Monday, August 23, 2010

So there's this ad campaign. It shows women being tied up (with giant boners in the foreground). Women's groups have objected, and the offending ads will be taken down. Statements have been made by the ad company that jeez, women, why do you have to take everything so seriously? It's not like we meant to offend anyone. Their not having meant to has been duly noted.

I'm kind of on the fence about the whole issue. Obviously this is violent imagery. Just because the women are smiling while they're tied up doesn't make it any less violent. The ad company has come out with a statement that they're showing women's power in their own sexuality- I think that that's a pile of poo. They're not showcasing submissive sexuality. They're using images of women bent over because they believe that that is what sells clothing*. It's a business first. If art is involved at all, the art comes after you make sure you make money.

However. I don't think that images should be censored. Ever. I'm a visual artist: being in favor of ideological concerns controlling the production of imagery would be like having an urge to cut off my own hands.

(I also remain sceptical about the actual effect of objectifying imagery on a societal level. It's clear that popular culture is awash with pornified imagery and equally obvious that looking at a bajillion porny images will eventually have some sort of effect on people. But it still hasn't been proven unequivocably (through accepted sociological practice) that a specific behavior was caused or affected by looking at violent imagery**. Often the rhetoric that states that X did Y because they looked at a lot of porn reminds me of the hand-wringers who blame Marilyn Manson for school shootings. It's a little like trying to hunt chaos butterfies with a shotgun.)

And see! At the end of the article it says that the exhibition of fashion photography (connected with the ad campaign) will keep pictures of nudity out of the public realm. Not the point, friends. And this is why censoring images is so problematic. Can Socialist Realism be far away?

I used to work at the library at The House. The House is kind of a sleepy little historical site under the auspices of the Not The National Museum. Tim (the administrative director/curater there) is really kickass, and she would put together exhibitions at The House's gallery that were often incogruent with the middle-and-upper class pretensions of the place. For example, a retrospective of Valie Export, a wonderful performance artist who often dealt with female sexual agency in the public realm. Tim got a lot of flack for that from patrons, who insisted that the blatant sexual images had no place at The House, even though the exhibit was clearly marked as having adult content. "I may not know much about art, but I know shit when I see it" was a common sentiment that I would overhear. Tim smiled graciously at the criticism and continued to do just what she wanted. And this is why only artists get to decide what art is.

But let's go back to that statement a moment- where I said that imagery shouldn't ever be censored. Really? Racist imgery shouldn't be censored? What about vagina ashtrays? Or asshole pencil sharpeners? (Google it if you really must, I'm not going to link to it.) We really need to keep the metric fucktonnage of horrible, offensive shit around, just for the sake of artistic freedom? I mean, this imagery does hurt people. A rape survivor shouldn't need to get triggered by violent imagery while walking down the street, just so that some company can sell some more jeans. Marginalized folk don't need to be told for the umpteenth time that they are less than.

Also, much imagery that we see is largely controlled by corporate concerns. Meaning: we don't get to choose what we see. Culture largely isn't consensual. And the ability that we may have to pick and choose (or even navigate freely through) various cultures are often due to the privileges we have which are the product of those very systems of oppression.

So I really don't know. Like I said, on the fence.

*A good rule of thumb to know whether an image is showing women's actual sexuality is to try and find out who the intended audience is. From the images I've seen, it really looks like another take on the tried and true "women should want to be her, men should want her" fashion photography trope. That is- the visual framing of the photo (as opposed to the content) places the women as objects without agency. And showing women bent over for the purposes of men's wankery is not edgy or revolutionary- it is business as usual.
*If there's a paper out there that proves me wrong, I'd love to see it.


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