Don't Blame Photoshop

There's been this video floating around this week posted by the "President of the World" YouTube page and subsequently reposted by sites such as Upworthy, Huffington Post, and even George Takei (leader of the Internet). On their page, "President of the World" is described as "a character created to promote the voice of the People of the World via a global democracy." Considering the popularity of this video, I find the words "character" and "created" to be of particular interest.

The video portrays a model, a naturally attractive one at that, being photographed and then, in postproduction and Photoshop, being manipulated and airbrushed (it may not actually be Photoshop used in the video...the interface doesn't look the same). Her body is stretched, her neck elongated, her skin smoothed out, etc. By the end of the video the woman appears to be an almost entirely different person. Almost doll-like.


Anyway, for some reason, people are shocked by this.

"Photoshop 'Body Evolution' Video Blows Our Minds," is the headline on HuffPo.

Upworthy states, "See Why We Have An Absolutely Ridiculous Standard Of Beauty In Just 37 Seconds."

One minor detail that Upworthy neglects to point out is that the video is actually 1 minute and 12 seconds long. At the tail end of the video, not shown on Upworthy, President of the World points to something called Global Democracy and includes the following text:
On December 18th, 2011, a global proposal was created to encourage mandatory disclaimers when manipulating bodies in advertising.
Oh yeah, and this video was published May 22, 2012.

The idea of labeling manipulated photos is not only an imposition and slippery slope, but woefully sophomoric. Ignorance as to how something is created is not a reason to force it to explain itself. Conversely, does adding a #nofilter to your picture make it any more or less aesthetically pleasing? If there were no Photoshop used in advertising, we'd still be using lighting, wouldn't we? We'd still frame the photo in such a way that highlights the models best features, wouldn't we? We'd still use the prettiest models, wouldn't we? Advertising isn't the way we see the world. And I hate to break it to you, but neither are movies or television. This is a sliding scale of course, but one way or another there is alway a certain degree of artifice.

You lying son of a bitch, James Cameron!!!
We don't force Zack Snyder to clarify that they used visual effects to make Superman fly, just in case someone misinterprets it as real. Yes, we know Superman isn't real. It's a fictional movie and we accept that. Why don't we accept it in advertising?

Slapping a tag on a Photoshoped picture like a cancer warning label on a pack of cigarettes is just insane. Just because you don't realize you're about three steps from living in the Matrix doesn't mean you can infringe on someone's free speech. And it is free speech not only for the artist (who is an artist, not just some trickster) but for the company as well.

This video isn't even a sound test as to how much post manipulation is used in advertising. This is a video representing how much manipulation can be made in just a single photograph. It makes no scientific argument whatsoever. I'm not saying that this much manipulation isn't used (quite the opposite actually), I'm saying that you should elaborate in order to make a point, rather than show a timelapse video of an artist doing his job. This video is technophobia masquerading as feminism.

Maybe this is just because I hate Upwothy and their incessant clickbaiting that undermines any point they try to make. Perhaps a site like Upworthy, that boils down an important issue like gender roles and sexism into a 37 second video, is actually doing more harm than good, trolling liberals such as myself to feel bad about the world we live in, but then feel good when we link to their page which contains nothing more than an embedded YouTube video.

Of course, I know the whole point of this video isn't about Photoshop. It's about sexism. It's about body image. And it's about living in a society that completely mistreats over half of its population, not only in the media but also in its government. I'm not ignorant enough to say that I can understand the way women feel seeing images like the one that results from this video. What I am saying, however, is that we should acknowledge that this is pure fantasy and that blaming a certain aspect of that fantasy, in this case Photoshop, is simply unfair. This video was made with the right intentions but misses its mark. Understanding the point of advertising may be the only way to change it. Scaring people does not help.

Earlier I said how the resulting image is almost doll-like. The reason advertisers use images like this is because they're empty vessels that the viewer can imagine themselves in. If a model is wearing a bikini, the advertisers want you to imagine yourself wearing that bikini. So they put it on a model and they take away her uniqueness, they take away her flaws, and they take away her personality. They put the bikini on a mannequin so you can picture yourself in its place and as a result want to buy it. I'm not in advertising, so I don't know if this is the best way to get people to buy a product. I don't know if using untouched photos instead would create the same effect or a better one, but maybe it wouldn't be as harmful to so many young girls wishing they looked a certain way. I honestly don't know. All I know is that a greater understanding of the fallacies of our society is the best way to make an argument and, as someone who uses Photoshop on an almost daily basis, the work done in this video was created by a very talented artist.

Sexism is a serious issue. Body image is a serious issue. This video is not feminism. At most it's just a crappy Photoshop tutorial.

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