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Abigail Vos


Josh Hartdegen


Assignment One

Stuart Hall: The Spectacle of the Other

16 August

1. Roland Barthes explained that images work on a level of myth. This myth is the message that
one perceives when seeing an image. Barthes explains the myth as the second level of
representation where it is linked to a wider field Hall 17: 39). When looking at the Heroes and
Villains image, many assumptions and connections can be made, the connections could
translate to the myth that the image is operating under. When solely looking at the image, the
connection could be made that African-American men (or African-American people) are more
athletic than other people. Animalistic qualities in African-American people could therefore be
the myth in this image. Furthermore, the text creates ambiguity. Heroes and Villains is an
ambiguous title since there is no clarification as to who is referenced as the hero and who is the
villain. Therefore, the subjective nature of the myth is explored since different readers will
establish different meanings of the text. When the text is placed next to the image, more
ambiguity is explored since there is no clarification as to whether the men on the cover were
the heroes or the villains. This then leads to further subjective assumptions that are made by
readers, these assumptions are influenced by the readers background, spatiotemporal context
and whether the reader follows the world of athletics. Some myths that are established could
be that black men are the heroes in this situation since they are able to participate and win in
the Olympics, but the opposing side would be that black men are the villains in the image
because of the stereotypes of gang violence that precede them. Another concept that can be
explored is that where both the heroes and villains are represented on the cover. The hero
being the winner of the race (Ben Johnson) and the villains being the losers of the race. It is
however important to consider that if the reader knew that the Johnson was accused and found
guilty of doping in the Olympics, the roles of the heroes and villains on the cover would be
reversed. Therefore, it is evident that the image carries many meanings that could all be
interpreted in diverse ways (Hall 1997: 225-228).

2. When Hall states that meaning floats, he is referring to the subjective nature of meaning and
how it is completely dependent on the reader. This becomes problematic since each reader has
a different opinion on certain matters and each reader has experienced different things to come
to their own conclusions on certain topics. Hall furthermore explains that even though meaning
can never be truly fixed, the media (or whoever attempts to benefit from the myth that their
image or product is trying to sell) still attempts to fix meaning by benefiting certain meanings
over others. This is possible by making use of binary opposites and pre-existing stereotypes.
Therefore, when looking at the image of Heroes and Villains, it is important to note that even
though there are a multitude of meaning that could be drawn from this image, there is one
preferred meaning. It is clear that Time Magazine wanted to illustrate both meanings and
interpretations (where Johnson is the hero but also the villain), but it needs to be clear that the
preferred meaning can only be established once both the text and the image are considered.
Barthes makes it clear that the caption of an image is just as important as the images itself (Hall
1997: 228). Therefore, two discourses are considered, the discourse of photography and that of
language. It is furthermore clear that the meaning in the Heroes and Villains image is directed
in an ambiguous manner where many opposing meanings could be form. These meanings could
be that of race, where Ben Johnson is a catalyst for generalizing African-American athletes as
winners, but only by detrimental ways, therefore ambiguity is established in the juxtaposing
concepts of physical triumph (winning the race) and moral defeat (being accused of drug use)
(Hall 1997: 228).

3. Hall uses the phrase the spectacle of otherness when describing difference and binary
opposites. When two opposing concepts are placed next to each other, there would always be
one that is good and normal, but the other would then by default be bad and not normal or
other. Therefore, this phrase illustrates difference by establishing that one party will always be
disadvantaged simply because it is not normalised, therefore, there is always a power dynamic
at play. For example, in most of history, the white race was normal and therefore, by default,
superior to any other opposing or different race. Because of this, the other races were the
naturally the spectacle and were then inherently disadvantaged (Hall 1997: 231).

4. A regime of representation refers to the fact that meaning in certain cases is completely
dependent on another text. Therefore, the regime of representation is inherently connected to
inter-textuality within art and how the combination of the meanings of various texts are used to
create new meaning within a new piece by using elements of other texts and their meanings
(Hall 1997: 232).

5. Saussures concept of binary opposites is problematic since only two concepts are ever placed
next to each other. This is problematic since in most areas in art, politics and most studies, two
extremities are not the only aspects to a case, most issues exist on a spectrum, therefore, not all
sides are represented within binary opposites. The other problem with binary opposites is that
when placing two opposing concepts next to each other, one of the concepts is assumed to be
better than the other, therefore within binary opposites, one concept is always privileged and
preferred to its opposite.

6. The first encounter was European traders arriving in Western Africa, which provided a source of
black slaves to be sold to multiple countries. The second encounter was Europe colonising Africa
known as The Scramble for Africa. The third encounter was the post-World War II immigrants
from the Third World into Europe (Hall 1997: 289).

7. Organised racism is a racialised discourse that exists because of the use of binary opposites. On
a simple level, these binary opposites made use of power dynamics, therefore white people
were placed in positions of power and black people were disadvantaged because of this. One of
the binary opposites that made use of power dynamics was the concept of nature and culture.
Within the white community nature and culture were opposites. They were not seen as
concepts that could thrive together harmoniously. Because of this, a binary opposite was
created and white Europeans placed the concept of culture and civilisation as higher than the
concept of nature. According to these Europeans, nature was associated with primitive actions.
According to Hall, this entire belief when it comes to culture and nature is not shared by the
black community. In the African community, culture and nature coincided, they were
synonymous and both beneficial, whereas the white community attempted to eradicate nature
by replacing it with culture. Because of the binary opposite that was established by the white
community, organised racism became a normalised discourse since the Europeans associated
themselves with culture and the Africans with nature (Hall 1997: 244).

8. The white Europeans had established a generalised view that their way of living was normal,
therefore their subjective concept of culture and civilisation was normalised. So, when the
Europeans encountered Africans, the classified the African culture because of nature. By doing
so the reduces the African culture as to naturalise difference. This concept is easily explained
by understanding that these white Europeans viewed culture as something that could be
modified, but nature was inherent and fixed. Therefore, the representational strategy of
naturalisation came about to alter and fix difference (Hall 1997: 245).

9. Hall uses the term essentialising when referring to stereotyping. This refers to the reduction of
a people to their most basic essence. Hall uses the examples of laziness, simple fidelity,
childishness and mindless crooning, to explain what white people had reduce the black race to.
What white believed to be the essence of black people was used as marketing tools,
propaganda an justification for slavery. Furthermore, the concept of reductionism links to that
of essentialising a group of people. When one essentialises an entire group of individuals,
certain truths are bound to get lost, and because of that, an entire culture would be reduced to
simplest stereotypes and assumptions. Lastly, Hall speaks about naturalising when it comes to
stereotyping. This we have previously discussed but naturalising is the process of essentialising
and reducing a group to stereotypes as to minimise difference and to place the blame of
difference on nature, therefore removing responsibility from the normal people (in this case
the white people considered themselves as normal and cultured, where the white people
decided that the black people were uncultured and primitive.) (Hall 1997: 257).

10. Type could be defined as a group that share certain characteristics whereas stereotype could be
defined as reducing a group to a few essentials that are fixed by nature. With stereotyping, the
goal is not to understand or study certain characteristics, but to oversimplify them as to
minimise the complexity of the initial culture. The significant difference to note is the concept of
type is not to dehumanise and belittle, but to classify and study, whereas the act of stereotyping
is one of a negative nature (Hall 1997: 257).

11. Stereotyping uses the strategy of splitting to maintain difference by making use of binary
opposite. When working with binary opposite, one party is always viewed in a negative light and
one party is always viewed in a positive light. This then establishes a power relationship
between the two parties where the party that is viewed in a positive light is dominant. The way
stereotypes factor into this is simply explained by looking at racial discourse in the past. For
example, black people were clearly disadvantaged in the past because of systems such as
slavery, this is a clear example of a power dynamic where whites were masters over black, but
this entire system would not have been possible if it were not for the stereotypes that white
people forced upon black people. These stereotypes include that black bodies are only useful of
physical activities, that black people are of a lower intelligence than white people, and that
black people were made to serve white people. If it werent for these stereotypes in the first
place, no power dynamic could have been established (Hall 1997: 245).


HALL, S. 1997. The Spectacle of the Other. In: S. Hall (ed) Representation: Cultural Representation
and Signifying Practices. London: Stage Publications and The Open University.