Chinwe A. Onuoha

Imagery and Culture

February 19, 2014

The images that we see around us are generated by people’s perception of what is popular or ‘high in demand.’ In the media, women are overly sexualized and men are revered as the Alpha and the Omega. Despite the fact that images are perceived differently depending on whose looking at them, people are fixated on being current and in style because of the fascination that advertisements offer. As a result people work for materialistic things that they do not need.

In chapter two of “Practices of Looking” the author wrote that “advertisers, for example, conduct audience research to try to ensure that the meanings they want to convey about a particular product are the ones viewers will interpret in the product’s advertisements. Artists, graphic designers, filmmakers and other image producers create advertisements and many other images with the intent that we read them in a certain way.”

For example, there is an advertisement on Ralph Lauren’s “Big Pony Collection.” In the advertisement there is a white man sitting with his dog. The man is wearing a green Ralph Lauren polo, smiling at his dog, whose holding a napkin that has an equestrian on it. They also seem to be at a brunch. The tables are filled with bouquets of flowers, the tables are set with the right plates and cutleries, and the man’s glass is filled with champagne. This advertisement gives the impression that people who wear Ralph Lauren’s polo’s are living beyond what we could ever imagine.

Ralph Lauren The Big Pony Collection 02 by Bruce Weber

Representation plays a huge role in advertisements. Regardless of what that advertisement may be, “it offers a description or a portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.” With that said, the Ralph Lauren ad represents prestige, wealth, happiness, health, power, and an ‘up town and never down town’ sort of mentality. When regular, working class people look at that ad they are fixated on the fact that by wearing that polo they have reached that white man’s level of prestige. When wealthy people look at the ad the standard of their living conditions are solidified and envied by others, which would make people want to buy Ralph Lauren’s polo even more. This instance serves as an example of “the gaze” (an idea of how an audience interprets the people that are presented).


The author of “Practices of Looking” also wrote that “an image “speaks” to specific sets of viewers who happen to be tuned in to some aspect of the image, such as style, content, the world it constructs, or the issues it raises.”An image can also be an object (“a thing you can see or touch that is not alive”). For example, if someone were to open a history book and see a picture of indigenous people, such as Black slaves, they are usually depicted in a negative light. You wouldn’t see a slave smiling hand in hand with their white master or a Native American working side by side with their oppressors.

Most likely there would be a clear disproportionate representation of them. In reality, Black slaves would do some sort of hard labor while their master stands above them. If a person were to see such an illustration in numerous books or on television, they would begin to form the idea that white people, due to hegemony (“a state or condition of a culture arrived at through negotiation or struggle over meanings, laws, and social relationships”), are powerful and that Black people aren’t. In order for advertisers to keep that power exclusive to Whites, for instance, one must influence the ‘crowd’ or the masses into believing this ideology that their creating. Once this continues we will see such spectacles in popular culture (commercialized interests of what the masses share), the media, and in government and politics.

For example, in Lucy R. Lippard’s “Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship with an Image” she wrote that “our communal “memory” of Native people on this continent has been projected through the above-mentioned “stoic”, wary, pained, resigned, belligerent and occasionally pathetic faces “shot” by nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographers like Edward Curtis, Edward Vromen, and Roland W. Reed –all men.”Not only does that arouse the topic of sexism, but Black slaves are perceived in the same negative light. As a result, the images that we see serve as a fixed pedagogical (a method of teaching) form of learning, which drives a set perception of indigenous people or places. Furthermore, this will be a forced ‘ways of looking.’

For example when a foreigner thinks of America they imagine a paradise that’s filled with a lot of opportunities. They assume that America is a place where money falls of trees. But, once they get here, they are introduced to something called reality. After some time they begin to understand that in order to make it, they have to work hard. The same instance is true for Americans who believe that the commercials of the Caribbean islands that they see are one hundred percent true. But, in reality, they aren’t. There are many places in Jamaica that probably don’t have clear, blue waters and beautiful houses. But, of course, Americans believe these spectacles (commodities) and work tirelessly to get them in the pursuit of fitting a certain class of people.

Jamaica-634x420          images-2

In fact, that notion gives consumers the desire to consume more than what they need and of course advertisement is the cause of that. In John Berger’s “The Way of Looking,” he wrote that “publicity I usually explained and justifies as a competitive medium which ultimately benefits the public and the most efficient manufactures –and thus the national economy.”That example proves how influential the spectacle is in our lives. Even in “The Era of Crowds,” the author stated that “while all our ancient beliefs are tottering and disappearing, while the old pillars of society are giving way one by one, the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing menaces, and of which the prestige is continually on the increase. The age we are about to enter will in truth be the Era OF CROWDS.”All in all, the author of this essay is saying that regardless of what your beliefs are, soon they will feather away because whatever is popular or in high demand now will prevail and consume the masses.

In conclusion, “times have changed and the world comes to us in different ways Narrative has leaped from the page to the screen, music demands to be seen as well as heard, computers have jumbled our relationship to information, surveillance, and money, and television has merely changed everything. Now things feel like they’re moving really fact, leaving us with the attention spans of kitties riveted by mouse-like movements. With the blink of a blind eye, we are soaked in sales pitches and infotainments that make history when they do business.”

Works Cited:

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Viking, 1973: 46.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing: 54.

Debord, Guy. “Chapter 1 Section 4.” Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red, 1977.

Krueger, Barbara. “Arts and Leisure.” Remote Control. N.p.: n.p., 1993. 1989

Lippard, Lucy. “Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship with an Image.” (1996): 82. Rpt. In The Photography Reader.

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: 45.

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: 45.


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