominant system of things. Much akin to the purpose of Coe's work, the perpetuators of image-events aim to challange the legitmacy of an established and seemingly self-perpetuating system. Coe's work may be related to image-events to the extent that the primary function of each is to challange public consciousness through confrontation. Coe's work doesn't allow detachment. Her imagery is hard, confrontational, and disquieting. Yet, it is art. Which leads me to wonder why many of us have not addressed the work of visual artists during this course, other than for the obvious reason that there is little time to even address that which we do. Visual artists spend their lives addressing visual communication; certainly there is value in keeping the work of these artists in mind as we think about themes pertaining to visual communication and culture.

For work of Sue Coe, please visit:

November 21, 2007

Visual Comm at NCA

I attended one of the Visual Communication panels in NCA last week and I was enthralled by one of the topics that were discussed. I thought this would be a nice platform to share it with everyone. I don’t think there were many visual communication panels presented in the NCA, something I was sorry to see. However this one panel on “Atrocity images, cultural trauma and rhetorical ambivalence” was enlightening. One of the speakers was Barbie Zelizer and her topic- “To Show Or Not: The Hanging of Saddam Hussein.”

Zelizer bases her argument on the traumatic impact of atrocity images upon cultural memory and she discusses the role of media in the creation of rhetorical ambivalence. After Saddam Hussein’s death, the official video released by the Iraqi government, across the mid-east and US after the hanging through late Dec 29 and Dec 30 was a tame and soundless one. It was the image of a man who was rightfully punished. There were no sounds that accompanied the image, the only voice was that of the British news anchor of SKY news that accompanied the video. The footage stopped right before the real hanging. The matter would have ended peacefully there but with the sudden presentation of a Second footage in Arab website and Google videos on Dec 30th changed the issue completely. It looked like an amateur mobile-phone video, and the images were shocking. If one watches the second video closely, it is not "mute" like the first one. It shows the nasty and loud name-calling and taunting that happened seconds before the former dictator was finally killed. It is a loud scene. This was aired on CNN on the 30th of December.

Through a point of simulation (I know I am getting obsessed with it) the effect was dichotomous. The audience was already on the plane of the hyperreal, the real being eradicated. However there was the second video, suddenly cropping up everywhere to deny the reality presented in the first footage. Zelizer now problematizes on the stance that the official media took towards this second footage. It could not be denied since it was practically everywhere. Her entire paper was based on how the news media reacted to the new video- the problems regarding airing or not airing the new footage. I was wondering what you guys have to say about the problems faced by the media regarding such situations. Is the mass media as powerful as it is perceived? What stance should or would the mass media take under such conditions when a second “hyperreality” is also prevalent?

simulation- an example

Here is something on simulation again! All that talk about Disney world and Celebration Florida brought to my mind something I saw in India as well. Jodhpur is a historical city in Rajasthan and it is also known as the Blue City…and it is literally blue. This is due to the distinct tinge of the whitewashed houses throughout the city. The blue houses were originally for Brahmins which differentiated them from the non- Brahmins (one needs to keep in mind that caste system is very stringent social order in India). However, gradually with time, the non-Brahmins soon joined in, as the color was said to deflect the heat and keep mosquitoes away. What is interesting to observe now is how blue tinged houses still sprout all around the historical Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, even though many ways have been invented to keep mosquitoes away.

And this is where probably the idea of simulation comes in. As I said before, Jodhpur is one of the historical cities of India, and the entire city’s revenue is dependent on tourism. Tourist guides in the city talk about these ancient blue houses, but many of the houses in the outskirts are new and still blue; existing houses renovated have still retained the same hue. This reminded of Buadrillard’s concept of the hyperrreal and the imaginary. Just like “Disney land exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country”, this city too creates a simulation of the historical Blue City. For a tourist, who comes to visit this city, standing on top of the Mehrangarh Fort, the array of blue signifies the historical location; he sees these houses as part of the historical artifacts of the area. The people of Jodhpur, I feel have a lot to do with creating this simulated environment. The creation of all the blueness results in a state of hyperreality. For the residents, there is no distinction between the “real” and the “unreal”. It has all blended to create the simulacra.

Coming to think of it this is probably true for eveything that we see and perceive in the 21st century. The real has been substituted by the hyperreal. The distinction between "appearance" and "reality" has gradually faded; what we percieve now is a simulated reality. Perhaps that is why every action we take seems to be a work of "reality by proxy." The action is not of much importance, what it is perceived as, is what makes the difference. Any mass medium uses simulation- there is a wide gap between what is real and what we perceive as real. In simulation, the problem is, we do not even know the existence of that "real."

November 9, 2007

The Subject's Alienation via the Spectacle

The alienation of the spectator, which reinforces the contemplated objects that result from his own unconscious activity, works like this: The more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more he identifies with the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own life and his own desires. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.
- Guy de Bord

My post was inspired by our reading Society of the Spectacle for this week's class. It concerns what de Bord says about the subject's alienation from the image of contemplation. But I thought the principle might be used to rebuff the the argument from demand.

Guy de Bord argues [Thesis #30] that the subject's alienation from the image happens thus:

  1. the more we contemplate the objects which the spectacle places before us, the less we live
  2. the less we live, the more we realize our dependence upon the image (object of contemplation offered by spectacle)
  3. the more dependent we become, the less we understand our own desires and existence
  4. the less we understand, the more our gestures become not our own but those represented to us by others

In it's essence, the argument from demand is that all tv is simply audience driven: producers will air whatever gets people to sit still for advertising spots. Through continuous surveillance - polling and ratings - there is a constant feedback loop of communication that insures the audience gets exactly what it wants. In the case of reality tv - perhaps the latest and greatest target for those concerned with the cultural decline (always) being precipitated by television - it follows that the reason there are so many reality shows is that it is what the people want. What could be more rational, democratic, and, well, capitalist?

However, the argument from demand fails to take into account the cycle and circuit de Bord lays out here. The subject, classically understood, is such by being such—it is what it is because of what it does and can do.

Contemplation (Descarte's cogito ergo sum) has traditionally been at the heart of philosophical conceptions of subjectivity. Through contemplation we think ourselves - it is the primary scene of our subjectivity's enactment. We contemplate what is available to us (first premise). And while that may once have consisted of the "real social activity" of which our lives are comprised, or maybe the great speeches of the agora, or (more recently) great books like Descarte's Meditations, under the conditions of spectacular society, the stuff of contemplation consists of the images TV gives us.

The more we contemplate the images put before us, the more dependent we become on these objects of contemplation for the realization of our subjectivation (second premise). The more dependent we become, the less capable we are of understanding our own desires and existence (third premise). That is, we become separated from our own desires and the concrete potentiality of our real existence and the social activity in which it obtains. The less we understand, the more our “gestures”—the acts through which we realize ourselves as social subjects—become not our own but those represented to us by others (fourth premise).

Thus are television audiences’ “demands” not those that arise from any sort of authentic engagement with a lifeworld, not from a particular world-view of individuals arising from lived experience, nor even from communities which might be thought to comprehend what they want authentically and then express it (through polls, through viewing choices, through text-messages to American Idol). Those demands become increasingly those which the televisual spectacle supplies.

The consequence is a serious twist on the argument from demand. Television does indeed gives us what we want. Not in the sense of supplying us with the content we truly demand, but in the sense of supplying us with the demand.

November 8, 2007

Shifting Images vs. Encoding/Decoding

Perhaps I am just a little behind the rest of you, but a thought came to me earlier today and I was curious for your opinions. My question is how shifting images are different from encoding and decoding messages. Relating back to Bert and Bin Laden, the meaning of the images clearly shifted among countries, but could this be a result of ambiguous coding by the creator? If this is something that everyone else has already figured out, then sorry, but in all honesty, I am just really curious now...


November 2, 2007

(Entertainment) News

During our conversation last class while we were talking about the issues of gossip news and tabloid sensationalism, I was reminded of the following clip from MSNBC... it's of a news show where the anchor, Mika Brzezinski, refuses to read the lead story regarding Paris Hilton being released from jail. She gets pretty melodramatic about it, and in the beginning of the clip, we see this as a cooperative effort between her and her co-anchors; what frustrates me (and this is sort of off the topic) is that by the end of the clip, her co-anchors are really ribbing her for sticking to this value-statement she's trying to make (one which they egged her on about in the beginning, no less). In any case, however, it's an interesting look into a few things -- first, how the production of "news" occurs in various stages (tv news producers who create the news segment versus television news anchors who present it) and that those who participate in the various stages are not always in agreement with each other, and second, how news really has changed to the point where a story about a celebrity (who is famous for simply being famous) trumps stories regarding politics and, I think, the presidential election.

October 31, 2007

My thoughts on Image Politics

I found Deluca's Image Politics rather interesting not because of the subject matter, but the approach the author took in discussing the topic.  I couldn't help but feel that Deluca was trying to make us side with the protesters by omitting a lot of the facts.  Much like Jaya's post regarding the Vietnam picture, it appears that people are drawing general conclusions from images that don't fully represent the situation.  Although the author shows us pictures and provides example of the activists/protesters getting injured, threatened, etc., we never fully understand what the protesters are doing to receive this treatment. 

While reading this article, I kept thinking of the Westboro Baptist Church group from Kansas.  For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are an anti-gay hate group (their website is who have made a name for themselves the past few years by traveling around the country and protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in the Middle East.  Despite the fact that they are claiming to spread God's message, they exploit very rough times for their fellow citizens by turning a day or remorse into a day of hate.  The following link has an example of their antics: 

In this example, you would be hard pressed to find someone who would not want to cause harm to this particular group.  In fact, this has become such an issue, that a group called the Patriot Riders has come along to make these funerals peaceful. These riders are former war vets that follow the church group all around the US and make sure that they do not disrupt the funerals.  You can check them out on their website:

I know that this week's topic is Pictures and Publics, but I can't help but feel that Deluca was trying to prove a point by omitting a lot of the facts. Maybe I am completely wrong, maybe I didn't read the article close enough, but I cannot help but feel that in order to receive the treatment that some of these protesters did, there has to more to the story. 

Take the example I cited above.  If all you saw of this was a biker taking on a protester, you would feel for the protester.  Then again, how would your opinion change if you knew that person was protesting at your son's, brother's, or even dad's funeral, calling his death God's punishment for our country's acceptance of gays. 

Just some things to think about...hopefully...

October 25, 2007

Really a response to the posts on anamorphosis...

...but I couldn't figure out how to insert an image into a comment, so I just created a new post.

Another example that I thought of while reading about Holbein's anamorphosis was Salvador Dali... many of his paintings, being surrealist, include these same sort of distortions that are not equally visible (comprehensible?) from every perspective. One of my favorite examples of this is in \The Hallucinogenic Toreador\. What, from one angle, looks like a line of women's half-clothed bodies appears, from another angle, to be the bottoms of men's faces (presumably the toreadors) and the necks of their shirts. Not only does this fascinate me from a production standpoint (I am no artist, and I have no idea how one goes about painting one thing, much less one thing that could be another from a different angle), but I also find it interesting in that many of Dali's paintings also include religious imagery (such as Jesus' face in the top lefthand corner of this painting). It again harks back to the Latour article and the relationship between the first and the second regimes. Perhaps in this case, this distortion could be seen as alluding to the possibility of multiple readings but the impossibility of ever reading them in both ways simultaneously.

October 24, 2007

Music as Representation? a couple of random thoughts

Mitchell says "Many of these theories take music, (which for obvious reasons, is hard to describe in representational terms) as the paradigm for all the arts" (p. 17) and Hall says "Even music is a 'language" with complex relations between different sounds and chords, though it is a very special case since it can't easily be used to reference actual things or objects in the world" (p. 19) raises a couple of far as sounds go, in the movie Blow Out with John Travolta, where he is a sound guy for movies, he is ultimately after the perfect sounding "scream," and ends up using sadly his girlfriend, who gets murdered....yes her scream is authentic but is it because it was his girlfriend? what is being represented here?

and what about the many generations that appear at concerts - van halen, bruce springsteen...and the cultures that intermingle with that parents bringing kids...what are the parents saying that the music represents to them?

October 21, 2007

Natural Events as representative of ...something?

I am struck by the ability of representations to capture concepts that may not necessarily have direct physical existences. Concepts like purity, corruption, good, evil, and other things referred to as ideas do not have direct correlates in physical world. Language is tricky like that, and although the Inuit may have many, many words for types of snow, each of those words is a slicing up of reality in a specific way (as Burke would say, it is an application of terministic screens). Hall relates this to a clustering of meanings. He writes "We have called this a 'system of representation.' That is because it consists, not of individual concepts, but of different ways of organizing, clustering, arranging and classifying concepts, and of establishing complex relations between them" (p. 17). The above photograph ties to this concept pretty well, in that is represents (stands in for) the Greek legendary figures of the three fates. However, the three fates are conceptual, as far as we know, there were never three females, one a maiden, one a mother, and one a crone, who weaved the lives of heroes and average people, ending their lives by cutting the life thread.
Representation, it seems, has a difficult side as well. Take for instance, the very geeky reference I am about to make. In the online video game World of Warcraft, a virtual plague was accidentally spread throughout the virtual world, decimating entire imaginary cities and emptying villages. This random event has caught the attention of some epidemiologists who want to explore what this means for actual spreading of real diseases. These individuals want to use online games as a an example of what would happen in the real world should a large-scale plague actually occur. However, interpreting random events as representations of something strikes me as dangerous--it opens up all kinds of epistemological issues, at the very least. Through the representative powers of language, we can conceptually lay claim to the invisible and possibly non-existent (by that I mean those things that possibly exist only in our minds and at the level of language and symbol) but I would like to wager that more problems are created when we make realist connections between the objects-in-the-world with the concepts-in-our-head. Of course, there are those who argue that these concepts are ontological in nature (Kenneth Burke is one of them, and he made a career out of exploring the rhetorical qualities of language as ontological).

Article referencing the online plague for those interested.

Holbein's anamorphosis

After reading about Holbein's anamorphosis, I began to wonder if this concept of anamorphosis can be applied to other types of photos. One such design I came up with was the use of photo collages to product larger images. Such is found at the right with a collage of John Ashcroft (why John? Because this was the best example I could find online). Quite obviously, this photo will create a different effect depending upon where on stands. If they are close to the image, they will see the individual smaller pictures whereas viewing it from a distance will portray Mr. Ashcroft. 

How does this compare to Hoblein's The Ambassadors and can we possibly compare the two for their distorted features? I honestly don't know the answer but I thought it would be worth the discussion.

October 19, 2007

Hi, all. Like my first blog entry should be about an article I read for a different class, but there you go. At least I’m making connections… ?

In Strat Comm, our readings for the coming week are on issues of collective memory. One article we read in particular is titled “Public Identity and Collective Memory in U.S. Iconic Photography: The Image of ‘Accidental Napalm’” by Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites (2003). The authors look at a specific image from the coverage of the Vietnam War (“Accidental Napalm Attack,” 1972) and how it functioned and continues to function. I thought this was interesting particularly for this class, as this sort of image analysis really gives shape to some of the theory we’ve been reading. Hariman and Lucaites take these theories as their framework to examine the concept of collective memory as it is shaped by visual communication – how images work to construct collectivity.

To discuss the rhetoric of images, Hariman and Lucaites look at this image in particular. They take into account both the composition of the image and the context surrounding it to flesh out a fuller understanding of the different readings the image can provide. Specifically, the discussion is of how images become iconic, or when/how they gain the capacity to constitute a public out of a group of strangers via identification with some element of the image.

They also look at the production of images, particularly in terms of how images can be manipulated – the examples within the article are two specific intentional manipulations of this image and how they convey their own messages as extensions of the original. This example is an artist’s (Jeffrey Decoster’s) rendering of this photograph; the manipulations, however, were made with the intention of expanding on the messages within the photograph and of creating entirely new messages. The placement of the little girl in a bathing suit and on a suburban lawn, the addition of the ghostly-transparent veteran in a wheelchair next to her, and the composition of the elements to create a triangle (with the ball on the lawn) to drawn in the viewer all work to create a more insistent call to moral action in regards to the Vietnam War.

While the specifics are extremely interesting (and disturbing), the set-up of the framework for this discussion was what caught my eye in terms of this class. In the beginning of the article, the authors tackle some of the issues we’ve been discussing, specifically those from the week we spent on Semiology. They discuss the differences between visual media and discursive media – a question from the first class which we have yet to return to – and the suspicions of how visual media can function relative to discursive media. This leads into a brief discussion of the concept that all media is mixed media, that there is never any purely visual media. This reminded me of Barthes and his caveat for denotive messages; he says essentially the same thing when he posits that theoretically there can be a purely denotive message but that it is virtually impossible to ever encounter that message because of the cultural knowledge and perception we bring to the image.

Obviously, because the focus of the article is a photograph, the authors then go into a lengthier discussion of the pitfalls of reading photographs as texts – all of which are reminiscent of our readings from the week on Semiology. The authors talk explicitly about Barthes and Eco, specifically in terms of an acknowledgment of the “representational autonomy” of photographs – what Barthes discusses, when he mentions how photographs retain some elements of their object and thus can be confused as neutral representations. The discussion in this article, however, really leans more towards Hall’s conception of what goes on with photograph – the subtle difference of the degree, rather than the presence or absence, of ideology in a photographic image. For these authors, as for Hall, photos appear to be value-neutral representations of their object but always convey some value system; this appearance works to relay naturalizing concepts of ideology that aren’t natural at all.

This is a long and complicated dissection of a very complex image; because of that, and because not everyone else has read the article, I realize that this is probably a poor example for discussion. That said, I thought it was a really interesting – and helpful – application of the theoretical perspectives we’ve been discussing so far.

Hariman, R. & Lucaites, J.L. (2003). Public Identity and Collective Memory in U.S. Iconic Photography: The Image of "Accidental Napalm". Critical Studies in Media Communication, 20(1 - Mar 2003), 35-66.

You Tube Commercial for viewing for Wed class presentation....

Here is the link for Mary J Blige
mary j bilge chevy tahoe commercial

Mitchell Readings...some questions from George


1. Mitchell writes, "representation is always of something, or someone, by something or someone, to someone. It seems that only the third angle of representation need be a person" (p. 12). For each of these images, who or what is being represented? How does authorship influence the meaning of the representation? What about audience?

2. What network of signs are invoked by each image, and are these links explicit? What codes are being used, and what agreed meanings allow us to understand the images?

3. Mitchell distinguishes between code and convention. What conventions are used in each image, and are these conventions easily distinguishable from the codes used to decipher them?

4. Postmodernism is brought up in the following quote, "Postmodern culture is often characterized as an era of "hyper-representation," in which abstract, formalist painting has been replaced by experiments like photorealism, and reality itself begins to be experienced as an endless network of representations." Do these images speak to postmodern culture? (think of the image of a cross, or the American flag for example)

5. What "taxes" or costs are made by the representations in these images? (see above for image ideas or think of others)

Colebrook...some thoughts by George for Wed


1. According to Colebrook, representation is contradictory. What does he mean by this, and what does he propose is the solution?

2. How does autonomy relate to representation? How does Colebrook break up possible responses to representation, the limits of language, and its relationship to the world?

3. What are the differences between epistemology, ontology, and grammatology?

Some questions on Latour from George for Wed


1. How does the term "anamorphosis" fit into Latour's argument?

2. Latour claims Holbein's painting cannot show the visible and invisible worlds in the same view point. Can this explanation of representation be applied to other differences besides issues of location of space? Does subject position (socially) have the same kind of perspective limits?

3. How do the two regimes Latour talks about differ? How does representing images of faith differ from representing images of science?

4. Latour describes key differences between the first and second regimes of representation. How does each deal with representation? How are each of these images understood from the first regime? From the second?

Some thoughts on Hall by George for our presentation


1. Hall describes three levels of meaning: the object, the concept, and the word. How do these images operate on these levels? Are they objects, concepts, words, or mixtures thereof? How do imaginary concepts like justice, faith, or patriotism complicate our understanding of these levels?

2. Hall describes a threefold system as does Peirce. How are these systems similar, and how are they different? Do objects, concepts, and words refer to issues of Peirce's firstness, secondness, and thirdness?

3. Icons and indexes are discussed. Does Hall use these terms in the same way as previous authors? What are the similarities and differences in his use of terms?

4. In his discussion of the Inuit's many words for snow, Hall raises an important question, "How far is our experience actually bounded by our linguistic and conceptual universe?" (p. 23) What are the implications of the opposite argument, that our difference languages reflect our different experiences as culture groups (ie. the Inuit have more words for snow because, in the geographical region where they live, there is a variety of "snow" experiences that are relevant to their lives)? Are both perspectives necessarily opposed to one another?

5. What are the approaches in each theory of representation that Hall discusses? How do reflective, intentional, and constructionist approaches to understanding images translate into actual image decoding? How is the comic, the map, and the weather image reflective, intentional, and constructed? What role does technology play in each approach, and how does technology enhance or detract from each perspective?

6. In Hall's discussion of the traffic light, Hall mentions that the real importance of color difference is the ability for us as the audience to distinguish between the colors. Do the color blind experience different representations if they are unable to distinguish one color from another?


Check out this on you tube....

How is Mary J Blige "represented" in this commerical?

Representation...some thoughts to ponder on images

For our class presentation/discussion..we (Meg, Rudy, George) wanted to throw out some questions for you to ponder pre class....

Imagine a cross, a crucifix..what does this mean to you? Does the fact that Villanova is a Catholic University have a bearing on why you choose to attend?

Picture an American flag. What does this represent to you? What about pre 9-11?? post 911?

Imagine all of the teachers and professors you have had over the any of them "represent" what a "typical" teacher should look like??

October 18, 2007

Hello All,as I was in the process of scrapping my original idea for the final project, I ran across this video again, which I thought that some of us may find provocative - sometimes I get annoyed with how much scholarship that focuses solely on the Internet - Internet this, Internet that, but then occasionally something like this video will bring me pause, for it reveals (and here, visually!) how incredible this technology is, by making us pay close atttention to how it works.

There is certainly some room to focus on aspects of the internet in conjunction with either visual communication or visual culture. Maybe I'll look into it for a final project idea. There is certainly something here that can be said about the relationship of text and image - anyway, what is fascinating about this little video is that it focuses no only on the content of the digital medium, but also digital web2.0 tools that are used to make web content.

Hey Gordon, what do you make of the statement "the machine is us?" Seems Deleuzian to me - can you point me to some textual resources that address this kind of idea?

October 7, 2007

A-signifying semiotic machines

This weekend I've been shifting my attention toward a panel I am participating in at NCA in Chicago next month. I have been re-re-reading FĂ©lix Guattari's later work - Three Ecologies (2000) and Chaosmosis (1995), as well as a collection of interviews and such titled Soft Subversions - which talks a good deal about "processes of subjectivity."

I have been puzzling over a term he uses in talking about subjectivity. He speaks about the role of semiotic machines - like language - in the production of subjectivity. But he insists that the structuralists (Sassure, Barthes, Lacan, Althusser) made a mistake. By reducing all semiotization to language, they overlook the "asignifying economies" of language. He explains that saying the unconscious, culture, or even language is structured according to the significational economy of language, the structuralists fail to grasp all sorts of semiotizations that occur which have nothing to do with signification in the linguistic sense as such.

This all sounds a bit obtuse, so let me unpack a little. He speaks, for instance, of the way poetry has a strictly linguistic content. It is composed of words that denote and connote. And poems have a form or structure - scansion (iambic pentameter), rhyme schemes(AABB), a certain number of lines (14 for the sonnet). And you could - some have - argue that these function like a language. You could even talk about the "mythology" or ideology of poems, psychoanalyze them, etc. But all of these, again, reduce them to a significational economy - the the metaphor of language (as system, not as used). Guattari insists there are other, arguably more important dimensions beyond the material significations or verbal connections of words: (1) "the sonority of the word, its musical aspect," (2) "its emotional, intonational, and volitional aspects," and (3) "the feeling of verbal activity in the active generation of signifying sound, including motor elements of articulation, gesture, mime; the feeling of a movement in which the whole organism together with the activity and soul of the word are swept along in their concrete unity" (1995: 15).

There are yet other a-signifyng semiotics at work in language. In A Thousand Plateaus (1987), Deleuze and Guattari claim language is based on order-words: statements that both organize (order) the territories subjectivities inhabit and command (order) subjects to inhabit them in particular ways. These have little or nothing to do with the strict denotative or connotative meanings (material significations) of words. A teacher's commands regarding grammar, they explain, are not primarily informational. The child receives "semiotic coordinates" ordering the world according to gender, subjects and verbs, etc. Language is not given to be believed, but obeyed. "The rule of grammar is a power marker before it is a syntactical one" (1987: 76).

And it finally begins to dawn on me that Peirce's semiotics is a theory of signs that does not presuppose, a priori, a particular sort of structure (language-system, or as we discussed last week langue [Fr.]) which it then imposes upon all kinds of signs. It is a theory of signs that seeks to grasp semioticization as such, without the detour through language, the signifier, etc. It is an a-signifying semiotics in this sense: language is but one system of signs among many, many others. It wants to categorize different types of signs before grouping them in system. And from this perspective it isn't even clear we fully understand the "system" of langauge. It is rather one conception of that system that we feel safe with, and thus feel comfortable using it to order (in both sense) the world, ourselves,our relations.

In fact, I think the essay we read doesn't ever get us to a system. But I think it suggests that is the work to be done. Consider: what kind of signs are photographs? Could we say that photographs can be thought of as a system? If so, what sort of system, what defines that system as such? What are the principles or laws or relations at work in it? What about other kinds of things like footprints? Or gestures? Or colors?

I wonder if there aren't far more interesting things we can learn when we don't subordinate seeing to the metaphor of language...

October 2, 2007


Part of last week's discussion, combined with a few random thoughts about some of what we talk about in the program in general....

We always talk about communication as being authentic vs inauthentic and in a variety of situations it means different things. Most of our discussions when we turn to this term, or paradox if you will, always focus on trying to determine what makes some form of communication an "authentic representation." When it comes to studying visual images, what or who is the key piece on the path to being considered authentic? Is it the creator, do they need to have the appropriate vision/idea that is seamlessly portrayed to the audience? Is it the subject - chosen to represent something/someone or an ideal - what needs to be the authentic piece of the puzzle? Or, is it the audience that needs, interprets, or even creates what is authentic?

I believe a lot of this can go back to the Hall piece and connotation and denotation. (which, I am still having slight confusions on, so please let's discuss!) Is attempting to determine the signifier and signified Hall's labels for unpacking the authenticity of the visual representation? If we come up with the exact answers the creator of the image intended, is it authentic because we agree? Or, does the real authenticity lie in the differences?

In some ways, I feel like a visual image is authentic as long as it resonates with someone, even just one person. So much of what makes visual images so powerful, both positively and negatively, is because just one person taking it as an authentic, or true, representation can cause these material consequences we chat about.

Yet, we are all individuals operating within an ensemble, and collective authenticity is more than likely going to dominate, even if it's wrong. So, does analyzing the authenticity of an image come down ultimately to a power and ideological struggle? Is that what Hall is trying to show?

September 26, 2007

When Connotation and Denotation Don't Match

In the above picture, it is clear there are two people. Based on the understandings of symbols, we comprehend this photograph a certain way. If we look only at the actual image itself and attempt not to infer meaning from it, we are led to describe it in certain ways. To take this photograph literally, then, is to acknowledge it as iconic. As Barthes writes, "At the level of literal message, the text replies--in a more or less direct, more or less partial manner--to the question: what is it?" (p. 39). Add to this a layer of questions--What are the signifiers? What is signified? What does the image present and how are we able to encode or decode it? What happens when the photo is read from a dominant/hegemonic position, a negotiated position, and an oppositional position?
The above photograph, taken from the movie "Boys Don't Cry" features two women, although just by looking at what is actually visible in the picture, it would be difficult to make that distinction. Since Hilary Swank's character (the one on the right) has purposefully been coded to be read as male. Particularly when it comes to hair and dress styles, so much of our culture has encouraged us to encode our appearances in order to sign for our particular gender, race, and class. Take, for example, how easily it is to create trouble in an upscale restaurant by entering without the proper dress code. Or, imagine the meanings created by a women in an Islamic country dressing in Western clothing. Although an image (a picture of a skirt) can simply denote a particular object (a skirt), its meaning is almost always changed depending on the context the object is in relation to (such as a woman or a man in a western country versus a woman or a man in an Islamic country).
Although Hall addresses more of the ability of a person's own experiences allowing them to read an image differently (through dominant, negotiated, or oppositional readings), he still does not establish how particular cultural and identity contexts establish a meaning. Of particular importance, as this photo demonstrates, is the capacity for the body to also be symbolic. Taken as such, the body of Hilary Swank is also a sign, but what it signifies depends not only on our reading of her body (which gives a new heaviness to the panoptic gaze) but also how she reads her body herself. The body as a sign is an important understanding, one that shapes every relationship between individuals. Particularly humorous to me is the different cultural readings of body parts, and what it means in terms of human interactions (such as the idea of Eskimo kisses being when one individual rubs the tip of their nose on the other individual's nose).

Women in Advertising

These images were taken from three different publications. How do you think these images tie into Spitzack's article? Are they intended for different audiences or the same ones? Are they offensive in any way? How are they alike? different?

September 25, 2007

on cameras and privacy

Just a short thought, but as infringing as cameras may be on one's privacy, and in some cases people don't pay attention to them, don't you think they serve some good in terms of catching thieves or the like? Look at the case of the Chicago cop who beat up that bartender for not serving was caught on camera..

The range of Panoptic view

Bentham’s Panopticon, Foucault tells us is an arrangement where the very idea of visibility is a trap. The inmates in the peripheral building are secluded from each other, their vision is tunneled; the eyes can only see the central tower of power. Foucault’s description of the hapless prisoner conjures up the image of a man with blinkers, his vision forced only and only in one direction. The Tower. The central tower on the other hand has a 360 degrees of vision. In a way this constriction in the degree of perceptibility also reinforces the idea of power. Restricted vision defines the suppressed, extended vision defines the suppressor.

What is very interesting is how such definitions get blurred when such an idea is put to the modern day context. Spitzack contextualizes the idea of the panopticon when she writes about women being trapped under a constant vigilance. They are being inspected all the time. What interests me here is the range of visibility that might define the position of power. A woman, according to Spitzack is at once the surveyor and the surveyed. She is surveyed by others, she surveys herself according to others; also she surveys others just the way she was surveyed. In that sense then, she is at once the power and the prisoner. She ‘does’ to everyone what everyone ‘does’ to her.
This I think is applicable to everyone who intends to be acknowledged in the human society. It is in our instinct to be acknowledged. And so almost unconsciously we assume the position of the power and the captivated. We critically view others and decide whether they are to be acknowledged or not. We also see ourselves being objectified in the same way. The range of vision for each human being therefore is at once restricted and extended. The position of power and that of the suppressed gets blurred- almost like a modern day painting with a riot of colors all forcefully blended into one another.

September 19, 2007

panoptic musings

To what extent do modern forms of surveillance exhibit panoptic effects? Within our own lifetimes, we have witnessed the introduction, adoption, and now widespread use of video and digital surveillance cameras. Do surveillance cameras provide the panoptic effect that Foucault identified was a result of certain forms of disciplinary architecture? In the panopticon, individuals were physically and visually separated from one another, but were constantly visible by an unseen seer. The panopticon disrupted the normal see/being seen dyad. Individuals within the panoption are aware that they may always be seen, even if they themselves cannot see who is looking at them. This was the genus of the panopticon's design.

The design of the panopticon conveys
power and serves as a disciplinary
mechanism. Those within the
panopticon are always visible, can
always be seen, every action may be
observed, and there is no privacyfrom the unseen looker. Even though
they cannot see who sees them, individuals are fully aware of theirvisibility. You better be good, cause "they're watching."

Foucault stated that the major effect of the panopticon was to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the functinoing of power (p. 201).

Do modern forms of public surveillance induce panoptic effects?

Digital and video surveillance is everywhere - in stores, on campus, on public roads and streets, in parking lots, in restaurants, at home... it is not uncommon to see many digital and video cameras during the course of a regular day. My apartment complex has its surveillance system broadcast to all its residents on television cable channel 87. There are over a dozen cameras in and around my aparment residence, and, if i am interested, i can watch any one of them while laying on my couch sipping whiskey. Driving around my neighborhood, I notice cameras on almost every streetlight. My favorite bar has at least 3 visible cameras. On campus, I notice cameras outside buildings, and as I enter, I see more. I grab some lunch and sit down, and as I pray to God that my professor may grant me grace, I see another camera above my head.

Our lives are saturated with the presence of digital and video surveillance cameras.

Here is a portion of a surveillance camera map of downtown Philadelphia near univeristy city. An undergraduate class at the University of Pennsylvania documented over 500 cameras in thier neighborhood! They gave up trying to continue documentation: they couldn't keep up.

Does the presence of such a great density of surveillance cameras assure the automatic functioning of power that Foucault stated was a major effect of the panopticon? Surveillance cameras indicate the obviousness of our visibility. Cameras are for LOOKING, WATCHING, OBSERVING. We can't see who's looking at us. We are in a disrupted dyad of seeing/being seen. We know we are visible, yet we are not able to see our observer.

Has the obviousness of our visibility affected our behavior? In my own life, I have largely stopped noticing the cameras; they have largely become invisible. I pass them, paying little attention. They are so prevalent, they have become camoflaged; they have become installed in the urban landscape.

Perhaps there is something not compatable with public surveillance and Foucault's addressed panoptic effects. In the panopticon, individuals are enclosed, partitioned, segmented, and distributed, often into spaces that are small and easily manageable. Originally it was essential to panoptic power that individuals be separated from each other. Public surveillance fails to display this form. Surveillance cameras often observe open spaces, large spaces with many people. Perhaps panoptic effects can be generalizeable, or even extended - certainly as Spitzack demonstrates, all that is required for panoptic effects is that the individual internalize the its logic, and if this happens, we can exibit separation, even from our own selves, regardless of where we are.