Page 1

Glimpse TM

volume 1 issue 1

the art + science of seeing


Glimpse is an interdisciplinary journal that examines the functions, processes, and effects of vision and vision’s implications for being, knowing, and constructing our world(s). Each theme-focused journal issue features articles, visual spreads, interviews, and reviews spanning the physical sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.

Copyright and Acknowledgements Glimpse acknowledges creators’ copyright, and encourages contributors to consider Creative Commons licenses for their works. Many of the images used in this issue are Creative Commons licensed images from members, and others are public domain images courtesy of Boston Public Library, or private collectors. The font used in this issue is Tuffy, a freely available font.

Glimpse TM

Is The vIsual polITIcal? 4

presidents of the usa David Kish, illustrator


ugliness: visibility and the Invisible prejudice Dr. Anthony Synnott, Concordia University


Musings on a Master Race: The Drawings of hannah Barrett Carolyn Arcabascio interviews Hannah Barrett, artist


Grandpa lenin and the crimson love Nadej Giroux


politics, vision and Democracy: access equality for the visually Impaired Matthew Murray, D.Phil. candidate Cardiff University


Third-Term panic, 1874 Thomas Nast, illustrator; courtesy of T.J. Michalak


political symbols Andy Hughes


Mirroring people: Neuropolitics Dr. Marco Iacoboni, University of California, Los Angeles


Dilemmas of claiming ownership in an epidemic Louise Moana Kolff, Ph. D. candidate, University of New South Wales


society of the and Roemer Van Toorn, Berlage Institute; Introduction by Heather White, Boston College


Media, Race, and the Marketplace Dr. Robert M. Entman, The George Washington University


hugo Juarez 2008 Nicholas Munyan


politico-Religious Dimensions of chaco canyon pottery Dr. Stephen Plog, University of Virginia


Flags, color, symbol, and National Identity Carolyn Arcabascio interviews Dr. Karen Cerulo, Rutgers University


(Re)views Andy Hughes


Is the visual political? Dr. Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield, Boston College


political agenda Ryan Sullivan, illustrator


electing the president: how american elections Work Steve Hickey, graphic designer


Framing Documenta: The local politics of high art in Kassel, Germany Jeffrey Andreoni + Daniel Stein, Bezdomny Collective, Rome

From the Editor Tea m Megan Hurst Founder, Managing Editor Christine Madsen Co-Founder, Editor (Europe)

Vision is arguably our most immediate and mysterious means of receiving information. It is the carrier of great subtleties, can extend or heighten our emotions, override our logic, but can also serve to amplify our reason or intuition. Formally uncodified, vision differs from our more conscious cultural engagement with spoken and written language. It is deeply, biologically embedded in our cognitive framework, but often in ways we do not recognize or understand.

Matthew Steven Carlos

Long thought to reveal the truth, as with the old adage “Seeing is believing,” research

Editorial Advisor

now reveals vision and memory to be more porous than we may have once understood.

Nadej Giroux Editorial Research, Copy Editing Dane Wiedmann Editorial Research

Advances in brain imaging indicate further intricacies to the “problem” of vision. How reliable is human vision as it relates to our understanding of the world? Is what we see influenced by more than just our physical sight of that which is before us? Are there things “in plain sight” that we do not see? As we begin to understand more about vision, the brain, and cognition, more complexities are revealed. These advances have implications for societies and cultures as well.

Jamie Ahlstedt Logo Design, Layout, Graphics Nicholas Munyan

Issue 1 of Glimpse, focuses on the question, “Is the visual political?” The obvious answer is “yes”. Presented in this issue are many answers to support this thesis,

Design + Layout, Image Research

ranging from the persuasiveness of satirical political illustrations to the cognitive

Carolyn Arcabascio

through color, pattern, and form in ancient pottery and contemporary national flags;

Interviews, Editorial + Image Research

to the physical logistics of how we participate in democracy through sight. Additional

Heather White

tion- the roles of producers and of receivers, and varying levels of consciousness in

Features, Editorial Research, Relationship Development Andy Hughes Reviews, Editorial Research Jean-Pierre Leguillou Design Consultant

processes of political affiliation; to the transmission of sociopolitical information

sub-themes emerge among these works relating to the exchange of visual informathe construction and receipt of that information. The front cover for this issue is green, black, and orange—an homage to optical tricks that reveal a red, white, and blue image after staring at a fixed point in the first image for 30 seconds, then shifting one’s gaze to a white surface. The American assemblagist Jasper Johns riffed on this phenomenon in the mid-twentieth century. We offer it again here as a reference point for contemplating the emotional and political power

Sarah Wharton

and biophysics of what we see, how we see, and how we understand what we see.

Copy Editing

And so, with a generous group of contributors from diverse disciplines, and a talented and resourceful volunteer staff, we launch Glimpse. We extend an open invitaISSN 1945-3906

Glimpse PO Box 382178 Cambridge, MA 02238

tion to scholars, researchers, learners, and the generally curious to use Glimpse as a sandbox and a soapbox for their questions, experiences, discoveries, and theories about seeing, and vision’s many implications for being, understanding, and constructing our world(s).

Megan Hurst



by David Kish

by Dr. Anthony Synnott (Concordia University)


gliness is repulsive. In a democratic age, this is not fair, but there it is. The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) affirms

in Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights.” Article 2 rejects discrimination on any basis “such as

Image Courtesy of Otis Historical Archives National

race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or

Museum of Health & Medicine

social origin, property...” and it continues. But there is no explicit

(Opposite): Original Illustration by David Kish ©2008

mention of appearance or aesthetics. The discrimination and prejudice for or against people because of their looks is ignored. “Looksism,” as it has come to be known, is invisible. Looksism has two components: beautyism, which is a relatively new term

beautiful people uglyism, which may be a term first coined here, for the negative prejudice and discrimination against ugly people. for the positive prejudice and discrimination in favour of

regardless of merit, and

A well-known study on personal appearance found that “less attractive” people were believed to be less “sensitive, kind, interesting, strong, poised, modest, sociable, outgoing and exciting” than more attractive individuals, and also less “sexually responsive.” The researchers dubbed this the “horns effect,” as opposed to the “halo effect” of attractiveness (Berscheid and Walster, 1972: 42-3). An entire battery of later research indicates that they are less popular in school, tend to achieve lower grades, have fewer job opportunities, and elicit fewer helping behaviors. (Patzer, 1985). Appearance impacts not only attitudes, but also incomes. A Canadian study of the relation between income levels and attractiveness found that the homely or less attractive individuals earned 75% less than the attractive individuals, and 57% less than the average, with each of the three groups consisting of about one-third of the sample. The less attractive individuals were also judged to be less sincere than the attractive ones: 59% compared to 75%. Similar findings have been reported by Biddle and Hamermesh, and Hamermesh and Biddle (2000, 1993). Beauty is relatively simple. The models and the film stars and starlets, male and especially female, tend to look much the same, and indeed are hired within a rigid set of criteria. Ugly, on the other hand, is multiple. The

ugly may be so defined because they are fat, short, facially or corporeally disfigured, physically disabled, etc. Every part of the body, especially the face, is subject to a calculus of scrutiny. The assessment of ugliness or

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

Ugliness: Visibility and the Invisible Prejudice



beauty applies to both sexes, but more especially to wom-


en, perhaps since men are visual. Beautiful women attract the alpha males, ugly women do not, generally speaking.

These definitions are reflected in our everyday conver-

sations. We say, “She’s as ugly as sin,” “You look like hell!”

or “You look like the devil!” The physical ugliness and the moral demonization are one. Conversely, we also say,

Charles Darwin was intrigued by this matter of beauty,

“Oh! You look divine!” “You look like an angel!” or we

especially in birds, and he wondered about its evolution-

simply describe someone as “good-looking.” The same

ary function. “The Descent of Man” was subtitled “and

word, good, can mean both physically attractive and mor-

Selection in Relation to Sex.” In the chapter “On the

ally virtuous. To be attractive is, by definition, to attract.

influence of beauty in determining the marriages of

To be lovely is, by implication, to be lovable and to be

mankind,” he suggests that in “civilized life man is large-

loved. To be unattractive is to repel. The


body is

ly, but not exclusively, influenced in the choice of his wife

thought to symbolize the ugly self. The exterior is thought

by external appearance” (1981:2:338) and vice versa, he

to reflect the interior. This is a function of our language,

added later, pending the males’ triumph by what he called

and both expresses and re-creates our beliefs and our

beautiful, ugly. No doubt most

“the law of battle.” Thus beauty becomes a prime factor

practices. This is a supreme advantage for the

in sexual selection, contributing to “a greater average

but a supreme disadvantage for the

number of offspring,” (1981:2:369) and thus to human

people are somewhere in the middle, but both the advan-

evolution. Conversely, “the weaker, poorer and lower

tages and the disadvantages persist.

members of the same tribes” would have fewer offspring – as would the uglier. The chapter could equally well have been titled: “On the influence of ugliness in determining the marriages of mankind.”

The Ugly Mystique


he “ugly mystique” goes back to the Greeks. In the Iliad, Homer describes the treacherous Thersites as

In today’s language, we would say that the attraction to

“the ugliest man that had come to Ilium. He had a game

beauty and the repulsion from ugliness are hard-wired

foot and was bandy-legged. His rounded shoulders

and genetically determined. We might add, too, that they

almost met across his chest; and above them rose an egg-

Image Courtesy of Flickr

are also learned behavior and culturally determined. In-

shaped head, which sprouted a few short hairs.” (Bk 2;

Member Smabs Sputzer

deed, Darwin devoted an entire chapter to the cultural

1983:45) He looked bad; he was bad. Appearance and real-

relativity of beauty. Our cultural products, including literature, film, and art reflect our linguistic norms. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “Ugly” as follows: “unpleasing or repulsive to sight,

ity were one. This was perhaps the earliest expression of

uglyism, yet the tradition from Thersites, Cyclops, Satan,

the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Captain Hook, Long John Silver, Richard III, Mr. Hyde right up to Dr. No is that the

ugly and the deformed are evil. The invisible is visible.

morally repulsive, vile, discreditable, unpleasant, unpleas-


antly suggestive, threatening, unpromising.” The applica-

The same convention of evil being

tion of this adjective to any individual carries a

flecting inner is clear in film as well. Horror movies are

considerable semantic, emotional and evaluative load. The

the prime exemplars of these conventions. Monsters

word is not simply a descriptor of visual appearance, but

are uniformly horrific, whether dinosaurs, gorillas, aliens

also a moral evaluation. Conversely, “Beauty” is defined as

of various styles, or whatever. The evil is symbolized by

follows: “a combination of qualities, as shape, proportion,

the horrific appearances of the evil doers.

and outer re-

colour, in human face or form, or in other objects, that delights the sight... combined qualities delighting the other

The ethos of art replicates literature and film, as might

senses, the moral sense, the intellect” and examples are

be expected. This is most obvious in the portraiture of

given. But as with the definition of “Ugly,” we can see the

the Madonna and the devil. Not only is the Madonna

same identity between the physical and the moral—the


same confusion of different orders of reality.


beautiful and female, but the devil, Satan, is ugly and male.

This is the Christian view. Almost the entire secular corpus

reality as well as in our literary, film, aesthetic and imaginative realms. What we fear is

ugly and evil — evil

beauty and the dislike of ugliness, and the equations of the

and ugly. And we love beauty, even though it is so often

physical and the metaphysical, the visible and the invisible

a mirage.

(Synnott, 1993 :73-102). St. Thomas Aquinas, (1225-74) the premier theologian of the Catholic Church, defined beauty as “id quod visum placet”—that which pleases—and asserted that “the


and the good are identical in

reality” (1981: Vol. 19 :76). Ugliness, therefore, is that which displeases, and ugliness and evil are identical. Yet philosophers since Plato have been fascinated by beauty, by the idea of beauty anyway. Plato loved beauty, and argued that the contemplation of a


boy led one

several steps up the heavenly ladder to Absolute Beauty, which is Love and the Good (Symposium 211; 1963:562-3). By implication, the contemplation of an down the ladder to Absolute

ugly boy must lead

Ugly which is Hate and Evil.

Our attitudes and behavior towards the

ugly may be unfair,

but they are not entirely surprising: they are embedded and audible in our language, legible in our literature, exemplified in our biographies and autobiographies, visible in our films, and rationalized by philosophers. The consequences of ug-

References Aquinas, Thomas. 1981. Summa Theologiae. Vol. 19. Blackfriars. Berscheid, E. and E. Walster, 1972. “Beauty and the Best.” Psychology Today. 42-6, 74. Biddle, Jeff and Daniel S. Hamermesh, 2000. “Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers Looks and Lucre.” NBER. Working Paper No. W5366. Darwin, Charles 1981/1871. The Descent of Man. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Hamermesh, Daniel C. and Jeff Biddle. 1993. “Beauty and the Looks Mystique” NBER Working Paper No. 4518. Homer, and Colin W. MacLeod. 1982. Iliad: Book XXIV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Patzer, Gordon. 1985. The Physical Attractiveness Phenomenon. New York: Plenum. Plato, 1963. The Collected Dialogues. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Bollingen Series. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press. Ranfurly, Hermione. 1998. The Ugly One: the childhood memoirs of the Countess of Ranfurley, 1913-1939. London: Michael Joseph Ltd. Synnott, Anthony. 1993. The Body Social. Symbolism, Self and Society. London: Routledge.

liness and beauty have been researched by social scientists -

uglyism is more visible than it once was. None the less,

this is an adversity which afflicts millions of people, and receives nothing like the attention of some of our other adversities specified by the United Nations. It is so widespread, deep-rooted, and normal that it remains largely in-

Bibliography American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2008. Report of the 2007 Statistics. Cash, T. F., B. A. Winstead and L. H. Janda, 1986. “The Great American Shape-up.” Psychology Today; 19: 30-7.

visible save to those affected, such as the English woman

De Beauvoir, Simone. 1953. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf.

who entitled her memoirs “The

Eco, Umberto. 2007. On Ugliness. New York: Rizzoli.


One.” She starts by

saying: “I started life as a disappointment—because I wasn’t

Friday, Nancy, 1996. The Power of Beauty. New York: HarperCollins

a boy. I continued being a disappointment —because I was

Greer, Germaine. 1971. The Female Eunuch. London: Paladin Books.


My older brother was handsome; my younger sister

was handsome; and my little sister was our baby and people always say babies are


even when they are hid-

eous” (Ranfurly, 1998:1). In sum, the conventional wisdom that the physically ugly are also evil, and that the evil—the mass murderers and serial

killers—are also ugly is widely symbolized in popular culture; but it is not justified by reality. Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Charles Taylor, Slobodan Milosevic, do not look

ugly. They

look normal, average. The “ugly mystique” is false, unfair,

dangerous, and silly; yet it is alive and well and lives on in

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

of Judaeo-Christian culture has articulated the worship of

Joanisse, Leanne and Anthony Synnott, 1998. “Fighting Back: Reactions and Resistance to the Stigma of Obesity” in Jeffrey Sobel and Donna Maurer (eds). Interpreting Weight: The Social Management of Fatness and Thinness. New York: Aldine de Gruyter:49-69. Kaczorowski, J 1989. The Good, the Average and the Ugly: Socioeconomic Dimensions of Physical Attractiveness. M.A.Thesis. Department of Sociology. McGill University. Murphy, Robert F. 1987. The Body Silent. New York: Henry Holt. Montagu, Ashley. 1979. The Elephant Man. New York: E. P. Dutton. Synnott, Anthony 1990. “The Beauty Mystique: Ethics and Aesthetics in the Bond Genre.” The International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. 3:3:407-26. Wan, Nathalie. 2003. “’Orange in a World of Apples’: The Voices of Albinism.” Disability and Society. 18:3:277-96.


Glimpse 8

One Body Naturally Considered

MusINGs oN a MasTeR Race: The DRaWINGs oF haNNah BaRReTT by Carolyn Arcabascio


series of faces peer out, defying the confines of their two-dimensional surfaces. Their eyes connect two worlds, but bespeak bemusement and skepticism. These are standoffish and wary characters, but unmistakably curious ones. about us. about the strange, judgmental creatures we are. I imagine their expressions mirrored my own as I took in the confused and disjointed bodies, anatomies exposed in bizarre, fantastical landscapes. everything foreign and new, save for the familiar furrowed brows, lined lips, and spots of mustache that I recognized as the borrowed and mingling features of Queen elizabeth and adolf hitler.

thInk In Images,” Hannah Barrett explained, sorting though draw-

values, that stubborn system of compartmentalized prin-

ers of collaged “digital sketches.” So the image of Queen Elizabeth, for

ciples. Perhaps here we’ll find guidance on how to feel.

whom the Boston-based artist admits a strong affinity and fondness,

Disapproving? Acceptant? But our archetypes of virtuous

offered a steadfast starting point for a new body of work. The monarch

and villainous are all but inapplicable - in the hybrid we find

fixed herself, poised and patient, in Barrett’s mind and waited for her

the image of fairness and the face of evil singularly em-

male counterpart whose features would ultimately meld with her own.


This process of selection and juxtaposition is one that Barrett knows well. Just take a look at the work that spans her career and you’ll

With the convergence of dictator (male, loathsome,

become witness to a parade of hybrids – a ragtag array of eccentric-

past) and queen (female, good, current) comes a

ity and sexual ambiguity. The new series at hand would follow suit, but

total collapse of boundaries – of our dear categories.

it had to do more than just satisfy previously established, radical cri-

Forced to surrender the biases that inform our gender

teria. And for Barrett, every candidate for combination was falling flat.

roles and goad our self-righteousness, we’re left with

enough to share a body with the Queen. Until Hitler’s face entered the

no choice but to look at these figures without pretense . They boast anatomical land-

spectrum of potentials. He was certainly big enough, recognizable

scapes, dubious and rare. So entrenched in the present

enough, detestable enough to serve as the perfect visual and concep-

reality on this side of the picture plane, our thoughts

tual foil. But Barrett met the notion of working with the dictator’s

wander to a counterculture of bodies and orientations,

visage with justifiable reluctance, and her extensive academic back-

the likes of which are largely inconspicuous on the

ground and personal interest in German studies and culture only mag-

mainstream cultural horizon. But Barrett takes this new

nified her discomfort. Still, the image remained. Nagging, expectant.

figure, crowns it, and so thrusts it to the forefront of

They were too small, there was no tension, none were commanding

our sociological and political awareness. The artist illuWhile perusing an old Christie’s catalog, a frequent source of reference

minates these modern taboos that perhaps a later, more

material and inspiration, the artist found HIM - Maurizio Cattelan’s

sophisticated era will greet with amity and honesty.

photorealistic sculpture of a miniature Hitler, kneeling in prayer. The thing is provocative, of course, recalling atrocity and inciting pain that

In the meantime, we wrestle with our preconceptions,

generations of time haven’t dulled. Yet the scale is shifted, the gesture

trying to rebuild our comfortable and illusory barriers.

vulnerable, and the dynamic between us and it—changed. Barrett re-

And all the while, horsebacked hermaphrodite and friends

approached her hybrid, suspended mid-thought, with new resolve. By

go about their business. They water flowers and contem-

continuing to shy away in her considerable distaste, she’d be “honoring

plate (something) over tea, in spite of us. But the chron-

these taboos by scrupulously avoiding them.” So she executed the in-

ic uncertainty of this paradoxical place is unshakable and

sistent idea—several times over—and manifested a

frustrating and I demand to know: What kind of leadership

dite Master Race.


can be offered here and where do my stereotypes apply? What of the aggression of masculine leadership, the di-

One member of the new breed sits regally on horseback, clothed in a

plomacy of feminine? Where are the absolutes to shape

dictator’s getup and accessorized with a monarch’s jewels. The figure

my ethical character and how can an entity of opposites

looks past us, imparting a misdirected royal wave. Barrett places the new

keep from self-destructing? A representative of the

and improbable person in her rendition of Erastus Salisbury Field’s Garden

master race looks out (eye-contact this time) from Bar-

of Eden – humanity’s biblical birthplace where God breathed life into Ad-

rett’s imitation Hitler watercolor. Folded hands rest on an

am’s nostrils and made Eve, the divine afterthought, to assuage his lone-

ornate table, decorated with the Queen’s Fabergé egg,

liness. Now, the loaded sequence of humankind’s creation is subverted,

nudged conscientiously to the corner.

beaten by a body both man and woman. Our gender-directed prejudices lie dead and irrelevant somewhere. Craving direction, we appeal to our

Perhaps s/he can answer my questions.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?




TalKING (sexual) hyBRIDs carolyn arcabascio (ca): Why are you so drawn to the concepts of hybridization and distortion? hannah Barrett (hB): Well, let’s start with the hybridization. I’m trying to show a new figure that I feel is there, and I know is there in a way. People are changing their bodies and you can get plastic surgery. I come from a queer community with a lot of people going trans. So I wanted to show these new things that are going on. Not just the surgery, but also how people are thinking about themselves as not necessarily so polarized male or female. But I needed to do


it in a way that was

symbolic and explicit and that would

come out of the materials. Like, if I went and drew a trans person, I don’t think it would mean anything in a way, because it would just look like a man or a woman. So the hybridization allows me to make this





a combination of male and female. And then as I went along, I started experimenting with it. I found that how people respond to it varies and is broader than if I just showed something that broke boundaries - a trans person, or an old woman and a young Fidi Defensor

man having sex or something like that. When I first started, I was doing hybrids of my parents, so people started to relate to them from the point of view of marriage, which wasn’t anything I even thought about. I’ve been thinking of things like

coming out of each other .


That starts to happen

whether you’re in a really close relationship, or even a working relationship. You can have issues of somebody who’s dominant or somebody who’s more passive and people sort of come out of other people. So I felt that the hybrid portrait had potential to show this whole new gender that was happening, and it’s also an encapsulated narrative. You can suggest a whole story about a person that’s not like a straight-ahead portrait. The distortion is related to the hybridization because that’s just a natural bi-product. And I always want it to be clear that it’s a new person that comes out of sources. The whole point for me is for it to not look like a real person. It takes a lot to maintain that seam - that sense that it’s a collage.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

ca: The sexual ambiguity in your work has been described as bizarre, and by some, even unsettling at times. What do you think is so visually powerful about this breakdown in sexual categorizations? hB: It’s hard to do anything these days that’s disturbing to begin with. Not that that’s the point where I start from, but there aren’t that many images out there that show that. And this is a really contemporary idea. Maybe this is the first point when things have been as open as they are. I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing it because it’s a frontier, an opportunity, in a world that’s constantly bombarded with images. And everything is so tired and has been done. This is something that is totally relevant, is totally contemporary, but it’s not really being done. So for me it’s like, why wouldn’t I do it? I guess some people could say it’s unsettling. ca: how has your own personal perception of gender influenced your work? hB: Well, I might not notice these things that are going on if I was not immediately affected by them, if they weren’t in my immediate vicinity. And it’s sort of been a part of my art education as well. When I was in art school in the 80s, and I was trying to learn to paint, to draw, I was studying with this old man, Barney Rubinstein at the Museum School. All my friends were in video and photography. There were no queer people trying to learn how to paint - they were all doing new media, photo, performance. And so I’ve always been really aware of how these worlds are really separate, and that my point of view is a little different. I live in the queer community in Boston, so I see things differently from, for example, the housewives that I was painting with Barney Rubinstein. I’ve gone to dinner parties

where I’m the only woman there who hasn’t had a sex change. So for me, that’s my reality. ca: What role does humor play in your work?

hB: When you do collage, humor is kind of inherent. You almost have to watch out for things becoming too slapstick with collage. And with the distortion, it’s funny because things have big noses or they have little hands or whatever. I could eliminate all of that. They could have a totally different look, and I could make them more conventionally beautiful, but then to me, what would be the

Garden of his Heavenly Will


Glimpse 12

point? So the humor I think is partly the collage, and partly just how my personality runs. It also brings them to life in a way. If there’s no humor, then there’s a distance. all these people doing inane things - digging up weird objects and ca: The humor makes it accessible.

holding them up. On the one hand, you could say that’s because this is from East Germany and this is what they were doing for years.

hB: It’s an involuntary thing, laughter. If people feel

They had a fake gross national product for fifty years and then in

like they can laugh and spend time with something,

1989 everybody woke up and discovered, oh, actually, all these



factories and all these things that we thought we were doing - it’s

permeate. That’s how I look at things. So even

just play. So you could say it means that - that’s what these things

though my work is really overt and literal, it’s still

symbolize. On the other hand, somebody wouldn’t even have to

ambiguous on a certain level. But if people have

know anything about East Germany and could just see them as

something that they want to look at and that they

something that goes on with everybody - you’re looking for some-

feel engaged in because of the humor, because of

thing, and you come up with this thing, and it’s an absurdity. I think

the detail, that’s what I’m trying to do.

his work would lose a lot if it were more related to a specifically







East German idea. And it’s important that it can mean something ca: Do you consider yourself a satirist?

broader than that.

HB: I never thought of that. Maybe. I can think of

Current events are happening so fast now, I think it’s hard to keep

people who are more satirical. There’s a kind of for-

up with something that’s relevant. That’s probably part of it too—

mality to satire; offhand I can think of people who

how people read imagery now. By the time you’re done with the

have satirical elements to their work, but I can’t re-

thing, the news has changed.









satirist. It’s a really interesting question, because

ca: Most of your work deals with the manipulation of the historical

visually I think it’s kind of out of fashion. I don’t

image - whether you’re working from a collaged family portrait,

think it’s out of fashion in writing, or in theater. But

historical photographs, photos of political figures. What is the

it has to do with how people read visual

importance of the alteration of history in the context of your work?

imagery now. I don’t think people read it in a way where satire really operates anymore. When I

hB: I went into painting because I’m very attracted to the craft, and

think of contemporary images today, and I think

as my sensibility, I’m a very craftsman-like person. So I’m really in-

of people who work with very overt and specific

terested in the old crafts and old paintings - studying these things,

imagery like I do, or people much more famous than

practicing them. But at the same time, I’m a very contemporary

myself like Neo Rauch or Dana Schutz,

person. So for me there’s always a weird split that goes on. I’ll be

always ambiguity there .


So even if

poring over all the auction magazines from Christie’s for old master

incredibly religious paintings, inmisogynist . I don’t see myself in that. So I’m attracted

something seems like it’s being satirized, it’s still

paintings, and they’re all

general. For example, in Neo Rausch’s work there’s


to the craftsmanship, the beauty, the color, the surface of those things, but because of what they stand for, there’s always something that reminds me that I can’t have that. I’m interested in how those things look and feel, and that’s why I go back to them. If something’s far enough away, it’s a sort of realm of rediscovery because you don’t know about it any more than you know about what hasn’t happened yet.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

ca: since you mostly see these images as fragments while you work, and since that’s the nature of the kind of image that you generally work with, does this influence the way you see things in everyday life? Do you pick things apart and fragmentize? hB: I know that how people optically perceive things in the world is directly linked to how they work. You know, people who have a broader vision stand back farther, use big brushes. I guess I do tend to see things in a more detailed way than some people. ca: Do you feel that, in general, people interpret visual information as political in one way or another?


hB: Yeah. They do. I think lay people politicize two-dimensional work much more than artists do just because art’s not in the schools anymore, people don’t do it, don’t practice it. When my grandparents went to school in this country, everybody did drawing. My grandparents could do pretty good drawings - that was sort of average. Now nobody does it and I feel like, people think today, you have to have a really good reason that you’re going to do a drawing. And I don’t feel that way. I feel like you can just draw to draw. And people also feel like everything has to mean something because they don’t understand visual meaning. You know, they’re trying to match something that they see, instead of looking at it in terms of it’s own

Joyous Entry

language, because they don’t know that language. So the farther people get from knowing visual language, I think the more politicized it becomes.

Swastika (Nazi Party) Before it was made infamous as the banner of the Third Reich, the swastika was a common symbol, dating back to ancient Greek and Hindi societies. No one is sure exactly of the symbol’s origin, but scholars have confirmed that the name derives from Sanskrit and signifies a lucky object. One such scholar, P.R. Sarkar, went further in examining the word’s etymology and interpreted it to mean “good existence”. On Navajo and Druidic artifacts, in French cathedrals and symbols of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, the swastika seems to have been a widely recognized image and was incorporated in positive and spiritual ways that seem surprising now. Specific graphical differences between the Nazi style of swastika and the ancient icon have been noted by scholars so as to distinguish them and avoid confusion. Sarkar has also been sure to point out the significance of the swasswas tika’s positioning: when the line at the top points to the right, it is a positive expression, representing ultimate vicvic tory. When reversed, it indicates destruction and extinction. As inseparable as this symbol is from the evils of World War II and the Holocaust, there are still cultures today that recognize the original values of the swastika. A website, is currently leading a campaign to promote the positive values of the symbol and separate it from its political associations.

Glimpse 14

Grandpa Lenin and the Crimson Love by Nadej Giroux


felt he always was a part of my family, this man I

attendance was a must (or else your boss would have a

never knew. None of us knew him, actually. And yet,

word with you later on, say, the subject of your social

there he hung on a wall of every institution: from office

uninvolvement) and a volunteer would take a roll call to

buildings to grocery stores to hospitals, always beaming

make sure that everybody came with mandatory glee.

on with his strong eyebrows and a far away gaze to the “beautiful future”. For all of us he was just that—the

Communism in the mid-eighties was certainly not what

good old gramps.

it used to be in the days of its dawn. Grown-ups frequently made subtle passing jokes in regards to “Oh,

As we woke up from our afternoon nap, all the kids

you don’t have it as bad as we had it” and my mother

would sit in a circle as the teacher made us memorize

was genuinely happy (though would never admit it in

the poems that made him ever so endearing, but it is

public at the time) that kids in the eighties had a far

precisely then that I started questioning why this

lesser degree of indoctrination. The amount of com-

strange man somehow sneaked into my heart and made

munist art produced in that era pales in comparison to

me so fond of him. The grown-ups considered his

the previous decades and it started to gain more of a

mummy in the Moscow mausoleum to be a sacred place,

kitschy, half-serious character. It was like a secret,

but the idea of a mummified man, exposed for all to

side-ways route by which we phased out the ideology

see struck me as something beyond creepy. But this is

we no longer believed. All the symbols and all the red

precisely why Lenin remained our constant family mem-

turned into the background, much like incessant bill-

ber: he never died, his body continued to live on in

board advertising. People became disillusioned by the

physical space, where hundreds of people would venture

self-perpetuated dream of a perfect future, when all of

daily as if to see a relic of the old Saints. In fact, most

us communists would be “free”. Back in those days

said that dead Lenin was so “hot”, you’d have to bribe

though, we didn’t know that “free” would still mean

people in advance to get the tickets.

having no money, even with access to the goods.

Many things in my childhood were crimson red. It

But shades of crimson still brought happiness to a

seemed like “red” was the stock color, associated with

young child like myself, mostly because it was bright

everything eternally good, festive and patriotic. Red

and very few things were vibrant in my childhood.

banners flew over many buildings and “krasnyj”

I remember being astonished the first time I saw a set

(being the word for “red” as well as “beautiful”) flew in

of Play-Dough sold in America, particularly because of

woman’s dresses, cars and shiny balloons during the

the colors it contained: “Wow, pink and purple and such

many parades of my childhood. The Soviets loved

rich green. This is certainly unheard of!” In the kinder-

parades in a quaintly harmless, exhibitionistic way we

garten they always asked us to make the Play-Dough

loved to show ourselves how really great we were and

sculptures and the colors were always brown, beige,

people collected massively to celebrate our idealistic

white and black. Sometimes you were lucky to get

dreams. More often than not, however, the parade

a green but they were all dark and depressing colors in

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Brian Fitzgerald

reds made me happy—the only color that never faded. When communism finally fell apart, most people sighed with relief. Suddenly creative expression exploded, as if people held on to their ideas for ages and suddenly had

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

the end. I wonder if that is precisely the reason why

the opportunity to get them out there. Most of it was anger and over sexualized images that became so pervasive and socially unrestricted that they flooded every corner of the country. While, possibly, elsewhere this would cause public discontent, we had already learned to tune visuals out and it just wasn’t much of a shock. I even remember sometime in the late eighties people would come on trains during long stops and sell from under thick jackets cards with naked girls and icons of Christ—both pocket-sized and discreet, both taboo and an altogether strange mix of the sacred and the profane. And then of course, grandpa had to come down. Hundreds of Lenin monuments, with his long stone/ marble/granite/bronze jacket waving in the wind and his arm pointing to an/the ever disappearing bright future, were dismantled. No, it wasn’t like the Saddam Hussein statue show, where people jumped on top of the cast giant in fits of liberated merriment as the West watched it happening, somewhere else as usual, glued to their TV with a sense of pseudo-achievement. It was quite different, much like getting a pink slip: “sorry, we’re gonna hafta let ya go. Good times, though!” Nobody made much fuss because we had no real reason to hate him—none of us really knew him. But you know, I still have a soft spot in my heart for him. Six years of my life I lived on the Lenin street, and when they started to change the street names again to reflect the new, non-communist life, they left my street alone and I was happy about it. After all, he was a part of my family and watched me wherever went.


Glimpse 16

polITIcs, vIsIoN aND DeMocRacy: access eQualITy FoR The vIsually IMpaIReD by Matthew Murray (Cardiff University)


fter many years of pursuit by the American

This inability to access these forms of visual communication lead to

Council for the Blind, on May 20th 2008 the U.S.

social and political inequalities that stand contrary to the moral de-

Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

mands of a democratic system of governance. In highlighting the inad-

ruled that the universal sizing and texturing of various

equate provision of these media, I intend to show that the legal and

denominations the U.S. dollar was discriminatory to the

moral standards for instituting reforms exist in present legislation in

visually impaired.1 The court ruled that the adaptations

the United States. To conclude this article, I will pose a solution to

made previously to the dollar were not enough to bring

rectify the current failings in media provision for blind/visually-im-

the currency into compliance to the Rehabilitation Act

paired/dyslexic persons (referred to just as visually impaired), articu-

of 1973 that affords “meaningful access” to the handi-

late how these reforms can provide the requisite access to visual

capped.2 Judge Judith V. Rogers stated in the majority

forms of communication, and how this access empowers the visually

opinion, “Even the most searching tactile examination

impaired to equally partake in the system of governance.

will reveal no difference between a $100 bill and a $1 bill.” This ruling affirms that currency having only

To discern the moral duty and subsequent legal duty of the demo-

visual cues to disseminate its value, is discriminatory as

cratic system of governance in the United States, it is important to

the visually impaired do not have equal access to the

establish precisely what this system is meant to do, ideally speaking.

needed sensory input (in part or in full) to use the

The federal representative democracy of the United States is intended

existing cues present on the dollar. Without this equal

to respect population and territory proportionally while treating indi-

ability, the visually impaired are unable to discern the

vidual citizens with equality in respect to their direct quantifica-

value of the currency and must rely on the charity of

tion of one person, one vote. The ability to vote with equal quantifiable

equality be-

others to inform them of the value of the money being

power to all other individual citizens is the formal

exchanged. Without access to the medium of communi-

stowed upon all citizens capable of registering to vote.3 Although those

cation used by the currency, the visually impaired can-

unable to take part in this process still have protected rights, the abil-

not interact in what has been deemed a manner equal

ity to take part in the political process through voting infers something

to all other individuals. This

further. Being a registered voter both physically, through capability,

inequality means

that the visually impaired cannot act equally in all cir-

and formally, through recognized citizenship, means that beyond the

cumstances in the consensual transactions implied by

formal rights protections bestowed upon all, the opinion of all these

capitalist justice. This inequality that the visu-

individuals, including the handicapped, is deemed to be equal and wor-

ally impaired face runs contrary to the legal and moral

thy of equal quantification in the processes of democratic governance.

commitments of the United States when such issues

Individuals meeting these thresholds are deemed capable because of

have been remedied by other global currencies.

their requisite membership in the polity and their ability to exercise their opinions in the formal system of quantification.

The lack of access to visual information formats in our society extends beyond currency to other visually-de-

The formal parameters of citizenship in respect to voting continue to

pendent media. These visually-dependent media are

emerge as the boundaries of who actually qualifies as a quantifiable

requisite to the ability of visually impaired persons to

individual citizen have been questioned and amended historically. The

access information and make the social associations in

parameters and provisions needed to procure the equal social condi-

which other fully-sighted individuals can freely partake.

tions required to foster this formal quantification of equality are

and race are just a few of the social issues that have also spurred reform in the quantification processes of the State. The ability to

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

a matter of constant debate and revision as well. Economics, gender,

equally participate in society as a whole is requisite to the formal protection of rights and the ability to freely associate. The ability to vote in the absence of the ability to participate in aspects of society would not only violate an individual’s formal right of association but also would deny them the ability to access conceptions of the good that would legitimize their electoral decisions. The handicapped, including the visually impaired, are no different than many of these minority or under-represented groups. The formal ability to vote, for the handicapped who are able to register to vote has never been denied but through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)4, requisite legal provisions were provided to allow the handicapped to participate as equally as possible in society, including voting accommodations. Although the ADA acted broadly in providing the legal mandate for physical access, employment rights and transportation provisions, the provisions for communication systems were monofaceted. Title IV of the ADA, deals specifically with telecommunications and provisions for “hearing-impaired and speech-impaired individuals.”5 Certain intrastate mediums, which are administrated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), were made accessible to hearing impaired individuals. Without mandated standards for these mediums of telecommunication6, a vast section of hearing-impaired individuals were unable to access or unduly burdened in accessing these mediums. Without the ability to freely partake in these important mediums of communication and social association, these impaired individuals would be formally free to participate in society and the democratic system of governance but denied a vital associative tool of which all other citizens could freely avail themselves. One of the provision’s shortcomings was addressed in 1990 when Congress passed the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 (TDCA) pursuant to Title IV of the ADA.7 The TDCA allowed the FCC to Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Alexander Kaiser


Glimpse 18

mandate all televisions be capable of receiving a closed captioning (CC)

these broadcast requirements even for privately held

signal. This mandate first extended only to analog televisions but has

media outlets as the actual medium, they were using

been extended to cover all digital televisions as well. The findings of

was a governmentally regulated body. The regulation

the bill stated “to the fullest extent made possible by technology, deaf

protects the broadcasting outlets from other private

and hearing-impaired people should have equal access to the television

actors, who given an unregulated broadcast system

medium.”8 Furthermore, the findings stated “closed-captioned televi-

would infringe upon one another and interrupt the abil-

sion will provide access to information entertainment, and a greater

ity of either to broadcast. In turn, for protecting these

understanding of our Nation and the world to over 24,000,000 people

outlets from the hazards of the medium that is the

in the United States who are deaf or hearing-impaired.”9 At the time,

property of all citizens, the FCC acts to ensure that all

the hearing impaired had to privately supply receivers. These private-

individuals who wish to receive these forms of com-

ly acquired receivers were only able to access the stations actually

munication have the ability to do so, even if these out-

providing CC content. In accordance with the TDCA, the FCC was

lets themselves are privately owned. Although the con-

given the power to mandate the form of CC and subsequently to com-

tent itself might be privately owned and require private

pel TV manufactures to produce technology compliant with standard-

compensation, like satellite or cable television, these

ized formats over time. The standardization and mandatory provision

outlets could not discriminate against the hearing im-

of CC technology ensured that the hearing-impaired were able to ac-

paired beyond the costs that are incurred by any other

cess the medium with most televisions10.

enabled individual in accessing their content. Furthermore, by using publicly regulated mediums and infra-

However, merely standardizing and mandating the technology that re-

structure they could be legitimately compelled to pro-

ceives CC on televisions would not be enough since privately owned

vide the CC service in exchange for the protection of

media outlets would not be compelled to provide CC services. In 1996,

their broadcast rights.

Congress gave the FCC the remit through the Telecommunications Act of 1996,11 to enact what is today CFR 47 Part 79 (hence referred to

These public policies formalized access to the federally-

as Part 79) for television broadcasters and distributors, pursuant to

sanctioned TV medium, implied equal interactive capabil-

the TDCA.12 With few exceptions13, this portion of the FCC code man-

ity for all, and realized this commitment to equality

dated the provision of CC signals in English and subsequently in Span-

that further implied that such equalizing material provi-

ish, by all operating television outlets including cable and satellite op-

sions could not be fairly foisted upon hearing-impaired

erators. As a regulatory body of the government which essentially

individuals. The federal regulation through the FCC gave

permits the legal use of forms of broadcast, the FCC could compel

the government recourse to enact bipartite reforms that

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Foxtongue Photo


provision of the CC signals that allow the hearing impaired to interact

the same token, broadcast outlets may choose not to

with televised content.

associate, through denial of service for private content

leave squarely to all individuals. By

for, say, someone unwilling to pay for the service, but It is important, if this argument is to be convincingly extended to

they cannot make such distinction based upon the ac-

other mediums, to discuss precisely why “a greater understanding of

cess needs present in an individual’s sensory capabili-

our Nation and the world” is a fundamentally important aspect of the

ties. These outlets cannot discriminate based upon the

lives of hearing impaired in the United States. 14 Furthermore, we must

physical accommodations required by morally/legally

discuss why these reforms to provide requisite access to the television

equal actors, so although the content may be private,

medium accomplished this imperative. Television, much like other

the access to it through the federally-protected media

forms of communication, is a medium for content that provides the

must be universal.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?


compelled the provision of receivers while also ensuring the mandatory

context that individuals must be equally free to acquire/perceive. The inability to proscribe how individuals may wish to associate and com-

To coherently implement this moral impetus, the stan-

municate does not subvert the imperative that individuals must equal-

dardization of signal formats and decoder equipment

ly and individually be capable of associating and communicating in

plainly follows. However, one might argue that this

order for their choices, both in their daily lives and in the polity, to be

moral argument still isn’t enough to justify the universal

seen as legitimate in a democratic context.

standardization of closed captioning equipment and signals, given that the role of the state is purely to provide

Although individuals can form conceptions of the good, arguably with-

access to each given channel of the given broadcast

out social interaction, they cannot be denied equal access to the me-

medium. Individual channels could provide access in any

diums that individuals use to interact and form their social conceptions,

number of ways, all of which may be in different for-

because of the material needs of their disability. For the hearing im-

mats and with different technological requirements. As

paired prior to the TDCA/Part 79, the formal liberty to receive and

long as these outlets provided the service and technol-

associate with televised media was not denied to them, but the practi-

ogy without added cost to the hearing-impaired person,


cal ability to access the format universally was denied, save the few

it seems the moral duty to

who were proficient lip-readers or fiscally endowed enough to have

democratic society would be fulfilled.

in a liberal

programs disseminated alternatively. The hearing impaired may legitimately choose not to watch television or to associate with any par-

To explain the trouble with such an argument, let us say

ticular channel or broadcast entity, but that is a decision the confines

each broadcaster provided free alternative access to the hearing impaired in separate dissimilar formats, whereas the hearing capable could freely interact with any of these providers without such a process. Although these suppliers are not denying access to the disabled individuals, they would be placing an undue burden on disabled individuals in order for them to acquire the service with the same discretion other individuals can. The need for an alternative format implies in itself a greater material requirement but also greater effort and skills for each individual to use the technological adaptations that allow him or her access. If each outlet only provides access in their format of choice, given that different skills and technologies are needed to access each of these formats, the private entities would be dictating the

equality of access, not the govern-

ment. Providing universal access requires more than the


Glimpse 20

formality of providing an avenue through which the handicapped can procure the service- it has to be one equal across like services in order for the selection process facing the handicapped not to be coercive. The handicapped must be equally able to select like mediums with the same opportunity set present to all other individuals or else their decision to use a particular service or channel may be made simply based upon the ease of access given their embodiment status, which is precisely the

inequality the provision of the format itself is in-

tended to avoid. For this reason, standardization enforcement of closed

and communicate in ways all others may freely do and

captioning and decoder technology seems not only logistically appeal-

is denied prospective that are intended to be equally

ing but also morally justified.

quantified by the democratic system of governance.

The TDCA/Part 79 provides a segment of the population the ability to

Although I do not wish to infer that it is the only reform


interact with equal opportunity to other individuals with the televised

elicited by the moral commitment of

content of their choice. It also states that the liberty of the hearing

text-based forms of communication are the most trou-

impaired to interact with media requires more than simply the ability

bling. However, the solution for providing access to text

to access the content, but also the technology and format uniformity

is plainly conceivable with modern technology and a

that equal access imply. In doing so the hearing impaired gain access

realization of the need for

to the content of their choice and have an equal ability to interact with

The diversity of various text formats includes books,

perspectives this medium presents. From this follows the broader

periodicals, web pages and newspapers. Text is a me-

statement that individuals in a democratic system of governance with

dium for the social ideas and perspectives presented by

sensory handicaps must be given equal access to mediums of com-

the respective authors. For the visually impaired, the

munication, when such access can be plausibly given, without undue

inability to access this medium easily or at all would

burden relative to all other citizens who can access the medium with-

infer they lack important associative capabilities that


in access.

out assistance. Such logic seems to be hardly controversial, but this

de-legitimize the premise of equality that under-

moral impetus of

pins the democratic processes of the United States.

equality that stands at the heart of the sys-

tem of governance and justice in the United States is not wholly fulfilled for the visually impaired. Adaptive technology and accessible mediums are everywhere from large print and audio book sections in the local library to CCTV magnifiers to text to speech features on many computer programs. It is also

The Numbers


recisely how widespread the inability to access various text formats is remains a relatively vague

question, however any inability seems to infer a morally


true that visual deficiencies are as broad and unique as the individuals


who have them and so the solutions that work best for certain

argue this problem is limited, the Royal National Institute

individuals can vary broadly. However, as much as the hearing impaired

for the Blind (RNIB) estimated this past April that 96

universally have difficulty accessing certain broadcast mediums of

percent of books published in the United Kingdom are

communication, the visually impaired face these same barriers with

never turned into alternative format accessible to the

forms of visual communication. If the visually impaired cannot access

visually impaired.15 This statistic, although not directly

forms of visual communication without undue burden, then the stan-

describing the availability present in the United States,

dardization that equalizes the way in which these individuals can ac-

articulates well that the lack of visual formats is far from

cess these mediums must be provided. If these forms of communica-

an isolated problem. Websites are not compelled to meet

tion are not universally accessible, these equally quantified individuals

any formatting standards at all. With the use of image

will not have equal access to a form of communication used to dis-

based links and visually driven interfaces, many websites

seminate social interactions that all others can freely access. Such

are difficult for the visually impaired to access, if they

inability means that the visually impaired voter is unable to associate

are accessible at all.16 Several libraries for the visually

Although some may

Member Marcin Wichary

impaired, such as the Perkins School for the Blind and the Recording for

varying degrees, access to some, but not all, forms of text-

the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) library, provide Digital Accessible Informa-

based mediums and no legal recourse to compel them. This

tion System (DAISy) and 4-track books for the visually impaired. As

is an unacceptable

wonderful as these services are, they require equipment to use, employ

tance of text-based communication in an equal and demo-

different formats, and in the case of the RFB&D (as a non-governmental

cratic society.

organization) require special technology and membership dues that are


given the impor-

at the expense of the user. This is to say nothing about the potential

This form of inequality and the need for format

limitations of the book selection, the time involved in transcription for

standardization has been recognized in other democratic

needed/wanted texts, and the accessible formats only being on loan and

societies18 and by the United Nations19. Even within the

not for permanent possession. Some popular titles are produced in large

United States there have been attempts to legislate the

print and audio format directly by the publisher, but not all. Many jour-

provision of text media standardization. However, these

nals, magazines, newspapers and even some books are provided on the

particular reforms in the United States have focused pri-

web in various document formats but these materials are provided in a

marily on the provision of educational resources for stu-

variety of audio and data formats, each with different security, copy-

dents and not text media more broadly20. Such reforms

right, and adaptive features, assuming, of course, that an individual can

would not alleviate the moral burdens that the federal

navigate to find them initially. These formats then require different

government bears in ensuring equal access to text ma-

forms of technology to access them respectively. The lack of standard-

terials for all visually impaired individuals. The provisions

ization means that the visually impaired face the same sort of undue

that exist at the moment, aside from charitable organiza-


burdens and lack of equality to access the visual medium of text

tions that work admirably for the provision of text to the

that the hearing impaired faced with televised media prior to the TDCA

blind, are largely though individual State/Commonwealth

and Part 79. The visually impaired cannot access the communicated

commissions and agencies.

ideas in these various text resources with the same discretion as their fellow citizens, if these options are provided at all. Instead, there is pres-

These State agencies work through multi-level legisla-

ently a patchwork of solutions that are not working to comprehensively

tion to provide resources, services and advocacy for the

fulfill the fundamental need for equal access for the visually impaired.

visually impaired. State agencies provide the individual social assistance needed for the visually impaired to be

At the moment there is no legal remit to compel the provision of acces-

members of our society. They provide support and as-

sible forms of text in the United States outside of employment settings,

sistance in everything from health care solutions to mo-

as the ADA focused solely on telecommunications. The provisions of the

bility training and transportation, as well as adaptive

TDCA and Part 79 that worked to ensure all hearing-impaired individuals

technology solutions that help specific individuals

could partake in the communication provided by broadcast television are

access text mediums. But the burden to provide access

not extended to other mediums and other forms of sensory deprivation.

to text mediums, through overarching formatting and

Even if there was a legal precedent directly addressing the provision of

material provisions, should not fall on individual States.

accessible visual mediums in the ADA for the visually impaired, without

State agencies may best administrate and procure

legal standardization of formatting and provision for the tools to access

access to the end users, as they can individualize mate-

these standard formats, such as those present in the TDCA and Part 79,

rial solutions and use state-specific legislation to help

the requisite effect would not be achieved. The visually impaired have, in

specific individuals. In this way, state agencies are likely

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

Image Courtesy of Flickr


Glimpse 22

the best apparatus to affect change but individual states cannot affect

ally impaired to provide the technology needed to access

the universal change and provision that text formats demand. Individual

these alternative formats. This support can be based

states may legitimately institute standardizations and provisions that

upon the information collected through the census and

are incoherent with the standards of other states. Individual states may

federal taxation process for individuals who meet the

also provide unequal material or standard provisions to citizens who are

threshold of legally blind or those tested and proven to

all equal federal citizens on mediums that are federally protected across

be dyslexic. This would work to ensure equal citizens in

state borders. This infers that the provision for equal standards and the

all states had equal technological provisions to access

material provision to meet these standards falls squarely on the federal

the print medium.

less of what state they happen to reside in.

In instituting these proposed reforms, the United States

government, as it must ensure the equality of all citizens regard-

would coherently mandate equal access to the text In order for the federal government to pursue a coherent reform that

medium in a manner sensitive to burdens of dissemina-

realizes the kinds of protections envisaged in the ADA and TDCA it

tion. In doing so, it would fulfill the moral and legal duty

must create standardized accessible formatting guidelines, provide for

to the visually impaired, to this point lacking within the

the material resources to access these formats, and lay out a coherent

United States, in turn meeting the social equality

timetable for these reforms through some institution of government

demanded by a democratic system of governance. The

with remit over the medium in question. Given the many forms of vi-

instruments of measurement (voting) cannot be seen as

sual impairment, the diversity of individual provision and the demands

equal if individuals do not have the equal ability, and

of administration that come from the provision of access to the me-

hence, choice, to freely associate with information at

dium, I propose addressing these issues as two separate provisions.

the disposal of other equal citizens to inform or influence their decisions in the democratic process. Although

The first aspect of these is the administrative provision. This would

these medium-deprived individuals will have a legiti-

consist of the standardization, with the caveat of federal amendment to

mate opinion of the world regardless of the information

these standards, as technology warrants, of alternative format provi-

presented to them, the inability or extreme difficulty in

sions pursuant to copyright protection. Due to the different formats of

accessing a medium of communication means that the

media, the standards would need to compel dually a provision of Braille

corresponding political response cannot be seen as

(or Braille printable format) and a digital format capable of auditory

equal compared to the opinions expressed by those ca-

translation and enlargement. These formats would also have to be made

pable of passively accessing the medium.

available to the visually impaired individuals at no added cost or burden for acquisition. These provisions would be applied to all text media pro-


tected by copyright within the United States including print and digital

because it is the assumption that all individuals are for-

media. These contingencies of copyright protections would be adminis-

mally and equally represented in the system of political

tered through the United States Copyright Office. As copyright protects

obligation. If morally equal individuals face physical bar-

the content conveyed through the medium of text across the jurisdiction

riers that prevent their formal

of the United States, the U.S. Copyright Office has the legal remit to

peers, their representation cannot be seen as equal.

is requisite to democratic processes

equality with their

equality infers that all can freely and

make such demands of those receiving these protections. This would


institute provisions and administrative vestiges similar to those created

equally socialize themselves, or not associate as the case

by the ADA and TDCA. Much like these acts, it is also advisable to pro-

may be, and as such their subsequent opinions about

scribe a timetable for compliance and create a petition process through

their political existence can be quantified through acces-

which potential exceptions could be adjudicated.

sible and equal processes. The formal process is equal with equal access, but in order for this process to achieve

The second of the needed provisions is technological. The standardiza-

a legitimate outcome, individuals must be able to associ-

tion of accessible text is useless without universal provision of the

ate and socialize as they wish within the constraints of

means to disseminate these alternative mediums. This implies a Fed-

rights protection, and in doing so, form and amend their

eral provision of fiscal support to state agencies for the blind and visu-

conceptions of the good with unilateral equal opportunity.


Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990; Findings; Section 2; Subsection 3; National Captioning Institute Incorporated;


Reader’s Note: There were provisions for exceptions including TV’s below 13’ inches. Analog and Digital televisions had different timetable requirements as well. Please refer to the Closed Captioning FCC Consumer Factsheet provided by the Federal Communications Commission at .


Telecommunications Act of 1996; Pub. LA. No. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56 / S. 652; January 3, 1996; Library of Congress; z?c104:s.652.enr ; Amending the Telecommunications Act of 1934; Sections 251 (a) (2) and 255; Please refer to the Federal Communications Commission; http://


Federal Communications Commission; CFR 47 Part 79, dro/ccrules.html


Reader’s Note: The FCC did allow for exceptions via petition and pre-rule programming exceptions in specific circumstances. Please refer to http://www.fcc. gov/cgb/dro/cctimeline.html


Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990; Findings; Section 2; Subsection 3; National Captioning Institute Incorporated;


Royal National Institute for the Blind; Press Office; “Right to Read Week 2007” Press Release; Last Updated: April 8th 2008; groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_pr021107.hcsp


Reader’s Note: For an example of specific advancements and issues related to web media please refer to McAllister, Neil; “IBM Open Sources Web Accessibility”; Yahoo News /; July 9, 2008; and Schaefer, K; “E-space Inclusion: A Case for the Americans with Disabilities Act in Cyberspace”; Journal of Public Policy & Marketing; Volume 22; Issue 2; American Marketing Association; Chicago; 2003


Reader’s Note: These formats for print accessibility include but are not limited to, mp3, cd audio, wav, daisy (LOC and others), 4-track LOC, pdf, html, rtf, tiff, word document, enlarged print.


Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act of 2002; The Office of Public Sector Information; The National Archives; London; acts2002/ukpga_20020033_en_1


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Kofi Annan: Make the Internet Available to Everyone”; New York; International Day of Disabled Persons; November 15, 2006; php-URL_ID=23451&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html


Reader’s Note: Please refer specifically to age issues, educational mandate and non-binding nature of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) / H.R. 1350; Library of Congress; query/z?c108:h.1350.enr:

has already been established through the ADA, TDCA and Part 79 in regard to sensory disability. Expanding this to text mediums has in this way moral and legal precedent as well as being implied by the assumptions of democratic governance. Furthermore, these reforms can be brought about through achievable administrative and technological provisions. These provisions administered through existing governmental structures can finally en-

sure the equality of the visually impaired through access to the visual communications their embodiment denies them.

Endnotes 1.




Lennihan, Mark; “U.S. court: Dollars Discriminate Against Blind”; Associated Press; MSNBC; May 20, 2008, http://www.msnbc. Public Law 93-112; 29 U.S.C., Section 791; 93rd Congress of the United States of America; H. R. 8070; September 26, 1973; Section 5, Subsection A, Part VIII; pg. 125. Full Text through the United States Department of Education policy/speced/reg/narrative.html Reader’s Note: Some rights protected individuals are physically incapable of voting and pose interesting moral questions of trusteeship for the State while others such as non-citizens and some ex-convicts are prohibited from voting which pose human rights/representation issues for the State that are beyond the scope of this article. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; United States; Publication L. 101-336; 104 Stat. 327; July 26, 1990; United States Department of Justice; Americans with Disabilities Act Website; ; (full text with editorial notes)


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; United States; Publication L. 101-336; 104 Stat. 327; July 26, 1990; Title IV; United States Department of Justice; pubs/ada.htm


Reader’s Note: These include Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) that largely dealt with the provision of telephones and telephonic alternatives and televised media.


Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990; 101st Congress of the United States of America; S 1947 / 47 USC 609; January 23, 1990; National Captioning Institute Incorporated; http://


Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990; Findings; Section 2; Subsection 1; National Captioning Institute Incorporated;

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

This realization of equality and material provision


polITIcal syMBols by andy hughes


t’s hard to think of a better interaction between the political and the visual than political symbols. These images used by political parties and institutions are meant to be long-lasting, and in some cases end up outlasting the

party itself. In the best scenario, a symbol acts as an instantly recognizable thesis statement and communicates the essential values and message of that group. Over the years, various symbols have been adopted by (and at times become inseparable from) certain political causes. This issue features a variety of political symbols and the sometimes tumultuous and startling history behind each of them.

Third Term Panic” by Thomas Nast, originally published in 1874, Courtesy of T.J. Michalak

Donkey/elephant (Democratic/Republican party)

The donkey was first used in response to Andrew Jackson’s election campaign in 1828. His annoyed opponents called him a “jackass”, an image Jackson adopted and used in his posters. A cartoon called “A Modern Balaam and His Ass” appeared in 1837, satirically depicting Jackson as Balaam, a biblical figure who was cruel to his donkey until it miraculously spoke to him. The cartoon makes a comparison between Balaam’s abuse of his animal and Jackson’s abuse of his party (with a rod that says “veto” on the side). The donkey imagery continued to be used, perhaps most famously by the Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast. In 1870, he published a cartoon entitled “A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion”; the donkey used here did not symbolize the Democratic Party, but instead the Democratic-inclined press that Nast disagreed with. The image proved effective, and Nast continued to use the donkey as an image for the left-leaning media. A cartoon in 1870 saw the first use of the elephant to represent the Republicans: lumbering, careless, and headed off of a cliff. Yet both parties have embraced these animals and emphasized their positive aspects. Republicans have cited the elephant’s supposed long memory and strength, while Democrats consider the donkey humble and energetic. Despite this acceptance, the two symbols are still widely used in political cartoons to mock both parties.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

It might surprise enthusiasts from either of the major American parties to learn that their symbols were meant to be derogatory.


Mirroring People: Neuropolitics by Dr. Marco Iacoboni (University of California, Los Angeles)


Theories of Political Attitudes


n the late 1990s, Darren Schreiber, then a UCLA graduate student in

Image courtesy of Flickr member, Reigh LeBlanc

political science, now a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, ap-

of political attitudes. They “made sense.” For

proached the faculty of our Brain

instance, if one of these quickly replying sub-

Mapping Center with the idea of

jects expressed a “liberal” attitude on abortion,

testing certain theories about

the same subject would probably respond with a

how political attitudes are formed.

“liberal” attitude on education or gay rights.

At that time, the use of brain im-

However, another group of subjects required, on

aging for such a purpose was basi-


average, quite a long time to respond to the ques-

cally unheard of. Now, if not quite

tions, and their answers were not consistent. On

mainstream, it is not that unusual. A

some questions they would have the “liberal” attitude,

few labs are doing such research, ours included. Inevitably, of course, as Darren put his idea into action and other experiments followed, I began to wonder whether mirroring, and therefore mirror neurons, play a role in all this. Typically, serious students of politics have liked to believe that political thinking is a highly rational process in which automatic mirroring should not play a major role. However, we have seen how mirroring is a pervasive form of communication and social interaction among humans. Given that a major component of politics is affiliation with others with whom we share values and ideas about how society should be organized, I think that forms of mirroring are almost certainly involved in some aspects of political thinking. And exactly how rational is political thinking to begin with? That’s what Darren wanted to find out, because data from national surveys had stirred a long-standing debate in the political science literature. When citizens were asked a variety of questions on political issues, a clear pattern emerged. With those subjects who responded quickly, the responses were consistent in terms

on others the “conservative” one. Nor was there any consistency within the group: the same question would elicit a liberal answer from some of the slow repliers, a conservative answer from others. Overall, the results from these surveys seemed to identify two different kinds of citizens. Was there any major variable that could easily differentiate between them? The answer seemed to be yes. The subjects who knew a lot about politics were the ones who responded quickly and with consistent attitudes. The subjects who didn’t know nearly as much took a long time to respond and then did so “inconsistently.” In the 1960s, the political scientist Philip Converse wrapped up his analysis of this phenomenon by suggesting that political sophisticates had well-informed although rather crystallized political opinions, whereas political novices had no opinions at all, and when responding to political survey questions, they basically flipped coins. Perhaps this summary sounds rather mundane today, but it started quite a controversy in the political science literature. About ten years after Converse’s proposal, another political scientist, Chris Achen, argued that the political novices simply were not able to map their true attitudes during these political surveys. Their seemingly inconsistent responses were due not to a lack of political attitudes, but to imperfect, inadequate political surveys. And a third hypothesis was more recently proposed by John Zaller (incidentally the mentor of Darren Schreiber during his graduate studies) and Stanley Feldman. They suggested that the novices’ inconsistent responses were not due to a complete lack of a political attitude or to the artifact of imperfect surveys. They proposed instead that while the crystallized opinions of political sophisticates were based on an almost automatic retrieval of facts and prior

considerations, political novices retrieved information relevant to the political questions as they went along with the survey. Only the more salient information— generally speaking, the latest news determined way the wind blows! This is why they seemed to flip coins when answering the survey questions.1 If Zaller and Feldman’s hypothesis is correct, the difference between political sophisticates and political novices is most-

The novices, however,

problem in neuroscience (and almost every other field). How could we fund the project? Imaging is an expensive scientific enterprise. Use of the MRI alone, without taking into account overhead, salaries, volunteer fees,

ly due to cognitive differences stemming from different

and so on, is typically about six hundred dollars per

levels of expertise, the same differences that would

hour. Total cost for our imaging experiments varies

be noted between so-called sophisticates and

from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of

novices in any field. Sophisticates are engaged

dollars. Luckily, at UCLA we have a research funding

in a well-practiced task, the novices in a new one. In fact, brain imaging data showing strikingly different patterns of activation between

a well-practiced task and a novel task have been around for years.


Darren Schreiber set out to use brain imaging to look at all of these questions about political thinking. I thought he

opportunity called the Chancellor’s Fund for Academic Border Crossing, specifically designed for in-

had to (think) about

terdisciplinary projects involving two professors


dent who wants to perform interdisciplinary work.

political statements,

from different disciplines mentoring a graduate stuIn the summer of 2000 we applied for this funding. Coincidentally or otherwise, we received the good news on election day that fall. We thought this was a good sign. Then the electoral mess in Florida

had a very clever idea, but I have to

so they dragged on and on, and we could only hope our experiment would proceed more expeditiously. up tivated by my research on mirroring. gea r e d With politics, the sophisticates are almost junkies. They’re hooked, for cog-ni-tion Mirroring and the Political Junkie Brain thanks in large part to the endo maximize Darren’s chances of obtaining less opportunities provided by and an experimental effect, we thought it would the Web. I wanted to find out be useful to select subjects at the two ends of s h u t d o w n whether a political junkie’s admit that my interest was also mo-


the spectrum. Among the sophisticates, we

brain would produce higher mirroring responses while watching politicians com-


wanted those most knowledgeable on subjects

default network.

pared with watching other

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

their answers. These novices do need a weatherman to know which

in politics. Among the novices, we wanted to recruit the most clueless individuals, who knew nothing and were content with not knowing.

famous people. I believed that it would. Darren, his mentor John

Darren got down to business and began recruiting sub-

Zaller, and I met several times over the course of a year to figure out

jects in the early months of 2001. To select these indi-

how to set up a series of experiments that would address the various

viduals, he had prepared an extremely detailed series of

issues we were interested in. We were venturing into the unknown.

questions. His screening interview would take some

There had never been a brain imaging experiment on issues of political

hours for each subject. To find the ideal sophisticates,

science. It took us a while to shape our interests and ideas into viable

he interviewed stalwart members of the Democratic and

experimental designs. When we finally did, we had to face the standing

Republican clubs on campus, and he quickly found the “political junkies” we were looking for. These young men and women were well-informed, and their political attitudes were radical and crystallized. Darren’s sophisticates looked like ideologues. The recruitment of the



novices was not terribly painful either. Darren advertised the study through the usual recruitment channels, and I don’t suppose anyone will be surprised to learn that lots of UCLA students did not (and still do not)

On scan day, the subjects were simply asked to watch the faces while

know much about politics. Darren had plenty of novices

we were measuring their brain activity with fMRI. We found what I had

to choose from. The subjects he chose were indeed

predicted with my theory that mirroring indicates, among other things,

clueless and utterly without well-formed political atti-

a sense of affiliation, of belonging to a specific community within the

tudes. They knew that Bush was the new

larger community of our society. Politically sophisticated subjects had

president, they knew there had been

higher activity in mirror neuron areas when they viewed the famous

some kind of problem on election day,

political faces, compared with when they viewed famous nonpoliti-

they might even have responded to the phrase “hanging chad,” but that was


about it. (Today, they would also know that Schwarzenegger is the governor of California.) A secondary goal of the interviews with the novices was to gather the information necessary to design one of the imaging experiments. One key for Darren’s design was that the novices had to at least recognize the faces of the politicians, even if they knew almost nothing about them, so he explicitly asked his potential subjects whether they recognized certain faces. This is how we discovered the depth of the cluelessness on the UCLA campus. The face of Joe Lieberman, who had been Al Gore’s running mate in the famous disputed election less

Darren got his answer

cal faces and unknown faces. The political novices did not show any such difference in mirror neuron areas when they were watching political and nonpolitical faces. When we compared the results ob-


tained from the political sophisticates with the results obtained in our previous study about imitating and observing facial emo-

and c l e a r. tional expressions we found remarkably similar locations of neurological activation. The p-at-t-er-n of This anatomical correspondence brain activation for suggests that even or the more ab3

sophisticate s

political ( and novices ) was quite different— but

stract types of mirroring I had hypothesized to be the basis of these activations- the sense of belonging to a specific community- the mirror neuron system still uses the basic neural mechanism that also activates during more mundane mirroring tasks.4

than a year earlier, was basically unknown among the mass of students. We also factored

NOT as we had expected...

in another variable, the con-

The experiment using the photographs to look for mirror neuron activity among political sophisticates was one of two Darren

stant hot-button issue in American politics: race. The

conducted with the same subjects. In the other one, he tested whether

whole experimental design thus comprised three differ-

sophisticates and novices use different brain areas when thinking

ent kinds of faces: political or not political, famous or

about political issues. His “expertise” hypothesis had suggested that

not famous, and white or African American.

they do, because previous data from this kind of imaging experiment, looking at novel versus well-practiced tasks, had shown brain activation in largely separated brain areas. The activations for the novel tasks suggested that they are performed (because they have to be) with a high level of cognitive effort, specifically with enhanced activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area known for its role in the so-called executive functions. On the other hand, well-practiced

tasks seem to be performed mostly using information retrieved from

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member D.B. King

for memory. According to Darren’s hypothesis— therefore, political novices and sophisticates should show analogous patterns of activation: cognitive areas for the political novices, for whom thinking about

ficult to interpret. By looking at certain physiological

politics would be cognitive work, and memory areas for the sophisti-

parameters measured with PET (the now somewhat

cates, who already have their answers to political statements and have

out-of-favor technique that uses radioactive material),

merely to retrieve them. In this setup, the subjects listened to a series

Raichle and colleagues demonstrated that these regions

of digitally recorded statements, half of them political, half nonpolitical.

were actually shutting themselves down during a vari-

The political statements concerned typical hot-button issues in Amer-

ety of cognitive tasks. Thinking carefully about this,

ican politics, and the subjects were asked to agree or disagree with

they suggested that these areas represented some kind

each statement. The statements were carefully crafted so that the

of default state of the brain that is dominant when

initial phrase was always the same. For instance, the political state-

there are no specific goals or tasks at hand, when the

ments started, “The government in Washington ...” The final part of the

subjects (that is, we humans) daydream or “do nothing.”

sentence presented the novel opinion for each statement-for example,

When certain tasks require attention, this “default state”

“should encourage adoption by banning abortion.” These loaded state-

is overridden, and its network shuts down. This analysis

ments were relatively similar in structure to the questions Darren had

ties in perfectly with the results from Darren’s test.

used to reveal the different patterns of behavior between political

During the political questions, these “default state”

sophisticates and political novices. The specific and careful form of

brain areas were activated in the sophisticates, who

presentation allowed us to deliver the critical part of the statement in

think about politics all the time (their own “default

a relatively well-defined temporal window, which helped us look in a

state”) and do not need to deploy attention to the po-

fairly precise way at the brain changes occurring from the presentation

litical statements. They need only their memory banks.

of the important material to the response of the subject, which was

The novices, however, had to think about the political

given by pressing one of two buttons.

statements, so they geared up for cognition and shut down the default network.6

Darren got his answer loud and clear. The pattern of brain activation for political sophisticates and novices was quite different- but not as

To judge by the brain imaging literature, increased activ-

we had expected. To everyone’s surprise, the results did not show the

ity in these default state areas is extremely rare during

expected cognitive/memory distinction. The two areas that demon-

any kind of task. As it happens, we had previously ob-

strated the striking dissociation between sophisticates and novices

served one of the most robust, if not the most robust,

were the precuneus and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. Both belong

increases in my lab. Very provocatively, this increased

to a neural system called the default state network, which had been

activity in the default state network was paralleled by

discovered only recently by Marcus Raichle and his colleagues at

increased activity in mirror neuron areas. And now Dar-

Washington University in St. Louis.5 The default state network is a

ren’s experiment had picked up increased activity in the

peculiar set of cortical areas that have high activity while the subject

default areas for the political sophisticates. Is there a link

is resting and doing basically nothing, and reduced activity while the

between the results of these two experiments? More

subject performs cognitive tasks. This reduction in activity was sub-

generally, what is the relationship between mirror neuron

stantially independent of the kind of cognitive tasks the subjects were

areas and default state areas? Before we consider these

performing. All in all, this was a bizarre neural response that was dif-

questions, let’s look at that prior study, which was unique, even apart from its results, partly because the driving force behind it was an anthropologist, not exactly the kind of scholar who typically participates in a brain imaging study.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

memory, using areas in the temporal lobe, an important brain structure


subjects were simply watching or imitating individual actions. These


actions were rarely surrounded by a social context. In the few instances in which we used a social context surrounding the action, the context was composed only of objects, no people. Given our claim that mirror neurons were important neural elements for social behavior, I knew it was important to measure brain responses in mirror neuron areas in an experiment in which the observed actions were highly relevant to human social relations. Talking with Alan about his idea, I envisioned an experimental design for a study that could suit both of our purposes: the only task for the subjects in the scanner would be

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Reigh LeBlanc

the observation of social relations between people. Of course, we could not bring a bunch of people into the scanner room and stage various

Brain Politics


interactions while our subjects watched, so we prepared a set of video

society. Drawing from this fieldwork and from scholarly

uncharted territory. In these cases, a relatively simple experimental

lan Fiske is an anthropology professor at UCLA


who has performed a detailed ethnographic analy-

sis of the Moose people of Burkina Faso, a West African work encompassing a variety of disciplines studying a variety of cultures, Alan proposed a model of human social relations, according to which we relate to each other using four elementary forms of social relations:

•  communal sharing, in which people have a sense of

clips depicting everyday social interactions. In order to simplify the experimental design, we also decided to focus on only two of the four relational models of Alan’s theory. Once again, we were moving into design is highly advisable. As in the brain imaging experiment on politics performed by Darren Schreiber, in which we picked subjects at the far ends of the political continuum, we picked the two social relational models that seemed at the far ends of a continuum. One was communal sharing, predomi-

common identity;

nantly based on kindness and sharing, and the other one was author-

•  authority

communal sharing relations seem inherently positive, while authority

ity ranking, based on hierarchical inequality. The tricky issue was that

ranking, in which people relate to each

other following a hierarchy;

ranking relations are typically perceived in a negative way, especially

•  equality matching, in which there is an egalitarian

had to control for, if we were to achieve a pattern of brain activation

by North American subjects. This was a “confounding factor” that we

relationship among peers; and

that truly reflected differences in the way we process social relations,

•  market

ended up with thirty-six video clips, a fairly large set for such an ex-

not differences in how Americans feel about authority figures! We

pricing, in which the relationship is medi-

ated by values that follow a market system. Alan contends that these four elementary relational structures and their variations account for all the social

periment, half depicting communal sharing social relations, the other half depicting authority ranking social relations. Some of the clips for each relationship clearly elicited positive emotions, the others elicited negative emotions, thus controlling for the “emotional valence” of the

relations among all humans in all cultures.

clips. Each story was identically structured, introducing one character

Alan published that work in 1991. Eight years ago

interaction-the “relational” segment. The depicted situations were


(about a year before Darren Schreiber walked into my office), Alan contacted me about teaming up on an imaging experiment relating to his well-known model of social relations. I found the idea fascinating because he made me realize that those of us in the lab were basically studying responses in mirror neuron areas, while

for “baseline” purposes, then bringing in the second character for the widely variable, from office scenes to basketball courts, from lovers playfully interacting to judges ruling in court.


found robust activity in mirror neurons, as expected because the ob-


served characters were making all sorts of actions during the course of

in D. Apter, ed., Ideology and Discontent (New York: Free Press, 1964), 206-61; Achen, C. "Mass Political Attitudes and the Survey Response," American Political Science Review 69 (1975): 1218-31; Zaller, J. R. and S. Feldman, "A Simple Theory of the Survey Response: Answering Questions versus Revealing Preferences," American Journal of Political Science 36 (1992):579-616.

the scene. Indeed, mirror neuron activity in this study seemed stronger than anything we had previously measured, and this robustness was especially high during the relational segment of the clip. This correlation confirmed that mirror neurons are especially interested in actions that unfold during social relations, probably because those actions are critical to our understanding of the relationship. Other brain areas also demon-


cated in Darren’s experiment with political junkies answering political


think about politics all the time (it’s their “default state”), most people 4.

I? I am the husband of my wife, the father of my daughter, the son of so on. I am constantly defined in relation to other people. It seems that 5.

and other, in which self and other are inter-dependent.9 In conclusion, while mirror neurons deal with the physical aspects of 6.

cally, social roles. I am convinced that understanding the fundamental human individual. By enabling one individual to simulate (or imitate


between ‘self’ and ‘other’. However, this prompts a further question:

“Mirroring People: Neuropolitics” is excerpted from MIRRORING PEOPLE: The New Science of How We Connect With Others by Marco Iacoboni, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2008 by Marco Iacoboni. All rights reserved.

Iacoboni, M., M. D. Lieberman, B. J. Knowlton, et al., "Watching Social Interactions Produces Dorsomedial Prefrontal and Medial Parietal BOLD fMRI Signal Increases Compared to a Resting Baseline," Neuroimage 21 (2004):1167-73

within their ‘self’) the action of another, mirror neurons fill the gap why do we need to simulate in the first place?

Schreiber, D., and M. Iacoboni, "Thinking About Politics: Results from Three Experiments Studying Sophistication," paper presented at the 61st Annual National Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, 2003.

abstract aspects of the relationship between self and other—specificonnections between self and other is essential for understanding the

Gusnard, D. A., and M. E. Raichle, "Searching for a Baseline: Functional Imaging and the Resting Human Brain," Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2 (2001):685-94; Raichle, M. E., A. M. MacLeod, A. Z. Snyder, et al., "A default Mode of Brain Function," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 98 (2001):676-82.

in the brain— the default state network— that is concerned with both self

self and others, I believe the default state network deals with more

Schreiber, D., and M. Iacoboni, "Monkey See, Monkey Do: Mirror Neurons, Functional Brain Imaging, and Looking at Political Faces," paper presented at the American Political Science Association Meeting, 2005, Washington, D.C.

my parents, the mentor of my trainees, the colleague of my peers, and there is, in addition to the mirror neuron system, another neural system

Carr, L., M. Iacoboni, M. C. Dubeau, et al., "Neural Mechanisms of Empathy in Humans: A Relay from Neural Systems for Imitation to Limbic Areas," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 100 (2003):5497-5502.

questions. My interpretation of these data is that while political junkies think about social relations all the time (it’s our “default state”). Who am

Raichle, M. E., J.A. Fiez, T. O. Videen, et al., "Practice-Related Changes in Human Brain Functional Anatomy During Nonmotor Learning," Cerebral Cortex 4 (1994):8-26.

strated fairly robust activity while subjects watched the social interaction clips: particularly the default state network, which had been impli-

Converse, P., "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics,"

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

Looking at the brain data of the subjects watching these scenes, we


Fiske, A. P., Structures of Social Life: The Four Elementary Forms of Human Relations (New York: Free Press, 1991).


Iacoboni, M., "Failure to Deactivate in Autism: The Co-constitution of Self and Other," Trends in Cognitive Science 10 (2006):431-33; Udin, L. Q., M. Iacoboni, C. Lange, and J. P. Keenan, "The Self and Social Cognition: The Role of Cortical Midline Structures and Mirror Neurons" Trends in Cognitive Science 11 (2007): 153-57; Lieberman, M. D., "Social Cognitive Neuroscience: A Review of Core Processes," Annual Review of Psychology 58 (2007):259-89.


Glimpse 32

Dilemmas of Claiming Ownership in an Epidemic by Louise Moana Kolff (University of New South Wales) A Political Epidemic


gay community, African Americans and people living with HIV/AIDS.

are multiple overlapping and ever-changing “epidemics”

means. The campaigns were by one blogger labelled “friendly fire”,

influenced by factors such as geography, gender, race,

because “while trying to shoot down the ‘enemy’ – AIDS – these social

sexual orientation, policies, social status, economics,

marketing campaigns also cause some collateral damage by either re-

medical advances, public opinion and access to treat-

inforcing negative stereotypes or creating an environment that makes

ment. These factors mean that the “cultural construc-

people not want to acknowledge that they are at risk”.3

he complexity of HIV/AIDS means that it is difficult

The campaigns have been criticised for resorting to culturally insensi-

to speak of one unified “epidemic”. Rather, there

tive tactics by subscribing to the notion that the ends justifies the

tion” of HIV/AIDS – the meanings that are assigned to images, language and metaphors1—is inherently linked to

The two campaigns discussed below have both generated a

politics at international, national, community and grass-

political debate in an attempt to stand out from “traditional” HIV/AIDS

roots levels. The fact that the groups most affected by

campaigning, and focus awareness on issues often left out of public

HIV/AIDS are often already marginalised minorities,

discourses. In doing so they have divided opinions into those who be-

such as gay men and people of colour in the United

lieve prevention graphics must generate controversy in order to at-

States, contributes to the politicisation of the issues.

tract attention, and those who believe such campaigns are counterproductive and even destructive.

In an “invisible” epidemic, where the virus cannot be seen by the naked eye, and people living with HIV/AIDS often show no visible signs of illness, prevention campaigns can be viewed as the “face” of the epidemic, through which a visual image is constructed, opinions formed, and knowledge generated.2 The role of the

Reaffirming Risk Groups


he social marketing campaign Own It, End It was commissioned by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, as a reaction to what

the organisation sees as a “de-gaying” of the HIV/AIDS crisis.4 The

organisations and designers creating campaigns, there-

slogans “HIV is a gay disease” and “Own It, End It” aimed at encourag-

fore, becomes crucial in shaping the sociocultural course

ing debate and calling the gay community to action in Los Angeles,

of the epidemic(s). They are faced with the dilemma of

where 75 percent of people with HIV are men who have sex with men.

engaging the attention of the target audience, which, in

The organisation believes that the current presidential administration

the case of the gay community, has been exposed to

has allowed homophobia to affect funding for prevention efforts tar-

prevention messages for more than 25 years, while

geting the gay community5— a view shared by other organisations and

staying within the boundaries of cultural taboos dictat-

researchers, who are critical of the fact that, though the domestic

ing which representations are deemed socially accept-

epidemic in the United States is the worst in the developed world, the

able. While politics mostly remain internal throughout

public, political, and financial focus has shifted to the international

the design process, the graphics become political in the

epidemic. As Rowena Johnston from the Foundation for AIDS Research

public arena when these boundaries are crossed.

puts it: “For Bush and many Americans, the image of African women who get HIV/AIDS from their unfaithful partners, then pass the disease

Recently, a number of controversial social marketing

along to their innocent babies, evokes more empathy than the faces of

campaigns launched in the United States have been

those who comprise the domestic epidemic.”6 This means that though

criticised for contributing to the stigmatisation of the

the gay community is still greatly affected by the epidemic (it is esti-

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

mated that in the United States 25 percent of white and nearly 50 percent of black men who have sex with men are living with HIV)7 there is less focus on the problem in public discourse and within the community itself. The question of who “owns” the epidemic creates a dilemma for the groups most heavily affected. To generate funding and create awareness, attention must be focused on the severity of the problem. However, the consequences of declaring “ownership” may be further stigmatisation of already marginalised populations. This dilemma is illustrated in the debate surrounding Own It, End It. The creators of the ads aimed to empower the gay community. However, the campaign was heavily criticised for promoting a false sense of security in other pop-


ulations and for reverting public discourse back to a time when homosexuals were blamed for the epidemic, and the common perception was that only gay men could contract AIDS.8 The strong reaction to the campaign must be seen in the context of the political history of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Soon after the identification of AIDS in 1981 “risk groups” were defined in an attempt

Image Courtesy of Own It, End It. © Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and Better World Advertising, 2006

to locate the new epidemic outside of the white, heterosexual population. In the United States the Centre for Disease Control compiled a list

newed consciousness about HIV within the gay communi-

of high-risk categories, originally called the “4-H list” (homosexuals,


hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, and Haitians);9 while AIDS, initially given the acronym GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), soon became known in the mainstream media as “the gay cancer” or “gay plague”. The gay community, which had throughout the 1970s fought for the same legal and social rights as heterosexuals, was once again placed in the historic role as sexually deviant and pathological. Having long

Targeting the Target Population


he question of ownership similarly causes dilemma in the African American community, which is dispro-

portionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Though African

fought for positive visibility within mainstream society, gay men now

Americans only make up about 12-13 percent of the U.S.

became visible through negative images of death and disease.10

population, they represent 47 percent of Americans liv-

In response to the inaction of the government (President Reagan did not

community risks reinforcing prejudice and negative ste-

publicly address the AIDS crisis until 1987, by which time more than 20,000

reotypes, while a failure to address the issue will poten-

people in the United States were known to have died of AIDS),11 grassroots

tially lead to further rises in new infections. Again, the

organisations and activist groups came together to present a different

dilemma should be seen in the context of “risk” group

perspective and offer alternatives to the information and images generated

categorisations, which exclude the white, affluent, het-

by the mainstream media. During this period in AIDS activism one of the

erosexual, non-drug-using population, and have, since the

main slogans was “Silence = Death”.12 While critics of the Own It, End It

identification of Haitians as part of the “4-H list,” linked

campaign feel that claiming HIV is a gay disease undermines the long fought

HIV/AIDS with skin colour— a categorisation which con-

battle against stigma and prejudice, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

nects racial stereotyping with a historic labelling of the

believe that a dangerous new kind of silence within the gay community itself

black body as hypersexual, irresponsible and immoral.15

ing with HIV.14 In calling attention to the problem, the

leads to disempowerment and an acceptance of the growing epidemic as a community norm. Though the organisation was aware that the campaign

As previously mentioned African American men who

would cause controversy, the main aim was to create a discourse and re-

have sex with men are particularly affected, with an

Glimpse 34

estimated one in two living with HIV. These men belong to

promote attacks on both black men, who are often the victims of gun



violence, and gay men, who may be subjected to hate-crimes.18 An-

widespread in many parts of the African American com-

other critique from the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council was the

munity. A recent study found that issues such as

implied role of HIV positive men as murderers aiming to infect HIV-

incarceration, racial discrimination, and family disapproval

negative partners. The organisation blamed the creators for using an

greatly affect risk behaviour within the group.16 The com-

ineffective ‘band-aid’ fear-based approach, instead of addressing the

plexity of the issue, as well as the risk of feeding into

root cause of the problem such as low self-worth, homophobia, rac-

negative stereotypes when portraying black men who have

ism and economic inequality.19







sex with men, make prevention efforts extremely difficult. An example of this problematic can be seen in the Have You Been Hit? campaign, launched by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in an attempt to encourage testing for HIV. The posters, website, TV commercial and bus ads

Strategic Controversy


he nature of HIV/AIDS means that prevention campaigns will inevitably risk causing controversy when dealing with socially and

politically sensitive subjects such as sex, sexuality, race, and illness.

depicted faces of young black men in the cross hairs of a

Issues which are closely connected to cultural taboos, as well as

sniper’s rifle with the slogan ‘HIV. Have you been hit?’. The

historic stereotypes and present problems of discrimination.

design firm responsible for creating the graphics carried out focus testing among the target population ‘to ensure devel-

The two campaigns discussed are examples of prevention efforts which

opment of the most communicable, memorable and effec-

in an attempt to address difficult questions caused heated debate about

tive campaign.’17 However, after extensive pressure from

the role of social marketing and the boundaries of appropriate design

local community groups such as the Black Gay Men’s Lead-

tactics. Les Pappas, director of Better World Advertising – which

ership Council the campaign was pulled from public view-

designed Own It, End It and a number of other controversial HIV/AIDS


campaigns—argues that successful social marketing should demand attention, even if the graphics disturb and shock people.20 In this sense

The graphics were criticised for being culturally insensi-

both campaigns could be seen as successful. However, the two

tive by stereotyping African American men as ‘trigger-

campaigns had different agendas.

happy’ and only capable of understanding the language of guns. Furthermore, the campaign was launched at a time

The goal of Own It, End It was specifically to spark a renewed

of record breaking gun murders in the city, leading to

debate within the gay community about HIV. Controversy was part of

fears that the images would further glamorise guns, and

the strategy. As the creators write: ‘Whatever you feel about the

“Know HIV” ad campaign. Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Kate Mereand

campaign, the time is now to do something. Raise your voice! Talk to your friends! Post your comments on”21 This was followed by an invitation to attend a public community forum. The goal of initiating discussion was achieved, whether the debate that followed did in fact provoke people to act, or just discuss the campaign and the role of social marketing. The aim of Have You Been Hit? was to encourage the target audience to get tested. The creators of the campaign claimed that because the target audience was hard to reach, fear was the most effective tactic. However, critics argue that the short sighted sensationalist tactics did not address underlying root causes such as heterosexism, stigma, homophobia and racism, and would therefore not change behaviour in the long run.22 In attempting to navigate the complex issues surrounding black men who have sex with men, the creators of the campaign chose to use images too closely connected to other interrelated social and political problems. Within HIV/AIDS prevention the use of social marketing—described as

Rainbow Flag/Pink Triangle (LGBT Pride Movement) The rainbow has had many connotations throughout history: with hope, with heaven, with illusion, with leprechauns. Its most lasting association for modern culture has to be its use as a symbol of the gay pride movement. Like the best political symbols, it fills a niche and encapsulates the best qualities of the movement it stands for.

The pink triangle has a more uneasy history. It was, of course, originally used by Nazis to identify homosexual men (homosexual women were given a black triangle), who were then sentenced to imprisonment, castration, and death in concentration camps. This was one of many colored triangle badges used to mark enemies of the Third Reich. The 1970s saw the reuse of the triangle as a power symbol, and its status was cemented as gay pride movements developed through the 1980s. The triangle is sometimes pictured reversed, so as to subvert the shame and hatred of the original image and forge a more positive identity.

‘the blending of traditional public health methods with contemporary


marketing and advertising techniques’23—has sparked a counter-movement fuelled by the recent wave of controversial campaigns. Grassroot groups such as RealPrevention have formed in an effort to pro-


Douglas Crimp, and Adam Rolston, AIDS Demo Graphics (Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1990).


Lorri L. Jean, ‘Own it, End It’ (opinion piece, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, 2006).


Lee, 2006.


Stuart Hall, ‘The Spectacle of the “Other”,’ in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. Stuart Hall (London: SAGE, 1997).


Kenneth Jones, et al., ‘Nonsupportive Peer Norms and Incarceration as HIV Risk Correlates for Young Black Men Who Have Sex With Men,’ AIDS Behavior 12 (2008): 41-50.


Zigzag Net Inc., ‘Case Study: Aids Activities Coordinating Office,’ (press release, 2006).


Kellee Terrell, ‘Bang-Bang, You’re Dead: HIV Activists Shoot Down Fear-Based Prevention,’ Poz Magazine, 16 August 2006. http:// (accessed June 20 2008).


Kevin T. Jones, ‘The “Have You Been Hit” Social Marketing Campaign: A Community Response,’ Selling Us To Ourselves: Is Social Marketing Effective HIV Prevention?, CHAMP (community forum presentation, New York City, 26 September 2006) available from (accessed 20 March 2008).


Les Pappas, ‘Why Social Marketing? (Because it Works),’ Selling Us To Ourselves: Is Social Marketing Effective HIV Prevention?, CHAMP (community forum presentation, New York City, 26 September 2006) available from (accessed 20 March 2008).


Jean, 2006.


Terrell, 2006.

mote ‘science-based, sex-positive education’24 and have organised community forums to discuss the future of prevention. Hence, whether seen as a positive or a negative, the controversy generated through social marketing campaigns has provoked a reaction leading to new discourses and initiatives.

Endnotes 1.

Paula A. Treichler, How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).


Leong K. Chan, and Raymond Donovan, ‘Graphic Design and HIV/AIDS: Cultural Production of Epidemic Knowledge in Australia’ (CD-ROM, Connecting: Proceedings of the 5th International Committee of Design History and Studies, Helsinki, 23-25 August 2006).


Nedra Weinreich, ‘Friendly Fire: Stigma & Social Marketing Redux,’ Spare Change, 18 October 2006, (accessed 2 July 2008).


Zak Szymanski, ‘HIV Campaigns Spark Debate,’ Bay Area Reporter, 11 September 2006, (accessed 30 June 2008).


L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, ‘Own it/End it Ad Campaign,’ (Q&A sheet, 2006).


Ryan Lee, ‘Experts Debate the “New Face” of AIDS,’ Washington Blade, 1 December 2006, (accessed 29 June 2008).


Lee, 2006.


Mack Reed, “Agents Provocateurs: LAGLC Says ‘HIV *is* a ‘Gay Disease”,’ LA Voice, 2 October 2006, =2252 (accessed 30 June 2008).

Josh Gamson, ‘Silence, Death, and the Invisible Enemy: AIDS Activism and Social Movement “Newness”,’ Social Problems 36, no. 4 (1989): 351-67.


Treichler, 1999, 20.


Pappas, 2006.


Stuart Marshall, ‘Picturing Deviancy,’ in Ecstatic Antibodies, ed. Tessa Boffin, and Sunil Gupta (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1990), 21.


Ryan Gierach, ‘Does Fear in HIV Ads Work?,’, 14 September 2006. printpage.php?articleID=785 (accessed 28 February 2008).

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

San-Francisco artist Gilbert Baker created the flag in 1978 to be used in the local Gay Pride Parade year after year. The rainbow image was made to fit the current situation, with each of the six color stripes representing a positive element of gay culture That was the year of openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk’s assassination, and the six-color flag was a key component of the gay community’s response, displayed everywhere in solidarity.



Society of the And Photos by Roemer Van Toorn (Berlage Institute)


Introduction by Heather White


oemer van Toorn’s Society of the And is a record of things we’ve missed in the banal modernity in which we so often find ourselves entrenched. Toorn’s And is the new world; its focus is the conjunctive tissue that binds

modernity together, rejecting the linearity of the Either/Or. It’s an injunction to “map new imaginations,” to liberate ourselves from ‘“routine and mechanical reproduction[s];” It’s also delightfully reminiscent of the Situationists, whose ideas, like Toorn’s, were, in themselves, commonplace and thus, vitally important to those who were, and are, not. Toorn’s work uses this eye of the And to then capture the things we overlook: “collective and public agenda in direct communication with modernization,” renewing society from within rather than rejecting it. Through Toorn’s lens alienation, commodification, and estrangement aren’t things to overcome but, things through which “new horizons can be seen.”

Roemer van Toorn is an architecture critic, photographer, educator and curator. As professor, he runs and coordinates the Projective Theory program at the Berlage Institute and is staff member at Delft School of Design (DSD) at University of Technology Delft. Currently he is working on a publication as part of his PhD research Fresh Conservatism to Radical Democracy? Aesthetics as a Form of Politics. Forthcoming is his English/French photobook the Society of The And.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political? 37

“Everything is infused with, and dependent on everything else; what counts isn’t two or three or however many, it is the conjunction And.”

38 Glimpse

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?


40 Glimpse

volume 1.1 Is the visual political? 41

Public space in the classical sense – a representational model of the communal – no longer exists. It has been replaced by the space of transition.


Media, Race and the Marketplace

Reality does not com but it does

by Dr. Robert M. Entman (The George Washington University) Part I Explaining Negative Media Images


edia content, whether news, entertainment, or advertising, reflects the interactions of marketplace forces, including con-

sumer demand and intense competition; the professional values and


cognitive and emotional habits and limitations of media decision-makers—those creating and distributing the material, including executives, writers, editors, producers, directors, and actors; actual societal realities; and political pressures and government policy. As all of these forces operate simultaneously (page 44, fig 1), it is both inadvisable and impossible to single out one or two key causes— as well as difficult to come up with easy solutions. Everything starts and ends in the marketplace, since most of the U.S. media are owned by corporations and publicly traded on the stock market—which means that they are legally and economically pressured to maximize profits.1 The importance of marketplace pressures cannot be overstated, especially in an era of ever-intensifying competition among proliferating media outlets (including the Internet). In the realm of news, Hamilton, although not writing specifically about the media and persons of color, offers a comprehensive explanation for the declining quality of so much print and electronic journalism.2 He writes: “If broadcasters internalized the benefits of hard news (such as better informed voters) to society, they would be more likely to offer hard news fare.”3 Instead, he continues, news markets yield: underconsumption of news about public affairs; inadequate investment in developing or reporting hard news; a bias in broadcasting against high-cost news programs or those that deliver information valued by a minority of viewers; the tilt toward satisfying the information demands of viewers or readers most valued by advertisers; the possibility that journalist herding will cause reporters to go with common wisdom rather than developing their own takes on stories; or the potential for conglomerate owners to view news provision solely thru the lens of profit maximization.4 This is bad news for those hoping that news organizations will invest in the kind of costly, demanding journalism that might help reduce their in-

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member K e v i n

advertent contributions to racial animosity.

ident, he interviewed a large sample of

Although the underproduction of truly edi-

news decision makers and found:

fying news could be regarded as a classic market failure requiring government regulation or other forms of intervention, such steps are highly unlikely in the deregulatory climate promoted by the very same dominant media organizations. Media market pressures push toward simple, sensational, titillating, and emotionally gratifying productions, rather than those that might provoke guilt or anxiety—or even thought. Simultaneously, higher quality material reaches only a minority of all media consumers. Competition pressures maximize revenue and minimize cost and risk. In general, the market works to reduce the quality and quantity of broadcast media that is tailored to minority audiences. As Napoli demonstrates, for instance, advertisers regard audiences of color as less valuable than whites of the same income level.5 Partly this is due to disparity of audience size. Willing to pay less for the attention of persons of color, advertisers channel less revenue to producers of minority-targeted programming. Market pressures require interpretation of taste and demand to provide guidance to decision-makers. The professional values of journalists, media producers, and advertisers usually include informal and poorly-examined assumptions. Marketing data also discriminates regarding content.6 Consider the findings of Av Westin.7 As a former network news pres-

well.10 There is sometimes considerable ambi-

[They] insisted again and again that race and ethnicity do have an effect on all components of a story. The interviews reveal a clear sense among the rank-and-file that news management’s attitudes about race play a role in story selection and content, editorial point of view, and the skin color of the person who will provide the “expert” sound bite. At the network level, producers are “carefully taught” by the conventional wisdom of executive producers and their senior staffs that white viewers (whom advertisers regard as having greater purchasing power) will tune out if blacks or Latinos are the principal characters in segments on their shows. Westin goes on to say that the conventional wisdom records the presumption of racially biased (white) audience tastes in this newsroom aphorism: “Blacks don’t give good demos!”— meaning that available minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings of news shows reveal that significant numbers of demographically desirable white viewers switch stations when a story concerns African-Americans.8 Similar reasoning may discourage use of persons of color as news sources, particularly young persons of color. This same 9

sort of conventional wisdom about white tastes shapes the professional culture of television entertainment producers as

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

pel any particular coverage; help to p r o p e l it.

guity, however, about what specific content will serve profitability while still fulfilling media workers’ other needs, such as professional respect, career advancement, and expression of one’s creative instincts. Consider novelty as an example of an important explicit professional value that guides selection of material. Whether in the news, entertainment, or advertising, novelty is often valued—but only to a point. The material cannot be too novel or it threatens to be too unfamiliar and perhaps incomprehensible, uninteresting, or disturbing, both to media personnel and to audiences. For instance, Lundman studied coverage of murder and discovered that it varies substantially—not every murder gets a big splash.11 Lundman shows how racial and gender stereotypes (or what he calls “typifications”) combine with the journalistic value of novelty to shape the selection of murder stories. Newspapers paid greater attention to homicides that were less novel if the murders conformed to race and gender expectations and fears. They devoted more space to black males murdering white males than to the opposite, even though both are rare (i.e., novel). Meanwhile, common murders, such as white males killing white females, receive more attention than their lack of novelty would predict. It is important to remember that media


W h


Figure 1

s er


and Decisio nM lites E s


sidered arbiters of “political correctness.”


Officials, Politicians, Business Executives Bureaucrats

Media & Advertising Executives, Editors Producers

Even if they are willing to take that risk, they might not have realistic solutions that are congruent with such profes-

Media Images, News reports Entertainment

Public Policies Social Conditions

sional newsroom values as neutrality and balance in the news, and such entertainment and advertising values as keeping mass audiences happy and in a buying

White Mass Public

mood. These factors all suggest reasons

Stereotypes Denial

why, despite years of criticism for negative stereotyping, insufficient lead roles

Fear & other Negative Emotion Inherent Group Conflict

for persons of color in movies and TV,


and so much more, the media continue to

Public opinion/voting Consumption decisions and market forces

crank out material vulnerable to the same criticism.

(media, housing) YMC’s organizational interactions: police, teachers, employers Individual perceptions/interactions with YMC

The cognitive and emotional forces at work among media decision-makers include their own racial misunderstand-

White Elites/Decision Makers Public Policies Societal Conditions

ings and their tendencies toward ambivMedia images News reports, Entertainment

Ethnic/Race Subcultures

Persons of Color

alence or animosity. Even when they are not racist (and relatively few media personnel can get away with expressing outright racism in their productions, even if they are privately racist),14 automatic,

decision-makers, from the executive

mental shortcuts and unthinking emo-

stereotyped racial thinking of the kind

suites to the newsroom or editing room,

tional reactions. They also do their work

discussed earlier inevitably shapes

operate like all humans with bounded ra-

in an environment rife with competition

choices.15 Entman and Rojecki discuss

tionality: bound by their cognitive and

from others, who would like to steal their

how choice of cover models for Time and

emotional habits and limitations. These

glamorous and sometimes lucrative me-

Newsweek reflects both unconscious as-

include stereotypes and other forms of

dia jobs. At the same time, they make

sumptions that the baseline, typical hu-

schematic, pre-coded thinking. Such

their decisions under intense scrutiny

man being is white and hard data that

habits are mandatory; they reduce the

from persons above them in the organi-

show that putting persons of color on the

time, energy, and emotional costs of

zational hierarchy, right up to the CEO

covers usually reduces sales.16

processing information and making

him/herself, who must report to a Board

decisions.12 Media workers apply their

of Directors that is usually mainly con-

The paucity of persons of color in posi-

pre-existing cognitive schemas when

cerned with the bottom line rather than

tions of media ownership or decision-

choosing and writing their stories, plan-

social responsibility.

All of these fac-

making power is a frequent explanation

ning their careers, seeking sources for

tors provide strong incentives to avoid

for the racial images documented here.

quotes, or casting actors in parts for TV

rocking the boat or earning the label of

Benson notes that, between 1978 and

shows and commercials. All of this is

“troublemaker” by challenging decisions

2000, the U.S. population went from 19

typically done under substantial time

that might yield subtly stereotyping con-

percent to 30 percent persons of color,

pressure, which heightens reliance on

tent. Few media workers want to be con-

while they represented just 20 percent


of television station employees by 2000.17 As of 2005, about 14 per-

biases in the narration. This happens despite sportscast-

cent of newspaper employees were persons of color.18 Persons of

ers’ awareness of racial stereotypes and attempts to

color are most strikingly underrepresented in executive positions. Still,

avoid using them.20 Just as Kang and others would pre-

as Benson says, hiring more African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics

dict, the need for quick yet articulate reactions to the

is no panacea. Consider, for instance, the fact that the Chief of the

rapidly shifting action on the floor leads announcers to

Washington Bureau of NBC News is now an African American. Such

rely on unconscious, stereotyped assumptions.21 For ex-

persons of color have little maneuvering room given market con-

ample, a sportscaster trying to keep up with constantly

straints, the values and cognitive habits and limitations of the staffs,

changing conditions and new plays on the floor might

and other forces acting on them.

automatically invoke such clichés as “Another amazing jump and dunk by this gifted athlete!” or “Another steal

Finally, as already suggested, social realities also shape media content,

for Jordan as he takes advantage of his incredible natu-

particularly (but not only) news. For instance, consider the reality that

ral speed!” Such remarks play into the stereotype of

there are comparatively high crime and arrest rates among young black

black athletes as inherently more gifted, whereas credit

males for certain types of crime. That fact combines with profes-

for hard work and intelligent play tends to go to white

sional values that deem gang violence by blacks and Latinos to be

athletes more often.

more routinely newsworthy than fraudulent or discriminatory loan practices in banking, or marketing of lethal drugs by pharmaceutical companies. In part, this choice arises from white audiences’ and journalists’ racial, ethnic, and gender schemas or typifications for the concept of “crime.” Crime news, in turn, reinforces aspects of white racial animosity. It is important to emphasize that reality does not compel any particular coverage; but it does help to propel it. Thus, the reality

part II ameliorating the Negative Influences of Media


olving policy problems is often more difficult than describing them, and this holds particularly true

when the issues involve the media. The First Amend-

of street crime by young men of color could be far better contextual-

ment limits options for handling negative effects of the

ized, and reports could be made more ethnically balanced and neutral.19

news, especially when the content at issue is subtle (as

Certainly, “60 Minutes” has shown that “white collar” crime, mostly

opposed to pornography or even violence, for example).

committed by whites, can garner good ratings. Without a doubt, so-

Potential options for ameliorating some of the negative

called “crime in the suites” perpetrated by corporate executives im-

influences described here include:

poses enormous costs on most white viewers, who have little realistic possibility of falling victim to serious street violence.

1. Promoting “best practices” in journalism and in

To conclude with another example of the role of social realities, this time

2. Implementing legal or regulatory policies that can

in entertainment television, consider play-by-play coverage of basketball. The sheer fact that the games are extraordinarily fast-paced—interacting with professional values and market pressures—fosters racial

other media products

pass First Amendment scrutiny 3. Imposing social/political sanctions on coded ap-

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

“[They] insisted again and again that race and ethnicity do have an effect on all components of a story.



peals to prejudice against young men of color 4.  Employing subsidies for digital media as outlets for positive images

Best journalism practices


he primary advantages of “best practices” are that


they can be adopted without government action

and that they may very well improve profits and productivity.22 A partial list of such practices, as published

on the website of the Columbia Journalism School, includes the following questions:

•  What is the demographic breakdown of my circulation area and state?

•  Who on the staff has “listening posts” or sources in communities of color?

•  Where are the communities of color? Do you know the grass roots leaders? Could your staff members identify the leaders from their pictures? Could you?

•  What are the images being projected by the front pages? Who is in the photographs? Do the ratios of men to women, or people of color to whites, match our demographic profile?

•  As I examine and explore my coverage area, how do I assess its importance in the lives of people in various groups throughout our area?

•  Do

I attempt to find out how the actions of the

agency or organization I cover affect people in diverse populations in our community?

•  Do I communicate with my editor about ways to broaden our focus so that the paper looks at this beat with an eye toward the variety of stories it could produce? These ideas apply to news media, but analogous ethical responsibilities could apply to advertisers and entertainment (and “infotainment”) producers as well. Below

African Americans.25 Since the courts

of work to which journalists should as-

upheld these license denials, Baynes

pire, as advanced by the former editor of

writes, there appears to be constitution-

the Milwaukee Sentinel—principles that

al means of regulating systematically

appear relevant across the media spec-

discriminatory racial content of current


programming on television. Indeed,

•  Work that fights fear •  Work

that spotlights demographic


•  Work that taps into humanity23

Baynes writes that the “FCC’s failure to act against the broadcast networks and their possible complicity in the discrimination by advertisers may make the FCC a passive participant in the broadcast networks’ discrimination.”26 Bender’s analysis of libel law, on the other hand,

Although media executives and other deci-

suggests, for example, that the imposi-

sion-makers down the line might resist any

tion of more direct regulatory policies to

such practices that seem to threaten profits

combat media stereotyping is unlikely to

or creative autonomy, those recommending

succeed.27 In any case, all three branches

these practices can and should make the

of government over the past two de-

case that they might bolster—and are un-

cades have decisively tilted towards a

likely to significantly damage—the bottom

deregulatory stance, especially when it

line in an increasingly multicultural society.

comes to specifying content.

Legal and regulatory action

Policies to promote more diverse owner-


ship and management appear more ac-

fforts to reduce the negative exter-

ceptable from a First Amendment van-

nalities (unintended consequences)

tage point, although they have recently

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Sarah

and boost the positive externalities pro-

fallen out of favor at the FCC. Nonethe-


duced by media markets face barriers in

less, perspectives at that agency or in

the United States from currently domi-

Congress could change, and there are

nant interpretations of the First Amend-

certainly arguments in favor of promot-

ment.24 These emphasize a literal inter-

ing diversity and opposing concentration

pretation of the amendment as prohibiting

of media ownership in order to encour-

virtually all forms of direct government

age the diffusion of social power and to

intervention to shape content. There

make room for more ownership and man-

have been some counter-arguments,

agerial influence by persons of color.28

however. For example, Baynes proposes

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Eric Castro

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

is a list of principles regarding the kind

the use of the precedent of the FCC, in

Solages reports that persons of color

a few instances years ago, denying li-

own just 4.2 percent of all radio stations

cense renewals to television stations

and 1.5 percent of TV stations.29 Black

that overtly discriminated against blacks

ownership of TV and radio broadcast

by refusing to air programs representing

stations amounts to less than one per-


tematic undervaluing of persons of color

tive news coverage.38 This might be pre-

Meanwhile, the FCC has allowed a few

in the advertising market not only under-

dictable in light of the market pressures

large owners to enjoy an increasing

cuts production of programming oriented

and other forces influencing media con-

share of stations; as these percentages

to these persons, but also means that

tent, all of which narrow the discretion

suggest, the owners of the largest en-

the tastes of persons of color will carry

exercised by individual media workers and

terprises are white. The number of TV

less weight in programmers’ decisions

decision-makers— no matter what their

stations owned by blacks dropped from

about general audience fare than if ad-

ethnicity—regarding decisions about what

32 to 20 in the three years after owner-

vertisers had better information.34

to put on the screen or page. Nonetheless,


cent of the total industry asset value.


it is difficult to discern what harm would

ship restrictions were eased in 1999.30 Aside from ownership, one perspective

Some evidence indicates that station

result from promoting affirmative action

on the limited voice given to persons of

owners who are persons of color exhibit

in the media. Indeed, many corporations

color is provided by the Directors Guild

more sensitivity to the programming in-

have voluntarily adopted such policies in

of America, which found that, in

terests of non-white audiences.35 Such

recognition of growing diversity in the

2000-2001, on the 40 most popular TV

owners would likely pursue advertising


series, African American males directed

targeted at persons of color. In addition,

three percent of episodes, Latino males

the positive externalities of non-white

Two specific recommendations follow

directed two percent, and Asian Ameri-

ownership may be significant. In an in-

from this discussion:

After all, most people do not want to view themselves as racists.

•  Federal

communications and

anti-trust policy should be used to enhance ethnic diversity in ownership and in top executive positions of the media.

can males directed one percent (whereas

triguing study, Oberholzer-Gee and Wald-

11 percent of episodes were directed by

fogel find that black voter turnout is

•  Foundations should fund systematic

white women, two Asian American wom-

higher in areas of higher black population,

education of decision-makers in the ad-

en constituted the total representation

and their analysis indicates that one rea-

vertising industry, on both the client

of females of color who directed epi-

son for this is that such areas are served

and agency sides, to reduce discrimina-


by more black-oriented media content.36

tion against media audiences perceived

Benson argues that merely increasing

As to employment of persons of color in

the numbers of broadcast stations owned

high-level positions, Benson argues that

One other important procedural public

or managed by persons of color will not

the increase in minority employment in

policy option that would have potentially

provide a solution if the market under-

the newsroom has helped alter word us-

substantive results would be for the FCC,

values minority audiences, as indicated

age; for instance, such phrases as “illegal

the courts, and Congress to rely upon

by evidence discussed earlier.32 Many

alien” have generally been replaced by

more thorough and innovative social

advertisers appear unwilling to pay effi-

“undocumented immigrant.”37 On the oth-

scientific and legal research. A 2004 fed-

cient prices for broadcasts that target

er hand, he asserts, recent decades, which

eral court decision, later upheld by the

non-white audiences because they cling

have seen growing representation of per-

Supreme Court, required the FCC to

to stereotypes (such as the bizarre as-

sons of color in newsrooms, have also

reconsider its loosening of rules on media

sumption that “black people don’t eat

shown an ideological narrowing and de-

ownership after the Commission asserted

beef”).33 Many radio stations operate un-

politicization of journalism. He argues, in

it was following congressional mandates

der “No minority/Spanish” dictates,

fact, that staff diversity becomes mostly

in the 1996 Telecommunications Act.39 In

meaning that clients direct their adver-

a tool for marketing to ethnic audiences

that instance, regulators and members of

tising agencies to not buy time on sta-

and for public relations image enhance-

Congress appear to base policy more on

tions that target persons of color. A sys-

ment, rather than for affecting substan-

assumptions or skewed evidence than on

as less valuable than they actually are.

excuse wears thin as research accrues

vates discourse in the face of content

demonstrating the racial decoding of

abundance and attention scarcity.”45

goes so far as to suggest that more care-

these appeals.

Of course, politicians

This, in turn, “might then force the mar-

ful analysis would undermine one of the

have First Amendment rights to make

ket to provide media products with

primary goals of FCC policy.40 Although

whatever appeals they choose. Interest-

greater positive externalities, including

the FCC acts on the presumption that in-

ingly, however, politicians and citizens in

common exposure to difference and pub-

creasing the amount of local television

many other democracies, which judge

lic elevation.”46

news has positive effects, as documented

racist speech to be more socially damag-

by Kang’s literature review and other

ing than beneficial, do not exercise such

Postscript: A final externality involves

studies discussed earlier, local TV news

rights.43 Mendelberg’s research most

America’s first president of color. Al-

has negative externalities. Most impor-

thoroughly supports the idea that label-

though Barack Obama will inevitably face

tantly for our purposes, it appears to

ing negative racial appeals for what they

political attacks and damage that could

heighten whites’ racial anxieties and hos-

are tends to inoculate ambivalent or

reaffirm racial difference and threat, a

tilities, and that, in turn, has demonstrable

even antagonistic whites against re-

White House occupied by a black family

effects on their political opinions and vot-

sponding favorably to those appeals. Af-

hands the media unprecedented oppor-

ing. It is conceivable that such negative

ter all, most people do not want to view

tunities to produce educational and heal-

externalities are outweighed by positive

themselves as racists. Thus, the recom-

ing messages.

social benefits. The point here, however,

mendation advanced here is to hold can-

is that neither the FCC nor the courts (nor

didates to account for using racially an-


Congress) treat communications policy

tagonistic appeals by publicly and

decisions with the sensitivity and depth

prominently exposing them as such, and

they merit. Hence, the following recom-

demanding that they cease.

mendation: Because their choices can affect the lives of YMC [young men of color] and the entire society in surprising and important ways—effects only recently discovered by social scientists and even more recently incorporated into legal scholarship—officials should evaluate communications policy decisions more carefully, minimizing reliance upon unproven assumptions or incomplete evidence.41

Subsidize digital media as new outlets for positive expression

49 “Media, Race and the Marketplace: Explaining Negative Media Images” is excerpted and adapted from YOUNG MEN OF COLOR IN THE MEDIA: IMAGES AND IMPACTS, a report by Robert M. Entman. © 2006 by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. All rights reserved. View the full report at: publications1/publication-PDFs/DellumsReport1JanA.pdf

significantly improves the opportunities for positive government regulation in the form of subsidies, which do not interfere


with media owners’ First Amendment


concerned with media images of YMC or with race relations, Goodman’s general prescription clearly applies to the scar-

Sanction political candidates who use coded appeals to racial or ethnic animosity

city of opportunities for exposure to positive media images of YMC — a scarcity that affects whites as well as per-


sons of color. In the context of this re-

o put a finer point on the earlier

For Goodman, the era of digital media

rights.44 Although she is not primarily

port, the key point, as Goodman puts it,

discussion, one source of negative

is altering consumer desires: “Subsidies

media effects on YMC is politicians’ use

for a robust public service media, as op-

of indirect appeals to racial or ethnic an-

posed to media regulations, are the most

tagonism through visual images or code

promising and constitutionally accept-

words, such as “inner city,” “crime,” or

able way to increase consumption of

“poverty.” Sometimes the use may be

programming that exposes viewers to

well-intentioned or inadvertent, but this

difference, forges community, and ele-

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

careful consideration of underlying complexities and social goals. In fact, Kang

cf. Hamilton, James. 2004. All the news that’s fit to sell: How the market transforms information into news. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.; and Entman, R. M. 1989. Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.


Hamilton 2004.


Hamilton 2004: 239.


Hamilton 2004: 240-41.


Napoli, P. 2002. Audience valuation and audience media: An analysis of the determinants of the value of radio audiences. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 46(2):169-184.127


Hamilton 2004.


Westin, Av. 2001. You’ve got to ‘Be Carefully Taught’: racist encoding in the news-


room. Nieman Reports 55 (1): 63.


Baynes 2003: 311.


Westin 2001: 64.



Simon, J. and S. Hayes. 2004. Juvenile Crime Stories Use Police Blotter Without Comment from Suspects. Newspaper Research Journal 25: 92.

Bender, Steven W. 2003. Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law, and the American Imagination. New York: New York University Press.




Entman, R. M., and A. Rojecki. 2000. Chapter 9.” The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lundman, R. J. 2003. The newsworthiness and selection bias in news about murder: Comparative and relative effects of novelt and race and gender typifications on newspaper coverage of homicide. Sociological Forum 18 (3):357-386.




Hamilton 2004.


cf. Westin 2001.


See Kang 2005.


Entman and Rojecki 2000.


Benson, R. 2005. American Journalism and the politics of diversity. Media Culture & Society 27 (1):10.



American Society of Newspaper Editors. Newstaffs shrinking while minority presence grows. 12 April 2005. Accessed 9 June 2005 at:

Solages, Carrie. 2003. If the FCC Rule Changes Survive, Minority Broadcasting May Not. Crisis (The New): Crisis Publications Inc.


Solages 2003: 21.


Baynes 2003: 312-13.


Benson, 2005.


Ofori, Kofi Asiedu. 1999. When Being Number 1 is Not Enough: The Impact of Advertising Practices On Minority-Owned & Minority-Formatted Broadcast Stations. Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy. Accessed 21 November 2005 at:


See also Goodman 2004: 1426-27.


Mason, Laurie, Christine M. Bachen, and Stephanie L. Craft. 2001. Support For FCC Minority Ownership Policy: How Broadcast Station Owner Race Or Ethnicity Affects News And Public Affairs Programming Diversity. Communication Law & Policy 6:37-73.; and Owens, W. LaNelle. 2004. Inequities on the air: The FCC media ownership rules—encouraging economic efficiency and disregarding the needs of minorities. Howard Law Journal 47:1037.


Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, and Joel Waldfogel. 2005. Strength in Numbers: Group

See, for example, Macrae C.N., and G.V. Bodenhausen. 2000. Social cognition: Thinking categorically about others. Annual Review of Psychology 51:93-120.; Fiske, Susan T., and Shelley E. Taylor. 1991. Social Cognition. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill.; Kang, J. 2005. Trojan horses of race. Harvard Law Review 118(5):1489-1593..

Baker, C. Edwin. 2002. Media Concentration: Giving Up On Democracy. 54 Florida Law Review (December):839.

Size and Political Mobilization. The Journal of Law & Economics 48:73-91. 37.

Benson 2005.


Benson 2005: 9-10.


The case is Prometheus Radio Project vs. Federal Communications Commission, 3rd Circuit (issued 24 June 2004), available at http:// documents/opinions/2004/03-3388-062404.pdf.


cf. Westin 2001.


Bruce, T. 2004. Marking the boundaries of the ‘normal’ in televised sports: the play-by-play of race. Media Culture & Society


Kang 2005.

26 (6):861-79.


cf. Kang 2005; Goodman 2004.


(20) Kang 2005; Bruce 2004: 864.



BEST PRACTICES (21) See Mazingo 2001; Westin 2001.


Gissler, Sig. 2001. “Let’s Do It Better Workshop.” Summarized by the Columbia Journalism School, accessed 9 June 2005 at:

Gilens, M. 1999. Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Mendelberg, T. 2001. The Race Card. Princeton: Princeton University Press.; and Hurwitz J., and M. Peffley. 2005. Playing the race card in the post-Willie Horton era—The impact of racialized code words on support for punitive crime policy. Public Opinion Quarterly 69:99-112.164 See Frydman and Rorive 2002.


Frydman, B. and I. Rorive. 2002. Regulating Internet Content Through Intermedi-


See Goodman 2004 for a critique: Goodman, Ellen. 2004. Me-


aries in the U.S. and Europe. Zeitschrift für Rechtssoziologies 23:41-59.

dia policy out of the box: Content Abundance, Attention Scarcity, and the Failures of Digital Markets. Berkeley Telephony Law Journal 19:1389.


Goodman 2004: 1393.


Goodman 2004: 1472.

Baynes, L. M. 2003. White Out: The Absence and Stereotyping


Goodman 2004: 1419.

of People of Color by the Broadcast Networks in Prime Time Entertainment Programming. Arizona Law Review 45:293.


volume 1.1 Is the visual political?


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polITIco-RelIGIous DIMeNsIoNs IN chaco caNyoN poTTeRy by Dr. Stephen Plog (University of Virginia)


he study of the symbols painted on prehistoric ceramics has long been important in archaeological research. However, archaeolo-

gists studying regions of the world where civilizations or states were thought not to have developed—my own research area, the American

Image Courtesy of Boston Public Library

Southwest, being only one example—rarely have explored whether decorative symbols carried political implications or information. To understand that tendency—and move beyond it—we first need to describe and understand the history of symbols studies in such areas.


We should first note that studies of symbols found at settlements occupied year round have often emphasized decorative patterns on prehistoric pottery. By the time that most ancient peoples inhabited villages throughout the course of the year, rather than making seasonal or even more frequent moves, ceramic vessels had become common implements with some households containing as many as 20-25 vessels. These vessels were used for cooking, storage, and serving, just as we use ceramics today. Such vessels not only were common, but they possess two additional features that have made them so valuable to archaeologists. First, they were fragile enough that they were often broken and

“As our understanding of pre-historic chronologies and cultureshasi n c r e a s e d ,studies of decorAtive symb0ls have » » » » shifted from questions of w e r e and w h e n to h an emphasis on Why?”

subsequently discarded. Thus, in a village of 10-15 families that was inhabited for periods as short as 20 years, thousands of fragments (sherds) of broken vessels would be discarded. Second, once broken into small fragments, the resulting sherds are remarkably durable. Whereas basketry, wooden implements, or textiles likely will disintegrate within a few decades under most conditions, ceramics endure for thousands of years. Because sherds vastly outnumber any other type of artifact on sites created when groups lived in villages year-round, they have been the focus of archaeological research from early years of the discipline. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries when archaeological research was still in its formative years, scholars studying ceramics discovered that the decorative symbols or patterns painted, stamped, or incised on vessels typically changed over time and, as a result, studies of the designs typically focused on their value in helping identify the time periods when settlements were inhabited. As our knowledge of particular regions increased, archaeologists also identified spatial patterns in the distribution of symbols and thus also began to characterize prehistoric cultures by particular types of designs or design patterns. Prehistoric groups from the Great Lakes region of the United States, for example, decorated their pottery with different symbols and

settlements occupied over the last 1200 years of Pueblo history. For-

the Great Basin or the Plains.

mal “ceramic types” based on designs and other characteristics of the pottery repeatedly prove to be the building blocks of any study of

As our understanding of prehistoric chronologies and cul-

culture change.

tures has increased, studies of decorative symbols have shifted from questions of “where” and “when” to an

As research has matured, however, and scholars have endeavored to

emphasis on “why.” Why did designs change over time

address questions about social, political, and religious dimensions of

and why do we find designs that were characteristic of

prehistoric life, we have increasingly explored ways that those impor-

particular cultures? The result of this research is that

tant dimensions are reflected in the material culture—pottery, baskets,

archaeologists increasingly have recognized a variety of

and architecture—that prehistoric people left behind when they moved

social, religious, and political factors that influence what

to new settlements. Because pottery is typically common on such sites

they had initially assumed to be rather simple, uncompli-

and painted designs are rarely determined by material availability or

cated choices about design symbols.

technological constraints, the variation in those symbols has proven to be a particularly fruitful avenue for study.

The Pueblo region of the American Southwest (northern Arizona and New Mexico, southeastern Utah, and

Why do those designs vary so much over time and space? Before

southwestern Colorado), my own area of expertise, ex-

offering a direct answer to that question, it is important to emphasize

emplifies this trend in design studies. The northern

that the cultural dimensions of interest—political, social, and religious

Southwest is an area where much pioneering research

patterns and relationships—cannot be easily compartmentalized in the

was done during archaeology’s formative years and

way we discuss our own society where there is a separation of church

variation in painted designs continues to be critical to

and state and the important social relationships in our lives may have

the dating of settlements. Archaeological discussions

little or no relationship to political alliances or religious beliefs and

often emphasize the importance of tree-ring and radio-

affiliation. In most pre-state societies, political, social, and religious

carbon dating, techniques that undoubtedly are critical

dimensions of life are closely intertwined and thus difficult to separate.

to our research, but the reality is that we date 99 per-

Social status and ritual status may not be one and the same, but they

cent of prehistoric archaeological sites by focusing on

are often strongly related. And political power is typically grounded in,

changing patterns in the shape and size of spear and

if not generated from, ritual knowledge and authority.

arrow points or on the stylistic patterns painted on the fragmented ceramic vessels that are so ubiquitous in

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Andy Eick

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

patterns from those of people in such nearby regions as


Glimpse 54

With that qualifier in mind, we can suggest at least four

authority. I have suggested that the Chaco Canyon region of northwest-

factors that affect the nature of painted symbols and their

ern New Mexico may serve as one clear example of how symbols repre-

spatial and temporal patterns. First, we can recognize that

sent and reinforce politico-religious dimensions. During the era from A.D.

some variation is a product of stylistic drift (Cleland 1972;

850 to 1130 in the northern Southwest, most Pueblo people lived in

Braun 1995; Neiman 1995), “progressive rearrangements,

smaller pueblos of 1-15 masonry rooms, probably occupied by no more

addition, and/or deletion of discrete design elements which

than 10-25 people. Chaco Canyon, an anomaly to this pattern, was a

produce new design sets as a result of successive replica-

nexus of large pueblos—twelve are concentrated in a single 15-kilometer

tion of a single design motif” (Cleland 1972:202). Drift is

stretch of the canyon—referred to as “great houses” because of their

one of the key factors that make design symbols such a

size (50 to 650 masonry rooms) and an unusual constellation of archi-

sensitive marker of time periods. Second, studies have

tectural features such as intricate core-and-veneer architecture and

emphasized the importance of teacher-student relation-

large subterranean ritual structures, known as great kivas. These com-

ships in determining symbol sets. Beginning as least as

plexes represent the earliest examples of the multi-story pueblos, each

early as Ruth Bunzel’s (1929) classic study of historic

occupied by at least a few hundred Pueblo people, encountered in the

Pueblo pottery decoration, we learned that the symbol set

northern Southwest by the first non-Native explorers, Fray Marcos de

employed by artists in pre-state societies was heavily in-

Niza and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, in 1539 and 1540, respec-

fluenced by the symbols used by their mentor, most often

tively. Yet, as Mills (2002:66) has emphasized, the “degree of planning,

a family member.

expertise, and complexity shown in great house construction is very different from that found among the ethnographic Pueblo.”

Most recent studies of the last two or three decades have focused on a third significant variable. Considerable

Chaco Canyon great houses were not an isolated phenomenon, how-

attention has been given to the ways in which design

ever. Some groups outside the canyon constructed structures similar

symbols and patterns determine and reflect social

in form and detail, though usually smaller in scale and rarely in clusters,

boundaries (e.g., Hodder 1981; Plog 1980; Wobst 1972;

throughout much of New Mexico’s San Juan Basin as well as portions

Wiessner 1983 among some of the earliest of such

of southwestern Colorado, southeastern Utah, and northeastern Ari-

studies). That is, people commonly use different clothes

zona. Roads (cleared paths, in some places lined with masonry curbs)

styles, house forms, and decorative symbols to

up to 10 meters wide ran tens of miles from the canyon to a few of

distinguish themselves from others, an “us” vs. “them”

these outlying settlements (Vivian 1997a, 1997b). Shorter roads may

dichotomy. The boundaries may exist between genders,

have served less as physical connections between settlements and

age groups, status groups, or cultures that hold spatially

more as symbolic connections to the cosmos as many extend only a

discrete or perhaps slightly overlapping territories.

few kilometers from the great house. These and other characteristics demonstrate significant social, ritual, and perhaps political ties within

Few, however, have studied the ways that decorative

the Chaco region with perhaps direct political control over the area

symbols in the Southwest may convey politico-religious

immediately surrounding the canyon.

messages. Some have connected symbol sets to ritual (e.g., Adams 1992, Crown 1994), but have not suggested

Kidder (1924:178) long ago recognized that one of the hallmarks of

that the ritual were related to political connections or

Chaco was an unusual decorative pattern, termed the Gallup-Dogoszhi

style (Figure 1), drawn by outlining shapes and then filling the interior

pp. 123-140. Plenum Press, New York.

of the form with thin, parallel lines, i.e., a form of hachure. The wide-

Bunzel, Ruth 1929 The Pueblo Potter: A Study of Creative Imagination in Primitive Art. Columbia University Press, New York.

spread spatial distribution of this hachured style in the northern Southwest crosscut a number of geographically specific styles, the first time that two decorative styles had co-occurred in significant frequencies in most areas of the northern Southwest. The GallupDogoszhi style differed from these other styles by the strong covariation among decorative elements, a pattern that would be expected of a design pattern that was iconic in nature and used to convey important messages (Plog 1990:67-68). Furthermore, the style is relatively more common at settlements with public ceremonial architecture (Plog 1990:68-69). More recently, I have shown that the hachured style likely was a black-on-white symbol for the color blue-green, a color that was difficult to produce in fired pottery and, more importantly, a

Cleland, Charles E. 1972 From Sacred to Profane: Style Drift in the Decoration of Jesuit Finger Rings. American Antiquity 37:202-210. Crown, Patricia L. 1994 Ceramics and Ideology: Salado Polychrome Pottery. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. Hodder, Ian 1981 Symbols in Action: Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Material Culture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Kidder, Alfred V. 1924 An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology. Yale University Press, New Haven. Mills, Barbara J. 2002 Recent Research on Chaco: Changing Views of Economy, Ritual and Society. Journal of Archaeological Research 10:65-117.

Central America as well (Plog 2003).

Neiman, Fraser D. 1995 Stylistic Variation in Evolutionary Perspective: Inferences from Decorative Diversity and Interassemblage Distance in Illinois Woodland Ceramic Assemblages. American Antiquity 60:7-36.

There are thus a variety of reasons to suggest that the Gallup-

Plog, Stephen 1980 Stylistic Variation in Prehistoric Ceramics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

color that was extremely important in the cosmology of native peoples not only in the northern Southwest, but also throughout Mexico and

Dogoszhi hachured style served as one important symbol of politico-religious organization in the northern Southwest during the Chacoan era. In the immediate vicinity of Chaco Canyon, the style may have conveyed specific aspects of the politico-religious authority of Chacoan leaders while in more distant areas, the ritual and cosmology dimensions of the style may have been more significant, though the style may still have been a visible marker of important ties with the

Plog, Stephen. 1990 Sociopolitical Implications of Stylistic Variation in the American Southwest. In The Uses of Style in Archaeology, edited by Margaret Conkey and Christine Hastorf, pp. 61-72. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Plog, Stephen. 2003 Exploring the Ubiquitous Through the Unusual: Color Symbolism in Pueblo Black-on-White Pottery. American Antiquity 68:665-695.

Chaco polity. And Chaco almost certainly was not the only prehistoric

Vivian, R. Gwinn 1997a Chacoan Roads: Morphology. Kiva 63:7-34.

polity in the broader Southwest region where decorative patterns sym-

Vivian, R. Gwinn 1997b Chacoan Roads: Function. Kiva 63:35-67.

bolized such dimensions. I hope that future research will explore this possibility in many other regions.


References: Adams, E. Charles 1992 The Origin and Development of the Pueblo Katsina Cult. University of Arizona Press, Tucson. Braun, David P.1995 Style, Selection, and Historicity. In Style, Society, and Person: Archaeological and Ethnological Perspectives, edited by Christopher Carr and Jill E. Neitzel,

Wiessner, Polly. 1983 Style and Social Information in Kalahari San Projectile Points. American Antiquity 48:253-276. Wobst, H. Martin. 1972 Stylistic Behavior and Information Exchange. In Social Exchange and Interaction, Anthropological Papers of the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, No. 61, pp. 317-342. Ann Arbor.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

Images courtesy of Boston Public Library



FlaGs, coloR, syMBol, aND NaTIoNal IDeNTITy: Interview with Dr. Karen cerulo by Carolyn Arcabascio C A : how does the visual power of a flag differ from that of other national symbols (i.e. monuments, currency, etc.)? Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Daniel Lobo

KC: Flags are the symbol with which people are most


familiar. One reason for this stems from the fact that

movements, victory in war, etc.) are associated with the adoption of basic

flags are designed for display. Thus, this visual image—

designs. Disruptive, divisive events (a revolution, an economic depression,

colorful and dynamic—becomes a “staple” of some of the

etc.) are associated with complex, embellished designs. When populations

most solemn or powerful or populated venues of a na-

are cohesive and “on the same page,” symbolic communication can ef-

tion. It becomes a calling card or a logo—a shorthand for

fectively occur via the symbolic shorthand of basic designs. Fragmenta-

the nation.

tion calls for elaboration as different positions must be added to the mix.

ca: how does the organization of a flag’s independent

ca: In addition to the level of simplicity or complexity of design, is

design elements relate to its function as a nation’s

the color of national flags also telling of identity?

“calling card?” KC: Colors are used to convey many sorts of messages. For example, KC: Flags, as national calling cards, are somewhat

many nations choose colors that will provoke a sense of unity — unity

reflective of national culture. But flag designs also tell

to other nations or unity among groups within a nation. Consider the

us much more. There appears to be a clear logic to the

case of Thailand. Because the flags of Thailand’s World War I allies

selection of national symbol designs. National leaders

contained red, white and blue, Thailand added a blue stripe to it’s red

knowingly choose some designs over others. While some

and white flag. The change signified a purposive link to these other

of these choices can be linked to national traditions and

nations. Similarly, many of the flags of Muslim nations include green (a

lineage, there are also broader social patterns that

signifier of Islam), indicating strong religious unity. The flag of Ireland

guide symbol selection as well.

offers yet another example. This symbol was designed to unite the country’s religious groups. The flag’s green field represented Catholics,

For example:

while its orange field represented protestants. The flag also included a white field meant to indicate the peaceful coexistence of the two

1) A nation’s global economic position is associated with


flag design. The most central, powerful nations choose the simplest, most basic designs, while economically

ca: From the viewer’s perspective, how does the visual information

peripheral nations adopt highly embellished designs. It

of flags influence behavior, political or otherwise?

appears as if the oldest, most powerful nations “set the bar,” establishing a symbolic code that other nations

KC: Flag design is not an arbitrary task. Research shows that certain

react to and elaborate.

designs prove more or less appropriate than others in specific contexts. In this way, flag designs are no different than other color “ven-

2) The social events that face a nation when a flag is

ues”. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon in learning to dress our-

adopted are associated with flag design. Events that

selves, for example, and coming to “see” that certain color and pattern

bespeak high cohesiveness or solidarity (i.e. independence

combinations simply don’t “go together”.

ca: What draws you personally to the study of political

of adopting a flag design in which the components “go to-

symbol systems?

gether” in an expected way, (what I call a “normal design”) versus adopting a flag in which the components violate ex-

KC: I started my academic career with a deep interest in the

pectation, (what I call a “deviant” design). My research

social and cultural forces that shape creativity particularly

shows that deviant flags do not enjoy the fervent reception

musical and visual creativity. Along the way, I also developed

or the intense attachment of their more normal counter-

interests in theories of social change, political communica-

parts. People relate to them in a rational rather than a

tion, and collective identity Thus, the study of national sym-

passionate way; they engage the deviant flags in a very

bols offered a vehicle by which to combine my interests.

restricted range of activities; they revere the flag via legal

Studying national symbols allowed me to pursue the ways in

mandate rather than voluntary reaction. These conse-

which individual style, cultural norms of communication,

quences can make the deviant flag a much less powerful

power, and change individually and collectively inform the


creative field.

“Don’t Tread on Me” Serpent (Gadsden Flag) This symbol and flag is seen in attendance at many patriotic American events, yet few seem to know its proper name, yet alone where it came from. It is an image that expresses stubbornness and a sort of recklessness all at once. The image of the snake in American politics dates back to 1754, in Benjamin Franklin’s famous cartoon, Join or Die, largely believed to be the first political cartoon in American history. It depicted a snake cut up into several pieces, with each piece representing a different U.S colony, and was meant to be a message of solidarity during the French and Indian war. The snake symbol began to appear on many colonial items, including currency. In October of 1775, the first known combined appearance of symbol and motto occurred. When the newly created the United States Navy was dispatched to overtake a pair of British cargo ships, five companies of Marines were also sent. Members of these companies were observed to have carried yellow drums with the image of a snake, and “Don’t Tread on Me” written alongside it. Though the origin of this pairing is obscure, a letter written to the Pennsylvania Journal by an anonymous source praised the snake image and claimed it to be the perfect symbol for America. The name comes from Colonel Christopher Gadsden, a renowned leader of the Continental Army. It is said that he presented the flag to be flown by Commodore Esek Hopkins as his own personal flag. Because of this, it is sometimes known as the Hopkins Flag. Poised somewhere between exuberant proclamation and ominous threat, this, for some, represents the ideal America, one that will strike if necessary and is not afraid to retaliate. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that one variant of the Gadsden flag paired its original design with another famous American slogan: “Liberty or Death”.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

In my book Identity Designs, I talk about the consequences



(RE)VIEW: THE N WORD Todd Williams (film, 2004)

by Andy Hughes


he N Word, a documentary by Todd Larkin Williams

from a wide range of people. Intercut with the “talking heads” sections

released four years ago, takes a look at the titular

of the film are montages of film and television clips in which the words

slur and the questions that surround it, namely: how did

are used. There are also a few poetic divergences, in which black actors

it get where it is today? How did it progress from some-

read literature that uses the word: we hear the works of such people as

thing derogatory and hateful to a term of endearment

Langston Hughes, Mark Twain, Carl Sandburg, and Saul Williams, who

among black people? To give us answers, Landers in-

gives a passionate reading of his work “Sha Clack Clack”.

terviews a host of professors, rappers, actors, athletes,


comedians and activists, black and white.

At a run time of an hour and 25 minutes, The N Word doesn’t exactly strain the viewer. Its style is almost leisurely, perhaps startling given the

At first the film seems slightly disjointed, but soon the

potentially volatile subject matter. All of the interviews, even those with

pacing becomes more regular. We hear from people like

older or more academic personages, have a casual air about them. The

Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube, who identify posi-

conversations are also well-edited, giving the film an easy flow as the

tively with the word, and from others, like activist Dick

topics change. The film clips, many of them from the 60’s and 70’s, make

Gregory, who have difficulty viewing it outside of its

up for the static nature of the interviews, as do the literary recitations.

racist context. Topics discussed include the supposed history of the word, the success of Richard Pryor, and

The only thing that really hurts the film is its graphic intensive, VH1 style

the evolution of hip-hop.

delivery. Before the opening credits, for example, we see brief clips from a few of the interviews used later in the film. Immediately afterward, we

You may or may not learn something new about the black

see those same clips used in an opening sequence that transcribes the

experience in America (the origins of the “N” word, as

quotes on screen. It’s a great-looking opening, but it distracts a little bit,

explained here, are not exactly surprising), but you will at

and the use of things already heard comes across as a bit redundant.

least have the experience of hearing different opinions

Overall, though, The N Word is thought-provoking. ■

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Cristian Borquez

Arthur Hiller, Maximillian Schell, Lois Nettleton (film, 1975)

by Andy Hughes


e lives in a lavish penthouse in New York City. He is the master

the connection: we don’t get the feeling that we are see-

of his domain, spending his days in luxury and regaling his visitors

ing a split personality so much as two extremes of one.

and servants with quirky anecdotes, stopping only to spy on the world

The film’s most memorable image occurs in the long final

below through a telescope. He is Arthur Goldman (Maximillian Schell),

courtroom scene, as Dorff/Goldman, in full Nazi regalia,

a Jewish Holocaust refugee and self-made millionaire. Or is he? To

is placed in a bulletproof booth to protect him from

his faithful assistant Charlie, he is just an eccentric old man with

assassins. Sealed off from the rest of the proceed-

a Christ complex, haunted by demons of the past. At times he

ings, Schell delivers manic and unapologetic

sees the ghost of his father, other times the image of Adolf

speeches, mocks his prosecutor, and vents pure

Dorff, Nazi commandant and torturer. Reeling from these vi-

venom at the Israeli jury. He is terrifying, and

sions, Goldman never ceases his strange banter, sometimes

yet, vulnerable in a strange way, especially

silly, other times unnerving. He is both an ominous prophet and

as the court begins to wonder whom he

Groucho Marx, switching between snide remarks and bizarre

really is. At this point, Schell is able to com-

tangents, not all of which are in English.

municate much without saying anything, letting his red, panicked face and cold eyes

Christian symbolism plays a large part in his life: Goldman

speak for themselves.

refers to a dinner he has with several eligible women as his “last supper” and interrupts the meal to rub the ashes of his dead wife

As a representation of postwar sentiment,

on his forehead. He seems to have placed himself into the role of

The Man in the Glass Booth is a curious

savior and miracle maker, one he delights in. As his connection to the

specimen. It examines the effects of

outside world, Charlie acts as a shy, humble foil, and attempts

politically engineered devastation

to keep his master’s feet on the ground.

through the eyes of a man whose own




But there is a sinister quality to Goldman’s antics, one that comes to

through oppression. Though the

the forefront when he is arrested by foreign agents and taken to Is-

dialogue and staging still feels,

rael to be tried as Nazi war criminal Dorff. Dorff, it seems, has been

well, stagy, the strength of the

masquerading as Goldman in order to escape authorities, something

central conflict anchors the rest

Goldman doesn’t attempt to deny. In fact, the persona of Dorff emerges so easily from Goldman that it raises skepticism: is Goldman putting the authorities on? An adaptation of the play by Robert Shaw, The Man in the Glass Booth garnered Schell an Oscar nomination in 1975, and yet has gone more or less unnoticed by most modern moviegoers. This is unfair, as the film is gripping, intelligently written, and fueled by an intense performance by Schell, both as the strange but lovable Goldman and the psychopathic Dorff. He manages to perform both roles effectively while still leaving

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member grisei

of the production.

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?



Glimpse 60

(RE)VIEW: Crossing the Line

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Molly Bewigged

Daniel Gordon (film, 2007)

by Andy Hughes


ometimes, when life seems its bleakest, a person

If this compelling documentary has one weakness, it is a failure to em-

will turn to whatever refuge presents itself. In

phasize some of the most fascinating aspects of its story. The DMZ is

1962, American soldier Joseph Dresnok made that de-

around two and a half miles wide. It is heavily mined and considered one

cision when he walked away from the army. His refuge

of the most dangerous places in the world. For Dresnok, Jenkins, and

of choice: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

two other American soldiers to have made it across safely, and on

His timing couldn’t have been better, making him one of

separate occasions, is not only lucky; it’s miraculous. The film under-

the last Americans to defect there, and the only one still

standably has a lot of material to cover, but neglecting details like this

living there today.

weakens the power of the story somewhat.

His life is chronicled in Crossing the Line, a documentary

At first, the boys are perceived as enemies and threats. Later, they are a

from director Daniel Gordon and VeryMuchSo produc-

North Korean cause celebre, and their citizenship becomes a major source

tions. Prior to this project, Gordon had directed two

of pride for the warring nation. Benefits are offered to other Americans if

other documentaries, The Game of their Lives and A State

they defect. They start meeting women and building families. The most

of Mind, both filmed in North Korea. After winning the

bizarre twist of all comes when future leader Kim Jong Il casts Dresnok

respect of the North Korean government with those

and Jenkins as evil American generals in a series of patriotic war films.

films, he and his crew found Dresnok and another defec-

The films are seen widely throughout the country and become hugely

tor from the army, Charles Jenkins, and proceeded to

popular. We see people in the streets of modern day Pyongyang address-

create this fascinating and bizarre story of people living

ing Dresnok as “Mr. Arthur”, the name of his character.

and operating outside of political concerns. Dresnok makes for a great interview subject, honest in his opinions and Dresnok, a large man with a deep Virginia twang in his

not afraid to get emotional. Much of the time he sports a bemused half-

voice, tells us that he’s never let his story be known

smile that suggests that on some level, he can’t believe what’s happened

before. He grew up running away from his problems,

to him either. We see his family life, and meet his sons, who are both

first from unloving relatives, then from a foster home.

white like their father but speak accented English and consider them-

At the age of 17, he joined the army and married short-

selves to be Korean.

ly before being shipped off to serve in the Korean War. Upon discovering his wife was having an affair, he im-

The film slows down to observe the basics of Dresnok’s life, then picks

mediately slipped into a depressed state, constantly

up again to follow Jenkins, and the fate of his family, and Dresnok’s

staying out too long on leave in the villages of the

reaction to it (which I won’t give away). It is engrossing, largely because

south. One day, with a clear resolve, he simply set out

Dresnok is such an easy person to identify with, and yet still somewhat

into the Korean Demilitarized Zone, running away from


his problems yet again.

Is the Visual Political? by Dr. Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield (Boston College)


o answer the question, “Is the Visual Political?”, I would like to start at the root of our civilization,

the ancient Greeks. As “politics” is rooted in “polis”, the city, so “civilization” is at once us, the citizens, and the city (the Latin “civis”) in which we all live, regardless of whether we live in teeming New York, or the wide open

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Jef Poskanze

spaces of the West. We are all members of the body politic, and this is more or less the way the Greeks

Franklin’s joke at the signing that “we must all hang together, or assur-

imagined themselves. Thus, the immediate Greek an-

edly we shall all hang separately” (Sparks, 408) contains within it the basic

swer to our question is “Yes! Of course the visual is

paradox of our nation, and thus of our politics: these rebels, in their act of

political”, because in some way everything is political.

separating themselves from their mother country England, realized that they would only survive united, hanging together. And indeed, it has been

And if, following the Greeks, the visual is political, then

thus: by hanging together, we have all managed to avoid hanging sepa-

the political is visual, among other things. Therefore, a

rately. Yet we have all hung together nevertheless.

question arises: is our present difficulty with politics (our being turned off by, or not participating in) also a

We are hung up, as a consequence, on this paradox of at once being a na-

symptom of our not seeing properly, or better, of our

tion of individuals, and a nation who pledges its fortunes together. We have

not seeing our seeing? That is, I would like to restate

undertaken to establish a nation based on an inner conflict, and our civil

the question by focusing on a difficulty in our polis –

war is testament to that fact, as is our red/blue state divide, and our end-

that we feel disenfranchised, left out, bored, discon-

less debates about the welfare state and the social safety net. “Privatiza-

nected. If the visual is, by necessity, political, then might

tion of social security” is a catch phrase that neatly contains this para-

not our problems with political participation be, in part,


a difficulty with the visual? In addition, our first mothers and fathers were acutely aware of how the We, a nation of voyeurs, might not really be seeing; or

visual was political: they were aware that “the whole world was watching”,

better, we might not be seeing our seeing. I propose,

and the Declaration asserts “let facts be submitted to a candid world” (the

therefore, to examine the act of seeing itself, to see if

root of ‘candid’ is ‘shine’, ‘bright’, and even ‘light’). They wanted to bring

we can strip away some of the blindness that appears

things to light, to enlightenment. That is, they wanted to show the ‘long

to accompany our seeing. Because if the visual is po-

train of abuses’ – their emphasis, while rational, was certainly on the vi-

litical, then our not being political must be a form of

sual and the necessity of shedding light on what was in darkness.

blindness. Of course the Enlightenment, as the Gothic writers understood, contained In the United States in 2008, the question of the link

its own shadow of darkness. And so, like a suddenly self-conscious actor,

between the visual and political, so readily answered by

these rebels realized that while they were standing up to be seen by the

the Greeks, is more complex. We are reminded every

world and to set an example. The pressure was on; they were inviting be-

four years, if not more frequently, that we have the

ing watched, and thus were indeed being watched.

worst record for voter participation of any standing democracy. We prize our privacy, and individual rights are

Martha Washington declared herself to be a ‘prisoner of the state’ because

still the hallmark of our society. While the west may no

she was so closely scrutinized in her manners and dress. When she ap-

longer be wide open, we still imagine ourselves as rug-

peared for her husband’s inauguration in Philadelphia, she put off her

ged individualists. Yet, the Declaration of Independence

usual classy and rich lace and instead wore homespun worsted. She was

closes with “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives,

one of the first to understand that, as she was being watched, how she

our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Our Founding Fa-

was seen had very much to do with politics, and the fate of the new na-

thers and Mothers worked together, and Benjamin


volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

One root of the problem



But to “see” means also to understand, to see b e y o n d what appears.


Being watched and watching, of course, invades our privacy, and so we

believe it! How can the hand – so clumsy, so physical, be

arrive at a connection between the two ideas: while the United States was

quicker than the eye, which perceives instantaneously?

established as a nation of rebels who nevertheless were ‘united’, this union

Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and surely

has always tended both to reveal us to one another and to invade our

the hand cannot move half that quickly, not even snap-

privacy, thus hitting at one of the fundamental beliefs upon which we es-

ping fingers.

tablished our country – privacy rights. This basic paradox of the United States bears directly on the problem of sight, and how we understand the

Yet the hand is indeed quicker than the eye, because

visual as political in our society.

the eye can so easily be fooled. In the Greek myth, Hippomenes tricked and thereby won the hand of the virgin

The solution to the problem with our ‘merely’ watching and not participat-

Atalanta by tossing a golden apple in her line of sight.

ing, therefore is not, as I see it, simply to ‘make’ ourselves become more

When she stopped to pick it up, he raced by her, winning

political, but to understand that it’s in our blood, the blood of our nation,

the race, and thereby her hand. Hippomenes was the

to be both social and alone, political and apolitical. To be watched and to

first magician who understood that magic works by in-

not be watched. Perhaps the problem, then, is not lack of political engage-

direction. Hippomenes was a descendant of Poseidon,

ment, but lack of engagement with the problem. We don’t grapple and

one of whose guises was Proteus, the spirit of shifting

wrestle with our own image. In short, reflection, that basic act of seeing,

appearance. Further, it was Aphrodite, the goddess of

is what is needed.

love, who furnished Hippomenes with the golden apple. Thus, the intertwining of appearance and love. We shall

voyeur nation

return to love momentarily.


e are a nation of voyeurs, who sit at home and stare at computer

We are all now like Atalanta, virgins to the notion that

screens, and even date online – that ultimate act of social engage-

the hand can be quicker than the eye, assuming that we

ment begins now alone in a room, as often as in a crowded bar or dancing

can stop to pick up whatever the eye sees (eye candy)

cheek to cheek. “I like to watch” says Jerzy Kosinski’s famous anti-hero,

and not lose our first place in the race. But “to see”

Chauncey Gardner, in “Being There” (Braunsberg). We all like to watch; TV

means also “to understand” — to see beyond what ap-

is us. We like to watch everything, from old movies to porn to reality TV.

pears. But the story tells us differently. Because the

We like to “see the sights” and plan destination vacations and destination

eye is so easily fooled, we can come to see eyesight

weddings, where the emphasis is on seeing and being seen. Yet “destina-

itself as a complex phenomenon, something that cannot

tion” is also our destiny, which is our fate. We are doomed to be heading

only mean the physical act of seeing. Indeed, we would

somewhere to see the sights. We place such emphasis on sight and the

all agree that Laura Bush’s red dress and Obama’s dis-

visual that we think that what is seen is reality. We invented public rela-

appearing and reappearing flag pin are not just about

tions, which often means being seen. We may be seen but not heard, but

the actual act of seeing them.

better to be seen and not heard than heard but not seen (radio). Eccentrics among us prefer radio because the pictures are better, but we all know

That is, we think we are not fooled by the eye. In being

that a wide screen TV will bring redemption and the good life.

so trusting of our eyes, in being a nation of voyeurs, we fall for all sorts of sleight of hand. We see the “Mission

Of course it’s more complex than that. For in our valuing of sight as our

Accomplished” banner, and so we believe. In fact, we are

primary sense, we have fallen for the oldest trick of magicians – which they

all too often blind to the big picture. We ignore or do not

explain to us. “The hand is quicker than the eye”, they warn before per-

see that there is a hand behind the banner manipulating

forming astonishing feats of disappearing and reappearing coins, torn up

us, the gullible marks. The wonderful joke of “Being

paper that reappears as whole, bodies sawn in half that reconnect before

There” is, of course, that Gardner is an idiot, which none

our eyes.

of the characters seems to see.

Before our eyes! We forget, perhaps willingly, that the hand is indeed

In fact, the eye fools us all the time, and further, it en-

quicker than the eye, and so we are fooled, over and over. We simply don’t

dangers us. When we think we see what’s going on, of-

Seeing is not believing, but it’s being


thief in Poe’s story was able to hide his letter successfully

we see – whether it’s what appears or what is hidden beneath the

from the police because he understood how the police think.

surface. But, we gain insight: we realize we have been fooled, and so

Thus applied to our case, we think we see because we are

open our eyes to what we believe is the real reality.

so sophisticated that we understand (see) that ‘real’ meaning lies beneath the surface, somewhere hidden: it’s not the

But, are we really seeing when we think we are? When we dismiss the

red dress per se that is the point, but what it signifies, what

“Mission Accomplished” banner as mere politics, a lie, a visual to be

it points to, what is encoded in its redness (or blueness,

ignored, are we not blinded to the impact of the visual? Are we missing

etc). Yet we miss the point over and over, as a nation, po-

the forest for the trees?

litically. Partly, the answer lies in the nature of seeing – that it always involves blindness.

In the end, might it be that seeing is not only seeing – that it’s also not seeing? That is, that “nature loves to hide”, and that Aphrodite is al-

If seeing clearly means, in part, understanding there is a

ways half turned away from us in her bath. – Desire, longing, is what

connection between the viewer and the viewed, then we can

is left – and the resulting imagination. In other words, to really see

no longer make glib separations between ourselves and our

would be to see that we see and do not see at the same time, such

leaders, for example. Politicians, in spite of our blind insis-

being the nature of sight.

tences, are not ‘people over there’, but us, ourselves in other guises, our elected officials who, whether we like it or

seeing and believing


not, represent us. Perhaps sometimes (or perhaps often) they represent the interests of corporations and not us, but

et’s take the process apart for a moment: seeing means perceiving

to conclude that therefore they are crooks, inept, etc., is

on a physical level, that which appears. But to “see” means also

simply to project our own guilt onto them. Our own guilt at

to understand, to see beyond what appears. Poe gives us a lesson in

having elected them, first of all.

how easily the eye is fooled by this distinction, in “The Purloined Letter”, in which the letter in question is invisible to the eyes of the police

And as to the notion that our representatives actually work

specifically because it is in plain view. As Poe’s genius detective Dupin

for the corporations, this again begs the question: where did

explains, the mistake the police make is thinking that seeing is believ-

these corporations come from? From us! We, the citizens,

ing – assuming that a “hidden” letter is a letter or object that is out of

give them the power, via state charters, to do business. We

the direct line of vision. That is, the police made the fatal error of

remain blind to the fact that corporations are sitting ducks

confusing their own understanding of the word “hidden” as “physically

for our control, via boycotts. Ralph Nader has been lecturing

not in the line of sight” with the metaphorical meaning of “hidden” as

us sternly on the reality of this situation for years, yet we

“that which one does not see”.

refuse to listen, to see: we keep electing corporate representatives, and then complain. Yet again, it is we, not some

Further, and equally as important, the police neglect (as Dupin explains)

god or ineluctable power, who elects these particular rep-

to take into account the psychology of the thief: he is both a mathema-

resentatives. If we blame them, we simply continue the split

tician and poet – although the police think of the thief only as a poet,

between us and them that facilitates our ability to con-

and therefore (the police conclude) a fool. They cannot imagine that he

gratulate ourselves on being honest (while they are crooks),

could be both; their imaginations are limited and literalized. But this

generous (while they are venal), etc. In other words, we

sort of seeing requires the enlightened mind to be darkened, and for

commit the same error of blindness Poe’s police do – we do

imagination to come in. Dupin first begins to solve the mystery when

not follow through with the implication of seeing, which is

he turns off the lights.

that it makes viewer and viewed connected.

We arrive, then, at a notion that real seeing involves the psychological

Seeing is not believing, but it’s being connected – and

– taking into account not only the person who is displaying himself, but

therefore imagining what it means to be so connected. We

one’s own thought processes and proclivities. In other words, seeing

elect the officials whom we later repudiate and condemn, in

involves being connected, viewer with viewed, and vice versa. The

part because after all our supposed sophistication around

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

ten we are fooled. Or, we are fooled to the extent that we believe what



We have everything is and yet seeing, while we are busy flattering our moral vanity, we fall for their appearances. Poe’s police assumed their moral superiority, too. In our attention to sight and the visual, we have lost several arts of seeing, among them one 19th-century practice, called Physiognomy – the reading of character from the face. Ralph Nader looks kind of swarthy and unkempt, and therefore we experience a kind of distaste, almost aesthetic. Which of course means a political decision is made based on appearance, even in a case in which he is screaming at us not to pay too much attention to appearance, by his very example. We can easily read character in facial characteristics, if we only would: Reagan’s good natured, ‘what me worry?’


raised and pulled together eyebrows, this chuckling dismissal of any criticism, the blandness of his Hollywood trained face: were these not the signs of a foolish, shallow old man? Seeing will reconnect us, but how and in what way? We have seen how easily the eye is fooled, and how believing we understand the meaning beneath the surface only means that we are once again fooled, like Poe’s police. Their big problem was in not connecting themselves with the thief, making or seeing that there is a connection. How, then, to read the red dress, to really see what’s going on with the flag pin? Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Jess Lander

Seeing is dangerous


e are told that being couch potatoes will kill us, but our physical bodies’ deterioration is only half the story. Sight itself is dangerous. Let us return again to

the Greeks, who knew not only that seeing is not always believing, but that seeing can be a dangerous act, and not just the metaphorical “seeing” which means understanding. Greek myth is full of stories of the dangers of seeing: Tiresias stumbles upon Athena in her bath, and she blinds him. Acteon, while hunting, sees Artemis bathing, and he is turned by her into a stag who is then killed by his own dogs. Dionysus’s mother Semele is the paramour of Zeus. Semele makes Zeus swear by the River Styx to grant her one wish, and to satisfy her curiosity, she demands he show her his divine form. The sight kills her, of course. In fact, one of the central (at least according to Freud) myths of human life, Oedipus, is a story about the dangers of seeing too much, and he of course ends up blind, like the seer Tiresias who has warned him not to try to see too deeply into the mystery of who killed the king. Oedipus, like Gloucester in King Lear, and like Tiresias, sees too much, and so is blinded.

seen so much that we are blind: there for us to see, we do not understand. volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

But in their blindness, they begin to see with other eyes. Before we arrive at what they saw with their new eyes, we first need to see what blinded them: Goddesses bathing; a lover god in his full glory; how sex and fate are entwined (among other things). In these stories, seeing is sexy, or has something to do with sex, or desire, or love – and with endings, elemental changes, and even death. Hippomenes and Atalanta, after their marriage, are said to have been killed by Zeus for having sex in his temple. Seeing may be dangerous, but in part it is dangerous because it’s sexy. The visual is political by way of sexiness.


We know this: we, a nation of viewers, put people in jail for the crime of seeing. One does not have to have actually, bodily have performed any illegal act for the weight of the law to come down. It’s enough to have seen forbidden images. Indeed, while our agreement that child pornography is immoral and therefore illegal, the viewing of any pornography no matter how legal, is often held as morally, if not legally, suspect. We have a sense that there are things that we should not see. And yet, our paradoxical nature thrives: pornography is one of the primary drives of the internet. But it’s not just naked bodies that are sexy – any seeing is sexy – that is, any seeing involves desire. Images arouse us, as David Freedberg, in The Power of Images, states that “images do work in such a way as to incite desire.” The eyes are the windows of desire, leading us into love at first sight. We are both seeing and blind in love, as the medieval love poets understood. And in our day, Anaïs Nin says that “love dies of blindness”; Helen Keller described her call for light as a call for love, which redeemed her. It’s the image after all that incites and arouses us, arouses our imagination, and makes us connected. “Images draw us into participation with them,” writes James Hillman (211). We are in Aphrodite’s company now, for she is the beautiful face of the world. She is the one who can inspire us to see even those awful representatives not doing our bidding, as beautiful – if only the beauty of the prostitute (for prostitutes were devotees of Aphrodite, lest we forget). Sex for money had its place in the Greek pantheon, for it was, in its own way, honoring the lovely face of the world, and further, our connection to it. But pause a moment: Aphrodite’s priestesses were not simply prostitutes making a living; inter-

Image Courtesy of Boston Public Library


Partly, the answer lies in the nature of seeing— that it always involves blindness.


course with them was considered a way of worshipping

because a certain smile “stands for” or “represents” cruelty, or a gen-

the goddess, and thus sex with an actual stranger had,

erous heart, but because it’s the smile itself that IS cruel or gener-

for the Greeks, an element of sanctity. Imagine that!


Is our present day condemnation of prostitution as im-

We begin to see differently when we really see. Thoreau, in Walden,

moral, illegal and infectious the result of our high moral-

taught us that our job is to be “looking always at what is to be seen”

ity, or might it be evidence of our having lost touch with

(174). We return to a paradox: we see and are blinded; we are blinded

Aphrodite? And if we have lost touch with her, we have

when we see, and when we do not see, then we are blind and yet see.

lost the ability to witness and fall in love with the world

Oedipus gains wisdom once he has blinded himself. Tiresias becomes

around us. As a result not only actual prostitutes, but

a prophet with foresight after Athena has blinded him because he sees

the rest of the physical world becomes just crap, stuff

her naked.

in our way, a traffic jam, eyesores, painful to see. We have seen so much that we are blind: everything is there for us to Yet we must begin to see in the way Aphrodite teaches

see, and yet we do not understand. 24/7 news coverage, the History

us, because in the end, that will restore us to our poli-

channel, the Nature channel, movies old and young, culture, informa-

tics. And politics has a body – in fact, IS our body, our

tion, entertainment – it’s all there for the viewing via the cable that

body politic.

connects us all. Yet we are considered politically as children by much of the rest of the world, for our naïveté. We do not see what is really

Seeing is connection

going on, and so fall for appearances instead of fall for appearances.


We too often forget that while Aphrodite may teach us to pay attention

sexual violence are surely showing us that seeing does

such thing as “naked”. And so to see clearly means also to see through

connect us, can connect us, to the world – that is, see-

a glass darkly.

eeing makes a connection. Those who want to out-

and to love appearances, she also reminds us that it’s not as simple as

law pornography because it supposedly causes

that. The visual is always veiled, as it turns out. In a sense, there is no

ing can result in action. And connection is what we are all about, if Aristotle is right and we are political ani-

What we come to see, in looking at an image, is that the imagination is

mals, and if our worries about not voting as a nation are

aroused – and we at the same time do not see, are blinded. Seeing is

to be taken seriously.

being connected, yes, but indirectly, and by means of desire and longing. Aphroditic seeing of the world, appreciating and noting its infinite

What do we see when Aphrodite is present? Not be-

particularities, means also seeing that the image never reveals itself

neath or beyond the surface, but the surface itself, the

completely. Anyone who has ever shopped for pornography or clothing

meaning that is inherent in the surface, not beyond it.

knows this: it’s not so much about what is seen, but what is imagined.

It’s not what Laura Bush’s red dress might “mean”, but

Half hidden: Aphrodite turned away in her bath; the discreetly placed

what it IS, what it looks like, the specific color of red,

cloth over the crucified Jesus – the effect of these half hidden im-

the fabric, the cut of the dress, and the wearer of it –

ages has the result of, in Hillman’s words, “closing off the literal and

and how we feel looking at it: does it incite desire, dis-

opening into the imaginable, the implied, sparking the fervor of fanta-

gust, distrust?

sy” (222).

Aphrodite teaches us, after all, not to be too quick to

We end where we began, with a paradox: we must become blind, like

see beyond the surface of things, but instead to love the

Tiresias, in order not only to see, but to play a significant role in the

appearances and take them literally at face value. We

polis, the fate of our city. We must see that we are blind – and blinded

can learn to judge character from facial appearance not

because we see so much. One of the ways the visual lead directly to

Image Courtesy of Flickr Member Adam Pieniazek

And in the voting booth, alone, look around – it looks a lot

of war and by default, politics. He’s the god of action, and he’s sexy

like those booths with peep holes in the dirty book stores,

enough to win Aphrodite’s heart. It’s all around us, Aphrodite and Ares

where you can be paradoxically alone while engaging in the

enacting their love affair – good-looking, young, upright soldiers; spiffy

great ritual of human connectedness. This is an image –

in their uniforms, off to war, adored by their lovely wives, husbands,

voting booth as peeping booth, where we can secretly look

lovers. Gang of Four’s “I love a man in a uniform” is precisely to the

and see, become blinded to our belief that we see every-

point (and by the way, their name is a reference to the discredited

thing, and then have our eyes opened to how we are at all

Chinese heads of state [one of whom was Mao’s last wife!], and thus

times and everywhere, connected, in love and politics, in sex

provides another connection between sex and politics, or appearance

and war.

and society).

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?

the political was via Aphrodite’s affair with her favorite lover Ares, god

We can become engaged via the visual – that is, to follow We see so much that we are blind to the various necessities of the

James Hillman, the image itself is vital, presents to us fer-

polis, war being among them. I am not arguing in favor of the Iraq inva-

tility, inspiration, creation, and that we arrive at this cre-

sion, for that is not a war. But if the Greeks are to be understood as

ativity, this engagement via looking. “Images draw us into

giving us something more than children’s stories, then our seeing what

participation with them” (211).

is going on in our country will be blind and staggering around if we do not understand that war is sexy – perhaps primarily because it incites

We use the word “engagement” today as the entrance to

desire and the imagination. Our fathers and mothers wooed while war-

marriage, which among other things is the socially accept-

ring (my own father met and married my mother in Australia during the

able container for sex. So to be ‘engaged’, whether to a

World War II).

person, with a cause, or with society, is to enter upon (to enter and to be entered by) the world of images – which is

Therefore, I am answering the question “Is the visual political?” by

another way of saying that looking is sexy.

asking a series of questions – “What is seeing?”, “What is politics?” And my conclusion would be that not only is the visual political, but that the

It is, as we know.

visual is one of the primary ways in which we can become more politicized, more connected. Following Aphrodite, we can see that it’s the


face of the world and our response to it that will connect us, get us to

Braunsberg, A. (Producer), & Ashby, H. (Director). (1979). Being There [Motion Picture]. USA: Lorimar Productions.

vote. Voting out of a sense of duty is boring and moral; but voting because it’s an experience of connectedness – that’s sexy and desirable. In the voting booth, alone, one is made aware, with just a little looking around, that what we are seeing is the actual, physical precinct, its sights and smells, the retirees staffing the folding tables, the humble places where democracy pitches its tent, among the people who make it work. A “precinct” was originally something that girded us about, like our loins. All of us, getting together to conjoin in a vast orgy of election, letting the juices flow, getting excited, flushed, heart beating for our cause, eyes bright with the vision of someone or something coming into our lives that will change us forever – these symptoms are the same as we experience when we fall in love.

Freedberg, D. 1989. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. Chicago: University Press. Hillman, J. 2007. “Pink Madness” in Mythic Figures. Putnam: Spring Publications. Poe, E. A. 1845. “The Purloined Letter” in Tales. London: Wiley and Putnam. Sparks, J. 1859. The Life of Benjamin Franklin; Containing the Autobiography, with Notes and a Continuation. Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson. p408. Thoreau, H. D. 1894. Walden, Or, Life in the Woods. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co.


68 Glimpse

volume 1.1 Is the visual political?


by Ryan “Sully” Sullivan

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Glimpse Journal Issue 1.1  

"Is the Visual Political?" Glimpse is an interdisciplinary journal exploring the functions, processes, and effects of vision and its implic...