The Image/Media (Or as I might call it: the "porn" of the visual)

by on Dec.13, 2011

“What does seem to remain constant across the cycles of media innovation and obsolescence is the problem of the image. The deeply ambivalent relationship between human beings and the images they create seems to flare up into crisis at moments of technical innovation, when a new medium makes possible new kinds of images, often more lifelike and persuasive than ever before, and seemingly more volatile and virulent, as if images were dangerous microbes that could infect the minds of their consumers. This may be why the default position of image theorists and media analysts is that of the idol-smashing prophet warning against Phillistines – the exemplary ancient idolaters, since reincarnated in modern kitsch and mass culture. The same critic will, however, typically be engaged in elevating certain kinds of images in selected types of media to the status of art. Aesthetic status is often credited with a redeeming effect on the degraded currency of images, as if the image had somehow been purified of commercial or ideological contamination by its remediation within certain approved media frameworks (typically art galleries, museums, and prestigious collections). Even a nakedly commercial image from mass culture can be redeemed in this way, as the silk screens of Andy Warhol demonstrate.”

(Just read this in WJT Mitchell’s Critical Terms for Media Studies and was struck by how similar his take on images is to my own – down to the use of words like “kitsch” and “redeemed.”)

8 comments for this entry:
  1. Lara Glenum

    Johannka, I’m wondering why the insistence on the term “porn” in the recent posts. The term seems to be being bandied about as some kind of aesthetic litmus (i.e. you’re with us or you’re not).

    It’s possible to be super-interested in *image gluts* and *total-saturation art* and *sexsexsex* and *bodies run amok with arousal and desire* and still not find porn terribly interesting (which is not the same thing as not finding it arousing).

    One doesn’t have to have a moral opposition to porn to not be into it. It’s possible to simply want to do something else with one’s eyes and one’s sex.

    And framing “porn” as the most radical end of the aesthetic/social spectrum feels a bit outdated. Porn is now totally ubiquitous. It’s the new social norm. I’m not sure I see its potential as a descriptor of a radical or disruptive aesthetics.

    The porn tag seems to have come into circulation when Adam mentioned the terms “ruin porn,” which I read as a descriptive term, not a condemnatory gesture. You’re right that the Feministe article is fairly flat in its assessment of things, but I feel like in recent posts you’re constructing a binary in which one is either in the moralizing “Feministe camp” or the “porn enthusiast camp.” This feels very constricting to me.

  2. Johannes

    Lara,
    No, my use of “porn” doesn’t really have anything to do with pornos, but the sense in that feministe post in which the image seemed to equal “porn” b/c necessarily divorced from the true “community.” As I often do, I just embrace the negative terms. It doesn’t really have anything to do with pornos or something like that. Pornos is another topic. I would say that the use of porn as an inherent negative/pathological I’m also opposed to. But, no, this isn’t about actual porn. /Johannes

  3. Lara Glenum

    Yes, I get your rhetorical turn in these threads. I’m just not sure that, culturally, porn is a negative term anymore. There seems to be a widespread cultural acceptance of porn. So it feels kind of gassy to wave the term about like a rebel flag.

    Porn/virtual media is the new community. We are all now connected by a thousand tits of light.

  4. Johannes

    It seems to me you’re reading some strange “rebel” thing into this. It was, as you said in your last post, a direct reference to the previous conversation (“ruin porn”), in which the “feministe” blogger suggested a connection between visuality and porn. And it was certainly used as negative in that context, don’t you think? /Johannes

  5. Lara Glenum

    Yes, it was, for sure. To clarify: I’m not calling you “gassy,” Johannka. The recent posts latching on to the “porn” tag feel somehow unsatisfying because they stir up phantoms of old (lame) moral divides, binaries we’re collectively trying to get past.

  6. Johannes

    Yes, my use of “porn” here was meant to the absurdity of the use of that word. I don’t think the Internet/pornworld is a “community” in the sense that people like the Feministe blogger – and a lot of poets – use that label; it’s rather the opposite. It seems to me that “community” is used so frequently to suggest a kind of “real,” un-image-d relationship. And the Mitchell quote to me speaks about this moment where the Internet has become the latest instance of “images” that infect, ruin this “community.” /Johannes

  7. Lara Glenum

    It’s funny, this fantasy of un(media)ted relationships. This lingering phantasm of “the real.”

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