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Diagram Chapter

If this chapter proved one thing, it is that diagrams and charts are more than a collection of data. They can be arranged in visually appealing ways that convey information and serve as a metaphor for the data, or a context. Despite what some diagram purists might suggest that any sort of extra design being “junk,” I think that a lot more cna be taken away in some instances.

One of my favorite diagramming sites is Wordle.com. By placing a text or RSS feed in the field and clicking the generate button, users are able to see a collage in a random font and color scheme of their text. The words are sized larger based on the frequency of their use. It is an interesting way to look at a story. I wrote a feature for the Illinois State alumni magazine on Shawn Smith. Shawn is the owner of a company that makes designer plush toys. Viewing the output from Wordle, a viewer could see that the main themes of the story were Shawnimals (the name of the brand), Shawn, Smith, and Illinois State University. It is definitely a cool way to look at the story. And to me, that’s what charts and diagrams can be, an interesting way to interpret data.

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August 27, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Pop culture

I saw someone drinking a can of Coca Cola today and I got to thinking: Coke is a perfect example of visible rhetoric that has ingratiated itself into our culture. Consider people who have Coke themed rooms, complete with old bottles, a bottle cap clock, a coke chair, and any other sort of memorabilia that you can imagine. The Coke logo itself becomes a decoration and transcends the soft drinkĀ  label. Perhaps this is a good example of kitsch. Though Coke is not a passing trend, it does have its own sort of cult following of collectors.

This made me think about the label itself as an identity. The design itself, a red can wih a white ribbon under the lettering, doesn’t necessarily imply “beverage” yet, the brand is so well established, that seeing the Coke font against a field of red in any language would suggest that there is a can of pop. However, this is not the same for other beverages. Pepsi has changed their own logo repeatedly, slightly modifying it each time, while Coke has never changed. There is Pepsi Cola memorabilia, but it doesn’t seem to share the same fan base as Coke. Nor is Pepsi very prevalent overseas. I suppose Coke does a better job of branding a lifestyle. Hot summer days, and a bubbly beverage the whole family can enjoy. They have created a timeless image for itself. When I think of Pepsi (which I do like quite a bit) I don’t think of any culture, just a beverage. Strange that a can of carbonated sugar water can embody a history, fan following, and way of life.

August 27, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

What is rhetoric? What is race?

When looking at the prompt for this post, I originally thought that it would be far easier to address “What is race?” then “What is rhetoric?”. Now, I find it quite the opposite. Let me tackle rhetoric first. Simply put, rhetoric is the art of persuasion. However, rhetoric informs culture and is informed by culture. In this way, rhetoric is far from being an independent source. It would only stand to reason that if rhetoric is tied so closely to culture, and culture informs racism, that rhetoric would also inform racism.

In “Race in North America” I was intrigued by the comparison of colonizing empires. Western empires traveled and used the concept of race to enslave and create a caste system that was founded on ideas of superiority and inferiority. However, Smedley points out that when the Roman empire expanded, conquered peoples could learn the language and learn the customs, and integrate themselves into the society. As Smedley also points out, ancient texts focus on describing the languages and customs of foreign peoples rather than describing them. Ancient cultures deemed the importance of a people lie in their culture. Yet, this certainly is not the case when African slaves were brought to America. Slaves were forbidden from learning the language, at least in a sense of literacy, and were not given the opportunity to participate in the customs. Even if an African slave was somehow able to educate themselves, they were not given the same reception as the Roman empire might have given someone from a foreign land.

I guess what I”m trying to establish by this point in my blog (and what Smedley does over several pages) is that race as a concept did not always exist and does not necessarily make sense. So who is to blame? The word race itself has Italian roots. Then again, the creation of Race could be placed at the feet of the English who were strongly “anti-savage” in their attitudes towards the Irish. Villaneuva notes this same “savage” identity being placed on the Aztecs when the Spaniards sought tosubjegate them.

Race seems to be placed in our ideologies, which are directly affected by the caste system. Situations of race seem to have a very pronounced caste system. If moving in and out of a caste system is contingent on your ability to influence and observe the customs and language, then it would be impossible for a person who is unfamiliar with the customs to rise up. Of course, this lack of knowledge and language would place the “race” into a position lower than the lowest tierin the system.

I am reminded of Karl Marx’s theory of culture in that the culture of the society is able to be shaped by those who control the means of production. Would this theory not be validated by the way race is treated in the caste system? An external race ( I refer to any race seen from another race’s [that has a concept of race] point of view) could not hope to influence a society without controlling the means of production. An external race could not hope to control the means of production without understanding the customs. In the case of slavery in the United States, by the time some individuals were able to learn the customs and language, they had already embedded into the lowest level of the caste system based on their origins. Rendering their knowledge almost irrelevant.

I think is is interesting that Villanueva and Marx essentially advocate for the same thing. Villanueva encourages people to “Break prescedent.” Likewise, Marx was a proponent of the people rising up. Perhaps without the strict rhetoric of the caste system, race would be a concept still only applied to livestock.

August 26, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment

Reflections on chapters 1 and 2 in Practice of Looking

Sturken and Cartwright use a number of visuals to show that public opinion and even our very culture is based in visuals. We negotiate the meaning of images against our own experiences and against the context of our own culture, whether that culture is based in nationality, race, gender, class, or age, the interpretation of an artifact will call upon context to gain impact.

So where does all of this come from? Marx proposes that the people who control the means of production are the ones that shape the culture. This could logically follow as the people who own the newspapers and other media have a great deal of control over what circulates to the public. (I wonder what he would think of the Internet, although I do not believe the Internet would ruin his argument.) I believe that a student of Marxism, Louis Althusser has more validity in his argument when he says that the public are interpellated by culture, specifically texts and visual artifacts. The artifacts hail their “readers” and cause them to become one of their audience. Even directly opposing the hail is a form of interpellation as it is necessary to understand what the artifact calls for you to do before you can do the opposite. Granted, this theory is unpopular in some crowds, likely because the individuals ability to escape the system is non-existent and must seem dismal to most.

What struck me as I was readingĀ  was the picture of Times Square in New York. The authors talked about how the “visual clutter” (54) in Times Square forces viewers to contrast the images to one another. I see it differently. Imagine the picture without any sort of advertisement or company logos. Notice anything? Exactly. Kind of boring. Now I do not advocate for our cities to be strewn with these visuals. The only point I wish to make is that the visuals are what has made Time Square as popular as it is. People come to stare at all of the rotating images on the large TV screens and drink in the assortment of color from all of the different businesses. This is not unique to American culture. Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo has a similar (albeit Japanese) look to it. It is a collage of these visuals. In a way, these trendy areas lend more agency to these advertising visuals and also indoctrinate them into our culture. If you think about it, one of the highlights of going to New York City (and into Time Square) is to see all of the advertisements. Really, it is as if in the right context, advertisements can become as celebrated as art.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

My initial understandings of Rhetoric and Visual Culture

Visual rhetoric and visual culture are one in the same. Both create and change one another. For example: The other day while driving, I came upon an octagonal shaped red sign with the word “STOP” on it. Before I passed that sign, I applied the brake until the car was no longer moving, and then continued on. Thinking about the rhetoric of the sign, I realize that a lot is happening just by looking at the sign. The symbol of the sign is given power by the consequences of not stopping. i.e. I could collide into another car or a pedestrian by not stopping. Or I could get caught by a police officer and receive a ticket. This observation does not seem remarkable. The red color of the stop sign is recognized as an alert color. The word “Stop” is not taken as a suggestion. No other road sign or advertisement you find on the road will contain the same visual elements. How does this translate into visual culture?

If I were to go into Stevenson Hall, I might see a rope on sets of stairs with a paper sign containing the graphic of a stop sign. The paper sign does not list any penalty, but despite the fact that I and others may have originally planned to go up the stairs, we will likely not. What would be the penalty for going up anyway? A ticket? Jail? Hefty fine? Academic sanction? It is likely nothing would happen. At worst, someone might tell us we can’t be up on that floor and ask us to leave. I can vouch for this since I accidentally wandered up one of these staircases when the paper had fallen. No one even asked me to leave. The workers all looked surprised. It was not what you would call a real consequence.

Despite everyone understanding that there are no consequences to ignoring the paper sign. People still obey it. The sign is able to use the rhetoric of the stop sign to enhance its own agency. Seeing the stop sign on another sign sets off the same reaction seeing the sign on the road. Stop, or there could be negative consequences.

In this way, many of the symbols we create in our culture inform the creation of other visuals. That is why lovable Snoopy can make Metlife insurance seem like a more friendly brand even though Snoopy has nothing to do with insurance nor was he created for insurance. In short, visuals borrow agency and meaning from preexisiting visuals and our preconceptions of what those visuals, whether it is color, shape, size, text, or images.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment