Just a taste
Below is a excerpt of the book. I authored this introduction after much research into culture, subculture, and identity. I interviewed the head of the Indiana University Theatre Department—specifically costume design—and gained much insight into visuals as identity.
Urban Expressions & Contemporary Identity
Emblems and symbols have been used to identify friend or foe as long ago as the reign of Charlemagne in Europe during the 8th century. Originally used to distinguish other combatants on the battlefield, coats of arms and banners were an instrumental visual devices for quickly recognizing your enemy and friend. These surcoats, or coats of arms, were worn on armor, shields and horses. By the mid 12th century, coats of arms had been inherited by British royalty and persons of prestige. The coats of arms were later used as identifiers of ownership, adapted for use on goods and correspondence.
This idea of identity via emblems carries over into the modern era through the continued use of coats of arms and emblematic symbols for military, law enforcement, NASA, religious groups, as well as certain European families, cities, universities and corporations. Emblems are produced with fabrics as patches, embroidered onto garments, printed as decals, pin-buttons, bumper stickers, and applied to sentimental items as personal expression and fashion statements. Although it can be argued that these emblems are also logos or branding, a key component to coats of arms as emblems is their direct connection, literally, to the human body and how the emblems are used by individuals to express deeper meanings than only a family name or organization.
One of the most important roles fashion plays in our ability to express identity is that it allows for the expression of personas within very short spans of time. In bustling cities, or passing fellow commuters on the subway platform, fashion can impress identity in the very brief period of time people encounter one another. This idea of continuous and instant expression via fashion is the fastest way to associate ourselves with groups whom we belong, or would like to belong. Utilizing symbols as communication about ourselves goes beyond wearable clothing items. Other items include fashionable accessories and physical items that have emotional, nostalgic, sentimental, and functional value. Emblems as branding can be used to empower groups whose voices have been stifled due to race, ethnicity, economic status, or gender. Oppressed groups often use the power of emblems as rallying points to support one another and include new members into their tribe.
This type of branding, or identification through visual means, connects people to others who share similar values, history, struggles or ideology. Emblems represent or reflect beliefs and desires about one’s self and becomes a focal point for sharing ideas with society. These associated ideas are fluid and grow in importance as the community associates ideas and meanings to the emblems. As the emblem grows in popularity, it increases user relationships with the emblem. The ideological growth surrounding the emblem lends more credibility to the “brand,” allowing the users to see the brand as part of themselves. Having an affinity with ideals as identity can foster greater understanding between users of the brand and other brands.
Urban to Contemporary
Originally transmitted via spoken word and formed from traditional folklore, society began seeing these tales in print mid 19th century — around 1850 in Britain and Germany. Although these tales are often unsubstantiated by empirical evidences and certainly never verified, their validity is not as important as the lessons one gains from listening to the legends and the camaraderie that bonds the listeners. Even though the many legends are loosely based on actual places or events, they impart a historical timeline that pinpoints the fears and anxieties of a community and culture.
The pressures felt by society and the unsettling worries of life create a mixture of thoughts that is expressed through the telling of fictions. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, the legends alleviate some of the worry by offering an avenue to explore ideas in spite of not having all relevant information about a topic. Most often, the legends end in a moral or is lesson-driven, transmitting warnings to prepare the listener for
what is to (or might) come.
Urban legend, usually echoed in the form of, “My friend’s father said his cousin’s brother-in-law saw a bigfoot in his backyard in Maine,” are living and fluid in meaning or interpretation. The variations in the oral stories are based or biased by the teller’s unique perspectives. The legends still hold moralistic value, even throughout its evolution from one variation to the next. However, in the last fifty years, urban legends have undergone a more systemic change from its traditional oral history due to mass media and movie makers.
In the last twenty years, the internet has become a tool for spreading even more tales. Similar to the documentation of legends in the 19th and 20th century, the advent of the internet, digital and social media has forever changed the way these stories and legends are spread, but on a global, and possibly eternal, scale. The web has given the oral variations a place to live, forever inscribing a single variation into a digital form that permeates internet spaces. These variations become searchable, able to be referenced, debated, traded, printed, and duplicated like never before. As the pile of data grows, these urban legends (in their new form) become contemporary legends.
Contemporary legends are almost meme-like, gaining momentum through editing online by anyone connected to the content. One might cringe at the thought of so many variations diluting the legend or making the story un-tellable, but silver lining to this swell of stories is that each variation becomes more accessible to more people. Suddenly, a tale about a location far away from the listener is now where the listener lives. These tales are provoking and penetrating communities that may have dismissed the tales due to lack of empathy with the story. Contemporary legends are not tales from another time and place, they are tales from your life. Use them to connect, communicate, and express commonality with your community. They belong to you!
Predicted Outcome and Accessibility
Can relationships spontaneously occur by revealing or expressing personal identity using emblem designs that pertain to urban legend? Can bonding over urban legends create groups who share experiences and values? I intend to explore this idea by providing a series of contemporary legend emblems to be applied to any item deemed worthy.
Using decals provides a quick and non-permanent way to accentuate accessories. Decals are small, flat, easy to use, cheap and nondestructive. They have the ability to be placed on personal items, specifically items that are meant to bee seen in public. Use them on your car, bike, phone, laptop, refrigerator, windows, lunchbox, etc…
The decals represent contemporary legends that may speak to your childhood, or make you nostalgic for your home town. You may remember a friend who once told you the story of the Chupacabra or that one family member who retells the story of seeing a UFO. However these visuals speak to you, remember that you have the ability to expresst yourself in whatever way you feel is appropriate. Use these decals to make connections and find your community. As you read about these legends, you may tempted to research your own history for more tales that link to your community.
I encourage this!