If there were one single term to accurately describe the images in everyday culture, power might be the one. Images are created with the powerful intention of evoking emotion (1.) The fact that most viewers don’t realize these emotions are being evoked portrays how powerful the image is. The most common example is that of body image. The decreasing size of women seen in images today is only exasperated by cosmetic airbrushing. Associating these women with the “joy” of owning an expensive handbag or bottle of perfume evokes in viewers emotions of self-doubt or jealousy.
The images of an object, such as a handbag or bottle of perfume, are often more powerful than the object itself. Believing that all of one’s problems will be solved by purchasing and carrying around a handbag glamourizes these objects. However this belief exists on behalf of envy for the beautiful, airbrushes women seen sporting the bag in an image. For this reason, glamour cannot exist without envy (2.) The same use of these beautiful women creates a theme of sexism. Implied along with the glamour of a product is the notion that a woman will not be desirable if she does not conform to this image. This further strengthens the power that images have to evoke emotions of self-doubt and jealousy.
The notions of glamour and envy feed the madness of consumerism. When advertisers began to target the desires of people rather than their requirements, consumers soon found themselves drowning in images of things that they needed. Items such as lipstick and a large television certainly aren’t necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However consumers began to envy those who owned these items through the glamour that they depicted. These are the same notions that drive consumerism today, and will continue to do so.
Similarly, the “joy” associated with owning certain items, brought about by glamour and envy, demonstrates the image’s ability to represent. The images we see everyday are used to create an understanding of the world around us (3.) When we see a beautiful, thin person smiling with pearly white teeth, pearly white teeth begin to represent beautiful, thin people. By obtaining pearly white teeth, one can live a life closer to those of the beautiful and thin.
Contributing to what an image represents is “the gaze” of the subject. When modeling lingerie, a strong and confident gaze at the camera (and the viewer) depicts the glamour that is intended. On the other hand, the sad gaze of a wide-eyed child, dirty and bloated from hunger, will evoke the emotions of sympathy that is intended.
This use of representations by images has created what can be referred to as the spectacle. While the spectacle has been spawned from the creation of our own images, it is no longer a force to be reckoned with. “It is at once a faithful reflection of the production of things and a distorting objectification of the producers” (4.) Universally recognized, the spectacle does not discriminate against race, age, gender or class. This is hegemony, “a state or condition of a culture arrived at through a negotiation or struggle over meanings, laws, and social relationships” (5.) Each class of a culture fights with the images faced everyday and their representation of the better things that could be.
Deciphering what these images represent and how cannot be done without an education in doing so. Pedagogy is the art, science, or profession of teaching. Pedagogy in this case teaches how to look at these images on a deeper level than what the human eye sees. This seeing is different than looking at images. “To look is to actively make meaning of the world. Seeing is something that we do somewhat arbitrarily as we go about our daily lives” (6.) The practice of looking at an image and interpreting it requires more training than seeing an image at its face value.
- Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 10
- Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Viking, 1973: 46
- Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 46
- Debord, Guy. “Chapter 1 Section 4.” Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red, 1977.
- Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 44
- Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 17