P&A Pt. 1 - The Eyes Have It

Outside of work, most of us have neither the time nor the energy to read much beyond bumper stickers, fashion labels, texts, tweets, and tattoos. Should you happen to have a thousand words teetering on your chest, your contacts would be grateful if you just sent them an emoji. Pictures not only save everybody a lot of time; they’re likely to be more eye-catching than several paragraphs.

Ours is a visual culture. In a visual culture, serious communication, communication crafted to catch our attention, is predominantly visual. The bulk of these images represent commercial interests, but, in the spirit of late capitalism, we, the consumers, have gotten in on the act, eagerly adding our commercial-grade images to our visually saturated society. Images heaped upon images with no end in sight. There is no big picture, no metanarrative. Some spent their entire lives searching for the meaning of life. Our focus is on visual impressions. “Look at this!” “How does this look?” “Did you see that?” “Let’s see.” “That looks great!” Americans spent over 62 billion dollars on cosmetics in 2016. Our world is not a stage; it’s just a dressing room. Get the picture?

On a clear day, it’s possible to see for miles and miles. On that same clear day, it’s possible to miss the forest for the trees. It’s also possible to miss what’s right in front of our noses. You and I could enter the same small room with our 20/20 vision, and you might be the first one to see the paper coffee cup lying on its side underneath the table. I, on the other hand, might be the first one to see that the table had been recently waxed. 

That you and I see equally well doesn’t mean that we’ll notice the same things. Is this simply about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? That might be one way of looking at it. A consideration of “depth of field” and how it applies to these visual discrepancies would likely be both more interesting and fruitful, but even it would fall short.  

It’s important to take notice of the difference between “seeing” and “noticing“ in a time when our default experience of reality is primarily visual. When the real presence of someone or something depends on being noticed, it ought to make us wonder who or what in our society borders on invisibility. 

People living in poverty must not only enter our field of vision; they must also be brought into focus. In that process, we will find the images that dominate our lives slowly receding into the background. Picture that; rather, imagine that. 


The Poverty and Its Associates - P&A series is being written by Len Van Harten and the posts don't necessarily reflect the position of the London Poverty Research Centre. Len lives in Thorndale, Ontario. He has worked in group homes, in classrooms, and in nonprofit housing. He believes that if you aren’t confused, you aren’t paying close enough attention to the world around you.