A Theory of Images in Cultural Systems
A conviction behind this book is that we now live in an "image culture." With film, television, and print technology allowing the cheap reproduction of multicolor graphics, almost all in the postindustrial West are immersed in images. Society is so much awash in them that the prevalence of images is a dominant characteristic of our time. Some educators now find that students are less and less able to analyze an argument in logical categories. Instead they state the argument's thesis and then seek to find a graphic illustration to support or rebut it. 1 In the "time of the sign," it becomes more and more natural for young people--and most others--to think via images, examples, and narratives. When asked to deal with ideas or to analyze a written argument, they are likely to offer instead a personal conviction or preference which they then back up with a narrative.
One might expect the proliferation of images to foster an enhanced imagination as a characteristic of contemporary sensibility. In my view this proliferation has fostered the opposite, a diminished imagination. Though steeped in images, most persons in our society do not seem to be able to think about images. They have little idea of how images function in shaping their consciousness. When some reality influences us at the same time that we do not have a language with which to be aware of it, the influence is quantified. The images cramming the consciousness of many today tend to be preset, borrowed images used in nonimaginative, literal ways to name and interpret life. These are the images handed to them via film and TV.
Many seem to be like the young man in Peter Shaffer play Equus, who in his madness can express himself only in the jingles of TV commercials. 2 Shaffer implies that naming reality via the preset, stereotyped clichés of