Stephanie Jeanjean, Art History


Commercial, political, and artistic cultural productions, particularly in the form of images, permeate all aspects of our lives. This media, usually, attempts to evoke emotions of different kinds in the viewer. As is the case with commercial media—advertisements, for example, the emotional response is fairly direct and is designed to promote the idea of consumption in the minds of the audience (Ewen 1988, Baudrillard 1998, Halter 2000). Political media has as its aim the express purpose of promoting an ideological platform—usually by the political and economic elites. This notion has been discussed often, frequently taking a Marxian emphasis with the discussions orienting themselves towards an ideology that justifies capitalism (Debord 1967, Baudrillard 1972). Even art media has implied in its production the attempt to connect with the aesthetic values of its audience in the attempt to create something culturally viable. And ultimately, when the producers of cultural products are not cognizant of the values they imply in their works, the audience nonetheless has distinct values (Kohn 1969, Lamont 1995), and they impute their own values into the products they consume. Thus, the underlying and most important assumption of this project is that all cultural products have, at the nexus point where the product is appropriated by the consumer, values that are associated with it.

With this assumption having been made, this project wishes to make correlations between said values and groups—class based, racial, and ethnic—in society. Much has been written about cultural products used for ideological domination of one group towards another. This domination, which overlays the more specific domains mentioned earlier of commercial, political, and artistic, has been discussed most prominently by the Frankfurt school of sociology in the 1930’s (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972), but also more recently by prominent sociologist Bourdieu (1964, 1985) and social historian Stuart Ewen (1976, 1988). The image, in particular, has been theorized to be a potent ideological tool in the hands of elites who wish to impose their values on other groups in society (Lebon 1895, Ewen 1988). In Highbrow/Lowbrow, Lawrence Levine has asserted that higher classes of society do not simply exhibit class differences, but have systematically acted to separate the cultural products they consume from other, lower class consumers (1990).

Following along the same lines as class divergence, it has also been asserted that there are racial and ethnic divergences in values assigned to cultural products as well. While differences in values with respect to race may not be as theorized as class differences, with today’s multi-cultural ethos, raising this question is a necessity. Thus, this project will look for class, racial, and ethnic patterns in the values assigned to cultural products. Any patterns found, it is asserted, are ultimately political in nature, in that the acceptance or rejection of certain values represents an acceptance or rejection of current social and political trends—ergo the title of the proposal Media2Politic.

The project will narrow its scope to cultural products of a visual nature—thus excluding sculpture, dance, theater, etc. This project asks the question, given a cachet of images and a cachet of value-laden words, will demographic patterns emerge if respondents were asked to connect the images which the words that most describe them?