I thought I’d pick up this week where I left off in my last post on place and contemporary literature. I was catching up on the news this morning on The Guardian and, several clicks later, I found myself on their Environment page. Two large photos of bright blue ice met me there, one with the headline “Arctic sea ice delusions.” Images of the arctic, especially the dwindling arctic, confront me constantly. I’ve never been above the tree line, though I did live in Vermont for a few lengthy winters, and yet I have a detailed visual construct of its terrain in my head.
Because, like me, most people will never visit the arctic, the imagined version is our only access to it, making representations of it in media and literature that much more powerful. At times I wonder how this visual emphasis on the arctic landscape—ice melt being a key factor in global climate change—affects a person’s understanding of the environment and relationship to place. When a picture like this comes up on one’s news feed, does anyone else have the same, problematic gut reaction that I have? That arctic sea melt is really kind of beautiful? What does it mean to aestheticize environmental degradation? Perhaps it’s something akin to ruin porn, like the photos that have come out of Detroit in recent years.
Submitted by Sarah G. Sussman on Wed, 2013-09-11 13:39
In November 2011 student protestors at UC Davis were holding a peaceful demonstration on their campus when former Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed them at close range. In the days that followed, my Facebook newsfeed became a log of collective outrage. One day, an image of former Lt. John Pike Photoshopped into Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” appeared, and the “Casual Pepper Spray Everything Cop" meme was born.
Image Credit: Knowyourmeme.com
Reactions to the meme were varied. Some, like a friend of mine who is a UC Davis alum, worried the humor would become detached from the message of the protest. After all, in the world of internet memes detachment is somewhat of a governing principle. Even databases like knowyourmeme.com refer to the UC Davis Cop as “Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop” -- emphasizing the disjuncture of his body language with his actions in a nonspecific time and place, over his place in UC Davis’s institutional history, and in the history of the Occupy movement. I would argue that some subjects seem riper for meme-making than others because their engagement with their surroundings already suggests the kind of disconnect between an individual and his or her environment that we usually associate with the chaotic and Photoshopped world of the Internet.
In the wake of the menstrual pad confiscation outside the Texas senate gallery, protesters made some highly creative and intentionally jarring visual statements using, primarily, unwrapped tampons. Sanitary napkin accessories, as far as I know, haven't made a big nationwide appearance yet, but the compactness of tampons, coupled with the built-in string, makes it a relatively easy object to manipulate in craftsy projects. I noticed some bold souls stringing them together to make impromptu necklaces at the state capitol the day of the outrage, but the country tuned in when Melissa Harris-Perry daringly donned some tampon earrings on her MSNBC Sunday show. You can see a brief video capturing her demonstration here.
Oh hi, viz. readers. I’m Jenn Shapland, a new contributor to the blog. I thought I'd introduce myself by showing you a Google map I made this summer.
It’s a visualization of my field exam reading list. For the last year, I’ve been compiling a list of fiction and nonfiction titles on Contemporary Literature of Place and Environment. My process for developing the list was pretty haphazard at first—I asked just about everyone I knew for suggestions, I Googled like a madwoman, I stood for hours in front of my own bookshelves and BookPeople's, making stacks of possible titles. I started to shelve the books around my house according to geographic region. But, for obvious reasons, it wasn’t long before I realized that I needed a way to see the list in front of me without tripping over it.
Submitted by Sarah G. Sussman on Wed, 2013-09-04 15:04
Dawkins playing a midi breath controller in Saatchi video. Image Credit: Saatchi.com
This will be the first post in a three-part series in which I will explore the relationship between memes and civic discourse.
What is an internet meme? Though most young people can instantly recognize a picture of Philosoraptor, Feminist Ryan Gosling, or a Lolcat, few know the history of this ubiquitous term. Nevertheless, show a room full of undergraduates an image of Nyan Cat, and you'll immediately elicit laughter and a sense of camaraderie. In that moment of laughter, however, it seems worth asking: what exactly is bringing consumers of memes together? From UC Davis’s “Pepper Spray Cop Meme,” to China’s “Big Yellow Duck” meme, how are memes shaping their viewer’s and creator’s understanding of activism and history? Is a comical form treated with such levity an effective means of communicating about more serious matters?
On July 12, 2013, I was standing in a long, winding line inside the Texas state capitol. For hours I had been chatting with the amazing men and women around me, sharing stories, sharing space, and, quite frankly, sharing boredom as we patiently inched towards the Senate gallery, hoping to secure a seat as the Texas senate debated and voted on a bill proposing abortion restrictions. Visually speaking, I was bombarded. Abortion rights activists wore saturated or burnt orange while anti-choice protestors wore various shades of blue. Images and slogans splayed across signs and t-shirts caught my eye, inevitably drawing up visceral responses that, more often than not, ended in my grabbing my partner's elbow and chattering excitedly into a long-suffering ear. Protests have such an amazing, indescribable energy about them, and that day I became convinced that a large amount of the electricity in the air depended on the spectacle created by individuals proud to display their thoughts and feelings literally on their sleeves.
In keeping with *viz’s longterm goals of highlighting visuals at the intersection of rhetoric, writing, and technology, this post presents one view of the history of feminism through the lens of makeup blogging. This posts embodies a primary pedagogical and scholarly goal of mine: expressing the content of high theory in the language of popular culture. But while this exercise may serve to dispel certain overarching notions about the nature and history of feminism, it cannot avoid creating its own narrative of feminist movements. I encourage the reader to encounter the history below as one way, rather than the correct way, of approaching the history of feminism movements in the modern Western world.
Celebrity fashion is a no-holds-barred spectators’ sport, and, like the fashion industry itself, it features and targets women as its primary audience. Free Thought blogger Greta Christina described the language of fashion succinctly in her recent post “Fashion is a Feminist Issue”, arguing that if we interpret fashion as a “language of sorts…an art form, even,” we can begin to view fashion as “one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.” But, she continues, “it’s [no] accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain. It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.”
This post seeks to read the rhetoric of celebrity fashion coverage in light of remarks like those of Greta Christina. How can we read celebrity fashion as an arena that in principle grants women more freedom than men, but in practice consistently limits the freedom of both men and women to express themselves? How do the voyeuristic, hypercritical impulses of celebrity media intersect and inform the world of fashion, particularly women’s fashion? I take as my case study here the much-photographed couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, sometimes known as a couple by their nickname “Kimye.”
You must be thinking, "Gosh, that's marvelous! What is it?" Well, I'll give you some hints about what it's not. It's not a computer-generated image (so you can rule out "digital vat of candy for a Willy Wonka film"). And it wasn't captured by NASA on a trip to Neptune. If you guessed geode, then you're getting warmer, but you're still way off in terms of scale. Perhaps it looks to you like a place where a leprechaun might stash his gold? Well, strangely, that guess may be closest of all.
It turns out this absolutely mesmerizing photograph by David Maisel is an aerial view of a toxic manmade pond in Carlin Trend, Nevada, "the most prolific gold mining district in the Western Hemisphere" according to Maisel's website. The disorienting quality of the photo is a hallmark of Maisel's environmental photography, which explores the visually haunting, otherworldly transformations humans inflict on the Earth's surface. For decades, Maisel has been flying over and photographing sites of environmental wreckage, like the scored and chemically soaked basins of America's pit mines or the wasted lakebeds that once supplied Los Angeles with water. Beyond increasing awareness about these environmental disasters, Maisel's photographs enact a terrifying tug-of-war between ethics and aesthetics. As viewers experience and take pleasure in their sublime beauty, they are forced into the uncomfortable knowledge that these environmentally ruinous conditions have an irresistably attractive dimension.
I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to view a trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby adaptation yet, but I think I’ll see the film. This comment says nothing about my expectations for the film’s critical success, but rather reflects what a visual feast this production is sure to be. From what I can tell, the movie attempts to marry a 1920s aesthetic with the sorts of gratuitous celebrations I remember last seeing 1990s rap music videos. The parties in the Great Gatsby film, as you can glimpse above, seem to be indulgent and overly choreographed affairs. At times the frame rate even appears to slow down a bit (like the polo shot in the trailer above), and I think this is meant to give viewers an opportunity to take it all in. I remember first seeing this technique in rap music videos, when the director would give us a slow-motion pan shot of an eclectic street party. It’ll be interesting to see how successful Luhrmann’s marriage of this 1990s aesthetic is when added to the necessary narrative components of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. One of my reservations is that there’s a way in which the novel is anxious about gratuitous wealth, especially about the ways wealth can potentially corrode moral fiber, and idealizing such parties seems out of step. My other reservation is that, judging from the trailers alone, the movie looks like a 2010s fashion catalogue.