Juxtaposition in the Media

by yonirusnak

In a world saturated by commercials, movies, images and other media communications, juxtaposition can me seen everywhere. From weight loss commercials to the latest hip-hop remix, people are confronted with juxtaposition on a daily bases. This essay will discuss the challenges, and the constants that face juxtaposition in media, and it will argue that ultimately juxtaposition is changing and evolving with the new mediascape. Firstly through defining and analysing the original theory of juxtaposition this essay will show how some areas of juxtaposition theory have remained constant, while others have evolved with the changing mediascape. Secondly this essay will discuss the new theory of juxtaposition in relation to compositing within the film industry, and how this is challenging the old theories of juxtaposition. Finally this essay will explore remix culture. It will attempt to illustrate that remix culture is growing and expanding in connection with the evolving mediascape.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines juxtaposition as “The act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side; also: the state of being”.  It is then fitting that the first theories of juxtaposition be based upon this idea. In the 1920’s filmmakers in Russia were experimenting with the juxtaposition of images. Among such artists was Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein believed that by placing two images side by side the pictures were able to create a new meaning greater then the two images held by themselves. Eisenstein based his idea on a Japanese ideogram, “where two separate symbols can be juxtaposed to create a third meaning” (Shaw, 2004). This idea is best illustrated in Eisenstein’s 1920’s film ‘Strike’, in which Eisenstein juxtaposes a large group of civilians running from the policy, with images of cow’s being slaughtered. The two images have no direct correlation to one another and separately contain meaning to a curtain degree. However when juxtaposed together through a temporal link these images are transformed to create a greater meaning. They Alluding to the hordes of civilianize being slaughtered like cattle. By juxtaposing contrasting images the viewers is able to make links between the two images. This theory can and has been applied to all media practices in the new mediascape. Today Newspapers, magazines and television are full of juxtapositions that compare and contrast to create meaning. One clear example is the ‘weight loss’ before and after photos use to sell dietary and exercise products.  By juxtaposing the before image with the after image, a meaning of weight loss is achieved through their comparative differences. Kendra Mayfield in her article published by wired magazine writes about “the infamous Tourist Guy next to the World Trade Center and the Bert is Evil Muppet juxtaposed with images of Osama bin Laden”(2002), demonstrating just one more form of juxtaposition in our society. These examples signify that the old theory of juxtaposition has remained constant through out the changing mediascape.  It has evolved within pop culture and has become commonplace in our society, however the fundamental theories have remained stable. Juxtaposition as a theory of contrast or comparison has however become challenged by a new theory of juxtaposition.

The old theory of juxtaposition seeks to create meaning through comparison and contrast, however the new theory seeks to do the opposite. In his article ‘Compositing: From Image streams to Modular Media’, Lev Manovich describes the old theory as the “post modern aesthetics of the eighties, historical references and media quotes are maintained as distinct elements; boundaries between elements are well defined” (2001, p.55).  Manovich, who is a leading theorist in the field of juxtaposition in media, recognises a change in the way juxtaposition is used today. Through compositing technologies juxtaposition is no longer used to create meaning through differences, but instead is used to create fake realities by seamless blending multiple layers to create a new image. Mayfield describes in her article, a picture of Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro in which they are shaking hands. What makes this interesting is that no photos were taken at the event. (2002). The photo was recreated using two earlier photos of the men, which were then juxtaposed using a digital editing program to look as though it had been taken at the event. The new theory of juxtaposition uses digital compositing softwares to blend two or more images. Through blending the images and adding multiple layers a new image is created, which no longer resembles the original two but creates a new reality within the image. Manovich describes this as “assembling together a number of elements to create a single seamless object” (2001, p.52). The new theory of juxtaposition is a product of the new mediascape. The practice of altering images through cutting and pasting is not unique to today’s mediascape however the level or realism is. In the past people were able to cut and paste pictures from magazines or family photo albums to create new images, however it is only with today’s technologies that these images can look as real as the original photos. This has created consumers who are now more aware of digital manipulation as Avi Muchnick explains in his interview with Kendra Mayfield, “It’s routine for people to question everything now. People (online) no longer take any images at face value because they are aware of digital media’s tremendous potential for hoax.” (2002) The changing views of consumers present another challenge for juxtaposition, to capture the audience’s imagination in new ways.

The New theory of juxtaposition represents a number of changes and challenges in the new mediascape. Firstly it challenges the way the old theory of juxtaposition is used to edit films. In the past filmmakers where only able to edit in time, meaning they were able to cut a number of images together in a temporal link to create a film, this representing the old theory of juxtaposition. Today filmmakers are able to choose between two options, temporal editing or special editing. Manovich states, “The new logic of a digital moving image contained in the operation of compositing runs against Einstein’s aesthetics with its focus on time. Digital compositing makes the dimensions of space.” (2001, p.157) Similarly Margot Stuart-Smith discusses this notion in her essay on ‘Computer Graphics and Digital Compositing’. She explains that with digital technologies filmmakers are now able to create whole worlds that exist in a virtual reality, and are able to edit through that space rather then time. (2007, p. 4) An example given by Stuart-Smith is a scene from the film ‘Fight Club’. The scene presents the protagonist on the top floor of a building where he is being told about a car full of explosives in the car park beneath the building. If this were edited using the old theory of juxtaposition then the scene would have been created through a number of shots that occurs in different places at different time. These shots would then been linked to create meaning through their temporal connection. However with digital compositing technologies the director was able to recreate the building within a virtual world and then use a ‘camera view’ that could move through walls. The scene in the movie is illustrated through one smooth shot that moves quickly from the top floor, out the windows of the building, down and through the street finally entering the car park (2007, p.5).  This type of editing is only possible through the changing mediascape and the new digital technologies that have been developed.

The new theory of juxtaposition has also given directors of films, television, commercials and music videos as well as photographers a much greater freedom in the choices they are able to make when creating their projects. Digital editing software’s such as Photo Shop, After Effects and Maya allow for digital alterations to images. These alterations can have a vast range of uses, such as erasing cables from stunt in action movies, erasing green screens on the sets of television shows or air brushing a photo of a model for the cover of Vogue magazine. However all these alterations have one thing in common. They attempt to enhance the images and create realism for the desired effect of the project. In ‘Digital editing and Montage: The Vanishing Celluloid and beyond’ the authors discuss how digital compositing technologies are used today to enhance movies. They state that the art form is not a new way of thinking about film but instead is used as a means to solve different technical issues. They also explain that, “This is how cables holding actors during stunts are now removed from the image and replaced by different pixels giving the impression of continuous background for the action” (M. Lefebvre, M. Furstenau, 2002). The change that has occurred through the digital technologies is not the ability to juxtapose objects onto film, but the realism that can now be created from this effect. An example of such change can be seen in the contrast of the films ‘Moonwalker’ (Jerry Kramer) and ‘Transformers (Michael Bay). In the 1988 film ‘Moonwalker’ footage of Michael Jackson dancing is juxtaposed with stop motion footage of a clay rabbit dancing. This resulted in a harsh and unrealistic image of the two dancing together. It is clear to the audience that the image on the screen in not real. Contrary to this, the movie ‘Transformers’ released in 2008 used digital compositing to create the robots and layer them with the footage of the actors. The two images were then blended creating a smoother mix of the two images, giving the final result a more realistic aesthetic. Digital technologies allow editors to recreate lighting to match that of the sequence of the actors. Other alterations possible with digital technologies include shading, colour and movement. All these elements assist in blending the two images to create a seamless fake reality, therefore demonstrating a change in use of juxtaposition.

The final change in relation to juxtaposition within the media is the evolution of the remix culture.  Remixing began prior to the digital age. Producers of remix works would use analogue technologies to rerecord preexisting materials. Therefore the change is not in the action of remixing but rather the cultures that have arisen around these practices. Bart Vautour proclaims, “Although the main metaphor used to explain remix culture is music, remix culture has spread to other realms of youth production as well” (Steinberg & Parmar, 2006, p. 306). This is due to a number of factors, firstly, the availability of editing software’s, secondly, the availability of materials via the web, and thirdly, the opportunity to present the work to the world through the Internet. One example that presents these three elements is the website Worth1000.com. This site is designed around the availability of digital editing tools such as Photoshop. It uses these tools as a way of connecting people through their talents and abilities in recreating images. The website runs multiple competitions which challenge contenders to digitally rework images using Photoshop. One such contest required contestants to create a whole new image of a person, from different body parts of real celebrities. These cultures are sustainable because programs such as Photoshop are relatively inexpensive and are extremely accessibly. The Internet also allows the members of such cultures access to an endless supply of materials for their works, and a final mantel place to present it to the world. The impact of this juxtaposition culture is also seen in the way different corporations are beginning to look at the reworking of existing materials. One challenge that faces Remix cultures is copyright law. In Mayfield’s article David Palmer explains, “that has been a difficult and contentious issue that has dogged photomontage since its inception,”(2002). In the corporate world intellectual copyright is a valuable commodity which is often fought over vigorously, Such as Apple computers and The Beatles battle over the trade mark logo (Regan, 2006), yet remix software’s are appearing more and more each day.  Lev Manovich states, “top executives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, and other IT companies not precisely known for their avant-garde aspirations, described their recent technologies and research projects using the concept of remixing.” (2007, p.2) This shift in view indicates another change that has occurred in relation to juxtaposition in the media due to the mediascape’s evolution.

In conclusion this essay has attempted to argue that while some elements of juxtaposition in the media have remained constant, it is evident that its use has been challenged and continues to change due to the altering mediascape. Firstly by defining juxtaposition and exploring the original theories that governed its use in the media, this essay has shown that some elements of juxtaposition have remained constant through out the changing mediascape, while other elements have evolved, such as its spread into other media practices. Secondly this essay discussed the new theory of juxtaposition and how it challenges the original theories use in films. By illustrating the different uses of juxtaposition theories and the advances in digital technologies, it can be argued that the contemporary mediascape poses new challenges to its practice. Finally this essay presented the changes in remix culture due to the expansion of the Internet and the availability of digital editing software’s. Through the evidence presented in this essay it can be argued that juxtaposition in the media does face challenges due in part to the changing contemporary mediascape.


B. Vautour, 2006, ‘Remix Culture’, in S. R. Steinberg, P. Parmar, B. Richard (eds) ‘Contemporary youth culture: An international encyclopedia, Vol 2′, Greenwood Press, Westport, pp.306 – 309

D.Shaw, ‘Sergei Eisenstein’, Senses of Cinema, January 2004 http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/04/eisenstein.html, Last Viewed 5/10/09

K. Mayfield, 2002, ‘Every Montage Tells a Story’, Wired Magazine, 27 June (Online) (http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2002/06/53348) Last Viewed 5/10/09

K. Regan, 2006, ‘Apple Trademark Battle With The Beatles Goes to UK High Courts’, E-Commerce Times, 27 march, (Online) (http://www.macnewsworld.com/story/ODJU9P75qW8rx6/Apple-Trademark-Battle-With-The-Beatles-Goes-to-UK-High-Court.xhtml?wlc=1256007852) Last viewed 20/10/09

L. Manovich,2001, ‘Compositing: From Image Streams to Modular Media’, In C. Gehman & S. Reinke (eds), The Sharpest Point: Animation at the End of Cinema, YYZ Books, pp. 49 – 72

L. Manovich, 2001, ‘The Language of New Media”, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, London.

L. Manovich, 2007, ‘What comes after Remix?’, (http://www.manovich.net) Last Viewed 5/10/09

M. Lefebvre, M. Furstenau,2002, Digital editing and Montage: The Vanishing Celluloid and beyond,  Cimemas: Journal of Film Studies, Vol.13, n 1-2, autumn, p.69-107

M. Stuart-Smith, 2007, ‘Computer Graphics and Digital Compositing: Technology and change in the Visual Language of Film’, New Voices in Media Research: A journal for new research by university of sydney fourth year media students, Vol. 1, 3rd essay

http://www.worth1000.com/contest.asp?contest_id=23726&display=photoshp, Last Viewed 09/09/09