After reading Manovich this week, and making a dent in Barnard, I find it really very interesting how open the topic of visual culture seems to be. I’m no expert (obviously) but it seems in a lot of other fields out there that most professionals / educators / researchers / bums seem to really focus on a certain, short list of “accepted” media. Literary experts may very well enjoy the occasional “Clear and Present Danger” or “Fight Club” (both great books by the way) but they would very rarely site these fine examples of fiction in a scholarly work. Likewise, a political science expert might quote something seen on the BBC, but perhaps not the Daily Show. When talking interaction culture however, a tattoo seen on the arm of some dude in a public restroom at 3:00AM is just as relevant as anything else. I think?

Barnard gives a pretty impressive list in his introduction of items that include everything from Fine Art to Movies to Games (hoooooray Myst) and back to tattoos again. I do certainly agree with his statements that when trying to study a particular culture one should look at every medium available to them. However, someone getting drunk and getting “I Love Pam” permanently inked on his arm hardly seems as significant to me as some of the other forms out there. How does the visual culture guru then try to distinguish between some of these different types of media?

Has anyone read the “Da Vinchi Code?” Or seen the movie (the horrible horrible should have been wonderful buy horrible movie?) It almost feels like a big puzzle to me with the clues scattered throughout the media of the last 50 years. A lot of that media has been published in the last 10-15, ever since the internet has become more readily accessible to the average person.  I really like the idea that the forms of media that are so readily available to ANYONE today are the building blocks of a cultural study.


  1. Tyler Pace

    I wonder what the corollary is in auditory culture. Does every symphony, rock concert, belch and falling tree succumb to the wiles of the theories of auditory culture?

    Does looking at every possible medium really help our situation or, as you suggest, are we likely to get lost in the outliers?

  2. jeffreybardzell

    Belching and falling trees are a part of nature, which is generally excluded from cultural analysis. The use of belching on a sitcom, on the other hand, would be fair game.

    More generally, Mike is right that cultural studies has, over the course of decades, come to realize that the focus on “high culture” (literature, art films, painting, sculpture) gave a quite distorted view of culture–essentially the culture of the dominant class only.

    Theorists and critics started looking at popular culture (comic books, romance or sci-fi novels, movies with Vin Diesel, video games, fashion, and above all TV) as a way of understanding our culture(s) more inclusively. Interestingly, there is also an emphasis on the margins of culture (e.g., punk, graffiti, etc,), because not only are they fascinating in themselves, but the fact that they are “marginal” tells us a lot about what is “mainstream.”

  3. jeffreybardzell

    By the way, the inclusion of “interaction design” and “HCI” as an object of study for cultural analysis is not at all surprising–at least from the point of view of cultural studies–given these trends. It is more surprising for people in traditional HCI and sometimes unpleasantly so, because they don’t welcome the “muddled” thinking of Baudrillard and Barthes. Obviously, I reject this view, but I think it is important to understand why people hold it, and then my (our?) obligation to find concrete and constructive ways to introduce it into HCI. This class, then, is a part of that agenda.

  4. Tyler Pace

    What about the studies of “low culture?” How do those effect the construction of cultural theory? I can’t think of a great example of “low culture” without it overlapping into marginalized or pop culture. Surely, if there’s a high then there’s a low? If there isn’t, that might say something to.

  5. jeffreybardzell

    Generally, “low culture” is the same thing as “pop culture”–that is, it is whatever is understood in opposition to “high culture.” So all the examples I provided (punk, TV, YouTube serieals, or pulp romance novels) would fall loosely under the umbrella of “low culture.” There are many obvious problems with this distinction. It reinforces the very elitism it seeks to undermine, for example. And it suggests that the popular can’t be truly aesthetic, or that a great work of art can’t be appreciated by the masses. But in general, pop culture is generally considered to be the opposite of high culture.


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