Mad Men, AMC’s show about the advertising industry in the early sixties, returns for its second season this Sunday. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s a fascinating look into the way in which products are packaged and sold to consumers, as well as the racist, sexist advertising culture of the time.
The recent New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama in radical drag, as it were, hasn't been discussed here on viz. It deserves a mention, since the nature and definition of satire has been discussed on the site before.
In my opinion, it fails utterly as satire. First of all, anytime anything requires extensive explanation AS SATIRE, it probably isn't the most adept or polished attempt. This week's New York Times "Week in Review" piece, written by Lee Siegel, agrees. In it, Siegel concludes that "By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon."
I agree, and not because I think the Obamas are off-limits as targets for satire, or that they themselves think they are off-limits (a conclusion I've heard on cable news from some on the "lunatic fringe" Siegel mentions). To me, the so-called satire of the piece fails because, rather than seeming to satirize the intellectual laziness, the total divorce from reality, required to hold the views depicted here, it seems to satirize the Obamas themselves for producing those views, instead of those who maintain and perpetuate them. The message is confused, the execution, confusing. Grade: F.
So many writing and rhetoric assignments require students to write proposal arguments responding to issues in their schools or communities. While instructors often imagine that these arguments will end up being published somewhere where they will actually have an impact on the community in question, in my experience this rarely happens. For whatever reason, students rarely take the time to polish and submit their work; to get them to take this step, instructors often have to make submission a course requirement, which is an iffy pedagogical move.
I said all that to say this: I wonder if a project like this one outlining the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in a flowchart might be a better means of achieving the goal of civic engagement that the proposal argument is supposed to fulfill. Perhaps the problem with proposal arguments in that they often feel artificial. Students have to dream up a project which they may or may not care about, and then translate that project for publication, a time-consuming task that requires a lot of interest on the part of the author. Consider this alternative: taking a difficult idea or concept and explaining it more clearly in another medium. The project’s usefulness—both on its own and as a skill that will be helpful to students outside the classroom—explains itself, and it can be published immediately online. I’m currently preparing for my fall Computers and Writing course, and I’m seriously considering having my students do something like this for a major assignment.
Commentator (old style). Ideal pose requires baleful gaze at reader as if he/she personally responsible for politico-moral decay. Examples: Peter Hitchens, Sin Simon, any Daily Mail curmudgeon. Pro: Suggests man so nauseated by state of nation he is barely able to stop himself vomiting. Con: Role of male Cassandra hard to sustain—risk of disillusioning readers if seen giggling tipsily in local pub.
Commentator (new style). Prettification reaches the comment zone, with political penseurs portrayed with a nascent, ambiguous smile. Examples: Simon Heffer, Simon Jenkins, Andrew Rawnsley. Pro: Embodying nation’s agony under socialism/ Thatcherism/Blairism full-time no longer required. Con: Followers from grumpy days likely to ask, “What's he got to smirk about? Country's going to the dogs!”
You can find the whole list here. (Unfortunately, there are no example photos.)
Here’s a nice description of the growing importance of the headshot in social media applications from the Slate article where I found the link.
Remember for a moment how much attention people used to lavish on the perfect quote for their e-mail signature. Now that self-conscious energy is applied to a photo. There's nothing inherently bad about the rise of Web head shots. They just turn what was once a space for burgeoning Cyrano de Begeracs into a space for burgeoning Brad Pitts. Read the stark conclusion of a 2000 meta-analysis of beauty studies that tried, in a careful way, to discover whether beauty really was in the eye of the beholder:
The effects of facial attractiveness are robust and pandemic, extending beyond initial impressions of strangers to actual interactions with those whom people know and observe. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, there is strong agreement both within and across cultures about who is and who is not attractive. Furthermore, attractiveness is a significant advantage for both children and adults in almost every domain of judgement, treatment, and behavior we examined.
In other words, this analysis confirms the elegant Montaigne observation that it quotes: “[Beauty] holds the first place in human relations; it presents itself before the rest, seduces and prepossesses our judgement with great authority and wondrous impression.”
I’m not sure how this video was made, but it is really amazing to look at.
As rhetoric instructors spend more and more time teaching new media like video, I think this genre—the instructional video—will become an important skill for students in their own fields.
Here’s a description of the video:
The secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic ever-changing geometries. All action takes place around NASA's Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries. Actual VLF audio recordings control the evolution of the fields as they delve into our inaudible surroundings, revealing recurrent ‘whistlers' produced by fleeting electrons. Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, the universe in flux, or a documentary of a fictional world?
The distinctive visual style of the Obama campaign has prompted a number of visual responses, as critics have appropriated this style in order to challenge the Senator’s policies and behaviors.
Below I’ve posted some examples of images that are critical of Obama, yet derived from campaign posters. I’ve placed some original Obama posters to the left of the copies for comparison purposes. You can click on individual posters for linkbacks to the sources where I found them.
Recently, a number of Obama supporters have become disenchanted with his change of heart on the FISA legislation, particularly the way in which this move makes the senator’s rhetoric about hope and change appear to be mere political calculation.
The poster on the right is a reference to what critics have described as Obama’s “elitism.”
This interesting poster criticizes the Obama campaign for using a poster style associated with revolutionaries like Che Guevara.
Finally, this poster criticizes the rhetoric of the campaign, insinuating that it is built on buzzwords and lacks ideas.
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ULI: Journal of Visual Arts and Culture has issued a CFP for its inaugural issue. Here’s a description of the journal:
The publication aims to critique and document contemporary developments in the visual arts and culture of Nigeria, Africa and the world. It shall open up and sustain debate on issues in Nigerian and international art as a way of contributing to art scholarship and professionalism in the so-called Third World.