Considering the Whole Image

BAGnewsNotes promotes critical readings of visual media

| May 26, 2005

We savvy consumers know that a product's packaging is manipulated for commercial success; fruit is waxed to accentuate color, clothes are modeled by beautiful people, and toothbrushes are given a space age design (even though brushing is the same as it always was). But how skilled are we at deciphering the media we consume on a daily basis -- such as newspaper photos, billboards, or the covers of magazines?

Dr. Michael Shaw created the BAGnewsNotes weblog in 2003 with that question in mind. Installments on the blog open with an image often pulled from the front page of a newspaper or magazine, which Shaw encourages his audience to read not as raw footage but as purposeful propaganda. 'If you're going to hang out with me at the BAG...,' he says in a recent installment, 'You have to give up the notion that anything is arbitrary.'

Take Ann Coulter on the cover of Time. 'By leaning forward, hunching her shoulders and giving you a stare, she's declaring herself off limits,' Shaw writes. More recently, he discussed the kangaroo-print tie that appeared around Senator Rick Santorum's neck on an otherwise pious cover of the New York Times Magazine.

Shaw, an author and political cartoonist, holds a PhD in psychology and his well-written entries are as provoking as they are entertaining. Among his goals for BAGnewsNotes, Shaw wants 'to encourage and help train my readers to become better consumers of visual news media.' In that light, visitors to the site are welcome, and often encouraged to join in the critical experiment; the blog is open to comments.



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