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.