Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hello Neo

This was originally posted in my personal journal, but some recent entries by various people on their blogs nudged my thinking that it should be reposted here. And I know I want at least one person in particular to see it.

Remember the Dove Evolution ad? Go on, youtube the words and you'll find it. Well I remember that it clued me in to the exact details of how models don't look anything like themselves in the final product. I had always had a general sense and then a bit more when it came time for me to do my own dabblings in photoshop, but this made it specific for me.

Then last night came PhotoshopDisasters. The next time I hear my sister mention working herself to the bone to exercise and stay fit and not be fat (she's taken after our mother in a serious way and is very petite but worries because Mom, is well, Mom) I'm going to point her to this site. Because it made me realize that as a whole, we the general public, myself included, no longer know what a real human body looks like. Specifically we don't know what a real female body looks like.

I caught some of the touchups after a few moments. But how often do people really stare at advertisements for several minutes? I tend to flick by them very quickly in magazines etc, unless something in particular has caught my eye. And I soon realized as I flipped through the site that if I wasn't already prepared, if I didn't already know things were screwy, I might have missed so many things. Which means in my head, I've begun to see the most distorted things as representative of the female form EVEN WHILE THINKING I WAS AWARE OF THE BIGGER DISTORTIONS.

It's been a revelation. Too skinny long arms, a little waist creation, body parts missing, everyone's wrinkles and sun lines and laugh lines (wrinkles of any sort) faded out, breasts the size of the model's head(Which came first? This feature in comics? Or comics copying photoreferences ? Who set the standard for this screw up?), plastic faces, something called 'monoass' where the asscrack has disappeared, bobble heads, impossible heights and more.

The link with the touched up faces but the untouched up reflections hit home to me just how much isn't done anymore with good lighting, good makeup and good angles. They don't seem to try and find people's good sides anymore, they instead create them. It blew my mind. A little created waist, change a face shape, remove shadows, remove life. One woman there had what I call in my head the 'hearty, healthy, slightly horsey British woman' look - that was completely morphed into smooth faced Hollywood leading lady, if not starlet. She looked like her own younger and less outdoor inclined younger sister (who happened to be born when their Mom & Dad could afford braces).

The whole thing, especially the stuff it took me a while to notice just started me thinking of when they do the photoshopping well and we, consumers, the audience, don't notice. And all of a sudden the phrase 'impossible standards of beauty' take on a whole new and deeper meaning. I remember growing up and realizing that it took hairstylists and professional make up artists, and someone picking out your clothes and good lighting and choosing the best angle to accent your best features, along with a photographer who knew what he or she was doing in order to look as perfectly laid out as possible. And even knowing all that, even being told that by women in my family, everyone still wanted to hope that they'd have a good day on that special occasion and get the perfect picture from the perfect angle and get to see themselves looking not just well, but radiant.

And even if they never reached their personal goal of dazzling, they still looked wonderful. I've had my moments where I thought I looked beautiful. Those were when I was younger. As I've gotten older, even though I'm comfortable with aging (it's a miracle to me I'm still alive and kicking), I feel beautiful less and less often. And I think that has to do with the fact that I'm not seeing people (particularly women - even more specific the few black women around) with character in their faces, caught in a way where you see their eyes glow and the soft curve of a lip and it all comes together to be attractive. That's more something I find myself doing as I walk along the street now, noting how someone's characteristics make them all of a piece. In the media there's just this soft focused perfection.

It's startling to realize that today they'd photoshop Nichelle Nichols. NICHELLE NICHOLS! Unhura the HOTTNESS herself. A woman who is still kicking ass in the beauty department today, would be fixed. You know how people talk about how Marilyn Monroe would be called a lard ass by today's standards? It goes deeper than that. Forget about mere photo 'retouching', Joan Crawford's nose and chin would get fixed today, virtual plastic surgery. Instead of being a commanding presence, who knows what role she'd get slotted into.

I can remember being disappointed when Isabella Rossilini was removed as the face of LANCOME. I'd grown up with her as such. I couldn't imagine any other spokesperson. And stubborn little me, never bought myself or my mother LANCOME again. Luckily, Mom felt the same way. Isabella Rossilini is a beautiful woman but of course she can't compete with younger models being molded like clay in post. They're even doing it with the men. No one's safe at all from this Barbie Plastic Perception of Perfection.

It occurs to me that my personal inability to see myself as a whole, may have been influenced by a culture that sees and promotes people as an assemblage of parts. If I'm unconsciously spending time trying to assemble the images I see into a whole person - it's no wonder I look at myself and try to assemble things in my head using the same process. And heaven help me because my limbs are never going to look that impossibly long, nor my waist or bust match the other impossible designations. Seriously if only people who have eating disorders are being made aware of just how BAD this crap has gotten - it's a damn shame. Because the rest of us are getting fucked over too.

And I haven't even begun to mention the erasures. One shot in particular, this one, for GAP I believe, caught my attention. The young black model? She was originally in the midst of the group, now she's solo, singular, out in the cold. This one is blatant. Other erasures are subtle in that one's eyes are likely to more easily believe a limb connects to the closest body even if that body already has all relevant parts. Some badly done erasures are freaky. But again, I'm thinking about the ones not on the site. The ones done well where we'll never know if the old man with the flowers had a WoC Wife, or a male partner for that matter. Where we never realize important officials really WERE at certain meetings and photographs were taken - they were just edited out for whatever reasons...

It kind of hit me the whole:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

We create our own reality

Just who is we? And what is it that 'we' is creating?

I don't think these are idle questions. They relate to so much, as much about fashion and self esteem and body image as politics and gender equality and gender and sexuality rights. What else beside real bodies do you and I no longer know how to recognize? If the game of the day is 'We Create Our Own Reality' - then doesn't it add a sinister shade to the original push against Prop 8? And doesn't it make the Yes on 8 folk seem that much smarter? They created a reality for others to vote against, and a reality under attack - even though neither one was the actual reality.

Who is We? And just what reality have they created? Just how different is it from what many of us experience every single day in our lives? Who's been getting airbrushed out? Who's been getting slipped in? Once upon a time wasn't it the accepted practice of a fascist regime, a fascist reality, to create reality? To dictate that things didn't happen the way the public remembered them happening? To decide that someone's name would be crossed out and their picture erased and the public was never to mention it or discuss it again? Isn't that going on now?

And please, don't go 'OBAMA'. This is the machinery he's been left to work with, with little rats burrowing in the corners holding tools, specifically wrenches, to gum up the works.

There's a man in Iowa, currently on trial for having manga the government deems objectionable. Some if it may be lolicon. Some of it may be yaoi. What's known for sure is that out of everything seized in a raid - a raid created because a postal worker decided that the markings on Christopher Hadley's mail were objectionable to his reality - Hadley now faces up to 20 yrs in prison for only a few images.

over 1,200 manga books or publications; and hundreds of DVDs, VHS tapes, laser disks; seven computers, and other documents.

Hundreds upon hundreds of images - but he could face prison time as a private collector for just a few. And his case has to fight not just the unjustness of everything that happened, but the reality being presented that there's no way police and law enforcement officials would arrest someone over comics, so there must have been something icky like child porn or worse.

He could go to jail because someone (not just the prosecutor) is creating an image of a reality, one that threatens the ideal vision of the community he, and Hadley and the jury are part of and he's pointing Hadley out as the threat to that ideal, as the weed to be plucked out to make everything better again. It's all smoke and illusions and bullshit, but a finger's pointing. A scapegoat has been chosen. Why think?

To add a touch more relevance to this because this is my sequential art blog, I've a thought on NuMarvel and Joe-Q and The New Marvel Reality sparked by this entry on PostModernBarney.

The contention arising among comics fans, and the discomfort people are feeling because of Quesada and NuMarvel (and possibly NuDC) is it because they're changing the reality of what Superhero Comics ARE. So on the surface it seems like old timers complaining who should just STFU and women whining, and OMG do black people ever shut up about racism. But it's all more than that. It's more than a partiality to stories of old or heroes of old. It's more than wanting comics to be BETTER. It's perhaps not wanting them to de-evolve. It's being able to remember, to recognize what superhero comics used to be and what they are now; what they're becoming.

Continuity is more than just keeping a record of the stories in some order. It's remembering and recognizing the REALITY of said stories; how the universe works.

But reality is being dictated and we are to accept the status quo, because we've been told that this IS the status quo - don't question it. So Norman Osborn in a group that includes Doom, Namor and Loki, is in charge because it has been commanded that this reality is the status quo. Love is war. Marriage is worth less than a Deal With The Devil. Badass is a man who seduced a teenage girl and impregnated her. Tigra is weak. The Hood is a good A-list villain.

Because they have Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It's not art, it's porn. It's icky porn with ties to no community standards.

Missing limbs and photshopped bizzarro anatomy in fashion and consumer ads is beauty.

Holy crap. Wasn't the Matrix supposed to come with a messiah and cool powers?


  1. Oh wow. Oh wow. There is so much to think about here.

  2. There's a line I used back when I did spoken word:

    "Just check off the box that you fit in,
    And if you don't fit in, don't worry,
    We'll just cut it off."

    And that pretty much sums it up.