Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What are Images?

Images are pictures. However, in our culture, pictures have become tools used to elicit specific and planned emotional reactions in the people who see them. Images are created to give us pleasure when we watch them. They are also created to make us feel anxious. Images work best when they are vivid and emotionally saturated. For example, the American flag depicts very powerful emotions. The flag works as an image because it suggests a long list of stories and myths that are buried inside of us. Picture images that evoke deep memories can be very powerful and also very spiritual. By calling up these deep emotions and memories, today’s image makers are using images to take on new meaning and have created new myths that are shrouded, often deliberately, by those deeper memories.

The New Myths

Traditionally, a myth has been defined as a story or idea that helps to explain customs of a people group or society in general. Myths are the motivating stories or ideas that help to define cultural practices. Often they motivate daily behavior.

The key to recognizing new myths of today’s modern media culture is to think of them as ideas that emerge from long exposure to certain patterns of images. These myths are unconvincing unless you think of them as emerging from a huge array of images, which come from many sources, including advertising, entertainment and news.

Today’s images must be read on two levels in order to understand how new myths are created in our society. Myths are generally something that is not completely true but are accepted by society as truth. For example: your body is not good enough; the good life consists of buying possessions which cost lots of money; and happiness, satisfaction and sex appeal are readily available at the next consumer purchase.

First, we have an immediate emotional response wherein we recognize, for example, the image of a flag, a cross, a sunset, or a house, which leads us to react in a way that taps into our inner emotions, past stories and experiences.

Second, we view that image within the context of hundreds of other similar images. By doing this, the new myth that the image is communicating is clearly seen. Otherwise, it cannot stand apart because it would be obscured by powerful stories and the emotional connections that are used to sell the image.

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