Author: colep28

“Here is Your Garbage” Reflection

When choosing what kind of camera I’d use for my Photo Essay Assignment, “Here is Your Garbage“, I was a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities. Vaseline on a lens? Disposable cameras? Once again, I was forced to consider the technological dimension of composition, and how it is tied to the quality and effect of what I create. I’d have to make a decision that wasn’t based off of mere convenience; I’d have to consider exactly what I was trying to capture, and let that inform my decision on what type of camera to use.

When I decided on taking pictures of trash, I concluded that texture was a huge element that I’d want to capture. I wanted to show trash in shocking detail and texture—from the small pieces of glass blending into the sand, to the countless discarded items stacked in piles and heaps. To capture such detail, I concluded that a DSLR camera would best serve my needs. Using a Nikon D3100, I didn’t feel limited by the touchy focus of a camera phone, nor by the blurry, sharpness-lacking pictures from a disposable camera.

Once I had the camera, I still needed to know what to look for. The landfill, of course, contained a lot of trash. This place was definitely the easiest site to gain material. All over the place were piles of trash—televisions, chairs, tires, glass, plastic, paper. It was grotesque to see trash in such volumes, and capturing it made a powerful punch for my photo essay. But the photos from this place alone only showed half of what I wanted to show about trash. I wanted to show garbage in more mundane, approachable contexts.

I headed into Philadelphia the next weekend to take my last round of photographs. This was after our in-class workshop, so I had a fresh new set of questions and a sharpened critical sense to bring with me. When I got there, there were plenty of trash cans and dumpsters to choose from along with some construction sites with debris that would, as I presumed, get sent to a scrap yard—or perhaps even a similar landfill to the one I photographed the weekend before. It was all great, but I knew there had to be more, subtle things that I was missing. I was, after all, a member of my own audience; I needed to find the ‘waste’ that I and everyone else overlook.

I started looking in smaller places—areas behind the dumpsters in back alleys, potholes, the open spaces in sewer drainages. I found that these smaller places contributed just as much as the epic, voluminous heaps I had been photographing prior. For instance, I walked past the soda can lodged in the sewer drainage bars several times before seeing meaningful and aesthetic value to it. First of all, the diagonal lines of the metal bars served as an aesthetically-pleasing background to the can, which was so perfectly lodged between them. It cried out its own meaning—trapped in a sort of unintentional net from the hidden, underground collection of disposed cans beneath it—an unwanted but inevitable result of our consumption and disposal habits.

It was easy for me to manipulate them in Picasa after the fact. I scrupulously cropped every picture in my Photo Essay, but I also took some editing a bit further. I found that adding sharpness to some pictures intensified the texture. This came in handy for close-up pictures in particular, highlighting every little wear-crack in the shoes on page 16.

Also, adding saturation to my pictures made them a lot more vivid, and even retracted the view from the textures to the colors and text as was effective in some cases. My picture of the “All Natural Clean” container on page 4, for instance, was a lot more dependent on the text on the container than each individual piece of trash behind it. So, by adding saturation to the photo, I shifted the focus to the larger, bolder text—highlighting the irony of the words “natural” and “clean” on a plastic container in a landfill.

Finally, I feel that the soft focus tool in Picasa was fantastic—almost like a semiotic cheat code to bring the viewers’ focus to what I want them to see. In the picture wherein the bulldozer is pushing trash across a pile on page 5, I used the soft focus to direct the reader to the trash that is being pushed. Conveniently, this included an intact chair and what appears to be a suitcase. Now, the viewer can see the trash pile for its parts.




The Anchor: You Know You Want It

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word anchor since reading Ronald Barthes’s “Rhetoric of the Image”. Let me start from the beginning, though.

Before defining the word, anchor, Barthes establishes the probably that “in ever society, various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs…” In other words, every picture has an infinite scope of contextual potential. So, with such a wide array of possible meanings for a picture—varying by who is looking and when/where they are—pictures need anchors, or something to provide “control” and “bear a responsibility—in the face of projective power of pictures—for the use of the message.”

Take this advertisement for example:

mcdonalds_ad-Don't Stare Too Long

I found this picture online when I searched ‘McDonald’s advertisements’ on Google. Obviously, it is a picture of an advertisement, but we’ll pretend for the moment that we’re seeing it in person.

Imagine there were no text on the advertisement, and just a picture of an Egg McMuffin. Sure, many people would still see it as an advertisement, but it would also lose a lot of potential viewers in the noise surrounding it. These days, don’t pictures of fast food remind us of things like hear disease, obesity epidemics, animal cruelty, and minimum wage concerns as much as they remind us about the food itself? The Egg McMuffin is not innocent, and McDonald’s knows this.

The anchor text of the image reads, “don’t stare too long[,] you’ll miss the train”. Here, McDonald’s is distracting us from the rest of this contextual noise and making us see it as they want to see it: desirable. But I don’t think McDonald’s expects anyone to actually think, Aw man, I almost missed my train because I was so lost in the beauty of this Egg McMuffin! Good call, McDonalds. More likely, McDonald’s wants us to pick up on their intertextual play with sexual phrases. The “don’t stare too long” is just a textual equivalent of the quintessential American scene wherein the gawking male momentarily loses his wits while checking out a woman. Or, in linguistic form, something along the lines of this:

My eyes are up here

The McMuffin advertisement gets even more interesting once you look at its placement within the frame. We might expect the text to be somewhere on the bottom, in some more marginal position while the image engulfs most of the space. However, the anchor of this advertisement consumes half of the picture, given an equal prominence to the McMuffin itself. Whereas most advertisements idealize their products at the center of the picture, McDonald’s does not. It’s almost as if McDonald’s, through their suggestive language, is acknowledging that it is unhealthy—something less like food and more like a casual encounter with a stranger. And by making the text as prominent as the image, the reader is gestured to consider the guilty proposal as much as we are the product.

After all of this, I’ve come to see anchors as not only holding down a meaning for the picture, but also as attempts by certain parties to anchor the reader/viewer, to try and sway us away from the more prevalent—and perhaps more important—meanings behind objects. We, as consumers and citizens, need to remain critical and skeptical, so as not to fall under the spell of such textual hypnotics.

Proposal: Trash

For my Photo Essay, I’d like to take on option one and take 12-15 original photographs of what people throw away.

Trash day can say a lot about the residents of a house, the community they live in, and the society we all comprise. To throw something away is a statement. You’re saying one or many things: “I don’t need this,” or “I don’t want this,” or perhaps even “I can’t have this.” Trash is history. It tells stories.

Since my girlfriend suggested this idea to me, we’ve been going back and forth, elaborating on what trash can say about us and what the variables might be. Do people with Porches in freshly-paved driveways throw away different things than people with beat-up Buicks outside of apartment buildings? I can imagine that they would. But maybe they don’t.

Years ago, I moved my mother and myself into a new house. We knew the previous tenants were evicted, but too many more details outside of reports of domestic violence from other neighbors and the mother’s supposed drinking problem. She had two children. They left a lot behind in the garage—mostly junk—and I moved it all to the curb for trash collection with a friend. Two of the boxes were filled with toys. We put them on the curb with the other things and looked at them in silence for a moment. The scene said more about the house’s history than any inquiry I’d made at that point. It would have made a powerful picture.

Maybe we’re driving past more history lying on curb-sides every week than we think.

Mash-Up Reflection (Part Two)

Putting meaning into a video mash-up isn’t only easy, it’s inevitable. Two pictures, videos, words, or even sounds can’t be placed next to each other without altering each other’s meaning—or creating an entirely new meaning for matter. Effectively controlling the meaning—in a mash-up for instance—is the harder part. When making my mash-up, I wanted to really hit it home that scientific debate has no place in politics. And I implored some semiotic methods to do so:

At 2:05, Michelle Bachmann is standing before congress giving a speech. Following her at 2:07, Gary Busey appears giving his speech at the Comedy Central Roast of Larry the Cable Guy. Understanding Sean Hall’s definition of intratextuality in This Means This, This Means That as “the internal relationship between different parts of the same work,” the viewer can see these relationships: both are standing behind podiums, making similar hand gestures to an audience.

Through the intratextual relationship between the two clips, the viewer can interpret that I am making some sort of comparison between these two. However, the comparison can take on heavier meaning if the viewer can recognize Gary Busey as a symbol of ‘crazy.’ Such an understanding of Busey would require the reader to not only know about his erratic behavior, but also of the popular understanding of him as crazy that would sustain his symbol-status as such.

Assuming the viewer is attuned to Busey’s symbolic qualities, the viewer can finally interpret the metaphor. A metaphor, as Hall defines it, is “an implied comparison between two similar or dissimilar things that share a certain quality.” If Bachmann=Busey, and Busey=Crazy, then Bachmann=crazy. Ultimately, this emerging metaphor acts to do one of two things effectively: introduce Bachmann is crazy to a viewer that might not know much about her (or thought otherwise), or reaffirm any of the viewer’s existing thoughts that she is crazy and show it in a new way.

I applied a good level of intertextuality to this mash-up. According to Hall, intertextuality is “how works of various kinds (e.g. books, paintings, sculptures, designs, advertisements, etc.) make reference—often in clever ways—to other works”. I did some reference of my own when I used a clip from Breaking Bad wherein Huell, a crooked lawyer’s henchman, falls onto a pile of money. Assuming a good amount of viewers have seen this show, they can know that the pile of money that Huell is falling onto is dirty money—obtained through selling methamphetamine and murder. Using the meaning that Breaking Bad’s producers have already created around this widely-known scene, I inserted it into my mash-up to add an important layer of meaning: dirty money fueling the religious and political attacks of science.

Now, that dirty money scene will influence what meaning is made in the gutter—or the space between two separate items (video clips in this case)—preceding and proceeding it. For instance, when juxtaposed to the scene of billionaire Charles Koch (:40), the gutter contains the following implications: the money that pumps into dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity is dirty itself. By themselves, these two clips probably wouldn’t suggest that much for my purposes—probably only facts and ideas that people already knew. Now, however, my viewer is able to see political funders like Charles Koch in a way that challenges their ethics not just politically, but morally. Ultimately, Koch’s lack of morality that I implied will carry into the greater point, politics and science, and suggest something new: dark money groups are funding anti-science politicians. Now, the issue isn’t just who is crazy or uninformed, but also corrupt.

I use the word “viewer” a lot in this reflection, so I should probably do some analysis of whom I’m speaking of and how they are interpreting my work. Obviously, this mash-up is very political, and in terms of American politics, is critically aimed at the Republican Party (Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin are all Republicans). Knowing this, I have to understand that different viewers may have different conceptions about what I’m saying. A conception, as defined by Hall, is a “thought” about something that can be very different from another’s due to “different information coded into the concepts that they use.” A person who regularly follows politics might have a different understanding of the clip I used of Mitt Romney, and know that was when he mocked President Obama for wanting to “heal the planet.” A person who doesn’t watch politics, however, might not know how loaded that clip was. I tried to set my mash-up so that people across different levels of contemporary political knowledge can follow my point. I did this by making sure I used clips of recognizable, high-profile politicians who are not only widely recognizable, but also whose agendas are clear. I believe doing this made my mash-up’s message accessible to a larger audience.

Mash-Up Reflection (Part One)

One thing that took me a while to realize while I was making this mash-up is that I need to not only consider the ideas I’m putting across, but the actual genre in which I am composing. My first drafts seemed to get a clear point across, but seemed more like a series of blunt and uncreative juxtapositions and montages. When I started to make the music and clips speak to each other—general things more in line with mash-up conventions—I started to see a much more interesting and clear product. For instance, I started to make the people in the video dance to the music (Rick Perry rocking his head at :18, Mitt Romney rocking his head at :31, Gary Busey at 1:32). Doing this engaged the ‘characters’ into the ‘play.’

Not only is this more entertaining, but if forces the viewer to engage with the song as well as the video. And once the viewer becomes the listener, a whole new mode of communication opens up for me contribute to the main idea: science + politics = bad. Oingo Boingo’s song, “Weird Science”, is a perfect way to play with this idea, so I decided to make the song speak to the video and vice versa. For instance, when the singer goes, “It’s my creation,” I made it match up to what was going on in the video (once at :48 when it goes to a clip of Mrs. Garrison from South Park teaching evolution, then at 1:47 when electricity passes through the doll which eventually gets turned into a person in the movie, Weird Science).

This was far from easy to do. Every time I’d change just a second from one point in the mash-up, everything else after it would be changed. I decided to adapt to this by replacing certain clips with clips that were exactly the same length of time. Doing this had its own problems, though. Some clips needed to be longer whereas their replacement clips would need to be a tad shorter. So, with that, I’d have to take a fraction of a second off of one clip, and then another fraction of a second off of a different one. After a while, editing this mash-up turned into juggling numbers—almost like balancing a budget for a business. Perhaps that’s just one essential part of video editing that I didn’t know about.

I did a lot of reflecting on the technology that goes into certain types of composition while making my mash-up. Certain technologies are more stable—or at least generally more dependable. I’ve never had even close to the same technological frustration with a pencil as I have with video editing software. With a pencil, I don’t need to format a .mp4 to .avi or vice versa. Nor do I have to make sure my trial subscription to the program hasn’t run out. It’s a fair trade, though. The compositions you can make with newer technologies are so much more engaging and can simultaneously utilize different modalities to zoom in on an idea or message.

Reflecting even more on the technology, I wonder if a lot of my frustration wasn’t necessarily from any inevitable difficulty of editing software, but rather from the time I’ve taken in developing literacies in different modes of writing. For instance, is video editing software any more sophisticated—or at least harder to use—than Microsoft Word? The more I think about it, the more I think not. The only difference is that Microsoft Word serves the function of a much more institutionally-dominant mode of writing: alphabetic text. If I had spent one percent—and I’m not being hyperbolic with that number—of the time I have spent writing essays on Microsoft Word and used that time to use video-editing software, I’d be pretty proficient at it. Furthermore, I’d probably be a lot more perceptive of the different elements of composition as a whole, outside of alphabetic texts alone.

Using different technologies to write has also brought to light my use of other people’s expressions of ideas. I have to admit that I felt a bit uneasy as I binge-downloaded video after video off of Youtube, but the more I thought about what I was doing with them, I realized that I was doing nothing wrong. I like to think about it in the same way I’d consider intellectual property when writing an essay: you don’t feel uneasy about using any excerpt as long as you cite it. It would seem so absurd for novelists to get together in movements to stop people from using their excerpts. Of course when money is being made, different issues arise. However, when people are making statements, ideas, and messages all for the sake of communication as we are with our projects, the sky should be the limit. When downloading these videos, I was merely participating in a conversation. And ultimately, the more that I saw was out there for me to use, the more liberated and enabled I felt in getting my point across.

Food Icons of the Unreal

The more I dig into the semiotic moves made by food companies on their labels and logos, the more I see that it is just as often a lifestyle or value being sold as it is the product itself. And, interestingly, there seem to be many obvious conventions to signifying these values. Industry by industry, artists and advertisers indirectly cooperate to solidify concrete iconographic codes. And these icons, whether we realize it or not, are very impacting.

In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud uses the word “icon” as “any image used to represent a person, place, thing or idea.” Icons vary between realistic to entirely abstract—some representing the appearance of the thing itself while others bare no resemblance. Now, observe these logos not for their text, but for the icons behind them.

Green Giant Mann's Lehigh ValleyPell's Citrus and Nursery

These icons begin more realistic representations of pastures with the Green Giant brand and become more abstract, ending with the “Fresh from Florida” appeal by Pell’s Citrus, which depicts the same idea in highly simplified use of color and lines.

Despite their different placements on the real/abstract spectrum, these icons are answering to the same code: the appeal to fantasies of agricultural purity. Americans love identifying the food that they eat with some ambiguously old-fashioned and unadulterated farm they have collectively imagined. The rolling, green pastures remind us of a sort of harmony between nature and our eating habits. Furthermore, the sun setting (or rising) behind these fields brings in its own culturally-embedded meaning: timelessness, predictability/stability, etc.

It makes sense that this icon—and the many similar ones across other sections of our food industry—would want to comfort us. Especially at a time when our methods of food production, distribution, and consumption raise serious concerns. As agricultural companies like Monsanto and oligopic competitors like Tyson and Perdue come under public questioning, food industrialists use these icons to lull consumers. The icons then become a sort of opiate to the masses, pushing the belief in a non-existent methods of production.

God and Butter

I’d hate to ruin something as splendidly thoughtless as butter for anyone reading this post, but Land O Lake’s label–a long-standing household image–is loaded with just as much meaning as cholesterol.


Beneath the Land O Lakes text, a smiling Native American woman holds another Land O Lakes box of butter in her hands. Behind her, the “O” in “Land O Lakes” surrounds her head from the exact center of the picture’s rectangular borders—creating a halo around her head.

These elements in particular ring of Sean Hall’s book, This Means This, This Means That, wherein he explains the relationship between signifiers and what is signified. The signified, in this case, is the “O” in Land O Lakes”, signifying a vague sort of divinity. From here, the divinity trickles from the halo, to the Native American woman (the bearer of the halo), to the product she is offering.

Just as important to the significations is the woman’s—and, furthermore, the box’s—placement(s) in this label. Notice that not only is she front and center with the box, all the objects surrounding her in the margin—the hills, the horizon—intensify her centricity; the hills to both of her sides are symmetrically-placed while the horizon makes a line straight through the middle region of her body. This element of placement adds yet another layer of religiosity to Land O Lakes’ product, drawing on Christian art works like Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” or murals inside of old churches.

So what is the purpose of placing a Native American woman in a Christian context when trying to sell your product? For starters, America is a primarily Christian nation, so using religious aesthetics to tap into our senses of purity and wholesomeness can’t hurt. I’m a lot more interested in the fact that this woman is Native American, though. Perhaps the creators of this label were tapping into another context—our nation’s considerably ugly formation over the Native Americans—and purifying it through Christianity. The woman in the label is sitting before a yellow, butter-like American sky and happily offering us Land O Lakes butter with a Christ-like halo.

We’ve seen similar works like this in more recent years for different, yet similar purposes:

One Nation Under God

In the controversial painting by Jon McNaughton, “One Nation Under God”, we see the same placement of divinity—this time Jesus—at the center of the work with the same central placement and same idealization (a glowing aura around his head). And, just like the Land O Lakes woman, he is offering us something: the Constitution. In both paintings, the artists are offering us forgiveness by fusing the divine with America, ultimately offering us forgiveness through what they are selling: dairy products and political agendas.

Looking Deeper into Gender Roles in Toy Commercials

When looking at things through a semiotic lens, we have to assume that everything is potentially meaningful. Doing so is no chore when looking at the following children’s toy commercials. Many toy commercials contain blunt messages for the gender roles and socialization of children and the following videos are shining examples.

In this commercial for the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, six girls go through a montage of cooking with the product while dancing synchronously in matching aprons. The first striking thing about this commercial may be that the girls—at least in their early teens—are far older than the target buyer of the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, which Hasbro states to be as young as eight. It’s pretty safe to assume that these girls left their Easy-Bake Ovens in the attack a few years back.

Interesting so far. Let’s dig deeper.

At twelve seconds into the commercial, an older woman, who is clearly meant to represent a mother, turns around to the girls cooking and gives an approving smile as she works on a cooking project of her own—presumably the same pastries the girls are making. The next time we see her, which is also the last time, is at twenty-one seconds wherein you only see her from behind walking away, leaving the girls completely on their own.

So what does a girl, say eight or nine years old, see? In this case, you don’t need to be a girl to see. A bunch of cool-looking older girls using the Easy-Bake Oven. Furthermore, the mother of these girls happily lets them do it by themselves—granting them not only womanhood, but the proper womanhood. Through two higher generational layers—those of the hip young teenagers and the wise mother—the eight or nine year old has absorbed a rather blunt message: This is what women do. This is where you belong.

This next commercial for Robocop and Ultra Police action figures is another gender role-reinforcer—this time for boys. Unlike that of the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, this commercial does not show a role as specific as that of a housewife. It does, however, promote a value message which, in itself, implies multiple kinds of roles.

The commercial starts off with footage from the original Robocop movie, which introduces/reminds the boy viewers to the character in which these action figures represent. The commercial then presents its own narrative split from the movie footage wherein the action figures, through no other agency than firepower (the action figures do not ‘walk’ or ‘run’ anywhere). As the commercial states, “The Ultra Police, protected by robo-armor, bring Robocop even more fire-power.”

As the good guys claim victory over Head Hunter and Nitro by no other virtue than fire-power, an ethical message is formed: justice and righteousness is ultimately attained through violence. The role of the boy, by that value, is can be narrowed down by a process of elimination of any other problem solving: negotiation, pacifism, reason, etc. Furthermore, the toys that the characters represent serve as models for the boys–physically ideal (muscular and touch-looking) to translate into them as ethically and methodically ideal characters: problem solvers by means of violence.

Playing in the Gutter With Nylon Road

Nylon Road was much different than I thought it was going to be. There was a clear narrative, but not a linear one. The story was driven by Parsua Bashi’s reflections about her political, societal, and life values as they all came back to haunt her as she tries to balance her past life in Iran and her new life in Germany. But as I read the book, I was looked a little deeper than just the surface narrative and into the subtle semiotic devices used by Bashi.

I was interested in the play Bashi did with the space between the boxed images—the space that McCloud, in Understanding Comics, calls the gutter. This space, as McCloud explains, is where “human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea.” Understanding this makes parts of Nylon Road all the more interesting—particular parts like these two images of Bashi reading a book (picture 1).

Picture 1

Courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin

Bashi’s arm reaching between the gutter has more than one effect. First, her arm sticking out between the images acts as a play on the domain of the gutter. This play across images is a demonstration showing that the gutter just as a much is a psychological space as it is a pause a physical location on the page. Though the conventional spaces between pictures act as a cue to the reader to prepare them for the next images and/or text, those spaces are not the solely gutter itself.

Her hand reaching between the two pictures is also a play that grays the lines between what constitutes a single picture. Does her arm unite the pictures into one? Or is the picture from the right trespassing into the one on the left? You could even argue whether or not the gutter is even there (take another look at the picture. The walls line up in the correct position between the two of them, almost making it look like the gutter was just a part of the picture).

Bashi also thinks like a comic maker—utilizing the benefits of comics that don’t commonly exist in other art forms like photography. For instance, many of Bashi’s images represent something more than single moments. Take this next scene from Bashi’s private art display (picture 2).

Picture 2

Courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin

Unless everybody in Bashi’s universe has the ability to respond to others before they know what they said, we have to assume that there are conversations going on in this picture that presumably exceed five, six, maybe ten seconds. As McCloud states, “Perhaps we’ve been too conditioned by photography to perceive single images as single moments. After all, it does take an eye time to move across scenes in real life.” So, maybe picture 2 is only as confusing as it is accurate. The people are sharing conversations at different locations in the room–not particularly in any synchronous order orchestrated by Bashi. Because of this, the reader must use McCloud’s “rope,” to make a winding path throughout the picture and determine the order of events.

Though McCloud doesn’t note it in the section of his book containing the aforementioned statement, maybe the gutter also applies to this image as well. After all, don’t we find ourselves separating the meanings of each of these conversations and then applying them to the others, despite the fact that they all take place in the same pictorial borders? Between every one of these dialogue bubbles–and even every face, piece of furniture and corner of the house–there are fuzzy, gray gutters that make all of these elements simultaneously autonomous and collectively contributory to the larger meaning of the scene.

After such an analysis of Bashi’s book, one can gain a better understanding about how illusive–and perhaps even omnipresent–gutters can be when reading such material is this. And I don’t doubt that Bashi knows she is toying with both the reader and the comic genre itself. Note even the single leg and corner of the coffee table protruding out of picture two; it’s just enough to let us know that Bashi is working within the generic framework of comics, but is in no way bound to it.

Proposal: Different Dimensions in the War on Drugs

I did a lot of thinking after reading Dr. Wolff’s comments on my original proposal. After he pointed out that my topic—the politicizing of science—seemed like it could easily turn into a one-sided argument, I saw what he was talking about. There isn’t much ambiguity in stating such obvious facts as I did in my proposal. It seemed like all of the better videos showed problems that didn’t have easy solutions. Perhaps the value of these mash-ups isn’t in trying to fix a problem, but making viewers see the problem in a new light.

So, for my new topic, I think I’d like to go with the war on drugs. Now I realize that Dr. Wolff identified legalizing marijuana as an over-used topic on his website. I agree. My topic won’t focus on the harmlessness or harmfulness of any drug (at least not as the central focus).

I want to explore the complicated dimensions of the drug war and throw them into a stew—well, maybe a little more tactically than that, but you get the point. There are so many questions to ask: Has this war worked? Who is it affecting? Who wants to keep it and who doesn’t? Who benefits from it and who suffers from it? Would making drugs legal lead to more drug use? Is drug use inevitable? What are the historical variables surrounding the war on drugs that led us to this point?

I think it’s important that I stick to questions and not assertions. Or, at the very least, make observations instead of statements. That’s how I think it would be best to take on this assignment.

I’ll have to do a little more sifting through usable images, video, and audio clips before I figure out exactly which elements I’ll use. I suspect some relevant things to start sifting through would be clips of drug use, people in jail, impoverished neighborhoods, videos of arrest, images of cartel violence, etc. It’s all so open ended at this point, though, that I don’t want to commit to anything just yet. I’m more the type to surf through things and wait for light bulbs to go off in my head.