Concert Totem Rhetoric

A new day, a new topic, a new mood board.


2012 was my first music festival experience. My friend picked the wrong time to use the restroom and had trouble getting back to me. I had a yellow rain poncho that I held up as high as I could for her to locate me. Since then, I’ve been interested in concert totems. The following pictures were all taken by me in 2015 at Bonnaroo:

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There are countless tutorials for creating a totem: from The Scene is Dead, DJ List, Complex, Insomniac.

This Guide to Bonnaroo is what I used when planning to attend.

For more concert totems, this is a list of the 10 Coolest Totems at Coachella. (after totems were banned)

The goal of most concert totems is to allow large groups to reconvene at different shows amidst huge crowds. The totems need to stand out from the crowd while being easy enough to carry and meeting the specific festival’s restrictions. The only totem I have created was to locate our tent (pool noodle shark, playing a banjo). It was effective for that use. The totem was deconstructed on day 3 and taken to shows (less effective, but it was fun). My friend took the pool noodle shark and ended up appearing in a video that was filmed for Mumford & Sons (precisely at the 1 minute mark). My cardboard banjo might be in it for a millisecond– I’m still not 100% sure that’s my sign, but I think it is. If you’re curious and would like to see the video montage my friend made of the many pictures and videos of her days at Bonnaroo, click here. It features additional totems and festival visual rhetoric.

I am interested in the design and construction as well as the affordances of concert totems. Additionally, the signs should fit the ethos of the festival and be employed according to concert etiquette. I do not know for sure what form my project will take.


Other project ideas…

After receiving an email telling me that the Sparklepony project might require IRB approval, I thought I’d sketch out a few additional ideas for feedback.

  1. Assessment of visual literacy. This idea is not without complications, either. A colleague and I have created an assessment test for use at our community college. One section of each test includes an advertisement. The students have to answer questions about the visual composition of the image as well as questions about the audience for the image. One idea is to research along the lines of what was in the Barthes’ reading for today what students should know. I had some issues with getting IRB approval from ODU when I first mentioned this project a year ago. I also cannot share the portion of the test on my public blog, as it is still being deployed to students.
  2. BBC’s Sherlock. When watching Season 4, I noticed that Sherlock’s clothing fit motifs introduced in previous seasons, but unlike earlier seasons where it seemed like the clothes were wearing him or as if the clothing had become some sort of trope for the audience, this season’s choices were less noticeable but still served a purpose of showing the outer world what he was prepared to do.
  3. Concert totems. I once joked that I wanted to write my dissertation about concert rhetoric and try for grant funding to attend music festivals. I went to a major music festival two years ago and took many pictures of the totems that were used so groups could locate the rest of their group members in the crowd. Additionally, I have my own experiences with a sign that I held on day three of the festival and how the totem created a more social dynamic to the concert attendance. (Put this under the category of “If you carry a cardboard banjo with you to a bluegrass show, lots of people will talk to you”).

An observation about selection

Over break, I decided to finally take care of a box of pictures I’ve had sitting on a shelf ever since we moved into this house 6 years ago. I had to sort through all of the pictures I’d printed from early married life to when my oldest was around 6 years old. I managed to make an album of baby pictures for each of the kids when they were under a year old, but all of the other pictures got thrown into this box, to be dealt with later. My firstborn was the first grandchild in the family on both sides, so not only do I have the pictures I took but also the pictures given to me by two sets of parents.


Observation 1: I took a lot of pictures of my firstborn. And had duplicates made. And kept every blurry shot.

Observation 2: Digital camera= less printouts. My second child has fewer printed pictures. Who knows what is in my digital archive… Poor third born child has fewer pictures but more videos.

Observation 3: (the real reason I am blogging this) What gets selected for inclusion in an album differs over time. I had the chance to tinker with revisionist history as I omitted ex-wives. My father-in-law’s wife #2 was redacted as much as possible. Some evidence remains of a brother-in-law’s fiancee #1 and wife #1 (2 different people). Fortunately, another brother-in-law is on friendly terms with his ex-wife.

Previously, I probably wouldn’t have included many pictures of myself either because I disliked X, Y, or Z about the picture. Now, I am glad to have the occasional picture of myself with my kids because it helps me remember time spent with them. Oh, and the times of my life when I felt fat would look very skinny to the person I was two years ago.

Moodboard activity

This is just a draft for now. Publishing as I go because I’m not sure what a finished state would look like for this project.

Idea: Analyze the sparkleponies of CCCC

My moodboard is a Google search using “sparklepony CCCC”

These are cards and sparkleponies I have on display in my work office.

Initial reflection:

What I am interested in is how the sparkle pony can be used to identify people who are playing C’s the Day, the conference game for CCCC, but it can also be an easy way for newbies to join a group. Much was written about the sparkle ponies years ago when “Sparkle Gate” happened. Prior to that, I had always been interested in how people choose from the many unique designs to select one sparkle pony to attach to their name badge for the duration of the conference. I’ve had great conversations with the person who makes (and delegates the making of) the sparkle ponies; the conversations have occurred as one crafter to another, as I enjoy making things for others and have found that sometimes it is the materials that you are using that dictate the outcome of the design more than a specific end idea in mind.

What I like about this mood board is that there is a blurry dividing line between academic use of the sparkle pony and My Little Pony or Brony use of the sparkle pony. It is pretty clear at a glance whether the picture belongs to CCCC’s use of sparkle ponies or MLP. This aligns with another personal observation about CCCC. I love playing “English teacher or not” when I attend CCCC and observe arrivals at the airport and then the conference hotel and then the area surrounding when we manage to leave for lunch or dinner.

Collections of writing that created Sparkle Gate and then the reaction to it:

Sparklegate: Gamification, Academic Gravitas, and the Infantilization of Play
C’s the Day Facebook page
The History of C’s the Day: How Sparkleponies Came to Matter


Artifacts Group 1

The following picture was drawn by my daughter when she was in preschool. I could not remember what it was supposed to be, but thought that it was a monster of some sort, maybe a bear because that was a very friendly looking monster. I also remembered that she went through a phase where she put nipples on lots of drawings. When I showed her this drawing last night, she had not seen it in over 6 years, but she immediately said it was a dinosaur. So, there you have it! Mystery solved! A pink dinosaur with nipples, it is.


Fast forward 6-7 years from that image. My daughter just happened to draw a dragon the other night. I thought I would provide it for contrast. drawing2

I swear I did not ask her to draw this or give her instruction in any way, shape, or form. This is what she happened to draw when over at a friend’s house. The dinosaur picture was collecting dust on a shelf in my school office, and she had no idea her work was going to be of value to a course I am taking. Note: more use of colors, but similar shapes to how she drew it as a 3 or 4 year old (She’d argue with me here as the first picture is a dinosaur, not a dragon). Also, unlike my other kids, she labels her drawings and ALWAYS puts her name on them. She sketched it out in pencil before committing to marker.

She is at a stage where her work has become stylized. She has learned to like certain features, and she uses them repeatedly. For instance, in the following picture, the hairstyle, the eye shape, the missing nose: these are hallmarks of her drawings of people these days. Two or three years ago, they were stick figures with clothing drawn over the sticks, and all females were given a 1950s flip hairdo while all males were given about 8 lines of hair sticking straight up from their scalp. My youngest boy has his own hallmarks; each of his stick figures always had a hand that was a circle with four fingers and a thumb when he was in kindergarten.


The last two pictures have been artwork from a 10 year old girl. The following is from my youngest, an 8 year old boy. All of the animals have specific features. The bird in the upper left appears to be a chicken. The bird in the tree is clearly an owl. Sizing is off, as the birds are both larger than the pig, who is for some reason hanging out with a tiger. Just behind the pig is what appears to be a dandelion or two. The point here is that all of the characters in the picture are identifiable without a parent having to ask. Like my daughter’s dragon, this picture has been drawn in pencil first before being colored in, but items like the sun and the flower have been drawn spontaneously in crayon.

Comic of concept from today’s readings


In the Malafouris reading, he discusses a blind man with a walking stick and how the stick could be analyzed. Because the stick allows the blind man to perceive the road, one may wonder if the stick becomes the blind man’s eyes where it meets the road, halfway up the stick, or where the man’s hand connects with the stick. Or, the stick could be fused with the man because, as a tool, it is an extension of himself. One could also argue that it is not the stick that is important but the messages that are sent, via the stick, to the man to be perceived. As a pragmatist, I found it most important that the man was able to perceive the road in front of him.



P.S. You did say stick figures were ok. This is one type of stick figure. Get it? I’ll be more digital in the future. You also said 3 panels. I didn’t draw frames around the types of stick perception, but I see them as 3 panels minus visible frames. I wanted them perceived as equal possibilities.