February, 1997 issue of College Composition and Communication
announced an interesting experiment. Geoff Sirc's article, "Never
Mind the Tagmemics, Where's the Sex Pistols?" would be published
simultaneously in the traditional print journal format of CCC
and in the online format of PRE/TEXT.electralite.
The textual content is identical in the two versions. One of the principal
differences, however, is that the online version attempts to communicate
the meaning of the article both through words and through visual media,
whereas the print version is purely verbal. To reduce Sirc's rollicking
argument to a simple sentence or two, the article is a discussion of
how the rebellious mood within composition studies in the 1960s gave
way to the staid process orientation of the 1970s. Sirc demonstrates
how Comp 68 was closer in spirit to the zeitgeist of Punk rock, than
Comp 77, although Comp 77 was Punk's contemporary. Although Sirc wrote
the article and has the byline in the PRE/TEXT version, it's
probably more accurate to say that the piece is co-produced by Sirc
and Vitanza, since Vitanza prepared the article for the Web.
The visual elements I want to note in the Web version of the Sex Pistols
article, are the use of layout and typography. The text uses a number
of visual effects including color (the screen background, for example,
is lime green), enlarged type, unusual screen layout (you scroll across,
not down), and indentation to highlight certain points in the article.
One effect of the background color and typography is to disrupt the
reading process. The lime green background creates considerable noise,
and it's difficult to move in and out of the large or other-colored
1: from "Never Mind the Tagmemics"
it's almost impossible not to skip from one highlighted section to another,
in a sense the reading process is "delinearized." Another
effect is that the highlighted text provides a kind of map through the
material, an interpretation, a gloss on what this piece is really about.
For example, at one point, in describing the nihilism of punk, Sirc
asks, "What about the rhetoric of the middle finger?".
2: from "Never Mind the Tagmemics"
- In the
print version, this phrase is deeply buried in the text, in the middle
of the article, in the middle of a long paragraph. In the online version,
you can see how it is treated. While the in-your-face graphics of the
sex pistols article is a bit of a visual cliché, it's an appropriate
cliché for a discussion of an in-your-face musical/cultural movement.
It too resembles pop-up video in that the original genre, academic writing,
is destabilized and begins to look like something else - maybe a grungy
beer advertisement or an entertainment zine.