The term “media aesthetics” seems simple enough. It’s just what media stuff looks like, right?

… That would be a negative, Ghostrider.

Media aesthetics is defined in three ways by three different sources:

(1) Mike Moore, Communications Professor at Fullerton College. Media aesthetics are the cues of images or sounds in media (movies, TV, video games) that “reinforce the realism of a three-dimensional world presented on a two-dimensional screen.” Basically, the features of media that affect our impressions of such. Seems legit.

(2) Unidentified internet lecturer. Media aesthetics, as a term, roots from Greek meaning “sensory perceptions.” Originally applied to art (pre-iPhone) it deals with space, light, color, motion, and sound. Not too far off from #1. But let’s continue.

(3) Laura Portwood-Stacer, Professor of Media and Communication at NYU. Media aesthetics refers to the personal taste and sensory predisposition of the media consumer. (Described here in her three-part essay on media refusal.) This particular definition is a bit more complex, relying on context (she calls it a “frame”) to define such a concept. Rather than mere biological or emotional responses to how a certain media looks, she determines that one’s taste, facilitated by societal predisposition through experience, dictates those responses.

So, now that we have some definitions, let’s explore why it matters.

Media aesthetics, in conjunction with being a really cool way to do social experimentation, is a big, big business.

Based on the concepts of photorealism, caricaturism, and abstractionsim, video game designers, producers, and profiteers all strive to incorporate visual, audible, and even emotional into their games in order to sell more product. They do this by playing off the human predisposition (remember Portwood-Stacer?) that the more realistic something is, the better it is. Below are some visual comparisons:

Image Image

But it’s more than just video games. Even mobile technologies like the iPhone 5 are presented as being “more ergonomic” than older editions. In it’s launch commercial, the iPhone 5 is even shown as transparent, indicating further that it is a “part” of the body, something that doesn’t just stimulate the eyes, ears, and fingertips, but rather it is something that is so “natural” that the senses simply align with it seamlessly.


We can even go so far as to claim that news media (i.e. Fox vs. CNN) are structured visually to please certain audiences. For instance, Fox News regularly shows their banners in red – a notorious Republican party color. In opposition, CNN habitually puts theirs in blue – again, a color associated with the Democratic party.


So, what does all of it mean?

Well, it means that, as media consumers, we have two options: be aware of the sensory messages being sent through our media and grow to understand its effects, or just mindlessly enjoy the pretty graphics on the new Call of Duty game. (Perhaps the former choice is best.)


2 thoughts on “Media Aesthetics: Sensory or Societal?

  1. Great post, Cory! I really like how you incorporated visuals into the blog in such a fluid way. The visuals are sometimes just as important in conveying an idea as much as the message itself. I liked the last visuals about the blue and red banners that Fox and CNN have.

  2. This post was soooooooo helpful. Media Aesthetics was such a difficult concept for me to understand but the definitions, details, and examples you used to represent each of the 3 interpretations helped me piece it all together. The “what does all of it mean” section of your post was great, I have heard the phrase “a picture says 1,000 words” but visuals are very dynamic and complex. Every component of a visual, no matter how big or small, holds significance and was purposefully included to appeal to a specific sense or combination of senses.

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