ENGL706 – Heuristic Development & Artifact Analysis


A comment by “nerdybirdy” in the discussion section of a Jezebel article entitled Trial Starts for Teen Who Hired a Gang to Steal Her Roommate’s Baby

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Iconic Language

  • Online discourse
  • Online media
  • Images
  • Video

Cultural Language

  • New media
  • Online commenting sections
  • American pop culture

Theoretical Language

  • Kress & Van Leeuwen’s discussion of modality and multimodality


The artifact I am examining is a GIF of Anderson Cooper used in response to an online article. On a basic level, it shows a man with a facial expression that indicates shock, and then a disgusted disbelief. On a more specific cultural level, it shows Anderson Cooper, a popular CNN anchor, expressing these things. This GIF is posted in the discussion section of an article, which is a humorous account of a harebrained criminal scheme.

The medium of Gawker Media’s comment section allows for a wide array of visual responses; images, videos, and GIFs can be embedded. In order to understand the choice of a GIF, we need to understand why other options—static image, video, and text—were not used.  A static image would have been too limiting. This GIF has two parts: Anderson Cooper looking shocked, and then the disappointment after his shock. A static image would have only been able to show one of these. A video would have been unwieldy in this context. People quickly scroll through comment sections, and a video would have required a user to stop scrolling, click a play button, and wait for the video to load. Kress and Van Leeuwen (1996) state that there are two codes of integration of semiotic modes: spatial composition, where “all elements are spatially co-present” (p. 177), and temporal composition, which “operates in texts which unfold over time” (p. 177). A GIF functions in between these two codes of integration. There is a temporal element to the Anderson Cooper GIF, however the full motion unfolds in such a short time frame, and there is no element outside of the image itself, that it is mostly spatially composed. This has the benefit of allowing nerdybirdy, the commenter, to direct her or his meaning to a specific reaction without interrupting the flow of reading for the audience.

A textual response would have been insufficient for nerdybirdy’s true reaction. There are many different cultural levels at interplay to this image. On the surface, it is of shock and disappointment. But there’s a deeper level. The disappointment on Anderson Cooper’s face is like that of a parent who caught their child misbehaving: he clearly shows disapproval by the shake of his head, but his lips are upturned in a small smile. This has the effect of implying that the criminals in the article are like children—so naive that they are harmless. Kress and Van Leeuwen (1996) would argue that this image is high on the modality scale, representing a “natural” image that is neither too abstracted nor too hyper-real for our cultural expectations (p. 158). The context of new media in our society means that high quality representations of real subjects (whether they are human or not) are an expectation. Only a representation of a real human face could communicate our cultural understanding of a parent/child dynamic. The choice of Anderson Cooper has a rhetorical significance to the American audience as well. He carries an ethos as a trustworthy journalist; therefore, the image of him reacting carries a more authoritative tone than if it was a random, unrecognized person reacting. It is also funny to see a serious journalist break his professional demeanor, suggesting that this story is so ridiculous that it causes him to do so. His image is also appropriate in the Gawker Media context. As a gay man who works for CNN and appears in various entertainment outlets outside of journalism, he is a liberal icon and widely liked by a younger audience.

In sum, all of the levels of communication afforded by the Anderson Cooper image could not have effectively been communicated by text. Static image would not have sufficed as his facial expression would have been limited, thus communicating a different meaning. Video would have been too complex for the format, and would have interrupted the flow of a largely text-based discussion section. A GIF was a silly reaction that communicated a specific meaning, in line with the humorous tone and content of the article.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.


The Internet is Awesome – Pentametron

During my Twitter algorithm Googling research, I came across this amazing blog that uses an algorithm to collect tweets and turn them into sonnets. The “this is what we want” series is a bizarrely aesthetic snapshot of humanity:

this is what we want

I really want an answer from a guy!
I want another Halloween costume!
i want an under armour sweater sigh
I want a wedding but without the groom

I want a graduation Teddy bear 😦
I want another middle eastern guy
i want a ticket going anywhere
I really want McDonalds apple pie

I want a vintage Table hockey game.
I want another chicken on a stick
I want a really clever twitter name
I want an apple fritter on the quick

I want the world and everything in it.
I want the corset piercing. Holy shit.

ENGL539 Designer Blog: Project Ideas

For my final project I am hoping to create a tweet-gathering algorithm. The idea was suggested by Dan during a class activity in our ENGL685 Writing Research class, where I am researching humor on twitter. Part of my project will involve gathering tweets from a few selected public accounts. I am limiting myself to 10 tweets over a one month span for three different accounts. However, if it is possible for me to learn how to create an algorithm within the time frame of this semester, I would be able to greatly expand my data pool for the research.

So far I’ve tried a few Google searches and found a good overview explaining the fundamentals of algorithms and where to get started. There also seem to be courses on Lynda.com, and I will use next week’s tutorial assignment to take a more in-depth look at if it is possible to create something like this as a coding novice.

My back-up idea, should the algorithm not work out, is to learn how to design and create a hyperlinked e-book. We have read some material in this class arguing that non-linear reading has a number of advantages, such as allowing readers agency over the text. Most of the examples we’ve seen have been informational, such as Wikis. I wondered, if hypertext had somehow been available at the advent of storytelling, if the linear structure of storytelling would have prevailed. I thought it might be interesting to adapt a classic piece of literature as a hypertext document in the format of an e-reader, which are increasingly becoming commonplace. A Google search tells me that others have added hypertext to classics, such as this version of Pride and Prejudice. Another idea would be to take a piece of fiction that was written as a hypertext story, analyze any shortcomings consumers may have complained about in online reviews, and determine if it is possible to re-adapt the story to account for any shortcomings. That may not be feasible as the project may infringe on copyright laws.

ENGL 706 – Annotated Bibliography #2

Kress, G. (2004). Reading images: Multimodality, representation and new media. Information Design Journal, 12(2), 110-119.

In this article, Gunther Kress examines the shift that has taken place from the “mode of writing and medium of a book/page” to the “mode of image and medium of screen” (p. 110). He argues that the mode of how meanings are expressed has rhetorical consequences. He first argues that the material of the material of the mode has consequences for meaning. Nonverbal communication has shifted from words to images. He argues that words can be limiting: “only that for which there is a word can be brought into communication” (p. 112). The spatial relations between words written on a page and images shown on screen have important consequences. Readers only have one point of entry to a text; in order for it to be understood, it must be read chronologically and in order, as it is written out on the page. On a website, however, there are multiple points of entry, which allows the reader to design the text for themselves. As Kress states, “the reader’s interest determines where he or she wishes to enter the page” (p. 114). Also related to the mode of display, he argues that on screen, text is “subordinated to the logic of the image” (p. 116) and vice versa. He connects the rhetorical difference between the mode of writing versus the mode of the image to design. He states that because of the “multimodal landscape of communication” (p. 116), design is a central issue to communicating meaning. Design requires a person to consider environmental, audience, resources, constraints, and interests in shaping the argument. Because the page, with its central point of entry, is no longer the main mode of communication, communication has become fragmented and therefore, he argues, “rhetoric has become a major issue for design” (p. 119).

Kress’ discussion of multimodality and design choices is central to my research on GIFs in online discourse on news sites. He notes in this article that there is a shift where images are used with more frequency, “even in situations where previously writing would have been used” (112). This the question that I am interested in exploring—in what scenarios do commenters make the rhetorical decision to use a GIF in lieu of text? And why do news commenting sections make the decision to limit images in online conversation? The mode of the screen allows for many means of communication, yet major media sites such as New York Times and Washington Post make the rhetorical decision to only allow for text in their discussions. A small handful, like Gawker, allow a variety of means, such as links, images, and moving images. I think that GIFs are an interesting case because users have control over their “point of entry,” to borrow Kress’ terminology. The moving image is a short, precisely selected clip, often from a video, stripped of sound. The movement is not implied, but explicit. Take the below example of a popular Beyoncé reaction GIF versus a screenshot. Both have a humorous tone. Both carry the same cultural connotations that Beyoncé carries as a pop culture icon. The moving GIF is clear—she is saying “no,” and there is little wiggle room to interpret. The static image, on the other hand, is not so clear. Is she wagging her finger? Is she trying to catch someone’s attention? Is she saying “hold on a sec?” This difference is why GIFs are important to consider and can be very useful to contributing to discourse.

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Source: http://www.reactiongifs.com/beyonce-2/


ENGL706 – Visual Argument Reflection

The visual argument I created is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek anti-advertisement for a fictional property company (inspired by real-life events of dealing with an incompetent leasing company). I strove to stay in line with Blair’s discussion on visual arguments in “The Possibility and Actuality of Visual Arguments.” I had difficulty determining how and if text should accompany the image. Blair defines visual arguments occurring “without the mediation of words or language in the literal sense” (p. 347), and states that “visual communication stands on its own feet” (p. 347). However, Blair also states that context matters, and many of the examples he provided of visual arguments were contextualized, surrounded by, and sometimes inclusive of text. The guide includes a lot of “how to” pins related to typical problems one might encounter while renting from “FPC”. I chose images that would make the reader uncomfortable—close up images of pests, distressed facial expressions, cluttered photos, disorganized spaces. As this was a “guide” I wanted my visuals to link to actual articles on advice, not just Google image results.

Overall the argument, as per Blair’s definition, was the “claim” that this company is bad and the “reason” is because it does not provide proper maintenance.

Laurie was able to read the argument I intended, except she interpreted it as extending to all property companies rather than just one. Summer read the DIY aspect of the argument, although she took a more positive view of people taking initiative of sprucing up their own spaces, rather than DIY out of necessity.

I agree with Blair that visual arguments, as he defines arguments, are possible but rare. Images are widely open to interpretation—as in this example, Laurie saw the DIY images as negative, and Summer saw it as positive. There are people who love DIY and enjoy the potential of “fixer-uppers,” so a crack in the wall may just look like fun potential rather than a headache.