Symbol and Style Cluster Update #1

Our resident cluster is in full swing, with students being challenged conceptually, aesthetically, and technologically — and loving it!  We are indebted to Eero Johnson and Rhett Taylor, who besides both having interesting names, are proving to be excellent adjunct faculty members this term.  Here are a couple of news bits from the cluster that did not travel halfway around the world!

Eero Johnson, Filmmaking Instructor

Rhett Taylor, Film as Literature Instructor

The Style and the Consumer class has  been exploring what happens in the brain when it is exposed to various marketing techniques.  For example, research indicates that advisory labels on cigarettes seem to actually promote their use!  Neurological data show that the larger and more gruesome the warning, the greater effect seen in the brain’s nucleus accumbens, also known as the craving spot.  Thus, warning labels — despite the millions of dollars spent and lawsuits pursued regarding anti-smoking campaigns –apparently increase the desire to utilize a product.

Further, we explored why most people prefer Pepsi in a blind taste test, but why, by a 3:1 margin, people choose Coke when told what they’re drinking.  Finally, we analyzed product placement in television and movies and why it occasionally works, but usually does not.  In future classes, we will explore mirror neurons to explain why “…but everybody else is doing it” actually has a neurological basis.  We’ll also examine the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of subliminal messages, a marketing strategy founded upon an entirely faked science experiment.

Our Film as Literature class, meanwhile, has been examining the ways we observe and are observed.  We looked at the varieties of shots utilized in film and the effect different shots have on the viewer.  We also explored the concept of voyeurism in the works of Alfred Hitchcock, such as Rear Window and Psycho, wherein the viewer is confronted with a character portrayed as a scoundrel for doing the same thing the audience is doing: looking into the lives of others while remaining outside their world.

These discussions extend into other classes, as students prepared to produce film, and edit their own commercials as an assignment for their Filmmaking class.  Commercials reach out to an audience not fully aware of the tactics used to encourage irrational consumption — while that audience looks voyeuristically into the televised world.  Our students have some very interesting commercials in production right now!  Watch for them on YouTube before the term is over.

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