Final Week reflection

As this whole process comes to a close, I have to say in all it was a positive experience. It was nice to see one idea come together, after 10 weeks of working through the challenges and opportunities that are stirred from people of different minds and specialties. Everyone in our group has something to contribute and challenge during the whole process. Ironically, I think the most challenging part of the whole assignment was remembering to add to the blog. Our group faced a few scheduling challenges but regardless, we always managed to make up for the lost time, finding another time to meet and work. It helped that when we were in our meetings we didn’t dilly-dally, but got straight to business. I am very excited to share our presentation after 10 weeks and found we all enjoyed the process and actually had fun doing it.

Week 7-9//

During the last few weeks of the group work we started to bring our research and ideas into a physical form. Breaking up elements of the script into manageable sections for each individual to tackle. Coming together in the last week to consolidate the whole thing into one clear argument. Below is a working conclusion I wrote based on what the other members of my group put together. Although, in this state, it is unfinished and raw it is intended to help communicate why the our research in the end matters

Our research matters because we are showing that the album listener is provided with an incorrect view of prison reality, never fully recognizing the authenticity of prison life.

The success of Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison album is not based on its ability to memorialize the actual lived experience of prisoners in Folsom in 1968, but rather the whole production of its memoriam. From what we have shown, by breaking the album into perceived and conceived space, we as listeners are coming away from the album with a more critical gaze. As a listener, even considering the obvious cultural implications of recording an album in a prison: highlighting a space that is normally considered separate, we do not initially leave the album feeling ambivalent or discomforted by what we’ve heard. We instead are actually entertained. A result that is supported by the fact that after its release, the album climbed to the top of the charts, redeemed Cash’s declining image, became memorialized in films, and remembered in a gift shop. Folsom Prison Museum commemorating Cash’s visit on their website, stating: In the museum description it reads ‘you can still discover the reasons for Johnny Cash’s “Blues” at Folsom State Prison. Learn how the prison was fashioned gray granite from the surrounding rock quarries. The museum features a wealth of photographs, old hemp ropes used to hang prisoners, [and] memorabilia from Johnny Cash’s famed concert shows…’ sentence to explain why this matters

The Folsom Prison album offers an inauthentic sonic perception of prison’s reality as Columbia records conceive a homogenized ‘happy go lucky’ group of outlaws. Their claps, woots, and hollers are edited and manipulated to enhance to the music not to present an argument for reform. But from what we’ve determined, to bring the prisoners to the forefront, to recognize the ways their sounds have been manipulated by the space directs a new narrative. The prisoners on the album are not the authentic lived experience.

“I Walk the Line”: Cash on the border

(Short Recap of the sub-section of the team’s topic I’m doing research on) This should have appeared on 22/2/19 but I uploaded in the 17-18 section by mistake. It was done before our group decided to alter the direction of our research, so new material will be uploaded soon.

Incited by the live version of “I Walk the Line” found on Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin album, I began thinking about the further possible significations of the song’s refrain: “Because you’re mine / I walk the line”. Indeed, ‘walking the line’, tracing the borderline between two states of perception, two diametrically opposed opinions, between different social roles can be seen as a defining metaphor for the sense of “America” as perceived by artists like Johnny Cash. However, the ‘line’ as a symbol of liminality does not only function divisively. Comparing Johnny Cash’s artistic and political liminality to Robert Frost’s “Mending a Wall”, one understands that the line one traces, the fence one is always so keen on rebuilding does not only divide: it eventually becomes an substantial end in and of itself, be it within a socio-political or a purely aesthetic setting. The lines is transformed into the ‘ideal’ scape in which the two sides interact and through which they find ground for escape: this is a defining trait in the works of writers like Whitman, Melville, Kerouac, and musicians like the blues singer Charley Patton ( — his mixed-race identity paradoxically placed him centre-stage in the developing Delta-Blues scene of the 1920s), Miles Davis, Bob Dylan — all walking side-by-side with Johnn Cash. Following Deleuze’s discussion on the superiority of American Literature, “to leave , to escape, is to trace a line”. On the whole, Deleuze’s essay “De la supériorité de la littérature anglaise-américaine” found in Dialogues, and his argument about American writers who find themselves bravely tracing and experimenting with borderlines is crucial as to our understanding “I Walk the Line” as an all-encompassing metaphor for Cash’s artistic and political personna and, simultaneously, to our piercing through all the performative/ political symbols which abound in the Folsom Prison and San Quentin recordings.

“It is possible that writing [and singing, song-writing] has an intrinsic relationship with lines of flight. To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary, and which one is indeed forced to follow, because in reality writing involves us there, draws us in there.” Deleuze,”De la supériorité de la littérature anglaise-américaine”

Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues. 1. “Un Entretien, qu’est-ce que c’est, à quoi ça sert?” 2. “De la supériorité de la littérature anglaise-américaine” (On the superiority of Anglo-American literature)

Cf. The case of George Jackson and his murder at San Quentin in 1971. Bob Dylan’s “George Jackson”, would be an equally useful example of what an artist makes of an activist transcending boundaries and crossing lines.

[I Walk the line, Forever Words (Johnny Cash’s posthumous selection of poems and unrecorded songs, Robert Frost, “Mending a Wall”]

Cf. The Man in White — Cash’s fictional biography of St Paul — side by side with poem “Job” — binary equivalents to the construction of The Man in Black

[The Man in Black:”I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times”]

The notion of “double-bind” in Dewey and Derrida is another useful phenomenological tool to take the analysis a step further into a more theoretical field

Week 3: ‘Across the Line’: Johnny Cash and Folsom Prison

For this week, we started to narrow done our ideas into what could become a provocative research question: To what extent does Johnny Cash’s live at San Quentin Album reflect his public image both as an outlaw and an artist.

We have then broken down the question into subgroups of ideas that might help to supplement our research:

Research for next week:

  1. Image; Outlaw/Artist.
  2. From there how does his image translate into the live concert
  3. Imagine within the Album

As we each tactical what these categories can mean for answering our question, we are additionally trying to form a theoretical analysis to better support our argument. As of right now, the themes and trends were are finding have been giving our group a lot of information to consider such as:

  • Johnny cash
  • Found live footage of the San Quentin performance: showed evidence of prison life. Clearly edited, why? Who was the audience the footage was intended for????
  • Frank Sinatra came three years before Johnny Cash, intending to record an album in the prison but the album was never made/released.
  • Photograph of Johnny Cash, was he an outlaw?
  • Going to prison to play was intended to address Prison Reform. Activism, he donated money to build a chapel.
  • Other performs who went to Prison: Bonnie Tyler, Sex Pistols
  • Johnny Cash’s conventional life of Prison remains, limited new ideas
  • Theories: popular opinion, Adeino/Bach
  • Johnny cash met with nixon five months after San Quentin.
  • Laughter as the only opportunity to free themselves from their situation.
  • How does the prison halls accomodate for the sound?
  • The album was made after his downfall in his career from his drug addiction and problems. Did he have anywhere else to go? Columbia records was not advocating the performance.
  • Limited capacity, some prisoners couldn’t get into the hall and were shut out.
  • When Bob Dylan played, prisoners were not allowed in to watch.

But with all that said, we do feel that an analysis based on linguistic or visual response could only support our argument further.

Methodology of the project

This post will explain my methodologies ( how I categorize the  posters in order to make the comparison)

In our material analysis (the design of the posters itself),

  • introduce the factors in terms of the style of the posters (forms, colors, symbols, gestures, expressions, text)
  • control variables: (time, location, artists(and their background)), it’s important to take the historical situation of the country into consideration. Thus, the posters are grouped by a certain time period/ regions/ historical events.
  • For example, Mao swims across the Yangzi River in 16th July 1966 was portrayed by many over the Culture Revolution(1966-76). By comparing the posters that based on the same events in the same period from different regions, we are able to recognize the distinctiveness and similarity of the art style of the posters in rural and urban areas. Similarly, comparing the posters on this topic that produced in the 1960s with their counterpart in 70s, we found that the local publishers often occupied  the work from local artists and the purpose of the posters varied from the simple promotion of the national leader to the theme that promoting the youth in swimming as a national sport.
  • vis-a-vis, I decide to focus on a certain time period in my second group – the first half of the Cultural Revolution(1966-71) when the revolutionary spirit had its strongest impact on the nation and most widely controlled by the central. Comparing the region and style of the posters: a)In all these posters,  how the imagery of Mao was represented: no matter how Mao was depicted, he had to be painted hong, guang, liang (红光亮, red, bright, and shining); no grey was allowed for shading, and the use of black was interpreted as an indication that the artist harbored counter-revolutionary intentions. His face was painted usually in reddish and other warm tones, and in such a way that it appeared smooth and seemed to radiate as the primary source of light in a composition. In many instances, Mao’s head seemed to be surrounded by a halo which emanated a divine light, illuminating the faces of the people standing in his presence. b)the facial expression and gesture of the people and their dressing. c) analyzing the localisation of the posters from different regions. b)how the posters itself links with the popular culture of the mass ( the song: Dong Fang Hong(East Is Red), visualization of the song)
  • In USSR, the massive territory and occupation area across the state with different languages and customs. Examples that how the poster of the leader (Stalin) was localized in style and text. (Russia, Azerbaijan, and Poland)

other points:

  • the similarity of the political aftermath in both Russia and China: The decline of the visibility of Mao’s posters/portray/status in the public place in the 1970s (Reported by New York Times1971) and the destalinization in Russia after Stalin’s death: Nikita Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech in 1956.
  • visual propaganda Vs literary propaganda: As a visual propaganda, posters of the Leader help the people to visualize and recognize the national leader through imagery, as the large population of Communist China was illiterate. In 1964, the literary propaganda (Quotation from Chairman Mao,毛主席语录, also known as the ‘Little Red Book’) was promoted from the central and enforced by the People’s Liberation Army.  Did the literary propaganda (“little red book”) replace the visual propaganda (mainly the posters)?– the literary propaganda delivers more messages than the laconic poster that presents simple and strong messages.



Selected Reading Notes

Selected reading notes for the function of the mass media(posters) in the personality cult

  • Fitzgerald, J. (1996). Awakening China: Politics, culture, and class in the Nationalist Revolution / John Fitzgerald. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.


In histories of the Chinese revolution, the distinction between form and substance is often conflated with one between theory and practice. For Fitzgerald, Mao’s revolutionary theory and practices were in literary realism (as we can see how Mao’s quotations were worshiped and studies by many). Mao developed revolutionary theories through practice. “More pressing was a need to devise technique for awakening people to a certain vision of reality, or to impress upon the nation the truth of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as this was represented by the revolutionary state.”(pp 318). Here, Fitzgerald presents the necessity for the revolutionary state of utilizing the propaganda to “awaken” the mass, making ppl realize the “a certain vision of reality” that constructed by the communist party, and the impressed the “truth” of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought on the mass.

His book inspires me to rethink the Communist material culture as a historical materialist. Analyzing the remaining material culture ( In our case, the posters of the leaders) in the revolutionary period as a lense, I question how the posters were elaborated, institutionalized, and localized, and how it represents a vivid idealized vision of “reality” to the mass. 

Other information:

In autumn 1926,  Mao had taken charge of the Nationalist propaganda bureau. The communists began talking openly of the inevitability of class struggle in nationals revolution, and it was presented in the posters.

The Central Propaganda Bureau — the central propaganda institution in early Communist China. Other propaganda organizations located in the major cities.

  • Srivastava, V,K.(1985). “Mao Cult, Charisma and Social Science”, in China Report, Vol 21, Issue 4, pp. 359 – 370.


Srivastava discusses the phenomenon of personality cult in China, the concept of Personality cult and charisma as sociological concepts ( their definitions), how charisma is institutionalized, and the role of followers.

Because of the concept of “cult”, without proper definition, it covered Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, peasantry, physical labor, revolution, etc. In use, the concept loses its conceptual strength and becomes a pedestrian term. It’s responsible for the socio-economic backwardness of China. All these cults and the automatic view of things and magic politics have to be thrown out of the window if China has to advance on the road to economic development and social transformation in the modern world. Understanding ‘charisma’ is of primary importance, its understanding can help us define its collateral, personality cult. In sociological literature, cult refers to either a set of rituals or to a loosely organized group of followers around a mystic, inward-looking leader. Following the second meaning, personality cult would refer to the apotheosization of an individual or a leader around whom a group of followers

How personality cult works on the mass:“In the first, the extraordinary deeds of a leader are recognized with an affirmative zeal by the masses, who visualize their worldly salvation through him. The second category refers to a process by which similar qualities are attributed to a leader by a well-directed, carefully planned mass-media effort.”

Notes that the personality cult is a well-directed, carefully planned mass-media effort. It was well-organized, elaborately planned by the party.

At the time, the people were deprived of the opportunity to witness the marvelous feats performed in non-institutional situations. They consume this information passively.

Srivastava presents that in both processes(the emergence of charisma and the cult building) the gradual emergence of charisma from below and its subsequent subsistence was drawn from above. Mao’s emergence as a charismatic leader. In the pre-liberation era(before 1949), the first process dominated when Mao was outside the power structure, and after liberation, it was coupled with the second one. He also emphasizes the role of followers in contributing affirmatively or negatively to charisma.

He argues that: “the mere existence of quality in an individual does not make him charismatic unless its extraordinariness is recognized by the following”.

In our project, the mass media (posters with the imagery of national leader) employed this visual tool to help the people recognize the person in the image as a national leader, great salvor of the nation( “red sun of the east”), and come to the realisation the greatness of their leader. Thus, the personality cult emerged from below, organized and strengthened from above.

It’s equally important to look into the society: by looking into the structural conditions of a given system, we could know the why a leader in a specific context required a charismatic aura.  “The incoming leader around whom charisma is built might want to replace an original charismatic leader. Or the tradition of a society might demand a strong charismatic figure, and if a leader does not have it, he must acquire it.

In Mao’s case, I argue that: In Communist China, a recently liberated society with over thousands years of feudal system deep-rooted within and religious believes that consolidated and strengthened it, the mass need a strong charismatic figure to replace the old imperial one.  We can see the similar worship in Sun Yat-sen as a national leader before Mao though in much smaller scale, and the GMD party promoted Chiang Kai-shek as the national leader, in response to the GMD’s propaganda, CCP party struck back with Mao as the leader and representative of the peasants and the commoner.

  • Mao becomes less in the public places of tourist’s china. (1971, Sep 20). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

primary sources:

it describes the downplay of the personality cult of mao in Beijing, and how status, portraits, quotations of Chairman Mao were removed from the public places.  In cities such as Shanghai, Nanking, Canton, and Beijing, Mao’s effigies and directives appear to have been left only on official buildings, billboards, factories, and communes.

After the cultural revolution, and people were making efforts to get back to normal life. However, was Mao’s cult disappear? In Chinese poster net, we can see a large collection of posters in Mao’s personality cult in the 1970s.


Provide the general historical background:

public perceptions of Mao’s leadership – made him the subject of respect and adoration. The cult of Mao intensified during the Cultural Revolution. /Mao was depicted as an ideological visionary, a political genius, a guardian of his people and a kindly and benevolent leader./ Mao’s achievements were exaggerated and glorified, while his shortcomings were suppressed or concealed. The failings and brutalities of Mao-era China were concealed or explained away and blamed on others. Meanwhile, as this personality cult intensified, Mao’s power over the party and his control of China both increased./The publication of the book Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, of which 12 million copies were printed in 18 months./The Cultural Revolution also saw a surge in pro-Mao propaganda that featured the Chairman in a variety of roles. This propaganda highlighted his importance as a leader, a strategist, a teacher and a military commander.

  • Sum up: the structural-functional explanations of the cult:

  a) cultural legacy: the glorification of the leader is the continuity of the tradition of its host society.( Mao pointed out the subtleties of the tradition of three thousand years will always survive) “the tradition of a society might demand a strong charismatic figure”

  b) posters with the imagery of national leader help the people recognise the person in the image as a national leader, great salvor of the nation( “red sun of the east”), and come to realisation the greatness of their leader. “the mere existence of quality in an individual does not make him charismatic unless its extraordinariness is recognized by the following”.

  c) although the personality cult emerged from below, it was orgainsed and strengthened from above through well-directed, carefully planned mass-media effort.

  d) the people consume propaganda information passively

  e) cultural relativism and collective consciousness: one may question what made people deeply believed in and zealously celebrated the hyper-glorification of Mao and dismissed the myths fabricated around that legend. We need to bear in mind that things are meaningful in their respective cultural context(cultural relativism), one can argue that the moral strength of the masses was extracted from these myths.The personality cult performed an important function of concretizing the ideas and themes on which the entire social system is based. The function of the Mao’s cult is to  raise the collective consciousness of the mass in the ideological era and an ideological social system that haven’t rely on scientific rationality, it was technologically inferior(backward)

Group discussion

Meeting 7th March

After further reading and individual research, we discuss the structure and the central arguments of our project. We decided to debate the continuity and development of personality cults in Russia and  China by analyzing their communist past from early 20th century to 1970s. Nowadays,  the prevalent imagery of strong national leadership in communist/post-communist countries rose debates. Can this phenomenon be viewed as the continuity of the communist tradition of personality cult in the 20th century? The utilization of the imagery of its leader, as a particular political culture and propaganda, was institutionalized, well-structured, and served its political and social purposes. However, it was also misused by particular organizations and met with resistance from the mass.

Below are our topic and a brief structure of the project.

Comparing 20th-century Soviet Union and People’s Republic China, Is the promotion of the imagery of national leaders the continuity of its Communist tradition?

  • First, we will discuss the structural and psychological explanation of why the imagery of leader works on the mass.

It promotes personality cults.It’s a successful propaganda, it rose the popular emotional symbolism: it replaced the traditional bureaucratic routines with a charismatic relationship between the mass and the leader, created a personal bond based on loyalty, conviction, and intimidation beyond the hierarchies. This strong emotional attachment to the political leader secured the leadership of the person and the party. (both China&Russia)

The forms of the imagery: visualization, localization, artistry. (C&R different in forms, we can see continuity and development)

However: personality cult was not exclusive to the communist states, it emerged before

the 20th century, can it be seen as the continuity of the traditional religious worship or emperor worship?

  • Second, functional/ utilitarian aspect. The political, social and cultural necessities of the personality cult

The political necessities:  in the time of national crisis, in need of a recognizable and strong national leadership. Securing and stabilizing the position of the leader within the party and nationwide. totalitarianism.

The social and cultural necessities: collectivization — in need of a collective culture that would unify the mass.

  • Third, the resistance of the personality cult embodied by the promotion of the imagery of national leaders and the misuse of a personality cult. Mainly in China.


Reading  list for Communist China

  1. Fitzerald, 1996, Awakening China: Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution
  2. Srivastava, Mao Cult, Charisma and Social Science — article.
  3. Where Stalin Is Still Honored. New York Times.15 July 1962: 138. — Newspaper.
  4. Mao Becomes Less In the Public Places Of Tourist’s China.New York Times. 20 Sep 1971: 27. — Newspaper.
  5. Lee, 2011. The Charisma of Power and the Military Sublime in Tiananmen Square.—Journal Article.
  6. Perry 2008, Reclaiming the Chinese Revolution—Journal Article.
  7.– for a gernal understanding about the revolution history
  8.– for a gernal understanding about the Mao’s bible.
  9.—-for a gernal understanding about Stalin in poster.
  11. Tang,2016. Populist authoritarianism : Chinese political culture and regime sustainability
  12.  Leese, 2011. Mao Cult : Rhetoric and Ritual in China’s Cultural Revolution(important)
  13. Barme, 1996. Shades of Mao.

Communication Group A Communist Posters

WEEK2  23 Jan 2018

Base on our past experiences and interesting topics, Elnara and I decided the general period and topic of our research and visited Tate Modern for the Exhibition: Red Star Over Russia, A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55.

For anyone interested in this events: Please check the link to the Ppt Elnara posted previously.

Nina Vatolina Fascism - The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everyone to the Struggle against Fascism! 1941


Posters as the means of communication in communist countries

Period and area:

Early 20th century to 1960s / China and Russia in comparison

Potential questions

  • The purposes of the posters: mass mobilization in military, politics and the mass supports, anti-imperialism, anti-fascism,  promoting communist ideologies, personality cult.
  • Women’s role in the communist posters: how were women represent in the posters?Does it indicate the change of female role in the domestic and national level? — Women as the representation of the motherland— and how does it help to promote communist ideologies and state policies? —The masculinization of the female image.
  • Students’ role in the posters
  • The advantage of using posters: mass produced,  artistic form of mass culture created for the mass, helping the largely illiterate population to comprehend.
  • Problems/characters: overoptimistic and utopian(despise the less ideal fact), internationalization (posters present the image of the nation in the world communists countries), aiming for centralization of the power and creating the image of the national leader. Materialization and visualization of political culture.

Group work and planning 

  • Strength: politics and history, bilingual group members
  • Week3: discussion on visual materials and literary sources