Scholarsteve’s Blog

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Being the spectator

I was interested in how Sturken and Cartwright discussed gender and gaze in Practices of Looking. Particularly, the way they noted that the woman’s position in the picture invites the spectator to gaze upon her in a manner that might be prohibited if she was positioned otherwise. Paintings of Venus show the goddess sometimes looking towards the spectator or away, but each time her nude body is in full view of the spectator. I noticed when they authors were discussing how women of the “orient” or other locations are portrayed, they are exotified. Before this section, they set up a display of how binaries interact with our gazing. What is not of the main class is automatically understood as the other. My question is if women are frequently seen as “the other” and are exotified in photographs, are men, by rule of binary opposite, not exotified? Or rather, would the behavior of men in these image be viewed as what a “normal” man should be doing? I find myself thinking of the image of the Marlboro man. Riding a horse, dressed in cowboy regalia, smoking a cigarette. Surely, this is an exotic situation, but even I am having trouble deciding if I actually perceive this situation as exotic or not. Also, I wonder if these binaries are prevalent in American culture exclusively, or if this is a worldwide phenomena.

I also found it fascinating how the subject of a painting (as in the one on page 127) can validate gazing for the spectator through the act of gazing at their own face or body, generally shown by the subject staring in a mirror. But even the Ralph Lauren ad on page 125 shows the female subject caught in a very intimate moment, but her look towards the spectator invites them to be a part of this moment. The gaze is not only accepted, but wanted. As opposed to the Dolce ad on page 135 where the man acknowledges the gaze of the spectators, but does not necessarily allow or refuse the gaze, allowing him to seemingly remain in power in the picture, despite his compromising position and lack of clothing. Is this another part of a binary? Both subjects are caught in an intimate moment, but only one gives permission to look. In giving permission by spectators to gaze, perhaps we resign any power we have in the photo.


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

Rhetoric of a vacation guide cover

I came upon a vacation guide recently that was trying to promote European vacations. The cover had the name of the vacation guide, a large 09 across the front, and was dominated by a large photo of several gondolas in the canals of Venice. The picture overall has been shaded so that it looks like the sun is setting. Yet the overall shading and tint is red, pink, and orange. I think that the choice of colors in this scene are important to the message the publication is trying to send about a vacation in Venice. Consider first that Venice generally has a romantic connotation to it in the first place. These color choices reinforce this idea. Red can be seen as a sexual or passionate color. Pink is a calming and passifying color, also associated with romance. While orange is associate with energy and enthusiasm. Do people go to Venice expecting a romantic vacation? Paris may be considered to be the most romantic city on Earth, but I am willing to wager that people might argue Venice deserves second place. The gondolas become slightly blurred at the bottom of the page, implying swift movement. They are headed towards the orange (energy, enthusiasm). The gondolas ahead of the blurred gondolas are headed towards the buildings and the canals and buildings in the distance, bathed in red and pink light (romance, passion). Even the text which is visible on the page is partially transparent, minimally disrupting the mood set by the picture. In this way, colors help to set the mood for a potential vacationers.

Here’s an interesting thought. What if we were to change the color scheme in this picture. If we had a blue sky and pink water (acknowledging that this is unlikely to occur in real life), what would the mood be. Blue can be associated with authority and even sadness. But more importantly, it is acknowledged as the normal color of the sky. Does a normal sky demystify Venice? How would the associations of a blue sky conflict with the associations of pink water? Will the blue of authority and the pink of calm result in a forced calm feel?Pretty interesting what a change in color scheme to something seemingly ordinary can do to a created image.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | 1, Eng 350 | Leave a comment

de Certeau and Globalization

Michael de Certeau’s idea of the strategies and tactics as related to the plight of the individual who constantly consumes mass culture seems familiar in ways. I wonder if de Certeau was a Marxist. Louis Althusser introduced the idea of ideological and repressive state apparatuses, which control our behavior and essentially our society’s culture. These state apparatuses seem to be similar to de Certeau’s strategies. However, de Certeau has, in a much more optimistic manner compared to Althusser, introduced tactics (that do seem similar to the working class that Marx wished to see rise up), which can gather spontaneously free of a permanent structure to shield the masses from the strategy’s influence, at least in part. The tactic has no goal of taking over nor will it necessarily endure. That is not to say that the tactic will have no impact, for it can cause the strategy to change, as will happen when the tactic successfully influences the public. However, in reading this, I am concerned that de Certeau suggests that one who is part of strategy or tactic is no longer part of the public. If that is so, is there really a public, or is not any within this system always a part of strategy or tactic? Can a person be both simultaneously?

I liked Slack and Wise’s take on Globalization, or moreover, their reason for exploring globalization. If globalization is so widely accepted, it should be thoroughly be examined. In reading about the “West ti the Rest” idea, and about the five dimensions of cultural flows (ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, ideoscapes) I tried to think about how the West does influence other nations. But even here, are we not all too eager to look at globalization through a process of the West homogenizing the rest of the world? I think it is important to remember that globalization is a global phenomena. Would the United States push for national health care be a form of globalization? I often here the argument for national health care take the form of “Well (insert nation’s name here) has a national health care plan, so why shouldn’t we?” This kind of makes me wonder if globalization can have positive effects as well, when it is not swallowing culture. But then isn’t whether or not a specific aspect of a culture is positive or negative rhetorical in itself? When we send aid to other countries, is this too not a form of globalization? We generally do not send goods specific to the region. In photos I usually see Western items such as bottled water, t-shirts, Western bedding. Globalization kind of reminds me of the negative lights we can put culture in without intending to. It almost seems cruel to introduce new technologies, (agricultural technologies were used as the example in the reading) and boast about the superiority of the product, only to let the culture find that they can never fully own the technology (it has been patented by someone else) and thus, they must be globalized further to continue obtaining the technology or if they wish to make it their own on some level.

Even when Slack and Wise discussed how globalization is being combated using cell phone technologies to organize (one might call these people tactics) people, is this not possible through another of the global cultural flows, ie technoscape, that allows a cultural way of life such as cell phone use to be able to be a tool to fight another form of globalization? A good display of combating globalization on some level came up in Thatcher’s essay about technology integration in border maquilas. New technology was implemented on the factory line in the Chihuahuan maquila. Technical experts left necessary with Mexican engineers, but the transition to the new system was met with little success. However, by examining the technology with their own engineers and through their own cultural lens, the Mexican engineers were able to devise training materials that could allow the successful implementation of the technology.

The problem stemmed from a lack of understanding of the Mexican culture by the engineers from Ohio. While they may (never really said for sure what they expected) have expected the Mexican engineers to take initiative to learn the technology on their own, what they actually did is left instructional materials to be followed. Failing to understand the culture of the Mexican workers, the American engineers did not foresee their instructions as being worthless. However, the Mexican engineers learned the technology on their own and were then able to disseminate instructions through a lens that their culture would understand. The implementation of this technology occurred via the technoscape, but could only be utilized through the antiglobalization of American learning methods.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment

Color and design

Color is able to convey meaning through it hues. Colors selected for a Web site, packaging for an item, etc., are able to not only tap into our emotions, but can also serve as a reminder of a specific brand. However, even though colors can change our perceptions, messages are conveyed most effectively if the color match the messages that are to be conveyed. Obviously, since we all decode messages in different ways, we will all decode colors differently, but the differences aren’t always widely varying. That is to say, within a certain demographic we can count on color interpretation to be similar. Across cultures, cultures can carry very different connotations. Likewise age groups will also vary in color reception. Young children’s products are in basic colors, while an older crowd might respond better to more sophisticated tones.

The rise of the Internet has added its own dimension to designing with colors. Color can signify  a link that has already been visited to an a link that has yet to be clicked. Even the non textual elements of the page are affected by color. A light text on a dark background may have a more interesting visual appeal, but if the content is not readable, the color scheme does not matter. Furthermore, the range of color that can be displayed is limited by the computer and the screen.

The color choice, assuming text is legible and readible can affect how the content is received. I was looking at the National Sex Offender Registry at The site, likely not a government site due to its lack of .gov url, gives an official presence. The main colors of the Web site are blue, which is generally associated with government and police, as well as a brown. The readings tell us that brown is usually associated with the earth, and this is a NATIONAL list complete with mapping. Combined with the features of the site (tips, mapping, educational materials) the site seems like it is sponsored by local law enforcement due to the colors.

The use of color is implemented even further on the actual map. Sex crimes range from red/dark red boxes for sex crimes against children, blue for sexual assault and battery, and green for other crimes. Rape is signified by yellow squares. The choices of red for children sex crimes and yellow for rape seem very deliberate. These two crimes (though all our despicable) could be called the worst out of the selection here, and the designer wants those offenders to be recognized above all. Red invokes a sense of danger. Warning that children are not safe. Yellow, although a color sometimes associated with happiness is also the most eye-catching color in the spectrum. Even if those two crimes are not perceived as the worst on the map key, the author seemed to think so and alert the viewer of these incidents via these colors over the other ones.

I also have a theory about the blue squares too. Though blue is often associated with calm and soothing (the opposite of red), it is also the color of bruises. Blue represents assault and battery crimes. It seems like an appropriate choice.

Hopefully, I have demonstrated how colors can be chosen to influence and preempt out selection of the color. Whether it is on a sex offender registry or a blog choice, our color selections how our readers interpret our content.

September 19, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Culture and technology

In the reading on Culture and Technology, authors Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise examine the ideas of culture, how culture intersects with technology, and then makes an argument to reform our understanding of culture not as separate entities, but as as one–a technological culture.

What struck me as especially interesting about the reading was the way that progress was described. Progress is used in culture as a movement toward something as the authors describe. In a cultural context, progress implies that humanity moves forward. The two goals of progress are material and moral betterment, though technology could be generally be said to only impact the material betterment, it also impacts moral betterment. Consider the technology that has enabled safe abortions. To some, this is a bad technology and would not be considered progress. Despite the fact that the technology is a move towards safe abortions, many do not consider it progress because they view it as countering moral betterment. It seems that progress can only be considered progress in certain contexts. Some that might not see abortion technology as progress in the context of a woman utilizing it because she doesn’t want the baby might consider it progress if the person is utilizing the technology because having a baby would be a serious health risk, resulting in death.

The authors say that it easy to measure progress in terms of tangible things. They mention how if we produce more grain than we used to or more people own computers than before, than that is progress. They furthermore mention that if the mortality rate declines, then that too is progress. Do we then measure technology on its effectiveness or on how many people own the technology? If 100, 000 more guns were sold this year, is that progress? If weapons are designed that can destroy an entire country rather than a city, is that too not progress? The authors touch on the darker side of technological progress when they discuss nuclear power. While electricity served as a symbol of progress, nuclear power usurped it position when it arrived on the scene. As Slack and Wise note on page 16, “Eventually, nuclear power too revealed a darker side to technological progress in the form of the nuclear bomb and the threat of radioactive contamination.” Slack and Wise insert their own morality related view on progress here when they refer to the nuclear bomb and radioactive contamination as the darker side of progress. But when the nuclear bomb was first used, was it not considered progress that two of these van-sized bombs could obliterate two cities full of our nation’s enemies? I believe it was considered a technological wonder.

I suppose this brings me to my point. If our morality changes, than so too does our understanding of progress. The nation’s understanding of the nuclear bomb when used was not that it was killing people, but dealing a decisive blow to our enemies. Rhetorically, the Japanese were positioned as monsters. Our morality makes us question killing human beings, not monsters. After all, in World War II, we fought against the Nazis, not the German people. To refer to them as the German people would position them as humans and equals. Would our morality have allowed us to wield our technologies against our fellow man and call it progress? Today, we see the effects of our weapon on the Japanese (short-term and long-term) and would not call it progress. The rhetorical framing that allowed us to use the weapon has faded and our minds have shed the monstrous visage that allowed the weapon to be wielded against them and now have the guise of humanity.

Yet why doesn’t the idea of weapon innovation seem heretical? Wise and Slack seem to portray that any talk of technology advances as destructive or backwards seem heretical. Yet there is plenty of talk about anti-weapons technology. It seems that morality as an aspect of technology is easily forgotten. For morality as a dimension of progress does allow a separate judgment to be placed on the technology.

Progress for whom? One of the questions that the authors posed to the reader. The Kevorkian technologies seemed to be progress to their creator, and likely progress to the user. But to most, they seemed to be a lack of progress. What a fickle thing progress is? Are there any cultures who value a death by their own choosing? What technologies have they developed? Do they see it as progress, and if so, how long has this practice endured? If we equate convenience to technology and we use medical technology to heal ourselves over, because being sick is inconvenient, then why too is not technology that makes death more convenient considered progress? Because it goes against morality? If so, whose morality?

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment

Green ketchup

In several of the readings on color, I have notice mention given to changing the color for a proudct as a way to increase sales. One of the products most successful in this was Heinz ketchup, when the introduced the green squeeze bottle. The ketchup that came out tasted the same as traditional ketchup, but it was green. I remember buying the green ketchup. As I said, it tasted exactly the same. However to me it was unsettling. I think I even ended up throwing away (if I wasn’t able to give away) the bottle. The Heinz company saw an extremely high demand for green ketchup, yet it wasn’t until reading about the green ketchup, that I realized I haven’t seen it in a while. A quick look on the Web site confirmed my suspicions…the green ketchup is gone! Good riddance I say!

However, green ketchup’s departure leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth given its commercial success (pun totally intended). Green is a color we see on our plates. Vegetables, soups, and sauces are commonplace. Even key lime pie and jello are members of the green family that have found their was to the dinner table. So what accounts for the swift rise and fall of green kecthup? Perhaps this is a case of a technological innovation that was unnecessarily implemented. Given that the target audience of the product was children, and children generally like kecthup in the first place, the repeat buying of the product would be based on novelty alone. A bottle of ketchup lasts a while, so how long will the novelty of having a strange color of ketchup last? From a rhetorical point of view, red is acknowledged as the “right” color of kecthup. If children are to acknowledge this as a norm, then other colors of ketchup are wrong or flawed.

Perhaps people went back to the “right” kind of ketchup.

September 16, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Type and font

Readability and Legibility had some very good points. Readability refers to whether a long amount of text is easy to read, such as main body copy. Legibility refers to whether a short amount of text is easy to read, such as a headline. The author talks about quite a bit in terms of how to make text readable and legible. A serif font is usually more readable than a san serif font, while an increase in leading can make text much more readable even if only by half of a point. I will not go through every point the author made, but I will say that his/her suggestion that moderation when creating text is always key. Excessive capitalization or italicization, to name just a couple of the things that reduce legibility and readability should be avoided and only used when necessary.

In The Rhetoric of Typography: The Awareness and Impact of Typeface Appropriateness, Eva R. Brumberger conducts a study to examine how the appropriateness of which subjects see typeface. Brumberger conducted two studies, one which suggested that subjects are aware of the appropriateness or inappropriateness of typeface/text pairings. The other examines how the incompatibility of typeface and text impact readers’ view of the  overall text.

The data showed that readers do register appropriateness in text, though typefaces such as arial were accepted a more appropriate then not. Though it was ranked higher in the professional category. Likewise, the second study revealed that the typeface can impact the reader’s impression of a particular text, but not necessarily on a large scale. The author suggests that sufficient evidence was not obtained to create a correlation between reader impression and text persona.

Both of these readings resonated with me. As a copy editor for University Marketing and Communications, it is my responsibility to make sure that the text is readable. I did not have the technical vocabulary to express it until now, but the appropriateness of the typeface to the text is one thing I have to watch out for. Yet more often than not, the designers are free to choose their own typefaces and the appropriate parameters. Once the text is given to me as a proof, I make my own suggestions based on whether or not I feel that all of the design elements allow the text to be represented in the best way possible. Though the study was inconclusive for the second hypothesis, I believe that the persona of a text can affect the reader’s interpretation of the text. Consider a script font. The script could be appreciated from the point of view that it represents a hand-written letter. C0nversely, it could be recognized as a poor attempt to mimic the personal touch of a hand-written letter. This may only cross the reader’s mind on a sub-conscious level, but it affects the readers none-the-less.

At the end of the day, I believe that readability and legibility are the most important thing to consider when preparing a text for an audience. After all, a poster could have the most creative design in the world on it, but if the text is unreadable or illegible, it is only a creative design rather than an effective communication vehicle.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Rhetoric of a Corona ad

On the back of a travel brochure I cam across is a picture of a Corona beer bottle, with a lime in the top of the bottle, sitting in the shade of a flip flop, which has been stuck vertically in the sand to provide the beer with shade. The environment surrounding the beer and flip flop has pristine sand and a blue ocean. A few palm trees are off in the distance. The caption reads “SPF 9 1/2.”

By placing the beer in a pristine, untouched beach scene, the beer is able to draw the same sense of relaxation that might be expected in such a place. The way the sun still strikes the beer, illuminating it gold, also makes it seem valuable. Also, the luxurious feeling that would come along from a private beach also gives the beer a more intrinsic value. Furthermore, the beer was so important to the non-present people that they saw fit to risk burning their feet rather than letting their beer get warm.

The entire scene is set up to give a value to a beer that could not be gained showing it come off of an assembly line or pulled from a box. It is the only one in a setting of luxury and beauty, making the beer also an object of luxury and beauty. The bottle is colored in such a way that it does not lessen the beauty of the scene, but adds to it. In this way, the beer’s proximity to the rest of the objects grants it a status higher than one might expect. It is as natural a part of this scene as the palm trees. Another example of drawing rhetorical power through environment.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment

Post racial and whiteness

In Opinion: Welcome to Pre-Post-Racial America Gary Shu explores several events that spurred debate on race including the Henry Gates incident, the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme court, and the Philadelphia swim club exclusion. Shu advocates for us all questioning our own presuppositions and take on race, as well as to avoid polarization of one extreme or another as is the case of Barack Obama who is said to be black, but has been born to a white mother, making him half black or half white. Yet he is still polarized.

Sotomayor’s confirmation punctuates another civil rights milestone discusses Sotomayor’s confirmation as a civil rights milestone. The article also outlines several other cases of voting and politics where equality has triumphed over oppression recently.

In Sotomayor and the Politics of Race, Shelby Steele (as far as I can tell. Her tone frequently confused me) criticizes Barack Obama for his lack of post racialism and even goes as far as to theorize that post racialism does not exist at all, but is rather a method of bargaining.  All in all Steele sees Obamas nomination of Sotomayor as an unoriginal choice since she is what is expected of a black president, and therefore he isn’t being post racial at all. (I’ll debate this one a little more later in the blog).

From the Social Construction of Whiteness discusses whiteness and how it perpetuates the idea of race. Gates explores whiteness in America as an outdated concept. He first describes how scholars have agreed that “race” does not exist, but that this non existent term still impacts the behavior of people within a society. Race is therefore given strength through social and cultural contexts. This would explain the phenomenon some of the above authors describe when talking about how Obama is viewed as black even though he is half white. Furthermore, the idea of whiteness is able to infiltrate discussions of economics and politics. Whiteness in these context can be addressed by focusing on those “nonwhites” to circumvent a direct accusation that would otherwise be labeled as racist. Gates concludes by encouraging the audience to discard the idea of whiteness, and its outdated ideologies.

In Obama, Africa, and Post-Racial, Michael Janis discusses race and Obama not just as viewed from America’s point of view, but how African politics and media portray our president and views on race. While a large percentage of people in Africa (I am not sure how surveys were conducted or if this is only portrayed on the reactions of the media) support Obama and look to see him extend a hand to African nations, creating stronger diplomatic ties, some question Obama’s blackness, as he has a white parent. The article also explores reparations, not just from a national context as we are used to encountering, but rather a global point of view. Drawing on examples of France’s lack of acknowledgments of wrong doing, and Italy’s efforts to pay reparations to Libya, Janis draws sharp contrasts on the consequences and benefits of paying or not paying reparations.

I think that the idea of whiteness does pervade our society. More interesting was that the idea of blackness is present in African nations. This makes me wonder if other European countrys have the idea of whiteness. It was said in the readings that Greece, Italy, etc. did not consider themselves as white for a long time. I wonder whether or not they too have adopted a measure of whiteness in their own country. Perhaps they have instead adopted ethnocentrism. I also didn’t know how to reconcile so many different views on Barack Obama. It seems like the expectations are so high that he cannot live up to every expectation, while opposition to Obama bolsters expectations even higher is that even if he is making a triumph, it will seem like he is falling short such is the case of Shelby Steele in her article.

Another thing I wonder as I am reading about whiteness is if it can ever disappear. Considering that the conservative ideas of the republican party would be treated as liberal by the standards of decades past, can whiteness really dissipate? Or will it instead always be whiteness, with whiteness representing the current stranglehold on politics.

September 9, 2009 Posted by | Eng 467 | Leave a comment


In Thinking with Type, author Ellen Lupton likes the way type has progressed through history almost in the same way as art. Originally done by hand, Gutenberg’s (or the Chinese, to give credit where credit is due) creation of the printing press spurred the creations of many typefaces, most of these being based on the hand drawn styles previously created. Since then, typographers have created new typefaces by merging styles of the past, and creating based on what a medium might allow. Such notable “modern” events are the rise of advertising in creating a variety of new typefaces or at least in prompting the use of these typefaces, and the rise of the digital age, allowing types to have a more illustrated or hand-drawn look.

Lupton explains that text has evolved in its organization, from the implementation of paragraphs, which only occurs in written text rather than human speech, to the way text is presented across different mediums to contour to the reader’s expected experience. Examples of this being that online users expect to skim and browse, where the autor might have a reasonable expectation that everything will be read in print. Lupton also touches on Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” to explain that because the reader will interpret a text in the way they choose, the message encoded by the author is void, and the decoded message is the only one to exist.

I was able to appreciate some of the finer points that Lupton (as well as the author of the Blackboard reading, could not find one listed…) made about text, typography, and the reader. As a copy writer/editor, I work with texts for print and the Web, closely collaborating with designers. Seemingly trivial details such as whether to justify text, font used, whether to flush right or flush left, etc., all make for a total reader experience. Lupton said that the designers essentially save the reader the burden of having to read everything. This is true, and at work sometimes give rise to a friendly debate on whether the copy is more important or the design. I of course advocate for the copy since without it, the design might just be another attractive image; while the designers note that most people will not read copy without a good design. Both stances have truth to them and really show that the design elements of a text, font, leading, kerning, etc. are not chosen idly and require conscious choices.

September 5, 2009 Posted by | Eng 350 | Leave a comment