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Patterson 1 Abigail Patterson Professor Figueiredo PRWR 6550 19 March 2013 A Candle in the Dark Amnesty International, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that “every person [is able] to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards,” uses a logo entirely devoid of words (“Who We Are”). While it is true that this company is so well-known that people simply recognize it by its symbol, similar to the Nike swoosh, there is another reason that the black and yellow picture of a candle encased in barbed wire, not accompanied by any descriptive words, is so effective as a logo and symbol. Because there are so many ways to describe this one image, so many emotions and actions that this image calls to mind, this picture is truly stronger than words at conveying Amnesty International’s message of hope and help. Inspired by the Chinese proverb “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” this image serves as a rallying cry to stand up for the oppressed who cannot get themselves out of their dire situations (“Media Centre: Key Facts”). Although Amnesty International could have simply included this quote as a banner symbolizing their cause, this image created to reflect that quote serves as a much better depiction because it exceeds the quote by suggesting other possible meanings. To name a few examples of multiple symbolization, the candle within barbed wire can symbolize not only standing up for the oppressed, but also the idea of the company remaining strong and helpful in the face of others’ apathy or discouragement, or also a symbol to people receiving Amnesty International’s help that, although it seems as if it is impossible for help to


Patterson 2 get through to them, the shining nature of their humanity makes it imperative that other people can and will come to their help. Harkening back to critical theory helps us explain this phenomenon. Gregory Ulmer puts it most simply in his essay “The Object of Post-Criticism”: Signifieds and signifiers are continually breaking apart and reattaching in new combinations, thus revealing the inadequacies of Saussure’s model of the sign…The tendency of Western philosophy throughout its history (‘logocentrism’) to try to pin down and fix a specific signified to a given signifier violates…the nature of language. (Ulmer 89-90). Due to our status as a postmodern society, we are aware of the fluid nature of language and how close to inarticulate it can make us. We no longer believe that one signifier corresponds to exactly one signified, and one of the best ways for us to illustrate this is via symbols. Currently, our minds are more willing to ascribe multiple descriptors to images compared to words, although there is no actual difference between these two medium’s ability to symbolize an almost infinite variety of ideas. Multiple works we have read in this class put this mindset into practice. Allan Kaprow does this in his essay “Just Doing,” using the experiment of moving piles of dirt outside of their usual habitats; by doing this, he makes his audience consciously think of the stereotypes surrounding soil and place, which makes us in turn think of all the associations our minds generate in relation to “dirt.” Mark Poster takes our minds through the same symbolic loops when examining the popular Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in light of changing ethics in our poststructuralist era in his essay cleverly titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Virtual: Ethics in the Age of Information.” Although we may not think it when we look at Amnesty


Patterson 3 International’s logo, our brains are going through these same loops, conjuring up a host of ideas that link to a candle, barbed wire, and their relation to this wonderful organization.


Patterson 4 Works Cited Kaprow, Allan. "Just Doing." TDR. 41.3 (1997): 101-106. Print. "Media Centre: Key Facts." Amnesty International. Web. 18 Mar 2013. Poster, Mark. "The Good, the Bad, and the Virtual: Ethics in the Age of Information." 521-545. Print. Ulmer , Gregory. "The Object of Post-Criticism." The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Hal Foster. New York: The New Press, 83-110. Print. "Who We Are." Amnesty International. Web. 18 Mar 2013.


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