Chapter Summaries

In Chapter 2 of No Caption Needed, "Public Culture, Icons, and Iconoclasts," Hariman and Lucaites provide operational definitions of concepts such as culture, public culture, icons, and iconoclasts; develop assumptions about the rhetorical power of iconic images; outline forms of appropriation that lead to iconicity; and explain the logocentrism that leads to Western scholarly iconoclasm. They provide one of the best definitions of culture I have seen: "the manner in which speech, writing, the arts, architecture, entertainment, fashion, and other forms or representation of performance cohere to structure perception, thought, emotion, and conduct" (p. 26). According to Hariman and Lucaites, public culture is a set of rhetorical constructions created by communicative technologies that define the relationship between the citizen and the state (p. 26). This definition, by necessity, is closely tied to that of photojournalistic icons: "photographic images appearing in print, electronic, or digital media that are widely recognized and remembered, are understood to be representations of historically significant events, activate strong emotional identification or response, and are reproduced across a range of media, genres, or topics" (p. 27). To analyze the appeal and power of these icons, the authors develop the following five assumptions: aesthetic familiarity, or the construction of icons "by familiar patterns of artistic design"; civic performance, or the function of the icon as a civic performative act frozen in an image; semiotic transcriptions, which connote "multiple and often inconsistent perspectives"; emotional scenarios, or "vital repertoires of social behavior"; and contradictions and crises, consisting of fractured coalitions, mutually contradictory goods, and signifying biases, exclusions and denials (pp. 29-37). The appropriations of icons represent acts of copying, imitating, and satirizing that "do the work of democratic legitimation" (p. 38). In the last and most revelatory segment of this chapter, the authors delineate the outlines of iconoclasm, a "hermeneutics of suspicion" relating to visual images that includes "the comprehensive critique of surveillance in continental thought, the strong emphasis on literacy in public sphere theory, the assumption of social control in ideology critique, and a general inattention in Anglo-American political theory to popular media" (p. 39). These icons operate as intermediaries of symbolic action that help us as citizens negotiate the borderlands of freewill and determinism.

Chapter 3, "The Borders of the Genre: Migrant Mother and the Times Square Kiss," acts as a map for the journey into iconic rhetorical analysis. Inspired by a pairing of "Mother" and "Kiss" in a Samsonite display at Best Buy in 2001, the authors contend that by juxtaposing these two images, we can understand the nature of the iconic photograph genre. These two photographs have many similarities, including their metonymic nature, standing for the narrative of American life at its worst (the Depression) and greatest (victory in WWII). After giving an overview of similarities and differences, the authors perform a careful rhetorical analysis of each text/photo, using the vectors of influence outlined in Chapter 1 and informed by the assumptions delineated in Chapter 2. They conclude that part of the rhetorical power of these images resides in their "embodiment of a particular conception of human being that we call the 'individuated aggregate'" (p. 88). Democratic societies tend to aggregate individual actions such as votes; the individuated aggregate challenges this tendency in acting as if an aggregate were an individual. Thus, while poverty might seem overwhelming, we can put a human face to it by gazing at the "Migrant Mother" and feeling as though we can help her. This reinscription of metonymy as a visual rather than a linguistic figure provides an example of the ways in which Hariman and Lucaites make significant contributions to the scholarship of visual texts.

Chapter 4 is called "Performing Civic Identity: Flag Raisings at Iwo Jima and Ground Zero." The Iwo Jima image, "by most accounts" the most reproduced photographic image in history, provides a "coordinated visual transcription of three powerful discourses in American political history: egalitarianism, nationalism, and civic republicanism" (p. 95). The appropriations of this image across the decades suggest that public life is continually refined in a continuum from civic piety to cynicism. The unselfconscious performativity and sculptural aestheticism of the image remain two of its most resonant qualities. Its role as a visual metonym for both the War and patriotic duty is obvious, but its symbolism of the performance of civic ritual in a coordinated, collective effort requires more explication, a task the authors perform thoroughly and eloquently. The tension between the seemingly staged image and the anonymity of the actors proves to be one of the most salient of the points that demonstrate the political and cultural significance of this image. The last few pages of the chapter are devoted to a similar, though much shorter analysis of the famous image of firefighters raising the American flag amid the smoke and debris of the Twin Towers. Both images display a performance of civic duty and patriotism, symbolized most distinctly by the central image of the flag with heroic men stationed against or around it.

Chapter 5, "Dissent and Emotional Management: Kent State" proves one of the most interesting of the analyses in the book. Two ideas really stand out as being noteworthy: an explication of our society's deep-seated prejudice against emotional outbursts in the public, political sphere; and the ways in which the two extremes of war and anti-war actions preceding and succeeding the image are depicted through the "social mediation" of the image itself (p. 142). Complex vectors of the photo's composition, background details, gendering of emotion and posture, and the context in which the scene takes place constitute a sophisticated and nuanced analysis by the authors. The authors suggest that the public grief of Mary Ann Vecchio (the young woman in the photograph) can be a "model of embodied citizenship," because such a display is needed to "maintain justice as a political ideal" (p. 149). Mary Ann Vecchio met the photographer, John Filo, at a reception/media event; her role as "individuated aggregate" ("the use of an individual figure to depict a condition requiring collective action") is undercut by this meeting, as the icon's history then becomes "a story of individual lives transformed by a single moment of media coverage and of a subsequent meeting that becomes a none-too-subtle narrative of closure for the event" (p. 164). At the site of the massacre in 1970, a different photograph, one in which the death is not bloodless and faceless, was taken by the same photographer, but it did not reach iconic status. The reasons Hariman and Lucaites give have to do with the focus: in the icon, the pain is not with the victim, but with the public, and we identify with her anguished cry in a way we could not identify with the victim. Rather than squelching dissent, this photograph, more than almost any other, has been appropriated by radical groups to spur action. Challenging the conventional wisdom, Hariman and Lucaites assert that "the emotions can be described as shared (intersubjective) moods created by performance or appropriate gestures in a social space" (p. 162).

Chapter 6, "Trauma and Public Memory: Accidental Napalm" analyzes one of the most disturbing images of the Vietnam War. We see children running from a napalm attack, South Vietnamese soldiers walking behind them, our eye drawn to the figure of a girl whose clothes have been burned off her body. Although the war in Iraq is often compared to the long debacle in Vietnam, there has been no iconic image to emerge for the most recent conflict. Hariman and Lucaites ask why that is the case and what makes this image so evocative of public memory and so thoroughly appropriated into our narrative of that struggle. They observe the girl's nakedness, a sign of her vulnerability, provokes an obligation to action in the viewer (p. 178) and "provides a performative embodiment of the modern conception of universal humanity" (p. 179). Aristotle, the authors remind us, advised that the most effective tragedies depicted only indirectly the terrible harms, done offstage and within the family (p. 179). As a mode of performance, the photo implies that what is shown to us is repeated behavior, and it is certainly replayed endlessly in every viewing. Each appropriation that Hariman and Lucaites analyze, including a computer-generated isometric perspective, a web collage, and a book review illustration, remixes and replays the image so that we cannot forget it. One of the most evocative sections of the chapter narrates the adult life of the girl in the photo, Kim Phuc, and the friendship that has developed between Phuc and the photographer Nick Ut. The connection is made between the "Kent State" photo and the "Accidental Napalm" photo as indicating conventional gender typing and as being the most powerful registers of moral outrage at the harm done to innocent civilians because of the war. However, the authors devote a chapter to each photograph rather than pairing them, a move that seems puzzling but possibly explained by the detail and length of each analysis.

Chapter 7, "Liberal Representation and Global Order: Tiananmen Square," demonstrates the iconicity of the man-and-tank photo originating from its modernist composition and its portrayal of a tension between democratic self-determination and a liberal vision of global order against a backdrop of authoritarian military power. There are three similar photos of the anonymous man blocking the path of four Chinese Army tanks. Hariman and Lucaites choose the one taken by Stuart Franklin and appearing in Time because it shares most of the important elements found in any two of the three. The three images have virtually the same prevalence, and all of them share the quality of legibility for the Western viewer, explained by the authors as being a product of modern composition. This composition "combines abstraction and figural representation; as it does so, it activates additional codes of modern political order" (p. 216). The abstraction consists of the "flat, uniform, concrete surface of a city street, designed for modern transportation technologies," the angular lines of the tanks and the directional vectors on the pavement, and the starkness of the landscape of man and tanks" (pp. 215-216). They note a number of other interesting qualities of the photo, including the man's status as an office worker who is carrying consumer goods, representing globalization; the panoptic view of the camera, suggesting surveillance, and the performativity of his silent symbolic action (he does speak, but it is not visible in the photograph). The simultaneous depiction of potential violence and a potential new world order of democratic reform create a tension that has only added to the icon's popularity as metonym for the suppression of the 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square.

Chapter 8, "Ritualizing Modernity's Gamble: The Hindenberg and Challenger Explosions," elucidates the ways that the photos of the two air disasters demonstrate the conflict between technological progress and catastrophic risk. They call this conflict "modernity's gamble," and they use the metaphor of a casino bet as a thread throughout the chapter (p. 244). The balanced composition of the Hindenberg explosion is compared to the allegorical tableaux of the Victorian era, something that is anathema to the early modernist aesthetic (p. 249). In its resemblance to a scene from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the Hindenberg icon represents the twentieth century's "industrialized, rationalized dystopia" (p. 250). There are a number of parallels between the two crashes: both airships that represented new technologies, both hydrogen-fueled explosions in mid-air, both leading to the deaths of everyone on board. However, there are distinct and important differences in the ways that the icons were used and in the effect that the uses had on public opinion. The Challenger launch was a carefully orchestrated media event promoted by NASA to gain public support for the space shuttle program, a symbol of technological progress. The iconic photo, a still shot from video taken when the shuttle was a 46,000 feet, is of an abstract formation of smoke that looks cloud-like. The ship itself is not visible, so the icon both portrays and hides the explosion. Hariman and Lucaites point out that disaster coverage not only freezes the moment in time, but endlessly repeats it in newscasts. One technology is interrupted, but another (the broadcast medium) fills its place (p. 256). This repetition served to halt completely the use of dirigibles in the 1930s, but served instead to routinize the Challenger disaster as a normal and expected part of the dangerous pilgrimage into the frontier of space. In order to prove this assertion, the authors analyze the televised eulogy by President Reagan, the school curricula and children's books produced after the accident, memorials to Christa MacAuliffe, and the insertion of the Challenger photo into accounts of the 2003 Columbia explosion (whose pictures were of the fragmented debris of the aftermath, thus more graphic). Toward the end of the chapter, the authors make a startlingly prescient statement: "Coverage [by the media] can have unintended effects: a big oil spill not only generates coverage of other spills but also raises the size of what qualifies as a spill big enough to merit coverage" (p. 278). Because of the disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Persian Gulf, and the mountains of Afghanistan, this chapter and the one on "Accidental Napalm" relate most closely with events today, and for that reason, is the one to read first.