The Grammar of Visual Design and Sarah Palin: The Decoding of Politics.

Kress et al. describes this theory as a way to depict people, places and things combined in visual “statements” of greater of lesser complexity and extensions. So, the images of Sarah Palin portray a level of complexity and extension of meaning which plays out through how the public perceives her.

Sarah Palin’s literal image is therefore a portrayal of meanings, both positive and negative: “[when] metaphors carry the day and pass into the semiotic system as ‘natural,’ neutral classifications is then governed by social relations” (7) that develops through public persona.  For example:

This image of Palin is her “official” governor image, which presents her as a savior to the Republican party. However, it is one of the dominant images that provide many layers of meaning, given how the media has portrayed her by protraying her public and private as one. Her image appears confident, and dominant in her pose, her hair is neat and so is her makeup; overall Palin looks well put together: “what exist…is therefore more crucial for understanding representation and communication are the resources available to real people in real social context” (8). Therefore, Palin’s image becomes tied to a sea of words, creating a meaning attached to her image that allows ways which the said image decoded.  Our reading habits value how we perceive images – important to how visuals are represented to us.  However, this image would be viewed differently if we had negative associations attached. For example:

Unlike the previous photo, Palin has negative words attached to this picture, that provide a “definition” of her. Instead of Palin presenting a “well-put-together” and confident persona, she is unintentionally agreeing with the statements that propose her as a danger to the Republican party.  This image and its language provides  a meaning, and it becomes attached to Palin.

So,  visual  grammar will describe how to decode visual culture and its many statements. This photograph – the same as the one above, but with negative words attached, therefore creating a negative perspective of Sarah Palin. Previously, her image provoked  positive emotions, but this version provokes an opposite perception of Palin. The visual communication proposed here “has developed more freely than language, but nevertheless there is a dominant language, ‘spoken’ and developed in centers of high culture, alongside less highly valued regional and social variants” (4). So, when Palin is viewed as ‘high culture’ (re: part of the upper class society), her image is attached with positive seas of language, but when she is viewed  in an alternative perspective, she is viewed with negative language. However, images without text provide the viewpoints of Palin as both a savior and a danger. Therefore, Sarah Palin’s image, like the Mona Lisa, has been mass produced; as a result, satirical images are created and the original purpose of her image becomes lost  in their mockery. Therefore, the meanings her image presents creates Palin as a conceptual component of a sign [the signified] (Balick, 236) and also she can be a perceptible sign distant from its conceptual meaning [the signifier] (Balick, 236). Her true self (whatever that may be) is abstracted from her media image, which mixes the spheres of her public and personal life to create a public persona that is either worshiped or hated.

The next post: Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and Sarah Palin: Signifier or Signified? is slowly in the works, and will be discussing more in depth the notion of signifier and signified, stay tuned!


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