The Face is (Not) Like a Mirror: The Advertising Rhetoric of the Catoptric Metaphor from the Art of Physiognomy to the Science of Facial Expression

The Face is (Not) Like a Mirror: The Advertising Rhetoric of the Catoptric Metaphor from the Art of Physiognomy to the Science of Facial Expression

Devon Schiller
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2017070103
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That ‘the face is like a mirror (to the soul)' resonates cross-culturally and trans-historically throughout the media imaginary of the last three millennia. But beyond its general habitual topos as an onto-cartographic blueprint in everyday life, the author presents this catoptric metaphor as a specific epistemological trope within the advertising designs that the author defines as face studies. Prospecting representative usages in the printed artifacts from scientific research, the author probes the print advertisements for scientific communications, newspaper cartoons, and periodical spreads–their intermedial and multimodal genealogies. The author then problematizes the metaphoric similitude between the face and a mirror as a fixedly stable type, with fluidly shifting tokens across explanatory models and pedagogical norms for the meaning of facial signs. Finally, the author proposes not only that scientific gatekeepers rhetorically diagrammatize semantic terms ‘face' and ‘mirror'–or other specular prostheses–in the brand identification and marketing narratives. It is with this method that they call for the attention of knowledge consumers, but also how these catoptric metaphors function as cognitive mechanisms to inspire conceptual and methodological innovation in science about the face itself.
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“As people today become more and more interested in facial behavior, they think they have a ‘mirror to the soul’,” Erika Rosenberg began the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) Training Workshop. Twenty participants–including myself–attended that 2015 in Classroom 240 of Sutardja Dai Hall in the University of California at Berkeley. “But facial expression is not the Rosetta Stone,” Rosenberg proceeded, “…when studying emotion you need multiple measurement techniques; that is Emotion 101. Go under the microscope!”

Within Rosenberg’s catoptric metaphor ‘the face is mirror (to the soul)’, the target domain of an outside physiological behavior is substituted with the source domain of a κατοπτρικός (katoptrikós, ‘specular’) or κάτοπτρον (katoptron, ‘mirror’), upon which basis the metaphorical expression is made. Such a semantic coupling between ‘face’ and ‘mirror’ is so commonly used in “everyday” advertising–let alone in entertainment, mass, and social media–that the face and the mirror become an ordinary symbol on the brink of catachrestic ubiquity or dead metaphorizing (Eco, 1976, p. 76).

To exemplify with print media advertising, in 2010 the Switzerland-based healthcare company Novartists disseminated award-winning photography by Tom Hussey for their Alzheimer’s campaign Reflections. These print ads depicted past younger selves gazing back at present elderly lives, a mirrored face from within the doppelgänger of memory. Also in 2010, Mimi Ullens Foundation in Belgium, with advertisers Leo Burnett and art director Jérôme Gonfond, emotionally appealed to “help us reconcile cancer sufferers” in ontogenetic crisis “with their (own changed mirror) image.” During psychological aftercare this third-person intersubjective “thou” challenged their first person subjective “I.” And in 2007, Cap48 in Brussels, with the Air advertising agency and creative director Veronique Sels, installed funhouse mirrors for their disabilities initiative Mirror. Within outdoor billboards, the “real” faces of a passerby mimicked a “virtual” face of the handicapped, whose facial behaviors may be “Different on the outside,” but whose emotions phenomena are “Same as you on the inside.” Apart such programs of social interest, at its most radical generalization and simplicity extremis, the mirror as a metaphor is used to increase efficacy in print advertisements like: Dorothy Gray’s 1932 “Don’t Grow Old, Dear” in the men’s magazine Mayfair; or Wrigley Gum’s 1936 “A beauty’s secret!” in the women’s magazine Pictorial Review; as well as today’s market shares in feminine lingerie and automotive industries. The non-coded literal denotative meaning of the metaphor is relatively transparent: the face really is a lot like a mirror–but is it?

Facial expressions, as response patterns triggered by emotion or social intention, activate with stimuli appraisal as if a mirror reflecting from the world and reflective of the self. Such causal interdependence between physiological flesh and psychological reason is generally assumed a priori in today’s post-Cartesian scientific landscape, populated as it is with embodiment theories. But given their denotative transparency, what coded symbolic connotative meanings are conventionalized in the relational similitude between the face and a mirror, and which discursive contextualities and localizing historicities created them?

Behind its generalized habitual topos as an onto-cartographic blueprint–or “map for being”–in daily life, I present the catoptric metaphor as a specifized epistemological trope in the brandosphere of what I define as “face studies.” That ‘the face is like a mirror’–or is like some other “specular” prosthesis–appears throughout the moving science that is face studies, a supradiscipline with many faces: anthropometry, biometrics, characterology, craniology, humorist medicine, non-verbal communication, pathognomy, phrenology, physiognomy, proportion studies, science of facial expression, and beyond. And over this field of inquiry, and some three millennia, the semantic terms ‘face’ and ‘mirror’ plasticize across corporeal, graphic, and textual communicative media, as well as between kinesthetic, ocular, and auditory sensory modalities.

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