Althusser’s take on Marxist literature has a strong bearing on contemporary attitudes to the way the viewer, reader or spectator becomes the ‘subject’.
How does Althusser’s structuralism show here?
Structuralism considers that there is meaning to be found in the structure of the object of study, therefore in Althusser’s case he believes meaning is to be found in studying the structure of the individual’s relationship to society and to their own conditions of existence. That is, by studying the structure of ideology.
What does Althusser mean by ideology?
Althusser believes ideology to be an imaginary relation to real relations. It is a set of beliefs that are imposed on the individual from birth by ideological apparatuses that cause the individual to believe in an imaginary relationship between themselves and the real conditions of their own existence. In turn, their actions are based on this belief and their actions form part of practices that are held within an ideological apparatus which legitimates the original beliefs and makes the whole process seem completely normal or natural.
Is there, in your view, an area of visual culture where this idea may seem to act in an overt way? Find examples and make notes on them.
I think a good example of how visual culture acts as an ideological apparatus can be found in Classical Hollywood Cinema. The way that Classical Hollywood films are made creates an idealized situation for the viewer to relate to. The camera, sound and editing do not call attention to themselves therefore allowing the viewer to slide into the alternative reality of the story. The narrative utilizes a linear chain of cause and effect; it always has a beginning where some sort of equilibrium is established, a middle where some kind of conflict occurs and must be dealt with by the main protagonist, and an end where all conflicts and questions are resolved. The main character’s goals are usually psychological rather than socially motivated. Through all these tactics viewers are led to ‘misrecognise’ themselves through their identification with the characters on the screen. The main character always comes across as a coherent, autonomous individual who solves conflicts and moves from disunity to unity. We in turn can believe that we are autonomous and not enmeshed in social structures that determine our identities.