week 4

All of the content this past week was extremely useful both in analyzing the information we consume — from sitcom tropes to journalistic practices — and in crafting our own stories and designs. You need to think critically about the elements that shape narrative in order to be able to use them effectively. It’s a vital skill regardless of your specific line of work or what media you like to consume in your leisure time: you want to communicate clearly, and you want to not be manipulated by anyone willy nilly. 

As a big fan of YouTube deep dives, the Parasite videos were really interesting to me; I would’ve gladly watched much longer in-depth analyses of the movie, since it does seem to be so intentional with its visual language and symbolism. For their short length, they were extremely effective at focusing on a few symbols, motifs, and techniques in the movie and discussing what these choices add to the overall theme — what they communicate to the audience and how. I also really appreciated how Philosophize This! discussed mythology, both explaining how it differentiates itself from simple stories, and also addressing how it’s very much alive. We do tend to think of the word “mythology” as relating to something antiquated and quaint, as if our society is beyond that now, and we’re too savvy to need or want mythology. Of course mythos and symbols are around us all the time, just in different (maybe more sophisticated, if we want to be generous) forms. Using WWE and nightly news as examples really helps situate the concepts in our everyday lives. This tied very nicely into Žižek’s documentary, in which he describes ideology’s capacity or power to create a clear narrative by framing the murky problems in our society as the fault of one single symbol (whether it’s Jewish people, “welfare queens,” caravans of immigrants, and so on). At any given time, the particular symbols may change, adapt, evolve, but the structure is always there; we’re never immune from it. These symbols can be so entrenched in our culture that we might replicate them without even realizing their maliciousness — perpetuating stereotypes whether or not you actively believe in them yourself. 

At the same time, it’s always important to remember that these symbols, and their meaning, are never fully universal. This week I was reminded of that in a very specific way. Every now and then, someone outside of Brazil will stumble upon a picture of Zé Gotinha (“Droplet Joe”), a mascot created decades ago to promote oral vaccinations, and remark on how some of the lower budget costumes look like a KKK hood. The suggestion that the Brazilian designer who came up with the mascot in the 1980s was too stupid to realize the similarity always bothers me: the KKK symbols are simply not relevant in the context of Zé Gotinha. The mascot’s initial aim was to raise awareness about polio — the Brazilian populations more likely to be vulnerable to polio are those who are underserved, without as much access to quality education and healthcare. These groups have no reason to concern themselves with American mythology. Yes, in a purely visual way, Zé Gotinha’s head might resemble a KKK hood — but as soon as you know his name is Droplet Joe, you’ll immediately understand why he is shaped that way: it’s a reference to a physical droplet, completely disconnected from the Klan. You can’t redesign a droplet; you can accentuate the rounded bottom and draw the friendliest smiley face possible in order to differentiate it from the KKK hood, as seen in the more “official” designs. But even a Brazilian audience who is familiar with the KKK will not see Zé Gotinha and think of the Klan — in Brazil, they are completely distinct symbols, and he is the stronger one. I don’t blame American (or Americanized) audiences for being initially shocked at the similarity, especially when the mascot’s name and context isn’t provided; this behavior just exemplifies the terrible, visceral strength of the KKK hood as a symbol in American contexts. But I do get bothered by people who continue to diss Zé Gotinha or demand him to be changed even after learning about his background and the impact he’s had on public health efforts in a developing nation; to me, it communicates the idea that only American symbols matter (or that they matter more than the rest, at least). This whole discussion resurfaced again on Twitter this week, and though I’d seen it many times before, I was able to look at it in a different light given our class materials and lecture.