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More to It!: Bite Size News

What is "spin"? Commonly associated with political public relations, spin can be characterized as presenting an issue in a perspective most favorable to a given point of view. It can be created by presenting information favorable to the perspective and by omiting or rebutting unfavorable information. It can also be enhanced through the use of images. Visual media use color, shape, lighting, and size to evoke emotional responses and convey latent messages by arousing an emotional response in the viewer.

Consider the Cottingham's lithograph Art (below). How does it make you feel?


Warm colors such as red, orange, and yellow tend to make us feel positive and secure. Cool colors like blue and violet make us feel calm. Gray and black make us feel sad and uncomfortable. Similarly, a bright image evokes feelings of security and happiness, while a dark image arouses fear and apprehension.

Positive feelings of progress and enlightenment can be created by diagonal lines running from bottom-left to top-right. Left to right movements are perceived as natural and harmonious. Conversely, diagonals from top-left to bottom-right induce feelings of failure and descent, and movements from right to left increase tension. Camera angle is particularly important in portrayal of people. A person filmed from low angle appears larger, more important and powerful, while a person filmed from a high angle looks small, weak, and vulnerable.

The connotative meaning of props such as flags, balloons, jelly beans, and religious icons are symbols reinforcing the latent message in an image.

Cottingham describes the circumstances that lead to the creation of Art:

In the summer of 1970, I was wandering around Los Angeles photographing movie marquees. Downtown, on a forgotten back street, I discovered the Art Theater, a small run-down movie house. Its ticket-taker was standing outside in black jeans and a T-shirt. He gave me permission to change the film in my camera inside the theater, away from the afternoon glare. I came out and took one photograph of the first three letters of the marquee. This was the basis of my 1971 painting, and my 1992 lithograph.
If you were to write a paragraph with a spin consistent with the visual messages in Art, would it mention forgotten back streets or a run-down movie house?

Compare the Public Relations Society of America's Code of Professional Standards to an article in PR Watch, published by the Center for Media & Democracy.

Propaganda can be considered an extreme form of spin. Propaganda posters, like This Is the Enemy (below), were widely used during World Wars I and II. For information on This Is the Enemy and other posters, visit NMAA's virtual exhibition Posters American Style.

This is the Enemy!
To learn about propaganda techniques and see recent examples, visit Propaganda Analysis Home Page at the University of Washington's web site.
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