For the creation of my sequential narrative, FAME: Sick Obsession, I plan to hand-draw the images in a straightforward three/four panels per row format. I decided to hand-draw my narrative due to my background as an artist and the limitations of other formats in constructing the images in the way that I would need. I have also chosen to use a black-and-white color scheme or a selective color scheme similar to Frank Miller’s Sin City due to similar limitations and in order to draw emphasis to certain aspects of characters and the narrative–such as blood or distinctive hair color. The style will be similar to the “torture porn/gornography” sub-genre of horror films such as Saw, Hostel, and Abnormal Beauty. There will be an emphasis on brutality and physical mutilation as a metaphor for the consumption of celebrity as a product. The “goal” is to disgust the reader by presenting their own habits of celebrity watching in this morbid way. Since my characters, Britney Spears and Perez Hilton, are based on real-life personalities, I will not be using any type of metaphoric naming. The narrative will be in chronological format in and will be structured like a film due to my own familiarity with constructing storyboards over my non-existent first hand experience with comics.
In her essay titled “The Rhetorical Precis,” Margaret K Wordsworth describes the content and usefulness of the precis format and offers methods on how to teach it to students. She starts by describing the precis usefulness, then dissects its format before moving onto “Teaching Strategies” and “Applications.” The apparent purpose seems to explain the worth of an effective precis in order to inform students and teachers on its significance. The author develops a tone that is familiar yet informative with her audience (teachers) by speaking to them on a subject that would potentially be of interest to them. Although students seem to be a secondary audience, they are not the one to which to piece is directed.
My sequential narrative will address the topic of celebrity obsession–specifically focusing on the death of a celebrity and how the act of dying immortalizes them, essentially transforming whatever notoriety that existed before into praise almost akin to worship. For example, after Michael Jasckon’s and Whitney Houston’s deaths, the negative press that plagued them during their lives disappeared and was instead replaced with numerous homages dedicated to immortalizing the memory of their “greatness” or whatever made them into what they are. In other words, their “essence,” “star quality” or “x” factor. This ineffable quality can even be seen in the words we use to describe celebrities, such as star, which implies some kind of celestial divinity. It is here that I see the connection to popular religion, specifically Christian religion and the foundational practices (i.e. the sacrament, worship of holy relics of saints, martyrdom). Due to the cultist behaviors exhibited by celebrity news sites and the various religious denominations, it’s not much of a stretch to relate the two, and I plan to do so very directly by linking very specific acts like cannibalism, dismemberment, and murder to religious practice. The theme of cannibalism also works well as a metaphor for the consumer consumption of celebrity news media, which is why I intend to include aspects of social media as well through the act of having the contend of the narrative “streamed” live onto a blogging site within the storyline. By approaching the topic in this way, I will make a definitive statement on all these practices without directly forcing it upon the reader. Their disgust with the grotesque imagery I create and the content therein should be enough to repulse them into at least seeing the darker side of culture’s extensive interest in celebrity and fame. I intend to make the topic “new” through the many relations I plan to make between consumerism and religion. My definition of a celebrity would be directly related to those who have reached the “superstar” status (a term I believe was propagated by Andy Warhol). If you wikipedia the term, an image of Britney Spears is one of the first you see, and due to her widely publicized “meltdown” and persona struggles, she fits the idea of divine rebirth through death after trial and tribulation that parallels that of the center of Christian religion–Jesus. So again, it’s really not that much of a stretch to link all of these things and give them my own macabre spin, the trickiness will be managing all of these things in a logical way. I also intend to include Michael Jackson in the narrative along with the Prometheus quote: “A king has his reign… and then he dies. It’s inevitable.” The style I plan to approach the topic in will be the style of the grotesque, primarily focusing on the “torture porn” genre of horror (i.e. Saw and Hostel).
FAME: SICK OBSESSION
After reading “The Unwritten,” I was inspired to address the topic of celebrity obsession and portray it as a form of American religion by using the vehicle of the secondary cultural obsession with death and murder (as is evinced by the extensive amount of crime dramas on television).
My plan… (get ready because this is kind of wiggy) is to tell a narrative that involves a cult of tabloid and gossip columnists (led by a well known one, like Perez Hilton) that kidnaps a high profile celebrity (probably Britney Spears) and restrains her front of a camera that is feeding live onto the internet. Their intent is to kill and consume the flesh of her body–then disseminate the remaining parts among the people as relics to be worshiped. In a way, I intend to include cultural criticisms of organized religion (cannibalism as the taking of the sacrament and disseminating the pieces of the corpse as the worship of relics), capitalism (taking consumer consumption of the celebrity in very literalterms), and celebrity obsession (veneration of the idealized concepts that celebrities comes to represent without actually seeing them as people) by placing them all in conversation with one another.
With regards to my style, I plan to rely on famous horror films such as Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and even the more recent development of the “torture porn” genre (Hostel and Saw) for inspiration and hope to emulate the their most iconic scenes in order to create a grotesque representation of American culture and attempt to depict how truly usual and extreme all of these practices can be at their most extreme. In other words, I want to do something like what Johnathan Swift did with A Modest Proposal but for the issues of the Modern day.
So while reading “The Unwritten,” there were numerous cultural references or “parallels” that jumped out from the pages and made me think: “Wow, that’s really kind of clever how they worked that in here.” It was very self aware of the culture it occurs in by constantly referencing horror “genre conventions,” Harry Potter, religious fanaticism, and other popular works–this was one of the most interesting aspects of the comic because many works pretend to be self contained. For example, in the television series “The Walking Dead,” no one has ever seen a zombie movie–really? We have to suspend our disbelief as they figure out “Oh hey, if we shoot them in the head then they don’t get back up,” or “If you get bitten, you’ll turn into one of them.” All of the characters live in ignorance of the genre conventions and furthermore of its existence at all.
But what stood out most obviously to me was the way that the beginning seemed to play more on the actual way our culture reacts to people rather than media. What I mean by this is how our culture make judgments based on what they see in the media and attributes these judgments to individuals, even if these attributions are unrealistic. You’re going to think I’m obsessed due to my repeated references, but the story-line about the fall from grace of the celebrity reminded me of the way Britney Spears was portrayed by the media from 2005-2008.
Although she is far from the first superstar to be built up and steadily torn down by the media–Marilyn Monroe, Edie Sedgwick, Jane Fonda, Michael Jackson, and Lindsay Lohan are all other examples–she is one of the most memorable and recent. And thus far, she is the best example of a person who has been able to come back from that low point (during her life time) and enjoy a success relatively close to what she enjoyed prior to her publicized fall from grace. Michael Jackon did not receive public acceptance and recognition again until after his death; suddenly we didn’t hear accusations of child molestation anymore but instead unending praise of his artistry over the years. As the comic repeats the famous lines, “All the world’s a stage,” the words take on a darker tone within this kind of context. American life–it’s all a fiction or a movie to us, and we don’t care if the actors get hurt doing their stunts. We don’t have strict laws against libel like the United Kingdom, and although some may consider this a benefit in the political arena, it undoubtedly has severe consequences as well.
As described in the interview below with Lady Gaga, our culture has become obsessed with the “decay of the celebrity.”
This seems to be one of the side arguments that is made in “The Unwritten.” That as a culture, we have developed to raise people up upon unrealistic ideals and expectations only to watch them fall–and we love it. Our culture loves to sacrifice celebrities in this manner and then wait and see if they can crawl back up again. One more important thing to notice is that our culture prefers to sacrifice female celebrities or feminized male celebrities (Michael Jackson) rather than males.
Another kind of obscure argument it seems to make is that even though we are immersed in our culture everyday, we don’t ever really try to step back and critique or analyze it; we just accept what we are given without caring to point out where we are wrong. This is emphasized in the scene where the antagonist kills a woman while saying she is controlled by genre conventions. In this way, we are also controlled by cultural conventions–even out thoughts and reactions to thing are based in and around our culture, but then that begs the question: if we are always immersed in our own culture, how can we manage to critique it in an unblemished way?
So after reading Henry Jenkin’s bizarre first chapter in his “Convergence Culture”–which focused mainly on the blog community dedicated to the television series Survivor in a strange kind of pseudo-sociological “study of the species in its natural habitat” way–the main thing which I took away from it, besides a hilariously exaggerated new set of terms to describe modern social media (“knowledge communities?”–come on!), was that ever form of social media in existence can in some way be a platform for cultural convergence. For example, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, all allow everyday people to share and discover new information that may not be directly relevant to their lives through their interaction with others in these online environments (even though ‘environments’ sounds kind of too science-y). Thus, blogs and comment threads on everything from Perez Hilton to Fox News can be seen as points of social interaction and cultural convergence as it allows individuals to participate in a larger conversation. Or at least, that’s what I took away from it…
What kinds of behaviors, what models of practice, does this work seem to enforce?
As a piece of promotional material, the main purpose of Britney Spears’ music video for her song Toxic is to encourage the audience to purchase the album or single. As a work however, it seems to enforce behaviors of promiscuity, as Spears kisses three different men in the video. It also enforces the trend in the music industry at that time of marketing female singers as highly sexualized.
Why might readers at this particular time and place find this work compelling?
When it was released in 2004, Toxic was compelling for several reasons. At this point in her career, Spears was steadily increasing the sexuality of her image and music. Although sexual imagery had always been present in her work (such as the playboy-esque schoolgirl costume in her very first music video), to maintain public attention and interest she needed to continue pushing further into this direction and defining new boundaries for herself and for pop music in general. Toxic represents the pinnacle of this image, which she took as far as possible by appearing naked in the diamond scene. To see someone as widely known as Spears naked on public television was a huge spectacle, especially considering the initial audience of her music (as a teen pop act) had been the youth. This was the first time she appeared as an adult pop artist catering not to the youth, but to the young adult audience that would be around her same age. The song itself was also compelling because of it’s genre bending and unique sound.
Are there differences between my values and the values implicit in the work I am reading?
Undoubtedly there are differences in my values and those that are implied by Spears’ Toxic. As a gay male in a monogamous long-term relationship, promiscuity with numerous men is not something I would consider a personal value, and sexualization of the female form doesn’t really do anything for me. However, sexuality in general is obviously an important part of most people’s lives, and due to cultural norms, we are often forced to restrict or suppress our sexuality. So the sense of being able to freely express one’s sexuality in such a powerful and memorable way is a quite appealing aspect of the video and Spears’ image in general.
Upon what social understanding does the work depend?
The video functions by rebelling against or reversing cultural conventions of privatizing the sexual aspects of one’s life. If we did not find it appealing to be as sexually liberated as Spears is meant to appear in the video, her image would not be a success and she would have been condemned as Madonna had been with her 1992 album Erotica. However, an important distinction should be made. Although Spears does push the limits, she does so in a way that is also safe. In the video, she appears both naked and completely covered in the black catsuit. These two images create contrast and allow her to play on both without widely offending the public.
Whose freedom of thought or movement might be constrained implicitly or explicitly by this work?
Freedom of thought or movement for those female peers of Spears in the music industry of this time was constrained as she often set the standard that others would have to follow due to her popularity. If another artist wanted a piece of Spears’ success, they would need to emulate the imagery she used to promote herself. Partially for this reason, the appearance of many female singers in pop music had to be altered in order to cater to the expectations of their audiences.
What are the larger social structures with which these particular acts of praise or blame might be connected?
Blame in the video is a sticky conundrum, as the narrative told by the images of the video leads one to draw the conclusion that Spears’ character is murdering her cheating boyfriend. This praises the punishment of cheaters, implying that they are better dead than alive, and and condemns the behavior as well. Both of these concepts are widely socially accepted.
So after reading the piece by Anne Frances Wysocki titled The Stick Embrace of Beauty, I came up with a few methods that were used to analyze the Peek advertisement in her work. Although her argument develops into this idea of reversing the “abstraction” of humanity in the pursuit of (what she sees as a damaging culturally constructed concept of) beauty, she still relies on several conventional other methods of dissecting a work to explain it’s design and effectiveness. These methods, derived from the work of others, simplified below:
- Williams–basic principals such as contrast repetition, alignment, and proximity are useful to understand the visual design of any piece
- Bang/Arnheim–that visual design can be understood in terms of gravity and vertical/horizontal arrangement
- Kant–“when we judge something to be beautiful, it is because beauty is formally inherent in the object” and we must seek to find and create this universal concept of beauty in our work by distancing it from both ourselves and the subject; also beauty is reliant on disinterest in the details and context of the subject matter.
Using these same methods, it becomes apparent why some visual texts are successful pieces of advertisement while others may fall short. I will now use these methods to analyze the success of Britney Spears’ famous (or infamous depending on how you look at it) video for one of her most popular songs, Toxic, which can be found below:
- Repetition of imagery allows the scenes to sink into our mind and scattering them throughout the text allows for reinforcement. Breaking them up also entices us to continue watching to see more of the incomplete pictures we are briefly given. Alignment places the emphasis on Spears, as she appears in the center of nearly every shot. Contrast is used to differentiate the different looks she uses in the video. And washing her out in the diamonds sequence is intended to create a euphoric, dreamy effect.
- Although her position changes depending on the scene, Spears is mostly standing throughout the video except for in the diamonds scene, where the more horizontal composition of the scene and her bodily position allows her to not only fit her entire form into the frame but also capitalize on the sexual associations with a woman lying down, bending over, and rolling on the floor in a provocative manner.
- The beauty of this video is created through abstraction of Spears as a person; we are not meant to think of her as a person who sneezes, itches, eats, and shits like the rest of us, instead we are meant to associate her with various objects of sexual fantasy. This is achieved by playing on several culturally established concepts which have become infused with inherent beauty and sexuality. For one, the “naughty” flight attendant, a profession often associated with women, is a slightly campy method of relating a playful form of sexuality. But although Spears may be many things, a flight attendant is not one of them. The black leather S&M costume and the laser sequence recalls the film Entrapment, which featured an extensive emphasis on sensuality of the female form, specifically of Catherine Zeta-Jones (who also wore a form-fitting black catsuit). This form of sexuality is intended to appear more aggressive, as the fiery red hair and snarling facial expressions emphasize. Although she may enjoy a little S&M in the bedroom every now and then for all we know, Spears is not defined solely by her sexual preferences–no matter how much leather she may wear. The later scene in which Spears overpowers her male counterpart is intended to further build on this theme of sexual aggression, specifically at the point when she is throwing the male subject down on his back and straddling him. But despite what role she may take with her sexual partners, it is highly doubtful that Spears has the physical strength to throw a man larger than herself across the room a single swoop of her arm. And finally the most obvious, and perhaps the most taboo, image of sexuality in the text (and in America in general) is the nudity: the scene in which Spears appears covered in diamonds, caressing her own body, spreading her legs, and playing with her lips. In this scene, we focus solely on Spears in an amorphous, ethereal environment. She exists not as a person but as an entity, or an extremely objectified image of sexual fantasy that cannot exist outside the human mind.
Now I would like to argue about the main point that Wysocki makes in her long argument. Would this text be as successful if it were not for the ambiguity and abstraction of Spears as a living, breathing human being? In fact, is it as successful now, when we know so much more of Spears’ mental and personal difficulties, which have been publicized widely since this video’s release in 2004? Does the knowledge that Spears is now a 30 year old mother of two young boys change the effectiveness of the rhetoric in the video? How about that she is under the conservator-ship of another human being because she was deemed too irresponsible to take responsibility of her own career and personal life in a court of law? What if we question whether blonde is even her natural hair colour? How then does knowing too much information interfere with our ability to give ourselves over to the imagery contained within the video? Does the naked, diamond covered Toxic Spears have anything to do with the enraged, head-shaven Spears in sneakers wielding an umbrella against photographers? Or does that abstraction of who Spears is as a person allow for something much more innately pleasing and rhetorically effective to be created?
1. How would you describe alignment of the words “murmuring” and “insects” in the opening scene? How does the unusual alignment (reflected on screen and timed) add to your interpretation of the text?
The visual depiction of the word “murmuring” is more dynamic and interesting than the word insects. Murmuring’s unusual dropping animation actually mimics the sound we hear in the background. “Insects” was a bit less interesting and was more plainly revealed.
2. Now watch the “Earth” scene. What other elements are aligned in this scene? How does the consistent alignment of elements across screens (and also across some of the scenes) affect how you read these scenes? What elements do you end up focusing on? Would the scene seem as effective if all of the elements on the page (upside-down moon, contrails, words, background color, etc.) had no shared alignment?
Every aspect of the “earth” section was effective in bringing you down to the level of the insects; it allowed for a very clear image to develop in the reader’s mind not only of the words but of what they are trying to communicate.
3. Now watch the “Air” scene, paying attention to the lines of poetry and the audio tracks. The poem doesn’t settle on the same horizontal axis as the other scenes do, and the two phrases in the audio track are aligned (synced) to appear with each line of poetry. Why do you think the alignments of the words are different between the Earth and Air scenes? What is the significance of the audio track’s content in relation to that difference?
I actually have a hard time hearing the audio track clearly, so any affect it may have on the poem is lost to me. It sounds as if it is talking about people jumping from the buildings on September 11th 2001. However, I was better able to actually notice the alignment in the scene was non-invasive. It did not make me notice it at all, so in a way it was effective.
4. Now watch the “Water” scene. How does the curvature of the words, aligning with the background image of an eye, relate to what the man in the audio track is saying?
I cannot understand the man in the audio track—not a word. The curvature does relate to the shape of the eye in that it mimics the water of a tear. Very artsy.
5. Based on the alignment (or lack of alignment) between elements in a scene and across scenes, why are the three menu options (“Air,” “Earth,” and “Water”) on the main screen of this text not aligned? What does this lack of alignment tell you about the emphasis, sequence, and purpose of this text?
The lack of alignment places emphasis on “Earth” due to its size and placement to the left of the other words. But the other two are more receding and neither jumps out before the other. The purpose is not immediately apparent to me.
- Look first at the black-and-white photo. Which elements seem emphasized to you? Why?
The little girl is the focal point of the image because she is the most recognizable object in the scene.
- Now look at the photograph in color (it was meant to be seen as a color photograph). Which elements seem emphasized to you now? Why? Do the colors seem to have an effect on the emphasis? If so, how?
Color does not affect the focal point or emphasis but it does add visual interest. I am still drawn to the girl due to the rug she is standing on that appears bright orange.
- What does intensifying the warm tones in the photograph emphasize? What does intensifying the cool tones emphasize? What role do you think color plays in creating emphasis in a visual text? Does the tonal balance change how you read the purpose of this image?
Honestly, both of these images appear more homogenized and subdued due to the consistent colour pallet. They bore me more and make me think of a printer that has run out of ink. The image has no apparent purpose to me.
- Watch 0:22-0:36 of The JUMP’s “Call for Papers.” Notice the words, the gray box, the cartoon background, and the sound. Do you think any of these elements contrast? If so, which ones and how so (specifically, what makes them different from one another)? What effects do you think this use of contrast has on the audience and the purpose? Consider how the text’s effectiveness might change if these elements did not contrast.
The initial stillness of the image is incredibly distracting and eerie, as everything else in the video presentation (and the fact that it is a video presentation) leads us to believe that we are to expect moving images. The effectiveness of this text desperately needs to be re-addressed.
- Watch 0:55-1:08 of The JUMP’s “Call for Papers.” Notice how this is similar to the clip from question 1, yet the background no longer includes the cartoon. First, describe what elements are contrasting. Next, explain why you think the cartoon background was deleted from this section. What happens to the contrast now that the background is black? Which element is now the most emphasized, and how do you think this helps convey the purpose of the text?
The contrast from the rest of the video draws attention to the words being spoken and depicted. Everything else is minimized, but the music is still incredibly distracting.
- Imagine you’ve been asked to design a flyer to post around your campus advertising The JUMP. What would the flyer look like? Which element(s) would contrast and to what effect?
The flyer would certainly not reciprocate the images used in this video, which I grow to dislike more and more each time I watch it. I would probably use images more sparingly and instead use words with contrasting colors to emphasize important parts.
- Describe where your attention is visually drawn in this text. What strategies does the author use to emphasize this element? Given that this text is essentially a title page for a larger project, does this emphasis seem effective to you? Why or why not?
Attention is focused on the notepad. Due to the fact that the action takes place on this object, it is in the relative center, and that it is used to relate text, it becomes the obvious object of emphasis. It is exceedingly effective because all else in the scene is scattered along the outside of the frame.
- Between composing the two different pages (“Digital Rights Management/Digital Robbing Maniacs” and “Criminal”) the woman disappears from the screen and the jumpy stop-motion effect ceases. Describe how this moment of stillness can be understood as “emphasis” and explain if it seems like an effective strategy? What is emphasized by stopping the movement?
Again, the notepad is emphasized by the stillness—perhaps more specifically, the words written on it. This is partially because we are naturally inclined to read the words and also because it is the main object of interest.
- Consider the role sound plays in emphasis. How does the soundtrack to this clip help to (a) emphasize certain moments in the clip, and (b) place a particular emotional emphasis on the meaning of the clip?
The audio is not particularly relevant to the piece. In fact, I do not see it emphasizing the video clip at all.
- How do the splits we’ve drawn help you think about the way this composition directs our attention? How many other visual splits can you identify? (Remember that the sight line of the subjects is another way to create a frame.)
Obviously, all lines point to the blonde female in the near center of the image. I’m not sure what I would say regarding the other splits; I can’t really see any other lines directing my point of view.
- Is lighting used to suggest another frame? What about setting? What about the way the subjects are staged? What are we supposed to be looking at? Where is the photographer in this picture?
I don’t imagine another frame due to lighting, although the blonde hair is not as noticeable as in the first version of the frame. The image still focuses on the woman in the center. The photographer has to be behind the female.
- How would you read this image if it were in black and white? How does color (or its absence) impact the composition? Does it draw your eye or attention differently?
Honestly, the composition is strong enough that the focal point is the same. However, the color does add a depth of realism to the image, while in black and white it is more noir and stylized.
- Honestly, these images are way too haphazard and unrelated to make much sense to me in any particular order. I tried to create a sequence about marriage but it really did not make sense to me. If I were going to make an argument based on organization, I would have chosen more complimentary images.
- I’m sure there are a few, but I don’t see them.
- More images that made sense together would have been more appropriate.
- Did you group certain categories of information together? How did you group them—typographically, by placing them closer together, or in some other way?
I organized them vertically, with all being aligned in the center of the page.
- What do you think is the most important piece of information on your cover? What choices did you make about typeface or size to convey that sense of importance? How does the layout of your book cover reflect your sense of how the information should be organized?
The title and the name of the author are the most important parts of the cover. The typeface I chose reflected this in size and style.
- What are some limitations you’ve encountered in laying out visual elements in a traditional way? What are some other ways you might want to organize the information on a book cover that might work better in a non-traditional format?
I would probably have used a more creativity if I were given the option, perhaps even arranging the words to mimic the theme of the novel — flight.