Category Archives: Final Project

Remix and Globalization of Street Art: Post-Modern Flair, Graffiti, and Arabic Calligraphy

Street art is a contemporary culture that is ever-growing and transitioning in significance and meaning. Many artists are flooding the streets of cities around the world, leaving their masterpieces on walls and impacting the creative environment of the metropolis. Street art is a form that is both local and global, sharing its styles, techniques, and codes as a form of communication to citizens and travelers alike in a specific location. Street art is also a unique form of expression in a world that is post-photographic.

Since street art is constantly changing within society, and society is what shapes many of the aspects of that art, the significance of street art messages are becoming more prominent in every day city life. Not only is street art becoming more hybridized and commonly used as a form of artistic expression, the documentation of street art in the forms of photographs and online presence is escalating at a rapid rate. Some artists even rely on the fact that their work is documented in such a fashion, expecting it to be demolished soon after completion. This documentation allows for an increased awareness and improved international reach of artistic work through the Internet, lending to a remix of culture, and hybridity of appropriating past rituals and traditions with the post-modern aspect of art. Because of the distinct remixes happening throughout the globe in various forms (varying depending on culture and subcultures), there are copious amounts of information and insightful lessons to be learned and deciphered.

In the Middle East, graffiti and street art has become ever more prevalent over the past years. The street art allows visitors and viewers to view not only graffiti of images and artistic pieces of objects, but to analyze written graffiti and the messages that are meant to be shared within a particular piece. Each work of street art has unique political, economic, and social factors, illustrating the messaging and content of each work.

(For example, this piece by A1one is dedicated to the struggles of a war-torn Syria)


Street art in a variety of cities in that realm of the world (including main sources such as Lebanon, Tehran, and Palestine) has taken on a common attribute of frequent Arabic script and Arabic calligraphy as the main focus of street art pieces. Coined “Calligraffiti,” this art form remixes the traditional principles of the Arabic script from years past with the post-modern perspective of nostalgia and visibility of documented works within society. Street artist El Seed has never learned traditional calligraphy. “Because of this, he prefers to define it as a form of ‘Calligraffiti’ in which the approach is much more visceral than technical: ‘Arabic script has this specific thing that gives you so much possibility in designing the letters, and I am in love with this ability to re-form and endlessly innovate.’” Furthermore, this art form is globalizing at a rapid speed, eager to take meanings and display of culture from the city of origin and disseminate it throughout major factions of the world in order to gain recognition for a specific message, movement, or unique style and implementation of street art.


Examples of Calligraffiti:

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Hest1, L’Atlas, Native & ZenTwO, and A1one


So what does this remix mean? Why is this specific remix of traditional calligraphy and post-modern art ideologies prevalent in today’s street artists in the Middle East? And why is the globalization of this art so rapid in dissemination? Remix of the traditional Arabic script with post-modern ideologies in conjunction with the globalization of this particular style of street art is due to several factors within the history of art and Arabic script as well as the ubiquitous aspect of today’s social communications, and attributes of the average consumer worldwide. Key concepts involved, include the dissection of what calligraphy is, and what in history and phonetics made it so, as well as concepts within post-modern art that are embodied within street art (and this remix of street art, graffiti, and calligraphy). Within post-modernism, the concepts of High and low forms of culture, late capitalism, nostalgia, and history within nostalgia are referenced in order to form a better understanding of the remix principles. Evidence and examples in the research interpreted include an in depth look at el Seed, a Tunisian artist raised in the suburbs of Paris. Other examples related include works of art and documentation of Palestinian graffiti as well as Beirut, Paris, London, and other cities that are a factor in the globalization of street art and calligraphy (including artists such as Hest1, L’Atlas, A1one, and Native & ZenTwO).

In order to understand how the remix occurred and what the remix of this style of street art is, it’s imperative to delve deeper into the technical aspects of the Arabic script and the components and specific attributes of the types of writing and the history (as well as the acknowledgement of the difference between flow and written scripture in different cultures).

Originally the Arabic script was responsible for shaping the visual aspects of calligraphy and representing the Islamic religion and Holy Scripture of the Koran. This calligraphy then became reproduced, appropriated and perceived as a symbol of religion and the virtue of the ways of the Islamic faith. From that usage, the script was then represented in texts that were irreligious as well as on everyday objects of architecture and appearances on structures throughout cities where Arabic script was the origin of its’ linguistic practices. The artistic expression of the scriptures throughout the cities began at the birth of the original scriptures and cities.

The Arabic script started from borrowing letters and symbols from surrounding regions, and then developed and honed into independent scripture and symbolic meaning through the influence of individuals, culture, and the effects of time. The writing system of Arabic and the alphabet it acquired was first developed around the system invented by the Phoenicians in 1300 BCE. According to Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, “As traders, the Phoenicians managed to spread the alphabet across their trade routes and port cities…the Arabic language spread via the Islamic conquests to neighboring nations, into what constitutes the Arab/Islamic nations of today.” The language became something that unified a region of the world, beginning the works of Islamic art through visual representation in symbolism and imagery.

From basic script alphabet to flowing calligraphy, the development took place in the first Arab empire in Iraq in the 7th century, where two styles of fully implemented, flowing calligraphy called the Naskh and Kufic styles were developed. This calligraphy became the higher art form of the 10th century calligraphic styles.

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Picture 1: different styles of Arabic script

Picture 2: Stone carved Thultuh script

The Kufic style was the oldest and most refined art form of calligraphy. This style transcribed the Holy Koran, and in it’s original form, developed into two forms: the smoother, ‘curvilinear Maghrebi’ styles of more western regions including North Africa and Spain, and the angular flair of the eastern part of the empire. This writing wasn’t completely fluid, but rather had breaks between letters and words more frequently than that of script today. Being that the Kufic style was split in half from east and western styles, the end signature of both east and west sometimes also acquired decorative end strokes (such as making the ending of a word a flower on the last stroke, or an arabesque motif). This was the beginning of physical art within the calligraphy, adding to the artistic nuance and meaning behind the calligraphic styles themselves.

Naskh style is the type of calligraphic writing that is accentuated by the fluid handwriting.  This type of calligraphy was used solely for important documents, in what grew to be calligraphic cursive script for official forms. 10th century calligrapher Ibn Muqlah gave the cursive styles of the Arabic script distinct proportions (a type of ruling and order set into place for all the different styles being used). Even though the original styles included Kufic and Naskh, others developed (such as the Thuluth, Muhaqqaq, Rayhan, Tawqii, Ruqaa, Behari, Diwani, Nastaaliq, Shikasteh, and others) they were all taken from the chaos of all these different writing forms and standardized in terms of size and structure to the wide variety of styles. This was important to the times because of the homogeneity enforced by Muglah, enabling for different styles to come together to be understood by a wider variety of individuals who spoke the tongue of Arabic.

Example of Kufic style script:


This standardized, calligraphic form also allowed flexibility for when typography became a movement of the present. Typographic printing tried to embody the most popular calligraphic styles of the time. Arabic type design used the invention of the dry-transfer type, instead of the typesetting machines of that period used by the west because of the cost and the convenience (not to mention the west used a Latin typeset and font, which was not congruent with the Arabic script or alphabet). This was changed when the Internet was invented and the keyboards could be interchanged from one language to another, creating a global world culture.

The idea of a new global world culture through the Internet was inspired from the number of stylistic inefficiencies in digital technologies of the west. Because of the Internet, cultures like Arabic could easily access a way of expressing their language rather than older forms of communication, increasing their representation of the script on digital media. This also opened a new attitude of stylistic experiments in terms of design (on and off the Internet) now that the dialogic of the script could be globalized.

“The novelty of the Arabic fonts lies in the creation of new styles that do not fit into the traditional classifications. These designs vary from the modernist approach of ‘form follows function,’ or the opposite, which puts form before any other consideration. Some type design trends include display fonts that are expressive and playful, designed for special purposes, and often inspired by popular culture. These range from personal formal experiments to representations of vernacular street art, cartoons and comic strips” (AbiFares).

The various forms of global visual communications have rapidly increased around the world. Furthermore, because of the Internet and its’ global outreach, works of art can now be documented, photographed, and dispersed across a variety of social media outlets. Street art has taken on this movement of globalization from the cities of its’ origins to the Internet and even into foreign cities, when the artists choose to further spread their artwork and ideologies behind them in other spaces of the world. The meaning of the same, but the context of the art determines the audience reached and the effectiveness of the viral ability (i.e. if viewers take pictures and uploads it to Twitter, Facebook, etc.).  For example, el Seed has taken his artwork and spread it throughout Canada, Paris, Tunisia, Syria, Palestine, Greece, and others. His work has been spread across several forms of media, by viewers and artists alike.


Watch el Seed create this ^^ masterpiece, and his reasoning for fusing cultures together, HERE.

assabah it_impossible_cape-town_south-africa jara-jolei2 kairouan melbourne

(Paris, Assabah (Tunisia), Cape Town South Africa, Tunisia, Kairouan, Melbourne)

Watch el Seed spread his talent at Harvard, discussing his roots and the meaning of the color purple in Tunisia, HERE.

This globalization and rapid movement of taking street art to new streets around the globe, as well as the idea of traditional calligraphy is implemented by a variety of artist within the Middle East. One of the most prominent artists is an individual who calls himself, “el Seed” (his work pictured above). He uses illustrative or uncommon hybrid variations of letters and the way they are displayed within a city. He takes this traditional calligraphic form of Arabic script, and has globalized it throughout several regions of the world.

The remix that occurs in conjunction of the globalization of street art includes traditional Arabic calligraphy with post-modern ideologies. One characteristic of post-modernism is the aspect of the “Global village phenomena,” or the globalization of cultures, races, images, capital and products through art. It’s is characterized by the, “dissemination of images and information across national boundaries, a sense of erosion or breakdown of national, linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identities; a sense of a global mixing of cultures on a scale unknown to pre-information era societies.” The use of the Internet for globalization has capitalized on this idea for calligraphy and street art in the Middle East to mesh. Borders have been broken, linguistic styles have been dispersed, and the cultural identities of Middle Eastern artists have been shown through their work in various places all over the globe. Although the Internet has catapulted this aspect of post-modernism, there are other aspects this remix embodies. High and low forms of culture, late capitalism, nostalgia, and history within nostalgia are all post-modern ideologies that are remixed with the principle of traditional Arabic calligraphy in order to create a new form of street art, spread across international borders.

“High” and “low” forms of culture are categorized by the type of living of individuals (and how elite that living is).  For example, high culture refers to cultural products and luxuries individuals have the opportunity to have (and those products are seen as desirable), such as the aristocracy or intelligentsia. Low culture refers to art that is part of the masses, or potentially those who aren’t as well educated as those of the elite (for example, reality TV, gossip magazines, or pop music and pop culture art).

The mixture of high and low forms of culture is a post-modern ideology formed through art. The fusion between street art and Arabic calligraphy is a prime example of the hybridization of forms and genres that combine high culture (calligraphy originally seen as an expression of religious freedom and elitism within written culture) and low culture (the idea of pop culture on the streets in plain sight for the masses to consume and then regurgitate via social media). Culture, histories, time periods, and contextual styles are all remixed within this specific form of art that incorporate high and low forms of culture across several points in history. Philosophers and anthropologists such as Ernest Gelner have acknowledged and supported the idea of high and low culture, but other art critics increasingly see it as political distinctions rather than an intellectual or defensible aesthetic. El Seed voices his opinion by saying, “’The revolution [in Tunisia] has created new street artists, and I believe this is a good thing as it is a way to democratize art and bring it to everyone.’ In his eyes, the ‘revolution’ also revolutionized art in Tunisia: “Before [the uprising] art was reserved for the bourgeoisie and the elite and to a large extent it still is today. But the fact that street art was appropriated and is associated with a grassroots movement has brought a brand new dimension to the role of art in mainstream Tunisian society” (Beneat-Donald). A mixture of high and low culture that brings a ubiquitous ability of viewership for citizens, travelers, and art connoisseurs.

Post-modernism also embodies the idea of “late capitalism,” or, “culture dominated by post-industrial, consumerist, multi- and trans-national capitalism, beginnings of globalization.” The consumer is a specific aspect of the ideology that is imperative to the generation and advancement of this type of remix of art. The consumerist in post-modern times is absorbed by materialistic motivations as well as the mass-production aspect of goods. In terms of post-modern art, consumers are now enamored by the idea of revealing infinite cultural aspects of humanities different than their own. Late capitalism in street art and calligraphy is enabled by the consumerist society because of the motivations in the market, which build the basis for globalization standards. The late capitalist environment is so fast paced and on demand, that it is warping time and history in a speedy fashion into the streets and cities all around the world.

Lastly, post-modernism includes a concept of history that is represented through nostalgia and fantasies of the past, becoming a particular style of art. This idea is integrated into street art and the Arabic calligraphic work of Middle Eastern artists. This history is represented through nostalgic means. Arabic calligraphy, as modeled earlier, has its’ origins within the ancient times of religious context. The nostalgia comes from the long time period gone without recognition and appreciation for calligraphic text of Arabic script. Similar to the term “vintage,” or how the new generations of consumers are so interested in remembering the past. The millennial generation is known to be the most nostalgic of all time. Recycling earlier genres or styles of work, images of individuals, colors, clothing, etc. can all play into the role of nostalgia and the powerful message and history it carries.

A1one’s remix of calligraphic script and post-modern ideologies

A1oneinESSEN bgp_b2cf2bffd3cb306981efcfdfa861d08a21b9e2bb


Remix on shop signs


Remix in Palestine: 1) Old Town Jerusalem 2) Askar refugee camp (prayers and Al Kaaba drawn on  the wall) and 3) “The right to return ins a right that will never die.” West Bank separation wall (Abu Dis)

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Markings in Beirut: 1) Jisr Al Wati, Greater Beirut, lebanon 2) ASHEKMAN, Jisr Al-Basha, Greater Beirut, Lebanon

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More of El Seed’s remixes:

1) “Civilization,” Toronto, 2010     2) “Respect Our Elders,” Montreal, 2008

3) University of Exeter, UK, 2013     4) Montreal, 2010

IMG_5667 IMG_5669ismi_philistine_0 streetartnews_elseed_exeter_uk-1

Coincidentally, many of the artists that are delving into historical contexts and participating in nostalgia are within a younger age group. The post-modern aspects of Middle Eastern street art and calligraphy as well as the globalization have been propelled forward by artists like el Seed and others who understand the imperative nature of the Internet, and the opportunity it holds in terms of international outreach and marketing messages through their art.

El Seed is a role model when looking for a new remix and and new type of typography for Arabic calligraphy and street art (follow him on Twitter at Because of his use of an ancient script in conjunction with post-modern ideologies and techniques, his new remix embodies the answer to why this globalization of street art  is occurring. The idea of spreading beliefs and messages (whether they be political, economic, or social) can be achieved by appealing to the historic nostalgia of the ancient Arabic script, while touching on what pleases the present day consumer (in a post-photography post-modern world) by putting these messages in different cities around the globe.

El Seed is not the only artist to achieve the success creating in street art graffiti and Arabic calligraphy, but he is one of the only artists to succeed in globalizing his message and becoming an icon for the new remix of present society. These messages are what increase awareness concerning events and ideas within a certain culture, allowing the whole world to see the messages being created behind what many people thought were closed doors of countries who often are the focus of political, economic, or social struggles.

The fusion of calligraphy in today’s street art and its’ meaning is broadcasted into the global project of all street art and artists. The true meaning and significance behind it all, is to not only create an expression of art, but to disseminate an understanding of culture (the culture of historic scripts and the meaning of calligraphy to the culture of present day occurrences within Middle Eastern society). To curb the ignorance of global stereotypes and misinformation of the struggles and events, and produce an understanding of the everyday experiences of those whose heritage lies in the Middle East and the Arabic script. Dissecting the meaning of calligraphy, the history and phonetics, concepts of the post-modern art (high low culture, late capitalism, nostalgia/history), and identifying examples of globalization and remix are ways society can strive to understand the messages and meaning of culture within this remix of street art, graffiti, and calligraphy.

Watch el Seed diminish stereotypes with his creation of a piece in Camden, Maine, HERE.

Street art’s contemporary culture will continue to transition in significance and meaning. Artists will continue to flood the streets of cities around the world, leaving their mark and works of art as an impactful tool of messaging and remix. Both local and global, the future of street art is yet to be determined, but the rise of the remix of traditional calligraphy and graffiti is on the rise. The styles, techniques, and codes continue to communicate with an audience of citizens, artists, and travelers to inform and inspire, and to begin the movement of understanding in culture from the combination of cultural roots and modern day art styles on the streets.



Works Cited

“A1one Aka تنها / Iran -Middleeast.” A1one Aka / Iran -Middleeast. N.p., May 2014. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Balbo, Laurie. “Paris Tower “Graffed” by Arab Street Artists, Then Destroyed (VIDEO).” Green Prophet. N.p., 04 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Beneat-Donald, Megan. “Graffiti, Meet Arabic Calligraphy.” Fair Observer°. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

This piece focuses on the meaning of el Seed’s work and the reasons and motivations attached to his masterpieces. It talks of aspects of globalization and new typography in the Middle East as well as El Seed’s journey through time since he began his street artistry. Furthermore, this piece discusses the importance of expression through graffiti and street art as well as why the global aspect of this expression is imperative for others to understand the internal messaging.

“EL Seed.” EL Seed. N.p., 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

“EL Seed Art Sale.” InnerCity Muslim Action Network. N.p., 2012. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

“High and Low Culture – Boundless Open Textbook.” Boundless. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.

Irvine, Martin. “The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture.” Georgetown University, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <>.

Irvine, Martin. “The Po-Mo Page: Postmodern to Post-postmodern.” The Po-Mo Page: Postmodern to Post-postmodern. Georgetown University, 2013. Web. 01 May 2014. <>.

This piece discusses the ideologies of a post-modern society. It covers a variety of aspects from modern to post-modern and the characteristics that make each classification such. This strongly correlates with the ideologies behind present day street art and the post-information, post-photographic society that frames a post-modern art world. This piece also addresses the ideas of anthropologists and philosophers alike and their viewpoints of the progression of post-modernism.

Jameson, Fredric. “Postmodernism and Consumer Society.” Http:// N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.

“Note.” Iranian and Arabic Graffiti and Street Art. N.p., Nov. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Print

Zoghbi, Pascal, Stone, and Joy Hawley. Arabic Graffiti = Gharāfītī ʻArabīyah. Beirut: From Here To Fame, 2011. Print.

This work particularly focuses on all aspects of the Arabic script and calligraphy and the meaning behind it. It touches on the historical aspects of cultural scripture and how the dissemination of this culture occurred. Furthermore, this book discusses the global aspects of graffiti and calligraphy and how many different artists use this in their work today (and how each artist differs from each other depending on the place work is created).


Photography-Based Advertising in the Digital Age: A New System of Meaning-Making

Emily Rothkopf

Abstract: This article explores the changing landscape of photography-based advertising in the digital age.  Marketers today are faced with a more competitive and visually over-saturated playing field and have developed new ways to stand out and register with consumers.  What are the new predominant themes, styles and semiotics of successful ad campaigns?  By understanding the history of photography-based advertising, reviewing industry-related research, and dissecting several present-day ad campaigns, a new formula for the marketing medium is revealed.


In a capitalistic sense, photography is a tool for artists, journalists, and marketers.  The use of the medium has evolved across all industries over the past century, particularly with the emergence of the digital age, and the lowered barrier to entry that has been created by the advent of digital cameras, smart phones, and social-media sharing platforms.  Artists now have a more crowded playing field and a greater need for distinguishing work.  Journalists have a more superfluous supply to publish from, yet a greater sense of urgency and ‘race-to-post’ mentality.  But it is marketers that perhaps have the greatest challenges; photographic advertisements now have to compete with the cluttered media, stand out in markets saturated with imagery, and appeal to new visual ideals.  Additionally, while art exhibit patrons and news readers still take about the same time to absorb a photographic image, consumers are clicking, scrolling, and fast-forwarding through advertisements quicker than ever.  When examining the photography-based advertising that exists in magazines, newspapers, billboards, and most importantly – online, there is a new set of rules for companies that seek to register with and appeal to the new digital age audience.  The glossy, glamorized approach to print advertising still exists, but it has been remixed with more organic, social-media and pop-culture inspired imagery.  What are the common themes in this new system of photography-based advertising?  And what are the visual codes or semiotics involved in this new, rapid meaning-making process?

Pre-Digital Age: A Brief History

“In modern capitalist societies the camera has proved to be an absolutely indispensable tool for the makers of consumer goods…camera images have been able to make invented ‘realities’ seem not at all fraudulent and have permitted viewers to suspend disbelief while remaining aware that the scene has been contrived” (Rosenblum 2007).

Lady Esther Face Powder 1934 (source:

Lady Esther Face Powder 1934 (

Photography in advertising can be traced back to the late 1800s when the halftone printing process was developed, where imagery could be produced in one color ink via various sized and spaced dots.  This process allowed magazine and newspaper publishers to print photographs alongside text.  However, it was not often used in advertising due to the high cost of studio photography; drawn illustrations remained the preferred method.  It was the industrial movement in the 1920s that led to the emphasis of advertising and exploration of new methods to make products stand out among the newly competitive consumer market.  Product marketers began to understand the psychology behind consumption and found photography a means to project the highly coveted messages of realism and truth.  The Photographers Association of America explained that people “believe what the camera tells them because they know that nothing tells the truth so well” (Marchand 1985).  Photographic imagery began to emerge as the most persuasive sales tool and thereby the preferred medium moving forward in the print advertising industry (Harvard Business 2010).

Chanel 1957 (source:

Chanel 1957 (

Initially, photography-based advertising relied on a very direct approach, clearly depicting and explaining the product and its benefits.  However, when consumer psychology and creative direction were applied, a new form of suggestive advertising arose.  This approach focused on the atmosphere, rather than the object, through pictorialist photography – soft focus, dramatic lighting, heavy retouching, stage sets, etc. (Brown 2000).  Clarence H. White, American photographer, teacher and pioneer in the ‘photography as an art form’ movement, educated budding photographers on a new ‘fusion of beauty and utility.’  He emphasized the need to employ design and fine-art principles – close-up views, spare geometric compositions, oblique vantage points, tonal contrast, and sharpened focus (Yochelson 1996).  Edward Steichen, another pioneer in advertising photography during the 1920s, developed a style whereby marketers could project ideals, aspirations and fantasies by depicting glamour, beauty and elegance, instead of just a straightforward shot of a product (Johnston 1997).

Marlboro 1978 (source:

Marlboro 1978 (

Post-war advertising shifted towards depicting middle-class family ideals, much of which was geared towards the female home-maker.  Ads often depicted women as subservient to a more dominant male figure.  The 1960s and 70s are marked with imagery reflecting social movements, ideas of ‘cool,’ and sexuality.  Marlboro ads famously conveyed a sense of the American ‘cool’ and masculinity.  Women had their own Virginia Slims campaign, which depicted the beginning of the gender equality movement; women in these ads were portrayed as confident, powerful players in society.  And the 1980s and 90s are marked by overt diversity, and sometimes rule-bending and controversial advertising.  Benetton’s signature multi-racial advertising became a “politically-correct cliché” and the new standard in photography-based advertising (Edwards 2013).  The waif-like, androgynous and somber models depicted in Calvin Klein’s campaigns resulted in initial backlash, yet represented a new norm in many ways.  What was consistent throughout the entire 20th century print advertising history was the focus on the brand; the logo or product was front and center, meant to be ingrained in the minds of consumers.

Benetton 1990s (

Calvin Klein 1990s (

Digital Age: What Has Changed?

In these point and click atmospheres, it takes an eye-catching image to “stand out and force its way into the consciousness of consumers…it takes a photograph that’s creative, memorable and unmissable” (Chapnick 2009).

Oreo 2013 (source: International Business Times)

Oreo 2013 (International Business Times)

The digital age or more specifically, the social-media age, brought about major shifts for photography.  First, photographers were given a sharing platform that enabled quicker and greater dissemination – versus the traditional art gallery or exhibit forum.  Content via the Internet can reach a larger audience, yet can be appropriated and copied for unintended purposes.  From a marketing standpoint, the sharing network offers great benefits.  While there can be costs involved in online advertising, the sharing and ‘viral’ potential can make it much more cost effective.  Some of the most successful advertising campaigns have cost very little, for example the Oreo ad posted on Facebook and Twitter during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout incident – it was regarded much higher than the commercials that aired for millions of dollars (Smith 2013).  The success of this ad was due to its timeliness afforded by social media channels and the flexibility and cleverness of ad executives.  What the digital age has produced is a sense of immediacy to the photographic image that did not previously exist (Heywood 2012).

Second, the barrier to entry to photography was lowered by the advent of digital cameras and smart phones.  Photography as an art form was discredited as “middle-brow” by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, following the commercial success of portable cameras in the 1950′s and 60′s and subsequent adoption by middle-class families as a means to document domestic events (Bourdieu 1990).  In today’s digital world, Bourdieu may have gone even further to classify photography as ‘low-brow.’  Smart phones have created a culture that is consumed with the ritualization of taking pictures and is thus over-saturated with ‘pics’ that are posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – a medium solely devoted to the photographic image.  The notion of distinguishing photography from ‘taking pictures’ has become ever so critical in the art world (Irvine 2012).  On the flip-side, the more standard or compatible photography becomes in the common person’s everyday life, the more appealing it becomes (Sarvas 2011).  The challenge marketers face is creating photographic imagery that is accessible, yet stands out for its higher artistic value.

Lastly, attention spans have been reduced due to the new digital mediums and technological viewing capabilities.  Today, audiences can skip through commercials using services like onDemand and TiVo.  They are also viewing more than one medium at once, flipping between television and smart phone.  For example, over half of the 2013 Superbowl viewing audience intended to use social media while watching the game per a pre-game market research survey.  “This widespread divided attention…makes you wonder which screen is the first and which is the second” (Bough 2013).  Additionally, magazine and newspaper sales have drastically declined.  The content is now more often viewed online, thus decreasing the reach of the print ad format, and transferring importance to ad banners, pop-ups, hover ads, etc.  In these point and click atmospheres, it takes an eye-catching image to “stand out and force its way into the consciousness of consumers…it takes a photograph that’s creative, memorable and unmissable” (Chapnick 2009).  And while marketers will carefully craft the written content of their ads, it is the image that creates the first and long-lasting impression.

Case Study: Social Media & Instagram-Inspired

“The point is to manufacture glamour that doesn’t seem manufactured” (Rosman 2012).

Hudson Jeans 2013 (

Hudson Jeans 2013 (

Social media has changed the entire landscape of advertising, but particularly in regard to photography-based ads, where a new aesthetic has emerged.  People are spending less time viewing the traditional, highly-produced media forms – television, magazines, etc., and spend more time on smart phones and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.  Advertising has shifted to reflect what consumers are used to seeing, ‘liking’ and sharing.  “User-generated content – the feel and the actual images – is very intimate, and that visual language is very familiar to people…consumers ‘like’ your ad, share it with friends, and soon it has a life of its own, bouncing around social-media sites at no extra cost” (Rosman 2012).  It is almost a visual trick that advertisers play to blend in their ads with viewers social media streams, making them pay attention and not realize they are looking at an ad.  These ads appear more organic, authentic, and less sales or spam-like.  Just like the original intention of photography-based advertising, people are moved by the ‘real’ thing – they do not want to be overtly sold (Rosman 2012).  But concurrently, the successful ads stand out in a creative ways.

Facebook 2014 (source:

Facebook 2014 (

Facebook’s 2014 ad campaign is, appropriately, almost entirely founded on social media photographic principles, but with added creativity and artistry.  These ads are geared towards existing users, displayed on their feeds, with the assumed intention of enhancing Facebook’s reputation and/or getting users to more frequently and passionately use Facebook.  In the “reunion tour” ad shown here, the creators have leveraged symbols of the concert or festival culture.  The campaign was timely coinciding with the 2014 Coachella Festival.  Ads historically draw heavily on cultural symbols or events, especially those whose meanings are shared among mainstream society (O’Barr 2006).  The image is greatly inspired by the common festival-goers Instagram photos – the haze, the sunlight, the youthful crowd – are all symbolic of a concert.  Comments on the ad posting even claim that the photo was taken at Coachella.  This ad blends right into a person’s Facebook feed which makes him/her pay attention, as if it is a friend’s post.  When an ad overtly looks and feels like an ad, viewers may avoid the image or create a negative connotation that the company is spamming them.  With witty, meaningful written content, the ad ‘closes the deal’ as creative and the user generates a positive impression of the company.  That impression is often intended to have a sense of ‘cool’ particularly among the millennial demographic, but also aims to cross generational gaps to appeal to the mainstream.

Taco Bell 2013 (

Taco Bell 2013 (

Many ads have not only appropriated the look and feel of Instagram filters, but also mirror the user-generated content that is captured beneath those filters.  Taco Bell has had much success with its social media campaigns, generating buzz and ‘hipster’ appeal among the millennial demographic.  In the example shown here which was supporting a new product launch, the ad incorporates several classic Instagram photo features: food, fashionably painted nails, and an enticing caption.  It is also captured in a close-up shot, which the Instagram platform is intended for; it is not meant for panoramic views or large group photos – it is meant to capture the little details and highlights of a users everyday life.  In the digital age the camera now acts as a “witness to the mundane” but also as a tool for social interaction and bonding (Heywood 2012).  A photo of one eating a taco, with freshly painted nails, is presented as a means of attainable relation – i.e. look what I’m doing – who else is doing this?  In the Hudson Jeans 2013 ad campaign shown above, the creators specifically wanted the ads to look like a series of Instagram shots; the above image is a combined summary of the entire campaign that Hudson ran as a separate ad.  The photos have the tones, bordering, backdrops/settings, and artistic quality that are common of Instagram shots.

Case Study: Intimacy & Voyeurism

“The American Apparel advertising campaign has become…synonymous with our brand name…our un-airbrushed aesthetic [was introduced] more than a decade ago” (American Apparel 2014).

Pedigree 2013 (

Pedigree 2013 (

As an extension of the quest for the ‘real’, another current theme in photography-based advertising is a heightened sense of intimacy and voyeurism.  This culture has existed throughout time, but has become more prevalent in the digital age with the advent of social media that allows people to expose themselves via profiles, status updates, photos, videos, etc.  Additionally, pop culture heavily subsists on the reality television and tabloid culture that is propagated by the various online social media channels.  This development has greatly fed into an innate guilty pleasure of voyeurism that exists in almost every human.  What the digital age has produced is a culture that is eager for more realness, more intimacy, and more exposure into the daily lives of friends, acquaintances or even strangers.

American Apparel 2013 (

American Apparel 2013 (

American Apparel ads are famously, and to some infamously, known for their raw, un-airbrushed aesthetic.  Models are relatively ‘average’ as compared to the typical look, size and style of ones seen in traditional fashion ads.  One photographer known as a pioneer in ‘street-style’ photography says this method reflects a “heightened version of real life,” and the typical portrayal of a glamorized, waif-like teenage model “is not reality, [which] creates a barrier between the consumer and the brand” (Rosman 2012).  The models seemingly wear little to no make-up, and are casually, yet provocatively dressed.  They are situated in low-key, no-frills environments that make the viewers feel as though they getting a glimpse of the model in his/her natural habitat.  Sex appeal is a primary intention for the American Apparel brand, as established with the rawness of the photos, models in minimal clothing and suggestive poses, and an overall voyeuristic vibe.  Additionally, the ads have appropriated a vintage 1970s aura via muted, matte and sepia tones, which suits the throw-back styled clothing.

McDonalds 2010 (

McDonalds 2010 (

Ads can portray a sense of intimacy without being overly raw or exploiting sexuality.  The McDonalds and Pedigree ads exemplified here bring the viewer into a space that is intimate through varying visual cues.  McDonalds is playing off of a common cultural practice of utilizing or relying on public wifi, often while alone, in a business establishment.  The viewer of the ad can relate to the image with just a glimpse of the models hands and forearms.  A feeling of isolation, yet satisfaction is portrayed; the viewer has been in this situation and can feel what is being expressed.  Pedigree pulls on the viewers’ heart strings a bit by making a relatable, intimate scenario.  The viewer is looking in, voyeuristically, on a situation where he/she may have been before – at the beach with a dog – and may have even documented it via a smart phone.  The image is highly realistic and the sentiment is highly emotional.  The tone and split screen aesthetic are also replicable via smart phone applications and present an additional layer of realism.  With this realism, the objective of the ad is more easily accomplished – viewers can quickly transfer meaning from the ad onto the product (Williamson 1978).

Case Study: Fantasy & Romance

“Our customer is downtown and uptown…she is into reality, but romance too,” designer Rebecca Minkoff (Rosman 2012).

Mulberry 2011 (source:

Mulberry 2011 (

One theme of digital age advertising is the remixing of real with the surreal – which is appropriated from pre-digital age themes.  The appeal of the glossy, glamorized fantasy is consistent throughout all generations: “advertising…is the ideology and mythology of consumption.  The myth of advertising tells heroic commodities and fabulous lives enhanced and fulfilled through purchase and consumption” (O’Barr 2006).  Ideas of fantasy, romance and whimsy are typically geared towards the female consumer who have been indoctrinated with a fairy tale princess mentality through all art and media forms.  However, one difference in the post-digital age is the advancement of photoshop technologies that enable photography to be blended seamlessly or more creatively with fabricated imagery.  Another difference is that advertisements are reflective of contemporary cultures obsession with fantasy, mirroring popular television and film – Twilight and Game of Thrones as current examples.  These ads are telling a story and seamlessly incorporate the product or service to where the advertised good “drops into the background while highly abstract connections are made between the models, a lifestyle and the brand” (Williamson 1978).

Mulberry 2012 (source:

Mulberry 2012 (

The fashion company Mulberry and its ad campaigns over the past five years best exemplify and execute the fantasy theme with digital age enhancements.  The ads exude a high-class, yet modern appeal with the younger models in traditional, yet fresh and brightly colored ensembles.  The ads would be elitist, yet are ironically whimsical with the photo-shopped imagery fitted in not-to-scale.  There is a soft, romanticized re-touching – almost an aura exuding from the images.  And the models expressions connote a naivety and rawness – a childlike glow looking to explore their surroundings.  There are often two models in the ads – both female – portraying a playful, companionship.  Many of the themes are indirectly appropriated from Alice in Wonderland with dream-like, surreal playgrounds of fashion, animals, and wilderness.  The 2012 campaign directly appropriates Where the Wild Things Are, leveraging nostalgia in the target female millennial demographic.

Disney 2014 (

Disney 2014 (

Annie Leibovitz’s ad campaign for Disney is another clear-cut example of advertising appealing to society’s obsession with fantasy, as well as celebrity culture – which can also be related back to fantasy.  In this campaign Leibovitz appropriates various Disney films and supplants popular celebrities as the main characters; actress Jessica Chastain is portrayed as a character from the Disney film Brave in the example shown here.  Through photography and photoshop, Leibovitz creates imagery that is both real and surreal.  The viewer sees the celebrity as a real person, yet understands the background imagery is fabricated with a painting-like scenery.  This juxtaposition presents an unattainable, yet somewhat attainable feeling that Disney wants to convey via its entertainment products and services.


“An ad must always be understood to tell a positive, beneficial story about the advertised product…Within these bounds, images are manipulated for maximum positivity” (O’Barr 2006).

Advertising adapts to the given time period and cultural values, while holding true to the underlying consumer psychology principles and intended positive effects.  As technology advances, so do cultural values and consumer behavior.  Photography in today’s advertising reflects a digital age that has created a visual culture, craving immediacy, authenticity, and allure.  Glamour and beauty are still put on a pedestal, but advertisers are increasingly remixing styles and themes to create a more organic vibe.  So while “strawberries are made to look fresher and sweeter, models younger and more attractive, water bluer, and clouds whiter” (O’Barr 2006), photographic situations, settings, and styles are often portrayed to be more relatable and attainable.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, advertising may appeal to a culture wanting fantasy and romance – themes that have been enhanced in the digital age with photoshop and creative artistry.  Where advertisers do not want to fall is in the middle – an unrelatable or uninspiring state – particularly in today’s over-saturated digital space.  The goal is to be attainable and recognizable, or so highly creative and imaginative that there is no way the audience can scroll by without a second glance.


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Intertextuality and the Virtual World on Celluloid

Theo Plothe


Digital games have become an incredibly popular and influential industry within American cultural life, to the extent that digital games and the experience of playing them has been represented in many popular films. This essay posits two crucial elements for the representation of digital games in film: intertextuality and representations of player control. As discussed by Wolf (2001), videogames are intertextual by nature, drawing upon divergent texts and providing an interactive environment for users to read these texts. Cinematically, the notion of player-agency control is influenced greatly by this intertextuality, and player control has been represented in a number of films involving videogames and digital worlds. This essay looks at the use and representation of player-agency control in both the Tron and Matrix film series, as well as the recent film Wreck-It Ralph. There are three elements that are essential to this representation: 1) there is a separation between the virtual and the real; 2) the virtual world is written in code, and this code is impossible for player-agents to change, though they can manipulate it; 3) the relative position of the player to the player-agent, is one of subservience or conflict. I argue that not only is the notion of player-agency control representative, it is essential to the cinematic representation of videogames’ virtual worlds.


The digital game industry is now the largest, most popular, and profitable form of media on the planet. In 2011 alone, the industry accounted for nearly $14.5 billion in sales, from a selection of over 1100 games released across all platforms and consoles, including mobile and online downloads, and traditional disks (, 2011). According to the Entertainment Software Association, digital games are being played by more a diverse population than ever, with more than two-thirds of all American households playing some type of digital game (ESA, 2012). According to the PEW Internet and American Life Project, 53% of American adults play some kind of digital games, either on a computer, gaming console, cell phone, or handheld gaming device (Lenhart et al., 2008). Digital games, then, represent a large aspect of popular culture, and elements of games, from their narratives, characters, game worlds, and particularly game mechanics (discussed here as ludological features), are the object of representation and exploration in other popular media, particularly film.

Brookey (2010) discusses at length the convergence of the film and digital game industries, where films are adapted into digital games and vice versa. This is a rich area of scholarship in considering the effects of media convergence on both of these industries, as well as the similarity of digital games and film elements. In this essay I instead examine the representation of game experiences in narrative films. Cultural products such as these are important to study in order to consider the place of digital games in culture at large, the elements of digital games represented, and the ways in which elements of these games are considered. Burrill (2008) also notes the importance of studying digital games and their influence through the ideologies they impart to culture at large: “In a world where ‘play’ has become an operant word and war looks like a videogame, it is essential to avoid categorizing the games as simply dangerous or trivial” (p. 83). As game elements become part of larger cultural narratives like films, it is important to consider their greater impact in examining how elements of games are taken up in other media.

This essay examines the representation of digital games through three different films franchises: Tron (1982), Tron: Legacy (2010), The Matrix (1999), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), and Wreck it Ralph (2012). Through a consideration of the gaming elements represented in these three films, this essay suggests important criteria for the representation of games in cinema: 1) the film must be as intertextual as the game itself, and 2) it must represent elements of ludological control, particularly player control, adhering to a rule-bound structure. Through an examination of the ways that each film addresses player agency and the intertextual elements of this representation, this essay emphasizes the importance of this concept in cultural representations of gaming.


As discussed by Wolf (2001), digital games draw upon divergent texts and provide an interactive environment for users to read these texts. They are rich, intertextual environments that pull references and techniques from a myriad of different media sources, particularly films. In defining intertextuality, Allen (2000) notes, “intertextuality is one of the most commonly used and misused terms in contemporary critical vocabulary” (p. 2). “Intertextuality” is a term coined by Julia Kristeva to describe the ways texts relate to and reference other texts, through devices such as allusion, quotation, pastiche, and parody. This term acknowledges that in reading a text, knowledge is not simply translated from writer to reader, but is instead filtered by cultural codes developed from other texts. A text could be anything from actual written words, to representation, to a physical article such as clothes, hair, or architecture. In digital games, not only is there text that appears onscreen as narration and description, but every bit of scenery, character appearance, and diagetic sound could be considered text.

As Kress (2000) describes, the term intertextuality has become theoretical shorthand for the dialogic nature of texts as continually referential (p. 135). Orr (2003) defines intertextuality as “the culminating critical term for processes of cultural interconnectivity centered on the printed text” (p. 170). Orr emphasizes the transformative nature of intertextuality in the ability of textual references to alter the work that came before it (p. 10). While Orr’s definition emphasizes text, she notes that electronic hypertext and interactive media have added “a further layer” to text, a “virtual text” (p. 170), and that intertextuality as a term can be applied to any medium conceived of after print, including film. Orr acknowledges that Kristeva’s grounding of the term intertextuality within French postmodernism separates her concept from other similar modes of cultural borrowing “as specifically highbrow” (p. 20). In unifying these ideas, I would argue that Orr’s concept of the transformative nature of intertextuality anticipates later definitions of remix; interactive media, then, are not simply added layers of intertexuality, but are instead fundamental to the process itself.

Orr (2003) does note that the interactive nature of hypertext brings writers and readers together (p. 51). This is a key aspect Meinhof & Smith’s (2000) definition of intertextuality, as “the process of viewers and readers interpreting texts which exhibit the dynamic interactivity of several semiotic modes, and interpreting them in ways that are partially controlled by this multimodality” (p. 11). These scholars see intertextuality as a process of interpretation, and through this process, the audience identifies references within a text to other media texts. A film that references a novel draws attention to the ways that different media forms trade ideas and concepts, yet these concepts are represented in a way specific to that particular medium. Ideas traverse media, but their representations are media specific. Conversations of intertextuality in television in particular emphasize genre conventions and the role of the audience, especially their role in shaping audience expectations for a particular media text. As Meinhof and van Leeuwen (2000) describe, a TV commercial will inspire different expectations and reception than a music video or news report. These authors, then, see intertextuality as also the blending of multiple genre forms.

Schumaker (2011) argues that analyses of intertextuality in film often lean too heavily on literary criticism or study the features of particular directors rather than the function of intertextuality within the genre itself. Schumaker uses the term “super-intertexuality” to describe an exaggerated version of intertextuality present in contemporary film, defining it as “a self-reflexive theoretical model evolving from the unique text-to-text relationships that start the intertextual discourse” (p. 129). Schumaker’s analysis of the superhero film Kick-Ass notes its connections both to digital game culture and contemporary music. The author describes a sequence filmed from a first-person point of view that “quickly evolves into a shootout reminiscent of first-person shooters, like Halo and Doom. In this sequence, the camera oscillates between the first-person perspective of Hit-Girl and the third-person, suggesting a shift from digital game storytelling to stereotypical film storytelling, and shows how the two mediums can coexist” (p. 141-142). The sequence is accompanied by a cover of the theme song to The Banana Splits Adventure, a 1969 children’s television program performed by The Dickies, an American punk band. This short scene, then, references popular culture texts in television and music through a digital game-like action sequence, demonstrating the complex function of intertextuality in today’s contemporary culture:

The intertextual path which leads from television shows to generically related games indicates that it is the games which activate the everyday environment of play. There the game show stands in a familiar circle of activity. Crossword puzzles are not solved by individuals, but form the center of social activities. (Mikos & Wulff, 2000, p. 106)

Digital games take individual, specific elements of other media and place them within larger contexts and situations. The rules of a simple game, then, becomes part of a larger social system of activity within an interactive digital game.

What makes intertextuality in digital games different from other media is the immersive and interactive nature of games. Texts and film have a hierarchical, or one-to-many, relationship with their audiences. While readers/viewers can make connections between the text and others, these connections remain at an individual level. Because it’s a singular experience and not episodic, intertextuality is limited as self-reflection and self-reception. Within the gaming environment, the ability to play with these other texts alters those texts and ultimately allows individuals to experience them in more dynamic ways. This research seeks to outline the intertextual nature of video games and the gaming experience, demonstrating how the experience of video game play is uniquely intertextual and encourages an approach to media that is also uniquely participatory. Because of the importance of intertextuality within digital games, intertextuality is also an important element of films that represent digital games, as Schumaker’s analysis of Kick-Ass demonstrates.

Player Agency

The second element of these films is their representation of player agency. Player agency is the process through which gamers make decisions and intervene within digital gamespaces. Juul (2005) describes digital games as “rules and fiction,” containing narrative stories within specific ludic frameworks. (p. 12). Digital games are unique in that they are interactive; individuals have the ability to experience virtual spaces and interact with media in new ways through digital games. While digital games have structure and particular rules (just like any other structured system) there are an infinite number of ways through which the goals of a game can be achieved, and gamers are able to use creative invention and use their agency within the gameworld, usually through an avatar. The notion of player-agency has long been an area of inquiry in games studies (Behrenshausen, 2012). Scholars have looked at player-agency control in digital games, measuring its effect on education (Gee, 2003), motivation (Deterding, 2012), gaming practices (De Paoli & Kerr, 2010), and social meanings (Parsler, 2010; Wang & Sun, 2011). Morris (2002) describes the ways that gamers take an active role in the digital games they play, calling them “producers of fiction” within gameplay (p. 90).

Navarro (2012) calls controllable objects within the game “an extension of player agency” and describes the ways in which avatars allow gamers to interact within the space of the digital game. While many studies of avatars discuss player embodiment, player agency is interested more in the gamer imposing his/her will within the gamespace, which may or may not include a body, but is integrated through what Ensslin (2012) calls a “cybernetic feedback loop,” linking hardware, software, and the gamer. Brice & Rutter (2002) note that many digital games expand the parameters in which gamers can interact, even building levels, changing narratives, and adding characters (p. 76-77).

In cinematic representations of gaming, the notion of player-agency control is influenced greatly by this intertextuality. In order to represent the agency of players within a game, films rely on intertextual references: connections to digital games and other media. I posit that there are three elements that are essential to this representation of player agency within films about digital games:

1) there is a separation between the virtual and the real.

2) the virtual world is written in code, and this code is impossible for player-agents to change, though they can manipulate it.

3) the relative position of the player to the player-agent is one of subservience or conflict.

I argue that not only is the notion of player-agency control representative, it is essential to the cinematic representation of videogames’ virtual worlds. Throughout the rest of this essay, I will detail specific examples of intertextuality within the Tron and Matrix film franchises, and in the film Wreck It Ralph.


Burrill (2008) argues that the original Tron film, released in 1982, represents one of the first of many peaks for digital games within popular culture, tying it to the success of Pong and other game genres still popular today (p.94). Burrill also notes that the narrative of the film “functions as a series of games, or competitive segments performed by the avatars sucked into cyberspace and the preexisting programs populating the competitions” (p. 92). Intertextuality works throughout Tron and Tron: Legacy in that way, by representing digital game elements as small competitions that exist in the virtual space of the game.


Tron stars Jeff Bridges as computer programmer Kevin Flynn, a recently fired software engineer of the fictional ENCOM corporation. Ed Dillenger (David Warner) stole Flynn’s videogame designs and claimed them as his own, quickly scaling the management ladder as a result. Once elevated, he fires Flynn, left to running his own arcade and deviously hacking the ENCOM mainframe looking for evidence of Dillenger’s theft. The Master Control Program (MCP), an artificial intelligence written by Dillinger, repeatedly blocks Flynn’s attempts, until one day, the MCP manages to trap Flynn in the virtual world using an experimental laser to digitize him. Once in, Flynn attempts to defeat the MCP and save the world when the MCP seeks to overtake the Pentagon and Kremlin. When Dillinger learns the MCP’s plans, he is thwarted by the threat of the MCP exposing Dillenger’s plagiarism of Flynn’s incredibly successful games.

The first scene of Tron (1982) clearly demarcates the separation of virtual and the real as it opens in Flynn’s arcade and we hear a player and others talk about the Lightcycle game. We see the player start the game with a quarter and grab the joystick. The notion of a user in player-agency is very prominent from the start as the action shifts to the playing field inside the game. The virtual world’s antagonist Sark (also played by Warner) is shown in action defeating the player in a lightcycle battle. The MCP talks to Sark after the match mentioning that they have kidnapped some military programs” (via his intrusion into the Pentagon and the Kremlin) and asks if Sark would like to take them on next in more “lethal matches.” Sark bemoans the “cream puff accounting programs” he’s been sent to combat recently and readily agrees to engage these new virtual combatants.

Another example includes the following as we see Flynn being drawn into the gamespace.

In Tron users are worshiped as gods; being the unseen overlords who control their movements in the field and with an awareness that the programmers wrote the programs. Tron himself declares, “I fight for Alan,” a bold statement of loyalty to his creator. In another scene, a program, later revealed as “Crom,” is led down a hallway and can be heard complaining to his captors that he’s “Just a compound interest program. I work at a savings and loan. I can’t play these video games.” As his captors back him against a door he continues, “Hey, look. You guys are gonna make my User, Mr. Henderson, very angry. He’s a full branch manager!” The guard replies, “Great. Another religious nut!” From the guards’ perspective, Crom’s adherence to the user is repulsive. As with the MCP, the digital game rebels against its maker, seeking autonomy and independence from the user. Once in the cell, Crom’s neighbor introduces himself as Ram, welcoming him to their punishment and asking if Crom truly believes in the higher power known as the user. Crom replies that of course he does, “If I don’t have a User, then who wrote me?”

Although the virtual world is written in code, generally, the code is impossible for player-agents to rewrite, though they can manipulate it. As in digital games, there are many aspects of the game world that players cannot change, but they can use creative play to come up with solutions. This occurs most apparently when Flynn hijacks a broken down regulator, a flying war machine used to suppress enemies of the MCP. On the lam, Flynn and a mortally wounded Ram find a decrepit regulator among the cavernous outskirts of gamespace. Here, Flynn is able to revive the machine simply by concentrating on its repair and manipulating the code to fix the engine and the structural integrity of the ship. Ram’s eyes widen with awe and reverence as he questions whether Flynn is a user. Though pleased at the confirmation of his theological belief, Ram derezzes after praying to the users.

TronLegacyIn the sequel nearly 30 years later, belief in the user has changed dramatically. Tron Legacy presents a world where Kevin Flynn, as CEO of ENCOM International, disappeared in 1989. Two decades later, his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has little to do with his father’s company beyond being its largest shareholder and playing a prank on its board of directors on the anniversary of his father’s disappearance.  Before long, Sam is transported to the Grid, the virtual world created by his father in the first film now ruled by CLU, Kevin Flynn’s original hacking program, now corrupted by jealousy and twisted desire for revenge. Sam is quickly captured despite his protests of “I’m not a program” when he first arrives in the grid. Eventually, he is captured and sent to fight in “the Games”, but is rescued his father’s “apprentice” Quorra, an isomorphic algorithm created by the game, a spontaneous program if you will. CLU sees these “ISOs” as imperfect aberrations and purges the system of them via mass extermination. CLU seeks to capture Flynn’s “identity disc,” unlocking its master key so that he can escape the system through the “I/O portal” and impose his idea of perfection on the real world.

The user (player) acts as an independent agent within the system. He retains control of his individual actions, and can affect certain spheres of influence directly around him, but the programs has grown beyond his control, as witnessed by the ISOs. In this sense, player-agency is only cursory; the player’s ability to play the game is defined by the boundaries constructed and enforced by the game. Contrasted with the first film, where Flynn was exploring the game and discovers his power as the player and exerts some sense of control, here he sees that the player is just another cog in the machine.  At one point, Flynn bemoans Clu’s betrayal and dominance “It’s his game now. The only way to win is not to play.”

The Matrix


Like the Tron films, The Matrix franchise also sets up a distinction between the real and virtual worlds. The Matrix is set in a futuristic world where machines rule and the reality that humans experience is a simulation created by a machine that uses humans for an energy source. Neo (Keanu Reeves), a computer programmer, learns the truth about the Matrix from Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), the leader of a human resistance force that fights against the machines. After a series of training episodes resembling sparring scenes in a martial arts video game, Neo learns that Morpheus believes he is “the One,” prophesied to end the war between humans and machines. Neo returns to the matrix and he and Trinity fight Agent Smith, a being within the machine that polices it, in the Matrix and rescue Morpheus as a machine attacks their ship outside of the Matrix, which the crew destroys just in time with an electromagnetic pulse.

When Neo takes the now infamous “red pill,” he is thrust out of the Matrix, a virtual world he has always thought to be though real, a bit askew. As he awakens, he sees the world not as the machines wish him to, but as it is, that humans are farmed for their energy compositing stacks of batteries that stretch as far as the eye can see.neo-wakes-up-within-the-matrix1

Through training and his mystical abilities as “the One,” Neo is able to actually visualize the code of the game and through this, how can manipulate the code in a remarkably tactile way. In other words, though he cannot rewrite the code as a modder can do with a digital game or as a hacker or cheat code can do, he is able to change the parameters within the physical virtual environment, i.e. slowing bullets.

In the above clip, while Neo cannot destroy the bullets, they exist on both the virtual and physical plane, he grinds their progress through the air to a halt. As in digital games, there are many aspects of the game world that players cannot change, but they can use creative play to come up with solutions. Earlier in the film, Neo tried to dodge Agent Jones’ bullets managing to avoid nearly an entire clip while standing in space. After Trinity makes the save, she queries “How did you do that? You moved like they do. I’ve never seen anyone move that fast.”Matrix_Reloaded_4

The following film in the triology, The Matrix Reloaded, features Neo’s search for the source of the Matrix by finding the Keymaster and the Architect. The architect tells Neo that because he is part of the Matrix, he has a choice to either return to the source of the Matrix and reboot it, choosing the survivors to help repopulate the human colony in the real world, Zion, which is about to be destroyed by the Architect’s machines burrowing toward it ever closer. Or, he is told, he can choose for the matrix to crash, killing all humans, but leaving the machines. Neo chooses to save Trinity instead, rescuing her from the matrix by catching her from falling off a building and removing a bullet from her heart. Neo learns he can stop machines telepathically, but falls into a coma from the effort.

As he did with the bullets at the conclusion of the first film, Neo reaches into the code with a tactile approach, plucking the bullets from inside Trinity’s green shimmering body made of code. He cannot simply destroy the projectiles, removing them from the virtual world, he must remove them with the ludological constraints of the game.

MPW-58815The Matrix Revolutions, the final film of the trilogy, involves Neo visiting the Oracle and learning that Smith intends to destroy both the Matrix and the real world. Neo and Trinity take the fight to Machine City as the others defend Zion from the machines. Neo meets the “Deus Ex Machina”, the machine leader, and offers to destroy Smith for peace with Zion. Neo fights Agent Smith, who has taken over the virtual selves of everyone in the Matrix, and Smith assimilates Neo but is destroyed, as Neo is connected to the source. Zion is saved and the Matrix resets itself, but all humans will be offered the ability to leave the Matrix. While the third film has far less forays into the virtual, that the trilogy ends with a final battle between Neo and Agent Smith with the matrix is appropriate. Again, the relative position of the player to the player-agent is one of subservience or conflict. In that battle, Neo is tied to the Source, and his agency is tethered to that as well. Neo within the matrix is being played as much as he is playing, while Agent Smith, a rogue program at this point battles for sentience outside the game against his computer overlords.


wreckitralphposter1351814498073Wreck-It-Ralph is a Disney animated film about a video game character Ralph (John C. Reilly) who tires of his role as the villain in his arcade game Fix It Felix, Jr., and leaves his game to earn a medal and become a hero in another game in the arcade. His adventures take him first to the first-person shooter game Hero’s Duty, where he earns a medal, but unwittingly carries a virus with him into the racing game Sugar Rush. In this game, he befriends Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a glitchy character who takes Ralph’s medal to buy entry into the race. The head of Sugar Rush, King Candy, warns Ralph that letting Vanellope race would reset the game, threatening her existance. Meanwhile, Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) search for Ralph and the virus he brought with him in Sugar Rush. The four of them work to kill the virus (Cy-Bugs), as Ralph learns that Vanellope was part of the original game and encourages her to finish the race. Toward the finish line King Candy reveals himself to be Turbo, a character from an earlier racing game who manipulated the code of Sugar Rush to make himself king.  Ralph destroys the Cy-Bugs, saving Sugar Rush, and Vanellope crosses the finish line, resetting her game and restoring herself to a racer within it.

Unlike the previous films in this project, Wreck-It-Ralph is purely digital in that the protagonists originate in the virtual realm; no one enters it and no one leaves, yet the digital is fully aware of its position relative to the real. To its digital denizens, Wreck-It-Ralph’s characters see the real world from a very Cartesian perspective: within the old video game arcades, such as Litwack’s Arcade from Wreck-It-Ralph, the real looks in on their virtual worlds as if through a window in space. Ralph discovers the truth of Vanellope’s existence in the following clip by gazing through this window to the real.

One of the major in-jokes of Wreck-It-Ralph‘s digital world, is the normalcy of the characters lives. They wake up at the start of each day as Mr. Litwak opens the arcade, and work a 9-5 just as any working stiff might. But the digital worlds are still written in code. In this example from, the character, King Candy, is seen using a common cheat code that has significance within gamer culture to manipulate the code:

The cheat code is just another intertextual example of players utilizing creative play. During the “Bad-Anon” meeting at the beginning of the film, Ralph expresses a desire to leave his game and stop being the bad guy. He is quickly rebuked by his fellow villains, with Kano from the Mortal Kombat saying “You can’t mess with the program, Ralph.” What we can delineate here is the separation of the notions of the code and the program. The code is the bits and bytes that make up digital games, the building blocks if you will. The program is something far more esoteric and larger, more akin to “nature” or “life.” As any gamer can tell you, while the program may be less likely to be “messed” with, you can certainly change the code.

A following example of that distinction would be the earlier mantra repeated by legendary character Sonic the Hedgehog, who can be seen on video billboards, “Everyone. If you leave your game, stay safe, stay alert, and whatever you do, don’t die, cause if you die outside your own game, you don’t regenerate. Ever. Game Over.”

This discussion of “stick to the program” can be best parsed in the film’s initial foray into Hero’s Duty, a first-person-shooter (FPS) where a of team space marines mount an offensive against the evil alien swarm, the Cy-Bugs.

During the resultant chaos, we see Calhoun repeatedly turning to the FPS instructing the player on what to do. The player’s face appears on the flat screen as she does this, intertextually, this is action is common in gaming as a playable tutorial during which the game instructs the player on game rules and mechanics within the game’s narratives. When Ralph steps out of line, Calhoun pushes him to the side and nervously looks back to the FPS, proceeding with her instructions. After the beacon is turned on resulting in all the bugs flying to their death, Calhoun reads the riot act to Ralph (as Markowski), reminding him of the player-character’s subservience to the player. “What’s the first rule of Hero’s duty? Never interfere with the first-person-shooter. Our job is to get the gamers to the top of that building so they can get a medal, and that’s it! So stick to the program, soldier!” The interesting twist is that the Cy-bugs are mindless killing and eating machines who do not know they’re in a digital game. The beacon, acting as a giant bug zapper, has to be activated at the end of play in order to destroy all the bugs lest they overrun the game and infect other realms.


A larger question I consider in my research is the notion of game space, the relation of that space to gamers, and its representation in popular culture. How game space is represented in culture is important because the media help to inform audiences’ beliefs of gaming. This paper argues that in addressing player agency, these films comment how we can make sense of video game experiences and their growing place within our everyday lives.

King and Krzywinska (2006) note that film analysis of the meanings of films includes an analysis of the kinds of “personal characteristics” endorsed by the film (p. 126). What does that mean for games? Each of these films explore one’s ability for agency within a system, which in these films means a digital game. Each of these films gives the individual agency within the system. While in most cases they cannot change the underlying structure of the program (any more than an individual can change an economic or political system) one has agency to work within it. Using games as a metaphor through which to consider social constraints gives these three films a moderate view of the possibility for change. These examples suggest the importance of continuing to study the popular representation of games and game culture for their underlying messages.


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Ensslin, A. (2012). The language of gaming. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Giddings, S., & Kennedy, H. W. (2006). Digital games as new media. In J. Bryce & J. Rutter (Eds.), (pp. 129–147). SAGE Publications.

Hjorth, L. (2009). Playing the Gender Game: The Performance of Japan, Gender and Gaming via Melbourne Female Cosplayers. In L. Hjorth & D. Chan (Eds.), (pp. 273–288). New York :: Routledge,.

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Kijima, Y. (2007). The fighting gamer otaku community : what are they “fighting” about? In M. Ito, D. Okabe, & T. Tsuji (Eds.), (pp. 249–274). New York :: New York University Press,. Retrieved from

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Kress, G. (2000). Text as the punctuation of semiosis: pulling at some of the threads. In U. H. Meinhof & J. M. Smith (Eds.), (pp. 132–154). Manchester : Manchester University Press :

Lessig, L. (2009). Remix: making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy. New York: Penguin Books.

Lugo, J., Sampson, T., & Lossada, M. (2002).  Latin America’s new cultural industries still play old games: From the banana republic to Donkey Kong. Game Studies, 2, Retrieved from

McCowan, T. C. (1981). Space Invaders’ wrist. The New England journal of medicine, 304(22), 1368.

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Mikos, L., & Wulff, H. J. (2000). Intertextuality and situative contexts in game shows: the case of Wheel of fortune. In U. H. Meinhof & J. M. Smith (Eds.), (pp. 98–114). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

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Final Post: The Virtual Museum

How does the museum-sphere blend the physical environment with virtual environments via the use of emerging digital technologies?  What is the role of the material vs. the ephemeral in creating meaningful visitor experiences?  How have audience expectations changed and what effect does this have on museums’ methods of curating and delivering content?


Nina Simon
Emily Magnuson, “Virtual Museums,” Frieze Magazine Blog, 3.8.2011.
Discussion in Curator: The Museum Journal. [Overview of issues from a Smithsonian curator.]

André Malraux, “La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)”. 
Overview and excerpts. English translation unfortunately as “The Museum Without Walls”, a chapter in The Voices of Silence, 1951). Further implications of art and culture mediated through photography, and the assumption of a global “art encyclopedia” informing the modern concept of art and art history.

Personal Style Blogs: Remediation in the Fashion System

Layan Jawdat

Abstract: This paper endeavors to explain the popularity of personal style fashion blogs in the context of the contemporary fashion system.  Given the fundamental similarities and differences between fashion blogs and fashion magazines (representing traditional fashion media), how can we understand the role of personal style blogs in the fashion industry and more specifically, in the realm of fashion media today? Through a textual and visual analysis of several popular personal style blogs (Fashion Toast, the Blonde Salad, the Man Repeller, Atlantic-Pacific), I argue that as relative newcomers to the world of fashion, blogs would have no cultural influence or meaning were it not for the already existing complex systems of meaning in fashion and fashion media. It is therefore more useful to understand these blogs as remediations and new interpretations of fashion media. I review past and contemporary analysis of meaning-making through fashion and the role of fashion media in the fashion system.


Personal style fashion blogs represent a fresh, new and digital addition to the fashion media industry. While bloggers were first known as “fashion-obsessed amateurs” (Kurutz) or “online diarists and hobbyists,”(Phelan) some blogs have risen to fame, become successful businesses, and have viewership statistics that rival those of fashion magazines. On the surface, the blogs seem to be novel, revolutionary participants in the fashion industry– supplanting the influence of traditional cultural gatekeepers (fashion magazine editors).

At the most basic level, personal style blogs are websites run by personal style bloggers, “people who post photos of themselves wearing clothes” (Odell). Arguably, they gained popularity for their perceived authenticity and relatability: instead of reporting to editors and advertisers, using the Internet and their digital cameras, bloggers could post photos of themselves in their self-styled outfits to share with the world.  Today’s most popular and influential personal style bloggers have professional-looking sites and project a carefully curated image of themselves, but at their core, they have succeeded by “simply posting to the internet, in an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive fashion, photos of themselves wearing things alongside the occasional snap of some food they might eat”(Odell). If this description seems flippant, in many ways it is, and in many ways it represents the way in which personal style bloggers were first received in the fashion industry. However, personal style blogs that top the current “most influential personal style blog” lists (Style 99 and Sherman), like Fashion Toast, the Blonde Salad, the Man Repeller, and Atlantic-Pacific, have succeeded in gaining followers and influence not only through presenting a democratized version of fashion, outside the traditional fashion media, but also because they were able to appeal to readers through their stylish wardrobes, sense of style, beauty, and other forms of social and cultural capital. In this paper, I endeavor to answer the following questions: Given the fundamental similarities and differences between fashion blogs and fashion magazines, how can we understand the role of personal style blogs in the fashion industry and more specifically, in the realm of fashion media today? Are these blogs fulfilling a different role in society than fashion magazines have, and continue to?

In this paper, I argue that as relative newcomers to the world of fashion, blogs would have no cultural influence or meaning were it not for the already existing complex systems of meaning in fashion and fashion media. It is therefore more useful to understand personal style fashion blogs as remediations and new interpretations of already existing fashion media. The functions of personal style blogs can be closely likened to the functions of fashion magazine editorials and advertisements. Like other new technologies and media, instead of replacing older technologies, blogs perform many of the same functions that traditional fashion media have performed in the past, and continue to perform. To illustrate this conception of personal style blogs as remediations of different, older types of fashion content, I will discuss concepts of dialogism and intertextuality as they relate to fashion media. I will first turn to a discussion of fashion and its social and cultural meanings, and then to a discussion of the structure of fashion media as a meaning-making system. I will then analyze specific examples of personal style blogs and show how they are instances of a larger phenomenon of digital remediation of traditional fashion media.

As cultural artifacts, Irvine explains, fashion and the fashion media are given meaning through the social and cultural networks they are part of: “symbolic artefacts like books, movies, music, and digital multimedia function as forms of distributed collective cognition, allowing many members of a culture to engage with a complex symbolic activity of their culture over long time spans” (Irvine 7). The fields of linguistics and semiotics are helpful in breaking down these component units that come together to generate meaning within cultures. The rules for understanding these meanings are “necessarily recursive and dialogic, enabling anyone in a language and cultural community to create an unlimited number of new expressions (e.g., in words, images, sounds) from limited means (using the finite grammar, dictionary, and encyclopedia of a linguistic group”(Irvine 5). Fashion media, both the digital/new and print/older, can be understood through these terms.

To understand the role of fashion blogs, we must understand fashion media more generally. In turn, to understand the importance and social function of the fashion media, we must also understand fashion as being built on a complex of interconnected social meanings and relationships, operating in the realm of shared culture. In the following section, I will review the work of Thorstein Veblen, Pierre Bourdieu, and other contemporary scholars who have performed close analyses of the sociology of fashion and parsed the ways in which fashion is given social meaning and used as a marker of distinction. I will also examine scholarly works investigating the “fashion system” and the fashion media, including the work of the semiotician Roland Barthes and contemporary media and marketing scholars.

Meaning-Making through Fashion

In The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen discusses the economic and social issues around what he calls “conspicuous consumption.” He also usefully explores the concept of taste and consumption patterns, and how they relate to social classes and stratification. Expenditure on clothing is unique and interesting, according to Veblen, because it is an immediately discernible outward sign of our “pecuniary standing.” Written in the late nineteenth century, Veblen noted the functions of fashion that remain true today: people buy and wear clothes not for the sole purpose of protecting themselves, but rather, for the sake of “respectable appearance” and to “appear well-dressed.” Veblen also notes the propensity for people to sacrifice comfort for the sake of “fashionableness.” These observations illustrate the idea that clothing exists for more than practical needs; fashion is indeed marked by meaning and outward socio-economic signs.

Penned nearly one hundred years later, Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste , like Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class,  situates fashion and its consumption in the realm of society, culture and social capital. Also like Veblen, Bourdieu analyzes the ways in which fashion choices and taste in the realm of culture mark class and demonstrate social distinction. There exists, therefore, a social hierarchy governing the arts that is regulated by education, which is in turn affected by social origin. Art and other cultural products are only given meaning by those who have the “cultural competence” or “code” into which the work of art was “encoded”(Bourdieu 2).

Bourdieu is fascinated by consumption habits and undertakes a deep analysis of these habits as they relate to the sphere of culture, surveying and interviewing people on their tastes and buying patterns, paying careful attention to differences among different social classes. Taste and aesthetic preferences “are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference;” and Bourdieu also claims that classes distinguish themselves from one another through a distaste and rejection of the lifestyle choices of other classes (Bourdieu 56). Clothing, and fashion therefore emerge as outward markers of a person’s position in society, “as a rank to be upheld or a distance to be kept”(Bourdieu 57).

Bourdieu also analyzes the role of luxury goods in the world of fashion. On the production side, luxury goods function as markers of distinction, as they are “emblems of ‘class’”(Bourdieu 232). Luxury goods therefore fulfill a symbolic function, marking those who consume them as members of the dominant class (Bourdieu 232). Bourdieu’s points about taste and cultural consumption as markers remain relevant; while they may not always be markers of social class in a dichotomous working class-bourgeoisie relationship, choices in consumption certainly remain markers of difference.

Numerous other scholars have theorized the role of fashion in society and the system of meanings attached to sartorial choices on individual and group levels. Indeed according to Yuniya Kawamura, author of the book Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies, fashion should be treated both as a cultural practice and as a symbolic product (32). To understand fashion as culture and the shared social meanings associated with it, “it is necessary to understand not only the technical processes and arrangement for manufacturing and distribution of cultural phenomena but also the culture through which the products are given meaning”(Kawamura 32). Fashion, through clothing as its physical and representational manifestation, is social and must be interpreted through its social milieu (Kawamura 33).

While also using sociology to understand the symbolic meaning and cultural capital associated with fashion, Kawamura brings the work of Veblen and Bourdieu into the contemporary moment. She explains that social class is less evident today through choices in the individual’s consumption of fashion: “in postmodern cultures, consumption is conceptualized as a form of role playing, as consumers seek to project conceptions of identity that are continually evolving” (Kawamura 99). Instead of marking social class, differences in style can signify other things like lifestyle and personal taste as markers of identity (Kawamura 99).  Fashion, therefore, while not necessarily still exclusively a marker of economic standing, nevertheless remains an important way for consumers to construct and project an image and identity. This reinforces the social embededness of fashion, and the need to understand it in the context of shared culture.

From a marketing perspective, branding and distinction in fashion still exist and serve consumers needs in different ways: “consumers buying branded fashion products enjoy not only the functional needs of the products but also the excitement and other social needs (e.g., self-image projection, showing desirable lifestyle and social status etc.) (Choi 3).  Fashion marketers understand the social and psychological needs of consumers, which have little to do with the physical properties of the clothes, but rather, with the social meanings attached to them. In Fashion Marketing, Mike Easey, echoing Bourdieu, explains, “fashion goods enable people to show identification with, or separation from, certain social groups”(63).

Fashion Media and Cultural Gatekeepers

An essential component of the fashion industry is the fashion media. Just as fashion can be understood as a system of meanings, the fashion media too play an important role in determining the social meanings and significations of fashion, and in educating readers about style. This topic has been studied closely by theorists like Roland Barthes. In The Fashion System, Barthes uses semiotics to study women’s fashion in French fashion magazines and notes that the fashion media industry is an essential part of the fashion system, which continuously educates consumers on “fashionability” (not necessarily pushing specific products).

Through this exhaustive semiotic study of women’s clothing, Barthes performs a structural analysis of clothing described in fashion magazines between 1958 and 1959, mostly focusing on the French magazines Elle and Le Jardin des Modes. Barthes studies the written system of fashion instead of an analysis of the “real (or visual) system,” because by being discussed and represented through the written word, fashion becomes “an autonomous cultural object, with its own original structure” and therefore becomes “narrative.”(Barthes Foreword x).

Barthes addresses the economic implications of the translation and meaning-making through the written word, arguing that clothing producers and consumers must have different levels of consciousness about clothing to ensure that consumers buy clothes faster than the rate of clothing’s “dilapidation” (Barthes Foreword xi). He explains, “a veil must be drawn around the object—a veil of images, of reasons, of meaning;” this veil is created to make consumers desire these objects, even when they do not need them (Barthes Foreword xi). The fashion media can therefore be understood as creating a system of meaning around clothing.

Perhaps most fascinating and relevant to today’s fashion scene and the rising influence of fashion blogs is Barthes’ description of “the woman of fashion. ” She is “imperatively feminine, absolutely young….her work does not keep her from being present at every festive occasion throughout the year or the day”(Barthes 260). Barthes describes this woman as a world traveler who likes all types of music. Her description is intrinsically linked to mass culture, consumption, and aspiration: “the woman of fashion is simultaneously what the reader is and what she dreams of being” (Barthes 261). This aspiration remains applicable today: both magazines and digital formats (blogs and fashion websites) present Barthes’ “woman of fashion.” It can be argued that the same characteristics are valued today: youth, beauty, worldliness, and tasteful consumption set the “woman of fashion” apart from the average woman, and are constantly repeated and echoed across fashion media.

Other researchers have explored the contemporary fashion mediascape through the lenses of sociology, media studies, business and marketing. According to Kawamura’s sociological investigation of the fashion industry, clothing producers and designers are just one part of the entire system, and would not survive without those who help disseminate “the idea of fashion, ” namely “fashion journalists, editors, advertisers, marketers/merchandisers and publicists” (73-4). The system “creates symbolic boundaries between what is fashion and what is not fashion and also determines what legitimate aesthetic taste is”(Kawamura 73).  Because the fashion system operates in culture, it “invents new cultural meanings, and this invention is undertaken by opinion leaders who help shape and refine existing cultural meanings”(Kawamura 76). Through the construction of these cultural meanings, opinion leaders become “sources of meaning for the masses”(Kawamura 76). Thus fashion becomes fashion through the mediation and interpretive work of fashion media, an intrinsic part of the fashion system. Fashion journalists and editors function as gatekeepers by evaluating designers’ work, choosing which work qualifies as fashion and should be shared with the masses, and then disseminating this work. Fashion magazines are most relevant, according to Kawamura, because “they directly serve the interests of the fashion industry” and “diffuse ideas to encourage the selling of latest styles”(81).

Echoing this idea of the importance of fashion magazines in mediating what qualifies as fashion, and feeding that to the masses, Tungate explains in Fashion Brands, “over the years, the fashion press has handed many designers a place in history”(132). Designers gain visibility and access to consumers through magazine coverage. Magazine content is also closely linked to advertising content; the fashion world is a “relatively small and self-contained community in which stylist, art directors, photographers and editors flit from magazines to advertising campaigns and back again”(Tungate 131). This interconnected fashion system, and the convergence among different types of content–from production to presentation to consumption–helps set the stage for the rise in popularity and influence of online fashion media, including personal style blogs.

Celebrity culture also plays an important role in the fashion world today. Some scholars have theorized that the increasingly visible role of stars in articulating what is fashionable and stylish has coincided with shifts in an understanding of fashion in contemporary consumer culture, which suggests that there are a plethora of choices when it comes to fashion, and through fashion choices, everyone can be anyone (Warner 382). Warner explains that this shift has provoked concerns  “that signifiers of cultural identity such as fashion will lose their symbolic value”(Warner 382). In light of this perceived fear over the loss of symbolic value in fashion, celebrity images today play an important role in restoring the symbolic meaning of fashion and “in mediating the symbolic value of fashion to audiences/consumers”(Warner 382). Symbolic value through fashion continues to exist, therefore, albeit mediated through different types of cultural intermediaries (Warner 383).

The Fashion System Today: Transmediation and Remediation

Today’s fashion system has changed from the system described by Barthes, Bourdieu, and Veblen, but the underlying principles defining the system remain the same.  The social meanings and cultural symbolism attached to fashion, mediated by the fashion media, are still more important than any physical property of clothing. And although contemporary, postmodern notions of fashion reject the view that clothing remains first and foremost a marker of class, and is instead a marker of individual identity (Kawamura 31), the fashion media (sometimes, but not always through the leveraging of celebrity personas) continue to police and control popular perceptions of fashion and taste. Furthermore, the perceived shift away from class markers to markers of uniqueness still occur through the same processes and operate through scarcity. Luxury brands remain successful and sought-after social and cultural markers: “luxury designer fashion brands are usually associated with differentiation, exclusivity, and innovation” and “consumers of luxury designer fashion brands use the brands to classify themselves from others”(Choi 104).

The fashion system has undoubtedly evolved, and digital media forms, including personal style blogs–in addition to traditional fashion media like magazines–now address and mediate fashion content. Part of today’s digital fashion media content is characterized by “transmediation,” a symptom of the fact that “we live in a post-digital analog-digital continuum, a system of traditional media artifacts and media forms like books and magazines” that exist alongside digital platforms (Irvine 19). Transmediation occurs when we experience “the representation of the ‘same’ media ‘content’ across different technical-material platforms from analog to digital” (Irvine 19). In terms of fashion media, transmediation occurs when we see the same advertisements in a fashion magazine, on a billboard, on a magazine’s website, and on Instagram or Facebook.  In addition to transmediation, new forms of fashion media have emerged, including fashion blogs.

Using the same grammar and encyclopedias of fashion, style, and consumption, fashion blogs can be understood as remediations of older forms of fashion media. They “presuppose a shared context of knowledge, prior forms of expression, and rules and procedures for possible new moves in the ongoing dialogue”(Irvine 13). Personal style blogs use the grammar of the fashion world in the text and photography of blog posts, and the posing and styling of bloggers. The blogs appeal to notions of social distinction through style and the consumption of luxury goods, and present a worldly and stylish “woman of fashion.” Through repeatedly picturing the same blogger in different outfit posts, and by sharing pieces of the blogger’s life through text and photos in blog posts, they construct a relatable persona so that bloggers function as celebrities to their audiences. Overall, popular personal style bloggers socialize their readers into the world of fashion and “good taste,” much like fashion magazines and other forms of traditional fashion media.

Personal style blogs set themselves apart from traditional fashion media, at least at their inception (they first began to get notice in the fashion world in 2006) by virtue of their perceived “authenticity,” “amateur” nature, and their place outside the nexus of power in fashion media. However, personal style blogs, while an alternative to fashion magazines, did not emerge from a vacuum and appeal to viewers in many of the same ways that fashion editorials and advertisements have in the past. Today popular personal style bloggers have monetized their sites and make money through banner ads, wear clothes provided by designers in organic-looking posts (they look just like ordinary outfit posts, but have links underneath to websites where viewers can purchase the items), and collaborate with a variety of brands and designers–from high street to luxury brands.

In 2012, Women’s Wear Daily’s gave some insight into the business of blogging, and the collaborations between brands and bloggers:

“For between $5,000 and $20,000, a brand can work with an influential blogger to host an event (plus airfare, hotel and entertainment, of course) — one that gets upward of a few million page views a month and will cross-promote the brand on the blogger’s site (although the jury is still out on proving ROI from page views, with sales being the only concrete measure). Starting from $20,000 to $25,000 (and up), a company can book a blogger for various weeklong projects during Fashion Week — with some bloggers fetching nearly $50,000 for even longer-term partnerships.” (Strugatz)

The most popular personal style bloggers today have millions of page views per month and Instagram followers in the hundreds of thousands to millions. As mentioned in the quote about the business of blogging above, these bloggers sometimes become fashion world celebrities in their own right, are invited to fashion shows and collaborate with both luxury and mass market brands on advertising campaigns and designing collections. The existence of such collaborations indicates the perception within the fashion world of their value and influence on consumers. Most fashion bloggers combine both “high” and “low” fashion and present their own unique style and personality.

Today’s popular personal style blogs remain “fashion diaries” of beautiful and stylish women (mostly), but have evolved in terms of production value. Some have expanded beyond personal style blogging to include other content, like the Man Repeller, which features articles about fashion and popular culture. Personal style blogs that have remained primarily style blogs, however, are no longer casual productions; as Lauren Sherman of explains: “Today, the girl needs more than an outfit, a boyfriend, and a camera. Bloggers need to think about production quality, editorial strategy, and affiliate programs to really gain a foothold on the web. They are more like editors, creating publications worthy of a million-person audience than a few thousand super-fans” (Sherman). Photo-shoots for the blog posts—arguably the most important element of personal style blogs– require location scouting, “’styling, hair makeup, photography, art direction, retouching, copywriting and posting’”(Strugatz).

The following blog posts are examples of typical personal style blog posts, culled from the most popular and influential personal style blogs (listed above). The posts embed constitutive units exemplifying hallmark characteristics of the fashion media and fashion system, described by already existing theory and studies. These characteristic units are: the presentation of social distinction through style and the consumption of luxury goods, familiarity and the construction of celebrity, discourse about “good taste” that socializes readers into the world of fashion, and finally, overall, the presentation of a worldly and stylish “woman of fashion.” 

The following is one photograph from a post entitled “Grip It” on the blog Fashion Toast.

 Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.41.13 PM

The blogger, Rumi Neely, is attractive and posing much in the same way a model would pose in an editorial or a fashion ad. In fact, the entire photograph looks like it could have been pulled from a magazine. The significance of the text underneath the photograph, discussing what she predicts could be the next “it” shoe, following the popularity of Birkenstocks, is twofold. First, it situates her in the fashion world by showing her knowledge of existing trends. Second, it shows that she has her only personal style, not simply following trends, but creating them.  By illustrating and predicting a new trend, she is shaping existing cultural meanings and effectively making meaning for her audience.

The following photograph is from another Fashion Toast post entitled “Cloud Formations.” Like the “Grip It” photos, these present the blogger as a beautiful, stylish woman, much like a model.

fashion toast

As Barthes explained in The Fashion System, it is important to consider the written word in addition to the visual. The friendly and casual accompanying text to the “Cloud Formations” photographs serve to personalize the photographs and make the reader feel closer to the blogger. The text (below) also shows that the blogger is wearing luxury goods from known designers like Celine and Theory. These branded luxury items, mixed with her own styling and non-luxury branded clothing, serve to mark her individual identity while simultaneously appealing to notions of scarcity and exclusivity.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 12.10.57 PM

The Man Repeller post called “A Wedding Outfit that Doesn’t Suck” likewise depicts and mentions luxury brands, which function as social and cultural markers of differentiation and uniqueness. Her Mark Cross bag and Carolina Herrera blouse and skirt are pricey, and the value of these pieces is constructed through her styling of the outfit and the accompanying text that identifies the brands of the pieces. The photo is also of professional quality, and like those of other personal style blogs, resembles editorial style photography found in fashion magazines. The fact that the post links to online retailers that carry the clothing the blogger is wearing in the photos signifies the blog post is functioning as an advertisement as well.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 11.32.55 AM

 Atlantic-Pacific, another popular personal style blog, exemplifies the presentation of what Barthes called “the woman of fashion.” Like the Man Repeller, Fashion Toast, and other top personal style blogs, the photographs are of professional quality, requiring all the work that entails, and likening the posts to fashion magazine editorial. Atlantic-Pacific also functions as advertisements by linking to retailers where the clothes and accessories depicted can be purchased by readers. The blogger wear luxury branded goods like a Chanel bag, Christian Louboutin shoes, and jewelry by Cartier and Hermes.Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 3.56.29 PM“Bows and Lace”
Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 3.58.14 PM“Paradise”

 The presentation of her style and personality, in conjunction with the fact that every post on the blog pictures the blogger, construct a relatable personality to which readers can identify. This personality also functions to create “a woman of fashion” who is socially distinct from others through her taste and the clothes she wears. She is an urban dweller, according to the location of most of her photographs), who also travels, as evidenced by the post “Life Lately,” which pictures the blogger on the beach and in a tropical-looking location. This fits perfectly with Barthes’ description of the “woman of fashion,” who “leaves the city every weekend and travels constantly, to Capri, to the Canary Islands, to Tahiti, and each time she travels she goes to the South; she stays only in mild climates”(Barthes 260).

Finally, to illustrate the construction of celebrity personality and the leveraging of a conception of style and luxury goods to mark differentiation and exclusivity, I will turn to the world famous Italian blog, The Blonde Salad. Chiara Ferragni, the blogger figuratively behind The Blonde Salad, is always in front of the camera. Extremely photogenic and beautiful, she has risen to fashion celebrity status and has over 2.1 million followers on Instagram. Her blog posts show her traveling the world, collaborating with numerous designers to market and advertise their products, and to create her own lines in collaboration with various brands. Her photos, like those mentioned above, could belong in fashion magazines due to their editorial style and high production value. Her jewelry and watches are consistent markers of taste and luxury consumption  (she is never seen without her Rolex or Cartier watches and Cartier jewelry), and her style and personality, constructed through the thousands of photographs of her modeling her style render her appealing to her many followers. Like Barthes’ “woman of fashion,” she is simulatanously relatable to the reader, and a representation of her dreams and aspirations. Consider the following photographs from the Blonde Salad, which exemplify the presentation of a conception of “good taste,” the consumption of luxury goods as a marker of social distinction, and the construction of the personality of a “woman of fashion.”

“In the Desert to Coachella”

blonde salad into the desert


into the desert


into the desert 2


“Los Angeles Jungle”

los angeles jungle

“Backyard of Happiness”



While the fashion system and fashion media have evolved and changed since Thorstein Veblen first wrote about social distinction through fashion, and since the first fashion magazines were published, the underlying structures of social and cultural meaning continue to exist today. Since the late nineteenth century, “a symbiotic, tripartite relationship between clothing mass production, fashion journalism, and mass-media advertising” has been steadfastly in place (Hill ix).  The fashion media, particularly fashion magazines and journalists and editors have mediated what clothing and styles qualify as fashion and “good taste” and presented those choices to the masses. The fashion media have built upon notions of social distinction through luxury brands and stylistic choices filtered through taste and aesthetic preferences.

The expansion of fashion media to the digital realm has not only included the presence traditional fashion publications online, but also a rise in different fashion and style-focused blogs, like personal style blogs.  Through their use of the grammar of the fashion world, photographic conventions, and the set of shared cultural and social meanings, personal style blogs can be understood as a remediation of older, traditional fashion media. These blogs continue to educate readers on the definition of fashion, beauty, and femininity.  They have also constructed a new notion of a fashion world celebrity. Although originally situated outside the nexus of power in the fashion system, through large readership rates, popular bloggers have accrued cultural capital in the fashion world, attending fashion shows and partnering with all types of brands. Thus personal style blogs fulfill many of the same function as traditional fashion media, albeit with slight differences in format and through the construction of a relatable, celebrity, “woman of fashion” blogger figure.

Indeed, instead of replacing fashion magazines, popular personal style blogs have been integrated into older forms of fashion media, with publications like New York Magazine’s  “The Best of the Week’s Style Blogs” feature. According to digital media theory, “we continually navigate and learn new configurations of old and new media, and discover that all media are inter-related, cross-reference each other, and become ‘sources’ for each other’s ‘content”(Irvine 19).  Furthermore, in the context of a perceived loss in the symbolic meaning of fashion, as elaborated by Warner, personal style blogs have effectively constructed a new type of celebrity for the fashion-obsessed masses to look up to as cultural intermediaries.

While it is clear that current iterations and mediations of the fashion media are part of the already existing network of meanings attached to fashion, further research would be useful in determining how audiences consume, decode, and interact with the content of personal style blogs in comparison to other forms of fashion media.  How much does social status through markers like luxury brands matter today? Do personal style blog readers feel that bloggers have lost an aura of “authenticity” through their integration in the global fashion system? What will the next evolution yield in the fashion media? This and many other questions remain unanswered, and would make fascinating follow-up studies to the analysis presented here.


“Atlantic-Pacific.” Atlantic-Pacific. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <>.

Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Berkeley: U of California, 1990. Print.

“The Blonde Salad.” The Blonde Salad. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.

Choi, Tsan-Ming, ed. Fashion Branding and Consumer Behaviors: Scientific Models. New York, NY: Springer, 2014. Print.

Cowles, Charlotte. “The Best of the Week’s Style Blogs, Fall Edition.” The Cut. New York Magazine, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Easey, Mike, ed. Fashion Marketing. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print.

“Fashiontoast – Fashion, Style, and Travel Blog by Rumi Neely.” Fashiontoast. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Hill, Daniel Delis. “Preface.” As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP, 2004. Ix-Xi. Print.

Irvine, Martin. “Hybridity-Remix-Dialogism: Introduction – Google Docs.” Hybridity-Remix-Dialogism: Introduction – Google Docs. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2014. <>.

Kawamura, Yuniya. Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford: Berg, 2005. Print.

Kurutz, Steven. “Fashion Bloggers, Posted and Represented.” The New York Times.29 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 May 2014. <>.

“Man Repeller.” Man Repeller. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <>.

Odell, Amy. “Why The Era Of Personal Style Blogs Must Come To An End.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 13 June 2013. Web. 01 May 2014. <>.

Phelan, Hayley. “Fashionista,” Fashionista. 20 Aug 2013. Web. 1 May 2014,<>.

Rocamora, Agnès. “Hypertextuality And Remediation In The Fashion Media.”Journalism Practice 6.1 (2012): 92-106. Routeledge. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

Sherman, Lauren. “The Most Influential Personal Style Bloggers Right Now.” Fashionista. N.p., 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

Strugatz, Rachel. “To Pay or Not to Pay: A Closer Look at the Business of Blogging.” Women’s Wear Daily. N.p., 5 June 2012. Web. 02 May 2014. <>.

“Style99 | The 99 Most Influential Fashion & Beauty Blogs.” Signature9 99. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <>.

Tungate, Mark. Fashion Brands: Branding Style from Armani to Zara. London: Kogan Page, 2008. Print.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. 1899. Project Gutenberg.       Web. 17 Apr. 2014. <>.

Warner, H. “Fashion, Celebrity and Cultural Workers: SJP as Cultural Intermediary.” Media, Culture & Society 35.3 (2013): 382-91. Sage Publications, 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

 Annotated Bibliography 

The topic of this bibliographic review is fashion, and more specifically, exploring the ways in which symbolic value is generated in the cultural realm of fashion.  Although the following books and articles do not necessarily focus solely on fashion, they were carefully chosen for their insights into the topic of the generation of social meaning and symbolic value through clothing and fashion.

Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. Berkeley: U of California, 1990. Print.

In this exhaustive semiotic study of women’s clothing, Roland Barthes performs a structural analysis of clothing described in fashion magazines between 1958 and 1959, mostly focusing on the French magazines Elle and Le Jardin des Modes. Barthes focuses on the written system of fashion instead of an analysis of the “real (or visual) system.” This is because by being discussed and represented through the written word, fashion becomes “an autonomous cultural object, with its own original structure” and therefore becomes “narrative.”

Barthes is concerned with the translation of fashion through language in fashion magazines. He also addresses the economic implications of such translation and meaning-making, arguing that clothing producers and consumers must have different levels of consciousness about clothing to ensure that consumers buy clothes faster than the rate of clothing’s “dilapidation” (Foreword xi). He explains, “a veil must be drawn around the object—a veil of images, of reasons, of meaning;” this veil is created to make consumers desire these objects, even when they do not need them (Foreword xi). Barthes’ book analyzes written fashion to understand clothing as a system of meaning.

Barthes undertakes an in-depth semiological analysis of clothing as objects and as a set of collective representations through language, which complements images in magazines. The book is divided into three main sections: methods, the vestimentary code (analyzing the structure of the signifier, structure of the signified, and structure of the sign), and the rhetorical system (signifier, signified and the sign). To those unfamiliar with semiotics and semiology, this analysis might seem tedious, but Barthes makes important points in breaking down examples of written fashion.

Perhaps most fascinating and relevant to today’s fashion scene is Barthes’ description of “the woman of fashion. ” She is “imperatively feminine, absolutely young….her work does not keep her from being present at every festive occasion throughout the year or the day”(260). Barthes describes this woman as a world traveler who likes all types of music. Her description is intrinsically linked to mass culture, consumption, and aspiration: “the woman of fashion is simultaneously what the reader is and what she dreams of being” (261). This aspiration remains applicable today: both magazines and digital formats (blogs and fashion websites) present Barthes’ “woman of fashion.” It can be argued that the same characteristics are valued today: youth, beauty, worldliness, and tasteful consumption set the “woman of fashion” apart from the average woman.

 Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. Print.

In his extensive study of taste and consumption habits and their role in marking social class, Bourdieu explores the economic logic of cultural goods. From a sociological and anthropological perspective, Bourdieu asserts that cultural practices and consumption habits are the products of upbringing and education. Throughout the book, he shows how social and economic factors come into play in the production and consumption of culture. While Bourdieu does not deal with fashion exclusively, instead focusing more on the visual arts, music, and mass media, his analysis is useful in its explication of the way in which meanings around cultural artifacts like fashion are socially constructed and function as markers of class.

Tastes in the realm of culture, according to Bourdieu, operate as markers of class and social distinction. There exists, therefore, a social hierarchy governing the arts that is regulated by education, which is in turn affected by social origin. Art and other cultural products are only given meaning by those who have the “cultural competence” or “code” into which the work of art was “encoded”(2).  Furthermore, aesthetic preferences or taste serve to classify the classifier (6); people distinguish themselves in society “by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar” (6). The differentiation marked between “lower, coarse, vulgar, venal, servile” or “natural enjoyment” and “distinguished pleasures” inherently declares the superiority of those who enjoy the so-called refined, or “sublimated” pleasures (7). For this reason, Bourdieu argues that art and cultural consumption are worthy of analysis and scholarly interest; for, they “fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences”(7).

Bourdieu is fascinated by consumption habits and undertakes a deep analysis of these habits as they relate to the sphere of culture, surveying and interviewing people on their tastes and buying patterns, paying careful attention to differences among different social classes. Taste and aesthetic preferences “are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference;” and Bourdieu also claims that classes distinguish themselves from one another through a distaste and rejection of the lifestyle choices of other classes (56). Clothing, and fashion therefore emerge as outward markers of a person’s position in society, “as a rank to be upheld or a distance to be kept”(57).

Bourdieu is interested in all kinds of consumption, which he addresses comprehensively throughout the book. While his work on clothing and fashion is thinner, he nevertheless offers important insights into the ways in which we can understand the social functions of fashion. In the Chapter “The Habitus and the Space of Life-Styles,” Bourdieu explores the phenomenon of interest in self-presentation, and how this varies across classes. While working class people are more interested in “being,” the middle classes prioritize “seeming,” which affects patterns of consumption in both food and clothing (200). These different priorities vis-à-vis clothing and appearance stem from practical concerns: money and attention given to self-presentation is directly proportionate to “the chances of material or symbolic profit they can reasonably expect from it”(202). Economics, and more specifically, the labor market, therefore play an essential role in determining taste and the way in which people consume fashion. This corresponds to an awareness of the “market” value of beauty, which extends beyond the realm of clothing and into manners, mannerisms, and makeup (206). Capital and social status determine and organize preferences in the realm of clothing (and food and cosmetics) (208).

Continuing to consider fashion from an economic perspective, Bourdieu discusses fashion as a cultural good, and the function of luxury in the chapter “The Dynamics of the Fields.” On the production side, luxury goods function as markers of distinction, as luxury goods are “emblems of ‘class’”(232). Luxury goods therefore fulfill a symbolic function, marking those who consume them as members of the dominant class (232). While luxury producers, including fashion houses, are aware of their role as markers of distinction, Bourdieu maintains that artists (and designers) are often unaware of their social functions in marking class and difference (234).

Bourdieu’s comprehensive sociological and anthropological study of taste, class and consumption is certainly useful for its insights on the interplay between fashion and the social meanings associated with sartorial choices and consumption. However, some might argue that his arguments and examples foregrounding differences between the “working class” and “bourgeoisie” are dated. While some scholars have discussed the democratization of culture and fashion, Bourdieu’s points about taste and cultural consumption as markers remain relevant—they may not always be markers of social class, but choices in consumption certainly remain markers of difference.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. 1899. Project Gutenberg. Web. 17 Apr. 2014. <>.

Veblen’s book is an in-depth discussion of the economic and social issues around what Veblen calls “conspicuous consumption.” He explores the concept of taste and consumption patterns, and how they relate to social classes and stratification. In Chapter 7, “Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture,” he focuses on people’s spending habits on clothing. Expenditure on clothing is unique and interesting, according to Veblen, because it is an immediately discernible outward sign of our “pecuniary standing.”

Veblen’s discussion of dress as it relates to social distinction emphasizes an important fact that defines fashion as much today as it did in the late nineteenth century: people buy and wear clothes not for the sole purpose of protecting themselves, but rather, for the sake of “respectable appearance” and to “appear well-dressed.” Veblen also notes the propensity for people to sacrifice comfort for the sake of “fashionableness,” something that also remains true today.

Economic considerations are essential to any discussion of fashion. Veblen notes that clothes that are cheap are regarded unfavorably, and conversely, expensive garments are correlated with beauty and goodness. Aesthetics are therefore inextricably linked to economics: only costly articles of clothing are deemed beautiful, while cheap and counterfeit clothing are lower in aesthetic value. The link between economics and fashion is even deeper, according to Veblen. Clothes not only show that the wearer can afford their consumption, but they also show that the wearer is not a laborer, distancing him/her from industrial production and the working class.  Expensive clothes place the wearer firmly in the realm of consumption, and outside the realm of production. Women’s clothing is a stark example of this: high heels, corsets, skirts, and long hair all make movement, and therefore manual labor, difficult.

The discomforts associated with sartorial and beauty trends for women persist today, which make Veblen’s arguments particularly fascinating. While the social class system has not remained the same, trends in clothes, hair styling and makeup with social meanings attached to them, still exist. Veblen highlights fashion’s place in a culture of conspicuous consumption as not only characterized by outward signs of costliness and the economic status, but also by the phenomenon of “shifting fashions:” “Dress must not only be conspicuously expensive and inconvenient, it must at the same time be up to date.” Veblen also explains how styles in fashion change cyclically, and how the rich decide what is decent and good in all things related to consumption and fashion, and the lower classes imitate the stylistic choices of the rich.

These astute observations about the nature of fashion and its role in embodying outward signs of social and economic standing are in many ways still relevant to any analysis of fashion in our culture today. Veblen’s work is useful in highlighting the non-essential functions of clothing that dominate the ways in which we interact with fashion through various media, and the way in which make sartorial choices on a day-to-day basis.

Warner, Helen. “Fashion, Celebrity and Cultural Workers: SJP as Cultural Intermediary.” Media, Culture & Society 35.3 (2013): 382-91. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

 Warner begins this article by discussing contemporary consumer society, defined by a celebration of freedom and choice, and which “holds the promise of egalitarian society.” This perception of freedom has led to anxieties around cultural identity and symbolic value in fashion. In addition, these perceived changes and anxieties have developed in conjunction with advances in celebrity culture; the article therefore focuses on the “increasingly symbiotic relationship between fashion and celebrity culture in the contemporary period.” This research is useful for its discussion of the way in which fashion garners social and symbolic value in contemporary culture–through appealing to consumers’ attraction to celebrity culture.

The article uses Sarah Jessica Parker, most famous for her role on the HBO show Sex and the City as a case study because her “celebrity image serves to educate audiences about fashion, taste, and consumption practices an functions.” According to Warner, Sarah Jessica Parker functions as a cultural intermediary. Warner builds upon Bourdieu’s definition of a cultural intermediary referring to people visible in the mass media involved in the presentation, including marketing, advertising, and public relations, of symbolic goods.

The article examines discourses of class in discussions and representations of Sarah Jessica Parker in the magazines Harper’s Bazaar and People.  Overall, Warner maintains that images of Parker often endorse the concept that fashion transcends class boundaries, while simultaneously partaking in a discourse of “distinct class boundaries” privileging “middle class notions of taste.”

Warner builds her argument by examining Sarah Jessica Parker’s presentation in an October 2000 issue of People. Through a textual analysis of the article, Warner shows how Sarah Jessica Parker’s success is described in relation to fashion. In particular, Parker is presented as a consumer and connoisseur of couture, which is a labor-intensive product that is far from mainstream or mass market. This discussion of her “conspicuous consumption” of couture works against the notion of the democratization of fashion; Parker “displays her wealth and social mobility through fashion and endeavors to foreground the value of couture.”

The article also discusses the function of magazines with fashion content in general, explaining that they serve to promote an evaluation of celebrity fashion choices instead of identification with them. They also function as educational tools, teaching readers about fashion and trends, and what is considered “good taste.” In analyzing Harper’s Bazaar’s 2009 cover story on Sarah Jessica Parker, Warner highlights the fact that the photo shoot connotes luxury and conspicuous consumption, and the images also serve as advertisements because the information about the clothes she is wearing also appears on the page. Thus magazine content serves several functions vis-à-vis consumers, all related to social status and consumption.

Through her analysis of Sarah Jessica Parker’s representation in the media as a celebrity fashion icon, Warner shows that “class discourses continue to pervade contemporary consumer culture.” While the postmodern assumption is that “society is moving toward a classless society,” this article challenges this notion through the concept of the celebrity fashion icon. Sarah Jessica Parker, as an example of such an icon, functions in the media as a cultural intermediary by “reinforcing the boundaries of taste” and “promoting a decidedly middle-class notion of appropriate feminine identity.” Warner’s study is useful for its analysis of contemporary issues of class, taste, and the symbolic value of fashion, and concludes with the prediction that celebrity cultural intermediaries will continue to grow in importance in contemporary consumer culture. This prediction is certainly in line with the increased popularity of fashion celebrities on social networking sites like blogs and Instagram.