The student blog for Drake University first year seminar entitled Visual Politics

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Vividly Struggling Nation

American culture is unique, especially when compared with other societies across the planet. Certain icons, symbols, and photographs are only understood as a way of life by the people within the society that the icon represents. For the American society, iconic images are what define our nation and the culture within it. Specifically, the photograph pictured above depicts an aspect of American culture. It describes struggling economy of our country, the way Americans interpret homelessness, and the message portrayed to the public.

Although our economy is slowly improving, it remains no secret that Americans are still experiencing economic hardships. This photo vividly displays this fact. America has always had her share of homeless people, but the numbers have been multiplying. This is a blatant icon of a struggling nation. Seeing this man solemnly sitting on the side of the street hoping to receive a morsel of money to purchase some food, clearly plays to the viewers’ emotions through the an emotional scenario. In their book, No Caption Needed, Robert Hariman and John Lucaites describe the ability of an iconic image to create “a scenario in which specific emotional responses to an event become a powerful basis for understanding and action” (35). This image constructs a connection with the audience conveying for them the true crisis that many Americans are experiencing.

With a nation as diverse as the U.S., there is certainly going to be varying viewpoints about how Americans interpret homelessness. These perceptions are what contribute to the definition of the homes in America. To some Americans, this image invokes negative emotions. No one is around the homeless man demonstration how a portion of society views homeless people as having a stigma. For instance, the homeless should be more proactive in searching for a job instead of imploring for spare change. People stay away from those who are homeless because they are afraid that the rest of society will look down upon them for simply associating with the people in poverty. The dejected, worn expression on this man’s face displays the struggles, challenges, and opposition that he will meet with throughout the day. Photos do not always capture America’s most positive moments, but they definitely serve as a way to define our culture.

Although this photo clearly symbolizes America’s poor economy and our negative view of people in poverty, the picture still displays a vivid message to the public. The strategy of civic performance is utilized as the picture attempts to motivate the audience to action. It is sending the message that Americans must work hard each day to ensure that they deserve the more fortunate circumstances with which they have been given. No one wants to become homeless. Furthermore, this photograph offers Americans a chance to change the negative stereotypes of being uncaring and heartless. Americans have the chance to put aside the stigma and to actually go over to the next homeless person that they encounter and offer spare change or even a simple smile. The opportunity for an iconic photo to spur a community to positive action is forever present.

Every culture has iconic images that define its inner workings and beliefs. Photographs serve as an aid to building the connection from one community member to another and from one culture to the next.

Mary Rometti

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