Brethren in Christ History and Life
We live in a visual culture. To say that is to say, in the most obvious sense, that we live in a culture that is saturated by images. They are everywhere. We see them in the expected places: on our television and computer screens, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, in our scrapbooks and photo albums, in picture frames and coffee table books. Increasingly, we see them in unexpected places. They show up on the floors of grocery stores, the backs of ATM receipts, the sides of tractor trailers and school buses, and even on the otherwise bare stomachs of college football cheerleaders.
In addition to appearing everywhere, images are available all the time and in ever increasing numbers. It's worth remembering that just three decades ago, a major city like Chicago had access only to four television channels that, believe it or not, went off the air every night at midnight. Today, cable companies and satellite television services offer hundreds of channels. Each channel sends out a constant stream of images from around the world twenty-four hours a day. In addition, the World Wide Web gives us access to literally countless sites offering everything from multi-angle photographs of consumer products, to satellite images of the planet, to virtual tours of college campuses, to web cam video of someone's daily life, to pornography.
But to say that we live in a visual culture is not only to say that we live in a culture that is saturated by images. It is also to say that in our culture, the image is central. The image gives us access to our world. For most of us, we know our world to the extent that we see it on TV. The image shapes our choices. For most of us, we buy products and even select politicians based on their packaging or on the way in which they are presented to us largely through images. The image is key to our pleasure. For most of us, when it's time to relax or have fun, we play a computer game, pop in a DVD, surf the web, or flip through the channels. The image is how we know who we are. For most of us, who we are is shaped by how our image compares to the images presented to us through our commercial culture. Thus, images are not simply ubiquitous. Increasingly, they are a central mode through which we live our very lives.
Copyright © 2004, Brethren in Christ Historical Society. Used with permission.
Brethren in Christ Historical Society
Trollinger, Susan L., "The Visible Church in a Visual Culture" (2004). English Faculty Publications. 57.