THE EYES HAVE IT: Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen on the "Science of First Impressions"
(In its December 2006 issue, ID magazine ran my interview with Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen, two of our most incisive thinkers about the politics of images and the social history of consumer culture. But that wasn't the half of it. ID didn't have room for my intro, and had to truncate the interview for reasons of space. Here's the director's cut, with all of the insights that ended up on the cutting-room floor restored.)
Amid the cultural crossfire over illegal immigration, at a moment when 60 percent of the respondents to a Quinnipiac poll applauded the racial profiling of people who look "Middle Eastern," the visual-culture critics and social historians Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen are pulling our stereotypes up by the roots.
Their new book, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality
(Seven Stories Press), is a history of stereotyping in racist science
and popular culture.…
Revealing the origins of the pictures in our heads—the powerful images that shape our attitudes toward "enemy aliens," the lower class, or anyone in a different skin—the Ewens make sense of our most pernicious myths by restoring their lost historical context: the eugenics of Francis Galton, the criminal anthropology of Cesare Lombroso, and other systems of scientific racism that molded the visual imagination of the modern age.
If that sounds like 497 pages of sternly self-flagellating political correctness, it isn't. Profusely illustrated with period images, the book is an intellectual thrill ride, rollercoastering from the sad tale of the Hottentot Venus to hidden agendas in Roget's Thesaurus; from the cannibal stereotype in King Kong to the deeper meanings of the minstrel show. In Typecasting, the Ewens open our minds by opening our eyes.
FULL INTERVIEW ON MARK DERY'S SHOVELWARE