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Friday, 9 October 2009

The Problem with Posters

Homerton College's accomodation is like Barratt Homes meets Ikea, and is as close to mass production as Cambridge colleges get. The new buildings in which all freshers, and most other students on campus, live are very non-descript. The interiors of the rooms are all the same - the only difference between rooms is whether the bed is on the left, or whether the desk is. It's quite stifling. So people try to personalise and the quickest and easiest way that we do this is through posters.

But the problem with posters is that they aren't just decorative but they are communicative. The posters you choose to put up may have symbolism themselves, but by the fact you have chosen it, you are adding your own message. A picture of Barack Obama being inaugurated is symbolic itself of the progression of African-Americans and of democracy, and of hope. But if I put this image on my wall, it has the added message that I support his politics, I consider myself a democrat and so on.

In my room at the minute, I have only one poster, a very small one, which is directly facing you on the back wall as you enter. It is of Billy Casper from the film Kes, in the iconic 'two fingers up' pose. My own meaning for this poster is manifold - Kes is inextricably linked to Cambridge for me, quite paradoxically. The essay I sent in with my application was about the Sociology of Billy Casper's Failure, which I have since posted on another blog. I am studying Sociology largely thanks to a very good, dedicated teacher I had for A level, and he too was slightly obsessed with A Kestrel for a Knave. In a quite excessive way, it is a comment on my own background and success, compared to young Billy. And another, more profane reason, is that it is a fantastic iconic image, but not one that is too popular.

But if you look at the picture, and its place in the room, it gives off a very different message. For those who maybe haven't seen the film Kes, they are faced with a slightly grim black and white image, at face-height, which is pointing two fingers at them as soon as they enter the room. It's hardly any wonder that fewer people are coming to visit me in my room this year - I am effectively telling them to fuck off as soon as they enter.

But my main dilemma is this - I have a large wall to fill and I want to have one poster and one only. To choose it though, is to choose the one biggest message that I will give to anyone who enters my room. I wanted something literary and found a collection of vintage book covers of pieces of great fiction. One of my very favourite novels was amongst them - Lolita. As much as it is a great piece of fiction, and again a very iconic image, I would effectively be saying to guests, of all the things that I could use to represent myself through the reshaping of my living space, I chose a 14 year old girl sucking a lollipop coyly. So Lolita will not adorn my wall. I want some art, but I don't want to appear pretentious so nothing too highbrow, else people will think I'm trying too hard. But at the same time, I don't want to conform by having Daffodils, or Guernica, or that photograph of the workmen sittig on scaffold in New York. In fact, I want none of those many New York images that people seem to like if they are never realistically going to visit the place. Something to oggle might be nice, a talking point - having said that, I don't want a nude lady from classical art on my wall. Since people don't see me as being interested in art, they might presume I'm debasing what ought to be a high culture into a base cheap pornography. I could have a nude male, but again, it's sending out overtly sexual vibes and its not the message I want the bedder to receive as she wipes the yoghurt from my desk. If I were to choose something, it would have to have a meaning behind it, but nothing too realistic - something abstract but not so abstract that it becomes a hollow Foucauldian simulcrum. Difficult eh?

To buy one poster to decorate your room is one of the most taxing activities for the identity - we think of ourselves as complex, changeable, fluid and in a constant state of flux. We are many different people effectively - I'd be happy for some of my friends to see Lolita on my wall, but if my grandparents came to visit - less happy. My grandparents think of me as a different person to the one my friends see.

The poster is less a physical item than a symbolic one - rather than being static it communicates and interacts. To shop for posters is like clicking a drop down list of one word personality traits and choosing the one that best represents your concept of self.

And for that reason, my wall remains bare.

1 comment:

  1. My turn to comment! I read a very interesting popular psychology book about the significance of objects and their placement in your room. For example, if you imagine a desk in an office with a photo of one's family on it, if that photo is facing towards you, it is because you want to see them and be reminded of them all the time. But putting it facing away from you (towards visitors) is a status symbol - a desire for others to see your success in the family realm of life. I realised with a sense of guilt that my poster ticking off the essays I had written, stuck up prominently in my room in college, was out of a subconscious desire for others to see my success in this realm. So I'm totally with you on the complications of choosing what to put up on your walls ... !!