Foss’s Visual Rhetoric applied to concert totems

The concert totem I am choosing to analyze using Foss is the Justin Bieber mugshot totem. roo10

The nature of the image: The totem itself is comprised of a color printout of Justin Bieber’s 2014 mugshot attached to a pool noodle with traditional silver duck tape. The image is approximately 11 x 17. It appears to be attached to a thin sheet of cardboard or styrofoam board for support. Regarding the mugshot itself, Justin Bieber is smiling in it and wearing a bright orange prison shirt. The backdrop is gray. What was striking about the mugshot in the first place is the misguided smile. The smile would be much more at home had he been posing for the cover of a magazine than preparing for a day in jail on charges of DUI and resisting arrest. The sign does not present an argument; however, it communicates a general sense of shaming Justin Bieber. Justin Bieber is not an artist likely to perform at Bonnaroo, so attendees could take joy in seeing him brought down a notch in a mugshot. The incident itself occurred a year prior to the festival, so one could argue that it was outdated by pop culture standards.

Function of the image: The function of any totem is to allow others to locate a person in a crowd. As such, it is successful. First of all, it was the only Justin Bieber mugshot sign at the festival that I saw. Proper totems should be unique. The bright orange of the prison shirt allows the sign to be perceived and recognized from a distance. A secondary function of a totem is to contribute to the ecology of the festival. In this case, the sign may send a message that pop stars are open to ridicule in this context, particularly this pop star, particularly a pop star who is arrogant or naive enough to smile the smile of a celebrity in a mugshot. There may be an intended ironic use as well. The festival’s motto is “Radiate positivity”; well, Justin Bieber’s smile does that even when it perhaps should not.

Comments on design: The pool noodle “stick” of the sign makes the totem both lightweight and safe to carry. If the pool noodle does not have a stabilizing feature, it could be unwieldy to carry as it weeble wobbles with the wind. I cannot tell if the duck tape is an original design feature or an addendum added once the carrier discovered a flaw in a previous design. The duck tape and the crinkled edges of the image suggest that the creator/carrier of the sign was less concerned with professional presentation and more focused on functionality.

Commentary on the approach:

I chose Foss because images without definitive arguments are as open to analysis as true visual arguments. The methodology permits analysis when little to nothing is known about the creator of the image while also allowing for context to be considered. The totems I will be analyzing for this project may be two dimensional images or three dimensional objects; they are all on posts of some sort, so there is a design element that will be discussed as well.

One concern I have is that Foss says that scholars “do not see the creator’s intentions as determining the correct interpretation of a work” (p. 146). I am not sure if that means supposition about the creator’s intentions is off limits or not. I found myself drawn to possible motivations or possible intent in part because I cannot speak to the myriad ways the image could be regarded by the people in the audience for this image.

Because this methodology is more of a lense or perspective, it is difficult to know if one is applying it correctly. I utilized the parts of the chapter that I found relevant to my purposes. Design wasn’t a specific methodology element, but it was also generally included in the purview, so I felt confident including it.


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