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Sight Gag: The Limits of Empire


Our primary goal with this blog is to talk about the ways in which photojournalism contributes to a vital democratic public culture. Much of the time that means we are focusing on what purport to be more or less serious matters. But as John Stewart and Stephen Colbert often remind us, democracy needs irony, parody, and pure silliness as much as it needs serious contemplation. For our part, we will dedicate our Sunday posts to putting some of that silliness on display in what we call “sight gags,” democracy’s nod to the carnivalesque. Sometimes we will post pictures we’ve taken, or that have been contributed by others, or that we just happen to stumble across as we navigate our very visual public culture. And we won’t just be limited to photography, as a robust democratic visual culture consists of much more. We typically will not comment beyond offering an identifying label, leaving the images to “speak” for themselves as much as possible. Of course we invite you to comment … and to send us images that you think capture the carnival of contemporary democratic public culture.

Photo Credit: John Lucaites



Sight Gag: The Limits of Empire


4 Responses

  1. lucaites says

    Hi Jacob. I’m glad you found us. And note that this is a “real” picture for a real town in northern Michigan. No photoshop here.

  2. Eric Yeh says

    First of all, let me begin by saying how much I love reading this website. It has become one of the few things I do before I brush my teeth each morning.

    Second, I’m glad to see that you guys encourage people to comment. Even though you guys are really smart academics, it’s heartening to see that you guys actually read an average Joe’s comments. I really hope more and more people will participate in this on-going dialogue about rhetoric and public culture because of its growing importance in the world dictated by more and more media coverage.

    Finally, as for the photo, it reminds me of the old adage about how every empire will eventually fall. First, this is because the sign, which has big-capitalized letters of “EMPIRE” on the top, seems to scream the innate desire of all empires to remain in power forever. Yet, the words “VILLAGE LIMIT” (albeit, shortsightedly in smaller font), demonstrates that no empire could truly stay forever in power, and there will always be an extent as to how much an empire could grow. It achieves this by demarcating the space of how much this “EMPIRE” could actually expand in the future. So even though the trees still seem lush and green, you can see wires on background perhaps trying to intrude its way through the physical barrier. The wires represent again, the desire of the EMPIRE to expand beyond their limit, and whether they will succeed or not seems to be determined by the words “VILLAGE LIMIT” already.

  3. Hariman says

    Eric: I just returned from weekend travel to read your comment, which is not only a fine way to start my day but also (“as for the photo . . .”) a good example of how we continue to learn from our readers.

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