I’ve been seeing a growing trend on the internet for the past year or so: sites like Buzzfeed and Bored Panda advertising series like Gabriele Galimberte’s Toy Stories a.k.a. “Children from Around the World with Their Favorite Toys,” or, another popular one, “Families from around the World with a Month’s Worth of Food.” What is the source of our cultural compulsion to view these massive collections of human possessions? Moreover, why do we like to see all of the peoples of every nation juxtaposed alongside one another? Visual Rhetoric is not only the study of individual signs, images, and symbols, but also of the messages that images impart as a collective. In the era of the internet list and the online photo gallery, images are often presented in groups to form a broader thesis. So what exactly is the thesis behind these “People from around the World Holding X” or “Doing Y”?
In looking at these catalogues of humanity writ large, I’m reminded of an exhibit which made its debut long before the era of viral internet photo collections: Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man.
There are some things that even I, in all of my high-minded preachiess, feel squeamish about approaching. The gender studies climate in my field has been influenced by critics who laud the values of embracing “girl culture,” celebrating personal gender choices, and moving away from blaming an insidious patriarchy for indoctrinating women. However, I can't help but notice that social and economic inequality still haunt gender divides, and, politically speaking, it might be responsible to keep harping on glass ceilings and body image issues until everyone acknowledges that sexism, like racism, is still a “thing” in American culture. How does one properly balance these two positions? I struggle with this question constantly. Take the Miss Universe pageant, for example.
Submitted by Jenn Shapland on Thu, 2013-11-07 14:10
Image still from Twin Peaks episode two.
Inspired by Casey's Halloween post on gender in the horror genre, I'm continuing to riff on the same theme; I'll talk about boredom and violence, truck stop killers, and, of course, Laura Palmer.
So I just finished watching Twin Peaks. I'm behind the times in tackling this one, but now the show is up there on my list of favorites. That said, while watching over the past few months, I couldn’t help but notice that the underlying message seems to be: Young Women who display independence and/or sexual curiosity will probably be murdered by a deep woods demon. Laura Palmer is only the first casualty. By the series’ end—no serious spoilers here—we have to wonder what will become of our various other heroines. Audrey Horne, Donna Hayward, Shelly Johnson. And of course there remains the question of questions: How’s Annie?
Image credit: Postcards from America Tumblr, Mikhael Subotzky
On a recent visit to the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition "Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos in the Digital Age” I was inspired by how often Magnum photographers turned their lenses to capture that ever elusive “representative” photo collection of the U.S., as they do in their project “Postcards from America.” The concept behind the project is that a group of acclaimed Magnum photographers work collaboratively. In order to do this, they pile into a van and travel to different cities taking snapshots and uploading them directly to their Tumblr: http://postcardsfromamerica.tumblr.com/.
In 1937, Disney's endearingly helpless Snow White cooked, cleaned and sang her way into the hearts of seven protective men and then slept her way into a happily ever after. Giving due props for the breathtaking animation, Snow White's reliance on heroic male figures to solve all of the naïve princess's problems will naturally prompt eye-rolling from feminists still riding the ripples of wave two. Before unleashing angst and anger at Disney, don't we have to acknowledge that Snow White is surely a far cry from the hardworking grit and psychologically complexity of Tiana, the heroine of Disney's most recent “princess” movie? Even though Tiana has a song sequence that basically accompanies her cleaning up an old mill, she's inspired by her own ambition instead of by the saccharine goodness of her squishy heart. Disney has certainly attempted to respond to cultural shifts in how America understands gender roles and romantic relationships. The question is: have these changes been sufficient?
It might seem funny that an author’s fashion sense would even be a topic of discussion. What does it matter what a writer wears, so long as she writes? And yet, clothes, accessories, and everyday objects give us tangible, direct links to the past and to the people who wore them, used them, and kept them in their homes.
Recently one of my students came to class carrying a large mass of ribbons. With a central bow the size of a large sunflower, and gold and white strands trailing for several feet, it resembled a festive octopus. “I’m making fonts for my design class out of mums,” she explained, as she pulled out a chair for her artwork. The class then conferred the knowledge of the Texas tradition that is mum giving.
At least once a year, my fevered, candy-addle, jumped-up-on-Halloween brain grapples with the compelling notion that the horror genre somehow contains the key to unlock some delightful secrets about our cultural, if not our human, condition. The genre fascinates because its appeal rests on its ability to draw forth all of the emotional and physiological reaction we, as a species, have been conditioned to be very, very wary of. I can understand why romantic comedies command so much cultural popularity, but horror movies? Revulsion, repulsion, terror, horror, disgust...the viewer is bombarded with stimuli that are designed to make you feel as though you should flee as quickly as you possibly can, and yet, riveted we sit, consuming horror with more fervor and delight than we consume popcorn. So how does this genre relate to gender?
Jonas Bendikson's photo, used in many of the Harry Ransom Center's promotional materials for their current exhibit "Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos in the Digital Age," caught my attention even before visiting the galleries. Before seeing it in person, the image reminded me, strange as it is to say, of the 1939 Technicolor version of The Wizard of Oz.
The Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibit “Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age” poses interesting questions about the ambiguity of the photographic medium in our present time, while simultaneously calling into question the status of the photographer as objective.