Protecting Marriage

Two of Us

Image Credit: Screen Shot from Pandora

While listening to Pandora the other day, an advertisement interrupted my music.  This advertisement told me that my life would be happier and more successful if I commit myself to a monogamous relationship.  The advertiser was a website called which is sponsored by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) and provides resources for individuals and for Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI) grantees.  After a little digging around, I found that the Healthy Marriage Initiative was created in 1996 with the injunction to preserve the institution of marriage because “marriage is the foundation of a successful society.”  Hearing this advertisment led me to consider how the traditionally conservative pro-marriage position becomes increasingly complicated, on both the left and the right, in the context of same-sex marriage debates.  Would the creators of this ad feel they had succeeded if I was now persuaded to marry my same-sex partner?  Does pro-marriage mean the same thing that it did to the creator's of the Healthy Marriage Initiative in 1996?

Plastics Pollution and the Death of Albatrosses


Image Credit: Chris Jordan with MidwayJourney

H/T Enviro Smith (Enviroart on Twitter)


This video was filmed as part of a project called MidwayJourney, which is documenting the ecological problems of Midway Atoll in the North Pacific.  Five artists, headed by multi-media artist Chris Jordan, have stationed themselves on this string of three islands to document the death of albatrosses, who mistake plastic for food and become filled with the plastic waste.  The birds eventually die of starvation.  Photographed by Jordan and his colleagues, the decaying bodies of the albatrosses dramatically reveal the culprit of this environmental disaster:  the collection of plastics with a macabre combination of feather, weathering flesh, beak, and delicate bone.

Some Enchanted Image

Right now in my class we’re preparing to turn in the first draft of the second paper assignment, which is a comparative rhetorical analysis between two productions of the same musical where I’d like my students to talk about the different rhetorical arguments made by each production using sets, costumes, and performance, as well as changed scripts.  In order to alleviate student concerns, I’ve set myself the task to write a sample paper for them.  It’s been an interesting experience for me, and a somewhat difficult one.  For my texts, I’ve chose to compare the original 1949 Broadway production of South Pacific with the 2008 revival.

Image Credit: 

Imaging the Republican Party

screen capture

Screen shot of

This past week the Republican National Committee launched its new websiteand found itself mired in technical difficulties and contending with several scathing reviews.  The website features a blog by chairman Michael Steele and several links to other forms of new social media as part of the GOP's most recent attempt to revamp its image.  I, however, was drawn to two different galleries of photographs featured on the website: the "Patriots: American Heroes and Famous Republicans" page which seems to tell a particular history of the party through the several black and white photographs it features and the "Republican Faces" page which features the personal photographs and testimonials uploaded by visitors to the site.

Cover Art for The New Yorker's 'Money Issue'

Image Credit:  The New Yorker

H/T:  Texas Performing Arts


This video is an interview with Francoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker, speaking about the multi-part cover of the Money Issue from this month, October 12, 2009.  The 3-part cover begins with Dan Clowes, who created the image of a wealthy woman ordering a hamburger, which inspired Zohar Lazar's illustration of the woman carrying the fast food to her chaffeur-driven car, and then, finally, Mark Ulriksen's idea of depicting a poodle being fed the burger.  Ulriksen notes that by his ending image, "You realize that some things never change for certain people." 

Darwin in (Endless) Circulation

Anticipating 2009 as the Year of Darwin,* Olivia Judson offered this suggestion last year: let’s get rid of Darwinism. She criticizes the Darwin-centric focus of both specialist and popular discourse as “grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology.” Judson’s complaint, of course, is nothing new: as a peeved St. John Mivart notes in Man and Apes (1873), “Again, the doctrine of evolution as applied to organic life…is widely spoken of by the term ‘Darwinism.’ Yet this doctrine is far older than Mr. Darwin…”

Merchant's Gargling Oil advertisement

Image Credit: Cartooning Darwin

H/T: Seed Daily Zeitgeist

While preparing to teach this week, I came across a couple of intriguing resources that help to explain how the figure of Charles Darwin entered circulation as a scientific celebrity, an icon of sorts, beginning in the late 19th century. They suggest the active role of popular visual culture in the intertwining of Darwin with evolution, even as the meanings of that term remained multiple, fragmentary, diffuse.

Mapping Relations

Michelle Obama Genealogy

Image Credit: New York Times


Family trees are distinctively antiquated visual representations, yet they remain ubiquitous. In the past week alone, The Boston Herald published a family tree by the New England Historic Genealogical Society showing that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are related and New York Times ran an interactive tree based on the research of genealogist Megan Smolenyak documenting Michelle Obama’s family history.  Both maps include the very familiar hierarchical arrangement of lines and circles or squares.  The Damon-Affleck map cuts right to the chase, foregoing all other strands, and directly linking the actors to William Knowlton Jr. (1615-1655). The First Lady’s genealogy is much more interested in the journey than the destination; each node of the tree has a short description of the family member and links to their genealogical record.  Looking at these two maps, I was led to consider why the family tree endures despite the wealth of technologies available for re-mapping relationships? Why does the old visual arrangement of radiating lines still seem to capture our attention?  And finally, what are we really mapping when we map kinship on a family tree?


Chuck Close: Daguerreotypes and (Re)production


Chuck Close

Image Credit:  Chuck Close

Via Austin Museum of Art

I recently went to the Chuck Close exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art, which gave me a lot to think about. Close is known for the scale of his portraits (think: 9-by-7 foot painting of a face).  He is also known for paintings that make you think you are seeing a photo. As Donald and Christine McQuade explain in Seeing and Writing 3, his style is "photorealism or super-realism, which attempts to recreate in paint the aesthetic and representational experience of photography."   In the recent exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art, Close's scale is not quite so collosal; there are several 8-by-6 foot tapestries, but most of the images are more like 2-by-1 feet (the digital pigment print pictured above), or even 15 very small images, which are 11-by-9 inches.  There are no paintings.

Ethics in the Abortion Debate

Little girl protesting against abortion

Credit:  New York Times

H/T:  Jezebel

I found an interesting article posted on Jezebel today about a New York Times story, with an accompanying video report, about anti-abortion protestors rallying together after the death of an anti-abortion activist, James Pouillon, in Michigan last month.  The article specifically discusses the ethics of using such images within the debate, which is a particularly vexed question.

Photoshop Disasters

Some of you may have seen this story on the Huffington Post about an apology issued by Ralph Lauren for the peculiarly skinny model pictured here:

Super Skinny Ralph Lauren Model

The image was first noted by Photoshop Disasters, one of my favorite blogs about visual culture (other than Viz., of course).  The images collected there are often hilarious and sometimes unintentionally tragic (as this super skinny model indicates).  The blog itself is a terrific read, and a hilarious way to pass a few spare minutes.  What's great about it, however--in addition to its delightfully relentless snark--is how it invites a deeper engagement with images.  In many cases, the tragedy of the poor photoshopping is obvious, in an impossibly thin waist or a terrifyingly elongated neck.  In other cases, you have to look harder and closer to locate the details.  One of the unintended consequences of living in the age of photoshop may be an increase in visual literacy: spotting the falsifications sometimes requires a keen eye for close-reading.

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