CO337: Visual Communication
Instructor: Michael Serazio
223 Donnarumma Hall, ext. 2839
CO337: Tuesday and Thursday 630p-745p @ DMH349
Office Hours: Tuesday 300p-500p
(and by appointment)
This course provides a broad introduction to the structure, conventions, and effects of visual communication with a theoretical emphasis on media ecology. The first half is devoted to understanding formal properties including examining the basics of vision, techniques for visual persuasion, and the language of cinematography and editing. The second half surveys more controversial issues like digital manipulation and violence and sex in media. Course material and assignments will be drawn from media domains including advertising, photo/video journalism, and video games. Students will read both theoretical contributions to and empirical investigations of the field. (3 credits)
Specific Course Objectives:
In keeping with the University’s pathways to “Creative and Aesthetic Engagement” and “Rhetoric and Reflection,” the course will:
-Cultivate media literacy with assorted forms of visual communication
-Gain an appreciation for the theories of media ecology as an applicable analytic framework
-Review a wide range of empirical research conducted on the effects of visual media (e.g., deceptive, violent, etc.)
-Practice critical deconstruction skills with the formal and cultural properties of advertising
-Become familiar with the history and impact of news images as they function in society and in politics
For CO majors/minors, CO130 (“Mass Media & Society”) is required
For NM/FM/TL/RA majors, NM10 is required as well as one of the following: FM11, FM101, FM102, FM103, FM104, FM105, FM110, OR FM200
Course Timeline and Readings:
Tue 22 Jan – Introductions and Overview
Thu 24 Jan – Denaturalizing Sight
Read: MENTOR1-(Tufte, 2006)
Tufte, E. R. (2006) The cognitive style of PowerPoint: Pitching out corrupts within. Beautiful evidence (pp. 157-185). Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
Facebook Posting #1 (Due by midnight before class)
Tue 29 Feb – Class Canceled
Thu 31 Jan – The Visual Process
Read: MENTOR2-(Gombrich, 1996)
Gombrich, E. H. (1996). The visual image: Its place in communication. In R. Woodfield, (Ed.), The essential Gombrich (pp. 41-64). London: Phaidon.
Tue 5 Feb – Vision: Language and Perception
Read: MENTOR3-(McLuhan, 2003)
McLuhan, M. (2003). Understanding media: The extensions of man (pp. 18-50). Corte Madre, CA: Gingko Press.
Facebook Posting #2 (Due by midnight before class)
Thu 7 Feb – Semiotics and Suggestion
Read: MENTOR4-(Barthes, 1980)
Barthes, R. (1980). Rhetoric of the image. In A. Trachtenberg (Ed.), Classic essays on photography (pp. 269-285). Stony Creek, CT: Leete’s Island Books.
(View accompanying advertisement: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l9xrcvpU3G1qdnblr.jpg)
Tue 12 Feb – Advertising and Ideology
Watch: Ways of Seeing, Episode 4
Access either through: www2.fairfield.edu/movies (Ways of Seeing 2, fast-forward 30 minutes)
Or YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhOVdoMxYxU
Read: MENTOR5-(Kellner, 1995) and MENTOR6- (O’Barr, 1994)
Kellner, D. (1995). Advertising and consumer culture. In. J. Downing, A. Mohammadi, & A. Sreberny-Mohammadi (Eds.), Questioning the media: A critical introduction (pp. 330-343). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
O’Barr, W. M. (1994). Culture and the ad: Exploring otherness in the world of advertising (pp. 1-13). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Facebook Posting #3 (Due by midnight before class)
Thu 14 Feb – The Camera
Watch: Ways of Seeing, Episode 1
Access either through: www2.fairfield.edu/movies (Ways of Seeing)
Or YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4VX_9Kk
Read: MENTOR7-(Benjamin, 1968)
Benjamin, W. (1968). Illuminations: Essays and reflections (pp. 217-251). New York: Schocken Books.
Tue 19 Feb – EXAM 1 (covers 24 January – 14 February)
Thu 21 Feb – The Language of Montage
Read: Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business (pp. xix-29). New York: Penguin.
Tue 26 Feb – The Effects of Montage
Read: Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business (pp. 30-80). New York: Penguin.
Facebook Posting #4 (Due by midnight before class)
Thu 28 Feb – Montage and Moving Images
Read: Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business (pp. 81-124). New York: Penguin.
Tue 5 Mar – Montage and Moving Images (cont’d)
Read: Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business (pp. 125-163). New York: Penguin.
Facebook Posting #5 (Due by midnight before class)
Thu 7 Mar – Photography and News Images
Read: MENTOR8-(Sontag, 1973) and MENTOR9-(Ellis, 2000)
Sontag, S. (1973). On photography (pp. 3-24). New York: Delta.
Goldberg, V. (1991). The power of photography: How photographs changed our lives (pp. 18-37). New York: Abbeville.
Tue 19 Mar – Photography and News Images (cont’d)
Read: MENTOR10-(Goldberg, 1991) and MENTOR11-(Perlmutter, 2006)
Ellis, J. (2000). Seeing things: Television in the age of uncertainty (pp. 6-38). London: I.B. Tauris.
Perlmutter, D. (2006). Hypericons: Famous news images in the internet-digital-satellite age. In. P. Messaris & L. Humphreys (Eds.), Digital media: Transformations in human communication (pp. 51-64). New York: Peter Lang.
Facebook Posting #6 (Due by midnight before class)
Thu 21 Mar – EXAM 2 (covers 21 February – 19 March)
Tue 26 Mar – Advertising Critique Presentations
PAPER 1 DUE
Thu 28 Mar – Visual Deception
Read: MENTOR12-(Newton, 2006)
Newton, J. H. (2006). Influences of digital imaging on the concept of photographic truth. In P. Messaris & L. Humphreys (Eds.), Digital media: Transformations in human communication (pp. 3-14). New York: Peter Lang.
Tue 2 Apr – Visual Deception (cont’d)
Read: MENTOR13-(Boorstin, 1992) and MENTOR14-(Messaris, 2006)
Boorstin, D. (1992). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America (pp. 3-44). New York: Vintage.
Messaris, P. (2006). Viewers’ awareness of digital F/X in movies. In P. Messaris & L. Humphreys (Eds.), Digital media: Transformations in human communication (pp. 15-28). New York: Peter Lang.
Facebook Posting #7 (Due by midnight before class)
Thu 4 Apr – Violence in Visual Media
Watch: The Mean World Syndrome
Access through: www2.fairfield.edu/movies
Read: MENTOR15-(Galloway, 2006)
Galloway, A. R. (2006). Gaming: Essays on algorithmic culture (pp. 39-69). Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis.
Tue 9 Apr – Violence in Visual Media (cont’d)
Read: MENTOR16-(Moeller, 1999)
Moeller, S. D. (1999). Compassion fatigue: How the media sell disease, famine, war and death (pp. 7-51). New York: Routledge.
Facebook Posting #8 (Due by midnight before class)
*Wed 10 Apr @ 7pm (optional) – Your Ad Here book talk @ Fairfield bookstore
Thu 11 Apr – Class Canceled
Tue 16 Apr – Romance in Visual Media
Read: MENTOR17-(Humphreys, 2006)
Humphreys, L. (2006). Photographs and the presentation of self through online dating services. In P. Messaris & L. Humphreys (Eds.), Digital media: Transformations in human communication (pp. 39-50). New York: Peter Lang.
Thu 18 Apr – Sex in Visual Media
Watch: Ways of Seeing, Episode 2
Access either through: www2.fairfield.edu/movies (Ways of Seeing, fast-forward 30 minutes)
Or YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okD_37Xnlvc
Tue 23 Apr – Music Video and Street Art
Watch: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Access through: www2.fairfield.edu/movies
Read: MENTOR18-(Vernallis, 2007)
Vernallis, C. (2007). Strange people, weird objects: The nature of narrativity, character, and editing in music videos. In R. Beebe & J. Middleton (Eds.), Medium cool: Music videos from soundies to cellphones (pp. 111-151). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Thu 25 April – The Last Lecture
Tue 30 Apr – News Image Analysis Presentations
PAPER 2 DUE
Tue 7 May – EXAM 3 @ 630p (covers 2 Apr – 23 April)
All readings will be drawn from the course textbook or will be available through the Mentor Course Management website.
Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business. New York: Penguin.
Attendance, participation, and paper presentations – 4%
8 short-response Facebook discussion postings (2% each) – 16%
3 exams (15% each) – 45%
Paper 1: Advertising Critique – 17%
Paper 2: News Image Analysis – 18%
Please consult page 40 of the Fairfield University Undergraduate Course Catalog for point values and letter equivalencies.
3 exams (15% each):
Three exams will be given during the course of the semester. Each will be comprised of a set of multiple-choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, and short-answer questions dealing with the primary themes and concepts of the course. These will not be cumulative – in other words, each of the exams will only include the lecture material and readings covered since the previous exam.
Paper 1 (17%): Advertising Critique
Length: 5-10 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins
Find two pairs of magazine advertisements (i.e., four ads total). Each pair should share the same general product/category being sold (e.g., cars, skin care products, airlines, etc.). For each ad pair, deconstruct the ad both in terms of its formal properties and its connotative structure. For the formal properties, classify and then argue for why one of the ads is effective and the other ineffective based on your analysis of the visual elements we have discussed in class. These techniques can include strategic uses of omission, camera angle, subjectivity, montage, and so on. While you can refer to any given element more than once, please do not just refer to the same elements for every ad; this assignment should test more than just your knowledge of camera angle, for instance. For the connotative structure, analyze and critique the cultural implications that you believe are being woven into the advertisement relying on our discussion of semiotics and related readings. Please include the ads themselves with your submission of the paper. Be certain that you are analyzing and not simply describing the ad pairs that you are working with. You do not need to use outside sources for this assignment, but if you quote any source please cite the reference (APA style preferred). You may use photocopies, scans, or advertisements torn out of magazines. You will be graded based upon your understanding of the formal visual elements in focus, your thoughtful deconstruction of the cultural connotations at work, your careful selection of ads, the logic of your argument, clear and well-written prose that has been carefully proofread for grammar and spelling, and a professional presentation of the material.
Paper 2 (18%): News Image Analysis
Length: 6-12 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font, 1-inch margins
News images are more central to our lives and society than ever before. With this paper, you will select one single prominent news image and analyze it critically. This should include providing the historical and/or contemporary context for the news image, its usage and presumed impact, and your own interpretation of its formal properties, meaning, and importance. In particular, you will need to argue for why it should (or shouldn’t be) iconic – that is, how it functions as a symbol for larger themes and issues and whether it does so appropriately. You are free (and, indeed, encouraged) to use themes and readings from the course, but you must utilize at least five outside texts in your analysis – and at least three of those must come from a reputable scholarly source (an academic journal, institutional report, or book written by a scholar). You are free to select from a broad range of images for this paper – for example, iconic images from Iwo Jima, Tiananmen Square, Abu Ghraib, or OJ’s Ford Bronco – but you need to check with me in advance to confirm that you’ve chosen an appropriate work for analysis. You will be graded upon the depth of your research into the image, your skill in analyzing it using the tools discussed in class and the frames you bring in from external sources, the clarity and strength of your argument, and well-written prose that has been carefully proofread for grammar and spelling.
*Please note that the in-class presentations of your two papers should be informal in nature. It is merely an opportunity to share with the class your work and thinking for group discussion. No additional preparation is necessary for these presentations (e.g., PowerPoint).
Attendance, participation and 8 short-response Facebook discussion postings (20%):
Students will be expected to attend each class and participate fully in discussions. In addition – at each marked instance on the schedule – students will be expected to contribute a thoughtful comment to the course page hosted on Facebook. You can find the Facebook course page by going to:
Then go to the page’s wall and find the prompt for that particular week’s discussion thread to view the field for your responses. By the designated date and time (i.e., midnight the night before class), please submit a 300-400 word response (approximately) to the readings. I will provide some conversation starters that you can use in crafting your posting; alternatively, your responses can include questions or criticisms of the material as well as application of the ideas or issues to examples from the media you encounter in daily life. You can also respond to earlier comments from your colleagues, but please strive to add something original and interesting to the online conversation. These postings won’t be graded (i.e., A, B, C, etc.); they will simply be assessed as complete or incomplete. (If you use a Facebook profile that does not include your real name, please let me know if advance so I can be certain to give you credit for your posting contributions.) The comment page will offer a springboard for our discussions and debates in class and provides an opportunity to keep the conversation going in cyberspace.
Lateness: Posting to the Facebook discussion after the time and date of any of the announced deadlines will not be considered and will not receive credit. Course papers that are late will be docked 5% for each day they are late. Exams cannot be made up without a documented emergency situation. No extra-credit opportunities are available.
Attendance: You are expected to be on time, to attend, and to participate fully in every class. Lectures are designed to engage students with frequent discussion opportunities and typically toward the end of each class we will spend some time discussing the readings (often based upon your responses on Facebook). I will bring a great deal of focus and energy to each course session and I ask you to do the same.
Absences: You are allowed to miss up to three classes before the final exam (not counting officially required release time for students participating in University-sponsored events); beyond that, each absence will drop your final grade by one percentage point. Please note that I do not give out PowerPoint slides nor do I review course lectures with students who miss class. If you do miss a class, you are responsible for finding out what you missed from a classmate in advance of the next course meeting.
Plagiarism: Consult the Undergraduate Catalog policy on academic honesty – violations of plagiarism will be strictly enforced and may result in failing a paper, examination, the course itself or lead to expulsion.
Students with disabilities: Students with disabilities requiring accommodations and services should contact me and the office of Academic & Disability Services (203-254-4000 x2615). Cases will be treated with the highest regard for confidentiality.
Fairfield University Writing Center: The Writing Center is a free resource available to all students at Fairfield University. At the Writing Center (located in DMH 255), a trained peer tutor will work individually with a student on anything he or she is writing, at any point in the writing process from brainstorming to final editing. Peer tutors do not write, proofread, or grade papers for students. Instead, they work collaboratively with students to establish priorities, develop ideas, or clarify their writing so that students are better prepared to succeed in a variety of writing tasks assigned to them in academic courses. Some tutors have training to work with students for whom English is a second language. Appointments can be made at the Writing Center website: http://www.fairfield.edu/writingcenter
Note: The instructor reserves the right for pedagogical purposes to alter the syllabus with adequate notification to students.