visual analysis

Reaction Shots and Reader Response at the Purple Wedding

Image of Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones, choking, with text overlaid: 'Those shoes, with that dress?'

Image Credit: Cyndicyanide

[Note: Spoilers below the cut.]

As a Game of Thrones fan, I was pretty excited to watch this last week’s episode. It’d been a while since I’d watched, and the wedding of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell gathered together many of the show’s beloved characters.

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.

Commodity Conrad

Penguin Classics Cover of Heart of Darkness

Image Credit: Phil Hale

As an avid and generous reader of Joseph Conrad, I don't like Phil Hale's cover art for the most recent Penguin Classic releases. It's not the artist either. Hale can credit to his name some wonderful portraits and figures. No, the problem is that Hale took too much for his own that ubiquitous but injurious reading of Conrad, which became prevalent pretty much from day one: namely that Conrad is a DIFFICULT author (woe to the author who wins that terrible epithet!), and this predominantly because Conrad's prose, like Hale's writhing, headless corpse-like figures, is TORTURED. A few of the more famous modernists said some very dismissive things along these lines about Conrad, and it is our misfortune to have inherited their anxiety of influence as authoritative judgment. But Conrad's prose is compelling, immediate and alive! Yes, it's true and I state it with certainty. Conrad is not difficult, he is rewarding. Kipling said reading him is like reading a great author in a first-rate translation: that is to say, you get two arts for the price of one. But Hale's covers can turn off even me from reading one of my favorite authors, such a forbidding, cold, and painful experience do they promise. Cold War Conrad fared much better than his postmodern iteration, so far as book covers are concerned. And the original editions achieved an attractiveness which has never been matched. I'll show you. Come along.

Reading Religious Monuments

black and white drawing of Latin Cross

Image Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

The religious meaning associated with the above symbol seems hard to miss. Different denominations may favor different variations, but the Latin cross is inextricably associated with Christianity. Yet, in the context of legal arguments over the separation of church and state, some suggest that the cross conveys a meaning other than an identification with the Christian religion. Oddly enough, these arguments for a non-Christian Christian cross often come from those deeply invested in preserving the presence of crosses and other ostensibly religious symbols on government property.

The Composition of Popular Romance: Gone with the Wind's Storyboards

Storyboards from the fire sequence in the movie Gone with the Wind, as displayed on the Harry Ransom Center's windows

Image Credit: Rachel Schneider

After a crash of cymbals, the bright brass instruments build to a climax until the violins enter: so begins “Tara’s Theme” from Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 Pulitzer-prize winning novel was a legitimate phenomenon before the movie, but the 1939 film is an artistic achievement on its own merits. Gone with the Wind was one of the first movies chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry in part because of its rich history. Gone with the Wind not only holds the record for the highest box office ever (when adjusted for inflation), but also held the rest for most Academy Awards (10) until 1960. Numerous books and documentaries recount the tangled history of the film’s production, which was plagued with cast battles, multiple directors, expensive delays, screenplay revisions, and a battle with the Hays Office to preserve an infamous final line. Much of the material for this work comes from the Harry Ransom Center’s extensive David O. Selznick Collection, which contains not only the producer’s numerous papers but also various production materials from his films.

Unmarking Death

Debra Estes, from Stephen Chalmers's Unmarked series

Image Credit: Stephen Chalmers

H/T: Lauren Gantz

Death is often in the news, whether it involves major singers, local Austin celebrities, or Twitter death hoaxes.  Yet when we visualize death, it’s typically in memorials, not actual pictures of dead bodies.  We’ve come some ways from the Victorian memento mori photographs which attempted to render the corpse vital and to serve, as Jamie Fraser notes, “as a keepsake to remember the deceased.”  While traditional burial practices, which use embalming fluids to delay putrefaction and decomposition, likewise make the corpse appear as lifelike as possible, most people don’t make hair rings or take pictures of the dead to remember them.  In this way, we remember the dead as not dead—as lively.  In his photography series Unmarked, Stephen Chalmers presents an alternative way to represent death.

#IWillAlwaysLoveYou: Whitney Houston and Rhetorics of Tribute

Whitney Houston in her video for "I Will Always Love You"

Image Credit: Screenshot from YouTube

By this point most people—at least the ones reading blogs or The New York Times—have heard about Whitney Houston’s death last Saturday. As it so happened, Houston passed away the night before the Grammys, turning that celebration into a kairoitic moment of mourning. Singer LL Cool J opened the Grammys with a prayer for Whitney and Jennifer Hudson performed her most famous hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Since then, LeAnn Rimes and the television show Glee have offered performances of this song in tribute to Whitney. Likewise, her family is allowing her funeral to be streamed on the Internet. I’d like here to consider further the function of these institutionalized tributes. How can (or should) we remember the dead?

Mowgli's Brothers: The Jungle Books, Wild Children, and the Twentieth Century

Alexander Korda, The Jungle Book, 1942 

Image:screenshot from

              “The first thing I want you to do,” Walt Disney is reported to have said to lead scriptwriter Larry Clemons upon giving him a copy of The Jungle Book, “is not read it.”  Indeed.  Not reading The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of moral fables about Mowgli’s childhood among the animals and re-entry into human civilization, is a bit of a cottage industry.  As one of the western world’s most famous feral children (alongside fellow turn-of-the-century literary peers Peter Pan and Tarzan), Mowgli has long been public property.    But in the hundred-odd years since Mowgli, Baloo the Bear, and Shere Khan first entered our collective unconscious, the Jungle Books have embarked on their own odyssey that takes in everything from Imperialist allegory, Edwardian paramilitary organizations to Soviet science fiction and contemporary eco-criticism.  And that’s just “The Bare Necessities.”  All told, Mowgli’s adventures have taken him places Kipling—for all his fertile imagination—would never have dreamed, forming a kind of secret history of the twentieth century.  In what follows, I try to quickly unpack some of that history through various images of Mowgli and The Jungle Book.

Charles Dickens, Graphic Novelist: Adapting Great Expectations

Original cover art for Illustrated Classics Acclaim Edition by Chuck Wojtkiewicz


Quick—how do you sell kids on a hundred-and-fifty-year old novel that’s about (among other things) a middle-aged man’s pained reflections on class identity and snobbery, confrontational gender politics, and criminal law reform?   If you answered, “Why, turn it into a comic book, of course,” congratulations—you may go to the head of the class.  Great Expectations seems the most unlikely of Dickens’s novels to create in comic book form—in fact, it’s one of only two novels Dickens did not commission illustrations for, suggesting that even the Inimitable was skeptical of its visual appeal (Hard Times is the other).  Yet comic book versions of the text have flourished since the 1940’s.  To join in the early celebrations of Charles Dickens’s bicentennial (and in honor of yet another film adaptation), this week I’d like to discuss some images in the book’s transformation from adult novel to children’s text.

YouTube & Fair Use

Recently, one of my YouTube videos was automatically removed for "copyright violations." I decided to take a closer look into YouTube's policies and found they may be dissuading users from exercising their Fair Use rights. 

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