Spark ignites a flame

Laurie E. Gries’s “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies” is unique in its discussion of audience, context, and culture related to visual rhetoric. The article, unlike the past ones I analyzed, focuses on one example specifically, the illustrious and mass-reproduced Obama Hope campaign, and applies, applying the concepts of circulation studies and rhetorical/social consequences. The structure of Gries’s article follows four primary trends of digital rhetoric: “Circulation studies is important as it has helped . . .

(a) draw attention to rhetoric’s dynamic movement and fluidity;

(b) reconfigure theories of rhetoric and publics to account for discourse’s dynamic, distributed, and emergent aspects;

(c) rethink composing strategies for writing in a digital age; and

(d) revamp pedagogy to account for writing’s full production cycle”. (2013, p. 333)

Circulation studies (under the larger discipline of iconographic tracking) focuses on the passage of rhetoric – in Gries’s case, images – through a culture and how it evolves and transforms through this self-generating movement. This area of study does not have extensive research and findings, mainly due to its relative newness. The way information is spread today varies vastly from how it was translated in my parents’ day and even differs from how word got around ten years ago. There are only a handful of times I can remember sitting in front of the TV to watch the news. I do not know a single person my age that will pick up a newspaper. I get my news without actively looking for it: it is found on Facebook, Twitter, viral videos, and CNN app updates. Information spreads at an unprecedented speed, all thanks to simple “share” and “like” buttons at every person’s fingertips. Gries’s makes this point and links our digital obsession to the “participatory culture” characteristic of society today (2013, p. 343). Everyone wants to contribute to the conversation, make a statement, and support causes.

This modern-day phenomenon is epitomized by campaigns like Obama Hope that turn into political and social movements larger than life:

“Letting go of the ‘mindset and methods of print’ and focusing less on what images mean and more on what images do . . . argued for studying images as events to best account for an image’s complex ontology and rhetorical force” (Gries, 2013, p. 334).

Obama Hope is not just a graphic used in the President’s running campaign. Once taken by the media and Internet, the single image has sparked one of these so called “events”. The image now represents not only a political agenda, but American values, cries for equality and world peace, social change, and so on. A writer cannot anticipate the scope or effect of his work; he can only strive to create something meaningful and moving, while also understanding its immense yet uncontrollable potential. Again, this notion is summed up by the efforts of circulation studies which analyzes the spread and consequence of visual rhetoric in a completely digital world. To end on this discussion’s utmost importance, Gries’s pinpoints the significance of understanding how people digest and transform visual rhetoric of this decade: “rhetoric is all around and within us; it permeates our lives, reassembles collective space, and shapes material reality in all kinds of diverse ways” (2013, p. 346).



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