Thursday, September 27, 2007

Abstract of "Seeing Beyond Believing"

Abstract of “Seeing Beyond Belief: Cultural Studies as an Approach to Analysing the Visual” by Martin Lister and Liz Wells

Abstract by Diane Neu

I. Description of Article

Lister and Wells divide their article up into the following five sections: “Introduction,” “Analysis,” “Looking: Form and Meaning,” “Looking: Recognition and Identity,” and “Conclusion.”

Lister and Wells begin by describing what Cultural Studies is before moving into a more detailed analysis of photographs. They describe their process for analyzing photographs and their reasons for analyzing photographs. The importance of asking certain questions about the photograph is stressed. After analyzing photographs from a more social angle, Lister and Wells attempt to look at photographs as more isolated images. The question of what an image means by itself is raised. They then discuss the role of the viewer in greater detail. The viewer can be seen as voyeuristic, and the creator of the image can be seen as catering to that voyeurism in order to send a specific message or to evoke a certain feeling. Lister and Wells conclude by remarking that “the photographic image, is, then, a complex and curious object” (90). Using methods of Cultural Studies can only help one in the process of analysis.

II. Comments and Questions


The introduction begins by describing what exactly Cultural Studies is. According to Lister and Wells, Cultural Studies analyzes “the forms and practices of culture” (61). They take care to note that this study looks at more than just obvious artifacts of culture – it also studies the relationship and power dynamic that these “forms and practices” have in relation to society. They also note that the “culture” in Cultural Studies refers to “everyday symbolic and expressive practices” (61). It is not merely concerned with the study of high culture. Essentially, Cultural Studies must look at society and culture as a whole in order to understand it. Relationships must be studied, understanding the role of institutions is key, and attempting “to separate the cultures of everyday life from practices of representation, visual or otherwise” is futile (61).

After explaining the timeframe which Cultural Studies mainly concerns itself with (“mainly those of the late eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries”), the article explains that one of the main features of Cultural Studies is “the search to understand the relationships of cultural production, consumption, belief and meaning, to social processes and institutions” (61). Looking at how everything in culture is intricately connected and how those connections lead to distributions of power is a key component of Cultural Studies. Cultural Studies also seeks to challenge the idea that those distributions of power are something that just naturally exists. There is no “just because” or “that’s just how it is naturally” in Cultural Studies.

Lister and Wells talk about two areas of study related to Cultural Studies: Media Studies and Visual Cultural Studies. “The study of advertising, popular cinema and television” are all examples of Media Studies, while Visual Cultural Studies seems to be primarily interested in the study of images (photographs) and how these images relate to everyday life and experience (62). This actually confused me a little, since the two seemed so similar and linked. In some ways, Visual Cultural Studies and Media Studies seem like the exact same thing, especially since media today is so visual. It was hard for me to discern the exact differences as Lister and Wells don’t go into the methodology of Media Studies in great detail. Media Studies is apparently more concerned with the Communication Studies aspect of thing.

They were also very clear that while Media Studies and Visual Cultural Studies are related to Cultural Studies, they are not just sub-fields of Cultural Studies. They are their own distinct fields of study. This also kind of confused me sine I felt that the Cultural Studies that they described on the first page of the article could easy be an umbrella for these other two fields of study. I’m not sure if I agree that Visual Cultural Studies in particular is wholly separate from Cultural Studies. Later on in the article they refer to Cultural Studies and Media Studies as a “compound field” (63). That is, the two are interdisciplinary and related. So, which is it? Are they separate or are they merged? Are they just related like how anthropology and sociology are related or are they part of the same field like mechanical engineering and civil engineering?

Lister and Wells then explain the methodology that they will be using to analyze photographs in the rest of the essay. They seek to analyze the photographs “without separating them from social processes” (64). They then provide a list of the seven main features that they will employ in their analysis (I will not repeat it here). These main features of their analysis serve to clarify their interest in the photograph and the methods they will use in studying the photograph. Many of the points are “recognition” points. Essentially, they are recognizing the human element of their research. They can never be entirely neutral or without bias.


When looking at an image, we must first ask the location of the image. Answering this question “will tell us much about how we meet or encounter the image” (65). We must then ask why the photograph is being looked at. What is the viewer seeking to get out of the viewing process? Lister and Wells use an example of a Marlboro cigarette advertisement. The advertisement exists in two forms: on a billboard and as a smaller ad in magazines and newspapers. This change of format impacts the viewing experience of the ad. The billboard is forced upon them, while the viewer selects the magazine ad (via them selecting the magazine). There are different questions to be asked in both contexts. I understood the basic concept here, but I disagreed with it a little. I don’t necessarily see the magazine ad as being “selected” by the viewer. They have no control over the ad material in the magazine. On the same side, you could argue that the billboard viewers could simply decide to not drive past the billboard. Of course, all this brings us back to questions of structuralism. Can we just decide to not look at the billboard or not read the magazine? I’m not sure that we can.

The production of the photograph must also be analyzed. How the image arrived at its location is a question that must be asked. Was the photo staged? Candid? What was the motive behind placing it in its current location? The Marlboro ad is clearly part of “the Philip Morris company’s wider marketing and advertising strategies” as this ad is “a response to the early 1990s ban on advertising cigarettes on British television” (69). So part of analyzing the photograph or advertisement entails understanding the process behind the photograph. What kinds of strategies have been employed? What shifts in cultural understanding is the photograph addressing?

Looking: Form and Meaning:

In this section, Lister and Wells address the issue of looking at an image by itself – without thinking about where it came from, etc. What does the image say on its own? Lister and Wells admit that attempting to do this can raise “difficult and vexed questions about the boundaries of an image” (70). Interestingly, at this point the image is also referred to as a “text.” They then explain five main ways of looking at a photograph unto itself that they refer to as types of conventions:

1. Pictorial conventions
2. Semiotics and codes
3. Photographic conventions
4. Social conventions
5. Power and photographic conventions

I didn’t really see these conventions and codes as being distinct from each other (and Lister and Wells don’t seem to intend them to be), but rather as building upon and relating to one another.

Looking: Recognition and Identity:

This section discusses looking from the viewer’s perspective. How has the artist cued the viewer to look at the image? Where is the viewer in relation to the image? Lister and Wells posit that in photography these visual cues are given through the use of camera techniques, different lenses, etc. They create the viewing experience for the viewer. These photographic techniques were “developed and adjusted in order to take on perspectival conventions already established within Western art” (83). Lister and Wells then go on to discuss some of these techniques in greater detail. The role of the viewer as voyeur is also discussed. What kind of pleasure does the viewer derive from the viewing experience? Was that pleasure intended on the part of the creator? I personally found this to be really interesting. I think that a lot of people tend to think of photography as a more “pure” art form. They think of it as a true representation of an image occurring in real life, but photography is capable of cultural distortion. We see it everyday in magazines and advertisements. There is no such thing as “what you see is what you get” in photography. For instance, the photograph of the biscuit-cutter sheep may be trying to appeal to “those of use who draw rural England into our sense of national identity” (88). The creator of the image may be trying to appeal to the viewer’s personal memories, sense of things lost, appreciate for rural landscape, etc. It’s the British meets Betty Crocker version of the Paris Match cover.


Lister and Wells call on Barthes in their conclusion. They credit Barthes with drawing “our attention to the fleeting nature of the moment captured in the photograph” (89). Therefore, we must acknowledge that the photograph does not tell the whole story. The picture is not complete. We must aim to thoroughly analyze the photograph in the aforementioned ways in order to gain a greater understanding of the image. The essay then ends with a sort of defense of Cultural Studies. They admit that Cultural Studies is a field that borrows liberally from other fields, but they argue that while this is “a point of criticism,” it is “simultaneously its strength” (90). I didn’t really understand the point of begging their case again at the end, since I felt they had done that pretty thoroughly in the introduction.

III. Key Terms

Cultural Studies
Media Studies
Visual Cultural Studies
Viewing position

Abstract of "Seeing Beyond Belief"

Description of Article
I really enjoy this article because of its straightforward approach of explaining cultural studies as applied to visual artifacts. To begin with, Lister and Wells offer a definition of Cultural Studies in general: " academic field [...] interested in the enabling and regulating institutions, and less formal social arrangements, in and through which culture is produced, enacted and consumed" (61). I am surprised that this definition doesn't include mention of the artifacts themselves that are objects or conveyors of "culture." The authors elaborate by saying that "a distinctive feature of Cultural Studies is the search to understand the relationships of cultural production, consumption, belief and meaning, to social processes and institutions"(61). The rest of the article breaks down that definition by applying it to the study of visual media.
Researchers are interested in various elements of an image. These include: 1)the image's "social life and history"
2)it's "cycle of production, circulation, and consumption" and
3)it's "specific material properties"(64).
The analysis of the image is broken into two parts: the context of viewing and the context of production. Within the context of viewing we should ask certain questions:
1)Where is the image?
2)Why is the viewer looking at the photograph?
(Is it idle or purposeful looking?)
Within the context of production, we should another question:
1)How did the image get there?
The authors then go on to talk about ways of analyzing the "specific material properties" of a piece. If I am understanding correctly, they refer to these properties as originating from conventions within the visual format, and say that these conventions have sociological, literary, and art historical roots. Interestingly, the authors bring the idea of pictorial conventions back to the concept of signification, pointing out that often signs are arbitrary-- that the signifier or physical symbol or a thing may not bear much resemblance to the signified (what the thing stands for). I thought of the typical clip-art version of a tree as I was reading this. I have never seen a tree that looks like that signifier and yet I know exactly what is signified when I see that symbol. These conventions exist within every art medium--these authors spend a lot of time addressing the conventions within the world of photography.
Some of the impotant conventional operations in photography are:
1)framing (of the subject)--the "edges or boundaries of the picture"
2)gaze (of the subject)--are we viewer voyeurs or is the subject looking back at us?
There is a very interesting tangent to this piece, in which the authors show how the voyeuristic gaze (seeing but not being seen) can tend to make the viewer "objectify" the subject.
3)camera position
4)physical proximity (to the subject) and the viewer's position in relation to the subject's position(88).
5)lighting--it's quality, what it highlights and obscures
7)the depth of the field--how much of the scene is in sharp focus.
In treating the subject of a photograph, the fotographer relies on the viewer's knowledge of social conventions to understand the significance of the piece. We learn these conventions through our lived experience with the world. For example, we need to be able to understand the feelings of the subjects by observing their body language and facial expressions.
The analysis of these conventions shows us that photographs can be "complexely coded cultural artifacts"(89). Barthes identified this coded meaning as "the rhetoric of the image"(90).
Comments and Questions
As I am writing this abstract, I realize I am confused by the term "conventions" because I think of "conventional"--in other words, to me, conventions are the traditional and recognized way of doing things. So to say that photographers follow conventions means to me that they stick to an ordered process of photography. On page 74 the authors say that "the use of conventions by photographers is a matter of assimilated 'know-how', a trained sense of 'this is how to do it' gained 'on the job' and by observing what does and does not 'work' in concrete situations." However, the photographs that most catch our eye are the ones that break certain conventional models of photography. For example, Mapplethorpe's "Portrait of Clifton" is so jarring because it doesn't follow traditional methods---the proximity of the subject, the use of lighting, the subject's gaze--all of these are untraditional and therefore, call the viewer's attention.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Some Links

I was particularly intrigued by Van Leeuwen's mention of "golliwog" dolls since I had never seen or heard of them before. Here are some links that I found with a quick Google search. I thought it was pretty interesting how many people deal and collect these dolls. I understand collecting them for their historical significance, but the graphics on some of the pages were pretty offensive - more cherishing the dolls than studying them, if that makes sense.

A personal blog that talks about golliwogs - I thought it interesting that the person writing seems so grateful that "our culture had moved past such horrible displays of racial intolerance and misunderstanding" by the time they grew up in the 80's. I'm not so sure about that.

My personal favorite (note the sarcasm) - a "Save our Golliwoggs" page. Wow.

The Guardian has a lot of articles on golliwogs, although their archives don't go far back enough to find the one referenced in the article. However, I thought this one was pretty interesting because of the political ramifications.,,547562,00.html

Monday, September 24, 2007

Semiotics and Iconography

Semiotics and Iconography
By Theo van Leeuwen
Abstract by Patricia Little


In the chapter entitled “Semiotics and Iconography” in the book Handbook of Visual Analysis, Theo van Leeuwen distinguishes the differences between semiotics and iconography. He specifically refers to Roland Barthes visual semiotics in this discussion. Van Leeuwen immediately begins by describing their basic differences, “But where Barthian visual semiotics studies only the image itself, and treats cultural meanings as a given currency which is shared by everyone who is at all acculturated to contemporary popular culture, and which can then be activated by the style and content of the image, iconography also pays attention to the context in which the image is produced and circulated, and to how and why cultural meanings and their visual expressions come about historically” (92).
Van Leeuwen begins by describing denotation in semiotics. He explains, while this is the literal phase, viewers of the image can still see what they want to see. In order to rectify this and make viewers see just what the producers of the image want them to see, they use a few different techniques. These techniques include categorization, groups vs. individuals, distancing, and surrounding text.
Connotation is taken up next and is described as what the denoted images stand for. He explains that this is myth according to Barthes. An interesting note that van Leeuwen points out is what the visual images are doing (their actual literal poses) has meaning. Posing people or objects in a certain way will mean something specific to most people. He uses, for example, President Kennedy’s pose with his hands clasped, looking up. This is a general pose that makes the viewer feel they are looking at, “youthfulness, spirituality, and purity” (97).
Van Leeuwen then moves to iconography. His first topic in this section is representational meaning. He asks, “How does iconography establish that a particular image represents a particular (kind of) person (or object or place)?” (102). He lists several ways that an image can be particularized. These ways include a title, background research, identity through research, and on the basis of verbal descriptions. One amusing aside, clearly not intended by the author, is when he describes identity established through reference to other pictures. He explains that many popular images do not need to be titled because they are common. It is after time has passed that these once common names become forgotten. He states, “No ‘title’ is needed for the recognition of runner Nellie Cooman in an advertisement” (106). He is clearly right about fading recognition because I have never heard of Nellie Cooman!
He next moves to iconographical symbolism. This type of symbolism has two main subgroups; abstract and figurative symbolism. Abstract symbols have “abstract shapes with symbolic value, for example the cross” and figurative symbols “represent people, places, and things with symbolic value” (107). However, what is of more interest in this section is the difference between open symbolism and disguised symbolism.
To explain this difference he refers to Renaissance painting. He states, “A motif is an open symbol of something when it is not represented naturalistically… a disguised symbol when it is represented naturalistically” (109). Seems slightly vague, but he continues with a more current explanation. Disguised symbolism is an interesting problem for the contemporary artist. He writes “When artists draw on unconscious inspiration rather than on consciously known symbolic traditions symbolism will be repressed on a conscious level. When critics then nevertheless give a symbolic interpretation of such works, the artist will often contest it” (109-110). This point is made very clear in Amy Tan’s memoir The Opposite of Faith: Memoirs of a Writing Life. Tan is often surprised when readers and critics place symbolic significance in practically every page of her book, where she never had intended it. While this is not the type of art van Leeuwen is referring to, it remains a valid example of disguised symbolism.
Van Leeuwen finally moves on to his last section, iconological symbolism. This move from iconographical to iconological has to do with discussing the identification of these symbols to interpreting them. He states, “Iconological analysis, then, draws together the iconographical symbols and stylistic features of an image or a representational tradition into a coherent interpretation which provides the ‘why’ behind the representations analyzed” (116).
In conclusion, van Leeuwen sums up the differences between semiotics and iconography. These differences are two fold and are; first, a “difference between the two methods…art works of the past versus media images of the present” (117). And secondly, “visual semiotics remains restricted to textual arguments…whereas iconography also uses arguments based on intertextual comparison and archival background research” (117).

Some Analysis

There does not seem to be much analysis needed for this work. Van Leeuwen is extremely exact with his explanation of the given material. One note, however, that I find interesting is the space and the way in which he discusses the given topic. His explanation of semiotics is clear and concise. Examples are given, when needed, and then he quickly moves on to the next topic. When van Leeuwen finally moves on to iconography the reader gets a sense that this is where he really wants to be. It is in this material that we get the best of the author. He uses more exciting and interesting examples and litters the text with pictures to better describe what he is talking about. It is interesting to note when he uses the example of President Kennedy’s pose he fails to supply the reader with a picture. However, when discussing African-Americans in relation to racist images with fruit, he gives the reader ample proof. It does not seem that he has anything in particular against semiotics, but it is clear that he believes iconography is a more useful and full system.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Edwards: Echoes of Camelot

Bill Schnupp

Abstract: Janis Edwards’ “Echoes of Camelot”

I. Summary

Edwards opens his piece with the argument that images disseminated by the mass media in connection with noteworthy social events became inextricably linked with those events in the form of “cultural remembering.” Essentially, the image encapsulates a particular historical or social moment—along with the associations that accompany such moments—and embeds it in the collective consciousness, easily retained and recalled. The poignancy of these images is found in the way they “express particulars to evoke the universal” (179). As an example, Edwards cites Joe Rosenthal’s World War II image of the flag raising at the battle of Iwo Jima—a very specific image that imparts (at least in one potential reading) ideas of patriotism, victory, and collective effort. Edwards expands on this example to demonstrate the longevity of the flag image by linking it to a similar image of firefighters raising a flag over the ruins of the WTC in 2002. The ideas present in the depiction of the flag raising at Iwo Jima are called forth in the image with the firefighters, and subsequently expanded on, thus granting the image a greater and more immediate potency.

Edwards next moves into a more illustrative example: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, particularly the photograph of a 3 year-old JFK Jr. saluting his father’s funeral procession. The author posits that this photograph is an instance of depictive rhetoric, an image that lives in the collective consciousness. The image of the lonely child, his father stolen away, paralleled the “national grief”: a country dispossessed of its innocence, leaderless. This and other photos of the Kennedy family served to forge a parasocial relationship (a one-sided relationship between the public and those represented by the mass media).

Edwards later expands on the “salute” image in a discussion of JFK Jr.’s own death in 1999: his plane crash was remote and isolated; not under media scrutiny until after the fact. Consequently, the image of the salute was widely and effectively used by the media to convey a sense of loss and mourning similar to that created in the photograph’s original context. Indeed the feelings were equally as poignant, and further reveal the depth of the parasocial relationship: “the salute photograph functions to engender outrage—not simply the outrage that accompanies a premature and (apparently) avoidable accident, but the outrage that this can be happening again—to the Kennedy’s, to us. The salute photograph connects the past and the present through its symbolic twin expressions of outrage and regret” (185). This stems into the ideas of an image’s truth value (meaning) and its symbolic value (accompanying connotations and ideas).

The author then offers eleven qualities common to such iconic/outrage-provoking photographs:
1. Celebrity
2. Prominence
3. Frequency
4. Profit
5. Instantaneousness
6. Fame of Subjects
7. Transposability
8. Importance of Events
9. Metonymy
10. Primordiality and/or Cultural Resonance
11. Striking Composition

The piece then moves to a notation of how depictive rhetorics and iconic images are appropriated by cartoonists and the mass media (sometimes inappropriately). Edwards’ closing thoughts are particularly engaging: “The invocation of the mythic narrative of the Kennedy promise and end of that promise prompted a mourning that was directed inward. As a nation, we mourned our own destiny, remembered through media images that returned us to that earlier time. . .the use of such images connects two messages, from now and then, linking together the “truth value” of a photograph and its symbolic value in harmonious resonance” (193).

II. Analysis

I think Edwards controlling idea here--that events of social gravity stick in our collective memory to be applied not only to their initial circumstances, but to successive events as well--is very compelling (and accurate). For example, I don't think it would be possible to ask someone about 9/11 and receive nothing in return: the image of the WTC smoking and tumbling lives in the American collective consciousness. What I find even more interesting though, is the way Edwards describes how an event can serve as the impetus for us to turn in upon ourselves. I think of it as a kind of frame of reference: it begins wide, on a social event of mass significance, but then tightens to each individual and causes them to refelct on themselves, to focus on their problem, their loss.

Fresh from Barthes, I also find myself attempting interpretation of Edwards’ idea through a semiotic/mythic lens; I think the parallels are definitely present. The image of the young Kennedy saluting holds the truth value of a child, formally dressed for a funeral or other somber occasion. The symbolic value, however, are the ideas of national grief and the loss of both innocence and a leader. To me, this feels like the movement between the linguistic and semiotic systems: in the linguistic scheme, there is photo of a boy in formal dress saluting as a funeral procession passes; the meaning is clear, a somber occasion, personal loss, etc. This filters into the mythic narrative, and the boy is no longer a boy, but a nation bereft of leadership. Edwards’ final remarks about the harmonious union of truth and symbolism also suggest the fluid relationship of meaning and form, of linguistics and semiotics to achieve meaning.

That said, I don’t think a completely pure version of Barthes’ ideas can be applied to this reading, as I believe Edwards definitely employs some iconographical ideas (despite the fact that iconography seems more centered on classic/antiquated art). For instance, at one point in her discussion, she writes that “the news media poses a situation that requires a distinction between how a photograph was understood at the time and how it might be understood in the current day” (184). If I read Barthes correctly, texts are severed from their historical context in their interpretation, as the role of the semiologist/mythologist is to stop the fluid movement between the linguistic and mythologic systems. A large part of Edwards argument, however, is that images are encapsulated in their historic context; this quality is what allows for the layered meaning that results from re-presenting a past image in contemporary times. This idea clearly conforms to Van Leeuwens’ “Semiotics and iconography” when he writes that “iconography also uses arguments based on intertextual comparison[a past image recalled to the present] and archival background research[ inclusion of historical context]” (117).

It is in my attempt to apply and understand Van Leeuwens’ ideas that I find myself a bit confused about a part of Edwards’ piece. I understand that the salute photograph is a myth of sorts, and that it consequently holds a meaning beyond that of a little boy saluting. Edwards frequently calls the photo an iconic image. I can’t decide if this image is an example of iconographical or iconological symbolism, as Van Leeuwen distinguishes them in the following way:

“Iconographical symbolism. . .denote[s] a particular person, thing or place, but also the ideas or
concepts attached to it. . .iconographical symbolism is apprehended by realizing that a male figure with a
knife represents St. Bartholomew. . .” (100-1).

“Iconological symbolism is what, in another context, would be called ideological meaning. . .to ascertain
those underlying principles which reveal the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or
philosophical persuasion” (101).

The two ideas seem almost indistinguishable to me. In each case, the iconic symbol is accompanied by associations, concepts, and idea. At first, I thought the fact that Van Leeuwen explicitly mentions nations in his discussion of iconological symbolism made it clear, but now I’m not so sure. Iconographical also denotes a symbol that evokes more than just itself. Perhaps I’m reading to much into this; maybe someone can straighten it out for me?

III. Questions, Key Terms, and Further Reading

1. What do you make of Edwards’ closing thought—that the symbolic meanings of images spark a self-reflexive

2. What ideas do you feel this piece is more informed by: Semiotics? Iconography? Both?

Key Terms:
Visual rhetoric
Depictive Rhetoric
Parasocial Relationship
Truth Value
Symbolic Value
Cultural Remembering/Collective Memory


Monday, September 17, 2007

The World of Wrestling

Abstract of Roland Barthes’ “The World of Wrestling” (1957)
By Jennifer Lowry

Description of Article

The whole of Barthes’ essay examines wrestling in light of the theatre, and wrestling being a theatrical act. Like theatre, wrestling is based upon a sign system. Each element of wrestling, whether the wrestler’s physique or his gestures indicate an “absolute clarity, since [the spectator] must always understand everything on the spot” (16). In the theatre, the private becomes public; in wrestling this “Exhibition of Suffering […] is the very aim of the fight” (19). Like the theatre, the public watches wrestling for the “great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice. As in the theatre, “wrestling presents man’s suffering with all the amplification of tragic masks” (19).

The comparisons to theatre continue as Barthes argues that wrestling (and I am thinking of the WWF type wrestling) is not a sport but a spectacle (15) one in which the audience is not concerned with “what it thinks but what it sees” (15). He compares wrestling to boxing and judo, which he considers sports, but unlike sports, wrestling, has no winner (16). It is not the function of the wrestler to win, “it is to go through the motions which are expected of him” (16).

The bastard or villain is usually the sufferer in wrestling. Barthes describes how the body of the bastard sums up all of his “actions, his treacheries, cruelties and acts of cowardice” (17). “The physique of the wrestlers therefore constitutes a basic sign, which like a seed contains the whole fight” (18). The costumes, like those of the theatre, represent the tragic play of wrestling.

According to Barthes, Defeat and Justice go hand in hand. Defeat is not an “outcome”, but a “display” (21). Defeat of the bastard “is a purely moral concept: that of justice” (21). The defeated must deserve the punishment (21) which is why the “crowd is jubilant at seeing the rules broken” (21) as long as it is just. “In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is not symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively” (25). Again, as compared, there is no question of truth, the spectator just accepts what is presented to them as the way it is and should be.

Comments and Questions

This article does not lend much to commenting and is more of a summary… and my own personal thoughts.

Barthes begins his essay by arguing that wrestling is not a sport because there are no winners – at least that is not the point of the fight. He states:
The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees. (15)
While I have not experienced wrestling in France during this period I have watched wrestling on television (and I am quite sure that it is the kind of theatrical wrestling Barthes is discussing). I think it is pompous of him to assume that no one is interested in whether the contest is rigged. I also think there are many that would argue that wrestling is a sport. There are winners and losers and the winners are not always the good guys.

I do understand his contention that wrestling is like the theatre. Clearly, this type of wrestling is much more dramatic than that of the “sporting” kind. The use of costume and masks separate wrestling from recognized sporting competitions and do represent a theatrical appeal. Barthes argues in “Myth Today” that “myth is a system of communication, that it is a message” (109). He is clearly trying to get this point across in his examination of wrestling. Everything about the wrestler carries a message. The body of the wrestler, Barthes argues, carries the first message. The repulsiveness of the wrestler, his ugliness and the crowd’s reaction to that reflect on the characteristics of the wrestler. Even the wrestler’s commentary reflects upon his character, the gestures he engages in only further represent the character he is meant (assigned) to be.

What really strikes me as important is Barthes idea that the private is publicly displayed through wrestling as it is in the theatre. Using wrestling, spectators are able to identify with the characters and inflict the punishment that they feel is deserved. It seems to me that the caricatures of wrestling are exaggerations of real life. But by portraying them in exaggeration, the spectator is able to separate himself from the feelings associated.

Barthes argues that French and American wrestling are different in that the “heroes in French wrestling […are] based on ethics and not on politics” (23). He also states the American wrestling is based on “a sort of mythological fight between Good and Evil” (23) with the bad wrestler always some sort of Communist (which I don’t really think is always the case). But at the end of his essay he states:

In the ring, and even in the depths of their voluntary ignominy, wrestlers remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible. (25)

I understand that he is probably using these references to “Good and Evil” in different contexts, but isn’t it possible that some Americans actually do view Communism as Evil? This clearly explains to me why they would portray the villain as a Communist.

I don’t really have any questions… the only thing that really struck me was my defensiveness at his comparison between American and French wrestling. Of course, only being familiar with the one and not the other doesn’t really give me much of a foot to stand on. I am curious as to why he even felt he had to throw in this comparison of French and American wrestling, as I don’t really see it necessary to his argument.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Barthes: Intro, Signifier and Signified, Denotation and Connotation

Author: Bill Schnupp

Abstract: Elements of Semiology: Intro., Signifier and Signified, Denotation and Connotation.

I. Summary

A. Introduction

In this section, Barthes introduces readers to semiology, tempering his definition with the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure to characterize the as yet undeveloped discipline as “a science of signs. . .[and] systems of signification” (9). These systems can encompass objects, music, public entertainment, and myriad other possibilities.

Barthes stresses that at the time he is writing, semiology is a very underdeveloped area of study, “a tentative science.” In this science, no system can signify autonomously—language must, at some level, be present. In this sense semiology is a sub-discipline of linguistics: “it is semiology which is a part of linguistics. . .it is that part covering the great signifying unities of discourse” (11). Barthes closes by highlighting the four divisions of semiology he perceives and later discusses: Language and Speech, Signified and Signifier, Syntagm and System, and Denotation and Connotation.

B. Signifier and Signified

Perhaps the first thing that should be said about this section is that it is a continual parallel between linguistics and semiology, as the latter was, at this time, a rather raw and undeveloped mode of inquiry. Barthes draws continually on linguistics as the forbearer of semiology to inform his discussion in places where semiological thought is not yet fully articulated.

Barthes opens this section with the concept of the sign, a signifying relationship (or meaning, as I read it) which is essentially the union of the components signifier (a term) and the signified (its concept or relation.) Ideas of content and expression are inextricable from this process.


At the same time, readers are reminded that the sign is more complex than this basic formula: indeed, it is more than “the mere correlation of a signifier and a signified, but perhaps more essentially an act of simultaneously cutting out two amorphous masses” (56). Every element in the semiological relationship has more than one meaning. Like a sheaf of paper, each possesses a reverse image. Signs, particularly those with utilitarian, functional origins, are known as sign-functions. The idea I draw from this from this is that reality and meaning are based on use and function: “there is no reality except when it is intelligible” (42).

The signified in the relationship Barthes imposes is defined as “the mental representation of a thing. . .a concept” (42-3). It incorporates such elements as practices, techniques, and ideologies. It is this component of the triadic relationship which triggers Barthes’ discussion of metalanguages (languages about languages—that is, a discourse employed to make sense of another discourse.)

The signifier is a mediator to handle the words, images, and objects in the sign equation. It is the initial element triggers the process of investing meaning and thus making a sign. The union of the signifier and signified is termed signification. This process of making meaning is, according to Barthes’ interpretation of Saussure, arbitrary, a product of social convention. The sign can be interpreted as the value of the expression, and is a product of exchange and comparison among dissimilar words and ideas. Barthes closes with an estimate of where he believes semiology is headed: toward existence as a discipline concerned with the production of reality, fused with taxonomy—termed arthrology, a science of apportionment.

C. Denotation and Connotation

In this discussion, Barthes revisits the relationship between signifier, signified and sign. However, in this section, the relation is approached in a new way, in the relation (R) between expression (E) and content (C), expressed as ERC. The focus here is on staggered systems of signification, or those systems in which one or more of the components in the relation (ERC) is expressed by a relation all its own.

Ex. (ERC) RC, where E=(ERC). The first system lies in the plane of denotation, and the second (collective), in the plane of connotation; it is wider and encompasses all the elements. The way I read this (and if I'm wrong somebody please correct me), denotation stands for the collectively agreed upon meaning of an image or text--comparable to the signifier-- and connotation represents the accompanying ideas and concepts--much like the signified and the ensuing process of signification.

Barthes uses the discussion of denotation and connotation to branch off and further explore metalanguages, those discourses employed to speak about and analyze discourses. In this model, a language (in the linguistic sense) is a first-order language, and the ensuing metalanguage is a second-order language. The role of the semiologist, then, is to decipher the first-order language through the lens of the second, but in doing so there is a danger: just as connotation served as an extension of denotation in the system above, so too can each subsequent metalanguage serve as a segue into another and another, a self-sustaining and destructive cycle. As each language rises, another takes its place, “a diachrony of metalanguages, and each science, including of course semiology, would contain the seeds of its own death, in the shape of the language destined to speak it" (93).

II. Analysis

I’ll start by saying that a great deal of this was tough to grasp the first time around. I’ve tried to bring out some of the main ideas (or what I perceived as the main ideas) in this section.

Clearly, the roots of Semiology stem from linguistics—“there is no meaning which is not designated, and the world of signifieds is none other than that of language” (Barthes 10)—but for me the two diverge in their scope: linguistics is dedicated solely to the study of languages and the various forms and processes encompassed therein; semiology, on the other hand, is devoted not only to the verbal, but to all other means of making meaning that intersect the verbal realm. In some additional reading, I even found that there are branches of semiotics that study animal behavior (zoosemiotics), human body language (kinsemics and proxemics), and one variety that examines communication by olfactory signs. Semiology seems a literal embodiment of the connotation Barthes is so enamored of (there is more to meaning than meets the eye; it goes beyond language to engage the public and the personal to include things like music, gestures objects, events, etc.)

It is not difficult to perceive how the ideas of Barthes tie in with the ideas we have encountered in class to this point. Semiology is concerned with the interpretation of various cultural texts, and though the discipline is clearly very structuralist, I’m not sure it falls entirely under that paradigm. The meaning that arises from the triadic relationship between signifier/signified/sign is essentially arbitrary, an idea Barthes touches on—“the only link between signifier and signified, is a fairly arbitrary (although inevitable) abstraction” (54). This suggests that the meaning someone invests in a sign is largely socially dictated—a word means something because we collectively allow it to do so. Thus, our experience is dictated by the pre-approved structure. A good example can be found in Daniel Chandler’s discussion of semiotics, in which he gives the example of an open sign in a shop window. In this scenario, a passerby would likely invest meaning in the following way: the signifier, the word ‘open,’ is mentally combined with the accompanying signified concept that the shop is open for business, and these two combine to form the resulting sign, a shop with an ‘open’ sign in the window is prepared to exchange with consumers.

?My question here concerns the different meanings people may construct. Say someone outside is wearing a sweater. When I see this, I would see the signifier, sweater, combined with the signified concept that it is cold outside, and the sign, that someone is wearing a long-sleeved, heavily woven garment because it is cold outside. Perhaps, though, it isn’t cold. Maybe it’s a hot July day and the person wears the sweater because their office air-conditioner is too efficient. Maybe the sweater was a gift from a loved one no longer living and the wearer dons the sweater for sentimental reasons. Maybe the wearer’s friend made a bet that the wearer couldn’t go an entire July day wearing a wool sweater. There could be many variations in this story. My point is simply this: many of the myriad meanings for the wearing of the sweater are not socially configured; as such, personal experience seems to motivate the wearing of the sweater, and thus experience here is no effect, but a driving force. Isn’t this culturalist influence?

?I'm also still working on the idea of the metalanguage and its destructive potential. The way I read it, a metalangauge is a discourse used to discuss another discourse and is thereby its destroyer (for example, myth is a metalanguage for the language in which the myth originates.) So, couldn't, say, cultural studies be considered a metalanguage because it 's used as a means to interpret cultural texts? If this is the case, then isn't the discipline simultaneously studying and destroying its object of inquiry?

Barthes ideas, though at times a bit difficult, nonetheless fascinate me. By-and-large, his work seems motivated by the relationship between language (and other modes of signification) and thought, and how the two combine to make meaning. It unites questions of culture, psychology, reality, and many others.

III. Questions and Further Reading.

1. For you, does semiology seem more aligned with structuralism or culturalism?

2. After reading Barthes, what do you make of this statement: the limits of my language are the limits of my

3. How do you respond to Barthes’ idea of the destructive cycle of metalanguages?

It always helps me to have other readings to draw on. I found some very accessible readings online at:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chapter 8: Globalization and Popular Culture

Storey begins this chapter by offering a definition of globalization. He calls it "the establishment of a capitalist world economy" and also a "time-space compression [...] in which the world appears to be getting smaller" (152). This information helps to situate his arguments against the view of globalization as "cultural americanisation," or in other words, the imposition of American culture onto "weaker" cultures through American media and products. Storey finds fault with this view of globalization for four reasons:
1) The model "assumes that economic success is the same as cultural imposition" (154). I like John Tomlinson's comment that this is a "rather impoverished concept of culture--one that reduces culture to its material goods" (qtd. on 154).
2)The model "claim[s] that commodities have inherent values and singular meanings, which can be imposed on passive consumers"(155). To debunk this myth, Storey refers to a study conducted in which several culturally diverse groups were shown the same American TV program and asked to discuss it. The response and analysis of the show varied widely and depended on the cultural lens through which the participant viewed the program.
3)The model "assumes that America is the only global power"(159).
4)The model is based on the assumption that "American culture is monolithic"--that it is a prepackaged, one-size-fits-all homogenous entity that is injected into other countries when we export our products there.

I appreciate Storey ability to expose and critique these long-held assumptions of American globalization. We need only look at the meteoric progress of China to recognize that America is certainly not the only global power. Also, as was confirmed in our own class as we shared our cultural artifacts, American culture is certainly not monolithic. Like other cultures, it is "hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic"(Said qtd. in 162).

Storey concludes by arguing that there has never been a culture in any part of the world that has stayed pristine and pure, without variation. Rather, every culture evolves as it negotiates and incorporates the influences it is exposed to over time.

As I read this chapter, the visual that kept coming to my head was the idea of the McDonalds in Argentina. While it is true that material goods are not the only component of culture, or that American culture is ingested along with a Big Mac in Argentina, it is also true that the influx of American products and conveniences seems to be changing the daily routines of Argentines, which is having an effect on their culture. For example, it is an age-old custom to sit around and share a drink called Mate with friends and family after dinner in Argentina. This is a time to be close and share and build relationships, and it is a huge indicator of the type of hospitable culture the Argentines are known for. Of course, Argentines that eat out at McDonalds forego that tradition at least for that meal. They trade the tradition of family togetherness for the comfort of is interesting for me to reflect on that example as I evaluate Storey's arguments in this chapter.
Summary of "Globalisation and Popular Culture"
by Tom Peele

No one who read this entire collection will be surprised to learn that Storey takes an oppositional stance to the concept of globalisation. By oppositional, I mean that he doesn't buy the concept that America is by degrees turning the world into a clone of itself. Let me let Storey (at least as I read him) explain.

Usefully, Storey defines globalisation: "the establishment of a capitalist world economy [I wrote and then corrected "world order." Are you familiar with Bush the First's justification for the first gulf war: establishing a "new world order" and something about 1,000 points of light. Where are they now?] in which national borders are becoming less and less important as transnational corporations, existing everywhere and nowhere, do business in a global market" (152). This sense of globalisation, he writes, can be experienced by going anywhere and doing anything -- clothes and food from around the world are available far from their origins. He also defines globalisation as "time-space compression," a world in which people travel more and are more digitally wired (and thus more often and more rapidly in communication with each other) than before. The final definition he provides concerns the increasing migration of the labor force.

Storey's beef has to do with "globalisation as cultural Americanisation" (153). He's not concerned about this because, as he emphasized throughout the book, culture is made locally; it happens when cultural artifacts are consumed. The meanings of those artifacts are not pre-determined, but rather made in the process of consumption. This is a point with which both Matthew and Jenny might take issue. If the range of products is predetermined, then how is meaning made locally?

To defend his claim, Storey points out that "commodities are [not] the same as culture" (154). By this, he means that individuals make meaning from commodities; it is this process of meaning making where culture resides. Instead of assuming that meaning remains stable, we need instead to consider how commodities are read (155-57).

Storey provides many examples of how culture is appropriated then moves to a useful discussion of "hybridization" (161). One can only imagine, he claims, that culture can be penetrated and overwhelmed only if one imagines that cultures are monolithic and static. Instead, what occurs is hybridization, which results in "Thai boxing by Moroccan girls in Amsterdam, Asian rap in London, Irish bagels, Chinese tacos" and other cultural manifestations (161). The difficulty, Storey, following Said, claims, "was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly exclusively, White, or Black, or Western, or Oriental" (162).

How, then, do we think of ourselves? How is identity shaped? How do we (should we?) stop thinking of ourselves as primarily one thing or another? If commodity consumption allows us to create our own identities, how have these come to be the identities we create? Commodity consumption is just one avenue of the creation of culture -- that culture is created in so many ways, from so many sources (Ideological State Apparatuses come to mind) suggests that as we pursue cultural studies we consider, or acknowledge that we will not be considering, various forms of cultural production.

It is telling that Storey ends the book with a discussion of hegemony: "popular culture is neither an 'authentic' subordinate culture, nor a culture imposed by the culture industries, but a 'compromise equilibrium' (Gramsci) between the two; a contradictory mix of forces from both 'below' and 'above'; both 'commercial' and authentic'; marked by 'resistance' and 'incorporation', involving both 'structure' and 'agency'" (163).

Chapter 3 Fiction

In the 3rd chapter, on fiction, Storey describes the four main methods for studying popular fiction. These four main approaches are: symptomatic reading, reception theory, reading formations, and feminism and romance reading.

Ideology and Symptomatic Reading- The real basic overview of this section is all meaning is found in the text, if you look hard enough everything that can be found will be found there.

Storey begins with the ideas of Louis Althusser. He believes that “ideological discourse is a closed system” (37). What we are to understand from the text comes from both what the text says and what the text does not say. To gain all the information possible from a given text we must deconstruct it. We deconstruct in two main ways. First we read the text for what is obvious, then we do a second reading, recording all that was not said, for what is left unsaid is also very much a part of the text according to Althusser.
Pierre Macherey, a user of this method, is much more clear when describing what he means by deconstruction of the text. Macherey believes that “the view that a text has a single meaning which it is the task of criticism to uncover” (38) is false. He believes that a given text will have multiple meanings, depending on what is deconstructed and how far you go. He also puts forth the theory that a fictional text is “decentered”. Storey explains “his point is that all fictional texts are ‘decentered’ (not centered on an authorial intention) in the specific sense that they consist of a confrontation between several discourses: explicit, implicit, silent and absent” (38). Basically, Macherey says, “in order for something to be said, other things must be left unsaid” (39).

Reception Theory- The real basic overview of this section is that all meaning that is taken from a given text depends entirely on who is reading the text.

Storey gives it right to us when he starts with Hans-Georg Gadamer. It is very clear when Storey states Gadamer’s argument as, “an understanding of a cultural text is always from the perspective of the person who understands” (41).
This theory states that every time someone picks up a novel they are not starting that novel blank. The reader brings to the text all of their experiences and these individual experiences shape the meaning that is derived from the text. Storey explains, “a text is always read with preconceptions or prejudices; it is never encountered in a state of virginal purity, untouched by the knowledge with which, or the context in which, it is read” (42).
Another literary theorist Wolfgang Iser feels that not only does the reader make his own meaning of the text but that this process is an ‘act of production’. This in effect gives the reader all control over meaning because Iser states “as a literary text can only produce a response when it is read, it is virtually impossible to describe this response without also analyzing the reading process…the text represents a potential effect that is realized in the reading process…the meaning of the text is something that [the reader] has to assemble” (43).

Reading Formations- This section in a nutshell has to do with what happens when readers of a text are predisposed to read it in a specific way, it shows that specific historical and situational points affect the reading of a text.

Storey explains this theory with the help of John Bennett and Janet Woollacott’s study of the ever-shifting meaning of the character James Bond. They do not agree that all meaning in a text is already there. Their main point is that “popular fiction is a specific space, with its own ideological economy, making available a historically variable, complex and contradictory range of ideological discourses and counter discourses to be activated in particular conditions of reading” (50).
To further their point they look at the ever-changing view of James Bond. They contest that given the particular era, what Bond films have been out, and the appearance of the Bond girls, all have an effect on how one will read the books. For example, if you watch a Bond movie in the 50’s you will read more into the text about a Cold-war hero, and if you watch the movie in the 70’s you might read more into the text about sexual liberation.

Feminism and Romance Reading

In this section Storey quotes Tania Modleski, who says there are three ways women critics write about romance stories, with “dismissiveness; hostility – tending unfortunately to be aimed at the consumers of the narrative; or, most frequently, a flippant kind of mockery” (60).
Janice Radway conducted a famous study to try and figure out romance reading. She did research on forty-two women in the town of ‘Smithton’. Her first conclusion was “that romantic fantasy is a form of regression in which the reader is imaginatively and emotionally transported to a time ‘when she was the center of the profoundly nurturing individual’s attention’” (62). Having come to this conclusion, Radway feels that “romance reading can be viewed as a means by which women can vicariously, though the hero-heroine relationship, experience the emotional succor which they themselves are expected to provide to others without adequate reciprocation for themselves in their normal day-to-day existence” (62).
However, Storey points out that some do not fully agree with Radway’s findings. Critic Ien Ang feels that Radway is perhaps being a little one-sided. She feels that Radway, being a feminist, isn’t seeing beyond her political agenda. Ang feels that feminists can read Romance as pleasure for pleasures sake. Ang, along with Alison Light, feel that Radway made a lot of interesting discoveries with her work but that it is important not to go too overboard into a ‘book-burning legislature’ (68).

Chapter Five Summary

Chapter Five: Newspapers and Magazines
From: Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture, by John Storey
Summary by: Diane Neu

General Overview

Storey outlines various approaches to understanding cultural studies within three separate contexts of newspapers and magazines: “The Popular Press,” “Magazines for Women and Girls,’ and “Reading Visual Culture.”

The Popular Press

Storey begins his explanation of the role that the popular press plays in cultural studies by quoting from Jostein Gripsrud that while we do not need to come to the defense of the press “in any simplistic populist or ‘anti-elitist’ manner,” we should strive to understand it and the way it functions (87). He then moves into discussing four different cultural studies approaches to the popular press:

Peter Dahlgreen: For Dahlgreen, storytelling is the “ ‘key link’ ” “between tabloid journalism and popular culture” (87). Storytelling is “one of the two basic modes of knowing and making sense of the world, the other being the analytic mode” (87). While the analytic mode is made up of facts, logic, and navigational information, the storytelling mode makes sense of the world through narrative accounts. Though journalism may aim for the analytic mode with straightforward facts, it is “the storytelling mode which is most often brought into play” (87). Dahlgreen sees a “ ‘storytelling continuum’ ” existing “ ‘between serious and tabloid news, between fact and fiction’ ” (87).

Colin Sparks: Sparks contends that the “key difference” between “quality” journalism and the popular press is the use, by the popular press, of “an explanatory network” (88). While the “quality” press may prefer to present a strict timeline of events and facts and leave inference up to the reader, the popular press decides to bridge that gap for the reader. The reader does not need to create human-interest stories to go along with the news – the popular press will create it for them.

John Fiske: Fiske maintains that while the popular press is “ ‘not radical,’ ” it is often “ ‘potentially, and often actually, progressive’ ” (89). Fiske explains that the popular press “ ‘may be progressive in that they can encourage the production of meanings that work to change or destabilize the social order, but they can never be radical in the sense that they can never oppose head on or overthrow that order” (89). While the official press serves as the mouthpiece “of the prevailing structures of power,” the popular press “is full of utopian fantasies of another way of understanding the world which challenges the normalizing “reality” of the power-bloc” (89-90). The popular press functions as a way for “the people” to enter into conversation with the official news through a process where this official news is “ ‘re-informed’ ” in order to “ ‘be made relevant to everyday life’ ” (91).

Ian Connell: Connell focuses in on the ways in which the popular press devotes its pages to detailing the lives of the rich and famous. Connell argues that readers are simultaneously “ ‘engaged by the stories,’ ” imagining themselves as one of the mega-wealthy while also
“ ‘mount[ing] a populist challenge on privilege’ ” (92). At the heart of these stories of the wealthy is an articulation of “a moral economy in which the world is divided between those with power and privilege and those without power and privilege” (93).

Magazines for Women and Girls

Storey skips the lead-in quote here, and begins right away by discussing one of the three approaches to looking at magazines created for women and girls:

Angela McRobbie: McRobbie begins by dissecting the role of magazines in the lives of women and girls through the 1970s magazine Jackie. She posits that magazines like Jackie strive “ ‘to win and shape the consent of the readers to a particular set of values’ ” (94). These magazines do so by appealing to its readers through four “ ‘subcodes’ ” which serve to define these areas of the reader’s life (94):
1. The code of romance: Girls must fight each other over men. Girls cannot trust other girls. Heterosexual romance is the only path to happiness (94).
2. The code of personal/domestic life: The values from the other codes must be instilled into the everyday workings of a girls personal life as well. The magazine uses its “problem page” to send “explicit messages to girls about what is right and expected of them (95).
3. The code of fashion and beauty: Wearing make-up and dressing nicely should be “ ‘of paramount importance’ ” to a girl (95).
4. The code of pop music: Pop stars (male, I presume) are a suitable release for young, female emotions. You can look and listen – but do not touch (95).
McRobbie “welcomes the fading popularity of Jackie, and other magazines like it” while welcoming magazines like Just Seventeen and Mizz as examples of magazines for girls that have been “influenced by the success and circulation of feminist ideas” (95).

Janice Winship: Winship contends that we cannot “ ‘simply dismiss women’s magazines’ ” because to do so would be “ ‘to dismiss the lives of millions of women who read and enjoyed them each week’ ” (96). Winship desires to explain why women enjoy these magazines so much, and she does this by explaining the ways in which these magazines directly appeal to their demographic (96-7). These appeals, according to Winship, are organized around different “ ‘fictions.’ ” These fictions are essentially the stories the magazines creates through its articles and advertising, in order to draw the reader “into a world of consumption “ where they will be sold on the idea of “pleasurable femininity” (97).

Joke Hermes: Hermes’s approach is similar to Winship’s in that she finds fault with those that simply criticize the women who read the magazines written for them. She rebels against the idea of feminists who think that the readers of such magazines must be saved and enlightened away from their choice of reading material (99). Instead, she advocates for an “ ‘appreciation that readers are producers of meaning rather than the cultural dupes of the media institutions’ ” (99). Hermes is more interested in the meaning that readers construct from the text for themselves as opposed to the message that the text may or may not be trying to impose on them. After conducting interviews with readers of women’s magazines, Hermes identifies the four main meanings that readers constructed, which she refers to as “repertoires.” They are:
1. “ ‘easily put down’ ”
2. “ ‘relaxation’ ”
3. “ ‘practical knowledge’ ”
4. “ ‘emotional learning and connected knowing’ ” (101)

Reading Visual Culture

In this section, Storey only focuses on Roland Barthes’s approach to reading visual culture, as Storey sees the “foundational work” of Barthes to be some of “the most influential work on popular visual culture within cultural studies” (103).

Roland Barthes: Each visual image is involved in a process of “ ‘signification’ ” (103). In this process, there is both a “primary signification (denotation)” and a secondary signification (connotation)” (105). Barthes uses the example of a cover of Paris Match magazine. On the cover is a “black soldier saluting the French flag.” This is the primary signification – the surface level picture. However, the secondary signifier is that of “Paris Match’s attempt to produce a positive image of French imperialism” (105). However, there are several things to consider before coming to a conclusion about an image’s secondary signifier. The context of the photo is extremely important to making meaning of the secondary signifier. If the same photo had been placed “on the cover of a socialist magazine, its connotative meaning(s) would have been very different” (105). In such a context, the reader would have likely looked for humor and irony. As photos “rarely appear without the accompaniment of a linguistic text of one kind or another,” each photo is carefully placed within a context and can be removed from one context and then reused in another context through the use of new text, layout, etc. Barthes calls this process anchorage (107-8). Ultimately, what makes the reader able to jump from the level of primary signification to that of secondary signification is “the store of social knowledge (a cultural repertoire) upon which the reader is able to draw when he or she read the image. Without access to this shared code (conscious or unconscious), the operations of connotations would not be possible” (108).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Abstract of Chapter 5: Newspapers and Magazines
by Mike Peterson

Description of Article

In this chapter, John Storey outlines four approaches to understanding the “popular press,” two approaches for analyzing “magazines for women and girls,” and one approach to “reading visual culture.”

Peter Dahlgren: The connection between tabloid journalism and popular culture is storytelling. While journalism is committed to the analytic mode, it often still uses the mode of storytelling, and the difference between “serious” and “tabloid” news, therefore, isn’t really that different (75).

Colin Sparks: The difference between serious and tabloid (what he calls quality and popular) press, is the marked reliance of popular press on the “personal” as an explanatory framework (76). This reliance, he argues, makes it nearly impossible for the popular press to engage in “popular productivity,” but will, instead, usually fall in the realm of the “reactionary popular,” which can only “speak of their concerns, joys and discontents within the limits set for it by the existing structures of society” (76).

John Fiske: “Popular culture is potentially, and often actually, progressive (though not radical)” (77). Fiske lumps the types of press into three categories: popular, official, and alternative (though nothing more is said in this chapter about the alternative press). The official press represents the interests of the power-bloc in a “top-down flow of information” and ensures the “maintenance of the prevailing structures of society” (77). The popular press, on the other hand, takes a tone of “skeptical laughter” and sees through the power-bloc. One such way this happens is through the popular press’s utopian fantasies, which challenge the “normalising ‘reality’ of the power-bloc” (78). The official press, Fiske argues, would have its readers “deciphering” its texts—subjecting themselves to its “truths,” whereas the popular press would have its readers “reading” its texts—actively participating in the production of the text’s relevance.

Ian Connell: The popular press is somewhat ineffective for social change because it merely produces resentment for those in the stories (celebrities, politicians, etc.) but not resistance to them (80). In other words, in the clash of the “haves” and “have-nots,” the popular press merely causes the “have-nots” to want to be a member of the “haves,” rather than questioning why there are “haves” and “have-nots” to begin with. The popular press has three players: the characters (the haves), the narrator (who writes about the haves but isn’t necessarily one himself), and the powerless readers (presumably the have-nots) (81).

Angela McRobbie: There has been a satisfying shift in how feminity is portrayed for teenage girls between Jackie of the seventies and Just Seventeen and Mizz of today. All of Jackie’s articles, ads, and columns center around one or more of four strategies: the code of romance, the code of personal/domestic life, the code of fashion and beauty, and the code of pop music—all of which function “to map and, ultimately, to limit the feminine sphere” (83). The newer magazines talk about love and sex and boys, but not in the “conventionally coded meta-narrative of romance which…could only create a neurotically dependent female” (84).

Janice Winship: Feminists shouldn’t simply dismiss women’s magazines. Instead, they should “critically consider its limitations and potential for change” (84). All women’s magazines, she argues, follow the same formula regardless of politics: they operate as survival manuals through a combination of entertainment and useful advice (85). Each magazine works to draw the reader into a world of consumption, but this isn’t necessarily bad. Advertisements, for example, can be aesthetically and emotionally pleasing, letting readers “vicariously indulge…in the fictions they create” without necessarily duping or fooling the reader (85). The problem with the magazines is that they are survival manuals for the “mythical individual woman” which encourages woman to “do alone what they can only do together” in fighting “powerful social and cultural structures and constraints” (85, 87).

Roland Barthes: In the process of signification, the secondary signification, or connotation, is where myth is created. A myth, according to Barthes, is an “ideology understood as a body of ideas and practices which defend and actively promote the values and interests of the dominant groups in society” (88). Barthes uses the example of the image in Paris Match: a picture of a black man in a French uniform saluting the French flag. At the level of connotation, there are considerations that go into reading the visual: the context of the publication is paramount in this example. As we understand the role of semiology in the construction of connotative readings, we can go beyond being innocent consumers of myth (90). Images rarely appear without text, and Barthes argues that “the image does not illustrate the text; it is the text which amplifies the connotative potential of the image” (91). The text helps readers pin down the denotative meaning as well as limit the connotative interpretations. It is important to remember that how an image/text is read depends on the “location of the text, the historical moment and the formation of the reader” (92).

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ch. 7 Consumption in Everyday Life

Before I get started I just want to point out that in my 'Storey book' (the new version), the title has the word 'EVERYDAY' spelled as one word and in the page headings that follow in the chapter the, 'EVERYDAY' is split into, 'EVERY' and 'DAY'. As much as my entry could be about this Derridean moment, I'll reserve it for another discussion maybe.

Consumption in Everyday Life : Abstract
by Matt Dewey

The chapter on consumption stems from the the overall conception of a culture as having a material base and is located in a sense of consumables and the processes of consumption as texts. Given that Storey positions all things cultural as texts allows him to then discuss consumption of texts on the level of a tension between objective (political) and subjective (theoretical) interpretations. He states that cultural studies is concerned with consumption for two reasons: a) the plurality of meanings of a text as it is negotiated over time and use (theoretical); b) that these texts are made and remade by consumers in the practices of the ‘everyday’ (political).

In response to what Storey calls the, ‘pessimistic elitism’, of more critical and structuralist cultural studies, culture in his mind should view texts and their consumption as “production in use” (pg. 133), that there is no set place for the actual meaning of a text to be found but that it should be studied as a process and in its processes of continual meaning formation. Storey goes on to discuss the duality in consumption through studies on youth subcultures, fan cultures and shopping.

Subcultural Consumption

Through an analysis of studies of youth subcultures in working class areas of London (Cohen) Storey, states that youth in subcultures are searching for a unity in affluence promised by their parents working class ethic, and an acceptance from the very consumer based society that rejects them. Therefore, in practice, subcultures like, punks and mods, are an example of , “...consumption at its most discriminating. Through a process of ‘bricolage’, subcultures appropriate for their own purposes and meanings the commodities commercially provided... commodities are rearticulated to produce oppositional meanings “ (pg. 135). By a process of essentially reinventing the meaning of texts, subcultures resist the generalization and assimilation that constitutes mass consumption. It is this negotiation, between positions in society(class) and the rewriting of cultural products that embodies the importance of Storey’s two reasons to the study of consumption.

Fan Culture

Storey goes on the analyze fan culture. While subculture youths rewrite texts to embody their conceptual displacement outside of popular culture, fan culture practices embrace particular texts in order to create additional, supplemental, or intensified versions of those texts. Fan cultures surrounding a TV show would engage in consumption, creation, and recreation of different aspects of text, be it characters, themes, genres, in order to develop specialized and hypostatized understandings of the original or related text. The significance of Fan culture is the process of production and appropriation that lead to readings/ consumptions(141) that are entirely separate text. Fans, not unlike subcultural youths, create communities of people who share a common interest in recreating alternative understandings and uses of the ‘popular’ or generally accepted meaning of products.


Storey suggests that in looking at shopping from a cultural studies perspective we would find that it is not simply an activity that culminates in the purchasing of a product. Though phenomena such as the department store once served the submissive tastes of the bourgeois, today the act of shopping can serve a number of different social functions such as exercise, interaction with others, employment, and immediate and temporary shelter for the weather stricken or homeless.

To conclude the article description, Storey in general seems to want us to not automatically assume that we are all mindlessly consuming products because of some unseen productive evil. Though we should not forget that there are motive behind advertising and 2-for-one sales, consumption is more nuanced and creative in culture than merely supportive for economic systems. It is a way to share interests and create new ones.


“... the problem of capitalism is not production, but consumption”
- Sut Jhally, Advertising and the End of the World (1998)

Although I appreciate Storey’s insistence on the theoretical and political implications in the study of consumption I can’t help but wonder if Storey's two reasons are actual the same, or so incorporated and constitutive of each other that their separation is merely academic. I do, I admit, have problems with seeing how plurality of meanings of texts are separate from the process of creation and recreation of those meanings. It could be as well that my misunderstanding doesn’t even matter or that the two reasons were never placed in dialectical opposition. Storey does though seem to disconnect conceptually another issue of consumption by implying that in order to determine the extent of social control, “requires vigilance and attention to details of the active relations between production and consumption”(133). I thought at first I was making too big a deal out of it but as I read on, it seems particularly important for Storey that the idea of consumption lie evenly outside the process of production (structural) as it does inside in order for his two reasons to be separately considered. I’m not so sure that his analysis frees consumption from structure as much as he aims to.

Though of course the processes of producing a product are mechanically different from the act of buying the product in a store, they are bound intrinsically and inseperably, specifically the United States, to the narrative of capitalism. The relationship between production and consumption is not arbitrary but explicit. The idea that subcultural youth negotiate class issues through recreating the meaning of the products they consume suggest a non- negotiation, or an essential acceptance and adherence, to the logic and promise of consumption. Whether one is ‘discriminately consuming’ or consuming through depression the orientation to material is still complete. This leads me to ask as I was reading the chapter at what point in the discussion of texts and their negotiation is there not a reinforcement or apology for the structure that guides it? Where then, does the power that causes class struggle or forms the hegemony of a mass culture suddenly become innocuous?

If consumption was arbitrary, if for most people it was a leisure activity of whim, as it seems to be for the ‘fan culture’, we could insist that it be studied from a purely humanistic interactive perspective. But this sort of consuming is privileged; Walmart does so well not because it is a cultural mecca of fashion, but because its demographic is the poor and middle class which make up a majority of the population. Consumption is specifically class oriented and class is specifically structural.

The underline idea Storey is discussing in the negotiation of consumption is the negotiation of identity or the formation of it. The idea of identity in consumer goods is a specific articulation of advertising but has its historical roots in the separation of classes. Those who can afford to be discriminating have the ability to pick and choose, have access to this market or that, wear purple instead of green; access and accumulation to such goods defined the bourgeois ethic. To return to the discussion of youth subcultures, punk lost its identity or negotiation with popular culture when specific stores or agents began to cater to their ‘style’ (the idea of 'Style' being an ‘acceptance of’ or ‘hierarchy’ according Stuart Ewen in All Consuming Images, 1988). It is in this idea of identity that consumption is acutely structural as well.

I understand that this places me specifically in the structuralist camp. It could also be my educational background in the study of Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Habermas (The Frankfurt School), that has made me acute to accusation of elitism that they have often received. I believe Storey short cuts the importance of the Frankfurt School's influence in the shaping of his own analysis and in the Birmingham experience in general. For instance, his discussion of appropriation he takes from Hebdige (born in 1951), is the same discussion Adorno and Horkheimer had in the, Dialectic of Enlightenment , printed in 1944. Of course this discussion could be traced through Marx and beyond. Adorno (from Marx) reinforces the analysis that it is capitalism that breeds class struggle and that through the logic of the market, or in the problem of consumption, laws, policies, suburbs and educations are created and used to negotiate meaning.

Of course this is not an effort to decide who said what first, but to show for instance that the analysis that comes from the Frankfurt School comes specifically out of resistance to Nazi fascism. If there is an aura of elitism in discussions of the power of culture and structure, those accusation must be in an involved historical perspective. It may seem just as hierarchical to place cultural welfare in the hands of ‘discriminating consumers’.

We may now have to acknowledge, given the extent and speed of global capital, the interminable existence of a consumptive based society. As out-sourcing continues, we will soon no longer produce anything in this country we consume. This separation is not negotiated (in public) but structural. I myself consume many things that would be considered privileged in another context (such as Darfur). I consume free range and recyclables because I can afford to (at the beginning of the month) and can choose to blur the distinctions between negotiated meanings of consumables as art or identity. But this is an affordance of structure and not negotiation.

But this discussion is not to say that Storey is not aware of his privilege either. His effort I believe is to find the particular moments in culture where we are, conceptually at least, free to self actuate. If we are always and continually victims of structure our actualization is always in service of the state or multinational corporation. His discussion of how fan cultures “rereading” (146) of texts frees their attention from ‘what will happen’ to ‘ how things happen’ is particularly convincing for what it may bring to the pedagogy of media literacy, even for the possibilities of media production.

Chapter Two: Summary

Chapter Two: Television
From: Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture, by John Storey
By: Bridgett Vanderwalker
Storey states that “Television is the popular cultural form of the twenty-first century” (9). Storey divides the chapter into four specific theories of how television functions in cultural studies and their various aspects.
Encoding And Decoding Television Discourse
Storey starts with Hall’s ideas presented in his work ‘Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse.’ First media produces a raw event on television which wants to carry across a dominant viewpoint. The media producers have a certain motive in their work but once it leaves their hands it will be absorbed based on the audiences’ preconceived notions that may be different than was intended. The second process is once the product is produced it can then be process and may produce public discourse. The third process involves decoding the message if it meaningful it will open the “market for more consumption if not consumption will end and so will any discussion. Storey stresses that meanings and messages cannot be transmitted but produced and those messages are based in a certain context and time. Misunderstandings are always possible with the intention of the program because it may be too difficult or too strange to the domestic context of outside the dominant code”(12). When an audience is in concord with the program they are operating within dominate and professional code. A second option for audiences is the ‘negotiated code or position.’ “It accords the privileged position to the dominant definitions of events while reserving the right to make a more negotiated application to ‘local conditions’, to its own corporate positions”(13). The third position Hall indentifies is that of “the oppositional code.” This is where the viewer recognizes the preferred message but chooses an alternative meaning. Hall stages how individuals interpret television programs within a social position.
1. The production of a meaningful message in the TV discourse is always problematic ‘work’. Translation: Any message can be interpret in several ways
2. The message in social communication is always complex in structure and form.
3. Messages encoded one way can always be read in a different way.(14)
Hall makes a good point when he says decoding of messages are not exclusive to what social position one holds. He says it is class plus “particular discourse positions produce specific readings”.(15) Hall goes on to say that not all messages hold the same level and this based on the context one finds themselves.
Television Talk
Morely another theorist says “the domestic context of TV viewing,[ ] is constitutive of its meaning”(18). Morely takes a much more individualistic viewpoint in that it is individuals who interrupt television programs. He makes an excellent point in pointing out that watching television is a social act which promotes social relationships and unites people where otherwise certain social groups would not normally associate with each other. Hobson makes a point to point out that people watch different programs for different reasons. The viewers bring many different ideas and feelings to a program and thus they are able to make their own interpretations. Hobson says: “New contexts will bring about the enactment of new significances; a narrative [in this case a soap opera] seemingly discarded seems suddenly to have a new relevance and a new utility”(21). “Hobson insists that viewers ‘work with the text and add their own experiences and opinions to the stories in the programme’”(22). Hobson also comments on that one storyline may have different meanings it is how the individual interprets it that the text comes alive. Hobson says that a text has a material structure which has a variety of interpretations. Viewers view programs from social and discursive and thus a there are limits to the text. In conclusion a program is a stepping stone for discussion of wider social groups that see generalizations that apply to humanity as a whole.
Television And ‘The Ideology Of Mass Culture’
The Dutch theorist, Ien Ang, states that “realism is an illusion created by the extent to which a text can successfully conceal its constructiveness”(26). Essentially, viewing a program is decoding and constructing meaning by intermingling ourselves in the narrative itself so even the most unrealistic texts can have meaning if the viewer is engaged in the text. As long as a show has cultural or individualistic relevance in the human sphere it can be seen as discussion of human issues. Ang say that while some may like or dislike a show it is based on if they are engaging with the text and whether they see the show as a product of mass media. Ang makes a valid point when she says: “fantasy and fiction does not function in place of, but besides, other dimensions of life (social practice, moral or political consciousness)”(31).
The Two Economies Of Television
John Fishe says that “the power of the audience-as-producers in the cultural economy is considerable”(32). Fishe believes cultural commodities such as television and films revolve around two economies financial and cultural. Financial revolves around exchange value while cultural is concerned with meanings, pleasures, and social identities. If TV producers can’t predict what audiences want they will fail to sell their product. In this viewpoint popular culture is seen as ‘a site of struggle’ where both economic and aesthetic concerns are competing for balance.
1. What American studies have been done recently on the two economies of television where it seems particularly relevant to see the financial side and viewer side and how functions in American society.

Chapter Four: Film

From: Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture, John Storey
Chapter Four: Film
By: Tyson Livingston


For the chapter on film, Storey indicates that his aim is to “discuss key moments in the discussion of film and cultural studies” rather than discuss the most recent developments in this area of the field. He divides the chapter into the following sections: Structuralism and Film, Visual Pleasure in Film, and Cultural Studies and Film.

Structuralism and Film

Storey notes two major works in film cultural studies that occurred in 1975: Sixguns and Society, by Will Wright, and ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, by Laura Mulvey. This first section examines Sixguns and Society, which was classically structuralist in its treatment.

Storey begins by discussing the ideas of Ferdiand de Saussure from which much of structuralist theory is derived. He discussed language as a “system of contrasts and opposites... [that] constructs our access to reality” (74). He indicated that language was divided into two parts which produced a third. These are the signifier, which is the inscription of a word, the signified, which is the mental image initiated by that word, and these two come together to produce the sign. Because of the ways these parts interact, “the way in which we ultimately conceptualize the world is ultimately dependent on the language that we speak and, by analogy, the culture that we inhabit” (74). His ideas also include his concept of Language and Parole, where language refers to the structures and rules, and Parole refers to individual utterance. Storey finishes his discussion of Saussure by indicating that, following structuralism, it is the job of the culturist to show how rules and conventions determine the meaning of a given text. He then refers to Levi-Strauss and his example of myth, and how it works like language.

After discussing Levi-Strauss’s example of myth, he then turns directly to Sixguns and Society and indicates how Wright analyzed the Hollywood Western as American myth. By using binary relations and other structuralist techniques, Wright explored how the interaction of the hero, society, and the villain conceptualized American social beliefs and the myth of the American Dream. He also demonstrated how the evolution of the Western through three different periods reflected the change in those social beliefs and the changing perceptions of how to obtain the American Dream based on those beliefs.

Visual Pleasure in Film

In the second section, Storey discusses Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’ Mulvey seemed to focus on “the male gaze” in cinema, which posited that in film women are viewed as objects of male desire, and also represent the threat of castration.

The first part of this idea seems pretty straightforward, that the woman functions as an object of erotic desire, both for the hero and for the male spectator in the audience. I admit, however, that I am still a little fuzzy on the ins and outs of the second part. Mulvey indicates that when viewing the female form the absence of a penis implies the threat of castration, and that this ‘look’ can only be countered through one of two methods. The first is by investigating the original moment of trauma and then eventually devaluing, punishing, or saving the guilty object. The second is to fetishize the woman so that she becomes a thing of beauty in and of herself, a pure erotic spectacle (78-79). I admit that I am still a little fuzzy on how we get from point A to point B to point C on this part.

Mulvey ultimately argued that this pleasure in the cinema had to be eliminated to free women from ‘the male gaze’. Her work was quite influential, so much so that others have explored and further defined and refined her ideas. For example, examining if the male gaze is always present or just dominate over a ‘female gaze.’ The question has also been raised that her theory doesn’t take into account the possibility of the audience being more than a passive spectator, when in fact the audience would negotiate with the film based on its own experiences and discourse.

Cultural Studies and Film

The last section focuses primarily on the research of Christine Gledhill and Jackie Stacey. Gledhill recognized the act of negotiation between the spectator and the film. She indicated that “meaning is neither imposed, nor passively imbibed, but arises out of a struggle or negotiation between competing frames of reference, motivation, and experience” (80). She further indicated that this negotiation could be studied on three different levels: audience, texts, and institutions.

Stacey elaborates on this approach based on her research from the end of the 1980s where she surveyed women in their 60s who were avid movie-goers in the 40s and 50s. This way she was able to study the actual consumption of the film. Three areas were addressed in her study. The first, escapism was one of the primary reasons her subjects went to the cinema. She determined that this escapism manifested not only from the film itself, but from the environment of the theater, and the community of movie-goers. It also provided a means of escape not only to the utopian vision of the Hollywood screen, but from the hardships of wartime Britain.

The second, identification, indicated that women shared a fluidity of identity with the women onscreen and were able to identify with the actors because of some shared quality or trait, such as hair color. This sharing of identity would often extend beyond he film experience, leaving the spectators with a fantasy of a more powerful and confident self that could ultimately act as a form of resistance.

The third area, consumption, was defined by Stacey as “a site of negotiated meanings, resistance, and of appropriation as well as of subject and exploitation” (84). She gave the example that the fashions of hollywood stars went against the more restricted ideas of british femininity. Therefore the consumption of these films by women were a resistance to extend and negotiate those standards.