Visual Culture

Reflection on Michael Ryan’s chapter on Visual Culture with Brett Ingram in Cultural Studies – A Practical Introduction.

Visual culture is a field of study. Our life is visual. This encompasses television, films, advertisements, photographs, comic books … anything that relays its story through pictures and images rather than text and words. The chapter introduces The Skeptical Eye, which is to be critical and not believe everything you hear or see in the media. The media often creates a narrow sighted view of the reality, in which some people (mis)take for a fact. It is therefore important as a teacher to give a divers explanation to the students, so they understand that it is a dominated narrative. Having a skeptical eye on’ digital media (news, videos etc) is important to identify the sender of the message and understand the background and context of the dominant narrative represented.

In visual culture, the values that structure dominant narratives are often circulated through mythical stories that condense the complexities of existence into simplified conflicts between good and evil p. 139

Power Structures in Films
It is not just important in today’s media, but it is also not all bad. In contrast to previous (old-school) representations of women on screen: idealised mothers, supportive wives or whores, in Sex and The City the women are representing different and modern female perspectives/roles/personalities, e.g. The character Samantha, who is prioritising career and sex over creating a family – but she isn’t only portrayed as a woman who has sex with a lot of men – but a strong feminist character who is putting her own needs first.

When looking at the old Disney movies, there are plenty of stereotypical representations. One of the most criticised might be Alladin, introducing a lost list of stereotypes of Arab culture –  all the women a represented as sexy or erotic dancers, The Middle East is portrayed as a brutal place where the men are walking on cal, hypnotising snakes, crooks or sword-swallowers – besides the women that are sexy and dancing, the rest of them are covered up and doing laundry. And, finally, the princess Yasmin is seen as being in need of a man to control her.  The original lyrics of Arabian Nights included 

“I come from a land
From a faraway place
Where they cut off your ear
If they don’t like your face
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”
Though changed in 1993 as they were deemed racist.

Writing this reflection I stumbled upon these videos, which pretty much sums up the Disney issue, empathising that Disney has changed course to a degree, we now see female heroes in movies like Frozen or Brave.

Audience, Performance and Celebrity

Reflection on chapter 12 Audience, Performance and Celebrity from Ryan, M (2010) Cultural Studies: A Practical Introduction.

Only traumatised people want to be famous. – Alanis Morrissette

This chapter explores celebrity attachment as an essential part of psychological constitution, inasmuch as our lives start out being attached to another human’s body, then we grow being attached and depending on family, and later to friends and lovers, meaning that becoming human happens through our attachments; moving from a selfish core to a social, mediated, civil. Thus to some, identifying with a celebrity, gives guidelines and hopes for the future, in the same way as religion does. Celebrity attachment highly makes sense in the society of which not everyone gets to be important, fulfilled or recognised. So to identify with a star allows for momentarily changing into being someone else.

Further, the chapter presents the concept of moral sensibility, which is the hot topic of the gossip of, especially female celebrities, some classic examples that most of us know of would be Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Even due to the positive development of gender equality and women’s rights, women are expected to act and behave in a certain way – or – at least not do certain things. Female celebrities are often reminded to remember that they are role models for their fans.

Personally, I experience, that some of the women’s harshest critics are often other women, I also often see concept of feminism being turned into the hateful bashing of men (especially Caucasian and privileged men (who, by the way, was just born into this world like everyone else)) – there is still an imbalance between the way media portray female vs. male celebrities (and transgender celebrities for that matter as well). I won’t say too much about the following videos, they speak for themselves, but they are my arguments for the importance of bringing these issues into the classroom when talking about media, identity, and culture.

Transnationality, Globalisation, Postcoloniality

Reflection on the lesson and Michael Ryan’s chapter on Transnationality, Globalisation and Postcoloniality in Cultural Studies – A Practical Introduction.

How culture is both national and transnational
“Culture is often national in character. The culture of Japan is distinct in many respects from that of nearby China. The cultural traditions are different; the current political culture is different. If one moves a little further away, to Indonesia, say, or to India, the differences multiply – according to religion, food, tastes, languages, literary and musical traditions, and so on. But one would also find similarities between these very different national locations. The same shows might be on television, imports often from one country to the next, or the same Western-style clothing might be on sale in stores. On the radio, one might hear the same international pop music. In many places, culture is both national and transnational, a matter of local production or tradition and a matter of “flow” between nations” (p.170).

Definitions and examples:

• Cultural nationalist endorse the belief that states are politically sovereign entities with clearly defined borders, a unified political and economic system that affects all similarly, and a set of legal and cultural practices shared by its citizens.

• Large culture (essentialism) can be defined by ‘Landeskunde’ for example by demographic facts, closely linked to stereotypes when not talking about pure facts, whereas small cultures (non-essentialism) are cultures inside the large culture e.g. Indian tribes within the US.

National is ‘Landeskunde’ view of a nation, whereas regional is when looking at particular parts of a nation e.g. Chinatown in San Francisco and the Financial District in Manhattan.

• Globalisation means a world of ‘constant motion’. But, the movement of capital, migrants, goods, or information is not inherently free-flowing, libratory, or progressive, as neoliberal (pro-free market) ideology would have it. It operates within particular power structures and frameworks. The flow of good is subject to international tariff and agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

• Power structure: Google and Yahoo infamously entered the Chinese market under the condition that they ban access to all human rights-related sites or redirect the Internet traffic to pages favouring the views of the government. One of the most important arguments in cultural studies is that most of the global frameworks that regulate the flow of capital, goods, technology, and information (the World Trade Organisation, NAFTA, the World Bank, and so on).

 Colonialism refers to the domination of a nation, peoples, or society by another nation through political, military, and economic interventions; territorial expansion/occupation; and various strategies of cultural oppression and coercion (via language, cultural practices, control of media, knowledge, etc.).” (p.172).

• Power; Often a country but can also refer to a group of allied countries working together under the same leader. It refers to their respective influence on the world stage in international relations.

• DevelopmentTime moving forward with new things happening. Often positive, but not always.

• Economic exploitation refers to the usage of the colonized country’s resources such as money, land, people, and machines.

Cultural oppression is when a colonized nation can’t practice their culture because of their oppressors.

Postcolonialism = enduring effects of colonial domination e.g. contributions to national culture (p.173) i.e., the post in postcolonial implies the enduring effects of colonial domination, rather than the end of colonialism. The postcolonial approach in cultural studies acknowledges the power of such cultural exclusion and its lingering effects on cultures worldwide. To colonize is to deprive of land and resources, but also to control the representation of that experience.

“Blindness” in films; The media creates a reality that is often one-sided, as the leader/oppressor control the representation of the experience of being colonized for everyone involved. The “blindness” is the absence of the oppressed point of view in media. (p.173).

• The role of media and nationalistic cultural policies; “… regulating the media and limiting foreign content and foreign private company access to the indigenous cultural market. But with globalization has come an increased penetration of such national enclaves by new media such as satellite television that bring with it content that is distinctly “ modern ” and that is quite different from the local national culture or cultural experience.” (p. 174).

• A common world experience, juxtaposed to local cultural differences, has emerged
> “ The “ look ” of cities in China is increasingly the same as that of cities in the West, as entire old cities are razed to make way for buildings considered to be more modern.” (p. 174)

• The case of India in a transnational context: India is a good example of the diverse issues that arise in studying culture in a transnational context, as it is a postcolonial country (for centuries under British rule), which is reflected in the facts, that about 5% of the population speaks English and the national sport is cricket. Thus India was created (by the Brits) as a nation of many diverse ethnic, linguistic, cultural and regional parts. (p. 175).