Monday, October 28, 2013

Barthes Location Analysis - "The Caf"

       The University of Montevallo Cafeteria is an interesting enigma on campus. It simultaneously creates an environment that is suitable for its main purpose, eating, while also reinforcing new ideals the University of Montevallo is trying to push into the public consciousness. The room is set up in a similar way to the previous school cafeteria; however, several changes have been made, both subtle and obvious.
            Perhaps the most immediately striking feature of the cafeteria is its paint scheme. The room sports an extremely plain, white colored paint which gives the room a feeling of being clinical; this is almost certainly unintentional. Additionally, the ceiling retains a wooden frame which contradicts the stark white paint. This wooden frame conjures up a rustic feeling of a cabin which would typically remind diners of a down-home country kitchen. However, in the context of the clinical feeling conjured by the white paint, the wooden frames seem ironic and fail to create any feeling in diners other than confusion.
            Throughout the cafeteria, there is a variety of tables. These tables range from tall bar counters to small, circular tables to long rows of connected rectangular tables. This suggests a need to create variety in all approaches to the dining experience. By not having a set table style, the cafeteria is allowing diners of any preference to have a place to sit in comfort. For example, a fraternity might prefer a long bar counter table so that small pockets of friends can sit together while being distant from those they are not as close to in their brotherhood. Conversely, a small group of close friends might prefer a circular table so that they are close to every single person and can speak to whomever they wish. What the cafeteria sacrifices in uniformity and military precision from their table choices, they make up for by fostering many different types of community and providing options. However, there is a danger that such a scattershot method of structuring a dining room could lead to a loss in ethos by making it appear that the dining company has no clue what they are doing.
            The cafeteria also has an extension on the side of the building which is often considered the proper Anna Irvin Dining Hall. This area exists for a completely different reason than the rest of the cafeteria. Anna Irvin is all about creating the illusion of class and refinement. The room’s chandeliers and tall windows make the room feel more like the dining halls of prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale which have been around significantly longer than Montevallo. This hall is used mainly for luncheons and for entertaining other guests to the university, including touring prospective students.
            By allowing potential students to dine in Anna Irvin rather than the typical cafeteria, the university is attempting to say to the students that the school is a place of refined taste and adamant tradition; however, this stands in stark contrast to the new cafeteria space.
            The new space, with its post-modern design and accommodation of various preferences for dining, seems to suggest to its diners that it cares about moving forward and accepting new cultural standards, whereas Anna Irvin, with its uniformly circular tables and extravagant decoration, seems to suggest the aforementioned respect and adherence to rich tradition. By choosing to entertain guests and allow prospective students to dine in Anna Irvin, the university reveals which of the two contrasting identities it prefers to tout. Clearly, the university thinks that the post-modern designs of the new cafeteria will appeal to at least a good portion of its new students; however, the university is still stuck thinking that its tradition is its main draw for new students. Therefore, it ushers them away from the post-modern new cafeteria and puts them in a room with rich history and elegant taste.

            Essentially, the new cafeteria and Anna Irvin work together to create the ultimate metaphor for the University of Montevallo divided in its desire to retain tradition and move forward into a brave new future.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rhetorical Image Analysis - "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper and "Nighthawks at the Diner" by Cal Schenkel and Tom Waits

     A Rhetorical Analysis of Images                                               

                                                         Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

The painting “Nighthawks” from American artist, Edward Hopper, was made in the year 1942 and is often lauded for describing the loneliness of American nightlife. However, Hopper himself claimed that the painting was more about “the possibility of predators in the night, than with loneliness.” Additionally, he has claimed on many occasions to draw inspiration from the short stories “The Killers” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway.

    -     The painting’s use of dark, muted colors in the surrounding city streets highlights the sinister nature of what Hopper perceives to be the true nature of a city at night.

-   It is interesting to note that there is no one in the painting who is not in the diner, suggesting that the entire world of the city’s nightlife is manifest in the four figures at the bar counter. Hopper pays no concern to what is going on outside of this small setting as there is no insinuated movement or development going on outside of the diner’s walls.

-  The barkeep is wearing white while the two other men in the painting, who are seated around the counter, are wearing black. This could reflect a sort of angels and demons dichotomy between the man who is only up at late hours so that he can earn a paycheck versus the two men who are up late at night in order to do something more sinister.

-   There is no door leading from the street into the diner; the only door in the diner appears to lead to where a kitchen would be. Hopper could be suggesting a feeling of entrapment among the “predators in the night” or, alternatively, it could suggest the inescapable feeling which comes from insomnia or loneliness, particularly late at night.

-  The couple in the painting is intriguing, because it refutes, in many ways, the argument for loneliness that many suggest for the painting. Hopper wisely chooses to muddle up the ideas of danger in the night by putting a dangerous looking man with a lovely woman, who would appear to balance him out.

“Nighthawks at the Diner” cover by Cal Schenkel; album by Tom Waits

            Tom Waits’ third album, “Nighthawks at the Diner”, was released in 1975 and is a concept album loosely based around themes from Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks”. The cover design was made by Cal Schenkel, who was tasked with adapting Hopper’s painting and its themes to create a marketable album sleeve.

·        - The album cover is a photograph, which automatically creates a multitude of differences from the source material. Particularly, the photograph form allows the viewer to clearly see, analyze, and scrutinize the faces of those in the painting. Waits, who is at the forefront of the cover, is looking, with something akin to exhaustion or disillusionment, out a window, away from the other people in the diner. This suggests that Waits, who is the protagonist of the album’s light story arc, feels alienated even though he is in the midst of significantly more people than populate Hopper’s painting.

·        - Unlike Hopper’s painting, Schenkel opts to have only the diner in his photograph. This takes Hopper’s empty streets motif one step farther and suggests to the viewer that not only is nothing going on in the world outside the diner, but also that there is no other world outside this dingy little dive.

·        - The very fact that this album cover shows a clear protagonist distinguishes it from Hopper’s painting in several unique ways. It is possible, and even likely, that we are to see Waits as our “guide” of sorts through the diner as he identifies and analyzes all of the nighthawks he sees there. Where Hopper left us on the outside looking in to make our own conclusions, Schenkel gives us a protagonist to keep us engaged with the people Waits sees.

·       -  The color red is more prominent in this cover than in Hopper’s painting. Red, being a color frequently associated with passion, functions well here to show Waits’ focus on the interactions and quirks of the nighthawks with one another versus Hopper’s focus on the unseen “predators” as well as with themes of loneliness. Similarly, in Hopper’s painting, the only red is the woman’s dress which is also the only relationship shown in the painting. Schenkel wisely highlights that facet of Hopper’s painting by utilizing red in a more significant way.

·      -   In the bottom corner of the album cover, there appears to be a small figure crouching or doubled over just outside the window through which Waits is peering. This almost certainly harkens back to Hopper’s statement about “predators in the night” with which both Waits and Schenkel would have been familiar. The presence of this “predator” of sorts communicates that, although the album’s focus is on relationships of the nighthawks, the predators are still out there, lurking, and they deserve our attention.

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, 1942. Currently in the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago, IL
“Nighthawks at the Diner” by Cal Schenkel, performed by Tom Waits, 1975. Asylum Records.