Monday, November 10, 2014

Crash: A lesson in karma and stereotypes

flickr photo courtesy of Light Briganding
     What a disturbing movie.  In fact, I almost wish I had not watched this movie.  It is one of those "everyone is connected somehow" movies, but this one really highlights some of the uglier aspects of humanity.  With that being stated, enjoy the review.
     I felt the director's message was an obvious and came in two underlying themes: racism/stereotypes/microaggressions are omnipresent no matter where you look, and not everyone conforms to the expectations that those stereotypes create.  There are countless examples of both aspects in the movie.  Sandra Bullock's character consistently demeans and verbally bashes people of various races and ethnic backgrounds throughout the movie, only to find herself needing to rely on her Hispanic employee when she falls down a staircase.  The police officer that helps Terrence Howard's character get out of a stick situation ends up murdering a black man in his personal vehicle just because he was afraid he was about to pull out a gun (instead, it was a figure of the Patron Saint of Travelers).
     The movie has many minority players, and it seems to do two accurate general portrayals.  It portrays both stereotypical attributes and provides examples that defy the stereotypes.  A prime example of this is the locksmith.  He left a stereotypical bad neighborhood in the bad side of town to start a new life and get away from it all.  The locksmith is a decent and honest man, despite Sandra Bullock's character's assertion that he is going to duplicate her changed lock keys and sell them to his "homies."
     I think that there were enough racial perspectives in the movie, that it would be hard for any group in particular to be offended.  Everyone is depicted in a bad and a good state.  I like how the director provided examples of both the good and bad sides of every person, and how that we can change our perspectives.
     The movie added to my visual literacy in the sense that there were many actions that could be considered racist and acts that could be considered as stereotype-defying portrayed in the movie.  Some of the scenes did not need to use a lot of words to describe scenarios, but were instead enriched by actually having the actors go through the process physically.  This added depth to the movie.  Also, we were able to visually see many of the characters go through a transforming mea culpa, and then come out wiser.  This movie relied a lot on showing us, not just telling us.
     The director used the shock value of certain scenes and our emotions to really bring the movie to life.  Even though I knew that the bullets were blanks, I was still afraid that somehow the locksmith's daughter had been killed.  In fact, I almost turned the movie off right then and there.  I have children of my own, and it becomes very real to parents very quickly.  These shocking scenes prompted the viewer to think deeply and almost go through the same transformation as the characters.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A-has of the world unite! Round 3

     Ladies and gentlemen, boys and is that time again!  Here are your observations for the month of October.

October 6th

     I was very interested in the 'Signs' video that was watched in class today.  The link is: .  There are many was that we can communicate non-verbally, and I feel like videos like this are brilliant ways to illustrate this fact.  Sometimes I wonder if, in fact, words can tend to get in the way of what we really mean to say -- or at least the verbalization of words.  Although we communicate rather effectively by talking to one another, I really feel like we need to thing more about our gestures and the things we write.  Our gestures are honest and spontaneous, and when we write, we tend to think things out a bit more.  To me, speaking is somewhere in between the two extremes.  
     The movie was also a great example of how a director can use setting and a good story line to create something meaningful without the presence of a lot of vocalization.  In this format, it was a lot easier to focus on the acting and the actual message.  Overall, I thought the film was absolutely brilliant and extremely relevant to the concept of visual literacy.

October 13th

     This week I attended the ITEC conference, and I saw many prime examples of valid aspects of visual literacy in the vendor displays of all places.  There were many various banners hanging behind the vendor representatives, and they were all meant to display the company names in a way that would draw visitors in.  The banners all had very large lettering, and they attempted to use space in the best way possible.  I think it is difficult to create these sorts of things, and I feel like some did a better job than others.  In fact, there was a "Maker" station where attendees could go and interact with various construction objects.  The tables were arranged just far enough from one another to showcase each station (cards, blocks, tubes and connectors), and they were left unattended - so that people might be curious enough to come over and interact with the items.  I saw various people meander over to the display and interact with the tools supplied, and I feel like the display was set up in a way to encourage a lot of curiosity.  Odd how aspects of visual literacy can sneak in to life just about anywhere!

October 20th

     The movies discussion this week was not as interesting as I had hoped.  I feel like maybe should all be watching the same movies at the same time.  I listened to the comments about the movies that I had not yet watched, and I can't help but feel as though the reviews turned me off to even watching the movies a little bit.  I watched American History X, and I hope that I did the explanation justice, but I find myself perplexed.  We are in a visual literacy class, but we talked about movies.  I think, if I were to change things, I would have us create something to visually represent our interpretation of the movies.  For example, I think I could pretty easily make a Powtoon representation of my review that may have better relayed the overall theme and message of my movie review.  I'm sure there are also many other ways to do this, and I would love to gather input from the class at a future time!

October 27th

     This week has been a tough one for me, especially since I am currently in my Level III Field Experience school during the day.  I really enjoyed tonight's activities, especially the ones that challenged me to be (or try to be) creative.  I feel like creativity can be taught, and that schools absolutely serve to kill our desire for creative fulfillment.  I think it is very important to remember that you don't have to be Michelangelo to create art.  You don't have to be Ansel Adams to be a photographer.  To say that we can't learn creativity is to say that we cannot learn to be expressive or at least unlock the inherent ability to be expressive in all of us.  Much like in the discussion about aesthetics, I think we tend to get tunnel vision when describing something like the concept of creativity, when in reality, it can look like anything.  I very much enjoyed having the picture cards and being tasked to create a story from them.  I also enjoyed the fact that we were given props to use in acting out the stories.  The observation is quite correct that we tend to begin looking at things in a very linear fashion in our society, and that sometimes we need a prompt to come out of that pattern.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Analysis of "Thank You for Smoking"

Flickr photo courtesy of KeithBurtis
   I had a lot of reservations going into review the movie "Thank You for Smoking."  I am a strict advocate of the anti-smoking movement, and I lost my own mother to the practice.  However, I approached this movie with as open of a mind as I could possibly muster, and I attempted to view it through a lens of visual literacy assessment.  Needless to say, I got through the movie, and I did not feel terrible about having watched it, so there must have been something of value in it!
     I believe the director wanted to give the audience the perspective of a lobbyist in an industry that is heavily reviled.  Not many people would be willing to get behind the tobacco industry and support what they are doing.  However, I think it should be fair to point out at that we cannot, and we should not be made at the lobbyists that are hired for their highly effective ability to convince and coerce various groups and individuals.  The director did an amazing job of humanizing lobbyists.
     The movie has added to my visual literacy in the sense that advertising is a crucial part of the use of visual media.  While lobbyists are not necessary advertisers, their performances on talk shows and congressional hearings are a sort of spectacle to behold.  Visual literacy is not just about graphics, but it is also about observing what people say -- and perhaps, most important, how they say it.  Aaron Eckhart's character in the film always managed to look as though he was carrying himself confidently.  His words and demeanor made him a very convincing lobbyist.
     The director used a lot of close-up shots of Eckhart to really humanize the role.  The director also incorporated his personal life and family into the mix, so that the audience was left viewing the character as a real person.  Also, at the end of the day, the director sent a very convincing message that "we all have a mortgage to pay."  As for the tobacco products, themselves, affixing a skull and crossbones image would be quite effective.  It is a symbol of death, and it is hard to interpret it any other way in our society.
     In the end, I would absolutely recommend this message to anyone involved with visual literacy, advertising, lobbying, or even simple debate.  The movie brings the concepts of spin and word-crafting to the forefront of a discussion that the audience first presumes is about the trials of defending the tobacco industry.