Review: Food, Inc.

Movie Poster for Food, Inc.This weekend, partly out of personal interest and partly in relation to a project I'm working on for the CWRL, I saw the new documentary Food, Inc. What follows is a brief "review" of the film (in other words, my scattered response to it) and some ideas for incorporating the film in the classroom (I assume it will be released on DVD sometime in the fall). I won't be discussing the visual rhetoric of the film in depth, but will instead focus on the film as the visual presentation of an argument about food.

The opening credits of Food, Inc. present viewers with a tour of the modern American supermarket and the cornucopia of brightly colored packages filling it. The audience is later informed by voiceover narration that this supermarket contains somewhere around 47,000 products. In one of the film's more sardonic moments, we are also informed that an astonishingly high number of these products are made with elements derived from a single ingredient: corn. This arc covered by the film, from the universal supermarket to the particular kernel, establishes its intention of uncovering the origins of the American food supply. Food, Inc. tells the story of industrial agriculture for an audience that, it presumes, is largely unfamiliar with where (or what), exactly, its next meal is coming from.

The United states of Nations: a juxtapositional reading

James Richards's Map of the US

Image credit: James Richards, via Strange Maps

The dark corners of the intertubes are populated by weirdly animated detritus. In one particular corner I found Strange Maps, an intellectual terra incognita. Here is one map from the site, in which map-author and vexillologist James Richards has filled in United States states with the flags of other nations with populations equal to that of the correlate United States state. What is the point of such a map? It takes us nowhere. It is trivia, contrived comparison, meaningless. Indeed.

This *is* an odd land, and there is perhaps no better way to understand, as a stranger in a strange land, the strangeness than that quintessentially American experience and myth, the road trip. "Buy the ticket, take the ride," someone screams in Jack's ear as he discreetly tries to fill in his fantasy baseball roster.

In the Lonestar People's Republic of North Texorea . . . imagine it . . .

The high plains meth labs have been bulldozed. Justice remains swift. And decisive. The governor's call to secession has been fulfilled. President Rick Perry, in his paramilitary uniform of high commander, sings along to the Lonestar Republic's national anthem and reviews the People's Army, parading forth from Camp Mabry and into the Austin city streets. "Keep Austin Weird," the buzz-cut forces shout in unison as they pass the review stand. The death penalty endures, but the process has been expedited. The workaday Texicans have traded in their Pearl for Pulrosul (an alcoholic concoction bottled with a dead adder inside), and good ol' boys, no longer satisfied with whiskey and rye, swill the juice of the alcohol addled adders, and later bite their heads off. The mezcal worm has turned, into a snake. Our trip begins just out of reach of the center of State power in Austin, on Interstate 35. We drive north. "Keep the Weird in Austin."

White (art)House

Painting by Ed Ruscha titled I Think I'll

Image credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., via the WSJ

News that the Obamas have been updating the art displayed in the White House has prompted stories in both old and new media outlets (click through to see a list of sources). Eschewing the more traditional nineteenth-century landscape and portraiture usually typical of White House decor, the Obamas have chosen to highlight colorful, abstract, contemporary works by American artists of diverse backgrounds. (As the original WSJ article on this subject notes, the permanent White House art collection includes over 450 works but only five by African-Americans.) These works include the Ed Rushca painting "I Think I'll" from 1983 (from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art).


Digitial Immersion

Peter Greenaway's The Wedding at Cana

Image credit: Peter Greenaway, in the NYT

Students of art, art history, and digital media environments will not want to miss this NYT review of an art installation by Peter Greenaway for the Venice Biennale. Greenaway's project centers around--recreates? or remixes?--Veronese's 1562 painting "The Wedding at Cana" (reproduced after the jump). Using a variety of new media techniques, Greenaway re-presents the image, and his interpretation of it, to his audience. The reviewer concludes with an argument about the best possibilities of new media technology to enhance perception:

To a certain extent all the digital manipulation works its own temporary miracles. Even the inane conversation begins to resemble things that might have floated through Veronese's mind as he determined his figures' attire, body language and facial expression. And instead of the usual art-history-lecture spoon-feeding of information, you have the illusion of seeing and thinking for yourself with heightened powers. The next stop should be the Louvre and the real thing.

If any of viz.'s readers are lucky enough to see it for themselves, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Hat tip to new media, and a colleague: first spotted at John Jones's Twitter feed

Digitizing Revolution

Iranian Election Protest From Above

Image credit: mousavi1388 on Flickr

I wanted to call this post "The Revolution will be Twittered," but Andrew Sullivan (whose coverage of the Iranian protests has been ongoing) beat me to it. But we could also have gone with "The Revolution will be liveblogged, YouTubed, or Flickred." Here in the states, the development of events in Iran has been accompanied by a critique of the (at least initial) lack of coverage on cable news and the widespread reliance on new media technology to cover the events of the protests. In this case, it's hard to ignore the power/potential of these technologies in getting information out of a country that has tried to close its digital borders by shutting down Internet access and intensifying restrictions against foreign media correspondents.

Gays in Advertising

Hat tip to Seth Stevenson at's "Ad Report Card" for first calling my attention to this ad; I haven't actually seen it on TV:

Stevenson wonders (with others) if the ad depicts a gay couple; Progressive says it wasn't intended to, but when people started to ask questions, Stevenson notes, they began running the ad on LOGO, the cable channel aimed at LGBTQ audiences. My thoughts after the jump.

Updates to Theory and Assignments

There's a new page in our theory section on graphic design. It gives a brief overview of the history and elements of graphic design theory, which is basically a practical application of theories of visual rhetoric. Supplemental to this article is a new unit-length argumentative assignment that uses Adobe InDesign, a computer-based publishing tool, to create publishable proposal documents.

Type Directors Club

After putting together my own rudimentary bibliography on graphic design, an old acquaintance posted a link on Facebook to this bibliography of around 50 books on typography at the Type Directors Club.

The Type Directors Club

Plenty of summer reading.

Digital Manipulation and the Ethics of Representation

An article this week on Stinky Journalism, Danielle Mastropiero's "Photoshopped Images Booted from Press Photo Contest," calls to mind a couple of other similar incidents in recent memory: first, Adnan Hajj's laughably bad Photoshop manipulations of smoke plumes over Beirut during Israel's summer '06 bombing campaign; and second, Iran's equally laughable manipulation of publicity photos from their summer '08 test missile test launch.

Retouched and Un-Retouched photos of Haiti
Image source: Stinky

Click on 'voteringen' in the menu of this Flash-animated comparison of Christensen's submitted photographs, their RAW files, and the Photoshop auto-corrections.

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