Iconography in the U.S. – It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s Superman!

superman

I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out which American icon I should choose for this assignment. There are so many options, yet I cannot think of one. Finally, I decided to go with the classic, American superhero:  the one and only Superman. Since his emergence in DC Comics in 1938 by author Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman has become a national, cultural icon. This hero first debuted in Action Comics #1 in June of 1938 and his image and sound has since been reproduced in radio shows, television programs, featured films, newspaper comics, and video games (Holt, 2004). Furthermore, his distinctive costume helps create his iconicity; sporting a blue costume, red cape, and signature red and yellow “S” on the front of the costume, Superman’s outfit itself it iconic. Americans everywhere can identify Superman just from this insignia. Moreover, Superman helped establish what we know as today as the superhero genre and the American comic book (Philippines News, 2006).

The early Superman stories were heavily influenced by the Great Depression of the United States in the 1930s. Superman assumed the role of a social activist, combating corrupt politicians and lying businessmen. Later, towards the mid-1940s, Superman even went on to battle a variation of the Ku Klux Klan. Attempting to take the role of the man trying “to fit into American culture as an American” helped foster a great sense of American identity (Bowers, 2012). Furthermore, even today as Americans we find great pride in Superman’s ability even as a fictional character. For instance, you often hear the idiom you’re not Superman, describing that everyone has weaknesses.

If Superman is a great American icon and represents a sense of American identity how well could this character do outside of the United States? It is good to consider Superman’s identity himself even as a fictional character. Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego and secret identity, was born Kal-El. He was born on the planet Krypton but was sent away in a vessel by his parents to planet Earth forced to assimilate himself with the rest of the planet. These feelings of disconnect could foster a sense of identity for those diasporic groups within the United States. While this does not quite cross over international borders, these small communities within the United States could find at least some cultural proximity in Superman considering his origins.

Furthermore, Superman is a very well-known superhero outside of the United States and has been localized to accommodate various languages across the globe. For example, there have been several Turkish films featuring or including the character of Superman (as the copyright laws do not necessarily apply in certain countries). These films include a series called Kilink where an evil scientist gets killed by his creation Kilink. In this series, Superman is often referred to as “the flying man” and wears a different costume than the traditional American Superman. Furthermore, another Turkish film called Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor features a sort of Super-Batman (Wikia, 2012). I could not find any audience responses to this Turkish version of Superman, but I assume that if they continued to reproduce this image then the viewers must have reacted positively to the material.

I am not so sure that there could be a more culturally relevant icon in place of Superman. As previously stated, Superman is an American cultural icon. Although it has been localized to fit into other countries, the concept of superheroes in itself is a very American idea. The United States is and seems to have to always remain a superpower in the global power structure. Superman only emphasizes these ideals and accentuates our need to consistently validate our position in the Global North.

 

References

Bowers, R. (2012). Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan: The true story of how the iconic superhero battled the men of hate. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Holt, D. B. (2004). How brands become icons: The principles of cultural branding. Harvard Business School Press.

Philippines News. (2006, July 21). Designing Man of Steel’s costume. Manila Standard.

Wikia. (2012, March 12). Superman in foreign films. Superman Wiki. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from    http://superman.wikia.com/wiki/Superman_in_Foreign_Films

s

The Secret Life of the Brain

The Secret Life of the Brain

Exploring the brain website was pretty interesting. I am not much of a science person, but I found the brain tour to be interesting. Although I am not very knowledgeable in the science area, the development of the mind and psychological development is truly fascinating. According to the site, until a baby reaches age one, she uses her entire brain to respond to language. As she ages, language shifts to the left side of the brain in an attempt to actually learn the language. This makes me think of learning foreign languages. Many parents have their children learn foreign languages when they are younger because this will help them retain the information as their minds are still being molded. I often wish that my parents introduced French to me earlier in life. Luckily, I started learning French in kindergarten, not knowing the impact it would have on my life.

I would not say that viewing the brain anatomy has persuaded me to change any behaviors to improve brain function. Rather than teach me to change any behaviors, this 3D brain tour simply showed me how the different parts of the brain function. Clicking around the website on the different parts of the brain definitely helped me understand how the brain works. As I previously stated, I am not much of a science person, which means I am ignorant of much of the terminology. This tour used laymen’s terms and easy to understand phrasing so that anyone could understand how the brain functions.

While I would say that the brain tour itself does exemplify the idea that “the truth can be made visible,” the idea that optical illusions can still fool our brains concerns me. While I love trying to figure out optical illusions, it seems strange that we cannot trust our own eyesight. This idea seems to go back to the function of photography as a means of recording history, since both eyesight and brain function seems to deteriorate with age.

Pharmaceutical Advertisement: NuvaRing

This is an advertisement for the birth control alternative NuvaRing. It shows three seemingly young girls watching the old commercial for the product. NuvaRing is a vaginal ring as a replacement for everyday birth control pills. Women are intended to insert this ring for three weeks out of the month, take it out, and re-insert it after one week. As birth control does, there are no real symptoms to birth control. I know many women take birth control to regulate their menstrual cycles as well as help prevent pregnancy.

This advertisement shows NuvaRing as a huge convenience. The women in the commercial look seemingly young and therefore always on the go. This new form of birth control gives them the convenience of not having to remember the pill everywhere they go. Under the ideology of consumerism, women are meant to associate birth control with freedom and convenience. “It’s small and comfortable; plus you don’t have to take it every day.”

This product, like most medications, has certain side effects. NuvaRing can cause serious blood clots and high blood pressure, which are the most common side effects. Furthermore, there are also chances of heart attack and stroke while on this birth control. It has also been known to cause cancer to women’s reproductive organs. I am not sure that the costs outweigh the benefits. While women would no longer have to remember to take the pill every day, this convenience factor does not seem to balance out with the side effects. I mean, regular birth control is one pill per day. Is that not enough to prevent the extreme inconvenience (for some) of getting pregnant?

Saturday Night Live actually made a spoof of NuvaRing with NuvaBling, critically emphasizing this convenience factor by adding fashion.

SNL NuvaBling

Pastiche

Pastiche Exercise 1

This music video by Blur of their song “To the End” exemplifies and celebrates the Alain Resnais French film L’Année Dernière à Marienbad (1961). In the film, a man paces through the corridors of this giant, ornately decorated palace, in search of a woman. Although they seemed to have already met, the woman claims that she has never seen this man in her life. The entire film seems to aimlessly wonder around the lives of these two people while viewers try desperately to make sense of what actually happened last year at Marienbad.

Blur seems to have taken this idea to the next level; the video almost exactly imitates that of the film in its composition. Although maintaining the black and white contrasts of the original film, the lyrics suggest a different meaning of how these two unnamed characters came to know each other. The group sings about the rough patches of a relationship, but these two seemed to have made it to the end. This new work does not necessarily question the status of the original film, but it does actually give a suggested meaning to the plot of the film. In a way, this goes against the style of the nouveau roman, where the novel diverges from traditional literary genres. This film defies time and space in its camera style, stage design, lighting, and acting. I have watched the film many times, and I am still trying to make sense of it all.

The music video seems to only be celebrating the ideas brought about in the Resnais film, therefore constituting only a pastiche of the original work. Maintaining the same elements, the ornate decorations of the palace, and the same situation between two unnamed characters, Blur seems to be trying to find meaning into the original film and has interpreted sense through their video.

Pastiche Exercise 2

This site is a total revamping of past works mostly for comedic effect. The individual graphs from the site take an original idea and transform the elements to make something somewhat new and often humorous. For example, there is a Venn diagram with two sides labeled “Like Big Butts” and “Cannot Lie” respectfully. In a pastiche with parody style, the graph shows various rappers on the side with “Likes Big Butts,” emphasizing stereotypes for humor. On the other half, lies George Washington under the “Cannot Lie” section, accentuating his quote “I cannot tell a lie” with a play on words pun. Of course, in the middle, he who “Likes Big Butts” AND “Cannot Lie” is of course Sir Mix-A-Lot. This graph primarily uses puns and deconstructive language to verbally communicate the humor, both in celebration and satire, of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s only song.

Furthermore, in a graph titled “Where my knowledge of British culture comes from,” the majority comes from Doctor Who rather than a history class. Although I do not watch Doctor Who, I feel that this graph clearly accentuates our dependence on television, rather than trying to learn something in school.

The site does not necessarily question the status of the original works, but rather reworks them to entertain the viewers. Whether through deconstructive language or emphasizing stereotypes, this site seems to both celebrate and mock these past works. Unlike the music video that I previously found for exercise 1, this site seems much more satirical in its nature.

Culture Jamming

mcdonald's olympics culture jamming

When first searching for an advertisement to use, I searched all over Google. I searched through all the major companies, including Apple, Burger King, and Coca-Cola. I had originally planned to rework a Coke advertisement in the signature font. I was going to make the new ad say “Enjoy Diabetes.” Apparently I have some fascination with being healthy. Finally, I stumbled upon this McDonald’s advertisement. I was hesitant to actually try to revamp a McDonald’s ad in the beginning since I have seen many re-appropriations and parodies done on the company so often on the internet. I always thought the partnership between McDonald’s and the Olympics was an odd pairing, so this ad seemed perfect. I did find many McDonald’s advertisements transformed into various other situations before stumbling upon this specific image.  There were many regarding the unhealthy foods served at this restaurant. One in particular that I found very funny was an upside down version of the “M” so that it looks like a “W.” Underneath the letter, it says “Weight. I’m Gaining It.”

I chose this advertisement in particular because it explicitly shows the direct correlation between the fast food company and the Olympics. As previously mentioned, I find that the relationship between fast food and the Olympics just does not seem to connect in my mind. Olympic athletes train most of their lives to even be considered to play in the games. Their bodies cannot afford the calorie intake of a fast food restaurant. The original ad looks very similar to this one, with the McDonald’s logo in place of the yellow Olympic ring. With my culture jamming of this advertisement, I decided to continue the current ideas of McDonald’s unhealthiness.

The new advertisement shows the McDonald’s logo as somewhat taking over the rings. I used the paint program from Microsoft to quickly and efficiently enlarge the rings. The Olympic rings have thickened in size and cannot sustain the weight of such an enormous number of calories as connoted through the company’s logo. Although the rings are not perfectly symmetrical, I feel that this finished product has added to the connotative meaning. The deformed rings are analogous to our fast-paced society.  Americans today are always looking for that instant gratification; what is easier than a fast food drive thru? Our obesity census is through the roof, and just like these new, deformed Olympic rings, if we do not change our eating habits, we will not be able to sustain ourselves. As we consume more and more fast food, soon we, too, will become larger and more deformed as these new rings.

This new, “jammed” advertisement correlates directly to our food industry culture. Although fast food restaurants have recently tried promoting healthier options, such as salads and parfaits, in reality, people still consume hamburgers, French fries, and chicken (Mc) nuggets. My culture jam of McDonald’s hopes to show Americans that fast food is not healthy. McDonald’s is a major influence not only on adults who continuously consume the food, but also on children. Children cannot grow up in a world thinking that fast food will help them become an Olympic champion.

Media Tracking

1.Which one form of media did you use the most? How much time did you use it?

The form of media that I used the most was definitely on my iPhone. I have my cell phone connected to me at the hip, just like most college students. In fact, most of the time I am on my phone, there is no talking involved. I constantly check my email, send text messages to my friends and family, and play the occasional game. While I use my phone as a media source for mostly everything, I would have to say that I go on the internet primarily. In a two day period, I would have to say that I was on the internet for at least twenty hours. As previously stated, I am constantly on my iPhone, thus it is hard to approximate exactly how many hours I spent on the internet.

2.Which one form of media did you use the least (but still use)? How much time did you use it?

Over a forty-eight hour period, I did not watch television nearly as much as I expected. Every night, however, I do set time aside to watch Jeopardy. In two days, I had only watched one hour of television, two episodes of Jeopardy.

3.How much time was spent communicating with another person over media (phone, e-mail, etc.)?

As I previously admitted, I spend a great deal of time on my cell phone. What I have recorded as communication over the phone is probably not even a good estimate of how much I actually use it. According to my log, I spent about six hours in two days, texting, emailing, and talking on the phone. (Yes, I still do like talking on the phone. My dad called me a few times to tell me about my little brother’s audition for a Robert Downey Jr. movie. This information is better sent by voice rather than through text message.) Whether in work, on my phone or on my computer, I consistently check my email and receive much of my information through email. Six hours is definitely an underestimate of how much time I spend emailing, texting and talking on my phone. It has become so second nature to just pick up my cell phone that it is completely slips through the cracks. I do not even realize I am on my phone sometimes.

4.How much time was spent using media that was monologic (one-sided, such as TV or radio)?

As I previously remarked, during this time period at least, I had not watched that much television aside from Jeopardy. I did, however, listen to a great deal of music, whether on my iPhone or on the computer. Every morning I put my headphones on as I walk to class or work; I am actually listening to music as we speak. If PowerPoint counts as a form of media, I had also listened to various presentations throughout these two days. Although we could ask questions at the end of each presentation, I feel that PowerPoint presentations are primarily monologic; without the presenter, it can serve somewhat like a television program.

5.What surprised you about the amount of time you spent engaged in the use of media? Why?

I actually was not very surprised at the amount of time spent engaging in the use of media. I know that I have my cell phone basically attached at the hip. I guess I was a little surprised that I did not watch as much television as I had expected. As I previously noted as well, I was also a bit surprised that I had only used communication media for about six hours in two days. I feel that through involuntary use of my phone I had not recorded all the uses of my cell phone.

6.Based on this exercise, will you do anything differently (increase or decrease) in using media? Why?

Based on this exercise, I feel that I would want to change my media consumption but that I would not actually change my habits. I have gotten myself into this routine of using my phone as an alarm, waking up with its music, and walking to work with my headphones, listening to music and checking text messages along the way. I feel that this routine has fixed me into this daily pattern that will be hard to adjust.

7.If the answer to question 6 was no, why will you maintain the current amount of time you spend using media?

I want to start to lose my somewhat dependency on my cell phone, but as previously stated, habits are hard to quit. For instance, while there are so many clocks around the campus (especially the large one at the library) to inform me of the time, I still constantly check the time on my iPhone. It is not that I want to stop using my phone altogether; I just need to get some willpower to put the phone down sometimes.

3D Movie Audience

3D Movie Audience

1. 3D Movie Audience

2. JR Eyerman

3. February 1953

4. The Paramount Theater, New York City

5. This photograph captures an audience at the premiere of the first feature-length 3D film.

6. The specific camera is unknown at this point, but much of Eyerman’s work was with a man by the name of Otis Barton, involving the development of a camera suitable for photographing depth.

Creative Commons

The Creative Commons site offers artists to protect their ideas in several ways. This site offers free copyright licenses to those wishing to publicly share their works without the risk of someone else benefitting commercially from their idea. Furthermore, the concept of copyright is slightly altered than the popular notion; instead of the traditional “all rights reserved,” an artist may choose to only have “some rights reserved,” applying only those best suited to their needs.[1]  Ownership, in this case as well, has transformed into a notion of idea rather than actual object. Just as stated in Practices of Looking (2009), Sturken and Cartwright use the example of a painting. The ownership of the painting belongs to the artist. If she decided to sell her painting, the ownership transfers to the new owner but only in the sense of the physical object; however, the right to reproduce the object remains with the artist.[2]  

This project allows for the subjects of works to be easily shared and reproducible to a certain extent. To my understanding, the subjects of the works can be manipulated and altered in a way that creates a new piece of art. The original artist retains her initial idea. Furthermore, the site allows users to use these subjects without the risk of copyright infringement. Creative Commons provides a forum for authors and artists to freely publish and share their works, thus creating a balance between lawful distribution and copyright laws.

In the case of Gone with the Wind, the estate of Margaret Mitchell wanted to retain their copyright on the material to prevent it from falling into public domain. Cleverly, the owners of the estate sought authors to write sequels of the novel, copyrighting the characters. Since these writers were hired by the original estate, the “ideas” or the characters still belonged to the estate. Thus, by default, the same characters in the original novel were protected as well. In this case, had the estate chosen a Creative Commons license allowing for commercial reproduction, the ideas could have disseminated more quickly. For instance, other artists or authors could adapt the work, creating more opportunities for the original author’s creative idea to continue beyond the initial story. One could argue that the estate did not want to tarnish the “classic” reputation of the novel.

According to the site, Creative Commons does not seem to support the publicity or privacy rights of people. In the case of Bela Lugosi, his portrayal of Count Dracula caused much anguish for his family. Universal Film Studios contracted with Lugosi to photograph, reproduce and sell pictures of him in various poses. However, once Lugosi died, Universal continued to reproduce and profit from these photos. Although no one “owned” the Count Dracula character, Lugosi’s family found this continued reproduction unlawful. They lost this case, however, due to the fact that Lugosi had not “[converted] his personal image into a property right.[3]” His family could not do so retroactively. Having stated his case, I do not believe that Creative Commons could have helped the Lugosi case. Their private policy states “In no way are the patent or trademark rights of any person affected by CC0, nor are the rights that other persons may have in the work or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights.[4]” This project makes a very clear distinction between copyrights on ideas and publicity and privacy rights of people.


[2] Practices of Looking (2009)

[3] Practices of Looking (2009)

Self Portrait

Me!

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 http://www.authenticsociety.com/about/ThePersistenceOfMemory_Dali