“Image World”: A Rhetorical Analysis

NB., The following essays is a rhetorical analysis specific to a work by Posner called “Image World

To what extent is Western culture adversely affected by the visual medium? Posner, in his work “Image World”, suggests that our culture is indeed negatively influenced by the visual medium, to the extent that it threatens the social and political fabric of Western society. “Image World” is primarily expressive in its aim; confronting the audience with a calamitous picture of Western culture, formulated to alarm the reader of the danger posed by “visual culture”. Posner conveys his ideas through an appeal to pathos, which he accomplishes through skilful deployment of diction for the development of tone, and highly effective use of narration and ethical appeal. Both the tone and narration evoke the reader to perceive the absurdities, the dangers and the fearful implications of Western culture. The provocative and radical message Posner communicates is clearly seen in the following concluding paragraph of “Image World”:

This trend, long underway but gathering momentum, is weighted with serious social and indeed political implications. That it marches hand-in-hand with two other worrisome developments — the relentless dumbing down of the population through the deliberate erosion of standards in learning and culture and, under the pretext of greater security, the increasing subjection of people to video surveillance in public spaces — constitutes additional grounds for concern. (330)

Posner’s ability to convey tone is by far the most compelling rhetorical element found within “Image World”. An informal tone is immediately developed between Posner and his audience, which he accomplishes by relating to the reader in the first person plural form within the first paragraph and continuing in the first personal singular form throughout the rest of the essay. Use of the first person plural form in particular is highly effective in that it is: found in the first paragraph, thus immediately visible to the reader; it is italicised for emphasis, enhancing the readers ability to realize the intended level of formality; and by relating himself and the reader as belonging to the same group, “We”, Posner creates a sense of community and commonality with his audience. Ultimately this all works to prepare the reader for the radical message Posner communicates later in the work.

Posner’s development of tone goes on to create a perverse and Orwellian air around the condition of western culture. For instance when referring to the high volume of visual media that exists within our culture he states that “one might be forgiven for thinking that the modern world has become afflicted by the tyranny of the visual”(326). He then proceeds to enhance this tone further through critiquing western forms of entertainment and news media using descriptive words and phrases such as “annual orgiastic prayer rituals in worship of the Armani-suited gods”, “fraudulent, antiseptic universe of enforced gaiety”, “sham universe of shopping malls”, “Disneyfied World”, and more. Such word use helps to effectively elicit negative attitudes and emotions towards our cultural condition.

Narration is another key device used by Posner. In the second paragraph of the work the reader is put in the front and centre of a Maple Leafs hockey game. Posner describes his experience of watching the game as follows: “We had front-row seats behind the goalie, the best in the house. Yet, perversely, I found myself repeatedly glancing up at the vast in-house screen positioned over centre ice. Somehow, the big pixel board seemed to frame the action on the ice 

in a more optically manageable way. And I wasn’t alone; all around me, I noticed, other eyes were doing the same. The gritty, hard-contact reality was right before us, yet we were essentially watching the game on television, exactly as we’ve been conditioned to do”. Posner’s use of narrative at this point in the essay serves to illustrate the main premise of “Image World”, that being that more and more people’s cultural interactions are mediated through the visual media. The narrative also contains examples of Posner’s use of diction, such as the word “conditioned” which connotes that the visual medium has become so invasive as to heavily influence our very behaviour, which only adds to the sense of fear that the author seeks to convey.

A final important rhetorical element Posner deploys is ethos. Posner cites a variety of figures from all across western society, including philosophers and media producers. Guy Debord, the late French philosopher, appears to be a major source for the message Posner seeks to convey. The example of Guy Debord is helpful in giving credibility to Posner’s work in that it demonstrates that his perception of visual culture is common to that of a well known 20th century philosopher. Such an appeal as is seen in the following quote in which Posner expounds upon Debord’s thoughts on the “triumph of the visual spectacle”:

Reality constantly filtered through the distorting prism of contrived images. And it’s pernicious development. It warps our core sensibility, making us confuse the image with the real thing. It forces us to encounter and comprehend our environment indirectly. And—most significantly, perhaps even ominously—it makes all of us easy prey to manipulation—to what Debord termed ‘hypnotic behaviour’. (326)

The integration of Debord’s philosophy into “Image World”, a tactic Posner repeats throughout the essay, demonstrates effective appeal to ethos; furthering the expressive rhetorical aim of the work by communicating Posner’s perceptions on the inhumanity of our visual culture.

The overall expressive aim of Posner is also effective in that he demonstrates talent in invoking the reader to experience fearful and dehumanizing facets of the visual culture he describes. Furthermore, the devices act to compel the reader to scrutinize more closely the elements of Western culture. However, his essay also takes a overly paranoid view as to the cause of the perceived ills in Western culture, which can be seen when he states that there exists a “…relentless dumbing down of the population through deliberate [emphasis mine] erosion of standards in learning and culture…” (330). It is at this point that Posner loses credibility; attempting to introduce a radical theory without sufficient substantiation or justification. He directs blame for his perceived dangers in the media culture to an ambiguous ‘big brother’ type entity, thus creating a faulty cause and effect and essentially implying that the main thrust of his essay, the problems associated with the visual, is intentionally perpetrated. He then goes on to link this view with what he perceives as “…the formative, incipient grammars of fascism” (330). Yet, he continues to inadequately justify this view with hard evidence. Perhaps a more argumentative approach would have been better suited for this particular work, as the radical theories he describes are sweeping in their implications and thus demand rational arguments based on evidence and an appeal to logos.

It is unfortunate that Posner did not effectively expand on the causation behind his perceived “tyranny of the visual”. To have done so may have gone beyond the scope of what Posner had wanted to communicate, however it would have increased the credibility of this work significantly. Nonetheless, “Image World” is still effective in identifying real and potential dangers in Western culture, keeping the reader engaged, and leaves one with much to contemplate.


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