Visual Rhetoric

“Rueful Reluctance:” An Unwitting Cat Owner’s Search for Meaning Among Memes

The Austin Zen Center's Garden as a Model for Austin


(Image Credit: Jay Voss)

Nothing sums up the best of Austin’s landscape gardening tastes like the garden at the Austin Zen Center. Located on West 31st Street between Guadalupe and Lamar, the Austin Zen Center’s garden is impressive any time of year. Every plant in the garden is native. The vegetation in the garden never, ever receives sprinkler water. The entire growing space is focused around a gorgeous old live oak tree, like a dry landscape garden is focused around a sizable boulder. It’s only when you look at the Austin Zen Center’s garden twice that you notice the massive live oak isn’t centered on the acreage – that it seems to do so is only an illusion. Everything in the garden is clean, pure, and honest, and a steadfast commitment to these virtues on the part of those who care for the landscape has the effect of producing a space that is harmonious and seemingly balanced.

Beyonce's ***Flawless Feminism

Beyonce confronting the camera in video

Image Credit: Screenshot from "***Flawless" video

I’m so glad to be back on viz again after some time away, especially as having to write posts again gives me the chance to discuss Beyoncé Knowles’s newest record, Beyoncé, which was released without any press or preview in late December as a “visual album.” The album has 14 songs and 17 videos included in it. While critics had things to say about Jay-Z’s verse on “Drunk in Love” and the remixed audio from the 1986 Challenger disaster in “XO,” the most noticeable song was “***Flawless,” which features an excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on feminism. Paste Magazine’s review of the album noted the album’s feminist thematics, which others have discussed as well. Since I’d like to add to this conversation about Beyoncé’s feminism, I thought I’d take up how Beyoncé’s visuals, especially in “***Flawless,” depict those concerns.

Documentation of Loss – Observing Failure in the Modern Olympics

Shin A. Lam, olympic fencer from S. Korea, cries in the arena after a loss to her opponent.

Olympic fencer Shin A-Lam of South Korea remains in the arena to contest an unfavorable ruling without the expected stoicism.  Image credit: Korea Bang

What does it mean to document loss?  What is its rhetorical function?  Rhetoric of Celebrity student Iva Kinnaird assembles an archive of defeat from several Olympic games, tracing the intersections of celebrity and sportsmanship.  The documentation of loss, she asserts, commodifies defeat and makes it available for public consumption.  The result is a strange rhetorical landscape where the lines between winning and losing become less easy to determine.

Rhetorical Collusion

Image Credit: Screencapture of graph created by the Collusion for Mozilla add-in.

I'd speculate that every instructor is familiar with the feeling that comes with anticipation and apprehension battling each other out before the first day of the semester.  Maybe I'm just too easily flustered, but the prospect of standing up in front of a group of heretofore-unknown students, while pretending to be the infallible instructor of heretofore-unknown material always rattles my cage a bit.

Remediation, New Media, and “Lorem Ipsum" as Censorship of Transparency

A screenshot of a command prompt window running a script that produces "lorem ipsum" text.

Image Credit: Per Erik Strandberg

“Lorem ipsum” has been recognized by publishers and graphic designers throughout the 20th century as the industry standard text by which to mock up text layout, thanks to a small UK company called Letraset, which mass-manufactured dry transferrable lettering from the 1960s to the 1990s.  With the advent of digital media and desktop publishing, the first two words of the ubiquitous sequence have become recognizable to the population at large.  It appears in markup templates almost universally across publishing platforms.  Templates in word processing, presentation software, and web design all bear the mark of their print forbearers. Thus, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, a scrambled copy of an excerpt from Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (“of the ends of good and evil”) has entered into popular discourse as a recognizable placeholder, as Wikipedia says, “used to demonstrate the graphics elements of a document or visual presentation…by removing the distraction of meaningful content.”

This post would like to explore lorem ipsum as an ideological concept in both print and digital media.  In part, this exploration will question what it means to view text itself as visual rhetoric.  How can text draw attention to or defer attention from itself as a visual object?  How can conventions of representation make text, like lorem ipsum, disappear?  Might we view such disappearance as a sort of censorship?  If so, how can we describe the internal logic of such censorship as an ideological trend in the digital age?

Visualizing the War on Christmas: Acknowledging the Pre-Christian Origins of Winter Festival Imagery

Fox news website screen shot with frame of Bill O'Reilly on camera with guest discussing the War On Christmas

Image Credit: Fox News

Every holiday season conservative political activists trying to maintain Christian supremacy in the United States bemoan an alleged "War On Christmas." According to their conspiracy theories, evil secularlists lurk behind every corner, ready to pounce on any expression of the Christian Christmas tradition. For the activists, store employees who wish customers a "happy holiday" are not trying to be inclusive. Rather, these cheerless corporate-mandated greetings serve as another boot of tyranny standing on the neck of American Christendom.

We Have Sold The Future: The Uses of Future Hopes and Fears in Petroleum Industry Advertising

Small photo of traffic-clogged streets contrasted with sketch of futuristic city with cars travelling efficiently on roads

Image Credit: Shell

The future of Norman Bel Geddes' Futurama is optimistic. Clean architecture and efficient technology aid people as they move through the business of their day. As promised in a series of 1937 Shell advertisements in Life magazine using the words of Bel Geddes, the city of tomorrow will alleviate many commuting frustrations. Until that city emerges, however, the ads offer Shell gasoline as a way to save money and reduce wear and tear on car engines while stuck in stop-and-go traffic. This use of a hopeful future contrasts with the darker tomorrows that lurk behind many of today's petroleum advertisements, drawing attention to the double-edged sword of appeals to the future.

Negotiating Modesty: Reading Mormon Fashion Blogs as Visual Rhetoric

Elaine of Clothed Much models skinny jeans and a form-fitting sweater.

Image Source: Clothed Much

Fashion blogs have proliferated the internet since its inception; the rhetoric of the genre is as multifaceted as its participants, most of whom are women.  Daily fashion blogging, in which the blogger takes regular photos of the outfit she assembles each morning, is a popular iteration of the genre.  Obviously much of the blogger’s value systems is exhibited through the personal ethos she cultivates on these blogs; the way the blogger frames the narrative of the outfit in terms of its relationship to her day-to-day activities reveals much about these value systems, as well.  An interesting subculture has received a substantial amount of attention in the fashion blogging community recently, and that is modesty blogging.  All the modesty blogs I’ve come across are motivated by religious restriction; the vast majority of these base their definitions of modest clothing upon the tenets of the Mormon church.  Of course, the situated ethos of modesty blogging must negotiate an inherent contradiction between two competing definitions of modest: the function of modest dress as a physical representation of religious belief and the concept of modesty as the quality of being unassuming, scrupulous, and free from presumption.  What does it mean to take pride in modest dress, to wear it as a badge of individualism and difference?  And how can we read these modesty blogs in terms of visual culture?  Join me as I take you on a journey into another strange corner of the internet: Mormon fashion blogging.

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