Author: erikstumpo

Colbert Nation

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This image is of Stephen Colbert. Or, rather, it is of his postmodernist personality – I have chosen this picture, in fact, because I believe Colbert illustrates the idea of the postmodernist personality. The concept of this postmodernist personality, at least as I’ve come to understand it, relies mostly on circumstance. At all times, we are capable of enacting a multitude of different personalities based on our context. In this sense, the postmodernist personality is a performance, one that is primarily dependent upon external forces. Thus, we have no individual personality, but are composed of many different personas, all of which comprise what we would normally consider to be the individual personality.

This seems to certainly be the case with Colbert. One of his personalities is a reimagining of a politically conservative pundit, such as Bill O’Reilly. Thus, his TV show personality is entirely a performance, one that relies on the context of the show. He is playing this role, despite his tremendously left leaning tendencies in “real life.” Colbert seems to be a particularly noteworthy example of this postmodernist personality because many are unsure of the genuineness of the pundit character he plays, exemplifying the performative nature of the postmodern personality. It is constantly in flux, and never wholly one thing or the other; it is constantly a mixture of many different personalities, and responses derived from an external context. 

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America the Beautiful

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This is a still frame from a Coca-Cola ad that originally aired during the Super bowl. On Tuesday, I happened to run into it again in the form of a YouTube ad. In the ad, people are shown drinking a coke and singing “America the Beautiful.” As the ad continues, it shows people from different nations singing along, all in different languages. Though it’s not a photograph, I believe this ad is the epitome of mass media. It is attempting to address a global population unified under America, as well as the Coca-Cola Corporation. The ideals expressed in the ad are attempting to unify the two, and portray Coca-Cola as the embodiment of American ideals and the American spirit. It is this sense that the ad is trying to piggyback off of notions of patriotism, while simultaneously portraying itself and America as benevolent global forces. However, this seems highly ironic given Coca-Cola’s reputation in developing countries. In many of the countries this ad is meant to show, the corporation has a reputation of exploiting non-unionized labor, yet has the audacity to claim that it is both a corporation and a product of harmony and global unity (not to mention the many health problems associated with mass consumption of sugary drinks). 

Robert Frank

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This photo by Robert Frank, entitled American Flag (1957), depicts two women overlooking a parade in Hoboken, New Jersey, with the bottom of an American flag blocking one’s face, and obscuring the other’s. In Mitchell’s formulation, an image wants what it lacks: accordingly, Frank presents us with a complex narrative. As we see in American Flag, or, at least, in its onlookers, there is not an unimpeded view of a face offered.

I’ve studied some of Frank’s work before, and this particular photo comes from his The Americans series, which was (and still is) a critical dissection of American life and culture. It’d be easy for me to simply say, then, that American Flag is a commentary functioning very much in this same vein.

However, I believe this same commentary can be inferred without any prior exposure to Frank’s work. The implication from these unimpeded faces, particularly as an American flag causes such impediment, conveys a sense of marginalization. I believe this issue of marginalization is also inferred by the disposition of both women, as well as their clothing, and the shadowy aura that pervades the image.

These women, at least in the photo, literally lack a face, and thus lack a “voice.” And the thing that literally is causing this facelessness is the American flag. This disempowerment is also supplemented if we contextually frame this photo. Taken in the late 1950s, its two subjects, both women, faced a social construct that actively perpetuated their disempowerment, in senses social, political, and economic. As American Flag implies, this social construct was American society itself.

Therefore, I would say that this image wants a “voice,” as it is this voice that it lacks.