It all depends on how you look at it

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro (Wayno’s title: “Arm of the Beholder”):

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

Then, to appreciate what Wow Man says (and also to find one of the Bizarro symbols), consider this inverted version of his image:

(#2) Wow Man, upside down; now, you see what he sees

T-shirts and tattoos both function as kinds of everyday performance art — t-shirts more straightforwardly, since they’re usually available for inspection by anyone the wearer comes across; tattoos more subtly, since they’re usually covered by clothing, and are then made available for certain audiences by removing the clothing. (Note the usually: t-shirts can be concealed by shirts or jackets and revealed only to select audiences; and tattoos on the hands, neck, and face are available to everyone.)

In either case, the display is for other people. In #1, however, both the tattoo and the t-shirt message are intended for the person whose body they adorn, and are placed where this person can see them (and aren’t located, say, on their back) and oriented so that this person can read them (which means that they’ll be upside-down for other people). The inverted heart says WOW for other people, but the right-side-up heart bears the tattoo cliché MOM for the guy whose arm it’s tattooed on.

It’s a matter of point of view, in this case quite literally.

Three previous postings. First, a posting with what I’ll take to be the model, or paradigm example, of a point of view difference.

—  from my 5/2/15 posting “Point of view”, on:

A photo sent by a friend, with a note referring to “the man in the uniform behind the left shoulder” of Barack Obama…

There are two men in uniform right behind Obama; how are we to interpret “left shoulder” here? From Obama’s point of view (in which case the man in question is to the right of Obama in the photo)? Or from our point of view, looking at the photo?

Left and right in photographs is determined by the viewer’s point of view (like house left and right), which (for subjects facing the camera) is the reverse of the subjects’ orientations — the person to my right when the photo was taken is on my left in the photo (compare stage left and right). [Note: I had the theater terminology wrong in the first version of this posting; thanks to reader Mitch4 for correcting me.]

Second, a posting about a more abstract use of point of view (but not so abstract as to refer to any difference in background assumptions, as point of view so commonly does).

— from my 5/23/18 posting “The art class”:

(#3) A Steed cartoon with four art students, three people and a tree, painting a skull on a stool

It’s about point of view (pov), especially as this reflects selective attention, an inclination to focus on certain things in the context over others.

… The human art students attend to what is human in the material offered as a model for still lifes, the dendral art student attends instead to what is wood in this material. From the three people’s points of view, what’s worth painting is the skull on the stool; from the tree’s point of view, what’s worth painting is the [wooden] stool the skull is resting on.

Third, back to less abstract cases, this time a difference between some person’s (literal) point of view in the context and some conventional, absolute frame of reference.

— from my 7/26/20 posting “Before or after”:

(#4) A One Big Happy strip in which Ruthie is on the phone with the homework hot line lady

Ruthie wrestles with a workbook question, apparently something along the lines of “Does 4th Street come before 6th Street or after it?”

… Crudely. the strip is about what before conveys, and that turns out to be dependent on the context. Ruthie takes before to refer to the ordering of a particular 4th and 6th Street in her own actual neighborhood, taking herself to provide the point of view for the spatial ordering (every spatial ordering via before rests on some point of view). But what’s the point of view of a workbook exercise?

The exercise assumes a conventional, absolute frame of reference in which numbered streets are viewed in numerical order, beginnng with the lowest number.

Absolute frames of reference turn up in other contexts as well: the right and left banks of big important rivers are often determined from the point of view of someone going downstream — regardless of where a particular observer happens to be standing. (There are exceptions; the Right and Left Banks of the Seine in Paris, for instance, are named by convention, and those names run opposite to the downstream generalization.)

4 Responses to “It all depends on how you look at it”

  1. Gary Says:

    I get WOW-MOM, but I can’t make heads nor tails of the symbols on his Tshirt.

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