08 September 2009

Mimesis Sale

The colorful flurry that is the Annual Poster Sale at Messiah College ends today. I bought 3 posters for my blank, tack-compliant walls: two are Andy Warhol prints with wistful quotes, the other, a very artsy brown collage of triangles and swirls that form a center ascending swirly tree. I realize this means nothing to you (yet), but I still dished out $24 for these three pieces of paper, rashly spoiled by tiny corner tack holes.

If the poster sale was year-round, I would petition to change my senior thesis to examine this public phenomenon. But I suppose the rush of transience is something that makes this 2 DAY ONLY sale at least partially so appealing. But what makes the rest of it so darn appealing? Students from all years, all majors, and all styles meet in the commons to flip through awkward and robust poster books—the cheapest and smallest of these priced at $6. The commons in Eisenhower transforms from open lounge space to a space for visual and material consumption for the purpose of filling one’s own space with right imagery. From James Dean and Jamaica to Buddha and The Godfather, images of many shapes and sizes envelop a rectangle of tables by the mailboxes. The two cashiers have thick exotic accents; each year they do. But each year, I still have no idea who they are, where this business was started, and how it got affiliated with our Human Development and Family Sciences Department sponsoring the sale. But none of this seems to matter.

What matters is the magical usage these images have for people. I picked out three flat material posters, and it took some time, more than one trip, to decide on the right images. The images do something more than resonate with my life; they capture an elusive power gained by entering into them. Michael Taussig writes in his book, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, about an “active yielding of the perceiver in the perceived—the perceiver trying to enter into the picture and become one with it, so that the self is moved by the representation into the represented.”

Maybe this concept is a bit too harebrained and imaginary for the annual poster sale. Maybe anthropologist Michael Taussig, both fanatically worshiped and fervently hated depending on the group, is generally a bit too harebrained himself. But I believe my image browsing yesterday and today was shaped by cultural notions of individualism and representation. In turn, my decision to actually consume the images was shaped by the “original” (or perceived original) power captured by them, by entering into them. These posters are faithful “copies” of me, not because of their physical likenesses (there are none), but because of their self-extending faculties. We extend ourselves beyond our physical selves via other products too: Facebook, Blogs, wardrobes, cars, even majors (e.g. a student of Sociology and Anthropology). All of these production technologies provide powerful means for self-extension.

So whether you have “found” yourself in Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, or the products of Salvador Dali, more power to ya. I could shame us all for being so shallow and consuming culture so irresponsibly. I could deconstruct the poster consumption chain or unpack the cultural logic behind my indulgences, if I had time. But instead, I'll just hang my posters, empowered by their sentiments and character with which I identify.

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