Visual Pleasures: Tactics & Strategies

I’ve been really enjoying the first few weeks of our third year module Visual Pleasures: From Carnival to Disney. The aim of the module is to explore the relationship between leisure and the media, in order to reveal the hidden social meanings and values embedded in leisure activities and how these meanings are reinforced by commercial culture.

We began by analysing Banksy’s Dismaland, to explore how it defamiliarised our everyday experiences of leisure, then moved on to two weeks focused on shopping that examined how it became a leisure activity targeted at women. In subsequent weeks we’ll focus on everything from seaside holidays, to fine dining. So far, although we’ve focused a lot on the ‘strategies’ that are used, both by advertisers and the built environment of department stores and shopping centres, to encourage us to buy, we’ve also looked at some of the ‘tactics’ that consumers use in order to ignore these rules.

Although Michel De Certeau (from whom we’re drawing this distinction between tactics & strategies) is notoriously dense, students have already raised some great points in class discussion about how his concepts apply to our own practical experience of leisure activities. People have also submitted some excellent photographs to the module’s Facebook group, which explore how these concepts can be represented visually.

chocolate

Michelle’s image of chocolate bars (above) for instance, is a striking image of not only the overwhelming number of products available to us but the strategic organisation of these products (with the most expensive things at eye level to encourage people to buy them, whilst smaller, cheaper, products are easily accessible to children).

Joyce tomato soup

While Joyce’s image (above) shows a similarly striking wall of products – this time notable for their regularity – she also illustrates consumer activity. The milk that someone has left on the cans (despite only needing go a few steps to the right to put it back) shows how consumers don’t always follow the rules.

While these strategies and tactics might seem everyday, or even obvious, when you discuss them or photograph them, in our day-to-day lives the subtle ways in which built environments attempt to shape our behaviours, and the equally subtle ways that people resist this shaping, are so everyday that they go unnoticed. The theories we’ll be engaging with and photographs we’ll be taking on this module, however, are going to try and make these aspects of everyday lives visible, in order to ask questions about the social and political significance of leisure.

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