Self Portrait


self portrait

In the empirical representation of me, one sees only the superficial aspects that make me who I am. Facebook has become a very popular medium through which we depict these selective selves. What I mean by this is that we all only show those photos which we find to be our “best sides.” In the case of Facebook, we are exemplifying the myth of photographic truth. We planned to take these photos and posed them in such a way that we found to be acceptable to put on Facebook and show our friends. Although it seems that this photo caught me in a candid laughter moment, in all actuality, I had to take at least ten shots before I found one picture to be acceptable. We are all so caught up with our external appearances that it is often hard to not judge a book by its cover[1].

While I may appear to be a happy and fun-going kind of girl, the second, more symbolic representation of the journey of my life depicts a very different story of how I became that person in the original photo. The stonewall background and the cracked and broken railroad track[2] in the center represent the long and windy path I took to become the person I am today. There were many bumps and obstacles along the way, but the future looks bright ahead.

Both portraits do not necessarily intersect, but they seem to fit together like a puzzle. The original self-portrait photo shows the end product and the superficial aspects of the life-changing experiences of my life. In the symbolic representation, surrounding the broken-down railroad are broken hearts healed with band aids[3]. These two symbols represent the major ordeals that I faced within my short lifetime. When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with leukemia. Although I did not fully comprehend the severity of the situation at hand, being so young, I emerged a stronger person in the end. The second heart represents my mother. When I was only eleven years old, she separated from my father and literally abandoned our family. She left my father alone with four children. Although very traumatic at the time, these ordeals have made me a stronger person, much less timid than the little girl I used to be. Today, I embrace these sufferings as they brought our family closer together and created the person that we all know today. I do not know what life would be like if I had not encountered such obstacles.

The symbolic portrait also shows a bright future. After all the ordeals and suffering in my life, I have learned to not take life for granted. Although I am terrified of graduating this spring, I will embrace the opportunity and attack the situation just as I have always done. The victory silhouette[4] at the very end of the road is hopefully my future. Being the first to go to college, I feel as though I have something to prove to the rest of my family. I know that my hard work along the rough and patchy journey of life someday pay off. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (in a good way).

Spectatorship and Power Relations in Advertising

In the first advertisement, Gucci attempts to sell a men’s fragrance with the use of an attractive male model. Not only due to his relaxed pose of confidence, but also due to the model’s direct gaze toward the viewer, we can clearly see that this model is aware that we are staring at him. According to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the gaze is the center of how individuals enact desire (Practices of Looking).  The model uses this gaze as a tool of desire for the viewers; we want to keep looking at his attractiveness while his prolonged gaze indicates his desire to captivate the attention of the viewer. The lingering stare can be interpreted as a sense of control or power over the viewer as model’s eyes attract and almost hypnotize.

The advertisement as a whole interpellates, or hails us as viewers, drawing us into the product through the use of the model. The model’s gaze is the major attraction in the photo. His blue eyes stare almost endlessly into our eyes as we admire the advertisement. Marketers for Gucci have cleverly chosen the coloring of this advertisement. The neutral tones of the background and the browns and whites of the model’s clothing create a wonderful foreground for his eyes. The blue color, which also happens to be the same blue as the fragrance bottle, pops right off the page and is the first thing that the viewer notices in the advertisement.

The second advertisement also features a Gucci product, but instead this time it features two people, actor Chris Evans and a female model. Similar to the first advertisement, the product features a male fragrance. Both models are wearing next to nothing within the frames of the advertisement, creating a sexual and seductive atmosphere. Each has a hand on the other in a sensual manner, adding even more to the ambiance.

There are various power relations within this advertisement. On the surface, the viewer can see that Chris Evans seems to have some power over the female model. The fragrance that he is supposedly wearing has a certain control over her, seducing her with sensual emotions. Furthermore, the woman’s eyes are closed, intensifying these emotions. The phrase on the top of the advertisement “Gucci Guilty” also adds to the sexual atmosphere as if to say that purchasing this product is somewhat of a guilty pleasure.

Much like the first advertisement, the gaze of the main subject plays a major role in the photograph. In addition to holding a certain power over the female, Evans also employs his gaze to exert power over the viewer. His eyes stare incessantly into the eyes of the viewer.  Unlike that of the first ad, the gaze of Chris Evans in this photo has a different sort of power over the viewer. Perhaps it is to incite jealously within the audience, enticing them to purchase this product and reap the rewards (this beautiful woman).  In my opinion, the woman in the ad evokes a stronger gaze from Evans. She gives him the bragging rights, shown within his prolonging stare outward.

Both photographs show the power that the gaze evokes within advertising. The gaze can indicate desire between subject and viewer as well as creating power relations within an image. In both cases, the gaze within advertisements effectively entices the viewers to purchase a product.

Appropriation in Popular Culture

This image is an appropriation of the original painting The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. Dali was a surrealist painter from the early twentieth century. Although it can be difficult to determine the actual intended meaning of a painting, there have been several interpretations by both art critics and simple viewers of the painting. Dali was a very secretive man and did not reveal his influences openly to the public, thus creating widespread curiosity. He even went as far as to fabricate ridiculous motives behind his carefully executed paintings. Various interpretations include those saying that the melting clocks evoke this feeling that time is irrelevant when we are sleeping. We are not aware of time only memories run through our brains. One could say that as we sleep, dreams project variations of our memories. Some even go as far as to compare these clocks to cheese that has been left out too long[1]. As a typical admirer of this painting, I find this interpretation very interesting. In my opinion, the drooping clocks represent how time is melting away from our lives. Instead of being irrelevant, time is slipping right through our fingers like running water.

Sturken and Cartwright (Practices of Looking 2009) define appropriation as “taking something for oneself without consent (83).” Of course the artist of the new image could not ask permission of Dali to appropriate the ideas. Furthermore, the authors go on to describe cultural appropriation as “borrowing and changing the meaning of cultural products, slogans, images, or elements of fashion” (83). The entire painting has been replaced with elements from Matt Groening’s popular television series The Simpsons (1989-present). This very well-known painting has been transformed with elements and characters from an almost iconic Simpson family in parody or a satirical fashion. The entire series has become popular for its satirical and humorous style.  Although the show is animated, the characters, such as Homer Simpson and Bart Simpson, will not hesitate to bash any celebrity or current issue. The loophole around violating media laws is the satirical nature of the show.

Having said this, the entire meaning of the original painting has vanished. The image no longer represents time as literally as with the melting clocks. Instead, the artist Matt Groening has replaced the clocks with melting faces of his own characters. This re-appropriation of the original image brings us a lot closer to how our culture is today. The Simpsons has become a cultural icon in today’s society. Many people can recognize these yellow-skinned characters. In a way, one could say that Matt Groening created a montage of two separate cultural icons (the original painting and the Simpsons family).

Furthermore, I find the new meaning of the image to be rather ironic. Instead of expressing that time is wasting away, the image now depicts such things on which we waste time. The image has now become a juxtaposition of precious time and mindless television on which we waste our time. Television remains prevalent in today’s society, and its hegemonic messages become ingrained in our minds. Homer’s expletive D’oh! has even been added into the dictionary since 2001. As previously stated, although the show is animated, it is far from innocent as other children’s programs.

[1] The Persistence of Memory (Meaning) by Salvador Dali. (2011). Authentic Society. Retrieved February 09, 2013, from

Icons in Our Society: Kate and Leo? Is that You?

The advertisement pictured is for Utopolis, a group of movie theaters based in Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. The icon image within the photo is Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous scene from James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). The man and the woman display a representation of the original, romantic scene between two lovers aboard a (spoiler alert) ship whose fate is to sink thousands of leagues beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The positions of the man and woman standing at the bow of the ship in the advertisement are almost exact with those of Kate and Leo in the original film. The pose, as in the film, is meant to convey love and passion within the hearts of viewers. Kate and Leo’s love was doomed from the start, not only due to the ship’s fate, but also due to their familial backgrounds.

Looking closer, however, audiences can see the parody within the image. The seagull crashing into the woman’s face completely destroys the potential romantic feelings or emotions in the photo. Along with the words “REALITY SUCKS,” the love and romance are ruined. Of course this couple cannot compare to Kate and Leo. Denotatively, this picture of a man and a woman on a ship means nothing. The seagull crashing into the woman’s face is unfortunate but literally the image shows a simple boat scene. In Western culture, we have learned that Kate and Leo’s love will “never let go” (Cameron 1997).

Although this advertisement originated in Europe, many people in the United States recognize this iconic scene between two tragic lovers. The connotative meaning behind this scene evokes feelings of passionate love (until you reach the seagull at the top). The phrase at the foot of the ad reminds us that we should leave the acting to the professionals (a.k.a. Don’t try this at home). The best place to see this scene acted out correctly would be Utopolis theaters, of course.

In the context of persuasiveness, the ad does a wonderful job connecting the scene to its product:  a cinema. The image shows an interpretation of the actual movie scene from a popular film in Western culture. When I was in France during the spring semester of 2012, the 100th anniversary of the film was playing in the movie theater in Bercy. Although this advertisement is not from the same company, the fact that even in France, Kate and Leo’s scene at the front of the Titanic resonates across national borders (not to mention the fact that this advertisement is for cinemas in Belgium).

The company has several print advertisements depicting iconic scenes from other movies besides Titanic (1997). Among my favorites is the final scene in Simon Wincer’s Free Willy (1993), where the orca whale jumps over the stone wall to live freely in the ocean. The parody advertisement shows the boy from the film (or a stand-in actor) being eaten by the whale as he jumps. The same banner “REALITY SUCKS” is stamped on the bottom of the advertisement.

The theme that resounds throughout this company’s ads is the huge banner across the bottom that reads “REALITY SUCKS.” This slogan reminds us that sometimes the real world is a harsh place and that the movie theater is a great way to escape our problems if only for a few hours. Thinking about how stressful “real life” can be, I am most definitely persuaded by this advertisement. I could really use some “Kate and Leo” right now.