The MSN LiveSearch page (or whatever they call it, popping up after I sign out) is built on changing photo images that look much like standard desktop alternatives: unbelievable vistas from maybe Tahiti or the south of France, and sometimes athletes scaling glaciers or extreme-sporting over the edge of some precipice. Occasionally these images are appealing, but they're never photojournalism -- they look significantly though artfully altered, lacking the detail or narrative of something in National Geographic. They are, in short, not meant to be "seen" at all. But because this is the Internet, an overwhelmingly visual construct in an age of cheap design, there's seldom an empty square -- one of the great things about the Google homepage is the absence of visual, the plain white field with only a small but original and changing design above the logo.
I mention this because just a moment ago, I actually back-paged from Blogger home to revisit the vast field of sunflowers against a perfect cerulean sky, set off by a lone scrub tree, that was my exit ramp off MSN. Part of the impulse has to do with the New York Times Book Review, where I was just reading about "Hurry Down Sunshine," a new memoir of a family's struggle with manic depression. Something about all those wildly optimistic sunflowers caught at the previous mental image of a 15-year-old girl hospitalized for manic psychosis, and the association made me want to examine the scene more closely -- the landscape illuminated as if a supernova had just been touched off somewhere over the photographer's shoulder. Yikes. Too perfect. I started looking for telltale pattern repeats in the flowery field that let you know they've been copying and pasting big chunks of the visual to add to the numerical vastness of the image. And if you know the symbolic history of the sunflower at all, you're familiar with the madness of Van Gogh as well -- oops, maybe those rotten weeds are contagious and just looking at too many of them at once will send you over the edge. Maybe it's best not to try to leave MSN at all. "Don't go out there," warn the sunflowers. "It's an ugly world, full of sensationalized violence and unexpected porn websites. Stay here...where it's pretty...check your inbox again, even though it's past 3am and nobody you know is awake..."
Which reminds me. I have to be up in 4 1/2 hours. Crap.