Scott McCloud author of The Vocabulary of Comics graciously points out that there IS a difference between what we see and how we perceive it, versus what our neighbor might see and interpret.
Here’s an example:
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see these images? Is it the difference in the tilt? Most likely that is not what you’re focused on. While a good majority of people would see either of these images and automatically regard it as the controversial symbol for
the Nazis, some will know that one of these images (the one on the bottom) has an ancient history and has been associated with many Indian cultures such as Buddhism and Jainism – a complete 180 of an idea and symbol in comparison to the Nazis idea of the symbol on the top.
Or what about this image? Depending on whom you ask it can be a sun, a hoop, a ring, or just a circle. A lot of the determining factors would be the culture we live in and how our needs differ. The point being, different cultures give different meanings to things, and just like McCloud says “words are abstract,” and symbols can be as well until a person decides to give meaning to it.
The American Psychological Association did a study on our brains and culture, and came to the conclusion that we see what we need to see, and when our brains correlate an image with notions that our positive to us we receive a strong reward circuitry in our brains. What rewarded our brains differed for each culture, this study did a comparison of the Chinese and Americans.
“We see that what the brain finds rewarding reflects the values of the dominant culture,” says Ambady. “People can see the same stimulus but have completely different neural responses.”
Here’s an interesting take on how we view ourselves in a mirror versus how others might see us.
It would seem that many people view themselves in a negative light despite what others might think and express to them, or even if it is not negative, they just do not view themselves as the world does. McCloud coins this as “non-visual self-awareness” (37). He believes that while we know what our bodies are actually doing, we cannot picture it. Our own image of ourselves is just a sort of sketchy display of what we think we look like.
While a previous blog post “Is that Jesus in my soup/toast/street sign/tree?” pointed out being able to initially perceive something was originally a way to help determine the threat level of whatever passed us by and to protect ourselves. Now that every passerby is not particularly a threat to us I believe that we judge ourselves a certain way in order to once again keep us from harm. But the harm we are trying to save ourselves from is a distorted view of how others will judge us. So basically, rather than allowing someone else to look at you and perceive you as ugly, you instead do it for them, preparing and protecting yourself from what could POSSIBLY happen. This is truly a “distortion of reality” says Emily Sohn author of “Why We Don’t See Ourselves as Others Do.”
Bringing this back full-circle with McClouds theories, just like we root for the underdog because we see ourselves, we appreciate cartoons, because we can fill in the gaps with the details of ourselves. I agree when McCloud states that “universiality of cartoon imagery” is a huge reason why we all adore it at some point in our lives. A lot of people can identify with a character that lacks every wrinkle, freckle, and gray hair that we all might have in real life. In a simplistic cartoon you can fill in the blank space with details of yourself, in comparison to a well shaded, more realistic cartoon that clearly portrays a certain “look.”
What cartoon characters did you imagine yourself to be?
Overall, perception of symbols, icons, and pictures can all vary depending on the person for multiple reasons but one huge one being culture. It can be considered a sign of what we as a culture consider important, your own personal experiences, and/ or what we need to survive or to reward ourselves. Keep that in mind next time you are deciphering a symbol. Ask yourself, what else can this be a concept of?