Since there were no posts for a while, here are a few thoughts looking back at the way some news items were portrayed in the media. Of course, considering how many big news items are rapidly cycled out, these items are bound to feel outdated and vastly disconnected to each other. These thoughts are aimed to evaluate the patterns of response in the media…
US Gun Violence
After another mass shooting in the United States, many in the media commented on the repetitive nature of the response that they had to deliver. There was a lot of respectful thoughts and messages, and some gestures aimed at avoiding further pain for the victims. There is another routine aspect which irks me. Many media outlets often rewrite or push back the release dates of shows that feature gun violence or similar themes. Unsurprisingly, the ultraviolent Marvel property The Punisher was pushed back in its release date, and a particularly violent episode of American Horror Story: Cult was edited to avoid some sensitive moments due to the recent attack.
I understand that an impulse to be respectful and mournful towards the victims of the recent attack plays a big part in these gestures. And yet, I cannot help but find these moves meaningless because they continue portraying guns as cool and violence as a perfectly normal response to difficult situations. The programs, nor the attitudes towards their production, demand or consumption, will not change despite the dramatic need for such changes. Simply preventing the viewers from looking at such images for a short period of time seems less respectful and more insidious – as if the true intention is to try and avoid responsibility and distancing their violent images from the violent images that the people have recently encountered. Historically, Hollywood has presented many gun-toting heroes who kill without mercy. The superhero trend seems like a positive turn as it shows heroes with non-gun powers. However, it is countermanded by the PG13 rating which has conveniently increased the bodycount without ever showing blood on screen.
The gesture is rendered meaningless with the stubbornness to confront any real solutions for gun violence. Instead of offering clever comebacks to calls for gun control with retorts of truck control and air control, the gun lobby should recognize that it is in its best interest to have stricter laws for gun ownership. As someone on the outside, the debate around the issue seems absurd, because not many countries think it is a good idea to have unlimited access to guns is a good idea. Nostalgia towards a time when things were easier prevents us from recognizing that the changing technologies cannot be handled with the same methods.
However, we must come to terms with a dreadful truth. Ultimately, when the US lawmakers provide stricter gun control, there will still be a mass shooting. However, such an act would be an exception that requires extraordinary effort and planning – not simply walking into a high rise building and picking off targets from the street. Perhaps, the solution lies outside the common discourse – and I can’t think of anything right now. Instead, let me offer Chris Rock’s solution.
Media Coverage in the world of “fake news”
I am always in favor of close scrutiny of how media portrays news events. One of my favorite newspaper reads is the Reader’s Editor column from The Hindu. A. S. Panneerselvan remains one of the most authentic (if underrated) voices in Indian media. His routine analysis of the presentation and misrepresentation of news reminds the readers why newspapers are still relevant today. Similarly, I was impressed that the best piece of news coverage was in fact was a metacommentary about the way news should be covered. Cracked’s episode on Antifa and the problem with the two sides argument was a brilliant analytical piece that reached into philosophical and historical significance that the 24 hour cycle driven channels overlook. Rather than grand empty rhetoric about balance, this video offers a critical examination of the structure of propaganda and the bait that mainstream media easily accepts instead of news.
The Dove ad
I am not going to defend a multi-billion dollar company that has profited from a cultural drive for perfect appearance. But I am a lot more skeptical of the image thanks to my love for visual media. When we look a little closer, the full ad does not show transformation from dark to fair, but rather from one person to another. One of the models has responded to the backlash against the ad with her experience, and she gives a nuanced view about the ad’s intention and the way the company responded to criticism. Ultimately, regardless of the intention, or even the effect of the full ad, the power of the image remains unshakable. A few seconds on a facebook scroll could incite people’s anger and bring out impassioned views.
This event reminded me of growing up in a country where skin-lightening was a national-obsession. I have seen a lot of advertisements which frame lighter skin as better and aspirational. Here are some of those ads for your consideration.
This ad features Shah Rukh Khan, the king of Bollywood, in an ad with black(brown)face:
This cream promises to change ambient lighting to cast a brightness on you, regardless of the situation
However, the existence of worse ads does not excuse a terrible message of transforming one color to another. There are a couple of ads from the same brand that came to my mind from a couple of years ago.
This ad still has a narrow vision of what beauty is, in order to break it down. But it clearly exposes the world that it has helped manufacture over time.
This ad is also a part of the same campaign, unironically titled the self-esteem project. While we may not agree on the effectiveness of the ad, it demonstrates that the company is aware of the critical issues race and body politics that it is a part of.
Ultimately, the sensitivity with which the internet exploded over the ad is a sign of our collective consciousness trying to be more active and critical. Such a move tends to overstate cases from time to time. Besides, we should also remain cautious against the normalizing narrative which keeps ignoring, and implicitly accepting a basis of racial ordering. In my view, Dove’s ad reveals a poor attempt at creating an ad that appeals to people of all races and ethnicities, which in its decontextualized state conveys a racist message – even if that was not the meaning of the ad in a structural or textual sense. Or, it could be that Dove expected this backlash and wanted to whip up some controversy, because free advertising. I would like to think that the truth is somewhere in the middle, where the actual ad was a product of some young ad creative team who wanted to do something ‘edgy’ and ‘post racial’ only to completely misread the field.
SARAVANAN MANI is editor and contributing writer here at ScreenEthics.com. He is a graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, pursuing a PhD in English focusing on American Crime Television.