October 8, 2012

Seeing Ourselves in Others

Reading McCloud's "Understanding Comics," the first thing that struck me was its similarity to Welling's "Ecoporn." On pages 32 and 33, McCloud says that humans inexplicably see ourselves in inanimate objects. "We humans are a self-centered race. We see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image (32-33)." Welling writes on page 57 of Ecoporn, "[e]copornography is a type of visual discourse made up of highly idealized, anthropomorphized views of landscapes and nonhuman animals. [...] these images are often composed or manipulated to stress their subjects' innate similarities to the human body and to human social and power structures[.]" They both suggest that humans cannot feel a connection to nonhuman animals/objects without anthropomorphizing them, and that transitions us into the idea that icons are often vague so that they can be more relatable. For the English major this also ties in with Ong's "The Writer's Audience is Always Fiction." The idea is that an audience will lose interest if they cannot relate to the character. You must know your audience well enough to give them information that they can use to imagine themselves in your text, or else you may lose them.

On page 36 McCloud talks about how we have a hard time imagining what we look like. In a way, I think this means that we are already predisposition to imagine ourselves as other characters. We are ready to jump in someone else's shoes or empathize with a cartoon on TV. We are even ready to be lost in a book, to become something we can't even see and can only visualize in our minds. I am torn between whether this is an act of empathy or an act of selfishness. Is is that we want to empathize with others, or that we cannot be interested in them if they are not reflections of us? It is probably a combination of both. I think we can only understand what we already have knowledge of, and if there is no pre-existing knowledge then we have to piece it together by what knowledge we do have of it. That is, if someone showed you a submarine and you had no idea what a submarine was, you would have to figure out what qualities a submarine has before you could define it. Even if they explained to you what it was, it's not a sure thing that you would understand, because you might perceive a submarine differently than they do. So say you're watching Sex and the City and you're thinking to yourself, "why would Carrie put up with Big for so long?" but you can't actually have any idea because you're not Carrie. So you start trying to rationalize it, and you think about your past/current relationship/s and then you realize. Oh... Sadface. It's not that you're so self-absorbed you have to inject yourself into every situation to find it interesting, just that you cannot understand Carrie's situation unless you have the proper lens to see it.


rachel rivera said...

This is such a great comparison/explanation!

I never really thought to question why we're so ready to see ourselves in others though I think it's more of a desire to connect and empathize; we don't understand what we don't know and what do we know better than ourselves? We're a selfish species, yes, but we're also pretty empathetic; I remember feeling so uncomfortable during the “ecoporn” lecture because I kept seeing the decapitated cow and it was out of a sense of empathy, not because I could see myself in the cow.

But, ultimately, I think you have something when you begin to question whether we’re selfish or empathetic. I never thought about how we’re so ready to see ourselves in everything; we have a hard time giving someone or something a clean slate because we’re constantly projecting our past experiences and judgments onto others that we’re automatically hardwired, in a sense, to see ourselves in everything. We think we would leave Big if we were in Carrie’s shoes but really, we aren’t in them and therefore, don’t actually know if we would. It’s a selfish desire to empathize.

Kenneth said...

It is an interesting comparison, the one between "Understanding Comics" and "Ecoporn." It's all about how we project ourselves onto things that don't include us so we can understand them. I think it might also be relevant to point out that the Ecoporn essay painted that projection as a bad thing. Humans are manipulating the way that we see our surroundings, whereas a projection onto a cartoon is only a matter of understanding and relation.

That being said, it reminds me of the way I think of my dog back home. Sometimes I forget that she isn't a person. She has a personality, desires, and a unique relationship with each person she knows and lives with. When I think of her, it's in the same way I think of a person, but she's not a person. She's a dachshund. That realization then makes me question whether everything I think and know about her is really there, or am I projecting human qualities onto an animal that doesn't have them. I hope not. It's uncomfortable to think about.

HScott3 said...

You present a thought provoking point. I guess I have a more open-minded mindset in which things designated as inanimate are essentially animated in our minds. I do agree with our difficulties in imagining the visual views or ourselves and we do tend to see ourselves in others. In response to the submarine point, yes a picture of a submarine to someone with no clue of what a submarine is may prove a challenge but, a picture of a submarine underwater in its daily function would be received better. Just as a word alone may be hard to decipher in meaning, but if you with other symbols a signification is established and we tend to get meaning out of it.

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