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Response to Sturken and Cartwright, “Viewers Make Meaning”

Interpellation: hailing viewers as individuals. In chapter 2 of Practices of Looking, Sturken and Cartwright discuss various forms of advertising and why they are effective.

Successful advertising draws people in by connecting with them directly. Consider the ad on the left for example. It was designed of course to be viewed by many people, but it speaks to each viewer on a personal level. No matter who “you” are, this phone “gets you.” Mobile phones are very personal goods, usually you don’t share them with anyone, and this type of advertising make it seem like HTC designed the phone with you in mind.

One of the tricky things about advertising, though, is that the interpellation effect of images is best achieved when one is already a member of a “social group that shares codes and conventions through which the image becomes meaningful.” For an image to personally touch someone and for the punctum of photography to be effective, the photo should be designed with you and people like you in mind.

The idea about advertising is to try and draw everyone in, regardless of social group or ideology. Even if an ad isn’t targeted at you, it should capture your attention and attempt to interpellate you anyway.

Take Super Bowl ads for instance. Not every ad in the Super Bowl is targeted at everyone watching, but all of them do a great job of getting your attention and sticking in your mind. Utilizing the shared ideology of Americanism, the Super Bowl ads speak to not just sports fans but to the largest possible audience. Even if you aren’t planning on buying a car, you can probably relate to the Jeep ad above which emphasizes American patriotism and supporting our troops. This isn’t by accident. Most Americans watch the Super Bowl, and thus the ad is made to target “most Americans.” If the Super Bowl was held in another country, the ad wouldn’t be as compelling, but it still tries to interpellate the viewer through other aspects, such as the importance of being home to raise a family.

As far as how images achieve their punctum, Sturken and Cartwright define aesthetics and taste. The aesthetic value of a photo is the “pleasure it brings us through its beauty, its style, or the creative and technical virtuosity that went into its production.” Taste, on the other hand, is “informed by experiences relating to one’s class, cultural background, education, and other aspects of identity.” Images that are in good taste are commonly put in museums, but the problem is that good taste is then defined by the museum curators. The fact that something is in a museum sends a message to pay attention to it, that it’s an example of what is good.


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