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Reading over some of the other posts here on Carroll’s excerpt on horror and humor, it looks like several other people also found interest in the oscillation between horror and humor. Part of what makes both genres independently so engaging in my mind is the fact that they are on the surface so diametrically opposed to one another, yet have a great deal of overlap in their triggers:

The movement from horror to humor or vice versa that strikes us as so counterintuitive, then, can be explained in terms of what horror and at least one kind of humor – namely, incongruity humor – share….On the map of mental states, horror and incongruity amusement are adjacent and partially overlapping regions. Given this affinity, movement from one to the other should not be unexpected. (Carroll, p252)

While many of the examples provided pertain to cinema, I think this relationship can also be explored in other mediums. For example, the PC game Day-Z presents a number of situations for these genres to intermingle. There are two key elements to Day-Z that allow for this intersection to occur: first, player-to-player encounters are infrequent, with wide stretches of wilderness or abandoned buildings forming much of the experience. Second, because the game is essentially every person for themselves (as a zombie-survival genre game) and death is permanent, any player encounters always carry the risk of losing potentially hours of progress.

With these two things in mind, the following video represents an example of the genres of horror and humor intersecting (the video is really dark, but stick with it):


In this clip, we can observe a player entering an abandoned building, most likely to loot for supplies. When he reaches the top floor, he spots a player wielding a fire ax, in the process of killing another player. As he flees the building, Tiny Tim’s “Dancing in the Sunlight, Loving in the Moonlight” plays, triggered via the in-game voice-chat mechanism by the man with the axe. As our main protagonist runs, he is slowly pursued, heightening the tension and absurdity as the music continues to play. Then, when an altercation seems imminent, the offending player suddenly disappears, appearing to log off. The intention of this action seems a deliberate, trolling behavior, and the relief on our protagonist’s voice is apparent.

While there are many examples of this type of behavior in Day-Z, the fact that it is all player generated, coupled with the game’s frequent visual bugs results in a unique combination of tension and absurdity. In Day-Z, the players are both monsters and clowns, one and the same.

Many ideas came to my mind today at class… Here there are two of them.

* I think that art might be a form of control… how can the artist create art that really leverages society? It you’re educated on criticism and to do critique, you may get critical about your role as a designer and about your work… Therefore, you won’t be able to ignore the degree of “commodified dreams” that your work might represent, your work environment might represent, and your work context (micro-world/business world) might represent.


* When students start learning about design, they go easily à la “Dieter Rams” way. I believe that as “older” as you get, and as better “knower” as you get (regarding Design), you may observe that design is a) richer and b) there’s no right or wrong design.

This is a very interesting read on how Google is maintaining its dominance in the mobile market by stopping Samsung from developing its own OS. Samsung has been building on top of Android and hiding a lot of essential apps in favor of its own while putting their UI, TouchWiz, at the front of the experience.

Samsung’s goal has been to use Android as a platform to build its own services and UI while slowly dropping Android in favor or its own OS called Tizen.

“Samsung…began building its own Android rival – Tizen – which, thanks to its TouchWiz interface, looks identical to the casual observer. The long term strategy was clear: switch over to Tizen and take the majority of the handset market with it. Google had to act.”

Should we consider coping a part of an OS’s functionality or aesthetic as counterfeit?

Counterfeit: “made in imitation of something else with intent to deceive”

A couple of disclaimers/bias notices up front:

  • Bob Dylan is one of my all-time favorite musicians – if I was trapped on a desert island for eternity his discography would be the soundtrack for that eternity.
  • I do also really like the commercial I’ll be discussing, as well as the Chrysler 200. It’s a classy, well-built vehicle.

Now, watch this:

Ever since I first saw it, this ad has been driving me crazy for one reason – it is an excellent example of an effective Predispositions/Research/Insights argument based on the Principles format.

Right out of the gates, we get a predisposition to end all predispositions. “Is there anything more American than America?” Predispositions are meant to be something you agree with and understand easily. Dylan’s question is so logically circular that you can’t hope to think of an alternative answer. There isn’t anything more American than America, because America is American. BOOM.

And it’s clear Dylan knows this is the king of all predispositions, because he doesn’t bother with anymore assumptions and jumps right into his research and insights. In fact, the rest of the commercial is his research and insights – as a purely persuasive argument, he doesn’t need the back half of PRInCiPleS (or does he? Comment and tell me what you think!).

Dylan begins listing his claims: “You can’t import original. You can’t fake true cool. You can’t duplicate legacy. Because what Detroit created…became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” As pure text, these sound unfounded at best, hubristic at worse. However, the commercial’s visuals act as the “research” in this example.

“You can’t import original.” Bob Dylan himself, Marilyn Monroe, and Dr. J flash across the screen.

“You can’t fake true cool.” James Dean, Harleys, and a tattoo of Rosie the Riveter.

“You can’t duplicate legacy.” The tattoo switches to a real poster of Rosie the Riveter, and then fades to Dylan decending in an old-timey elevator.

“Because what Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” Early 20th century racing footage plays, and transitions to an “AUTOBAHN” sign.

Frankly, I could do this for every line in the rest of the commercial. Every claim Dylan makes is directly supported with visual evidence. And even the subjects themselves reinforce the initial answer to Dylan’s initial question about America – many of the references and individuals would only be recognizable to an American audience.

This is a fascinating comparison to me. Clearly, the commercial’s intent is to sell Chryslers. And yet, it fits so nicely into a framework of design thinking and argument. Perhaps designers should think twice before poo-pooing the marketer’s job.

On another note – grad school has ruined my ability to watch TV.

In the comments section of this video, YouTube user Bridget Orozco states,

[H]ow is using the flood tool painting? I’m classically trained in analog and digital mediums but f*** did I have to learn things like anatomy and color theory, composition among a billion things. I never liked this guy’s craft required no talent.. notice I call it a craft not an art, and not even a good craft.

Maybe this is part II of my previous post, but this video and the comment, I think, go hand in hand with Arthur Danto’s book chapter, The Philosopher as Andy Warhol.  The comment above is a firm example, shown by Danto, “…to the very art that Warhol’s critics saw as mindless and meretricious.”  While the critics are having an easy time saying what they believe is art, I do not believe they are creating a supporting argument as to why this is not art.  As we see in the video above, Andy just sits there and clicks a few buttons in order to create a portrait.  Sure it appears to be very easy and as if anyone can do it, in fact this could go with the fact that he was not the one creating every piece of work that went out with his name on it.  He created the work through his factory artists, which is how he was able to champion the idea of mass produced art.  Was your Marilyn Monroe silkscreen made specifically by Andy Warhol and him alone? Probably not, but it was created in the process that he saw what art could be.

Maybe Warhol’s factory process was in fact a way for him to challenge what people wanted to view as art and if that is the case, he definitely succeeded well up until his death in 1987.  However, Danto states on page 69 that Warhol’s artwork had little do to with the pretensions of the artworld  and I disagree with that statement.  I think a lot of Warhol’s artwork had a lot to do with with the pretensions of the artworld, due to the fact that we are still having this debate today.  Andy said anything and everything can be art, but what I have heard no one dispute, is that there is an artist behind the design of the Brillo Box, the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Can, or an image painted using the Commodore Amiga.  These designs facilitated Andy Warhol’s artwork and made us realize that an artist is always working behind the scenes.

Imagine that you want to visually render something, but in an abstract way. How would you abstract it?

I stumbled upon this page, which offers a visual inventory of different techniques that painters have used to abstract their subjects. Spend even 3-4 minutes on this page, and you’ll probably be surprised at the variety of techniques available and extremely diverse effects they achieve. It’s pretty cool.

I recently came across this Northwestern Mutual TV commercial and was immediately reminded of the introduction sequence to the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Start at Minute 1:00 (there are two different commercials in this video)

I will first acknowledge that this doesn’t really apply the body and skin genres that we covered recently in class.  I bring this up, because each of these videos use very similar visual and audio techniques, but have very different purposes.

Both videos use sweeping camera motions, a continuously moving camera, continuously building sets, and epic drone like music that has a repetitive quality to it.  There is also a narrative throughout each video: the Game of Thrones video shows, in the order of communities it visits, the narrative of the episode to come; the Northwestern Mutual video shows narrative through the words that appear throughout the rising column.  With all this in mind, it is very obvious to me that Western Mutual took the style of the Game of Thrones, and used it for their commercial in order to create a similar building epic story line.  I think they do this successfully.  However, I don’t think ‘epic’ works well for this commercial.  It caught my interest just because it reminded me of the Game of Thrones intro, not because I thought it was a good all around commercial.

So why does this style work for Game of Thrones and not for Northwestern Mutual?  This style is fitting of Game of Thrones, because it is setting the scene for a very epic story that spans seven different kingdoms.  It also does a good job at mapping out the different kingdoms.  For Northwestern Mutual, this epic style and the use of words to tell the story ends up being very slow, hard to follow, and ultimately boring for a TV commercial.  It took me about 5 times watching it back to back to completely understand the message they are sending.  Which is basically “We know how to invest, and you should invest, build and secure your future with us.”  In my opinion the style they used to be “cool” and “epic” detracts from the overall message and purpose of the commercial

In summary I don’t think this epic style that mimics the Game of Thrones introduction works for this mutual fund company in a TV commercial genre.

I’m interested to hear what others think about this!

I feel Barnard’s chapter “Interpretation and the Individual” is very relevant to our earlier discussion about authors. It also answers some of our questions such as what’s the relation between authors and readers/users/interpreters, and how to understand this relation.

Horizon is an interesting notion here. At first I wonder if it is the same thing as knowledge domain, cultural context, social norms, personal background, etc. But when Barnard refers it to “life-worlds”, I think he is talking about more than these (“social skills, religious beliefs, commercial practices”, p. 41), or a synthesis of all of these, especially if his “life-worlds” is similar to Heidegger’s “life world”. It seems that horizon is a very comprehensive notion that include all “aboutness” of a person. So this chapter seems emphasizes the role of interpreters.

When I was wondering “so where is the author?”, Barnard gives me a question: “whether the interpreter is fusing their horizons with those of the producer of the visual culture, or whether the interpreter is simply seeing the piece of visual culture from the perspective of their own horizons” (p. 56). Ok this is exactly what I want to ask. Also, a similar question can be whether the user is fusing their horizons with those of the designer, or whether the user is simply seeing the design from the perspective of their own horizons. Especially for those products that “no known individual designer linked with them” (p. 61). Perhaps for most people, design products are anonymous: They don’t who designed them, who “produced” them. They may know the brand, the giant company, but they do not know the “real” individuals who may project their horizons to the product. I have a feeling that a lot of designing works endeavor to achieve a consistency: consistent to the user’s background, consistent to the user’s needs, consistent to the user’s thoughts. Designers may “fuse” some of their horizons to the product, but since the product is “anonymous”, their individual intentions may not be discernible. Instead, comparing to the invisible designer, users are visible. So “in the case of much design, intentions, and life-worlds may be reconstructed”. By whom? The users.

In this sense, I feel Barnard suggests that different interpretations/ understandings of the same object is not a bad thing but a good (?) thing. He uses Gadamer’s perspective that the prejudices of the present (such as different people’s different horizons) are a condition of understanding, rather than an obstacle.

This blog post is a reaction to Zach’s post from earlier today, “Molloy’s (Sexist?) Style Guide.”

I was surprised by Zach’s post and have been thinking about it all morning. The reason I am surprised is that it is obvious to me that the author is a feminist and that she is indeed condemning the patriarchy in Molloy’s manual and also the silly moral of Working Girl, which trivializes the challenges that women in the workplace faced (and still do).

So then I began wondering, well, why isn’t it obvious to Zach? He obviously read the reading and with some care. He obviously picked up on its themes and read them the right way. So there is no question that he somehow missed the whole point of the article–he did not. So the mystery remains: how could someone read and understand this article but remain uncertain as to the author’s feminist commitments?

And then I think I figured it out.

I have spoken all semester about there being two different proposals for what the Overall Point of a critical analysis is: understanding versus evaluation.

  • Understanding, the position represented in the Barnard (shoe) book, seeks to offer critical interpretations that help us see how it is that a given cultural phenomenon “works,” that is, how it becomes meaningful, what its underlying machinations are that make such a meaning possible or even likely. The understanding approach is about exposing something that is otherwise hidden (e.g., the genealogy and/or mechanisms of a cultural phenomenon); such exposure opens up the possibility of intervention, but often (as in this case) the implications for intervention are not made explicit or pursued–they are left to subsequent work.
  • Evaluation, the position represented in the Carroll (Brillo box) book, seeks to offer critical interpretations that help us appreciate the value (personal, social, cultural, aesthetic, material, etc.) of an art work. Evaluation typically takes (or at least strongly implies) an advocacy position, for example, “this work should/should not be included in a canon (or taught to high school children, or be placed in a museum, or sold for a lot of money at auction, etc.).”

Note that more or less everyone agrees that we need both; the debate is simply over which of these two impulses is more fundamental.

What’s happening here is that Entwistle’s article is written in what we might call the “understanding” paradigm. The whole article seeks to investigate the coming together of several discourses all at once–right around 1980–and seek to understand why they all came together in this way at this time. She makes very few explicit value judgments, e.g., statements like “as a feminist, I argue that Molloy’s work is oppressive to women.” However, the themes that organize the essay, specifically, the general concepts of identity and discourse, the construction of the “female executive” as a discursive subject, distinct from existing working female subjectivities (“secretary,” “showroom girl,” “factory floor girl”) specifically as an outcome of social discourses about women and “appropriate” roles, behaviors, and appearances of women in society, signals this work as feminist. And as a feminist work, critical attitudes towards patriarchy, ideology, alienation, and so forth are implicitly assumed and do not need to be expressed explicitly.

Another aspect of the understanding versus evaluation divide is the nature of the work being critiqued. For Carroll, he is talking about art, and art is supposed to be valuable. And more specifically, he is talking about making aesthetic judgments about art, i.e., saying what is artistic about art. Given that sort of claim (“F is an artistic feature of Work W”), it is easy to see why evaluation is foregrounded: if a work has many good artistic features, then we should appreciate and treat it as such by putting it in museums, educational curricula, etc.

In contrast to this, Entwistle has no aesthetic agenda in this article. She is not saying that women’s power suits are more aesthetic or more artistic than other forms of work clothing. Rather, she is trying to understand why this form of clothing emerged when it did, why that clothing was called “power dressing,” and what sorts of social meanings and implications it had. This is understanding. That patriarchy and repressive ideologies are at play (both in dressing manuals and in movies like Working Woman which paint overoptimistic and hence trivializing pictures of this complex social problem) is, of course, blameworthy from the point of view of a feminist. But that sort of evaluative statement remains tacit, and more explicit understanding-oriented statements are very heavily emphasized and foregrounded.

Right. My thoughts are not very clear right now, I’m just trying to get them out of my head. I’m playing around with this idea of semiotics in Information Visualization. There is a common language to what we expect, what the conventions are for creating and representing data as Shneiderman and others have outlined. They aren’t perfect by any means and the lines of distinction are fuzzy. However, I’m wondering a few things.

How do we judge whether or not a visualization is successful? Many visualizations are not easily understood by your average person, like networks. These are hard to read unless one is trained n Information Visualization, but that isn’t the point of this field. The point is to make convoluted data readable in visual form for a particular audience. So, I guess another question is what is readable by your average person? How can complex information be structured or created in a way that they can learn new things or understand the story the visualization/data is telling?

I’m also wondering how high dimensional data is currently represented effectively. I guess it all goes back to the understanding of information visualizations. I keep thinking about Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and can’t help but think there should be one for visualizations so more people can read them.  That’s all for now, just loads of questions as I start collecting former work and visualizations.