Sunday, November 30, 2008

Coming down the home stretch ...

Work on my portfolio proposal is going very slowly, so I've been concentrating on a related paper for another class. I decided to apply to present that paper at the New Directions Conference next year, so I worked up an abstract to submit. I'm really hoping that having that abstract in hand will provide a little inspiration for my other projects! The abstract is as follows:

The experience of pregnancy has changed in modern times, and one of the biggest changes is the advent of fetal ultrasound. Expectant parents look forward to the ultrasound as confirmation of a pregnancy and a chance to “meet” their child. The purpose of fetal ultrasound has undergone a massive shift; it was once used sparingly as a detector of fetal abnormality and now is most often considered a social event. Almost all modern women in the United States have at least one ultrasound scan over the course of carrying a baby – but therein lies a fundamental problem. This paper will examine the reasons women choose to have those scans, and it will further posit that popular and medical rhetoric does not adequately inform women about the potential effects of fetal ultrasound, and thus influences them to have the scans. I will analyze the situation via several different analytic approaches: the societal perception of fetal ultrasound, the messages of media targeting pregnant women, physicians’ rhetoric to pregnant patients, the patriarchal tendency to support the use of fetal ultrasound, women’s reasons for consenting to fetal ultrasound, and, finally, the ethical implications of the intersections in these areas. Those intersections may also be complicated more by the application of feminist and rhetorical theories. Although this paper is not yet complete, I expect to conclude with a number of ways in which the medical community could be more transparent and ethical in its presentation of fetal ultrasound to potential users.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This text is within at least three frames ...

Framing is really all about creating context, and I enjoyed the parts in Graphic Design that pointed out how often we use those contexts every day without even realizing it. One piece of example work, in fact, was made up entirely of the frames we constantly use on computer screens (pg. 100). The text you're reading here is framed - at least - by the computer screen, the window you have pulled up with your Internet brower, and the design of this web site.

A grid, as described in Thinking with Type, is basically a network of related frames. Any sort of grid divides a given space - which is likely a frame itself - into a network of smaller frames within which a designer will then work.

I also enjoyed thinking about the different ways gridding and framing can work. In TT, Lupton discussed how typography can be a frame. "Typography is a form designed to melt away as it yields itself to content" (115). This observation goes back to the most basic principle of design: Good design is invisible. The most effective frame is one that viewers don't even notice. (Of course, this changes if the frame is actually the subject of a piece -- but, in that case, the frame is performaing an additional function besides framing that supersedes framing.) If a non-designer viewer stops to notice a frame when attention should be directed inside the frame, that's an error. (Have you ever noticed the frame on the Mona Lisa? Didn't think so.) Framing, then, is the beginning of design. It has to occur first, and the rest of the piece will flow into and around it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Choices I can't choose

I'm really struggling with my final project for this class. (For anyone reading who's not in the know, I'm writing a proposal for my master's portfolio.) I've always suffered from a general lack of direction in terms of career. I never wanted to pick an undergraduate major, and I still stutter around quite a bit when people ask me what I'm going to do with my master's degree. So, my main dilemma is that I don't know how much to focus my portfolio. My two major interest areas are medical and visual rhetoric. The biggest paper in my portfolio will be on the visual rhetoric of ultrasound -- a neat combination of the two. (Chapter 8 of Practices of Looking is tailor-made to be a source for that paper.)

Thus far, I've spent time thinking about the final format of the portfolio as well as what I want its ultimate purpose to be (aside from getting that master's degree). I hope to use my portfolio -- which will take shape as a web site -- for the very practical purpose of getting a job I will love. I also want it to be something I can add to so that I can chronicle my academic work in the event that I start work toward a doctoral degree in the future. With the format and purpose decided upon, the content is making me draw a big blank. Right now, I'm thinking I'll create sections within the portfolio -- maybe something like "Visible Rhetoric," "Medical Rhetoric," "Journalism," and "Other Professional Writing Projects." I also think I'd like to include a section about my teaching experience, minimal though it is. Something like this might be ideal.

Suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Globalization and freedom

In my opinion, Chapter 9 in Practices of Looking encompassed way too much materials. There's so much to talk about, and just not enough time to do it in the space of a single chapter. 

I'd first like to address the interaction of the terms the authors first introduce: globalization, convergence, and synergy. These concepts are often looked at with either unabashed zeal or fearful hesitance. Professionals in the media industry are particularly conflicted about this scenario. It means we can reach more consumers, but it will eliminate media jobs. This will decrease diversity, thus silencing some voices. Of course, the beauty of the Internet is that anyone can be a publisher -- but the truth of the matter is that one must have some sort of brand identification in this day and age in order to command an audience. Mere access is no longer enough. 

I was also intrigued by the discussion of First vs. Third world conceptions and uses of media. (And I found the original meaning of Third World particularly interesting -- I never knew it meant anything beyond "impoverished.") The idea of television being more powerful than a military force -- which it certainly is -- was frightening. I also never knew that an international convention had established airwaves as belonging to respective countries. I find this increasing rhetoric of ownership disturbing, although I can also see why it is necessary. 

Finally, my pet topic for this chapter: pornography. Sturken and Cartwright devote just a few pages to the issue of pornography, but I think it is vitally interesting. For all intents and purposes, pornography represents the most visible Internet-based battlefield out there. Feminist critics like the late Andrea Dworkin assert that pornography subjugates women, period, and that we must therefor wage war on pornography -- and free access to the Internet, by extension. Other feminists argue just the opposite -- that pornography is integral to women's liberation. I take my direction on the Internet censorship argument from a couple of landmark Supreme Court cases dealing with the dissemination of pornography (and those decisions are largely based on the First Amendment). Basically, we cannot censor material intended for the eyes of consenting adults. (Children add a new facet to the debate, but one case establishes parenting as the appropriate venue for censorship of Internet porn to children.) I think forthcoming court rulings on online pornography will likely illuminate the path all Internet content will eventually have to follow. This will have a profound affect on all the globalization and convergence currently occurring. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Return to Basics

The thing I most like about graphic design - besides the fact that it's just cool - is that it's really all about mastery of the basics. 

Lupton and Phillips seem to note this even with the title of their text: "Graphic Design: The New Basics." The sections on hierarchy, layers, transparency, modularity, grids and patterns confirm this. I have dealt extensively with all these elements in my short career - and I am by no means an expert designer. Yet my boss, a designer with 40+ years experience, bases his work on the same principles. (The one that most comes to mind is the grid. He uses a grid format, with story packages in modules, every day - but he can do things within that grid I can't - and, yet, the finished product is always immediately identifiable as our particular newspaper. So, I can really see how the grid can "encourage the designer to vary the scale and placement of elements without relying wholly on arbitrary or whimsical judgments" (175).)

While all the principles mentioned above are important, hierarchy stands out to me as the most important. Hierarchy goes far beyond the aesthetic, and often the consumer of a designer's material may not realize the designer has chosen what the reader's eye will see and when. Thus, hierarchy imbues design work with a serious sense of responsibility. (That's not to say those other elements don't; it's just that they all are subservient to where they are placed in the hierarchy of a piece.) 

Take, for example, rollover ads. Blogger Stephen Baker notes in this entry that such ads can be pretty unethical. He's right; these are the ads that expand into the space where you just clicked, and suddenly you're heading to a site you never wanted to see and downloading cookies you never wanted contact with. This morning, I visited the Peoria Journal Star's Web site and was confronted with one of these rollover ads. (It's already been removed or I'd post a link. The paper's site is While I understand that the rollover ad might be effective, the Web page designer at least has a responsibility to not let such an ad take up residence right on the front page, at the top, where most people will certainly be clicking on the headlines listed in the space the ad will expand into. (In this particular case, the designer's ethical duty may include working with an ad representative or even the advertising client to find an alternative solution.) 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Client-based work

Ah, it's been a while since I've worked for a real client.

Our projects this week had an entirely new spin than anything else we had so far done. Knowing that an actual potential client would evaluate our work and perhaps choose to expose it to thousands of people provides a little more incentive to create a clear, compelling message. The greatest challenge in such a situation is often to produce a piece of communication that is both compelling and also agreeable to the client.

There have been times in the past when I have run into situations where what was clearly a better choice ran counter to something a client wanted. It is at this point that visual rhetoricians have to decide who they're actually serving: Are they interested in getting paid, or doing it right? When does doing it right really matter -- is it moral, or just about pride? And how do you strike a balance?

In one case, I convinced a client (a humane society) to use more pictures of animals. The society wanted to project a very professional look and so didn't want to include photos of animals -- but this was central to their mission. We compromised and came up with a document that was both cuddly and sophisticated.

In another case, working on a brochure for an engineering firm, I received explicit instructions on what to include in the document. In this case, the audience was specialized and I, as a layperson, could do little more than take direction and employ my design skills to best effect.

My point, I suppose, is that it's vital to communicate with clients. You may be able to create a better product if you can loosen their limitations. Or, they might teach you a thing or two. In rare cases, it might turn out that the client's prescriptions are unpalatable enough that the partnership can't work out -- echoing Rock's worries. His essay, although pretty abstract and vaguely reminiscent of something out of a superhero movie ("Peter, with great power comes great responsibility") does strike a chord. In order to work in the field of visible rhetoric, one will also have to be able to work with people.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Information Communications Professional Technical Document Design

This week's design readings were informative for me in a number of ways. They made me feel a little schizophrenic - as talk of design often does - because I wanted to engage them in about six different ways at once. (As Schriver notes, design is in everything from the newspaper to the height of your high heels.) While the principles of design are constant (as is the knowledge that sometimes breaking with principles is the best course), they can be applied in very different ways depending on context.

I was most struck in Schriver's piece by the acknowledgment and foregrounding of the fact that design does not happen as the last step in a document (at least, not in an effective one). We recently developed a set of templates at the newspaper where I work. Although these templates were intended to be for use during elections (they provide visual rhetorical strategies for comparison using all the CRAP principles), they could be applied to a lot of other things with the aid of a competent designer -- and reporter. These templates are examples of design coming before textual content is even a thought. I might send a reporter out to get me a photo of each of several candidates and the answers to certain questions in order to complete the document I have designed to flow with that particular content. (See the example above -- the reporter had to know and understand this design before beginning work on textual elements.)

Context was also a major facet of Markel's analysis, particularly in the final section that focused on critique. For example, one image was from a company magazine and a question accompanying it asked if there was a enough white space. For a magazine, the answer was no. For a newspaper, the white space allotment was acceptable. That point, for me, is the most important. All the CRAP principles, accessing tools, resource limitations and audience engagemtn techniques aside, a good designer always, always has to be aware of context.

That said, I think context is also the answer to Schriver's naming quandary. What I call "document design," whenever I do it, depends on who I'm doing it for. When I volunteered to design a magazine for a fifth-grade class, I called it "magazine design." When I work at the newspaper, it's "page layout." When I'm working on a project for school, I tell people I'm doing "technical communication." And when I'm talking to a fellow technical communicator, I generally say "professional communication" -- because, to me, that seems to be the most apt term for what I do.

But then again, I am my own context. It'll be different for everyone.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Photoshop Magic

I am still incredibly excited about the module we're currently working on, because I've always wanted a good excuse to learn a bit about Photoshop. People always say Photoshop is the most powerful tool out there of its kind. Even my PC-bound newsroom has a copy of Photoshop that's compatible with Windows. I now know a little bit about Photoshop -- but that little big is enough to make some impressive-looking stuff. 

For example, political cartoons would be a breeze with Photoshop. The ability to cut figures out of a photograph also lends itself to newspaper work. And there are countless other ways I can use these newfound techniques to create photo illustrations suitable for newspapers or magazines. 

A problem enters, though, when we get into the realm of ethical visible rhetoric. In the newspaper world, there is a fine line between photo illustrations and photos that are represented as "fact" (although, given some previous class discussions, that's a farce). It is considered highly unethical to flip a photo, for example. The only real manipulating that's considered acceptable is lightening or darkening an image -- and even that may be criticized, as in the O.J. Simpson case. The real problem lies in the fact that the manipulating of an image will always matter to someone. Even in the case where the artist thinks the result is artistic and nothing more, someone might misinterpret the message. 

My solution to the problem lies in making clear the difference between a "true" photo and a photo that has been manipulated. The designation "photo illustration" is intended to demonstrate this, and, often, photos that are manipulated to represent a certain viewpoint are clearly not "true" photos (meaning a reasonable viewer can discern this.) I would be interested in hearing what others have to say about this, especially others who do not work in the media industry. In the meantime, all I can do is my best to clearly represent truth, even when working with manipulated images.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Postmodernism, politics, and polysemy

Although I've studied postmodernism before, at least in passing, I had somehow forgotten about the fascinating concept of simulcra. Sturken and Cartwright define simulcra as "hyperreal identities with no recourse back to a real person, their composite media image being more real than real." Perhaps, without a Lacanian background, I just read over this part before. But in terms of the real, mass media, and public personalities, this is a pretty earth-shattering concept. 

My first instinct was to go back to the dawn of modern mass media -- that is, TV. The first simulcra was perhaps based on John F. Kennedy. The 1960 presidential debate may show one layer of identity, as viewers felt that JFK was suave and handsome while Nixon was ... well ... not. Many, many layers of identity later, JFK is a national icon whose memory is undoubtedly more real (in the Lacanian sense) than the man himself was. Probably every national public figure since JFK has been the inspiration of these layers of "hyperreal identity." 

I think this phenomenon is inextricably linked to another facet of postmodernism: the fact that culture encompasses everything. The difference between highbrow and lowbrow culture is strained under the postmodern gaze. Take a look at the video link posted above. Does that debate look more like a presidential debate of today, or more like a couple kids running for president of the senior class? Our definitions of what is highbrow and what is lowbrow have changed considerably since that era. Those definitions were even in flux at the time, with both presidential candidates trying to appear simultaneously approachable (lowbrow?) and intelligent (highbrow?). It had already been years, at this time, since the innovative (some might say crazy) postmodern explorations of artists -- and cultural trendsetters -- like Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein. 

The motivation of these artists also has a peculiar link to politics -- "emphasis was on the action and expressive movement use to produce the work, rather than the system used to create the piece or the resulting composition's appearance." If we take appearance is a synonym for the real, this statement relates directly to politics -- not only 1960s politics, but also the politics of today. Emphasis is on who can deliver the best sound bite, who can be the most mainstream on the right issues, who cleans up nice or the camera -- all forms of movement and action. It's rare to see someone focus on the "system of creation" of modern politicians. Instead, they distract us by saying they can't be defined by a party platform. It's even rarer to see anyone pinned down to the real. Instead, politicians adjust to each particular situation, resulting in an identity that is mediated by only a particular audience -- an identity that may have no "recourse back to a real person." 

Is it any wonder our political system is in its current situation? Trying to make sense of the whole situation is like trying to understand the meaning behind "Number 1, 1948." Even given appropriate clues, the polysemy of each of these products makes the task damn near impossible. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pregnancy and public ownership

I almost forgot to blog this week, because I've spent hours on my latest project. (I might have gotten a little over-excited ... )

I had debated doing something about the globalization of media, with my argument being something along the lines of "Local media are important." Then, during class, someone said something that tripped an idea. I have recently studied images of pregnancy in an independent study on medical rhetoric, and one thing that struck me was how often pregnant women are bossed around, ignored, made to feel stupid, and generally abused. While talking to pregnant friends and seeking out other narratives, I found a recurring feeling that a woman's pregnant body is not her own. I set out to combine these two ideas, and ended up with a research question about how the globalization of media has caused this public ownership of the pregnant body. 

One thing that really struck me as I went to work on this project was the truth about how much pregnant women are ignored. People generally think that pregnant women get a lot of attention, but that's really not true; it's their bellies, their fetus, that get all the attention. Very little effort is expended in determining the feelings and status of the woman. Sure enough, when you do a Google image search for "pregnant," most of the photos that come up show engorged breasts and swollen bellies. Very few even show, much less focus on, a woman's full body or face. In fact, the few instances in which a woman's face was shown generally fell into two categories: 1) the pregnant woman in question was famous and her face was a selling point (like the Harper's cover with Britney Spears shown above) or 2) showing the face was a necessary part of placing a pregnant woman in context. In my research, I found only one exception. It was an artist's rendering, so I was not terribly surprised that it deviated from the dominant viewpoint. 

Having completed this module, I am still left with a question. Is it possible for pregnant women to take back their agency without seriously endangering themselves or their babies? 

I don't know the answer to that - and I don't know any women willing to risk it. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On bell hooks

I had one of those "Aha" moments when I sat down to watch this week's assigned youTube videos. 

All I knew about bell hooks before this week was that she was a feminist author/scholar. After watching the "On Cultural Criticism" pieces, I recognized that I was actually familiar with parts of her work despite never having "studied her." (Aha!) This particularly applies to her work in terms of cultural visuals. I was especially interested in Part III of the series, in which she talks about transformation as being a combination of critical thinking and literacy. 

Being an enlightened witness does require a higher level of literacy. As we strive in the English Department to counteract our culture's visible representations of those less literate than ourselves as lower-class, I think we should try to remember that our responsibility extends beyond creating a dialogue. We also have a duty to help people acquire the skills they need to interact in such a dialogue. We need to help people see beyond the constructed narratives in movies like "Hoop Dreams." We need to DO cultural criticism, and bell hooks outlines many of the ways to do this. 

I also particularly like her concept of creating a more complex accounting of identity. Anytime a person is asked to define him/herself (including in our first module), it creates a sort of mini-identity crisis. How much more confusing must this intricate code-switching be to a young person who is assaulted every day be the various ads and messages we all discovered are so prevalent in our media journals this week? When it comes to defining the culture of oppression, the difficulties become even greater. The idea  of the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy calls attention to this too-often-unarticulated problem, although I would include many more (and some just plain different) descriptors in my own illustration of oppressive forces. 

All things considered, I had a hard time remembering to apply everything I was hearing to visible rhetoric because I was just so fascinated at hearing bell hooks talk. I'm having some trouble narrowing down what aspect of mass media I want to tackle for my project, but I think once I spend some time putting the videos in context I will have an easier time of it. 

Photo from

Monday, October 20, 2008

Response to Week 9 readings

Klein, “Truth in Advertising”

1. Klein sarcastically responds in the article, to companies' apparent brand identities--that Nike, for instance, is not selling shoes, but instead communicating “notions of transcendence.” Take a look at the front/main pages of these three web sites:


2. What is the outer truth visible here (e.g., what’s being sold)? What is the “inner truth” identified here?

On Hummer’s site, I think freedom is the equivalent of Nike’s transcendental offer. The Hummer at the top plowing through water lets viewers imagine themselves in exotic places doing exciting things. In reality, GM is selling a car, a means of transportation to and from work and other daily chores.

The Agent Provocateur site was the most interesting of the three – it played to a sense of adventure as well as to freedom. I found it intriguing that it offered two main possibilities: shop or explore. This is an interesting way to back up the claim to being more than just commercial. But, when it comes down to it, prices and products are listed in a catalog-like format.

Microsoft is known as one of the most successful companies in the world, and its marketing is direct. Before a consumer can even visit this page, a pop-up ad intervenes, offering a new software to make the Internet experience better. Once on the page, consumers get an appeal to fear (Protect yourself from phishing!) and an appeal to modernity (Get the latest version!) right away. The main panel is about the Mojave Experiment, in which testers renamed Windows Vista and had people try it again – and ended up with a higher approval rating. This is probably in response to the bad reviews Vista has gotten recently, so it also is a direct appeal to consumers to keep buying.


3. Find an example of “anti-brand activism.” How does what you’ve found work to break the hold of “broken promises” and “unfulfilled desires” perpetuated by brand campaigns?

The first Web site that popped up on my “anti-brand” Google search was I’m not sure I would actually classify it as anti-brand, but it’s certainly interesting, and it could potentially be anti-brand. The Web site focuses on demystifying brand identities. For example, a multiple choice question on its front page asks audiences a trivia question: Which brand says the environment is part of its DNA? In doing so, it also asks consumers to evaluate whether or not this claim is true. Is this an example of a broken promise? An unfulfilled desire? I actually find (which bills itself as the world’s only online exchange about branding) to be a far more socially responsible movement than the anti-brand movement. It opens up discussion for anyone to participate in (see the site’s “debate” section) rather than simply replacing one dominant view with another.


Holland, “Keeping Promises: The Impact of Brands on Society”

1. How does Holland explain the rise of brands? The “void” that brands fill in our society?

Holland says branding filled the void when Americans became disillusioned with religion and other social interactions like clubs. She even says the move away from the nuclear family has contributed to this shift. I would argue, additionally, that the Internet age has both caused this shift by increasing the amount of time a person spends “alone” (e.g. at a computer or television, with access to the world at her fingertips) and by providing a new way for brands to reach consumers. As our society increasingly produces people who live and work with less and less face-to-face social interaction, branding will continue to become a more and more powerful influence.

2. Take a look again at the three sites listed above. What identity does each brand offer us? Promise us?

Hummer promises adventure as well as comfort and luxury. Based on the exchange value of the Hummer, it also likely offers a certain amount of prestige. The site says: Anyone who owns a Hummer must be part of a group that is adventurous as well as wealthy.

The Agent Provacateur site offers beauty and sexual freedom. It shows attractive models with mainstream body types, but it puts them in an atmosphere that is not mainstream (at least not for the U.S., although the site is European).  The implication is that anyone can look like those models if they wear this lingerie. The site also offers a section for “exploring,” which leads into a soft-core, choose-your-own-ending sort of sequence. This emphasizes sexual freedom and the ability of the woman (the intended viewer) to choose her partner and preference.

Micrsoft’s Web site welcomes viewers into the club of professionals. It offers sleek, easy-to-use software and implies that those who use Microsoft products will be in good company. It also is the most direct in terms of framing the viewer as consumer – a good consumer, it says, it up-to-date. The Microsoft viewer is someone who is willing to spend the money to have the most current technology.

3. What strategies does Holland suggest for not underestimating your own power? For researching and being an activist in the face of corporate identity strategies?

Holland suggests using the very power that companies are after when they create brands: the power of the consumer. The opinion of the consumer – whether expressed through oral statements, written letters, protests, or simply purchasing power – is our most powerful weapon in shaping the paths taken by companies.

Awareness is the major requirement for being an activist. Research is vital to understanding how companies work, and self-reflection will help consumers decide how to use their power in terms of supporting or not supporting those companies.  For graphic designers working in the advertising industry, Holland suggests taking a step back to think about if you would be proud to see a newspaper story on your recent work. Holland also suggests perusing the annual report of a company you’re interested in.

Sullivan, “Flogging Underwear: The New Raunchiness of American Advertising”

1. What’s the deal? How come men are being sold products with male sexuality? How is it that “male bimbos” in ads work to convince men to purchase a variety of products?

Sullivan says at one point that most of the sexuality implicit in these images is narcissistic. The male model is “in love” with himself; thus, male viewers may construe this fabrication as a message that if they use Product X, they, too, will love themselves. More likely, I think, is Sullivan’s argument that women buy most of men’s stuff. The makers of the Hom ad, for example, said the ad was directed at women because it is women who buy most men’s underwear. There are also two other possibilities that Sullivan glosses: the rise of metrosexuality (and, by extension, the rising acceptance of homosexuality) and fact that ads showing the “male bimbo” simply attract attention. On page 209, Sullivan notes that what kind of attention an ad attracts doesn’t matter because viewers tend to disassociate the message from the sponsor rather quickly. What is important is getting them to see that corporate logo in the first place.

2. What does Sullivan accuse today’s fashion photography of lacking? Do you agree, disagree? Explain.

Sullivan says today’s photography lacks creativity as well as a connection between personality and product. The new wave of consumers are defined by their “denial of individuality” (210). Sullivan describes several ads which depict young, beautiful people doing absolutely nothing. They’re not active, they’re not communicating, they’re not even looking at each other or anything else. They’re just … there. These ads incorporate little creativity and no personality, according to Sullivan. I disagree. I do think these ads are creative, to some extent. I think, in many cases, they represent the disillusionment of young generations with the messages preached by their predecessors. This denial of individuality could be interpreted as an expression of oppression. However, I think Sullivan is correct in saying these ads do not display a connection between personality and product – rather, they display a connection between consumer and brand. And that, today, is all a company needs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Response to Practices of Looking Chapter 6: "Consumer Culture and the Manufacturing of Desire"

1. What are some of the historical and cultural reasons why consumer culture has appeared and proliferated?

The use of advertising - which almost always incorporates visible rhetoric - has been a staple in the spread of consumerism. "Increased industrialization and bureaucratization in the late nineteenth century meant a decrease in the number of small entrepreneurs and an increase in large manufacturers ... " (191). People also began to do a lot more traveling, and more public places sprang up that could support commerce. In other words, increased competition and increased visible rhetoric are directly related. This phenomenon is occurring again with the rise of e-commerce and telemarketing (192). People can now participate as consumers without ever leaving their homes. It's easier than ever to be a consumer now - plus, the government encourages consumerism, especially now, in order to prop up our failing economy.

2. How did the rise of consumer society change homes? Change family relationships? Change the dynamics of the private and public spheres?

The consumer society discussed above brought with it a number of changes. Space for advertising is now available in the average American living room. Families gather around the television rather than talking over dinner. The public sphere continues to encroach upon - and sometimes masquerade as - the private sphere. The quote used below in question number 3 illustrates the extent to which this has occurred.

3. On page 193, the authors note that some media and cultural theorists have argued that "advertising replaced what had previously been the social fabric of communities, becoming, in effect, a central source of cultural values" (this is also an argument presented in Klein's and Holland's essays). Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?

While Sturken and Cartwright present this view as somewhat extremist, I think it's exactly right. That's not to say that all demographics have undergone this change, but I believe the average American is far more consumer-driven than anyone realizes. We live in world of needs that are really wants. Everything is marketed to us, from cars to food to nursing homes. Millions of people have spent hundreds of dollars for the social status of owning an iPod (see the dicussion of NIke on page 201), when a similar mP3 player is often half the price. The social makeup of our world is driven by advertising.

4. Think about your last visit to a local mall. What aspects of the design, layout, and visual elements of the mall lent themselves to shopping being constructed as a leisure activity? A pass-time? What design aspects contributed to the cultural ideological belief that shopping is expected of us? That consumerism is good?

The last mall I was at was White Oaks Mall in Springfield, which features a centralized design with spokes that contain larger chain stores at their ends. Stores are not grouped by category, but spread out so that a person on a mission for one thing will have to walk all over the mall, past all other kinds of stores, during their search. This layout also allows the mall to have more doors, and closer parking access, thus allowing people to easily return to their cars to leave their purchases and then go back into the mall to continue shopping. Recently, even more signals than usual have impinged upon the American consumer to fulfill the duty to spend money. This tax season, anyone filing was given about $600 in "free" money and encourage to pour it directly back into the ailing economy. Consumerism was framed as a healthy goal for the economy.

5. What's the difference between exchange value and use value? What examples do the authors use to articulate these concepts?

Both of these terms are dependent upon the society they are used in. Exchange value refers to what a products costs within that society, and use value is about the item's use in that society. Sturken and Cartwright suggest rice has a high use value - it can keep you alive - and a low exchange value - it's cheap. Perfume, on the other hand, has little use value, but often is quite expensive. Their best example, in my opinion, was comparing a Honda to a Mercedes-Benz. These items have exactly the same use value, but vastly different exchange values. (199)

6. What did the Frankfurt School theorists mean by the term pseudoindividuality? (See page 205.)

Pseudoindividuality is the idea of mass marketing based on individualism. The example given is of perfume. The mass marketing campaign says the perfume will smell different on everyone, thereby priveleging individuality even as the ad markets to the masses. This technique is quite popular today, with many ads encouraging people to "think outside the box" or "be different" and take a risk on this new product. Of course, if everyone does so, no one is different. That's where the "pseudo-" prefix comes in.

7. What would ads be like if they didn't work to create a sense of dissatisfaction? If they didn't prey on our anxieties and insecurities? If they didn't make us feel weak and needing?

I disagree with the basic assumption made by this question (and, at times, Sturken and Cartwright) that all ads do create a sense of dissatisfaction. I think there are a number of very positive ad campaigns that make a point not to prey on anxieties and insecurities, ads that try to promote a sense of power and confidence. These ads are often directed at women, a group that is perhaps the most in need of empowerment. While I know some would make the argument that these ads are the worst kind as far as playing on people's fears, I do not believe that is their intent. They do not "work to create" this strife.

Nevertheless, many ads do - and the world would be very different without them. A world without ads working for dissatisfaction would certainly not be so consumer-driven. Needs and wants would be much better delineated in the mind of the average person. There would also be a lot more space in which people could value other sorts of communication. At the same time, though, we could not live in a free market society if this were the case. A sense of dissatisfaction can be a very good, motivating thing. Without advertisers for motivation, we might not achieve as much. Frankly, the idea of a world without advertising playing on personal dissatisfaction is so far removed from reality that it is impossible for me to imagine.

8. What's the difference between bricolage and counter-bricolage? Can you think of an example of each?

Bricolage is when consumers (often youthful ones) appropriate a product and imbue it with a new meaning. This is often seen as very hip, forward-thinking, or individualistic. Counter-bricolage is when commercial culture takes that product or idea back and reconfigures it. The book's example is the advent of designer boxer shorts based on the fact that young men were wearing low-hanging pants (224). Another example would be the rise of rap music. Rap was born as a cry against hegemonic forces, but was promptly appropriate by suburbanites (bricolage). Now, rap artists have altered their message to appeal to those suburbanites and gain profit (counter-bricolage).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Array of Colors

Thursday's presentations were very enjoyable (thanks for the pizza, Angela!) and also quite thought-provoking. As noted in a previous blog entry, the color purple has polarizing effects. My research seemed to indicate it was unique in this aspect, but  as the presentations continued I realized that most colors have the same sort of polarizing quality to them. 

For example, Amy, Kevin, and Rachel's presentation showed that yellow can connote warmth and welcome as well as cowardice and frustration. They used the term "bipolar" to refer to yellow and other colors. They also noted that yellow is a staple in feng shui, as it can compensate for low light, but in the fashion industry is seen as very unstable. Jessica, Rachel and Joanna found in their presentation that pink can cause both a calming effect and can incite hostility. In this case, they noted variables including the length of exposure, and perhaps more tellingly, the exact hue.  

Combining these findings with the discussions surrounding the use of the color pink over the years -- as it progressed from denoting masculinity to femininity, among other things -- and they variations surrounding U.S. political parties' use of the colors blue and red, I can only believe that colors are more subjective than most people realize. 

Some studies conducted seem to show an innate reaction to color. For example, a University of Chicago study showed that yellow made babies cry. Yet, at the same time, we find contradictions such as the meanings of red and black between Eastern and Western cultures. Some Eastern cultures use red to denote purity, while we see red as a passionate color. Black means death to us, but means life in other parts of the world. It seems to me that our perception of color has more to do with "nurture" than we ever thought. At the same time, it is interesting to note that their are "nature" aspects to the situation. For example, I don't think it's a coincidence that, in the two examples above, the colors fell at opposite ends of a continuum that runs along the SAME variable. We seem to think pure hues like black and white have something to do with the most pure values -- life and death. That perception, perhaps, transcends cultural boundaries. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Media - inside and outside

As a working journalist, I engaged Sturken and Cartwright's analyses of American media from multiple viewpoints. First, I followed their commentary as an American consumer of media -- and I felt their views were spot-on. The sheer magnitude of media messages we take in each day is overwhelming. It's no small wonder that we process a very small percentage of it consciously. While I disagree intensely with the hypodermic model, I see a lot of good reason in the Marxist-inspired theories put forth by the Frankfort School. However, I do not see media consumers as brainless sheep, as the text seems to suggest the Frankfort School believes. 

This is precisely the point where I transitioned from reading as a consumer to reading as a journalist -- because, as a journalist, I am a member of that privileged class that supposedly creates the thoughts and feelings of the masses. (Ha!) I do NOT believe that audiences docilely accept whatever argument or message is put forth to them. Everyone interprets the signifiers created by media differently; it is probably a rare exception when the intended message is received and understood in its entirety. I suspect oppositional readings are far more common than any other, precisely because the audience wants to assert agency before even thinking of agreeing with any portion of the message. (At the same time, many consumers have preconceived notions that create both oppositional and supportive readings. An ongoing CNN poll shows that only about a quarter of those who watch presidential debates would change their votes based on those debates.)

I also identified both as a woman and as a general consumer with the authors' discussion of Lacan's mirror stage and the search for the objet petit a on page 217. Ads are constantly telling us of ways we can be more, do more, have more -- and it's all in search of the satisfaction represented by these ads, a satisfaction that our consumer society (and perhaps any human society) will never allow us to possess. Even ads that do not conform to the typical pressures -- I'm thinking of the Dove ads that celebrate all body types -- urge consumers to find that objet petit a, that impossible satisfaction, in the knowledge that the push to do so will (they hope) produce commercial profit. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A love/hate relationship ...

I have been struck in my investigation of the color purple by its polarizing effect on those who view it. Our readings noted that people tend to either love purple or hate it. Its use in religion, then, is not surprising, as religion is often a polarizing topic. But, because our presentation focuses on religion, I decided to do a little outside investigating and see what other things the color purple connotes. 

Our readings also list the following feelings as being associated with purple: mourning, death, nausua, conceit, pomposity. Other sources echo these reflections and also note that purple can be used to reflect old age, waning seasons or cycles and other sorts of endings. At the same time, some groups have appropriated and subverted this very connotation -- the Red Hat Society wears purple in defiance of old age. The color is so powerful that women under 50 are allowed only to wear lavender (and pink, rather than red). I suspect this group may also wear purple in part because of its well-established connection to royalty. (And royalty historically have aspired to immortality, creating an interesting contradiction with the old-age connection.)

I found that purple also has the shortest wavelength visible to the human eye, after which colors pass into the (tellingly named) ultraviolet spectrum. This makes me wonder if purple's ambivalent nature might actually have something to do with its "physical" properties. There are certainly enough web sites (though none I deemed entirely credible) that speculate about the mysteries properties of purple.

My favorite anecdote about purple is related to religion, and it made it into our final presentation. EuroDisney used lots of the color purple in its signs, but this caused viewers in "Catholic Europe" to view the signs as morbid, since they combined cartoons with the crucifixion of Christ.  The Color Matters website draws the conclusion that "Personal preference and 'avant-garde' tactics frequently cause color disasters." Furthermore, the site notes, "When the wrong color is used on a web site, the damage extends to a global audience." The few web sites I have come across that boast a purple layout are primarily sites dealing with spirituality of some sort -- hardly a surprise. 

Unfortunately, due to time and space limitations, most of the fascinating tidbits about the color purple simply can't be included in the "Purple in Christianity" presentation that Stephanie and I have developed. Nevertheless, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the color -- and about colors in general -- during this module. (Allow me to end here before I am accused of "purple prose!")

Monday, October 6, 2008

Legz and Power Ties - The Vice Presidential Debate

The vice presidential candidate debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin was rich in visible rhetoric, but I think one image really brought that home to me in a far more compelling way than any others.

The day after the debate, I was working on putting together a national news page for the newspaper where I work. I picked out a story about the debate, then clicked to go to the accompanying photos. The first photo that popped up was a close-up of Palin’s legs from behind as she stood at the podium. (And, try as I might, I could not find any photos of Biden’s legs.) While I realize the photographer may have just been trying to make an interesting statement, there’s a whole brand of ethics involved that seem to have been pretty well glossed over. 

Yes, Palin has shapely, womanly legs. Yes, that is part of the visible rhetoric through which we perceive her. But I don’t think a close-up view of those legs, sans any other body part, is a necessary or responsible visual message for the public. (Never mind that this photograph was taken from behind and below, in a very voyeuristic manner.) There are so many feminist arguments involving the use of women’s parts separate from their whole bodies that I can’t even risk going into that sort of analysis of visual culture for fear of overloading the blogspot server.

Prior to this discovery, I still found the debate to be one rich in visible rhetoric. There are obviously some laws of visible rhetoric that both candidates knew and followed. Both wore black, a neutral, professional color, with some accents. Biden wore a blue “power tie,” and a small flag pin (the same pin that caused an uproar earlier this election season between the Democratic contenders). Palin also wore the flag pin, and she used some other accents to break up the black theme, although her gender allowed her to be more creative. She used earrings, her now-famous glasses and her hairstyle – as well as having less black on by virtue of bare legs – to soften the severity of her all-black outfit. (It is interesting to note that moderator Gwen Ifill also obeyed these conventions.)

The fact that the debaters were of different genders was certainly a central factor, and I found myself siding with the majority: I felt more at ease with both candidates afterward, as did more than half of Americans, according to CBS polls. Both came off as polished and intelligent. Visible rhetoric is vitally important to politics in this manner, and this is precisely why candidates agree to such forums. Through TV and other media, candidates come right into our living rooms and we familiarize ourselves with their styles. Their features become familiar to us, and familiarity results in goodwill. This is an easy conclusion just based on my statement above that I liked both of them “better” afterward – because I’m not a fan of the politics of either of them.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going purple

I am working with Stephanie on an examination of the color purple in Christianity for this module. Our research so far has shown something I find pretty interesting: the connotations attached to purple in Christianity are very much related to the connotations attached to purple by mainstream culture. I'm sure this is at least partly (if not entirely) because our subject matter is so intertwined with popular culture. For example, purple is the color of royalty. We have discussed in class (and numerous sources can add to this) why this is -- the color was rare and expensive, meaning it was only available to royalty. According to Christian lore, Jesus was dressed in a purple robe before he was crucified as part of the mockery surrounding his claim to be "King of the Jews." The color purple was used by his persecutors because of its royal connotations, and because of that incident it was inducted into the canon of Christian symbolism.

The other major connotation of the color purple that we have run across also stems from the crucifixion of Jesus. Purple is the color of persecution, pain, sorrow, and suffering. It is not difficult to follow where these ideas might have come from in reference to the paragraph above.
Another connection I am trying to make is one of purple as empathetic. It seems that empathy might be a quality also associated with royalty, at least in some cases. Many political Web sites also discuss purple as a color of cooperation, because it is what emerges when red (Republicans) and blue (Democrats) work together. States known as "purple states" are the states that are most moderate in their political leanings.

Returning to the project at hand, Stephanie and I are particularly researching the connection of the color purple with the Christian seasons of Lent and Advent. Both have direct connections to events in the life of Jesus, so the royalty connection is easy to make. I also think we can draw a connection between purple and Lent because Lent is the time Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. This certainly involved sorrow and suffering. Advent is the time leading up to Jesus' birth, which might connote suffering on the part of his parents. These are just a few of the leads we intend to follow as we continue to flesh out this project.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Making Drugs More Visible

According to this week’s article on the Web site Color Matters, the lessening of direct-to-consumer advertising restrictions in recent years has spawned intense changes in the market.  “The color and shape of the pills and the names and imagery used to sell products are heavily researched and tested, much like the drugs themselves.” For example, Levitra determined that men were turned off by the blue color of Viagra pills, and so decided to make their pills a vibrant orange. Given the free-market premise of the modern pharmaceutical industry, it stands to reason that if the drug companies are spending so much time and money on pleasing the consumer’s every whim, there is a reason: Today’s consumers are informed and they often are informed by visible rhetoric.  Thus, the pharmaceutical company must use visual rhetoric to convince the consumer that a certain product is the ideal one so that consumer can approach her physician about it. 

In Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease, Jeremy Green posits a shift in how medical knowledge is packaged differently today than it was just a few years ago. Direct-to-consumer marketing has changed the landscape of the industry. This is largely, I believe, because of the different methods of visible rhetoric that companies must use in appealing to a broad public audience rather than to an audience of physicians. The public is informed regarding medical knowledge and treatment today in a way it never has been before , and this is precisely because of the greatly increased impact that visible rhetoric now has on society.

One intensely interesting facet of Greene’s book is the fact that more and more Americans are being medicated now than ever. I think this is because of direct-to-consumer marketing and its focus on visible rhetoric. With direct access to consumers, drug companies work to make these markets ever larger. “The threshold for high blood pressure may continue to move lower until there is very little normal left between the pathologically high and the pathologically low … ” (230). While Greene does point out that this cannot go on forever, the truth is that there is always another chronic condition to be exploited/mediated/medicated. For example, the fight against cholesterol only began in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time cholesterol is taken care of, another medical crisis will have risen and drug companies will have found a way to market it. Clearly, society’s increasing emphasis on visible rhetoric and the quickly expanding drug market are very much related.

Work Cited

Greene, Jeremy A. Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Examining soda (or pop)

I chose to examine the different designs of soda cans for this blog entry. I chose what I consider to be the four most popular drinks (at least among my friends). Two are dark sodas and two are light sodas, with one of each being made by Pepsi Co. and one of each being made by Coke. Interestingly, the packaging is more similar between similar products than it is between products made by the same company. For example, Pepsi looks more like Coke than it does like Mountain Dew, even though Mountain Dew is made by Pepsi.

Mountain Dew and Sprite are both packaged with green as the predominant color, perhaps portraying the lemon flavor within. Pepsi and Coke are packaged in primary colors. Coke is very traditional, with just red and white. Pepsi adds blue to the mix as its dominant color. 

In regard to typeface, both Mountain Dew and Sprite have lettering that is horizontal and ascending – ascending sharply, in the case of Sprite. The lettering is either white or outlined in white. Pepsi and Coke both have white lettering, although Pepsi's is more blockish and Coke's is script.  "Pepsi" would be more legible if both brands weren't instantly recognizable anyway. Pepsi and Coke both have large lettering that is written vertically and ascending. I suspect all the typefaces are ascending to mimic the carbonation that is the key to the soda industry. None of the soda's typefaces have significant serifs. 

After completing this examination, I couldn't help but notice that some soda cans have been modernized in recent years (I tried to choose traditional designs for the examples above.) The most common examples are in Sprite and Pepsi, which both went to a new can with the soda name written horizontally. Interestingly, both also used the names smaller in the new design, prompting me to wonder if visual rhetoric has now completely surpassed text as the language of modern commercialism.

Meanwhile, Mountain Dew and Coke have both been designed in completely new ways as well. The Green Label Art has turned some Mountain Dew cans into pieces of highbrow art on the go, and Coke has marketed a slimline can (with a design similar to the new Sprite and Coke cans) to appeal to twenty-something women. The weight given to visual rhetoric in all of these cases is overwhelming.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Q&A on Blackboard readings

White, "Text”

1. According to the author, what’s the most intelligent design decision you can make?

Informed use of white space is the most intelligent design decision one can make, according to White. I tend to agree with this statement. With the exception of content (which, I would argue, is also often a design choice), white space is the largest deciding factor in how a document’s final design will look.

2. How does White define “conventions?” How are conventions useful?

For White, the word “conventions” seems to be equivalent to “rules.” White does say, though, that any convention can be broken – it’s just that a designer must be informed about the convention before knowing enough to break it effectively. She details eight conventions that are perhaps the most widely known. 

3. Are conventions universal? Should conventions be considered “rules?”

Although “rules” is the word I used to define “conventions” above, it is important to realize that they are breakable. A good designer will always take into account the context of a piece and which conventions might be limiting in that context. Conventions are certainly not universal.


Williams, “Readability and Legibility”

1. What is the difference, according to Williams, between readability and legibility?

Readability refers to the ease with which a person can quickly navigate body type or anything else that would have a large amount of text as one entity. Legibility is more applicable to headlines or other title-type elements that occur in small sections.

2. What makes a typeface or font face readable?

Several elements make a typeface or font more readable. Williams says it is a moderation of features. This means the face should not incorporate anything that really stands out – it should be average-sized with average thickness and an average x-height, etc. It is also noteworthy that serif typefaces are generally considered more readable, and additional leading can make up for other deficiencies in readability by allowing the eye a space to move back to the beginning of each new line.

3. When does text have to be legible? When can text serve more decorative, artistic functions?

Text should be legible when people are reading quickly – in situations where the reader will be skimming, scanning or making a quick judgment. Text can serve artistic functions in these cases as long as the designer is aware of the conventions being broken and how those broken conventions work within the piece.


Brumberger, “Rhetoric of Typography”

1. Do you think the typeface in which this article is presented is "rhetorically appropriate?" Why or why not?

Yes and no. This article was meant to be read in a printed journal from a physical page. The typeface (which looks like Times?) is serif and very average. It is extremely readable. However, I read this article on the computer screen. On the screen, the serifs were too skinny to do much good and the weight of the lines was not thick enough to be readable until I zoomed far in. So, in terms of its expected rhetorical situation, the typeface chosen was appropriate. But, I read it outside of the expected rhetorical situation, and the appropriate typeface choice for my rhetorical situation would have been different.

2. What does the author mean when she argues that typefaces have "personas?"

She means that typefaces can evoke certain feelings and connotations within our minds. They may give the text characteristics that we would not otherwise have attributed to it.

3. Take a look at the chunks/passages embedded on one of your favorite webpages and rank the attributes of each using the scale Brumberger used and presents on page 228 of her study. uses the same typeface (with a font change for the main headline) throughout its home page. They choice, a sans-serif that is highly “invisible,” projects seriousness without being too cold. In my opinion, it is confident and professional. Going from the top of Brumberger’s scale to the bottom, I would rate its attributes as follows: cheap – 2, cold – 3, confident – 7, dignified -6 , elegant – 6, feminine – 2, formal – 5, friendly – 6, inviting – 7, loud – 4, masculine – 5, playful – 1, pretentious – 3, professional – 7, relaxed – 4, scholarly – 7, serious – 7, sloppy – 1, straightforward – 7, warm – 5.

4. What's the "so what?" of Brumberger's study? What are the conclusions and implications she draws? What can we learn—as writers and editors—from her study?

I was disappointed by Brumberger’s study. I had hoped that she would be able to prove at least one of her hypothesis. I do think she succeeded in demonstrating how differently people can perceive something as “simple” as typeface choice. This shows us that, as designers, every detail is vitally important. The choice of typeface can evoke a number of different ideas if we know how to use the conventions surrounding that choice correctly. As writers and editors, we must be aware (even in a text-only document) of how our typeface choice affects the way readers perceive our work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Still 'Tick'ering

Module 2: Designing With Text has presented me with challenges I had not expected to face in this class. First and foremost, it has been a very long time since I have used Microsoft Word to do anything truly creative. However, the reasoning for this is that Word is not a good software program for supporting graphics. Since we cannot work with graphics in this unit, the creative challenges I face are more about my mastery of the program than about the program itself.

I completed a draft of my module two project before doing the assigned readings for this week. After having done the readings, I plan to create a second draft before our rough draft is due. The ideas I was able to draw from the three Blackboard readings were very helpful. In particular, I will do more work with kerning and line spacing.

Originally, I chose to work with the lyrics from the Brad Paisley song "Ticks." I placed the lyrics, repeated to fill the page, into a document and turned them green to reference a field that makes an appearance in the lyrics. I then turned select bits of text black, trying to form the shape of a tick. This proved more difficult than I had imagined. The tick just did not show up very well. I bolded the letters, which helped a little. But, having read the assigned readings (especially the one from the Non-Designer's Type Book), I know I can do a number of things to make that text stand out more. My tick is basically functioning as a serif -- his little legs are getting lost like the feet on a serif typeface when used as a headline. Mostly, the image needs to appear more dense, and I now have a number of tools at my disposal to make that happen. (I also think peer review will be a great help in this project.) I have a feeling this is project I could tinker with forever and not be entirely satisfied. Typography, clearly, is an addiction!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Text and the death of print

I found Lupton’s chapter on text to be fascinating. This is at least partially because I use most of the techniques she talks about every day in my job as a newspaper editor. I’ve heard my colleagues talk about the days when leading was literally leading. But, I did learn some new techniques as well. I particularly enjoyed Lupton’s discussion of kerning. The relationships of letters to each other changes depending on the typeface and font. Kerning allows for a manual override – ironically, it’s a way to manually make things look more natural. It’s an extremely valuable tool. 

I was particularly interested in Lupton’s observations regarding the differences between print and Internet readers (p. 74 especially). It makes perfect sense that, although the same person may be a user of both, expectations are different when using the Internet. Immediate gratification is the norm for Internet users, and any delay in processing information becomes extremely frustrating.

In fact, I would posit the Internet has changed the mentality of consumers as a whole. We regularly get calls at the newspaper from people who take their news on the Internet, and they often complain that the news doesn’t go up fast enough or that they can’t access everything on the Web site that’s in the print product. I politely explain that to get all the news, they have to buy a newspaper instead of just visiting the Web site, and generally the point is well taken. Sometimes, though, the person’s sense of entitlement (“Isn’t the news you report in the public interest?” They ask, and they have a good point.) is such that I have to make comparisons to other professions (Would you expect a surgeon to operate on you for free, even if you’d die if she didn’t?). My point here is that the Internet has not only changed the audience and forum for text, it also has changed the value of text. Information is now available for free, and that is how people think it should be. Newspapers – probably the greatest users of text in the world – are in deep trouble because of this phenomenon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mapping Myself

After considerable anguish, I settled on something pretty similar to my first draft of my cultural identity map for my final product. After talking with peer reviewers, I did make two major changes (as well as a number of smaller tweaks). First, I deleted the camera in the lower right corner. It had represented Lacan's gaze as well as my photography work, but I decided neither were really significant enough parts of my life to merit inclusion on my map. The second change involved two parts: I enlarged and made more central the liberty figure that is now at bottom right. This figure, which is borrowed from the Libertarian Party's logo, represents my political ideals and how I try to live my life. I also included watermarked text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the background of my map, because my studies of the affects of the First Amendment have had a huge impact on my political and cultural outlook on life. I also made another significant choice in this final map: I chose not to alter the image of Rosie the Riveter. Although I modernized her (OK, let's be frank, I turned her into a badass) for use on my button, I felt that on my map she represents some sense of tradition, which I am proud of, as well as progress. My map demonstrates my ideas about progressiveness pretty clearly in other ways; I liked Rosie as a sort of nostalgic element. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Thinking with Type" and "Graphic Design"

I’ve always been told that you’re a good page designer when people stop telling you that you’re a good page designer. In other words, the design was so effective that it was invisible. It seems to me that the use of proper lettering – using the proper typeface – is much the same. If the typeface is distracting, like the bitmapped letter compared to the anti-aliased letter, then its use was a poor choice. The goal in choosing typefaces is to be so good that you’re invisible.

But maybe not always.

In my designing work, certain typefaces have already been chosen for standard headlines, but I am free to choose any typeface we have for feature stories, graphics, and other oddities. In this case, I’m not so sure invisibility is the goal. Sometimes, the typeface is precisely the element that needs to jump out. I would argue that this goal – using a typeface that jumps out – has made for some of the best and worst page designs in newspaper history. One thing I do think is really clever is the suggestion that hand lettering is still a driving force in graphic design (See the "POW!!" on the newspaper page above at left.)

Utilizing non-textual elements also is an important task for media. Magazines, particularly, tend to use a lot of visual elements in their layouts. Often, these are in the form of simple tables, graphs, and charts. As shown by Graphic Design, there are myriad more creative ways to do such things. But they don’t get done. My question about this is: If people care so much about graphic design, how come they won’t pay a little extra for a superbly designed magazine? The answer: Substance. If that superb design carries with it some meaning, some purpose, then it is actually worthwhile. I don’t mean to sound down on graphic design. It’s actually something I really enjoy and admire. But it frustrates the heck out of me when I want to try it at my job and am told there simply isn’t time/money/resources to do so. I worry that newspapers are dying, and graphic design for print will soon follow. In some ways, maybe, the Internet is a not-so-good thing. 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Response to Chapter 3 Practices of Looking

The power of the gaze is a terrifying and intensely interesting subject. I enjoyed the discussion of cinema, which seems such an obvious manifestation of the gaze that I can't believe I hadn't already given it more serious thought. I was glad Sturken and Cartwright included Foucault’s model of the Panopticon in this chapter, because I felt that it really made clear how powerful the gaze is – so powerful, in fact, that the mere suggestion that it might exist can determine the course of a person's actions.

I was, however, very frustrated with the seeming inequality of the discussion surrounding the power endowed by the gaze in terms of gender. It seemed to me that the authors felt that anytime a woman is gazed upon, she is objectified and somehow lessened. Yet in the example showing a male being gazed upon (page 88), they suddenly observe the subject as maintaining power by refusing to acknowledge the presence of the gazers (who are women). While I can't begin to fathom the complexities of the psychoanalytic theories surrounding studies of the gaze, I did feel that Sturken and Cartwright's interpretation was lacking in the manner. I can think of myriad examples in which women are gazed upon and, in being so observed, wield great power. Likewise, I can think of examples, though not so many, of when men are gazed upon and thus made inferior. Both male and female gazers can also be on either end of the power spectrum.

I am reminded of a study I once did on feminism and pornography. There are two basic camps (in reality, there are far more). One side argues that women are being turned into commodities against their will in a fashion very akin to slavery. The other side says women have learned to use their sexuality as a commodity that they can then use to make slaves of consumers. In other words, these two camps see the power of the gaze in very different ways. One believes that the gazer holds more power, while the other believes that the subject of the gaze is the more powerful of the two.