The Gaze

Well, I goofed and didn’t realize there was a blog post due last week. In lieu of that, I offer this fascinating article that uses Melania Trump’s Twitter account as an archive. The title is a bit sensational, but the methodology is astute.

Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump

Kate Imbach writes about how Melania Trump only shows parts of her life; Imbach supplies analysis of the types of pictures Melania Trump posts along with tallies of how many additional pictures are in that category.

Most of Melania’s pictures are deliberately cropped to avoid revealing anything personal about her life. Many of the pictures are status updates about location. She is rarely in the pictures, but when she is, she controls elements of the image until her features are in some way obscured, whether the lighting removes all of her facial contours, or her eyes are hidden behind sunglasses, or she only chooses to show parts of her body. She never shows herself whole and unfiltered or unobscured. The vast majority of the images of locations are taken from behind glass whether the window is in her penthouse apartment, a private airplane, a car, or an arena boxseat. There is an interesting barrier to all that she shares.

ENG 806 Annotated Bibliography 3

Katz, Y. & Shifman, L. (2017). Making sense? The structure and meanings of digital memetic nonsense, Information, Communication & Society, 20:6, 825-842, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1291702

To link to this article:

Katz and Shifman explain that prior to digitization of memes, there were three perspectives of nonsense: pastiche, deconstruction of meaning, and a play with meaning. Pastiche is essentially to imitate for the sake of imitation: “the joy of creating the text derives from the imitation itself, without supplementing any new meaning to the referent” (p. 826). In deconstruction of meaning, “nonsense resists any attempt to reach a clear, synthesized meaning; it examines the ability of signs to create meaning and highlights their failure” (p. 826). Most of the instances of nonsense as play have to do with children and their attempt to create without regard to adult rules. There is another type, though, where there can be so many polysemic meanings that the text appears to be without meaning, or the meaning can appeal to so many disparate people that it appears without sense. The example of “Killroy was here” was given as nonsense that almost appeared as an inside joke.

The digital move has enabled more nonsense. In fact, it might promote it even more. The authors explain that because the digital memes are multimodal and each mode can add to the polysemy, these memes may be even more polysemic than  non-digital memes.

I love this observation: “Almost a decade ago, Miller (2008) pointed out that the connections created in these platforms may be more important than the content of the messages being transmitted. This phatic communication, which aims to verify that the channel of transmission is open (Jakobson, 1960), may elicit a unique affiliation with nonsense. When the maintenance of social networks is the primary goal, the exact meaning of the texts may become less important, thus increasing the possibility for the creation of nonsense” (p. 828).

A grounded theory study follows in which they pull memes from the Know Your Meme site and try to group them as making sense or being nonsense (great discussion of Nicolas Cage’s face being added to random scenes). They then identify 5 categories of nonsense: linguistic silliness, embodied silliness, pastiche, dislocations, and interruptions. They end by emphasizing how memes act as a “powerful social glue.” “We thus claim that while digital nonsensical memes often lack referential meaning, they always carry affective meaning” (p. 837).


This article was chosen because I have been struggling to theorize the selection of image for concert totems. They need to be unique identifiers, but to increase the social capital and the ecology of the concert environment, there also needs to be recognition of the image, a something about it that allows the viewer to think, “Hey! I recognize that reference! I like you a little more for that!” This article will help me to express some of the social draw that is created by what really amount to some nonsensical choices on the surface. I am going to end up with a paragraph or so about Justin Bieber’s mugshot, and yet another about a suped up Mr. Potato Head, so you can see why theories of nonsense apply.


Sign for VisRhet course

This is not a completed sign. Since my project is on concert totems and we were told we could create a sign for anything, I would like to propose my own concert totem.

These are materials I received from Bonnaroo. The first is the guide that has general rules for Bonnaroo attendance and camping. The second is the cereal box that contained this guide and the wristband I needed for attendance. The little mascot is Roofus. He is who I would want represented on my totem.

no list

In the official rules (from the map, not the guide), it states that “all totems must be made of light material.” For that reason, as well as the practicality of carrying the totem and holding it during multiple shows, I would construct Roofus out of inflatables.

The inflatables on the left are soda can pool floaties. I would purchase 3 sets, so I could have 3 of the lime green color, which I would then super glue together.

foam ballI would then purchase foam balls and plastic balls to create a face for Roofus. One purple foam ball would suffice for the nose. For his eyes, I would like to use glow-in-the-dark paint for the white surface, so the eyes will be visible at night. I might be able to use ping pong balls for the eyes and paint purple eyelids on them. My Roofus would be missing the yellow mouth with the tongue sticking out because I think it makes him look like the McDonald’s Hamburglar from my youth. If I was feeling really industrious and crafty, I could crochet little arms/hands for him, inserting stuffing and pipe cleaners, so the positions could be changed. I like the idea of creating a three dimensional sign because it literally stands out. I am not sure how visible my Roofus would be at a distance, but I am confident that he would be easier to carry than some other creations.

If I were to add text to the totem, I would choose “Rooofus” using the bubbly Bonnaroo font below and making the o’s connect as they do in the Bonnaroo logo below. Glow in the dark paint would probably be applied here as well. The text would be a platform of sorts upon which my Roofus inflatable would sit (without hat and shoes because my Roofus is chilling at a music festival and joining me at bluegrass shows, not attending 90’s hip hop). If I had time to crochet arms and hands for him, Roofus would need crocheted legs as well. I think to give him little Teva’s would be too much, so he would be barefoot; I think I saw more people barefoot at ‘Roo than I did wearing high top sneakers. Scratch that– I know I saw more people barefoot at ‘Roo as I do not recall anyone wearing high top sneakers.bonnaroologo2

Timeline Assignment



*In hindsight, I realize I did this incorrectly and should have focused only on design tools. This is saved on my office computer, the college is closed for Spring Break, and I am leaving for CCCC in a little more than 24 hours, so I cannot change it now.

Artifact, group 1, teaching week

For my artifact this week, I decided to bring in something from my classroom since the focus of this week is on teaching.

Last semester, I tried out a new course theme: superheroes. The third paper of the semester was one I called “The Hero Remixed.” Students had to change one element of a hero and explore how that change would ripple out and potentially alter foundational elements of the hero chosen. To assist students with the theoretical work of this butterfly effect, I gave them a preliminary, tactile, tangible visual assignment first.

Students were asked to use a basic editing program to splice images together to visually show the change they were proposing to their character. In one 50 minute class period, I explained the assignment and showed how to edit the pictures. The grade for the assignment was not based on execution but rather the ideas behind the image and a short written assignment and presentation that were associated with it.

I asked students for suggestions of what to edit. I had a few pictures selected beforehand. One was this image of Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit:


Students proposed putting Bilbo on a bike or motorbike instead of having him on foot. We searched for a bike image as a class, and this is the end result:

hobbitremixIt isn’t the prettiest image ever created, but the students were able to see the editing skills in action. I showed them how to use Microsoft Paint because it is free and allows students to make an image’s background transparent for the overlay. The in-class activity also made the point that the final execution was not the most important part of the assignment.

One of the more memorable submissions for the project was what if the hero from the movie Hancock had been sober instead of a drunk. The student cut images of Sunny Delight to splice over the bottles of alcohol in an image from the movie. Another student wrote about a video game hero and his “what if” was what if the hero’s best friend was missing from his life. His image left a gaping black hole where the friend would usually appear.

By exploring the change in a visual means, students were able to express the overall changes that would occur in the character and his or her context. The topics varied from silly to serious.

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.