Entries · Archive · Friends · Anne Frances Wysocki


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the I-hope-it-ends-someday sigh
There is much blog discussion over the observation that, if you google "she invented," Google will ask "Did you mean 'he invented'?"

The digg posting that started this is mostly just plain sad in its unrepentant dinosaur boyness. Various people at the feministing posting smartly refuse to accept the explanation that there is no fault to find with Google because the "Did you mean 'he'?" response is simply the result of an algorithm.

When can we stop pretending that if it's math and or logic, it's neutral and therefore true?


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if you were wondering...
where I have been, I have just finished my fifth tenure review letter for this year.

Uncle.


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beginnings...
Tonight I teach my last class here at Tech, and then become peripatetic. (Sorry for the repetition, Derek, but it's a good word to describe the next months.)

One list item for this time is to migrate this blog -- such as it has been -- to a new site, one a little more flexible than LJ. I am determined -- in Life v.Milwaukee -- to write more regularly in blog.

And so I need suggestions and recommendations for where to write. Given that there are a good number of you who cannot post here, email me, wouldja?


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tomorrow...
Another trip start tomorrow morning, rushing up the hill early for the first flight and then slowing down at the Minneapolis airport to wait for the second flight and then a quick jump over the central states to Memphis and then a mad dash to the third flight to Tallahassee. There is still a lot of snow on the ground here, even with today's bright sun. At 6pm tomorrow, when I do get to Florida, it is going to be disorienting: there will be seventy some degrees floating around, and green. But it will be wonderful to see Kathi Y.

Tonight, though, I am slow in this late glow of sunlight and the sound of roof snow melting. Sunday evenings are always melancholy, and I have never been able to say why. Thinking of this as our last snow in Houghton adds to it -- and so it is a pleasure to have a paper ready to go for this trip so I can wallow in some chocolate and memory.


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history
It might as well have been an abyss over which my relatives sailed from Eastern Europe to here. Only they themselves made it across. No chairs, no jewelry, no books, no clothing even made it over; all dropped into that hole. Even their thoughts from before that moment dropped into that hole.

They came across and nothing came with them.

This is my history.


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“It's thoroughly depressing to see how not-far we've come in the last 30 years.”
Washington Monthly had a little discussion Thursday about Wimbledon's announcement that women would now play for the same amount of prize money as men. The comments read as though it is 1960: "This is not about men and women, this is just about economics!" "But men are objectively better athletes!" "Men play 3 out of 5; the women don't." "It's the men that the audiences come to watch (except for the short skirts on the women)."

The title comment above was one of the few voices responding to the night-at-the-bar chest-thumping that characterized the conversation.


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discussing Decoding Advertisements
We started with a little background in structuralism, as a way into understanding where semiotics comes from and the matters it considers important: structures. Yes, well.

And then we looked at how Williamson introduces semiotic terminology bit by bit, building a complex system of relations among the terms but also then, necessarily, building more and more complex systems for analysis -- which leads into the question of how much the system itself calls into play the dense ideological structures Williamson says we can never escape.

But that may be moving too quickly to the end of our discussion.

From the beginning, we all could see that the Williamson book does build, does have its own structure: Williams starts from the notion of difference as the base semiotic notion -- that we have language only because we define terms by considering something in its differences from other things -- to the notion of sign, to sign as signifier and signified, to the idea that a signifier-signified pair can itself be a signifier for another signified, to the idea that such layering become referent systems, all of which only point within or to each other. And so what is denoted is never "natural" or "real," but only ever, finally, the product being sold. We are caught up, then, in formal structures that only ever point at, circle about and within, other structures.

As we talked, we came to see and understand that Williamson's initial set of example ads depend completely on a particular type of ad, one in which there are two objects, with the qualities of one object transferring to another. In questioning how Williamson's structural analyses might work on more recent advertising (Alexa brought up the ongoing Absolut series of ads, for example, which depend on audience knowledge of the series) we talked about how Williamson's system of 1978 relied on then-available ads -- but Williamson would be ready with reply to newer ads: she could extend aspects of the structure she builds (such as the notion of how hermeneutics works in advertising ["by being given something to decipher, our comprehension is channeled in one direction only" 78], as well as her understanding of the purposes of advertising to build always internally-facing referent systems, to speak of the referent system of Absolut ads as building off audience desire to be in the know -- but the know is not something outside the system, and instead is completely inside the system, completely self-referential. Williamson would probably have a field day.

But it was questioning like that that led us to name a concern with Williamson's approach. Williamson acknowledges the powers of advertising because of these self-referential systems she describes, these systems that hold us within them so that there seems to be no outside, such that we "become signified by, and then summarized by, things": we become -- we are -- the "sum of [our] consumer goods" (179). Williamson also acknowledges the "danger in structural analysis, because of its introversion and lack of context" (178). That is, structural analysis (as Williamson presents it) is just as circular, system-building, and therefore all-inclusive of itself, as advertising: which begets the other?

There is a sense of defeat about the book, a pessimistic giving-in to the all inclusiveness of the system: Williamson ends by saying that the value of learning to decode isn't learning the code but learning to change the system. How is that ever possible if the system is -- by its very definition -- all-encompassing? But Alexa's question also led us to question how changes in ads come about, how changes in -- for example -- conceptions of male and female come about (because the first perfume ad we could find was for man scents), or changes in technological systems that shift what is advertised and how. The system of advertising is *not* cut off from other systems -- technological, cultural, geographic, gender, ethnicities -- and so ought not be discussed outside those other systems. What sort of semiotic analyses would help us with such extensions? (And would they only build bigger and even more inescapable structures?)

Other questions that appeared as we discussed, and to which we ought to return:


  • How would you use a semiotic visual methodology in teaching undergraduate courses like Revisions or Tech Comm? What use would there be for people in your classes in such teaching? What would you emphasize? What cautions would you give?

  • Semiotic analysis (as Williamson presents it) is a form of compositional analysis, by definition: it focuses on how ads are composed. Whereas Bang, Dondis, or Arnheim appeal to (an ideology of) the universal body as the explanation of why visual compositions work, Williamson appeals to ideology itself. How is Williamson's approach NOT an example of teaching people to have a "good eye" (to follow Rose's critique) -- with the "good eye" here being one that judges visuals not in terms of beauty but rather in terms of late twentieth century academic critiques of bad consciousness?

  • Given that Williamson's system depends on transfer of meaning among different signifier/signified pairs, how applicable is such a system to other kinds of visual genres (film, plays, TV shows) where there rarely are -- as in advertising -- present at the same time such sr-sd pairs? Or do we need to shift what we consider to be the sr-sd pairs?Error running style: S2TIMEOUT: Timeout: 4, URL: awysocki.livejournal.com/ at /home/lj/src/s2/S2.pm line 532.