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If Roland Barthes can wax philosophical about the Italian-ness of a French advertisement for pasta, then it is worth noting how today's bombardment of ads, Facebook photos, Pinterests, Tumblrs and other visual signifiers send the message of what beauty is today, particularly when it comes to young people who may not yet have digested the knowledge that photos no longer automatically signify the truth with the advent of photo editing.
Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest have particularly come under fire for the disturbing trend of thinspiration blogs or thinspo, simple image-based blogs celebrating skinny models, actresses and any other women (they are usually but not always women) who have gone to extremes to craft "the perfect figure." While for some this means diet and exercising, a lot of these blogs encourage eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pair images with linguistic messages encouraging fasting or devoting hours daily to matching the pictured figure. Looking for posts tagged #thinspiration on Tumblr leads to posts like this:
Today I ate, two pieces of white toast with a tiny bit of vegemite. 1small packet of m&m’s (candy bar size?) and 1x maggi chicken 2min noodles and half a glass of OJ.
So much for fasting hey." (from usernamejanjan77)

Life is about CHANGE.
Sometimes it’s PAINFUL.
Sometimes it’s BEAUTIFUL.
But most of the time it’s BOTH.” (from usernameerasingmyweight)

"First day of restricting!
Haven’t had any breakfast yet. I think I am just going to wait for lunch and only eat a few carrots with ranch then! Water, lots of water. " (from username

"I’ve realised that the clean eating plan is extremely hard to follow with the hours I currently work. Instead I think I am going to try be both pro-ana and pro-mia and see what I prefer. Pro ana is better for your body though so I think I will try stick more to that.Half an apple and a glass of icy cold water with a lemon slice before bed.Also just did 120 situps.Goodnight." (from username beverlychillz)
and images like this:
posted by username boyshehan
posted by username boyshehan
posted by username gettingskinnyforlifex
posted by username gettingskinnyforlifex
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from username meandscales
from username meandscales
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There's been some backlash against these blogs by eating disorder awareness advocates. Both Pineterest and Tumblr have declared that they will ban posts that encourage anorexia and bulimia in the future. But as you can see the authors of these kinds of sites don't need to specifically write "look at me I love anorexia!" when they can suggest it through the images they post and the linguistic messages they add. The images and text above merely have to suggest "skinny is beauty" and let the viewers come to their own conclusions on how to emulate that beauty. Research shows women have grown so sensitive to the code that they can read it in personal photos or those of friends; one study of Facebook suggests its users grow more and more dissatisfied with their bodies the longer they spend looking at pictures of their friends, because they inevitably compare themselves.
-Tracy Carlin

I was absent last week and this is my attempt to combine two responses into one longer reflection.

Last spring, I joined my fellow New Yorkers en masse and made the required pilgrimage to the “Savage Beauty” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit, an expansive and meticulously organized collection of the fashion (or fashion art) of Alexander McQueen, became the art show to see that spring, causing crowds to lineup daily outside of the museum at ungodly hours to hope to get a peek at the show.

As an admirer of 'savage' and morbid art and fashion, I thought that I, too, would be swept away by the exhibit that garnered rave reviews from my friends, fashionistas, and art critics alike. The exhibit I saw, however, astounded me with its intense misogyny and glorification of the effects of colonialism – female mannequins stuffed tightly into metal corsets that would break their back if a woman moved incorrectly inside them, exoticized representations of rape in the “Highland Rape” collection, and even forms constrained by impala and elk horns.

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Of course almost all of the pieces, all made for women, also astounded me with their surreal, intimidating beauty, but that was perhaps exactly what I found so insidious about an exhibition praised as revolutionary by so many. Critics widely praised McQueen's tackling of complex subjects, many unique to his often oppressed and victimized Scottish subjects. But there is a thin line, however, between the deconstruction of oppression through art and the exoticization of oppression through women's fashion.

from 'Highland Rape'
from 'Highland Rape'

Why, for example, must McQueen have worked solely with women's fashion? Would he not be in a better position to deconstruct oppressive structures that plague his own milieu? As a white, male fashion designer, McQueen is always in dialogue with Fashion, also the historic domain of white men.

Just as Roland Barthes wrote of the primacy of the photographic image in its almost unparalleled ability to communicate (falsely) objective truth, I would argue that the very fictionalized nature of McQueen's fashion and the museum curators' tableaus function similarly to obscure their often overwhelmingly ideological connotations. Perhaps the 'pictorial turn' that W.J.T. Mitchell describes in his essay “Interdisciplinarity and Visual Culture” is more specifically a pictorial turn within consumerism. In each photograph I've posted of the exhibition, we can see the simultaneous, and for me problematic, deconstruction of both oppressive fashion and of histories of victimhood and at the same time, glorified and exoticized depictions of rape, colonialism, female sexuality (there is only one body type featured, as well), and sadomasochism. Just as we are often blinded by the social influencing the 'objectivity' of photography, so, too, might we be blind to the narrative, cinematic designs that overwhelm us first through their stunning aesthetic.

Savage beauty remains savage; we just choose to focus on the beauty.

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- Jen Feldman

It was a fun read this week with the topic of Visual Culture and mediology, though complete overload in terms of ideas, concepts and interconnectivity. Rogoff’s thoughts covered much ground, spanning how images and cultural components within a given era represent society just as much as society represents culture in various stages/mediapsheres. Like Derrida, I find that his exposure to other social norms allows him to envelope his mind around various expressions and forms of art and visual imagery as a more universal phenomenon - so I decided to use examples from the two cultures that have been a part of my life to illustrate my thoughts. There are so many facets to this topic that I touch briefly and simply on the gender aspect and more specifically on sexuality and the view of females and their bodies/ physical traits in much of today’s political economy based visual media. Needless to say, hyper-sexuality (in all forms of media) is now a given form of product marketing in which the level of enhanced sexual imagery and representation has intensified and is more widely proliferated on multiple platforms of expression.

In the “Shamrock Shake” ads by McDonalds, I find a contrast in visual imagery with the 1983 version being more family-oriented as a reflection of the visual culture of the time and the 2012’s version with both overt expression as well as subtle sexual undertones (and humorous style):



Similarly in the world of pictures, there are issues of identity and perceptions of beauty across cultures. In the examples below, Ashley Judd recently became outraged about media speculation about why her face appeared “puffy” and wrote an op ed in the Huffington Post blasting the paparazzi for speculating to the point of motivating her to react when she has a generally avoidant attitude toward media stories about herself. Compare this to the outrage of Indian Actress Aishwarya Rai on the cover of Elle Magazine, who protested the magazine publishers' lightening of her skin on the cover issue of December 2010. The obsession with portraying a perfect image of beauty (relative to the culture that is being targeted for marketing) and expectations of perfect or attractive features pushes for or reflects a culture where enhancements are deemed run of the mill - sometime taken for granted and other times encouraged.

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Pic of Ashley Judd and pic of Aishwarya Rai on cover of Elle

In the rather clever Adobe Photoshop spoof below, there are a myriad of messages about beauty and enhancing features considered sexually more desirable (and therefore marketed as such). The use of language, illocution, humor (again), exaggeration, sarcasm, pop culture, playfulness mixed with visual images to support subliminal messaging about cultural values signifies the gross obsession with appearance and the vast lengths women are assumed to want to go to in order to look attractive. The humor is a fantastic way of making young girls and women think about the culture of physical perfection that is ridiculous in the pressure and expectations it puts on females. The obsession with such perfection is rampant in every form of media these days and is not limited to a particular country or region. Bollywood scenes such as the one below is a prime example of the use of female beauty to create an escapist form of entertainment in which perfection and exotic physical features are foremost in a mass market, with epic shooting sets that cater to fans whose numbers are literally epic as well (in the hundreds of millions!). Needless to say, there is much money being made off these images with India churning out the world’s most movies per day than any other nation in the world (In 2009, India produced a total of 2961 films on celluloid, that include a staggering figure of 1288 feature films.[3] Indian film industry is multi-lingual and the largest in the world in terms of ticket sales and number of films produced.”)*. These are two examples of mass market imagery that caters to "low" culture, light entertainment in an effort to sell, in the case of India, to a society that needs to escape from poverty and injustice even as the world’s largest democracy.


Joan Fontcuberta y Pere Formiguera 'Fauna', 1989
Joan Fontcuberta y Pere Formiguera 'Fauna', 1989

In his essay, “The Rhetoric of Image”, Roland Barthes expounds upon the ability of photography and images to give connotation of an image a “lustral bath of innocence”, provided by the denotated framework provided. He uses an example of an advertisement for pasta and explains that, “although it is full of ‘symbols’, there nonetheless remains in the photograph, insofar as the literal message is sufficient, a kind of natural being-there of objects.” As the old saying goes, “Seeing is believing”. Vision and truth have always had a complex relationship, but after the “pictorial turn” that Mitchell wrote on, it is clear that this relationship is taking on even more importance. As Debord explained, we are now communicating through images and “spectacle”, and thus, our use of such images hold more weight. Just like “Visual culture is the visual construction of the social, not just the social construction of the visual,” so too do we document truth through images, while images work to create truth. What happens when the images are indeed, fabrications or do not display the full truth? Seeing is believing, but seeing does not equal empirical truth, and in thus, problems arise and questions are asked.

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932)
Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932)
Joan Fontcuberta, Herbarium, 1984
Joan Fontcuberta, Herbarium, 1984

The work of Joan Funcuberta is one that deals directly with our acceptance of all things visual. In the series, “Herbarium”, Fontcuberta created visually appealing yet totally unnatural amalgamations of plant forms, mimicking the style of Carl Blossfeldt. In his series, “Fauna”, Funcuberta created an archive of a German fictional scientist and explorer, which included photographs of flying elephants, giant bats, and weird monkeys, like the one seen above. While they were fantastical, they are presented in scientific manner as well as a historical one, where in the photos are aged and places in a chronological era. He also creates a storyline for the photographs, further problematizing the ideas of truth and narrative, science and fiction. Funtcuberta’s work asking questions about what we take for granted when viewing photographs, especially one’s which are presented in a sterile, scientific manner with a given code for interpretation which already assumes truth. He provokes us to deconstruct how knowledge is both produced and transmitted, possibly hinting at a Rortian, etc. idea of a lack of totalizing and final truths.

Yet, all photographs in one sense or another, hold this assumption of validity, many, including Barthes, would argue. This indexical nature of photographs, where in the are assumed to coincide directly with things existing in the “real world”, is built-in to the concept of a photograph from the outset and is learned at the same moment that a person views a photograph for the first time and realizes that it is not a magical window, but instead a material piece of paper and metal. We must be aware of this “lustral bath of innocence” that is given to all images we see (especially ads, as Barthes is apt to note), or we run the risk of falling prey to tricks.


The invention of photography made a huge impact on traditional realism paintings. It directly made painting style shifted from realism to abstract. This is a typical example of how art has been shaped by technology. However, with the development of digital technology, photograph is far more than a recording tool. It has been used in politics, business, and all kinds of purposes. That is to say, art have changed. In the past, art is pure art. People appreciate art for the superior skill of artists. Today, art has already become a carrier of philosophies ideas. We not only appreciate the skill of artists but also appreciate the design and other denoted meanings. The denoted meaning is the third message that Roland Barthes referred in his analysis of advertising, a non-coded iconic message.C611F7E5-139C-418F-B229-3A96179C9905.png2F186E8E-A262-4D55-A6C3-F25EFCA4421D.png

In Olympic Game, images and signs are everywhere. The history of Olympic Game record how visual culture changed with the development of technologies. From 1896, the logos of Olympic Game have changed from realism to abstract, from complicated to simple, and from static to dynamic. This change implies the shift of our aesthetic tastes and concepts. In 1896, Athens Olympic Games didn’t have an emblem. They just used their Olympic report cover as a poster and a logo. Bronze is the only color used in the image and the image is very Athenian. There are so many content in that image: Athena, olive branch, horse’s hoof etc. Compare to the 1896 Athens Olympic Games, the emblem of 2004 Athens Olympic Games looks simple and modern. The iconic messages are very clear, blue represent ocean and olive branch represent Athens. It tells us complicate has been out of time with the development of digital technology. The 2012 London Olympic Game emblem prove it again. It is a typical deconstruction work. Different from other emblems, this emblem doesn’t emphasize the city image but is more universal, understandable and worldwide. Despite logos, the image of Olympic Game has totally changed. From the following torch relay images, we can see the difference. The 1948 London Olympic picture is in black and white. In the image, there is a soldier, which represents peace. The lens focuses on recording the move of the torchbearer. The 2012 torch relay image is a young man and the color is warm, which represents hope.
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Not only the images of Olympic itself, but also the business model of Olympic games is changing with the development of new media. Four year ago, on Beijing Olympic Games, iPad hasn’t been introduced to the world. However, there will be 8.5 billion tablets and smart phones been used in the London Olympic Games according to a report of French Technology Company, Atos Origin. Also more people will follow the news on Facebook and Twitter or using mobile apps. There is a huge change of media and advertising on Olympic Game. It almost means the end of Peter Ueberroth’s business model. New media technology make media channels an unprecedented fragmentation. It directly decide the time and plot of a commercial. Some commercials looks like a micro movie and only released on social media channels. After Super Bowl, Coca Cola quickly released their first London Olympic commercial, Move to the Beat, and provide 30s version, 60s version and 2 min version for TV and Web.

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--Xindi Guo

-Producer: transmitter: Designer: ----> Spectator: Viewer: Consumer
-Encoding /decoding significance
-Advertisement/Producing visual experiences

Although advertisement may be considered a low form of visual culture, it is still highly influential and arguably the most dominant. The “contamination” of the visual by the non-visual, the “supports” as Barthes called them, must also be deciphered as they all contribute to the meta-language of advertising and visual studies as a whole. We must utilize visual grammar, its rules, to decode the meanings behind these visual presentations, so apt for consumption. Extracting meaning throughout a hyper-stimulating, hybrid mediascape has become very nuanced. We must now work very harder to decipher meaning, identify even recent intertextual connections, or understand the motivations behind these visual encounters.

Here are two very disparate visual presentations that source different aspects of the cultural and historical priori, with the intention of communicating their own versions of “reality”.

Le Petit Journal, printed in 1896, depicts an altercation between the Ethiopian Emperor, Menilik, and the British over territory. Both sides have been caricatured to impart the tone of the defeat to the audience. Menilik, depicted in an Orientalized style of dress, exaggerated features, and large red lips, is clearly the victor. However, it is through his very stylized depiction that we may also assess that this is was an embarrassing defeat to a dominant colonial power.

The political activist and artist MIA’s Manifesto For the Digital Humanities, also employs it’s own “visual grammar”. The Google’s primary colors have been appropriated along with common tech-speak in order to speak to political issues that are played our in cyberspace.

Be it journal article or manifesto, the role of legitimization is, once again, placed upon the transmitters, those who encode significance and produce or design our visual experiences.