Archiving Seattle: An Observation of Text | Essay
COM 498 Essay
COM 498 Research
Archiving Seattle – An Observation of Text
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After much frustration and uncertainty, not to mention help from my supervisors, I finally came upon the topic of text and how it is communicated in a public space. Specifically, I observed any and all text available on Broadway, between Republican and Pine Street. While my initial plan was to solely observe the street furniture on which text was posted on, my research evolved to observing what type of text was communicated in relation to the physical location of the text on the street furniture. My aim is to provide an interpretation of the exclusivity of certain text in where it is placed on the street compared to other text and how that defines or attempts to define a public space.
TEXT IS UBIQUITOUS
Americans are surrounded by it all the time. People will come to view it on multiple occasions in their lifetime. “The street is a realm in which a number of different kinds of writing, of inscription, take place. The space of the street is often a space in which we encounter words and pictures in voluminous quantities…” (Cresswell, 268). People are bound to see and interpret a message because of the plethora of information that exists to grab the attention of anyone who takes a glance.
Text is everywhere, encompassing meaning, direction, instruction, and/or opinion. Text functions to inform people about something. In addition to text, images, whether it is photos or graphic art, accentuate in relaying a message. Frequently, images are placed in association with the text to convey a message more clearly or specifically. A message comprised of both message and text possesses more influence and power in communicating information. However, the image and text may not plainly have a direct and explicit correlation with each other. There may exist a “second layer of meaning,” or connotation, where “broader concepts, ideas and values which the represented people, places and things ‘stand for’, ‘are signs of’ (Leeuwen, 96). Therefore the messages of texts affect the environment, atmosphere and perception of a place and the messages that are communicated can potentially determine the speech and action of people within a space. In such instances where one must cognitively assess a given text & image, it’s essential to consider the underlying meanings to understand how a space can be defined.
SPACE DEFINITION THROUGH TEXT
Space is limited. For buildings, for homes, and for text, space is difficult to find. However, for text, the street acts like glue. Not only is the street a place where text may be posted, but it also allows for conversation that could be less fluid in other places. As previous research shows, public space, the street, is some place “which the government [cannot] dictate actions and interactions,” and where it acts “as a kind of free zone in which social and psychic forces could spontaneously fold” (Cresswell, 270). As a location in which people are ensured freedom of speech, the street is one place out of a few. Thus, various topics of conversation can be held in streets without the worry of serious consequences. In relation to text, there is no limitation on what is placed on the paper. It is up to the person to decide on how to communicate his/her message.
Moreover, the particular location of where text is posted has noteworthy significance. Amongst the copious street furniture available, there are those certain locations that draw in a reader, to observe, question and/or react. With certain messages communicated repeatedly in similar locations, a space can be defined. A space can become labeled, because like “the appearance of uncontrolled writing on the street in the form of the horseman’s leaflets,” continuous text can, “[lead] to the origin of the street as a modern political space” (Cresswell, 270). Constant, repetitive, and overwhelming amounts of specific texts create a definition of an area indirectly, thus generalizing an area for a finite or vast amount of time.
The majority of the flyers that were observed contained political connotations or implications. Other texts included information about concert events, comedy shows, or scholarly events. The overlapping text that I found conveyed a sardonic message about the military and the dying troops in the current war. The flyers read, “Join The Military,” & “Replacements Needed,” while revealing the number of deaths in the war for both the U.S. and Iraq. These flyers were found on every telephone pole, vent and public pay telephone from Republican to Pine Street. Oddly, these flyers were only posted on these objects. Furthermore, almost all the military flyers were placed above eye level, either on the back of crosswalk lights or 7-8 feet high on light/telephone poles whereas the other flyers were placed mostly at eye-level or below eye-level. After seeing this flyer a couple times, I immediately began to assume that whoever posted up these flyers had a strict agenda. Meanwhile, the other flyers were posted in more obvious places, including telephone/light poles, vents, building walls, but in particular, inside store windows and on the designated flyer board. With the exception of flyers on Pine Street, it was infrequent that I found other event flyers on the poles in between Republican and Pine.
Interestingly, a similar practice to the military flyer posting today was conducted in our history.
During the Gulf War for instance he projected images of skeletal arms carrying guns and petrol pumps onto the Arco de la Victoria in Madrid (1991) accompanied by the word ‘Cuantos?’ asking both how much? (the price of petrol) and how many? (the numbers of the dead).
In understanding this historic occurrence, it’s obvious that this trend of sardonic text in public space is popular & effective in communicating a message and forcing people to view them. The military flyers on Broadway actually had skeletal figures, depicting the number of deaths while implying the same message, as did the people during the Gulf War. These images thus aimed “to ask questions of public space by “confronting people…” (Cresswell, 276). Moreover, in regards to the location of the flyers on the poles, I considered the point-of-view theory by Jewitt and Oyama. Because “point of view…creates a meaning potential,” I assumed that these flyers were posted above eye-level because of that fact that, “if you look up at something, that something has some kind of symbolic power over you” (Jewitt & Oyama, 135). The military flyers were posted distinctly from every other flyer on Broadway because there was more meaning to them than the mere purpose of drawing one’s attention to it. While the other flyers were promoting to the bored consumer, the military flyers functioned to develop awareness, thinking, and to ultimately have an affect in the viewer. The space between Republican and Broadway was thus labeled as a political arena where there would exist confrontation, resistance, and classification. As Wodiczko, a Polish scholar described space as, “urban topography producing new meanings and messages – not by negating the dominant messages of monumentality, and capitalist consumption…but by entering into a dialectical conversation with [the public],” Broadway will maintain this very definition of space as longs as confrontational flyers remain evident in the streets.
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